Friday, 21 March 2014

'I'm doing an Olivia Ozanne and re-writing the rules.' Reviews close to my Heart

Those of you out there who read and enjoy books are simply great. And those of you who take trouble to make a comment on Amazon about them  are thrice blessed. You warm a writer's heart in what can be a chilly world.

So I have been greatly and  thrice warmed by two new reviews for my latest book Journey to Moscow: The Adventures of Olivia Ozanne from readers who seem to me to get to the heart of a novel which is very close to my heart. 

They seem to describe the book better than I can. They certainly know it.

As our readers you are precious to us. These days if you enjoy a book - any book - a few lines on Amazon is a real and lasting gift to the writer.

Here are two of these precious reviews  on Amazon which have made my week.

Review from A.A

"There's nothing to not love in this book. A double negative but who cares?

I'm doing an Olivia Ozanne and re-writing the rules. For me this thought encapsulates the essence of this fascinating book, which dispenses with the prejudices, the political and stereotypical misconceptions surrounding the teenaged Moscow as it emerged from its long sleep, post - Glasnost. The writer gives such insight into this period which, ironically, is so relevant to what is happening in Putin's Russia today.

Olivia Ozanne is my hero- totally honest about who she is, warts and all, knowing she has failed as a mother and wife but always remaining true to herself and keeping the faith with her writing.

As always, this writer has woven an intricate tale with many memorable characters, the love of her life Volodya, the grey and brown Aunties, her daughter and son, even the odious Kendrick. They will all remain in my head for a long time and when I say you must read this book, I really mean it!"

Review from AMJ 

Olivia Ozanne is the writer abroad, the stranger alone, a woman who can see
the surface of things and beyond. Well rid of her ex Kendrick and his leather sofa fetish, she comes to stay with her daughter Caitlin. This is post-glasnost Moscow with its fallen statues, burgeoning mafia, newly restored churches, its
phones tapped but no longer listened in to, a city that demands hard currency.

Through Olivia’s eyes we see into the heart of this city and its people. We peer inside their tiny flats into their constricted interior lives, where we meet the mysterious Aunties whose surprising histories, stretching back to the revolution, are slowly uncovered by Olivia.

This is a richly painted canvas of an iconic city, in many ways relevant to our understanding of the Russia of today. It is a story about a woman in search of a new self and it’s hard not to fall in love with Olivia with her enormous appetite for life or for that matter her lover Volodya who she meets at the flower stall. I fell in love with them both. But Wendy Robertson’s greatest gift is in making us fall in love with the place and its people. Gorgeous."

Thank you to these two wonderful readers and to other readers out there who find pleasure in my stories. I appreciate you, WXX

Friday, 7 March 2014

An Extraordinary Woman for International Women's Day: The Muse At My Shoulder

I have been putting together twenty six of my short stories for publication, to be called Forms of Flight (See sidebar here...). 

As I re-read the stories and decided how to arrange them in the volume it dawned on me how much of my writing, in short and long form,  is concerned with people who face their fears and take on the world but also some  people who take flight from difficult lives - in reality and also in the interior world of  imagination   fantasy and even madness,

At the same time I have been casting around for someone to write about on International Women's day. 

In my search for such a heroine I ended up very close to home with a post written by me  on my mother's birthday in 2008. Although she lived in a small town and, becoming widowed,  lived a hard life,she was always acutely aware of the world outside her narrow window, of the international scene represented by the globe in our small front room.* 

So for International Women's Day  here is my post about an extraordinary woman who has always been the muse at my shoulder.

Barbara With Grahame
In her prime, with G.

'...Although we were (are?) very different personalities, I have inherited many things from my mother Barbara ...

There is this desire to run away, expressed in the delight in travel. For her, with a family of four to bring up on her own and no resources, this was confined to books, maps and the globe of the world. Then things became just a bit easier and in her fifties she went to Denmark on her own. After that, year by year, she travelled further and further.

I was in my thirties when I started. Paris first. Then Moscow, (The location of my new novel  Journey to Moscow: The adventures of Olivia Ozanne. Barbra would have approved of Olivia...)

Then different parts of America. Then Italy. Then the far East. Then New Zealand. Then Poland.

Then back to France. Always France.

Being imbued with the Puritan work ethic Barbara would have approved of the fact that much of my travelling has been about the writing of novels. Evidence for this would be the working titles for some of my novels: for example, The Russian Novel (Journey to Moscow: The Adventures of Olivia Ozanne  ; the Singapore Novel (Long Journey Home); The Polish Novel (The Woman Who Drew Buildings); The London Novel (The Lavender House). Honesty’s Daughter was, for a time ‘The American Novel’. And The French Novel (An Englishwoman in France)

Sadly, Barbara was only here on earth to read my first novel Lizza in printer’s proofs. But in all these travels - in all this writing – she has been at my shoulder.

Although it is fiction, Lizza is based on a fragile sliver of Barbara’s young life.‘I stayed up all night reading it, love,’ she said, when she read the proofs. ‘Couldn’t stop. Do you know that foreman? Well his real name was …’

I had invented him, name and all.  It seemed that much of my pure invention was real
Which brings me to another of my bequests from Barbara: some kind of psychic acuity. Her oldest sister was a full blown medium but Barbara herself was highly sensitive. 

This psychic acuity probably explains why - as I write - I hear my characters talking, see them walking.  It could explain the fact that when I’ve written about a place – even a place thousands of miles away - and checked it out later, I find that it’s already there, in my drafting book.

This psychic predisposition is there as a kind of ‘sleeper’ in many of my novels, and with my  ‘French Novel’ An Englishwoman in France I have come out and centred the narrative on the psychic predispositions of my character Stella and the way she relates to space and time. New departure! It’s been great to write.

I’ve benefited from other bequests from Barbara –a love of the realities of history, a cherishing of the resonance of the spoken word, an innate story telling gene – all these would merit further stories here.

But an important bequest worth mentioning has been Barbara’s role model as a Barbara in Uniformworking mother with little regard for the domestic side of life. This has allowed me to write rather than dust, to make stories rather than make the bed. It has stood me in good stead all my working life and been instrumental in the production of so many novels.

However for now the greatest bequest to me is her continuing presence around me and her pleasure, through time, at what has happened in my life – my new novels and stories , my good teaching, my extraordinary family...'

Perhaps for International Women's Day we should all celebrate and honour those precious heroines close at hand.'

(*I have also written elsewhere on LTT about that globe ...) 

Monday, 3 March 2014

Layers, Romantic Suspense and Margaret Kaine.

I am delighted to introduce novelist Margaret Kaine as my guest  on Life Twice Tasted this month. The popularity of her novels shows that readers appreciate stories with substance and  have an historical appreciation of the  Edwardian period at the beginning of the Twentieth Century,

I first met Margaret some years ago at an RNA conference in Durham City. I have to say that I found myself identifying with her answers to my questions here, -especially the point about a 'character developing ;beneath my  fingers'.

Margaret's debut novel, Ring of Clay, won both the RNA’s New Writer’s Award in 2002 and the Society of Authors’ Sagittarius Prize in 2003 and was followed by another seven  ‘Potteries’ novels. Against a more cosmopolitan background, Dangerous Decisions, published by Choc Lit in December, 2013 is described as ‘Downton with a twist.’

Wendy: What is the primary joy of writing in your life?
Margaret: I find it fascinating to create different personas, to visually imagine a character developing ‘beneath my fingers’. The process of writing a novel may be hard work and require concentration to link the sequences together, but when it’s going well it gives me a buzz unlike any other. And then, depending on the era, there can be a warm glow of nostalgia, especially with my first seven novels which are set in the Potteries where I grew up.

Wendy:When did you first know you were a writer?
Margaret: Ah . . . that word, know. I do vividly remember the first time I gazed down at a blank sheet of paper, not having even written an essay for more years than I’d like to admit. Only to feel absolutely thrilled when I managed to write a whole paragraph of fiction. “I can do it, I can write,” was the phrase that exploded in my mind. I knew nothing at that time of the long learning curve needed to hone the craft of writing. 
            But I think it would be when my first novel, Ring of Clay was accepted for publication, with the publisher confident enough to offer me a 4-book contract. 
             As time has passed, I’ve come to consider that anyone who writes consistently, who feels the urge to write, is a writer. And this applies to all those who write their memoirs, not necessarily those who want to be published. But I do think the description ‘author’ or ‘novelist’, needs a professional recognition. 

WWhat would you say characterises the themes in your novels?
M. I deal with real issues, describing how people cope with the problems that face them in life. I covered rape in my first novel, adoption in my second, Rosemary, relationship and religious issues in my third, A Girl of Her Time, and in others snobbery, secrets, friendship and poverty. 
                      Yes, I am a romantic novelist so there is always that underlying theme, but my novels have several layers. I think fiction with vivid characters and page-turning plots not only provide escapism for readers, but can be thought-provoking.

W. Do you have a writing routine?
M,Not in an exact sense. I tend to write in short bursts as I need to be careful not to sit too long at the computer or I develop shoulder and neck problems. I don’t always manage that discipline though, because I become too involved with my characters – and then I regret it! I’m lucky enough to have a downstairs study and write only there. 
             My creativity flows best in the mornings, although I also write sometimes in the afternoons, but never in the evenings. I’m definitely a lark rather than an owl.

W. What role does editing play in your writing process?
M. A crucial part and I have a need to edit constantly rather than write the complete novel first.

W. What is the best advice that you have received about your writing and who advised you?
M.One was to read my work aloud when editing, advice I was given when I attended a writing workshop at a local college. The other was not to ‘gloss over’ a scene - instead to extract from it every ounce of drama. This comment was on the critique I received from the RNA New Writer’s scheme.

W. What advice would you give to writers in the first stage of writing their novels?
M. Definitely to join a writers’ workshop, where your work can receive valuable feedback and you can listen to criticisms of other writers’ work. It is essential though that there is also support and encouragement and it may be worth searching for the right one. Writing can be a lonely occupation and only other writers really understand how all-absorbing it can be. I have made some wonderful friends in this way.

W. How long does it normally take you to write a novel? Has this changed?
M. I admire enormously those novelists who can complete two novels a year or even a novel every 12 months. But my own manuscripts take me at least 18 months to write and edit. And ideally, I would prefer a comfortable two years. Not a scenario that publishers like, but essential in my case. I’m prone to frequent migraines, and so my allotted writing time often has to be postponed.
                 One would have thought that with experience, writing would become swifter, perhaps even easier, but that hasn’t been my experience. I do think though that I have become more critical of my own writing.

W. What are you working on now?
M. I am writing another novel set in the Edwardian era. But this time, the story begins with a young girl incarcerated in a workhouse from the age of six. It is hard in these easier times to envisage the hardship and degradation faced then by those in poverty, often through no fault of their own. There is another main heroine, a wealthy young woman who offers young Ella the means of escaping – even if it only to become a scullery maid. But there are mysteries in both of their past lives. And of course, a romantic element will be there throughout.

W. Tell us about your latest published novel.
M. Set against a cosmopolitan background and in the Edwardian era, Dangerous Decisions tells the story of Helena, a young and sheltered debutante who is courted by the wealthy and enigmatic Oliver Faraday. Despite a sense of unease and being haunted by the image of an attractive young doctor, she mistakes infatuation for love and accepts Oliver’s proposal. But he is deeply flawed. 
                    Describing the beautiful clothes of the Edwardian era, the pampered life of the aristocracy, the widespread poverty and drudgery of the working classes and the servant culture fascinated me. The novel has been described as a psychological suspense but is also deeply romantic.

W. What, for you are the best characteristics of a good editor?
M. To believe in your novel and want it to be the best it can. A keen eye for discrepancies especially the timeline, and to be friendly and approachable.

Other Books by Margaret:


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