The Story Behind Laying Ghosts

For those of you who read my review of Virginia King’s latest story, Laying Ghosts, yesterday, I thought you might be interested to read more about the inspiration behind the story. Of course, even if you missed my review you might still enjoy hearing the story behind the story. 🙂

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And for those who missed it, just a quick reminder to let you know that Laying Ghosts is now available to download FREE from Amazon UK, Amazon US and other retailers.

So without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Virginia King:

A Ghost Story Needs … a Ghost

(A version of this post first appeared on ‘Hey Said Renee’  in May 2016.

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Vasilisa the Beautiful at the Hut of Baba Yaga, by Ivan Bilibin 1899, public domain image, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasilisa_the_Beautiful#/media/File:Vasilisa.jpg

My psychological mysteries have a mythical twist so I’m into visionary mirrors and mystical graveyards, suspect stalkers and symbolic objects. I’ve never sidled up to a ghost. But the idea to write a ghost story – as the prequel to the Selkie Moon mystery series – crept up on me, especially in the middle of the night – just like a … ghost.

Click here to continue reading: http://www.selkiemoon.com/la-bloguette/a-ghost-story-needs-a-ghost/

 

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Review of Laying Ghosts by Virginia King, a new #FREE short story ebook

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Having read and enjoyed both of Virginia King’s novels in her Selkie Moon Mystery Series—The First Lie and The Second Path—I was both excited and flattered when Virginia approached me back in February asking if I’d like to read her 10,000 word short story prequel to the series, now titled Laying Ghosts. Of course I said I’d love to.

At the time that Virginia approached me she was still in the process of developing the manuscript and wanted my honest opinion on what I liked/didn’t like as a fan of the series.

One of the things that instantly struck me about the story was how well-developed Virginia’s characters are—I instantly recognised Selkie from the novels and could picture her friend Rina well. And, of course, the story as a whole was strong and required very little work from an editorial point of view. In fact, my desire to publicly offer my services as a development editor partially arose from my experience of working on Laying Ghosts with Virginia.

When Selkie Moon plays sick in order to get out of attending husband Andrew’s business conference in Vanuatu, she finds herself with a full four days to herself. She decides to settle in with a glass of wine and have an early night. But that all changes when she receives a mysterious text message on her phone, ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina.

While Selkie and Rina were once best friends, they’ve not spoken to each other since attending a sinister house party nearly four years ago, at a remote beach house called Crystal Cottage. When Selkie responds to the text, she receives the same message back. ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina.’ Uncertain as to what’s happening, Selkie decides to drive up to Crystal Cottage to meet her friend, and see if she’s okay.

When Selkie arrives, however, the house appears to be deserted. Or is it?

In Laying Ghosts, Virginia King slowly and tantalisingly reveals the mystery to her readers. As is usual with Virginia’s work, there are many layers to this story. A fantastic tale in its own right, it also provides a fascinating backdrop to Selkie’s later adventures.

Whether you’re interested in exploring the series, enjoying a great (free!) ghost story or have already read the novels but would like to know more about Selkie Moon, you’ll love Laying Ghosts.

“A strange message, a deserted beach house, a shocking incident from the past … Selkie Moon’s life will change forever.

When a text message from a long lost friend lures Selkie Moon to Crystal Cottage, the events from a house-party four years earlier wrap her in ghostly fingers and turn her life upside-down.

A prequel to the Selkie Moon Mystery Series plus your bonus first chapter of The First Lie.”

Laying Ghosts is available FREE from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Laying-Ghosts-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01LAFOIRE/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Laying-Ghosts-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01LAFOIRE/

It’s also available from Barnes and Noble, Kobo and iBooks:

https://books2read.com/u/38DEy6

And from Virginia’s website: http://www.selkiemoon.com/laying-ghosts/

You can follow Virginia King on Twitter: @selkiemoonbooks

Like her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selkiemoonmysteries/

Check out Virginia’s website where you can also subscribe to her newsletter to be the first to hear about Selkie’s latest adventure: http://www.selkiemoon.com/

 

Review of Islanders by Teow Lim Goh

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If I don’t tell her story

we cannot see her,

and without a reason for her being,

how will we let her survive?

–from “Her Story,” page 71

As a follower of Conundrum Press—a small publishing house based in Denver, Colorado which specialises in quality, literary titles—I was very pleased to hear about the publication of this poetry collection back in July.

To give some background to the collection, between 1910 and 1940 as many as 175,000 Chinese immigrants were detained and processed at Angel Island Immigration Station which is just off the coast of San Francisco, California.[1] They had made the long, arduous and often dangerous journey from China to seek a better life in America, only to find themselves imprisoned under racist and discriminatory immigration laws designed to curtail the influx of Asian immigrants. Some were joining family members who had already immigrated, others were arriving with their families in tow, only to find themselves separated upon landing, sometimes forever in cases where one partner was allowed to remain while the other was immediately sent back to China (usually the wife).  Others were single and hoping to find work and create a life for themselves free from the poverty and hardship they’d experienced back home, as so many immigrants to America sought to do.

Many of these immigrants were detained for months or even years under harsh, prison-like conditions. Others were sent back to China, never to see their families again. Between interrogations by immigration officials—supposedly designed to test their credibility but in reality designed to exclude as many Chinese as possible—the immigrants languished in their overcrowded barracks. To help cope with their miserable conditions, many of them composed poetry upon the walls of their cells, some of it carved onto the wooden surface.

All of the poems on record come from the men’s barracks. The women’s poetry was destroyed by a fire which happened in 1940 and which resulted in the closure of Angel Island.

In this poignant and powerful collection, the lost voices of these women are imagined, remembered and brought to life for modern-day readers.

In the opening poem, ‘Angel Island,’ Goh recalls the legacy of the Chinese in America, ‘To the miners who sailed the Pacific / with dreams of golden rivers. / To the workers who built the railroads / over mountains and prairie skies. / To the farmers who made the desert bloom.’ She then contrasts the hardships they endured with her own relatively easy experience as a recent immigrant. ‘This is my history. / I crossed the sea. / I sat on a plane. / I came with the dream / of freedom / to speak / to believe.’

Goh then goes on to structure the collection in five sections.

In the first section, ‘Voices: Angel Island 1910-1940’, Goh imagines the experiences of the women who were imprisoned on Angel Island, waiting to go ashore and separated from their families. In the poem, ‘In a Wooden Building,’ she writes: ‘Each day we knit in silence, / socks for the children, / hats for the parents, / and our words swirl in the sea.’

‘The Waves’ tells a story about a young man whose father dies suddenly. In order to help support the family, he goes to America to work. When he makes enough money, the man returns to China, to marry his sweetheart and bring her to live with him in San Francisco. But when their ship docks in California, she is turned away, ‘There’s nothing / we can do. Foreign wife / of a Chinese merchant, your case / is automatically / denied.

In ‘Between the Sea and the Sky,’ a woman commits suicide while in Angel Island, and another tries to.

The second section is titled, ‘Echoes: San Francisco: 1910-1940.’ Here Goh tells the stories of the family members waiting for their loved ones in San Francisco. Some of these stories overlap, such as in ‘Letter Unsent,’ which is written from the point of view of the same Chinese merchant whose first wife was refused entry and who has now married for a second time, only to find his second wife detained at Angel Island for over a year. Also, in ‘Consolation,’ the husband of the woman who committed suicide, reflects on the experience. He is told she died of ‘causes unknown,’ but he knows the truth as he too has been on Angel Island and is aware of the terrible conditions there.

In ‘Tomorrow’ a man anticipates the joy of finally bringing his wife home. ‘I will hug you and never let you go. /  / I will bring you home to a feast.’

‘Work: Angel Island 1910-1940,’ includes the stories of those who were involved in running Angel Island. These include the privileged, smug and disdainful official whose decision changes lives for better or for worse. Then there are those officials who are the children of recent immigrants and who cannot help but see their own parents in the faces of the families who arrive. ‘In her eyes he sees his mother / fleeing a homeland plagued by famine, / huddled on Ellis Island.’ (‘Daydreams’) There is also the cleaner in ‘Housekeeping’ who tries her best to make sense of the words scribbled on the walls, having only recently learned to write herself.

In ‘Riot: San Francisco, July and August 1877,’ Goh skilfully and sensitively imagines the voices of all those who were involved in the Anti-Chinese riots. The Anti-Chinese riots happened during an economic downturn in the American economy when labourers, including those in trade unions, blamed the Chinese for the lack of available work, claiming that their willingness to work for reduced wages drove everyone’s pay down. Instead of trying to unionise the Chinese workers, they persecuted them instead.

She empathises with both the out-of-work labourers as well as the Chinese immigrants who’ve come to carve out a new life, much as many of those labourers did a generation before. ‘Maybe his wife just left him / in a string of shattered plates. / Maybe he’s looking for / something beyond himself, / a crowd he can become.’ (‘To Chinatown’) But Goh does not shy away from exposing their racism for what it is either. ‘I hear him tell the boy / he should count his blessing: / / unlike those dregs of Asia, / he was born to a worthy people,’ she writes in ‘Nob Hill’. In ‘Immolation’ she tells the tale of a Chinese man who committed suicide by overdosing on opium, unable to bear up any longer. A mob discovers him dying in an alley and stuffs the head of a duck down his throat.

In the final section and poem, ‘Pilgrimage’, Goh reflects on the history she shares with those long-ago immigrants as she herself pays a visit to Angel Island, ‘the borders we inhabit, the borders / we inherit, and in writing this story / / I find my way home.’

Islanders is a beautiful and remarkable collection, as important for the stories it tells as for the restrained and resonant way in which it tells them. Goh brings a little known piece of American history vividly to life and reminds us of how relevant this history is to our modern day experience of living in a world where people cross national boundaries every day in their search for a better life.

Readers can purchase Islanders direct from the publisher: https://squareup.com/store/conundrumpress/item/islanders

From Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Islanders-Teow-Lim-Goh/dp/1942280319/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Islanders-Teow-Lim-Goh/dp/1942280319/

Learn more about Teow Lim Goh’s writing by visiting her website: https://teowlimgoh.com/ 

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My cat, Othello, enjoyed her poetry too.

[1] http://www.cetel.org/angel_poetry.html

 

Guest post by Peter Taylor-Gooby, author of The Baby Auction

Recently I was approached by fellow author and Book Connector Peter Taylor-Gooby about writing a post for my blog. Peter mentioned that he’s a social scientist by day and has a particular interest in what he calls ‘social science fiction’. As I found his ideas intriguing, I said yes. Here Peter tells us about the difficulties he encountered when planning his novel and gives a few tips which helped him along the way.

So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Peter…

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credit: Sue Lakeman

What should come first in planning a novel – the characters or the plot?

Writing a novel is like building a house of cards: change one character, realign the plot just a tiny bit and it all comes tumbling down.

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image courtesy of Instability, public domain photo, taken by Daniele Pellati

As a newbie author I thought I wanted to write plot-driven fiction. My background’s in social science and I wanted to talk about issues of trust and empathy and how market capitalism weakens and distorts them. Imaginative writing is much more fun than writing academic articles (but much harder work). Then I found the characters I’d imagined wouldn’t do what I wanted them to – they’d suddenly say and do things that weren’t in the plot-line and the whole house of cards would collapse and have to be rebuilt.

The next attempt started out from characters. I thought them through, wrote sketches of them and set them off. Again I couldn’t control them. They developed and changed in ways that I really wanted to pursue, but at the cost of demolishing everything. Back to the starting point!

So how do you make your characters do what you want them to?  Three possible techniques:

  • Write backwards: (I’ve tried this in a number of short stories). You get the characters where you want them with all the loose ends tied up and the twists and turns unravelled and take them back. Problem: you find they couldn’t have been the same people you thought they were when they started out on this adventure. You think you’ve got control because you’ve fixed the end point, but that doesn’t mean you can tie down how everything starts off.
  • Shift point of view: if the character starts off in a direction you don’t want, you shift PoV away from them, so you see them from outside. You don’t have to deal with all the internal passions, hopes and feelings that drove them where they are going, they become a smaller part of the world and it’s your new PoV character you are wrestling with. Problem: if you are handling multiple PoVs the reader has to be prepared and the novel has to be structured around that approach. In any case, it’s often the characters you can’t control that are most interesting to the readers – and to you.
  • Try and work out what’s going on – why did this character in that situation say and do that? Why did they feel the way did, what were their emotions, their responses to the other characters? Did they change, or was there something else going on that you, the author, hadn’t initially understood? Now you’re getting somewhere (maybe).

These issues bear on how you think about the job of the author. To what extent is writing a matter of describing a world that’s in some sense already out there, of constructing it from one’s own imagination, or of exploring something that you don’t yet fully understand?

Novel-writing involves all three in different mixes. John Lanchester’s Capital, for example, rests very much on our shared conceptions of contemporary London and the plausible lives and feelings and aspirations of a range of people within it. It’s a world we are convinced is there and in a sense is being described, yet the people it includes are real because of Lanchester’s skill in realising them and that involves creative imagination. But it’s much more than simple imaginative creation. The people in the novel develop and the whole created world has a trajectory. The patterns of the novel (the story of the immigrant builder who finds a fortune and gives it up to the rightful owner, or of the aspirant artist who oversteps the mark and ends up in gaol with his life ruined) tell us new things about choice and the value of moral action even within the huge and diverse city, where at first sight anything goes.

So how to handle all this? In my current work I tried to side-step the choice between character and plot. I start with situations – vivid scenes in which people are interacting, which set them off in new direction, conflicts, debates, meetings, ceremonies – and try to get them on paper. Most go straight in the bin, but some are there, with their own life, on the page so powerfully that you can’t throw them away and that’s when you can start on the story. So it’s not a choice between character and plot – both emerge in interaction with each other. After all, how do you know someone’s character until you’ve seen them make choices in real situations?

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Thanks very much for that fascinating article, Peter, and for the useful tips as well.

Readers, what do you think? And are you planners or ‘pantsters’? I, for one, agree with Peter that character and plot are intimately intertwined. And I find the idea of using fiction to explore ideas and change people’s perceptions about society to be an intriguing one. I’ll be adding The Baby Auction to my reading list.

Peter’s novel, The Baby Auction, is published by The Conrad Press and is available from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Baby-Auction-Peter-Taylor-Gooby-ebook/dp/B01IKW9I3O/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Baby-Auction-Peter-Taylor-Gooby-ebook/dp/B01IKW9I3O/ 

It is also available to purchase direct from the publisher: http://theconradpress.com/

About Peter:
My novels deal with how people live their lives and relate to each other in the modern globalised capitalist world. In The Baby Auction Ed and Matt must find a way to lead a passionate, humane and generous life in a world run entirely on market principles, in which no-one can understand that caring for someone else might be a motive.
In my day job I write academic texts (for example The Double Crisis of the Welfare State). My work shows how globalised market capitalism generates inequalities between haves and have-nots and promotes a corrosive individualism that stunts our capacity for empathy, charity and love. People live for themselves and their families and vote for more privatisation and less redistribution and against the welfare state.
I enjoy hill-walking, riding my bike, holidays and looking after my grand-daughter (not in that order). I became interested in social policy issues after working on adventure playgrounds, teaching, claiming benefits and working in a social security office in Newcastle. I’ve worked in the UK, most European countries, Canada, the US, China, Korea and Japan, Australia and South Africa.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Taylor-Gooby
Follow Peter on Twitter: @PeterT_G
Like his page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBabyAuction/

Shortlisted for the Tarbert Book Festival Writing Competition!

Recently I was very excited to learn that I’ve been shortlisted for the Tarbert Book Festival writing competition for my short story “Breathing Room”. Part of my prize for being shortlisted is free entry to the festival (the other part is a professional critique of my story). I’m looking forward to going up at the end of October to attend the festival and to do a little exploring of Tarbert itself (which is a lovely fishing village on the Kintyre Peninsula, and the gateway to the Inner Hebridean Islands of Islay and Jura).

On the Friday evening there will be a special reception and Festival launch at the Loch Fyne Gallery where the grand prize winner will be announced. Oh, and did I mention that the grand prize is a week’s course at Moniack Mhor? I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed! 🙂

http://www.tarbertbookfestival.org/congratulations/

(Please note that an earlier version of this post stated that Tarbert is in the Hebrides. While there is a Tarbert in the Hebrides, on the Isle of Harris, the Tarbert I’ll be visiting is on Loch Fyne.)

My review of Ghostbird by Carol Lovekin

 

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‘You know more about magic then you let on, don’t you?’

‘Magic’s easy. It’s real life that’s complicated.’

Hopkins women have always been secretive and, at present, there are three of them. Lilwen Hopkins is a Hopkins by blood, unlike her sister-in-law, Violet, who only came to the village in order to marry Lilwen’s brother, Teilo. Violet and Teilo’s 14-year-old daughter, Cadi, spends all her time trying to discover her family’s deepest, best kept and most frustrating secret–what happened to her father and youngest sister, of whom there are not even photographs. While Lilwen lives alone in the small cottage, Violet and Cadi live next door to her in the big one. Yet although the three women live in close proximity, each is a world unto herself, even Cadi keeps her own confidences, not wanting to share everything with her mother and aunt.

Lilwen was raised in the village under her mother, Gwenllian’s, guidance and is therefore familiar with all the old ways—how to keep a trailing jasmine alive in a climate ill-suited to it, what herbs act as the best salves for cuts and bruises and, most importantly, how to make herself invisible in order to ‘see’ others better. Yet although her ways are rooted in tradition, Lilwen is grounded in the present and spends much of her time looking after Cadi, as she’s done since Cadi was born. For Violet, her past is as important as—if not more important than—her present. Violet is largely absent from everyday life, doing only what is necessary to get from one day to another, unable to bear the pain of her past. It’s Violet’s silence, and Lilwen’s complicity in keeping Violet’s secrets, which brings about Cadi’s irrepressible desire to discover what happened to her family, a desire which, ultimately, leads Cadi to do things she wouldn’t otherwise do.

Lovekin’s story contains elements of magical realism and, in many ways, resembles a fairy tale. She uses stunning sensory detail to transport her readers to the small village in Wales where the story takes place. I could smell the over perfumed roses cut through with the occasional burst of meadowsweet, feel the wild winds and wet, hot August downpours, see the mysterious feathers and leaves which sometimes littered Cadi’s bedroom floor and, most importantly, empathise with her characters.  In addition to this, Lovekin challenges the traditional notion of family—Violet, Cadi and Lilwen are very much a family, yet they are all women and none of them spends their time pining after men, nor do they define themselves in relation to men. I found this depiction to be refreshing as there are many families who consist entirely of women, for varying reasons. Lovekin’s writing shines with the difficult magic of female camaraderie, and with real magic as well, which is why when the Not the Booker shortlisting vote came around, I voted for Ghostbird.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Carol Lovekin’s stories in future.

Ghostbird is published by Honno Women’s Press and is available direct from them: http://www.honno.co.uk/dangos.php?ISBN=9781909983397

You can also order it from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghostbird-Carol-Lovekin/dp/190998339X/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Ghostbird-Carol-Lovekin-ebook/dp/B01AOMVP2U/

Follow Carol’s blog to learn more about her writing and inspiration: https://carollovekinauthor.com/ 

Like her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Carol-Lovekin-1006022299431923/

See what she’s up to on Twitter: @carollovekin