Friday, 4 April 2014

The Walter Scott Prize 2014, and a new release

The Macmillan New Writers' blog has been quiet in recent months while we all work on our new projects. But we're never too busy to trumpet good news, and today we have two things worth celebrating.

First, it's congratulations to Ann Weisgarber, whose first novel The Personal History of Rachel DuPree was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2009.  Now her second novel, The Promise, is shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for the year's best historical novel.  It's a wonderful novel and Ann deserves her place alongside bestsellers Kate Atkinson, Robert Harris, Jim Crace and Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton.

 This year's shortlist

There's also a new release from another acclaimed Macmillan New Writing graduate, Eliza Graham.

1939. Youngster Benny Gault, a Kindertransport refugee from Nazi Germany’s anti-semitism, arrives at Harwich docks, label flapping round his neck, football under his arm, and a guilty secret in his heart.  More than half a century later, Benny lies on his deathbed in his beautiful country house, Fairfleet, his secret still unconfessed. Rosamond, his nurse, has a guilty secret of her own concerning her mother’s death in a fire at Fairfleet, years earlier. As Benny and Rosamond unwind the threads binding them together, Rosamond must fight the unfinished violence of the past, now menacing both Fairfleet's serenity and Benny's last days.

I haven't read this one yet, but her 2011 novel Restoration is one of the most under-rated historical novels of recent years, and The One I Was is sure to be a treat for fans new and old.

Both books are available in print and ebook format.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Witchcraft in the Harem

The Great Witchcraft in the Harem blog tour of 2013 kicks off today right here, and will be visiting a number of great blogs over the next two weeks.

I've started in the middle there. Let me backtrack.

Yesterday my first collection of short stories was published. I've changed genre since I was published by Macmillan, and am now writing what you could call literary fantasy. Well, whatever it is, it's still pushing out the boat of weirdness and hoisting the mainsail of unpredictability.

You’re running away from something terrible. You think you’ve escaped it, this thing, but it turns out it’s waiting for you in all the places you hide: your house, your garden, a self-help group, a seraglio, the island of Zanzibar, a museum in Turin, a hot air balloon in Canada, even in the ladies’ room of your favourite nightclub. You’ve carried it into these places with you. It’s inside you. And now it’s time for it to come out.
This first collection of acclaimed short stories by Aliya Whiteley takes the reader to the strangest, deepest corners of life experience. Grotesque, unsettling, and often very funny, Witchcraft in the Harem deals with birth and betrayal, love and loss, and all the terrible thoughts we want to escape, and find still waiting for us at the journey’s end.
Acclaim for the Book
‘The experience of reading this collection is like being waterboarded by an angel. Shocking, heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny, this is some of the best writing I’ve ever seen. If you like Aimee Bender or Etgar Keret, you will love Witchcraft in the Harem.’ —World Fantasy Award-winner Lavie Tidhar

I love the beetles on my front cover.

You can purchase the book right here.

There is going to be a launch party in London, on 13th May, details of which you can find here. And there is also a blog tour (fanfare!). That's what this post is. The beginning of the blog tour. Details of the blog tour are up on my own blog here. I'll be answering questions, talking shop, and explaining why I chose the beetley cover and what it's like to change genre and fiction length, in lots of different electronic places.

For instance, tomorrow I will be at Iain Rowan's blog. He's a very talented writer of crime and speculative fiction, and we chatted about our favourite authors and getting stuck in lifts.

Later on I'll be stopping off at the blogs of lots of familiar MNW faces. Hope to see you there.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Two Gentlemen of Verona, with apologies to William Shakespeare

About this time of year in 1997--16 years ago, although that barely seems possible--I sat down in front of my very first PC.  I was determined that, having run out of excuses, I would write the novel I had been promising myself for years.  I had some vivid characters and the outline of the plot.

That Friday evening, after a day at work and a light dinner, I wrote the opening chapter of The Zael Inheritance.  (It transpired, in a process that all novelists will understand, that I'd actually written Chapter 7).

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Back in Action

The Macmillan New Writers blog has been quiet the past months but the same can't be said about  the writers.  On March 20, Frances Garrood, Eliza Graham, Simon Packham, Tim Stretton, Deborah Swift, Len Tyler, and I tore ourselves away from our writing desks and met for lunch at Brown's Covent Garden in London.  

What's up?  What's new?  Tim is working on a steampunk novel, Len continues to wreck havoc in the world of crime, Eliza and Deborah are bringing the past alive with compelling characters, Frances is involved in the world of e-book publishing, Simon's novels inspire young adults to turn off social media and actually read, and I was in London celebrating the release of my second novel. 

And the latest trends in the publishing world?  We talked about those, too.  To blog or not to blog?  What about GoodReads?  Twitter?  And self-publishing?  We all had opinions but one thing was clear.  Much has changed since we published our first novels with Macmillan New Writing. 

One thing remains the same:  the friendships forged by those of us lucky enough to be part of MNW, an upstart imprint with an editor willing to look at work by unknown writers not represented by agents.  Our publication experiences were and still are different from most authors', and that's what unites us today.  I wouldn't change that for anything.     


Monday, 10 September 2012

THE GILDED LILY by Deborah Swift

Featured Publication: THE GILDED LILY by Deborah Swift

'Deborah Swift's THE GILDED LILY is a heart-rending story of two sisters on the run, searching for a better life. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, the novel drew me straight into the teeming streets of Restoration London. An addictive, page-turning read.' Mary Sharratt

Winter 1660
Sadie Appleby has lived all her life in her small village. One night she is rudely awoken by her older and bolder sister, Ella, who has robbed her employer and is on the run. The girls flee their rural home of Westmorland to head for London, hoping to lose themselves in the teeming city. But the dead man's relatives are in hot pursuit, and soon a game of cat and mouse begins.

Set in London's atmospheric coffee houses, the rich mansions of Whitehall, and the pawnshops, slums and rookeries hidden from rich men's view, The Gilded Lily is about beauty and desire, about the stories we tell ourselves, and about how sisterhood can be both a burden and a saving grace.

Deborah, thanks so much for answering a few questions about your second novel, The Gilded Lily, published by Pan Macmillan. It takes place during the winter of 1660-61 so let’s begin with the time period. What are the challenges of stepping away from the year 2012 and assuming the points of view of your main characters?

One of the main challenges was to find convincing voices for the two sisters, Ella and Sadie, and to make them distinct from each other. Girls in their position had little education and could not read, and as much of it was written from their point of view, I had to avoid using too many long words or anything too literary. Their view of the world was very narrow, and founded on hearsay, gossip and superstition. Stories were a very important part of a village culture where hardly anyone could read, and the telling of stories - both fairytales and lies became a major theme in the novel.

The girls' small horizons became an advantage when they had to come to terms with the explosion of new sights and ideas when they reached the city of London. When writing, I also wanted to give a sense of a Westmorland accent so I listened to a lot of archive material of Cumbrian dialect. Unfortunately a lot of it was almost unintelligible to our modern ears so I had to pick out only odd words to give a flavour.

Your first novel, The Lady's Slipper, also begins in 1660. What draws you to that decade?

The period was one of tumultuous change, but also of optimism. The end of Puritan rule meant a swing back to a world of lavish entertainment and sexual freedom and a revival of fashion and the arts. It was the Swinging Sixties in London three centuries before the 1960's. Although The Gilded Lily deals with the dark and seamy London underworld, there is a sense that anyone can become anything - a poor girl can become a King's Mistress as indeed Nell Gwyn did. And as a writer, although The Gilded Lily might at times be chilling, in the end the tone of my books tends to the optimistic, rather than pessimistic.

Were there interesting or surprising things that you discovered during the research process for The Gilded Lily?

I was just amazed by how cold it was in the Little Ice Age. The Thames froze to a depth of nine feet! Birds froze mid-flight. But Londoners made a holiday of it, put up stalls on the frozen river, tied runners on their boats, and were determined to enjoy it. On one occasion the King paraded his horse guards up and down on the ice highway, which was known as Freezeland Street. During this time of freezing weather the King decided to raise revenue by imposing a Hearth Tax, and tax the household per chimney. If he was standing for election today that would not have been a popular move!

Admirers of your work praise you for your attention to detail. I agree, but I also find your dialogue equally compelling. What are the challenges of writing 1660's vocabulary and phrasing?

It is difficult to know what their voices sounded like as we have no recordings. Dialogue of playwrights such as Dryden, Behn, Wycherly or Vanbrugh, gives us the closest idea. This sort of dialogue is not comfortable for the modern reader. My approach has been to simplify rather than elaborate on normal speech. I often thought to myself, "would a 17th century person understand what she's saying?" If the answer was no, then I'd simplify again.

You have a MA in Creative Writing. How did the program shape your writing? What was the single most important lesson you learned?

It shaped my writing because I suddenly had a lot of very critical (in a nice way) readers! One of the things I learned was that although dramatic situations seem attractive to a writer, the story has to be about the people. I know this seems obvious, but for historical fiction writers especially, it is easy to get caught up in the history and lose sight of who the story is about. And it should always be a who, not a what!

Like The Lady's Slipper, The Gilded Lily will also be published in the United States. What’s it like to have your book published in another country?

Absolutely fascinating. Being published in the US is like being published in a lot of different countries! All the states are so particular, the landscapes and concerns of the readers unique to that place. The feedback from the US has been so interesting, as there are so many different views of England. Each person will be imagining their view of Westmorland based on what they know and my description. After all, the reader constructs half the story.

Your next novel, A Divided Inheritance, is set in England and in Spain during 1609. How is this writing experience different than the other two books?

First of all, researching Spanish history is a challenge when you don't speak Spanish. Fortunately I have a friend who does! I took a research visit to Seville which was invaluable. The period is earlier than my other books, and the whole atmosphere under King James of England and Philip II of Spain is less lax and more severe than under Charles II. The book turned out to be "bigger" than the other two - both in length and in scope. This is partly to do with setting it in two countries and partly because the ideas in it needed more characters. I guess you could say I'm getting more ambitious!

I understand that you enjoy meeting with book discussion groups. How can readers contact you?

I love to discuss my books with readers and book groups. Book group questions are up on my website and I can be contacted at

Thank you, Deborah, for taking the time to answer my questions. The Gilded Lily and The Lady’s Slipper are available at your local bookshops.

Monday, 11 June 2012

The First Book of Classical Horror Stories

Megazanthus Press will soon be publishing a new anthology of stories using pieces of classical music as inspiration. The First Book of Classical Horror Stories, edited by DF Lewis, will become available in the next few months, and some great names in dark fantasy and horror writing are involved, including Andrew Hook, Rhys Hughes, and Rachel Kendall.
My story, Songs for Dead Children, is based on Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, which seemed a perfect starting point for psychological horror.
Taken from Wikipedia:
The original Kindertotenlieder were a group of 428 poems written by Rückert in 1833–34 in reaction to the illness (scarlet fever) and death of his children. Painter describes the poems thus: “Rückert’s 428 poems on the death of children became singular, almost manic documents of the psychological endeavor to cope with such loss. In ever new variations Rückert’s poems attempt a poetic resuscitation of the children that is punctuated by anguished outbursts. But above all the poems show a quiet acquiescence to fate and to a peaceful world of solace.”These poems were not intended for publication.
Mahler selected five of Rückert’s poems to set as Lieder, which he composed between 1901 and 1904. The songs are written in Mahler’s late-romantic idiom, and like the texts reflect a mixture of feelings: anguish, fantasy resuscitation of the children, resignation. The final song ends in a major key and a mood of transcendence.
The poignancy of the cycle is increased by the fact that four years after he wrote it, Mahler lost his daughter, Maria, aged four, to scarlet fever. He wrote to Guido Adler: “I placed myself in the situation that a child of mine had died. When I really lost my daughter, I could not have written these songs any more.”

Monday, 21 May 2012

Great review of the History Room

There is a great 5-star review of Eliza's new book on the Bookbag site.

"Graham has woven a terrific mystery with the darkness of the human psyche at its centre. Using every possible tool to dissect the mysteries of the mind, the novel is a beautiful balance of narrative, dialogue and description and every word is pertinent. She has mastered the art of writing in a rich, full fashion without wasting one word."

Congratulations, Eliza!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Big Pulp and Mr Whippy

More short story pluggage to follow:
Big Pulp’s Summer 2012 issue will be available to buy shortly, but as a taster, my short story First Up is available to read for free from the website for a limited time.
First Up is a little lick of romance with a flake or two of fantasy. What would you do if you had a special talent? Wouldn’t you want to share it with others in your workplace, even if it might upset them? It’s a complicated choice, but then, isn’t life just like that all over?
Mr Whippy
Mr Whippy (Photo credit: kenjonbro)
So yesterday I went to the park after work as I usually do, and got talking to the girl who works in the Mr. Whippy van who has nice eyes but I’ve got no idea about the legs, obviously, because she’s behind the counter and that’s part of her appeal. After that, I walked around for a while, licking my ice cream, thinking about what she had said to me—about how you need to get a good grip on the machine handle and hold the cone steady at the same time.
God, life is just full of these little tricks of the trade, full of things we have to juggle. It’s not enough to be good at just one thing any longer. It got me thinking about my own talent, and how I’ve been treating it as if it’s not enough. Like it’s just holding the cone steady and ignoring the handle. So I decided to start being proud of it. I decided to share it around.