New resource now available on my editing website

For the writers and would-be writers who follow this blog, I’ve just uploaded a new resource to my editing website–a list of helpful books to get you started. Just scroll to the bottom of the page to download the free PDF titled ‘Books about the writing process’.

Enjoy!

https://kendraolsoneditorial.com/resources/

 

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My Review of Snow Sisters by Carol Lovekin

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‘She doesn’t get it, does she?’ Meredith leaned on the windowsill. ‘Why do you love snow, Verity?’

‘It’s like friendly rain; softer and kinder.’

‘Good answer.’

‘Why do you love it?’

The light from the window turned Meredith’s hair to coral candyfloss. ‘Snow makes me brave. When it snows, the sad part of me goes away.’

Meredith and Verity Pryce live in the beautiful Welsh countryside, at Gull House, which belongs to their grandmother, Mared. They live with their eccentric and erratic mother, Allegra, and Angharad, the ghost of a girl who lived 100 years ago. Meredith discovered Angharad’s presence when sifting through an abandoned sewing box in their disused attic. But, rather than tell their mother about Angharad—she would only overdramatise it and scare the ghost away—or their sensible grandmother, the girls decide to investigate her presence on their own. Through their communications with Angharad, they begin to learn more about her life, and to draw conclusions about their own.

Allegra has told the education board that she’s home-schooling her daughters, but other than a few books sent through the post, no lessons are provided. Verity would love nothing more than to go to school, and so spends her time reading at the library, where a whole new world is opened to her. But Meredith doesn’t mind staying home—her imagination more than compensates for what she doesn’t know. Despite the girls’ best efforts to escape their mother, Allegra’s unreliable behaviour and continued hurt and resentment over the loss of the girls’ father, continues to dominate their lives.

When Allegra gets it into her head that her paintings might make it big in London, the girls have no choice but to go along with it. The ever-helpful Verity tries her best to change their mother’s mind, for Meredith’s sake, but isn’t able to. Their arrival in London ushers in a new period in the girls’ lives, but how each manages to cope with this change will have the biggest impact yet, on their lives and on their friendship.

Having read and loved Lovekin’s first novel, Ghostbird, I had high expectations of Snow Sisters. I was not disappointed. As with Ghostbird, the story Lovekin tells is poignant, enchanting and insightful.  Lovekin powerfully conveys the ways in which women and girls internalise their experiences until they become a part of their psychological make-up. Lovekin’s prose is crisp, clear and beautiful. Her stunning evocation of the Welsh landscape and the magic of childhood makes this a novel to be savoured, slowly over time, and reread, for its many layers of meaning.

Snow Sisters was published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press on 21st September 2017.

You can purchase Snow Sisters from Honno: http://www.honno.co.uk/

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Snow-Sisters-Carol-Lovekin-ebook/dp/B074WGLLGQ/

Amazon U.S.: https://www.amazon.com/Snow-Sisters-Carol-Lovekin-ebook/dp/B074WGLLGQ/

With thanks to Honno for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

You can follow the Snow Sisters Blog tour here:

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About Carol Lovekin:

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Author photograph copyright Janey Stevens

Carol Lovekin has Irish blood and a Welsh heart. She was born in Warwickshire and has lived in Wales since 1979, settling in Lampeter eleven years ago. A feminist, she finds fiction the perfect vehicle for telling women’s collective stories. Her books also reflect her love of the landscape and mythology of her adopted home.

Snow Sisters is her second novel. Her first, Ghostbird, is also published by Honno.

Visit Carol’s website: https://carollovekinauthor.com/

Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/carollovekin

Find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009564096097

My review of Love Unlimited

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Love Unlimited is an intriguing anthology of short fiction with an uplifting concept at its heart. Although love is the theme, the love featured in these stories isn’t purely romantic. Where it is romantic, it’s rarely the traditional boy-meets-girl love story. There are stories about the love a parent feels for a child, ambiguous love, the rediscovery of love following loss and the way loneliness and a sense of compassion can bring about a different kind of love, amongst many others.

While not all of the stories were to my taste, and there were places where I felt the writing could have been stronger, I found the general message of the collection to be commendable. Featuring stories by eleven different authors, the anthology includes a range of writing styles. What I enjoyed most about this collection was its sheer diversity. The characters featured in the stories span cultures, generations, abilities and sexual orientations. It’s rare to see so many diverse characters in one place and this alone makes the collection worth reading.

A few of the stories which I particularly enjoyed, include:

Summer Healing by Kelly Cain: When budding law school student Hayleigh Malone returns home for the summer holidays in order to visit her ill grandfather in hospital, she’s surprised to find herself falling in love with his nurse, whose political opinions are very different from her own. Cain’s story shows how irrational love can be at times, while also showing how it can be used to bridge people of different opinions and backgrounds.

I liked that the author showed how current political movements in the States affect real people and their relationships. Hayleigh’s interest in, and involvement with, the Black Lives Matter protests was pleasing to see, as movements such as these aren’t included often enough in contemporary fiction.

In Her Space by Geralyn Corcillo: When a sixty-four year old librarian discovers a young man living under her house, she isn’t quite sure what to do. She’s always worked hard to remain unnoticed and has lived alone for most of her life. When she discovers that the man has been going through her trash and eating the fruit from the trees in her yard, she decides to help. Through opening herself up to his presence, she begins to learn to accept her own.

The story skilfully navigates the gulf between our perceptions of ourselves and the truth. Love, empathy and kindness are shown to be powerful tools to connect with others and promote healing.

The Shining Girl by Anne Hamilton: Pale-skinned and blue-eyed Caroline has survived a devastating cyclone in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. On her flight home to London, England, she ponders her options going forward. The experience has made her view her life—and the man she loves—in a new light. But, having lost so much already, will she be able to recover that which is most important to her?

The Shining Girl won first prize in the New Asian Writing (NAW) Short Story Competition 2016, and it’s easy to see why. With beautifully written prose and deftly handled subject matter, the story explores the magic inherent in our lives and relationships. I also enjoyed her vivid descriptions of India.

You can purchase Love Unlimited  from: https://books2read.com/loveunlimited

On Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36096719-love-unlimited

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The Battle of the Birds: Guest Post and Cover Reveal by Virginia King

Today I’m welcoming Virginia King to talk about how she chose the title and cover for her latest book. So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Virginia.

Many authors say that in the process of creating a book, the writing is the easy part. It’s choosing titles and covers where the real work begins.

Title Torture

I was writing a collection of stories re-imagined from the folktales that inspired the modern prequel to my mystery series, Laying Ghosts.

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A strange message. A deserted beach house. A shocking incident from the past …

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

The folktales form a standalone collection but also a companion to Laying Ghosts. I was going through the usual torture of choosing a title when my mystery author friend Ellen Seltz offered to help. She asked for details of the stories in the collection. One involves the 250-year-old murder ballad ‘Pretty Polly’. Ellen found a phrase in the following stanza from the original ballad:

He pierced her body till the blood it did flow,

Then into the grave her body did throw.

He covered her body, then home he did run,

Leaving none but birds her death to mourn.

Ellen suggested None but Birds for the title of the collection and I was thrilled. It had the right amount of mystery and suspense, while hinting at the dark themes in the stories. But because the collection is a companion to Laying Ghosts, I settled on a variation that gives both titles a similar word pattern: Leaving Birds.

Yay, I had my title. Hurdle one vaulted – with panache. Next came the cover. That should be easy given I had my subject on a plate: birds. Then followed the battle of the birds!

Photos or Illustrations?

Covers guide readers to the genre of the book. All the books in my Selkie Moon Series contain mystical clues inspired by folklore, but the mysteries are modern so the covers are a compilation of photographic elements to reflect this. Leaving Birds is not strictly part of the series and it’s a mix of traditional and modern stories, more closely linked to folklore. Should I use an illustrative style of cover so that the reader would recognise the ‘folktale’ genre?

Conducting a Cover Poll

To get other opinions, I polled the subscribers to my Myth Mystery & Mayhem newsletter. Showing them the following two stock images, I asked: Do you prefer a photographic or illustrative cover for Leaving Birds, a folktale companion for Laying Ghosts? These images are samples of two different styles of cover, not the final cover. The theme of the collection is the loneliness of death, and the cover will be black and white.

Bird Cover Concepts

How Readers Voted

The almost 100 votes were 65/35 in favour of the photographic image. Then I worried that the pop of red had skewed the vote. If I’d removed it from the illustrative cover, the samples would have been more equal. But the red had an unexpected role to play.

Photographic voters liked:

  • Herons, because they’re regal and mystical
  • The drama of the spooky mood
  • The sense of eeriness and mystery
  • Imagining a great black bird surveying a graveyard
  • The single bird and lack of colour being barren and solitary like death
  • Crows, because they’re linked to death

Illustrative voters liked:

  • Hummingbirds!
  • The pop of red against the stark background
  • The colourful bird suggesting a ray of hope in the loneliness
  • The bird’s wings suggesting a soul soaring away
  • The handwriting feeling personal, dated and creepy
  • The celebration of a life departed instead of the gloominess of death

Taking Care with Stock Images

The two concepts are both stock images which could be used as they are. But Joel Friedlander from The Book Designer says that a good cover is not just a stock image with titles added. It is the compilation of images and graphic effects that create a design. Also, if you use a stock image as it is, you’re likely to see it on other covers.

Playing with Cover Concepts

Taking into account the mood of the folktale collection and the feedback from readers, I briefed my cover designer. We tried a different photo of a lonely bird – a seagull on a chimney – as well as the original heron image. And we blended some handwriting into the background like the illustrative sample.

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As much as I loved the lonely seagull in the stock photo, when I saw it as a cover it just didn’t evoke the powerful mood created by the hunched heron. The handwriting also didn’t fit as well with the gull. The battle of the birds was over. We had a winner. And although I was committed to a black and white cover as a companion to Laying Ghosts, I asked my designer to try out some red on the handwriting – for that pop of colour some of my readers had liked in the illustrative sample.

Cover Reveal: Leaving Birds

Here’s the final cover of Leaving Birds, a standalone collection of creepy folktales with adult themes, and a companion to the modern ghost story Laying Ghosts.

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Leaving Birds contains:

  • ‘The Woman with Hair of Gold’ – retold from a Russian folktale
  • ‘Peig’s Place’ – a modern ghost story re-imagined from an Irish folktale
  • ‘Polly’s Folly’ – the possibly true events behind the murder ballad ‘Pretty Polly’
  • ‘Serendipity Rules’ – the newspaper report that inspired the plot of Laying Ghosts

If you like to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of books and how they’re written, Leaving Birds also contains insights into how each story inspired the writing of Laying Ghosts.

Laying Ghosts is available:

Leaving Birds is available:

Follow Virginia on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selkiemoonmysteries

Virginia King FB Nomad Portrait

 

In the Selkie Moon Mystery Series, Virginia King gets to explore far-flung places full of secrets where Selkie delves into psychological clues tangled up in the local mythology.

Before Selkie Moon invaded her life, Virginia was a teacher, an unemployed ex-teacher, the author of over 50 children’s books, an audio-book producer, a workshop presenter and a prize-winning publisher. These days she lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with her husband, where she disappears each day into Selkie Moon’s latest mystery. Bliss.

 

 

My review of Don’t Close Your Eyes, by Holly Seddon

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For those of you who follow this blog, you may remember having read my review of Holly’s first novel, Try Not to Breathe, back in January 2016. As with her first novel, Don’t Close Your Eyes is a fast-paced, gripping psychological thriller filled with surprises you won’t see coming, but which make perfect sense in light of the story and characters.

Though twins, Robin and Sarah had very little in common growing up in the small village of Birch End, near Reading. Robin was outspoken, rowdy and wild while Sarah was eager to please and the picture of propriety. Still, almost despite themselves, the sisters were close. Then, one day, a new boy shows up at their school—Callum Granger. Sarah immediately gets a crush on him and before long Callum is fast friends with both Robin and Sarah. Shortly thereafter, their parents meet, and also become good friends. Before the kids know it they’re spending all their weekends together at one or the other of their houses. From there events spiral in a way that no one could have foreseen.

Now adults, Robin and Sarah live very different lives, in separate parts of the country. Robin, an ex-musician, lives alone in a flat in Manchester while Sarah lives with her partner and daughter in a house in Godalming, Surrey. But neither of their lives is going well. Robin suffers from severe agoraphobia, making it almost impossible for her to leave her home. Meanwhile, Sarah is facing an almost unbelievable turn of events in her relationship—her partner, Jim, has declared her unfit to look after their child and is taking their daughter away to be cared for by his parents. Powerless, Sarah leaves her home and checks into a B & B, hoping to somehow come up with a plan to regain custody of her daughter.

The story is told alternately between the adult and child versions of Robin and Sarah. This generally works well to both speed the story along and to give a full picture of their lives.  However, there were a few places where it felt like the author was flitting between them and it would have been nice to settle in just a bit more with each character before moving on. Of course, upon reflection, this unsettling effect is likely what Holly Seddon was aiming for when she chose to structure and pace her novel in this way.

Don’t Close your Eyes is an insightful and thoroughly disquieting read from a masterful storyteller.

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Don’t Close Your Eyes is published by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books and is available from Amazon and all good bookstores.

You can follow Holly on Twitter at: @HollySeddon

Like her page on Facebook: Facebook/HollySeddonAuthor

Or visit her website: http://hollyseddon.com/

 

 

Where She Will Shine by Sylvia Anderson

Today I’m featuring Fiona Maclean who writes under the pen name of Sylvia Anderson. Her first novel, Where She Will Shine, was self-published in April. Here’s the blurb:

Where She Will Shine is a contemporary literary work of fiction which concerns the life of a student, Mary MacDonald, in 1960s Scotland. It is a vibrant tale full of contrasts, colour and excitement. When Mary leaves the croft for the “big city” of Glasgow she meets individuals who will change her life forever. Her life is lonely and raw at the start until she meets David Cochrane, who has a life hidden from his mother, but Mary falls in love with him – her first “real love”. 

In the late sixties, the Beatles were in full swing and dance halls were popular as meeting places for young people. It was the generation of full employment and the post war “baby boomers” had a satisfying life. The characters in the book, however, battle with issues which were as topical then as they are now – coming of age, student life, parenthood, rape and homosexuality.

Fiona has written a lovely post about her inspiration for writing Where She Will Shine and, also, her characters. So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Fiona.

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“My inspiration for my work, Where She Will Shine, came from a visit to a First World War Monument in Perth, Scotland.  The brave war heroes remembered, sacrificed their lives so that the youth of today could shine and make the world a better place.

I enjoyed my student years, for it was a world that my parents had not had the chance to experience.  I’m a ‘Baby Boomer’ and echoes of the war years were still around whilst I grew up – poor housing; austerity; rationing.  I wrote the novel for folk in a similar position, who cherished the chance to ‘shine’ and for others to see inside the emotional head of a first-year student in 1968.

Life could be tough for my eighteen-year-old protagonist, Mary, but it is never as hard as the life of Alice, the waif she befriends in Glasgow and whom she helps to move on and make her life a success.

Mary was an only child – when I think about it, my best friend when I was growing up was an only child and I did envy her having her parents all to herself – I was one of five.  She had a totally different life to mine with extremely caring parents who catered to her every need – be it the beautiful food she ate; her immaculate school uniforms and shoes (mine were hand me downs) or lovely skating dresses (we met at the local ice rink).

I have met poor teenagers like Alice in my work as an Occupational Therapist and always felt pity.  Despite Alice’s brave and gauche front, she longs to be looked after by ‘proper’ parents like Ruaridh and Mhairi.  In the end, this happens to her and she has a good life after a deprived and unsupported beginning.

I have never lived on the west coast of Scotland but have had many holidays there.  It is my favourite place in the whole of Scotland.  Breathtakingly beautiful white beaches and mountains covered with beautiful flowers, make it a place to relax and enjoy nature.  Mary belonged to such a place and it gave her, ‘an ache in her heart’ when she thought of it.  One can imagine the change in her lifestyle when she arrived in Glasgow in 1968 into a student world of riot; the end of the Vietnam War; an intolerance of everything ‘old’ and conmen and women (Jimmy and Yvonne) on every street corner. 

Where She Will Shine is my first novel. I enjoyed writing it and was greatly motivated by ‘The Writing Classes,’ which I joined when I moved to Kuala Lumpur in 2014.  My tutor, Anne Hamilton, was particularly inspiring.  This was a great experience for the other writers commented on everything one wrote and I looked forward to every Monday, for a new exercise.  Kuala Lumpur is a city of very poor and very rich, like most cities in Asia.  I communicated largely with other ex-patriot wives who had gone out there with their partners to support them.  In the sunshine, every day we would walk and talk in the KLCC Park under the Petronas Towers.  It was a magical time and amongst the ex-pat women (forty-four of them), I had understanding, tolerant friends.  I miss them!”

Many thanks for that, Fiona. It’s always delightful to hear about the success of new writers, especially fellow alumni of writingclasses. I’m looking forward to reading Where She Will Shine!

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Where She Will Shine is available as an ebook from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Where-Will-Shine-Sylvia-Anderson-ebook/dp/B06Y98WTQ4