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.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Gilded Lily in my Mailbox.

Late this afternoon, an advanced reading copy of Dee Swift's THE GILDED LILY arrived at my house in Texas. The cover art is alive with beautiful detail. Two women wearing lace stand with their backs to one another. But it's what between the covers that counts. Dinner was delayed as I read page after page, the story of Sadie and Ella taking me to the world of Westmorland and then to London in 1660. Hunger pains did eventually force me to put the novel down (why oh why does work have to interfere with pleasure?), but I'm itching to get back to it. THE GILDED LADY will be released in September and without a doubt, it'll be a hit. Many congratulations, Dee. Job well done.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The History Room

A book often starts with what I call 'unaware research'. I read a newspaper article or listen to a Radio 4 programme and something fires in my mind. My fourth novel, The History Room, came into being because I was at a school open day and thinking what a perfect crucible a school is. All those teenagers with their angsts and stresses. The teachers with their own anxieties. Exams. Sports matches. Friendship troubles. But at open days everything can appear perfect and glossy.

I knew my book had to start with a bang: something had to happen which immediately threatened the serene appearance of the school. Originally I thought of having a real baby in my first scene, but for reasons that will be clear to anyone who’s read The History Room, I couldn't bring myself to do it. A friend on a writers’ forum put me on to reborn dolls: dolls that are lifelike facsimiles of newborn babies. I researched reborns further by looking at YouTube videos and reading newspaper articles like this one.

Researching the book’s setting was also important. I looked at photographs of large country houses on the web. The History Room is set in a beautiful country house and there are plenty of those where I live, in Oxfordshire. Some of that research took place organically, as I drove around the area. My editor, Will Atkins, also sent me a great photograph of a house he’d come across on a walk.

I also needed to know about the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia and when the Russians would have reached various parts of the country. In addition, I wanted information about the layout of the western suburbs of Prague and of the area bordering the German border. I have visited both parts of the country, but years ago. Here, my best friend was Google Maps. It allowed me to have a bird’s eye view of both areas. I also found books about Czech history during the 20th century and read some biographies and autobiographies of artists and writers who’d lived through WW2 and/or the Prague Spring.

As fantastic as the web is for research,
I still err on the side of preferring books, archives and museums, mainly because I probably spend long enough at my laptop, anyway. However, Wikipedia and the BBC website and associated forums are very good. I have also used The National Archives online to obtain copies of documents.

If it comes to a stand-off between 100% historical or geographical accuracy and the story/characters, the latter always win. But that happens very rarely, I find. What I'm trying to do is avoid someone throwing the book down in disgust because they know it's completely unlikely that events would have happened in the way I portray. Nonetheless, every time a book of mine is published I lie in bed fretting that I’ve forgotten to check something. I’m sure it’ll be just the same where The History Room is concerned!

But whatever the anxieties it can create, research is fun. It leads to new openings, new ideas. I’m enjoying going through the process for my fifth novel at the moment.