Tuesday, 19 May 2015

If Music be the Food of Love...

Friends of ours celebrated their Mother's 80th birthday a few days ago. I say friends - they're more like family. Our contact with them has ebbed and flowed in the intervening years but despite this we still manage to come together for the important events. I'm so glad that we do.

Like us, their parents had four children. Unlike us, the ratio was divided into two boys and two girls, whereas we are four girls. We grew up together and went to the same school but I suspect our strongest connection lies ingrained in our Irish - Catholic roots and the fact that both our Mum's belonged to the Mother's Union.

We all have our gifts and parents who encouraged us to use them. In this we were and are still blessed. But where they leave us behind is in their ability to embrace life fully with a determination that at times leaves us standing. Their advantage lies in music.

As children, their Dad, (Frank), taught all of them to play an instrument before enrolling them into his band. Most weekends would be spent at the Irish Centre playing, singing and dancing. (Oh, how they love to dance!) He tried to teach us too but we didn't have the same aptitude or energy. I can remember having a go on the keyboards and the guitar - I still have an old guitar gathering dust in the corner somewhere which I keep meaning to pick up but somehow never do. I wish I had stuck with it though because if you have music you already know how to speak a universal language. Music opens doors where otherwise they might be closed.

They don't need an excuse either and we always feel better for having spent time in their company.They are contagious in their optimism. What begins as a 'pop in for a cuppa' soon evolves into a sing song and a knees up. For them, three or four is enough, and more - well that's just a bonus. They've had more parties than we've had hot dinners because for them life is a party that should be celebrated at every opportunity, even the sad times. Especially the sad times.

When Frank died, we gathered again. Tears soon turned to laughter, words of comfort became a song and the legacy of this wonderful man, husband and father lives on in the music of his children and his children's children.

Now their Mother is 80 years young and still going strong, still finding a reason to put on her party dress and sing along to the music. Frank is with her in spirit as our own dear Mum is with us,( who loved a good shindig too). For where there's life there's love and where there's love there will always be music to remind us of who we are and where we came from.

 If that isn't something to celebrate... I don't know what is.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

An Interview with...Valerie Dickenson.

Welcome to the first, of what I hope will be many interviews with writers and authors.

In the Skype hot-seat today is Irish author, Valerie Dickenson who writes under the pen-name, Valerie Keogh.

 Hello Val, welcome to the blog and thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed.

 I thought I'd kick off by asking what's a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write and do you set goals? (Well, more like three questions actually...)

Ha, Hello...Yes, more like three. I work full time as a nurse so evenings and weekends normally, or in the mornings if I'm on a day off. As to where...We have a spare bedroom with a desk overlooking trees, which is nice, not too distracting. I do try to set goals but really it's more as and when rather than structured.

You have four books on Amazon already and working on a fifth, when did you first decide to take the plunge into self-publishing and why?

I'd been sending my novels out to agents without success, when I read an article in a magazine about someone who had self-published. I started with one novel, (I'd written a few at this point), to see how things went. Amazon made it so easy it wasn't long before I'd put all of my novels on there.
It is hard work though, trying to get your novels noticed but at least they're available for people to read. Obviously, Amazon take a percentage from any sales, but otherwise it's free.

Characters: Where do you draw your inspiration and information?

I've written two types of books; the Garda West novels, and Nicola Connolly, who's a serial killing nurse. Both series are quite different from each other.

Err, didn't you say that you're a nurse, Valerie...?

Yes!That's how I got my inspiration. I remember clearing out the medicine cupboard in amazement at the amount of waste, which gave me the idea for a serial killer who steals drugs... Might be prudent to mention at this point why I write under my mother's maiden name of Keogh. I didn't want confusion between my professions as both nurse and writer.
I don't use a journal but I do jot ideas down on bits of paper and I have a folder on the laptop where I file for future reference.The brain has the capacity to make up stories about the simplest things if we allow it to. Quite often I'll be doing some mundane task and something usually pops into my head to tie in with a character or plot.

Which brings me nicely onto my next question. What comes first, the character or the plot?

I find the two go hand in hand although usually, for me, it's the plot. Kelly Johnson, who is the main female character in the Garda series, is a collective of different people and friends I know. Plus, she's the kind of woman I would like to be. Pretty, but not too pretty, intelligent, feisty. She's a mixture of experiences - snatches of other people.
I wanted to write mainstream fiction/romance in order to attract a publisher. Kelly Johnson and Mike West, (main protagonist), fitted the bill for this type of genre.
 Nicola Connolly, my serial killer nurse, is a much darker character - an anti-hero. She hides behind the fa├žade of being a competent nurse, but in reality she's a killer who does her job extremely well whilst murdering people along the way. I'm not talking about blood and guts, it's more sophisticated in that the book deals with different types of relationships and the psychology behind the motive. The only relationship remotely functional is the one you would least expect.

Sounds very exciting...What's the hardest part about writing for you?

Re-writing and editing is definitely the worst part. I have a Beta-Reader now though which has made life much easier in that respect. This person left a negative comment on Amazon pointing out there were typo's and errors. I contacted them to offer a free copy of one of my other books and they offered to proof-read for me.This has worked really well so far and shows how you can turn a negative into a positive.

A lesson there for any would-be-writers in how to build relationships with their readers. What's the best part about writing?

That's easy. When I begin a story - the first draft is always exciting -  and when I hit publish. Everything else in-between is pure graft.

What are you working on at the moment?

Deadly Time, which is the sequel to Deadly Sleep in the Nicola Connolly series. I began writing last September and it should be ready for publication in early June.

You mentioned earlier you're a prolific reader, which writers are you influenced by?

As a child, I read all the Enid Blyton stories before moving on to Agatha Christie. My mother was a huge fan and had all her books so I think it's fair to say I was influenced by them. As an adult, I went back to college after qualifying as a nurse and got my Degree in English before completing a Masters in American Literature. I studied William Faulkner for my dissertation and still believe he is the master of the perfect sentence which sometimes stretch to a whole paragraph. Sublime.

He's certainly a great example of how to hone and craft the art of writing. What advice would you give somebody just starting out? 

Just write. I read about people taking this class or that course - which is perfectly fine - but in the end you need to sit down and get it down; but don't over write.
The best advice I ever had was from an agent who told me I had overwritten my novel. I wasn't sure what they meant so I investigated and it changed the way I write. I got rid of overly descriptive narrative, for example; ...'blue, sparkly eyes.' or, '...his handsome, lean physique.' All gone. I pared my writing down to the core. This is where the hard work of editing comes in to play. I try not to get caught up in stylistic, editorial discipline when writing a first draft because I find the story is rushing to get out and I have to go with it.

Are you conscious of your 'writing voice' as you write or does this come naturally?

Not really conscious, no. With Exit Five From Charing Cross, I wrote the last chapter first and built from there. It came to me as I was waiting at a train station one day, the shape of the archway at the exit. I wrote in the first person, as a male and it became a psychological study leaning towards crime but no crime was committed. My friends found it challenging because they were expecting Chic-Lit, which it most definitely is not. It's my favourite work to date. Probably because it's a stand-alone and I don't have to worry about a sequel.

As this is my first time interviewing I wondered what question you would most like to be asked and what your answer would be?

I would like to be asked, 'Is it difficult to write two series of books?' My answer would be yes, but I'm committed to both of them because I don't want my characters to drift and I do enjoy writing in different styles. Particularly when readers ask for more.

I notice your book covers are all quite varied, how did you come up with those?

Photographs I 've taken myself mainly, although I am having the cover for my new book designed. There's another story. I was driving into town, pulled up at some lights and noticed a woman on the bus stop checking her watch. I offered her a lift which she accepted and it turned out she's a graphic designer. I've commissioned her for my next book.

Another case of serendipity resulting from an act of kindness. I'm sensing a theme here.
My final question for you Val is if you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?

I gave this some thought and was going to call it; Better Late Than Never, but then decided on, Better, Late. I was nearly 50 before I wrote my first novel...

There's still hope for some of us then...

Definitely. I'm in a much better place - less swayed by what others think. I write my novels and publish them. People either like them or they don't. There's a confidence which comes with maturity and because I'm not depending on writing financially, a sense of freedom too.

Would you say writing is more of a hobby for you...?

No, not a hobby. That would suggest an occupation one picks up and puts down where as I can't imagine not writing. It's an intrinsic part of who I am and always will be.

Val, it's been an absolute pleasure chatting with you, thank you for sharing your writing experiences with us and I wish you every success for the future.


Valerie Keogh's books can be found on her Amazon author page here, or via those highlighted in the interview.