Welcome Perth Western Australian based author Tess woods to my blog. Tess has a new book out this week which she introduces in this vlog.
Welcome Perth Western Australian based author Tess woods to my blog. Tess has a new book out this week which she introduces in this vlog.
I had the virtual pleasure of meeting author Amy Andrews when she released her genre bending novel Limbo back in 2015.
In the words of the author this book is “urban-noir/paranormal-lite/mystery/romance mash up” and I would add PI in the mix, and a great mix it is too. This is a great contemporary feel good romp that had me smiling and laughing out loud. The characters are quirky, flawed and very very real. I had visions of Tom Selleck’s Magnum PI as the male protagonist, the female lead – hmm, maybe a young tough version of Rachel Griffiths works for me I think. Fans of Kathryn Ledson’s Erica Jewell series will also love this read.
Limbo has been re branded, has a new cover that relates specifically to a character in the book – you will love the new look.
Click on the video to see what Amy has to share with us.
Buy Amy’s book here:
I’ve always loved stories. It didn’t matter where they came from. Books, movies, or real life family histories. People intrigue me; I love trying to work out what drives them to behave as they do, what secret fears or desires influence the way they connect (or fail to connect) with the world. My great-grandmother used to tell me to always try and see the good in others, and her philosophy touched me deeply. In trying to see the good, I sometimes had to unravel quite a lot of bad, which taught me that everyone – even the dullest among us – are a lot more complex beneath the surface than they seem at first glance.
Every person you meet is an untapped reservoir of emotions, relationships, fears and dreams and longings. It’s possible to know someone for 60 years at close proximity – a husband, say, or a sister – and you think you know everything about them there is to know. Then one day they take you by surprise, and you realise that you don’t know this person so very well after all. Who are they? How is it possible to have known them for so long, and yet not really know them at all?
These sorts of questions actually keep me awake at night. Of course, there are no definite answers. That’s why it’s such fun to explore them in stories. By using a number of viewpoint characters and weaving two or three – or sometimes more – timelines together, I can create a patchwork of personalities, who each bring another layer of intrigue into the tale.
I’ve always really loved ‘cold case’ mysteries, where a crime has remained unsolved for many years. It seemed only natural that my novels revolve around an unexplained crime. Going back and forth between different timeframes lets me tell part of the story through the eyes of the people most affected by the crime. This adds emotional weight to the mystery. If the reader gets involved with my historical characters, and comes to care about them and understand their motives, they’re more likely to respond to the emotional punch at the end when the mystery is solved.
When you use a similar plot structure for several novels, and often explore related themes, making each new story different takes a bit of thought. Of course, character traits and backstories, settings, and the core mystery take each book along a very different path. But I also like to infuse all my stories with a distinct tone or mood. The best way I’ve found to keep the freshness alive from one novel to the next is by making an inspiration wall. For every new project I collect photos and postcards and pictures torn out of magazines. Each image in some way embodies the particular mood and atmosphere of the book I’m working on.
For Beyond the Orchard, I had lots of stormy dark seascapes and tall castles shadowed by trees. I take snapshots of the TV and print out favourite characters from movies or TV series. I like group shots with interesting expressions and body language. I reinvent scenarios for them which helps me keep track of the relationships between my own characters.
I stick all these pictures on my wall to create an enormous collage, and constantly refer to it while I’m writing. I also make a playlist of tracks that reinforces the mood I’m cultivating. For me, anyway, the tone or ‘feeling’ of each story is distinct. The mood board and music helps me to visualise the setting, but they also stir up the emotions I’m trying to portray. They help me feel more intimately in tune with my cast of characters and the mystery that links them.
Please welcome Aussie author Bram Connolly to my blog. Bram talks books, reading and reading influences.
“As a Special Forces officer, Bram Connolly served several tours in Afghanistan and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for leadership in combat. He takes you deep into the world of high-intensity combat few have experienced.”https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/fiction/crime-mystery/The-Fighting-Season-Bram-Connolly-9781760290382
“When I joined the Army there was a period of a few years where I didn’t read very much. The weekly training was intense and the sudden existence of a fortnightly wage saw me pursue other less wholesome pursuits on the weekends (drinking with my mates and chasing girls mostly). Don’t get me wrong; there were certainly lots of opportunities to read. One constant of being in the Army is that there is much sitting around and waiting involved: waiting for work to start, waiting for the next lesson, waiting for your turn at something, waiting for lunch, waiting for knock off – the list goes on. Soldiers are good at amusing each other. Dark humor and situational comedies are the main narratives of their tales; and we are colourful liars when it’s required to “sell” the story. I love this about us.
I fell into reading again by necessity when I was sent off on a six-week exercise to Weipa in Far North Queensland with a section of nine men. I remember we all took books to pass the time, knowing that sitting around an airfield in Northern Australia, as static defence, was going to be a boring undertaking. I discovered Robert G. Barrett’s books about Les Norton. In later years I also found these were the easiest to wrap in a small sandwich bag, secured by rubber bands, and thrown in the bottom of a military rucksack. Barrett’s books seemed to be impervious to the Tully monsoon rain that could seep into everything. I would sit under my individual shelter out in the middle of the jungle, as the rain pounded down, and immerse myself in Les Norton’s world of Sydney nightclubs and summer beaches. Easy reading and with strong Australian characters, the books reignited my passion for storytelling. With Barrett’s books complete, I graduated myself onto Jack Higgins, The Eagle has Landed and then every other book he ever wrote.
In the late 1990s, I was influenced in what I read by some of the older members of the battalion. The following books were considered required reading:
1 – Devil’s Guard by George Robert Elford. The story of a German SS officer who, with the rest of his Battalion, was seconded into the Foreign Legion at the completion of WWII, this book begins on the eastern front and continues into the First Indochina War. I remember it mostly because of the detail the author went into regarding the German operations. It was initially published as non-fiction but I understand that over time it was suggested this was a work of fiction. Either way, The Devils Guard is a riveting read and worth having on the bookshelf.
2 – As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me. Written by Bavarian novelist Josef Martin Bauer, this is the story of a German World War II prisoner of war Clemens Forell (Cornelius Rost changed his name to avoid detection by the KGB) and his escape from a Siberian Gulag in the Soviet Union back to Germany. Rich in its description of the landscapes, Bauer does a great job of making the reader anxious for Clemens the whole way through.
3 – Chickenhawk by Robert Mason. The story of Mason’s experiences as a ‘Huey’ UH-1 Iroquois helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, this is full of detail required to operate the aircraft. The book chronicles Mason’s entire career from his enlistment to his experiences in Vietnam, and his experiences after returning from the war. I think a generation of us who read this book believed we could jump straight in and fly a helicopter. I wouldn’t like to test that theory though.
4 – Marine Sniper. With 93 confirmed enemy kills, Carlos Hathcock was the most lethal sniper to emerge from the Vietnam War. This book describes his career and outlines the art of sniping in its purest form. I particularly like the details of the difficulties faced by those conducting operations in the jungles of Vietnam, something I could relate to at the time because of the intensive training we had also undertaken in jungle operations.
5 – Bravo two Zero by Steven Mitchell (writing under the pseudonym Andy McNab). This was the must have book of the 1990s. It was the first time a member of the British SAS had broke ranks completely to tell his story and give an account of what it was really like for the men on the ground. The book inspired a generation of soldiers in the UK and Australia to attempt Special Forces selection.
6 – The Feather Men by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Based on the story of four British soldiers targeted by a hit squad known as ‘The Clinic’ on the orders of a Sheik whose own sons were killed in Oman by British forces, this book created real controversy in the UK when it was released. Sir Ranulph added much fuel to the speculation at the time about whether or not it was a disguised factual account by branding it fictional and contesting that elements were true, a great marketing plan. He also wrote Where Soldiers Fear to Tread, a brilliant book full of romantic images of the Middle East and well worth a read.
The books on this list are rich in characterisation and landscape description, skills I take great pride in developing as a writer. The books I read as a young adult demonstrated to me that fiction can be written within an historical context. It’s a complex balancing act to not let one aspect overshadow the other, but if you get it right then the story really sings.”
Bram has a new book out – see how his personal experiences and reading have influenced his written work.
Introducing Matt Rix… Australian commando. An explosive thriller from the heart of Afghanistan.
‘The Fighting Season is military fiction of the first order: as tough as nails and packed with the insider knowledge of someone who has done it for real.’ – Matthew Reilly
‘Action packed, gritty and authentic to the core.’ – Merrick Watts
An explosive thriller from the heart of Afghanistan
Outside the wire, Uruzghan Province, Afghanistan, 2010…
In the badlands of central Afghanistan an Australian Special Forces platoon is fatally hit by a roadside bomb.
A shadowy Taliban commander, codenamed ‘Rapier’, is identified as responsible for the deadly attack. Matt Rix, the ultra tough commando who led the ambushed platoon, swears vengeance. Rix is one of Special Forces’ most lethal operators. He’ll neutralise Rapier – whatever it takes.
But in Afghanistan’s brutal war, not all things are as they seem.
Welcome Australian author Laura Bloom to my blog. Laura is sharing some very personal moments with us as she reflects on an event that changed and influenced the lives of so many.
On 9.11 my new husband Geoff and I were talking about breaking up. We had both grown up in Sydney but were living in London at the time, and had been very happy for a number of years. Then we married, and it mysteriously brought up issues for us that began to seem intractable. The morning of 9.11 we both called in sick to work, and walked around our neighbourhood, hashing out our problems. We went into a pub at one stage, to escape the bitter cold, but the blaring TVs and weird atmosphere among the other patrons put us off. We decided to break up, and my husband had packed his bag and just left our flat when a friend phoned and told me to turn on the TV.
It seemed to take ages for her to convince me it wasn’t an action movie, and that this TV footage of planes flying into buildings exploding into flames was real. ‘The authorities are warning people to stay at home and not to take public transport if possible,’ she told me. ‘Just in case there are more attacks here.’ London has long been a centre of terrorist activity. ‘You should tell Geoff not to come home from work on the tube.’ I hung up quickly and went running up the street. I caught up to him just as he was about to disappear into the Kilburn Station’s dark maw. ‘You can’t go on the underground,’ I told him, the thought of him being in any kind of danger reminding me of my love for him that dwarfed any consideration of the problems we’d been having. ‘Come back to the flat with me.’
We spent that evening sitting on the couch in front of the TV, watching the Twin Towers falling, over and over again. We decided to go to relationship counselling, before breaking up for good, and with the help of the wonderful British charity Relate, we decided to stay together. Which we still are, fifteen years and a wonderful son, later.
This is the scene I thought of when I came to write about 9.11 in my new novel, THE CLEANSKIN. In what is one of the two most autobiographical scenes in the novel, one of the main characters, Aidan, and his girlfriend Anne, also almost break up that day. They also go into a pub, and Anne also goes running up the road to stop Aidan taking the Tube. And 9.11 also saves them, temporarily at least.
Aidan experiences it even more intensely, however, because that was when Northern Ireland and the Troubles stopped hogging the world’s centre stage. After that the attention of the US and anti terrorism forces everywhere pivoted towards Islam, and for a little while a number of people thought the era of the Troubles was over. It wasn’t, completely – perhaps it will never be. Particularly recently with the Brexit threatening the Belfast Peace Agreement, that in 1998 brought peace to one of the longest running wars in history. But on 9.11 it’s described in my novel – which I borrowed from a newspaper piece written at the time – as though a great wave left the beach and went sucking back out to sea, taking the era of The Troubles, and all the problems Aidan and Anne and the other characters in my novel had experienced who were caught up them, with it.
It didn’t, of course. War and peace don’t begin overnight, and they don’t end overnight, either. But it’s a pivotal moment in my story, because that’s when Aidan decides that one day he will go looking for Megan, his brother’s fiancé, who is living in a small town on the other side of the world in Australia, under a new identity …
Please welcome Belinda Alexandra to my blog .
Belinda has been published to wide acclaim in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland, Poland, Norway and Russia. She is the daughter of a Russian mother and an Australian father and has been an intrepid traveller since her youth. Her love of other cultures is matched by her passion for her home country, Australia, where she is a volunteer rescuer and carer for the NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES). http://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780732296445/southern-ruby/
Belinda’s new book Southern Ruby is out now.
Harper Collins Australia
Forbidden love. Family secrets. A twist of fate. The stunning new generational saga from Belinda Alexandra, bestselling author of Tuscan Rose and White Gardenia. In New Orleans – the city of genteel old houses and ancient oak trees covered in Spanish moss, of seductive night life, of Creole culture, voodoo and jazz – two women separated by time and tragedy will find each other at last.Amanda, orphaned as a child and suffering the loss of her beloved grandmother, has left Sydney in search of a family she never knew. Ruby, constrained by the expectations of society and class, is carrying a lifetime of secrets. Amanda’s arrival sparks revelations long buried: a double life, a forbidden love, and a loss that cannot be forgotten.Southern Ruby is a sweeping story of love, passion, family and honour. Alternating in time between the 1950s and the eve of Hurricane Katrina, it is also a tribute to a city heady with mystery, music, and superstition, which has borne the tumults of race and class and the fury of nature, but has never given up hope
BURLESQUE DANCING – Is it Naughty or Nice?
Belinda Alexandra – Guest Blog
The Evangelist, Billy Graham, described Bourbon Street, New Orleans in the 1950s as the ‘middle of hell’. It would have certainly seemed that way to him with the port city’s notorious bars, jazz clubs, prostitution and mafia activity. Not to mention its burlesque clubs, where beautiful women in costumes of silk and feathers removed items of clothing piece by piece in a tantalising dance until they had stripped down to nothing more than jewelled pasties and rhinestone G-strings. Although it all seems innocent in comparison to today’s strip joints and hard core pornography, it was hot stuff in the sexually repressed 1950s.
With regards to modern burlesque as performed by artists such as Dita Von Teese, there is an argument about whether burlesque is a an empowering feminist art form, or whether it is demeaning and objectifying. The answer to this seems to lie mainly in the eye of the beholder and what they define as either ‘feminist’ or ‘empowering’. Compared to mainstream media, burlesque does seem to be more welcoming to a variety of body types, sexual orientations, ethnicities and ages – with some of the earlier stars such as Tempest Storm still performing well into their seventies. Heterosexual women make up most of the audiences that go to see Dita Von Teese perform so if objectification is taking place, these days it’s by women.
From my point of view, the burlesque described in Southern Ruby is empowering, albeit in a very quotidian way. My character, Vivienne de Villeray – Ruby – is the daughter of an aristocratic French Creole family that has whittled away its fortune in lavish living and she is forced to find some means of supporting her ailing mother and their one remaining loyal but aging maid. Deeply in debt and with her mother requiring a serious operation, there are few financial options available for Ruby to help her family other than to marry for money. Women’s wages were low in the 1950s: a sales clerk earned sixty cents an hour; a telephone operator, twenty-five dollars a week. The average wage for an American woman was less than twenty dollars a week and it was lower still in the south and for unskilled positions. Burlesque, on the other hand, could offer performers anywhere from $100 a week to $5000 dollars a week for the big stars like Lili St. Cyr and Tempest Storm.
Most of the dancers of the 1950s saw their performing not in terms of whether it was objectifying or not but whether it would allow them to help their families and get them out of poverty. For many of these women, it took them out of small towns and backwaters where their only future was to be pregnant and married at fifteen.
As Blaze Starr described it in Leslie Zemeckis’s book Behind the Burly Q: The story of burlesque in America:
Burlesque provided an opportunity to many girls, like me, to escape poverty. I come from the rural hills of West Virginia. My daddy had black lung. We were lucky to get a new pair of shoes once a year. But burlesque got me out of the hills and I saw things most girls will never see. I met presidents and governors. I made a lot of money and I loved it. I made real good friends with the other performers, like Val Valentine. She’s been my friend for decades.
While many of us take our university degrees and the opportunities available to us for granted, it is easy to judge the women of burlesque without truly understanding the restrictions of the era they lived in. I admire them for trying to gain some power, if only financial power, outside of the institution of marriage.
But there was a stigma around burlesque dancing even though the nudity was more suggested than actual, with net bras and body stockings, and the dancers weren’t known for being particularly promiscuous. While the women were revered by their audiences and able to afford haute couture and Cadillacs, they were often snubbed by department store clerks earning only fifty cents an hour for being part of the demimonde. When their performing days were over, most of these women never spoke of their dancing days to their husbands and children as their pasts were considered shameful.
The exotic and secretive world of burlesque was the perfect setting for Ruby’s double life: respectable Vivienne de Villeray living in genteel poverty during the day; the glamorous dancer, Jewel, by night.
Belinda Alexandra’s latest novel, Southern Ruby, is a story of double lives, family secrets and forbidden love set in New Orleans.
You see and hear a lot of things as a journalist. You sit in court, you stand at crime scenes. You talk to investigators, lawyers, witnesses. You talk to families, grieving families who have lost someone.
So many things stay with you. I once walked into a house set up for a kid’s 18th birthday party. There were balloons and streamers and presents. But he’d died that morning – along with two of his mates – in a car crash on a country road.
But there is nothing quite like the total immersion that comes with writing a book. Day after day I sat reading through research, court transcripts and articles on an eight-year investigation into the kidnapping and murder of a 13-year-old boy. Thousands of pages. Many, many phone calls.
I wrote The Sting after sitting through the trial into Daniel Morcombe’s murder. Covert police had spent months posing as members of a criminal gang, convincing their suspect, Brett Peter Cowan, that he was on his way to being one of them. Soon he would be earning big money, living a life of fast cars and parties – a brotherhood. He’d never been part of anything, so by the end, he was hooked.
It was incredibly rare to get such an insight into the workings of a covert operation. In court we heard recordings, testimony from covert officers and had access to pages and pages of transcripts. Later, I was given access to one of the covert officers and gained more insight through my own research.
It’s a horrible thing to enter that world. To listen to the things a man like Brett Cowan likes to talk about. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like for those covert officers. I know they hated him, hated having to laugh along every day, join in on his jokes. And the secrecy of the operation meant they had nobody to talk to at the end of each day. The judge talked about it in court before some of the recordings were played. Just be aware, she told Daniel’s partners who sat in the public gallery, that these covert officers are saying things and responding to things in order to further the investigation. They don’t really find him funny. They don’t really mean the things that they say. This is not who they are.
I dedicated the book to those guys. Because of the work they do, their identities can’t be revealed. And that means they can’t get the public recognition they deserve for the incredible work they did.
But we can read about it…