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I’m happy to say that this latest book has been garnering some nice reviews and comments from readers and a couple of things have really stood out for me, in those comments.

Ferryman wasn’t an easy book to write. One of the main plot arcs deals with the effects of domestic violence and the way in which the impact of that violence can ripple outward, affecting not only the next generation but also friends and associates. How do you deal with this kind of situation? How do you help? The isolation of those who suffer from domestic abuse – or any other kind of abuse, for that matter – seems to be the most difficult aspect. If you feel so alone and so helpless, how do you get the courage or the impetus to reach out. If someone is constantly telling you how useless and stupid and worthless you are then it takes a special kind of courage to escape that judgement and accept someone telling you a different story. I became very attached to some of the characters in Paying the Ferryman and I’m very happy that other people seem also to have attached themselves and to care. Maybe that concern will ripple outwards, even if that’s just in a small way.

Words can be weapons – in a positive way too.

The other issue is more of a technical one. Some one made the very thoughtful and accurate comment that my series lead, Naomi Blake, was more of an advisor or consultant in this book. And that’s true. Most of the time I write books that are part of a series but my ethos has always been that these books are often ensemble pieces with a group of characters who alternate the lead or sometimes hand that lead over to other people and act as a sort of anchor point around which the plot revolves.
Killing a Stranger, for instance, one of the Naomi Blake Series, was really very much a ‘Patrick’ book and remains one I’m really fond of. Night Vision, Secrets and Gregory’s Game introduce Gregory Mann and Nathan Crow and take the tone of the series in another direction for a while, dealing with secrets and post colonialism and spies!. I wanted to return to more domestic and intimate issues for the next and though Gregory and Nathan are still around, their role has changed. Naomi and Alec find their professional past has come back to haunt them in Paying the Ferryman and I get to explore a bit more of their back story, but the lead is taken by someone new, in the shape of D.I Steel. I like to see how my characters respond to other characters and slot into other settings. There’s a poem I love by the American poet, Billy Collins. It is called An Introduction to Poetry and it contains the lines

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want my characters to do that. I want to drop them into a situation and have them feel their way through. Looking at a narrative in this way keeps it fresh for me and I hope for the reader.

So, what next? Well, it’s Rina Martin’s turn to be dropped into a book and so far she seems to be involved in narrative that’s producing more questions than it does solutions. The plotlines are still spinning outward and my characters are still feeling around for the light switch. Actually, at the moment I’m not even sure there is a light switch. I have my doubts about there even being electricity! But that’s a feeling I’ve some to recognize at this stage of a book and I am, slowly, learning that it isn’t a cause for panic!

And I’ve been asked by a friend to compose a list of my favourite poems and as he went first, I guess I’m kind of obliged. So I think that might be the subject of the next blog. So, until then, happy reading and for all the writers out there, keep feeling for that light switch.

ferryman

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Talulah Two Heads

The second in the Naomi Blake, Touching the Dark, series is now out as an ebook – Endeavour Press- and coincides with the publication of the latest HB in the Naomi Blake series, Paying the Ferryman. (Severn House).
It’s been interesting, looking back at the earlier books and what really struck me about this one is how much I’d used of my own childhood incidents and places in this book. It’s funny how these things seep into writing; I suppose it’s a variation on that odd bit of advice often given to writers that they should ‘write what they know’. Bits and pieces of ‘what we know’ impinge even when we’re not aware of them

The focus of the book is a woman called Tally Palmer. She’s a photographer who took the strange career leap from war zones to fashion. Tally is flawed and difficult – as are many interesting characters – and oddly uncomfortable to write. She was stubborn and demanding and I can’t help but think that she’s a fusion of several of the very powerful and ..um….difficult women I knew growing up. Several scenes in the book take place in her aunt’s garden – a thinly disguised version of my Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Jack’s garden. Tally’s memories of the adults gossiping in the sunshine and the sound of bees and scent of rabbits and lilies are very much the way I remember it. A magical place in a very lovely little village in Lincolnshire. The disused railway line and fields behind Tally’s house are based on those behind the house where I grew up. The old line that led through Glenfield Tunnel and on which, when I was very small, steam trains ran twice a day. Later, the fields were grubbed out and houses built and I still have the scars on my knees from coming of my bike on the unfinished road down the steep hill.

And then there’s Talulah Two Heads….

Even as a child, I hated dolls. I went though a brief period of pretending to like them because that’s what little girls were expected to enjoy, but seriously…how could anyone really like playing with something that stared at you all the time. That passed judgement from the top of the toy shelf. I liked my dolls pram, but my mother was continuously embarrassed by the fact that I’d much rather wrap my blue tractor in a blanket and put that in my pram – or the cat; we had a very obliging cat that was quite happy to go to sleep anywhere warm and soft.
I must have been about seven or eight when my aunt gave me Talulah. She was a ‘Fashion Doll’ – or at least that’s what is said on the box. And my aunt said she’d probably fit Cindy or Barbie clothes, but that she thought this doll was just a bit more unusual.
The ‘unusual’ element was that she had two, interchangeable heads. One with long blond hair and one with a brunette bob.
Two heads to stare in judgement.
The child, Tally’s, decision to bury Talulah in the garden and her dilemma when the aunt came to visit was certainly an example of writing what I knew and I never did find the second head….
I still don’t like dolls. I wonder if there’s a dolls/ teddy bear divide in the same way people claim to be cat or dog people, but being a writer experiences like this are just grist to the mill and I don’t imagine Talula will be the last fragment of childhood memory to find its way into a book. And I’m grateful for the memories of the gardens, my Uncle Jacks and my father’s and all the wild spaces and Victorian seaside towns that have become part of my writing landscape.
So, here’s to you, Uncle Jack and Aunt Kathleen and Binbrook and the wolds and fenlands and, of course, Talulah Two Heads. Even if she did come to an unfortunate end buried under my mother’s roses.