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July 2016

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Andy Jones on Writing Romantic Fiction
28th July 2016 - Andy Jones

Andy Jones lives in London with his wife and two little girls, who inspired him to write Romantic Fiction rather than crime thrillers! During the day he works in an advertising agency; at weekends and horribly early in the mornings, he writes fiction. Follow Andy on twitter: @andyjonesauthor.

Andy's books offer a refreshing male perspective in the romance genre, and his secret in writing his female characters is discussing and honing them with the women in his life. His first novel,The Two of Us, was described as One Day on fast-forward. His new book The Trouble with Henry and Zoe, is a  story about love and the choices we make, how bad choices can lead to good things, and how life is never what you expect it to be.

Below, exclusively for Foyles, Andy writes about how he came to write romantic fiction having previously written crime and thrillers, and why he wouldn't have it any other way.

 

 

Why I Write What I Write

 

I didn’t make a deliberate decision to write a ‘romantic book’ after the birth of my first daughter. But I wrote one anyway.

Prior to my debut novel, The Two of Us, I’d written one novel that will forever remain in my bottom drawer, and around two-dozen short stories. Subjects included: murder, torture, suicide, drugs, confused sexuality, paralysis, psychopathy, fighting, a one-legged shoe thief and a genetically engineered assassin.

Then my little girl Ruby was born.

Then my little girl Evie was born.

Anyone who has experienced it will agree - becoming a parent changes you. Massively, fundamentally, immediately. I found it difficult to watch or read about anything that involved children in jeopardy. I found myself moved to tears by movies, TV shows, news articles, novels. It’s as if a dormant gland had sprung into action, pumping out weird hormones and sensitising my tear ducts. Other male friends have reported the same thing.

I continued to write, but something had changed. Gone were the killers and junkies; instead I wrote about a couple falling in love and then trying to stay there while they come to terms with an unexpected pregnancy. Which, it transpires, contains more than enough drama without involving anything more lethal than a flat-pack cot. It never occurred to me at the time that it was a romantic book, but I have been assured it is. It’s an emotional story, too, and I cried more than once while I was writing it. I assumed this was simply down to my overactive dad-gland, but when people read the book – my mother, my wife, my agent, my best friend – they cried, too. And then something amazing happened. Simon & Schuster published The Two of Us. People bought it, read it, reviewed it – favourably for the most part.

One comment I received a lot was that readers found it interesting to read about romance from an entirely male perspective. It hadn’t occurred to me that this was anything unusual, but I think the appeal goes a little deeper than simple novelty value.

I think writing a male perspective on relationships is something like letting the reader in a secret. When women read romantic fiction written from the point of view of a woman, their reaction is likely to be: 'Tell me about it!' When they read romantic fiction written by a man, perhaps they’re thinking: 'Tell me more about it…'

As a rule, men keep their emotions and insecurities bottled up. But with my characters, we get to see inside their heads. We hear what they really think, what they wish they’d said, and what they wish they’d kept to themselves. We learn that men have feelings too. We learn that deep deep down … men are romantic too.

For my latest book – The Trouble With Henry & Zoe – I’ve taken a gamble. As well as writing from Henry’s perspective, I’ve also told the story from Zoe’s angle. Obviously, writing as a 29 year-old woman with a ton of emotional baggage wasn’t entirely natural for me. But, like I said, I am surrounded by women, and the first two people who read anything I write are my mum and my wife – so if (when) I got Zoe wrong, they were quick to correct me. (As they are in all other aspects of my life, now that I think of it.)

They grew close to Zoe, empathised with her, felt her pain and wanted her to get the happy ending that has been eluding her. When she was happy they were, when she was exasperated by Henry, they were too. But because they’d seen inside his head, they were a little more understanding and forgiving of his failings.

Probably, I should take all the credit for everything good in the book, but the truth is some of the best scenes and details wouldn’t exist without the input of my wife and my mother. And very possibly, the book wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for my two little girls. Without them, it’s highly likely I’d still be knocking out stories about thugs, killers, pimps and zombie bees. Not that I have anything against those kinds of books (I love ’em), but it turns out I’m much better at writing about more relatable concerns. About relationships, life, love.

Right, I’ve got to make a bunny costume, paint a tea-set and clean the pink fluff out of the tumble dryer.

And – much like my writing – I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midge Raymond on on Antarctica as a Literary Character
27th July 2016

Midge Raymond is an award-winning short-story writer who worked in publishing in New York before moving to Boston, where she taught creative writing. She has published two books for writers, Everyday Writing and Everyday Book Marketing. Midge lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is co-founder of the boutique publisher Ashland Creek Press. 

My Last Continent is Midge's first novel. Part love story, part elegy, and perfect for the ‘armchair adventurer’, My Last Continent takes readers to the end of the world – to the glacial mountains, cleaving icebergs and frigid waters of Antarctica—where Deb Gardner and Keller Sullivan feel at home. For the few blissful weeks they spend each year studying the habits of emperor and Adélie penguins, Deb and Keller can escape the frustrations and sorrows of their separate lives and find solace in their work and in each other. But Antarctica, like their fleeting romance, is tenuous, imperiled by the world to the north…

Exclusively for Foyles, Midge writes about Antarctica as a literary character in its own right.

 

 

 

Antarctica as a Literary Character

When I began writing about Antarctica more than a decade ago, I became rather obsessed with the continent and its inhabitants, from the penguins to the seasonal human population. As I began putting characters into this setting, it wasn’t long before I came to view the continent as a character itself.

As characters go, Antarctica is unique. There is nothing else like it on the planet: whitewashed, freezing, mostly uninhabited by humans, and populated with creatures that endure the harshest of conditions. But Antarctica also has weaknesses, as it is vulnerable to exploitation and tourism. And My Last Continent was inspired by the very real risk that increasingly large cruise ships pose to this fragile region.

Before I visited Antarctica, I didn’t know much about its past. While I was there, and in the years afterwards, I got to know its fascinating human history — the explorers who discovered new territory, those who strived to be the first to reach these uncharted places, those who survived and those who didn’t. Antarctica, I learned, is capricious, and it doesn’t discriminate when it comes to who survives and who doesn’t. While Ernest Shackleton, whose ship Endurance was crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea, saved every member of his crew, Robert Falcon Scott and his party were not as fortunate. As so many others have learned over the years, Antarctica is as ruthless as it is beautiful.

I’ve also gotten to know the continent’s creatures — the Adélie, chinstrap, gentoo and emperor penguins, their nesting and feeding habits. By watching them commute back and forth to the ocean to forage and then return to their nests, I began to see parallels with others species, namely ours. Many penguins mate for life, and both parents play equal roles in raising their chicks. Penguins, like humans, are at the mercy of a changing planet. And penguins who lose their chicks or their mates stand over their empty nests, by all appearances grieving as we do.

Another reason I connected so deeply to this continent is due to its isolation. Antarctica is a loner, like the character of Deb in My Last Continent — and also an introvert, as I am, tolerant of a small number of visitors but overwhelmed by too many. It’s a rare thing,

in these days of constant connectivity, to be in a place where you can be quiet and still — where there are few sounds other than the wind, the waves and the birds. To sit on a rock or on a beach on the Antarctic peninsula is nothing short of a spiritual experience. There’s a sense of peace about Antarctica, not only because it’s at the bottom of the world but because it is also free of everything else; it’s owned by no single government, and the Antarctic Treaty requires that all activity on the continent be for peaceful, scientific purposes. It is — and we all need to be sure it remains — the last, unspoiled, uncorrupted place on earth. 

And this is why, as a writer, I realised that Antarctica is as much a character as Deb and Keller are in My Last Continent, and I hope readers feel the same way. I hope they connect with the continent in the same ways they do with the human characters in the story, and that they’re inspired to help protect it. As Deb reflects in the novel, 'I’ve come to think of the continent not only as a place but as a living, breathing thing — to me, Antarctica has always been as alive as the creatures it houses: Every winter, the entire continent fattens up with ice, then shrinks again in the summer. When I’m here on the peninsula, looking out at the green and white of young ice and the deep, ancient blue of multiyear ice, I feel as though the bergs, too, are alive, sent forth by thousands of miles of glaciers to protect the continent from such predators as the Endurance and the Erebus, the Cormorant and the Australis… Sometimes I wonder how long this alien invasion — the ships, the humans — can continue before the continent strikes back.'

 

 

Blogger and reviewer Thom Cuell on the founding of Dodo Ink
27th July 2016 - Thom Cuell

Thom Cuell is the Editorial Director of Dodo Ink, an independent publisher specialising in daring and difficukt fiction. His writing has appeared in 3am Magazine and Minor Literature[s], where he is also a Commissioning Editor. He is based in Manchester. Below, Thom introduces Dodo Ink and explains how it came about.

 

Dodo Ink started with an idea – what would happen if an author and a blogger worked together to run an independent press? Would it be a case of the inmates taking over the asylum, or could we create something vibrant and new?

Sam Mills and I had been active in the literary world for many years, writing, reviewing and holding literary salons in London, and we’d experienced the good, bad and ugly sides of the publishing industry. We wanted to take these experiences and start our own publishing house, releasing the sort of books we wanted to read, and treating our authors the way we would want to be treated. Along the way, we have been joined by some brilliant collaborators: our co-director Alex Spears, a Digital Marketing guru who had worked with Sam at Constable and Robinson, Tomoé Hill, Deputy Editor of the cult literary website Minor Literature[s], and many more.

The name Dodo Ink comes from Sam’s habit of drawing dodos on copies of her novel The Quiddity of Will Self at book signings, but it also has a deeper meaning. With advances dropping off, broadsheet coverage shrinking and ebooks on the rise, literary fiction is starting to look like an endangered species. We have seen excellent authors struggling to get published, as a ‘risk-averse’ industry heads for the middle ground. Editors have to justify themselves to accountants and marketing departments, and authors are advised to dumb down their material for public consumption.

With Dodo Ink, we want to prove that there is still a passionate and dedicated readership for risk-taking novels. We will publish the sort of bold and original fiction that too often falls through the cracks. We will edit our publications the way we would want our own writing to be edited, creating great prose without losing sight of the ideas which made them exciting in the first place. We will look for innovative ways to bring our books to the public, and build up a community of passionate readers.

A big part of this was our decision to crowd-fund our start-up costs through the Kickstarter website. In six manic weeks last year, we raised over £8,000, and built up a community of readers who were excited by the idea of risk-taking fiction, just as we are. The energy and enthusiasm the campaign generated has sustained us over the past year, and confirmed our view that there is still an audience out there who want to be challenged by the novels they read.

As fans of independent publishing ourselves, we admire the off-beat energy of Canongate, the style of Fitzcarraldo, and the eclecticism of And Other Stories, amongst others. We believe that a strong independent publishing scene is vital for the future of British literature, and we want to be a part of it. As passionate readers too, we want an alternative to reading group choices and supermarket selections. Independent bookstores like Foyle’s are vital, allowing smaller presses an opportunity to find an audience, and thrive.     

Our first publication, Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen (released on July 28), is an electric, psychedelic road trip novel.  We discovered Seraphina through James Miller, her Creative Writing MA tutor, who described her as the most talented student he has ever taught. From the first paragraph, we knew that we had to publish this book. It is the perfect introduction to Dodo Ink: a novel that confronts the world on its own terms, light years away from the cosy mid-life crises of mainstream literary fiction.

We’ve already begun building our list for 2017, and we’re delighted that established authors such as Monique Roffey, Neil Griffiths and James Miller have decided to work with us, attracted by the creative freedom that an independent press can offer. We don’t have a house style, or a formula, but Dodo Ink novels will never play safe or settle for the ordinary.  

   

 

 

Author and Sunday Times Drinks Critic Finds some Fine Wines to Accompany Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend
26th July 2016 - Damian Barr

Great books deserve great wine. And what’s a book club without a bottle or three?  Every month Damian Barr, author and Sunday Times Drinks Critic, suggests surprising and delicious #NovelPairings: Would Bridget Jones choose Chardonnay now? Which Champagne does James Bond prefer? How tipsy is Ulysses?  Helping Damian make the #NovelPairings are James Franklin from Corney & Barrow and our own Simon Heafield from Foyles. This month it's the turn of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Book and A Bottle #NovelPairings Damian Barr

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

#FerranteFever shows no signs of cooling.  For our July’s A Book And A Bottle Damian has finally given in to the intensity of My Brilliant Friend – the first of the Neapolitan novels.  Helping him choose our #NovelPairings are James Franklin from Corney & Barrow and Simon Heafield from Foyles. 

 

There’s word of mouth and then there’s the evangelical zeal of Ferrante fans. Or ‘their’ Ferrante as they think of her.  Eyes glittering like the Bay Of Naples, they urge you to drop whatever you’re reading and enter the claustrophobic world of Lila and Elena.  It’s cultish.

As with anything suddenly so fashionable, a stubborn corner of me actively resisted. In the case of skinny jeans this proved wise.  But, oh, how glad I am to finally be immersed in Ferrante’s intensity.  'I felt the same way,' says Simon from Foyles.  'At the start it was almost getting tiresome hearing how great Ferrante's books were over and over again. But as soon as you start reading, and enter the world she creates, you completely get where that enthusiasm comes from.'

Nobody knows who Ferrante is – remarkable in the age of twitter.  She’s never given a public reading, not that we know of. Some say she might even be a he ('because how could a man understand female friendship’).  Others that she might not even be Italian.  Undoubtedly the absence of an author means the fans claim ownership more ardently.

Ferrante has let it be known that she envisages the quartet, which stretches over decades, as one big book.  It tells the life stories of two friends, best friends, total frenemies: the dark-haired seemingly alpha Lila (Raffaella) and the blonde seemingly beta Lenù (Elena). Is Elena the writer also Elena the character?  We focussed our drinking and thinking on Book One: My Brilliant Friend (MBF).

MBF opens in early childhood in the unnamed but oppressive and violent ‘neighbourhood’: ‘Malicious heat lay on it like a hand swollen by fever.’  We don’t know exactly where it is but Mount Vesuvius broods in the distance and Naples is the nearest city. 

'It was all beautiful and frightening then,’ says Elena, the narrator. To begin with, very little actually happens - a doll is dropped into a dark cellar, one girl outshines another at school, someone casts a dirty look.  It’s not about plot. It’s about character and mood. You find yourself longing for a friendship as intense and moving as passionate as Elena and Lila’s then you find yourself feeling glad you just meet your pals for drinks and a chat.

Says Elena of Lila: ‘I trained myself to accept readily Lila's superiority in everything, even her oppressions. Terrible dazzling girl.’  Lila ‘intensifies reality' and when she grows up 'becomes dangerously seductive' if not conventionally beautiful.  They compete at everything.

As the girls mature they grow apart then closer again setting up the drama for the next three novels (which I’m now gripped by). Nothing is predictable: ‘Lila was like that, she threw things out of balance just to see if she could put them back in some other way.’

The Bibulous-o-graphy for this book is brief — there’s some ‘sparkling wine’, vermouth and unspecified ‘good wine’. 

'The sparkling was probably Prosecco not Spumante,' speculates James from C&B.  'Because it’s New Year’s Eve they’d want something special. Prosecco "Pianer" is “Premier Cru” from boutique winery Le Colture in the heart of Valdobbiadene, the hub of top Prosecco production.'

Simon is a prosecco fan: 'It’s better than the usual book launch fizz.' I prefer champagne but this is the smoothest prosecco I’ve ever had.  Nevertheless it feels too obvious - a literal, rather than literary, choice.

Marcello, Lila’s gangsterish suitor, woos her with ‘three bottles of good wine’.  'Passopisciaro IGT Tenuta di Passopisciaro 2011 definitely fits that bill,' says James. 'It’s the kind of wine you’d use to impress without being ostentatious. The vines grow right on Mount Etna so this has some of the volcanic energy of Lila.'

It definitely does.  But it says nothing about Elena.  Our #NovelPairing needs to reflect their intense, complex friendship. 

'The last wine I’ve shortlisted is Australian,' says James.  'And it’s a blend of red and white: Shiraz and Viognier.  But bear with me. It’s 97% Shiraz but the 3% viognier changes it completely.'  Simon agrees: 'That tiny bit of white lifts the red.'

The Lane Shiraz Viognier 2013 is not straightforward.  It’s full of brooding tension – one grape would be lesser without the other, as would Elena and Lila.  But together they are compelling.  It’s the perfect #NovelPairing for My Brilliant Friend.

 

 

 

Michelle Harrison on Unfinished Stories
25th July 2016 - Michelle Harrison

Michelle Harrison is a  former bookseller and editorial assistant. Originally from Grays in Essex, she has a degree in illustration, and lives in Oxfordshire with her partner. She is the author of a trilogy for children comprising The Thirteen Treasures, The Thirteen Curses and The Thirteen Secrets, and a teen novel, Unrest. Her new novel, The Other Alice, a rich and twisting tale of magic, riddles and the power of imagination, looks at what happens when a tale with real magic, that was supposed to be finished, never was.

Exclusively for Foyles, Michelle introduces her book and discusses the potency of unfinished stories. Plus, you can read an extract from her new novel here.

Author image ©  Charlie Hopkinson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfinished Stories

Have you ever thought about all the unfinished stories in the world? Stuffed in drawers, under beds or in dusty cupboards? Perhaps you've got one yourself, in a little folder on your computer that hasn't been clicked on for a while, or in a notebook on your desk. You keep meaning to finish it someday, but that day never quite arrives.

For the author in my story, The Other Alice, the consequences of unfinished tales are potentially deadly. Alice, a talented young writer has a belief about her stories: she must never leave one unfinished. If she does, she knows from experience that something extraordinary happens . . .  the characters step off the page and into the real world. Sounds fun, right? We've all found at least one character in a book we'd love to meet in real life . . .  but what about the villains? What if they were to infiltrate our world, too, reaching beyond the author's control with their own ending in mind?

This is what happens when Alice goes missing and her little brother, Midge, finds a secret book she's working on . . .  a book she's unable to finish. With Alice's characters leaping into life, Midge has to work out friend from foe and find Alice before the villains do.

When I write, I often think about all the other people who must doing so right at that moment; whether they're published authors working towards their next deadline, someone embarking on their first novel or short story, or even a child putting pen to paper and losing themselves in the magic of creation. I wonder about the worlds being created, the characters who inhabit those worlds, and how many of these stories will be seen through to the end. If I get stuck, I imagine my characters are stuck too, waiting for me to write them out of whatever mess I've got them in to. Knowing that characters sometimes never get their ending is poignant to me. That's where the idea for this book began.

Naturally, I have a few unfinished stories of my own. Projects started which have fizzled out, a couple of picture books that I can't quite figure out endings to, and ― the one I'm keenest to continue ― a YA book that's contracted in both the UK and US and which has been on hold for more than two years. Having unfinished stories lurking about bothers me. I like to finish what I start, and I get pangs of worry about something happening to me before I get the chance to give these stories an ending. Conversely, I also get twitchy over other people's unfinished stories. I'm confident most of the world understands what I mean when it comes to A Game of Thrones . . .

Before my publisher and I decided on the title of The Other Alice, my working title was The Museum of Unfinished Stories. I was glad of the change. Being superstitious to a certain point, and writing a book involving curses and superstition, I felt, at times when I was struggling with it ― which was often ― that I was on dangerous ground with such a title. That it was a jinx, a bad omen, and that I was condemning the story to remain unfinished. The thought of the consequences (and perhaps the change of title) kept me going until I reached that elusive ending.

This book is close to my heart. It's about family, the danger and power of belief, and the madness that comes with being a writer. It's a story of riddles, and of fairy tales, and the tales we tell ourselves and each other. Sometimes true, sometimes make believe. Sometimes a mixture of the two. As Midge puts it: there are two sides to every story. The version you hear depends on who is telling it. What they remember or what they choose to leave out. What they want you to believe.

Writing this book made me think deeper: about how life is a story, and about how its characters all play a role in shaping it. How everyone is the protagonist in their own, and merely a subplot, or nameless in others. It made me question what I would do if, like Alice's characters, I found a book written about my life. Would I peek at the ending? I don't think I'd be able to resist. It made me revisit characters from other books that I'd most love to come to life ― and those I wouldn't. It made me think about a book's characters after its conclusion; whether they'd be forgotten, or live on in the mind of the reader.

For Midge ― and myself ― 'the end' of The Other Alice may have been written, but the characters will stay with us beyond the turn of the final page. I think they'd be pretty happy about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#FoylesFive: Star Trek
18th July 2016 - Magdalena Gundmunsdottir

This year marks 50 years since Star Trek first appeared on our TV Screens and with the up and coming release of the new film, Star Trek Beyond, now seems like a good time to pick out five great Star Trek books that every fan should read. You know that resistance is futile so engage the warp drive and prepare to boldly go where no book- lover has gone before... OK, yes, there are lots of books about Star Trek and yes, lots of people are reading them... Prepare to go where lots of book-lovers have gone before... 

 

The Star Trek Book

DK has published books on all the important subjects, literature, philosophy, bees and now Star Trek! The Star Trek Book is the ultimate encyclopedia on all things Star Trek, including character profiles, time lines and an in-depth look at the science and technology. Very helpful if you need to read up on Vulcans, fight off a Borg attack, or if you just want to know how phasers work.

 

Star Trek/ Green Lantern

There is nothing better in Graphic novels than a crazy cross over. Whether it's Superman vs Aliens or Archie vs Predator there is always fun and wackiness to be had. This graphic novel brings together the universes of Star Trek and Green Lantern in an exciting and entertaining new story with stunning art work.

 

I am Spock by Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy writes with affection on playing one of Star Trek's most iconic characters as well as discussing his life and work after Star Trek. The book is overflowing with truly lovely anecdotes and humour that make it a joy to read.

 

Set Phasers to Stun by Marcus Berkmann

Telling the 50 year old story of a canceled 1960s TV show that grew into the cultural empire of spin offs and films that it today is not an easy task. But Marcus Berkmann has risen to the challenge and the result is an incredibly funny, knowledgeable and passionate book. Whatever you do, don't skip the footnotes. They are gold.

 

The Latter Fire by James Swallow

Based on the original series, this new Star Trek novel faithfully portraits old characters as well as introducing fantastic new ones. The story is brilliantly captivating, once you start reading it is very difficult to stop.

 

 

Latest Blog
Andy Jones on Writing Romantic Fiction
28/07/2016

Andy writes about how he came to write romantic fiction having previously written crime and thrillers, and why he wouldn't have it any other way.

Midge Raymond on on Antarctica as a Literary Character
27/07/2016

Exclusively for Foyles, Midge Raymond, whose debut novel My Lost Continent, is set in Antarctica, writes about Antarctica as a literary character in its own right.

Blogger and reviewer Thom Cuell on the founding of Dodo Ink
27/07/2016

Blogger and reviewer Thom Cuell on the founding of Dodo Ink

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