September 23, 2011

An interview with Keith Walters

Hersilia Press @ 3:20 pm

Keith runs a wonderful blog at http://booksandwriters.wordpress.com/ which is one of the best sources for all things crime fiction. Since he’s used to interviewing authors I thought I might ask him to be on the other side and answer a few questions, which he very kindly agreed to: that will give you an idea of the busy life of a crime blogger. Crime *fiction* blogger, I mean….

What’s the strangest thing that happened to you in an interview?

Maybe not the strangest, but certainly the most memorable.
A few years back (quite a few in fact as was in my college days, writing horror film and book fanzines – yes this was pre-internet!) I had the privilege of being asked to interview Jay Clarke (one of the Canadian team of lawyers that write collectively as Michael Slade) over lunch at Langhams Brasserie.

A great lunch and a lovely chat with a very like-minded guy.  But, perhaps too like-minded as we both loved horror movies and when we got to discussing those and the magazine, Fangoria, his publicist admitted to feeling a little green around the gills and left us to get on with it :)

The day was topped off by the fact that, as we’d had such a great conversation, in the evening at the launch party, Jay spotted me amongst the crowd of the much more professional press guys and called to me. I was a bit gob-smacked, but not as much as those in the room who were clearly wondering who the hell was this ‘kid’ amongst them.

It was great to interview CJ Box over breakfast at Harrogate this year – but I was so embarrassed when a few other attendees (including author David Jackson) were about to sit with us and then I had to ask if they would mind giving us a while.  They were very understanding and gracious – I must get a bigger tape machine as I don’t think they realised I was interviewing at the time.

What’s the best perk of being a crime blogger?

Where to start? I don’t think I could single one out.

Obviously it’s great to receive free books – that’s a given. To get them in advance of publication is a greater bonus and an honour too, and there’s nothing better than somebody telling you via twitter or on a blog comment that they are going to or have bought the book based on a review you’ve written.

Then there are the book events, the launches and the special memories – those at Goldsboro Books in London are always fantastic and draw great crowds, and when there’s something a bit different, such as the Jack the Ripper tour walk for the launch on SJ Bolton’s ‘Now You See Me’, it will stay in the mind for years to come as a really memorable and fun evening.

Meeting crime writers in general is always a great time guaranteed – genuinely the nicest bunch of people you could hope to meet.

And, of course, without the blogging (and twitter, plus the support of many) I wouldn’t have won the ‘blogger in residence’ gig at this year’s excellent Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.

We may not have won the quiz, Ilaria, but we can’t have everything :)  [I have to butt in here and add that Keith and I were on the same quiz team.... we didn't win, but we didn't do too bad...]

Crime fiction blogging seems to spin off into all sorts of  other things I never would have had the opportunity to do before – this year I attended and took part in the World Book Night launch, attended the filming of three episodes of the TV Book Club, and have written for the We Love this Book website – so, all good and thoroughly enjoyable stuff.

Conversely, what’s the worst aspect of being a crime blogger?

I wouldn’t really necessarily call it the ‘worst’, but maybe the most difficult, if that’s okay to twist things a little? That would be time – or lack of it.

There really are so many great books out there that, with the full time sales job I hold down to pay the mortgage, bills and keep the kids in shoes, sometimes a few chapters and I’m asleep on the sofa far too early some evenings.

This is all, without a doubt, self-inflicted, however, particularly as I also delve into YA books every now and again (something my 11 year old daughter is now assisting with on our JNR version of the blog), so some days more YA books arrive than crime fiction titles to review.

It’s also a bit of a challenge to make sure a balance is being struck and that all the lovely folk who look after us bloggers are getting an even spread of reviews – there’s nothing worse than a site that looks like every review is a book from the same publishing house.

I have invested in a dry wipe board, just to keep a better track on what I’m doing so that I can switch off from the day job in the evenings and take a look at what I ‘really’ want to be doing.

A great hero or a great villain? [IM: I am indebted for this question to the wonderful Dan Holloway, author of The Company of Fellows as one of his 'how long is a piece of rope']

In life, the great hero would have to be my Dad.  If I can be half as good a Dad to my kids as he is to me then I would have done a pretty good job.

In crime fiction, my author hero would likely be the late great Ed McBain – I love the ensemble work of the 87th Precinct novels and the man was so prolific – my bookshelves of his work shout at me to get my own books written.

For a crime fiction character, my hero would probably be Charlie Parker from John Connolly’s excellent novels – he has just the right balance of being a haunted character whilst also being tough and ready to do his bit when required – and I just love the way those books tread the border between crime and the supernatural.

For a villain - I will avoid real life and authors and go with a character only, and here’s where I go more horror than crime I guess, with Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s masterpiece Misery. Although, I guess the title villain may not strictly apply in that case as she clearly believes she is only acting in the best interest of the author Paul Sheldon and his work – as chilling as that becomes.

What’s the book plot you’d rewrite? 

Ooh – good question.

To be honest, I wouldn’t profess to thinking I could do anything to improve on anyone who’s actually had something published.

But, there are lots of books where I guess I would have preferred the ending was different of the plot changed in some way.

In some ways, although I absolutely loved Justin Cronin’s The Passage, I was sad when the first section of the book ended and I felt rushed years ahead as I wanted to stay in the first section for longer – maybe for that whole book – especially as it was the first of a trilogy.

What’s the best idea you’ve had which has gone (so far) unappreciated by everyone else?

Well, nothing that I’d take to Dragons’ Den if that’s what you mean.

In terms of writing, I have completed NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the past few years.  Two years ago my children expressed an interest and wanted to know what I was writing, so I changed tack and chose to write a childrens’ fantasy book featuring them. It meant that, every night at bedtime, I got to read them a few pages and then got their feedback and ideas as to where the story would go next – cheating in a way, but I felt that was a pretty good idea to keep them happy and to get the book written.

If I’m allowed two, then I also changed the design on the architects’ plans when we had a loft extension a few years back, to put a turn in the new staircase rather than a straight run – this resulted in me gaining a lovely little office and reading space – a bit selfish, but I thought it was a good idea :)

Tidy desk or messy desk?

A bit of both really.

I like nothing more than getting organised.

Today for example, my desk (which is actually now our dining room table) is covered in paperwork from the day job to file away for next week along with the work laptop, calculator, car keys, work bag and several phones, along with a pile of books received today, this laptop and paperwork relating to book-ish things.

So, right now it’s very messy, but I will no doubt spend a couple of hours this evening getting everything organised in the expectation that this will be the weekend where I get stuff done. Then my wife will come home, the kids will start fighting, washing up in the kitchen needs doing and dinner to be sorted out – and my nice tidier desk will sit like that until it’s time for Monday to hit with vengeance.

Most stupid question you’ve ever been asked? (no, you can’t answer with “this one”!)

That’s not a stupid question, but it is the toughest of the bunch.

It doesn’t relate to books or writing, but to somebody taking dictation (from a cassette machine) at a place I used to work.

The guy on the tape had asked the temp to type a quote (we repaired shop signs) and he’d said ‘Two engineers attending site and carrying out repairs…’. The temp actually asked me if what she’d typed was correct, clearly not engaging brain before showing it to me.

She’d typed ‘Two engineers attending site and carrying out some bears’ !

June 9, 2011

An interview with Isabel Losada

Hersilia Press @ 10:32 am

I went to Battersea Park Road with a bit of apprehension, not sure if I would find the place, and where it would be in the maze of London. Isabel’s house really is on Battersea Park Road, but tucked away in a green garden which makes it feel miles away.

After settling down with a cup of tea, we start talking about her books,since the Italian version of her fourth book, The Battersea Park Road To Paradise, has just published.

She tells me that her books are “against the tide” because they are nonfiction, but this is what she wants to write about: fiction has convenient coincidences, while she writes about reality. Her first book, The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment, is about happiness. In it she explores many approaches to looking inwards, retreats, tai-chi, tantric sexuality, rebirthing, past life exploration, colonic irrigation (!) an anger release workshop, ‘angel’ work – basically a number of courses that claim to make us happier, more fulfilled people. Her aim is to ask herself “what can I learn from this?” describe her experiences to the reader and make them laugh. Not at the courses but at Isabel.

When I comment that to do this she has an incredibly open mind, as most people wouldn’t even approach some of these experiences, she says “you can’t have a mind so open that your brain falls out”, which I think is very good advice – she says she had a picture of a man walking on a tightrope while she was writing the book, a careful balance between being sceptical and being open.

The book has been an incredible success, but critics accused her of navel-gazing, so in the following book (For Tibet, With Love) she started to look outwards: it was the time of the war on terror, and she believes that the best course of action is instead to reward the good, rather than punish the bad. So, guided by the serenity prayer (Grant me the serenity to accept what I can’t change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference) she starts exploring the Tibetan question, working with various charities, culminating in a jump from Nelson’s column (by a professional stuntman, but still highly dangerous), and a meeting with the Dalai Lama. I ask her to tell me more about this meeting, and in her usual humorous style she tells me how emotional the meeting was how overawed she has felt to meet this remarkable man of peace.

Her following book set out to try and understand why she had so many single women friends and knew no men that she could introduce them to. A state that she says is international. So she started exploring for her third book, Men!. She says that if you wanted to throw a party with 100 interesting, successful and single women, it would take about three days to find them, while it is almost impossible to find three interesting, single men who are not addicted to anything… She explores why this is the case, and why women and men see things in a different way. She doesn’t let any secret out though, so you’ll have to read the book to find out!

In her latest book, The Battersea Park Road to Paradise which she is clearly stating is nonfiction, she does a similar work to her first, The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment, but she chooses only five activities and explores them more in depth. The very description of them made me feel uncomfortable: Vipassana meditation (10 hours a day for 10 days, no speaking and no eye contact), Anthony Robbins (who she describes by starting to jump up and down and making me feel tired just by looking at her), then Feng Shui (where the 3 independent experts she calls in don’t agree on anything, and someone tells her she is missing a corner of her house therefore she had problems with her father), Mooji,the Advaita teacher (a guru who makes her think about who the “self” really is,and about the very nature of consciousness), and finally taking ayahuasca in the Amazon, a very powerful drug taken under the supervision of a local shaman.

Again, she uses her funny style to describe these experiences with the aim of telling us, the readers, what she got out of these experiences, with some inspiration for us to explore any path fitting for each of us, and find our own way to enlightenment (or paradise). ‘Above all…’ she says, ‘I love to make my readers laugh.

May 25, 2011

An interview with Alfredo Colitto

Hersilia Press @ 9:19 am

I’ve been looking forward to meeting Alfredo Colitto in my hometown of Bologna so when he suggests going for lunch at a local historical deli-cum-eatery I am just delighted.

After a chat about Italy, books and crime fiction, with plates of cheese and excellent prosciuttoin front of us, I ask him about Inquisition (Cuore diFerro) which has just been published in the UK by Sphere. Its background is Bologna and its university where the protagonist, Mondino de’ Liuzzi, was one of the first anatomists and surgeons in the early fourteenth century.

Mondino is an extremely interesting character, having written what is considered the first anatomical treatise, and quite short-tempered. In the book, Mondino is brought, illegally, a corpse (the study of anatomy was carried out on corpses of suicides or people who had been executed) by the Templar Knight Gerardo da Castelbretone who feigned to be a medicine student. During autopsy, Mondino discovers that the corpse’s heart has been transformed into iron and decides to help Gerardo to hide the corpse, which belongs to another Templar Knight. When another body is found with the same extraordinary transformation, Mondino realises that in order to save himself from the grips of the Inquisition, he must outwit both Inquisitors and Templars to find the real killer.

With such a fascinating historical background, I ask Alfredo how he carried out his research: firstly on Mondino’s own treatise which is still extant and available (on the internet no less!), then on his biography by the academic Piero P. Giorgi (http://www.pierogiorgi.org/)as well as on more general medieval studies.

Inquisition also mentions the well known complex of the Seven Churches in Bologna, which Alfredo refers to in the book because of its historical importance. Tradition has that it was built over an ancient Celtic sacred oak, on which subsequently a temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis was built, and then, perhaps in the fifth century, was erected the Basilica del Sepolcro. The whole complex was planned in imitation to the main places of faith in Jerusalem and was quite famous at the time.

With Cuore di Ferro finished,the editor was happy, the author had become passionate about the subject and a three-book deal was done (although readers keep demanding another book, Alfredo didn’t tell me whether it’s likely to happen or not!).

Alfredo’s next book will be another historical novel, but set in the seventeenth century: a family saga set between Naples and the forming United States.

I ask Alfredo more about his writing process, and he’s one of the authors who think about the plot, have it almost completed in their heads and then start writing – when writing a historical novel, this process allows one to focus the research, then work on specific ideas and more focused inquiries.

Alfredo currently works as a translator for different publishers and has worked with authors like Joe Lansdale, Don Winslow, and Hilary Clinton: his fluency with languages comes from his extensive travelling, which he says has been in few places but for a long time each, and I’m amazed by the list of places he’s visited: apart from the UK and Germany, he has lived in Mexico, India, and Nepal (where he drew the inspiration to write a fairytale, Bodhi Tree).

I am obviously curious to know what kind of books he reads and my inkling is confirmed: he claims to be an “omnivorous reader”, to read a bit of everything although quite a lot of thrillers, but not excluding fantasy and historical (his favourites being Bernard Cornwell, CJ Sansom, Rory Clements).

Finally, I have to come back to the modern world and I am interested to hear his take on the e-book phenomenon, from the double point of being Italian and an author: Alfredo thinks the e-book is a market, and not the market for books. It is extremely handy, especially for research, since with a tablet or ipad one can have everything in the same place. But the paper book certainly isn’t dead, it is just a different medium – you wouldn’t want to use your ipad on the beach!

Since Alfredo also teaches on creative writing courses, I ask what advice he has for aspiring writers and it resounds with what I’ve heard many a successful author: write what you like and enjoy, without thinking about the readership or publication: the market is unpredictable, and if things don’t go well at least you’ve written what you liked and enjoyed the process!

Alfredo’s book Inquisition published on 5 May 2011 in the UK by Sphere.