Meet the Author: Shadow Pursuit by Alistair Birch

Today we travel to Oxfordshire, England to chat with Alistair Birch about how a dramatic social circle change, cooking, happy dancing, puzzles, paying it forward, the Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon, Barney Rubble, the Forest of Dean, the river Wye, and a simple picnic come together as part of Alistair’s current and past life.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi, I’m Alistair, and I’m a British author from Oxfordshire in England where I live with my second wife and stepson. I like to write thrillers, though I have been known to write comedy and rhymes, the sillier the better. I try to take a relaxed approach to life where humour and kindness are prominent. We aren’t allowed pets where we live, though we are allowed regular visits from George dog who we adore. I enjoy cooking and running long distance, though all the food I consume means I don’t run too fast.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?

I only got the writing bug in the last few years though I’ve always had a love of making up rhymes. At school, I didn’t really write, and I wouldn’t say that my skills with English language were all that good. This will probably have you scratching your head, thinking, why now? Simply, I am in a new and happier marriage and over the last 8 or so years I have changed my social circle dramatically. A few years ago, I felt frustrated and anxious that I didn’t know anyone in my local town despite having lived here for a few years. As though I’d flicked a switch, I decided to do something about the situation, which I did with surprising enthusiasm. Now I run marathons and I write books and I’m incredibly lucky to know some amazing people who are now life friends. I also have a desire to be better tomorrow than I am today.

What is your favorite time of day and why?

If it is a weekday and I have been out all day at my day job, then assuming she is home, my favourite time is 5:30pm when I walk in to see my wife. My head and heart always do a little happy dance when I see her at the end of a working day.

Have you ever had any Do It Yourself disasters?

Absolutely. I worked in a college and took advice from the on-site electrician ‘Rocket’ Ron. All I needed to do was drill a hole through a thick wall from a caretaker’s room through to a storeroom next door so I could wire up a phone socket. The sensible thing would be to drill low down at the skirting board height and feed the cable straight into the back of the box. Unfortunately, I took Ron’s advice. Picture if you will, me, aged around 20, standing on top of a ladder, drilling through a fifteen-inch wall. The heavy drill was above my head, and I could only grip it from one end as there wasn’t a second handle grip. I got more and more tired as the drill bit inched through the concrete. Suddenly my wrist knocked a button which put the drill onto an automatic always on setting. My grip slipped and the entire drill spun at high speed with me no longer holding it. Within a few seconds the lead wrapped itself around the tool which yanked it from the power socket, all the while I stood white as a sheet atop the ladder.

What is the most enjoyable aspect you’ve found through writing?

There are two things. I only loosely plot my books, so I have a start and an end, and a few characters figured out, but that is about it. I am what is known as a ‘Pantser’ as I write by the seat of my pants. My day job is in IT and I have a very logical brain. I am good at picturing things, and I enjoy puzzles. So, the first thing I enjoy is working things out as I go. Sometimes I may find myself a little stuck and that is when I  can form it as a challenge. The second thing I am proud of is I had help to improve when I started out and now, I have newbie authors approaching me for advice. I love paying kindness forward.

What is the most inspiring thing that has ever happened to you?

Another easy one for me to answer. I ran my first full marathon, by signing up just one week earlier, and with little training. It was the Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon and I had been chatting with a virtual friend called Rob. I’d never met him, though we knew each other from a Facebook group and on our messenger conversations I knew he was running this event and he was anxious about it.

He was running for charity, and he told me his medication was making him dizzy. I called him and after a conversation with my wife we booked me onto the race so I could run it with him. We had little money, and needed to pay for travel, the race, food, and accommodation, but it felt like the right thing to do. On race day we ran from Liverpool waterfront up around Everton and Liverpool football grounds, with Rob doing great but going too fast. I kept up but I kept telling him to slow down. After 8 miles Rob stopped with horrible shin pain. We slowed and managed to get to 12 miles when his race was done. At his request I carried on and completed the 26.2 miles. That wasn’t Rob’s day, but he did complete a full marathon the following year.

If you were trapped in a cartoon world from your childhood, which one would you choose and why?

I would answer with The Flintstones. As a kid in primary school and some of secondary, I was given the nickname ‘Barney.’ Simply I looked and acted a bit like Barney Rubble, including the silly voice.

Describe the perfect solo date you’d take yourself on … where, time of day, weather, place, etc.

I love the peace and tranquillity of nature. I love mountains, rivers, lakes, the sea. I grew up in Gloucestershire so a walk in the Forest of Dean, along the river Wye is hard to beat, or maybe climbing the Malvern Hills in the middle of the day. A gentle breeze to take the edge off a warm sun, with a few cumulus clouds across a bright blue sky. To eat, just a simple picnic, bread, cheese, chutney, a little fruit and a bottle of water.

What are you currently working on?

I am almost between projects. I have just finished a draft manuscript for a new standalone psychological thriller which I started in July. This is set in a school, mainly in the early 1980’s. I need to get some beta feedback and submit this one, but friends have read chapters all the way through the writing process, and I have done basic edits as I went along. I am already happy with it. While I think about a little polish on this one, I may write a 1940’s wartime thriller. I have a friend I’d like to collaborate with on this one, so I’ve started those conversations.

Tell us about your most recent book.

My debut thriller, ‘Shadow Pursuit,’ hit the shelves on 18th October 2021. I took a piece of artwork called ‘The Great Bear’ as inspiration. Google it, and you will see it is an unusual map. For me as a thriller writer that offered an opportunity to hide secret information in plain sight. There are good guys in the security services, bad guys plotting terrible stuff and innocents caught up in between. Within each chapter I took the point of view of a character and went with it. So sometimes the reader is in the head of a bad guy and sometimes good. I tried to cram loads of fast paced action in and I left some threads hanging which I pick up in the sequel. I submitted the sequel to Dark Edge Press in the summer.

It was wonderful having you on MTA, Alistair. Wishing you much success with your books, and all you pursue! – Camilla

Blurb:

Samir El-Mudarini is deep undercover investigating a human trafficking syndicate when he is murdered.

Eva Merriman, a Metropolitan Police detective, is reassigned to the manhunt for El-Mudarini’s killer.

Sam Keplar wakes to an emergency call, sending him on a quest to save his brother.

Eva and Sam are brought together by the actions of a shadowy organisation that has slipped through the cracks of British society. And it is up to them to prevent the worst act of terror London might ever see while fighting for their own survival.

Publication date: 18th October 2021
Title: Shadow Pursuit
Author: Alistair Birch
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 258

Where can we purchase the book?

The book can be bought from Amazon, but it is also available in UK bookshops like Waterstones Etc. as well as Kobo, Nook, Apple and Google Books.

Connect with Alistair:

Alistair Birch Author

https://www.facebook.com/alistairbirchauthor

 

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Book Shelf: Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

I really enjoyed these essays, full of Bradbury’s humor. I’m surprised I’d not heard of this or read it before now. It was included on someone’s top “books about writing” list. Glad I came across it. Definitely worth the read!

To support this website and the author’s interviewed, visit Support MTA for suggestions. Thank you! – Camilla

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Meet the Author: Dear Tosh by Ninette Hartley

Today we travel to to Dorset, England to chat with Ninette Hartley about how living in Italy, Maggie O’Farrell, Exeter University, Maya Angelou, a pony and carriage, Frank Sinatra, a dance teacher, Supertramp, the 2010 BBC TV Licensing campaign, and The Flintstones come together as part of Ninette’s current and past life.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I returned to England in January 2016 having spent eight years living in rural Italy with my husband, actually we got married while we were living there. We are now settled in Dorset in a small cottage a couple of miles from Bridport. I spend my days, writing, reading, and walking the dog, she’s an Italian rescue dog and I think misses the warm weather — as do we!

In 2020 I gained an MA in Creative Writing from Exeter University and after graduating I completed my first memoir Dear Tosh and self published in May 2021. It’s about the loss of my twenty-seven-year old son. It’s a book for everyone about love, grief and acceptance. Learning how to come to terms with loss and that nobody is ever truly gone while they are still talked about and loved.

In which genre do you write?

I like writing creative non-fiction but I also write poetry, plays, short stories and flash fiction. I have completed a novel which is set in the 1940s and 50s. So as you can see, I definitely don’t stick to one genre.

What are you currently reading?

A book that I have known about for many years and only just got around to reading. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It is beautifully written I find myself lingering over every page and not wanting to rush to the end. The story of her life in Arkansas as a child is both heartbreaking and fascinating. What a wonderful woman she grew into. I was surprised to discover that this book is just the first in a series of seven. I’m definitely going to read all her other memoirs.

What outdoor activity haven’t you tried but you would like to try?

Well, I have driven and still do drive a pony and carriage. But what I would really like to do is travel around the UK for a week or two with a horse drawn caravan. I don’t want to be driven, I just want to drive myself and maybe take a friend along. I’m not sure how I would adapt to not having any en-suite facilities. I would just hope that the weather would stay fine. Maybe I should arrange to do it in Italy instead!

What songs hit you with a wave of nostalgia every time you hear them?

This is so easy. Any Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Nat King Cole…any of those singers from the 50s. It takes me back to my childhood and my parents playing the Pye Black Box record player they had in our front room. I loved all of them and on top of that I also love all the songs from the musicals, ’South Pacific’, ‘Oklahoma’, ‘Guys and Dolls,’ the list goes on and on. Oh…and ‘Magic Moments’ by Perry Como. Then, moving on a few years, any ‘Beatles’ song will give me the goose bumps and then ‘Supertramp’ from the 70s. My older children remember me dancing around the kitchen playing the ‘Breakfast in America’ album.

As you may have guessed music plays a big part in my life and it was difficult to pick out just a sample of the songs and music that I love. For over 25 years I was a dance teacher, ballet in particular so I love all the music from the ballets too. I should move on to another question!

Can you play a musical instrument?

Oh…it’s another musical one! Well, I can play (very badly) the piano and the guitar although it’s been so long since I did either I probably couldn’t manage to do much. But I have always had a hankering to play the oboe, I love the sound that it makes, soulful and it pull at my heart for some reason.

I’m also very fond of the cello, at least I didn’t realise how fond I was until recently when I met an actual live cellist and he made the instrument sing to me. Don’t worry, it wasn’t anything untoward, my husband was there too and he has also developed a fondness for the cello now. My daughter played it for a while in her teens and I think one of the grandchildren might take it up.

What is the most amusing, crazy or inspiring thing that has ever happened to you?

A great deal of events both happy, sad, good and bad have happened to me during my life but one of the most exciting was in 1966 when I made a record ‘Push a Little Button’. It was written by my brother, Tony Hatch (you may have heard of him) and recorded on the PYE label. It was fantastic being in the studio, in a booth with earphones on singing the song with live musicians. A truly amazing thing for a fifteen-year-old. Sadly the record was a massive flop but it didn’t detract from the enjoyment of making it. However, there is a coda to this story. In 2010 the BBC decided to use the recording for their TV Licensing campaign. It still wasn’t a hit but I did have my 10 minutes of fame!

What’s a great piece of advice you’ve received recently.

Do not compare your writing to anyone else’s, ‘compare and despair’ was the phrase used. Write for yourself, to the best of your ability and don’t try to be someone you’re not. This goes for other areas of your life too, not just writing.

Always carry a notebook and writing implement, although these days many people make notes on their phone. Of course Hemingway is reported to have written his famous six word story on a napkin and there’s an interesting page on Barnes and Noble website which lists various surprising surfaces famous writers have written on, see here:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/10-surprising-surfaces-famous-writers-have-written-on/

Do you write a journal or keep a personal diary? Has this helped with your published writings? If so, how?

As my first publication was a memoir, my personal notes and diary entries were extremely useful. When I lost my son I began writing about things that were happening from day to day over the first year that he was gone. These notes were the basis of my book. I wrote him 27 letters, one for each year of his life. This year, January 2021 was the 10th anniversary of his death. The letters date from November 20th 2020 to February 1st 2021. As I looked back over the years before and after 2011, any notes I had made were invaluable.

If you could have three authors, past or present, around your dinner table who would they be?

Alan Bennet, Elizabeth Jane Howard and Maggie O’Farrell. To begin with I think they would all get on well together and there would be no horrible pauses in the conversation. I have admired Alan Bennet for some years, his ability to remain honest to himself, his sense of humour his wealth of experience as a writer in all genres.

Elizabeth Jane Howard, I only recently discovered and once I had I devoured as many of her books as I could, notably the Cazalet Chronicles, wonderful writing and once involved with the family, it’s impossible not to want to know what happens next . . .great characters.

Maggie O’Farrell, what can I say? I love her style of writing, her imagination, the structure she uses. I’m very excited about the prospect of my dinner party! I’d like to add one more and that would be Bob Mortimer. I’m currently listening to his memoir And Away and I think he would be an absolute must at the table!

What cartoons did you watch as a child?

I loved ’The Flintstones’ and ’Tom and Jerry’. Probably because of the slapstick nature of their antics. I was too young when I watched them to think about the animators and the writers who had created the series but when I think about that now, they were very clever people. I like the old cartoons better than any of the new ones that are around. Oh dear…am I getting on a bit?

Tell us about your book.

I think I’ve told you quite a bit about Dear Tosh already but I should add that it’s is selling steadily which is a good thing for a memoir written by someone who is not famous. The feedback and reviews have been very positive, which is gratifying.

Thank you.

It was wonderful learning more about you and having you on MTA, Ninette. Here’s to continued success for Dear Tosh, and much success with future books! – Camilla

Where to find the book:

The book can be bought from my website www.ninettehartley.com and it is available from Independent bookshops, also through Amazon, Waterstones. There is also an audio book narrated by me and an e-book. All available through the usual channels.

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Friday with Friends: The Pen is Mightier than the Sword, so my Keyboard is my Machine Gun – David Wake

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword, so my Keyboard is my Machine Gun – David Wake

Having just packed in the day job (advice to writers: never give up the day job) to write full-time, I find myself thinking a great deal about a previous day job. I used to work in computer science research. We were trying to invent the internet and, in hindsight, all the elements were there, but we never put them together. My field was the human-computer interface. I’m an SF writer, so thinking about technology is the new day job. (I also write steampunk with The Derring-Do Club adventures and ‘miscellaneous’ with Roninko and Crossing the Bridge, but the SF is I, Phone and the Thinkersphere series, although cosy mystery next.)

So, in preparation for the new lifestyle, I’ve been reorganising my office space v e r y s l o w l y. It’s ludicrous that now I’ve the time, I’m re-organising to be more efficient. Surely, when time is precious and shared with something else, that’s when you should be more efficient?

One thing I have changed is my keyboard. It’s a shiny (literally as there are lights under it) Ergodox split, ortholinear, tilted, customisable, ergonomic keyboard with thumb clusters.

“Excuse me, a what?” you ask.

Split, so you aren’t hunched over the keyboard straining your shoulders.
Ortholinear (or columnar) means you aren’t bending your fingers in weird ways.
Tilted for less wrist strain as you don’t have to rotate your hands onto the keyboard.
Customisable for those endless hours fiddling with the layout. For more, much more, see below.
And, finally, ergonomic, which is code for expensive.

Thumb clusters hold a collection of twelve keys pressed by your thumbs. It is insane that the right thumb, the most dextrous of our digits, is only used for the space bar and that the left thumb, the second most dextrous digit, is only used for the same spacebar. (It’s also insanity that we only use our thumbs on our phones.) My clusters currently have space, return, ctrl, backspace, home, end and dedicated keys for copy, paste and find – all just under my thumbs.

You can change what the keys do. If you don’t like the double quote there, then have it here. My writing has a lot of dialogue, I used to be a playwright, so having to press shift+2 is a strain on my little finger. The solution was to move it over the apostrophe (which is the US layout) and swap it with the semi-colon. You have to look at a keyboard to understand the improvement and these tiny, little refinements are a step backwards as my fingers no longer know where a key has got to. But slowly I shuffle forwards. It’s a massive rabbit hole and I don’t think a week has gone by that I haven’t changed something. Recently, I had to type an email address and I found that I didn’t have an ‘@’ key anymore! I’d removed it. I catch myself wondering if I really need those number keys. I could easily have written it as ‘shift+two’ above.

I’ve not had the nerve to switch from the standard Qwerty layout to Dvorak or Coleman-DH.

Lockdown had elements of a blessing in disguise and a chance to re-evaluate life. These changes will hopefully bring benefits. Just thank goodness, I didn’t go mad and start obsessively doing something insane. Oh, by the way, I also have a 46 key keypad to supplement the keyboard for shortcuts, volume control and all those keys I’ve taken off the keyboard.

My partner described it as ‘sharpening pencils’, that habit that writers have to avoid doing any actual writing.

Like most things, it’s a balance, of course. I spend my whole day here (well, no, there are actual pencils to sharpen), so I may as well make it as comfortable and efficient as I can. You should too. I’m not suggesting that you switch to an Ergodox (although I do), but, importantly, I’m advising you to look at your setup and how you use it.

Seriously, look after yourselves. That’s the moral of this ‘Friday with Friends’. You may not have carpal tunnel syndrome… yet, but now is the time to do something about it. So, get a better keyboard (office chair, computer screen, reading glasses… etc) as soon as you can.

Take care.

To see David Wake’s previous interview on MTA, go here:

Meet the Author: Plus Sign by David Wake

Connect with David:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/David-Wake-Author-287522215449564
Website: http://davidwake.com/
Amazon.com author page: https://www.amazon.com/David-Wake/e/B0034OBZRQ
Amazon.co.uk author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/David-Wake/e/B0034OBZRQ

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Book Shelf: The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan Le

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan Le

This story gripped me from the beginning! A futuristic tale of the destruction that occurs from ignoring climate issues for too long. I enjoyed getting to know the two strong female characters who are sisters, being a part of the love they share for one another. I certainly was not able to “figure it out” until reading it as it happened. I love these types of books, this one included! GREAT story!!

To support this website and the author’s interviewed, visit Support MTA for suggestions. Thank you! – Camilla

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Meet the Author: The Light in the Trees by Jeff Van Valer

Today we travel to Fishers, Indiana in the United States to chat with Jeff Van Valer about how neurology, the U.S. Postmaster, Bill Clinton, Raiders of the Lost Ark, marathons, a flooded kitchen, American Pie, shame, mountain biking, and Mars come together as part of Jeff’s current and younger life.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Greetings. My name is Jeff Van Valer. I’m a novelist Camilla has so graciously allowed to participate in MeetingtheAuthors. I live in Fishers, Indiana, USA and work as a neurologist.

In which genre do you write?

Thriller, mainly. My fiction catalog (two books, but we have to start somewhere, right?) is made up of a duet of books, soon to be a trio. I want them to fit into the Psychological Thriller genre, because they attempt to fool–but never lie to–the reader.

My first is The Light in the Trees and is a coming-of-age story. Many automatically substitute Young-Adult genre for coming-of-age, but I don’t. The Light in the Trees isn’t a first-person-present-tense story told by a twelve-year-old. The story is of a middle-aged man’s, decades-old secret of escalating summer-camp mischief that turned deadly. He grew up quickly that summer. Hence the coming of age designation.

How many published books do you have?

Three. Two novels: The Light in the Trees and White Birch Graffiti.

One nonfiction book, The Devil’s Tricycle (it’s because, in my real job as a neurologist and sleep-medicine specialist, I’ve grown tired of talking to every migraine patient about the tricks our minds play on us–and our migraines–as we choose too much caffeine and can’t get enough sleep).

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?

For anyone still reading, you’ll notice a connection between The Light in the Trees and my own summer-camp experience. In the ’80s, at what is now known as the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, I wrote a hell of a lot of letters and my cabinmates didn’t.

In high school, I put to paper–while in class, of course–a lot of dreams I’d had. In college, my dad asked me about an $11 check I’d written to the “U.S. Postmaster.” That’s when he realized I’d been buying $0.22 stamps, fifty at a time.

In graduate school, a physical chemistry test looming overhead, I bought a copy of John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief instead of studying and began more prolific, regular reading. Ideas for “big-boy” stories came after that.

Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?

Bill Clinton. When he was the governor of Arkansas and running for president. Sometime in spring, 1992, when I saw this young, charming guy playing saxophone on Arsenio Hall, I knew he was going to win the election.

At the time, I was in graduate school and no-longer able to return to my staff position at camp. While almost physically ill with sadness, I had Interlochen on the brain as I watched Mr. Clinton play his sax. Soon, I thought, “Even this electable feller must have a skeleton in the closet.” Turns out he had two. Their names were Jennifer Flowers and Paula Jones. When the media got a hold of them, there was no burying the stories.

But what if the candidate had but one such skeleton, and just eight other, 42-year-old men knew the candidate’s secret? If they all lived in different states, their only connection being that they’d been cabinmates at a Michigan camp thirty years before, could the campaign machine take care of it before it reached the media? That’s what became White Birch Graffiti. The Light in the Trees takes place one summer thirty years previously, when those boys were summer at camp.

What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting tired of?

This list is lengthy. Ready to fall asleep? Here we go… Nah. Let me just list the first two that pop into my head. These are tied for first among my all-time-favorite movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Shawshank Redemption. But there are at least dozens of movies which, when I’m running channels on T.V., will cause me to drop everything and watch.

Can you play a musical instrument?

Drums.

What songs hit you with a wave of nostalgia every time you hear them?

“American Pie,” by Don McLean. I wasn’t anywhere close to being alive when that plane crashed in 1959, so this song hits me for another reason. It was playing one spring day between innings at a college baseball game when my instincts told me I was losing my first love to another guy.

What is your favorite time of day and why?

Morning. It’s quiet, and the coffee tastes good. I’m mentally sharp, and no one invades my zone of creativity.

Have you ever had any Do It Yourself disasters?

Oh, sure. I once replaced my garbage disposal. As the dishwasher ran that night, it flooded my kitchen.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?

The depths of my own shame.

What is the most inspiring thing that has ever happened to you?

My kids. When my first was born, I discovered how profoundly important I needed to be. For my second, same thing.

You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What song do you listen to before speaking?

“Subdivisions” by Rush. If you’re a Rush fan, you’ll understand. If you’re not, the mere mention of the band has probably just caused you to click past this interview.

Badly explain your hobby.

I sit on an uncomfortable wedge that tries to separate my pelvis. My feet move in unending circles, I gravitate toward dirt, rocks, stumps, and roots, trying to go fast, then wonder what a breaking bone sounds like.

List 3 interesting facts about yourself.

I’ve run two marathons.
When I was 29, I spent three hours riding my road bike and talking to the guy who inspired the movie, Breaking Away.
I’m 5’10” tall, and I have friends the same height. People call them tall and they call me short. Irritating.

What’s the clumsiest thing you’ve done?

This past summer, I screwed up a drop on my mountain bike and went over the bars.

At this stage in your life, what advice would your young self give to your more mature self?

Identify what makes you happy and go for it. There is no greater legacy to leave your kids.

What’s the last movie you watched and why did you choose to watch it?

No Time to Die, the latest James Bond installment. Because Daniel Craig is my favorite James Bond.

If Mars or another planet was livable, would you accept a one way ticket there?

Sometimes I would, but most of the time, I think I need to try my best with what’s here on Earth.

Do you believe things happen for a reason?

I don’t. “Fate is just the weight of circumstances.” (Rush lyric from “Roll the Bones.”) We respond to opportunities (if we recognize them) and build our futures on them. We’re not passively living a pre-written script.

If you could ask your pet three questions, what would they be?

Why are you so loyal to me? What can I do to be that loyal to you? How do you remain so 100% present?

Describe the perfect solo date you’d take yourself on … where, time of day, weather, place, etc.

A warm, sunny day in Bentonville, Arkansas. Wake up, coffee, pancakes-eggs-and-bacon breakfast, ride my mountain bike all day on any number and skill-level of trails, return for dinner and a beer, then roll gently around town in a cooling breeze, and head back to the Airbnb when I’m tired.

Sincere thanks to you for reading, and thanks, Camilla, for the opportunity.

It was great learning more about you, and having you on MTA, Jeff! Wishing you all the best and much success with your books! – Camilla

Where to find Jeff’s books:

amazon.com/author/jeffvanvaler

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Meet the Author: Behind the Curtain by Carolyn Mandache

Today we travel to Glasgow, Scotland to chat with Carolyn Mandache about how imposter syndrome, a ragdoll cat, Romania, penguins, Spain, empathy, cobbled streets, and a foam party come together as part of Carolyn’s past and present life.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I live in Scotland with my husband, children and Willow the cat. My interests include travel and learning about different cultures, as well as being co-founder of a Glasgow restaurant tech. company called time2dine. Currently I am developing my skills in translating my teenagers’ modern day vocabularies.

What does your ideal writing space look like?

Clutter free with my laptop, notebook and pen to hand. I have photos of friends and family on my wall to keep me company, and inspire me. Living in Glasgow the weather is far from perfect, but I do enjoy the sun streaming in through the window when it makes a rare appearance! Recently I bought a gold deskplate which says “Thank God I’m Fabulous”, to counteract the imposter syndrome that I’m sure plagues many writers. Coffee in my favourite mug, and the occasional (not entirely unwanted) disturbance from my fluffy, friendly ragdoll cat.

What are you currently reading?

One August Night by Victoria Hislop. It is the follow up novel to The Island, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. Fantastic author with real talent for bringing stories to life and making you feel like you are almost in Greece yourself when reading.

Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?

Behind the Curtain was inspired by my Romanian husband. I wanted to learn more about his life growing up under Communism until the age of 11, and the customs and culture. I found researching for the book fascinating and my debut novel is a fictional account of life from Florin’s point of view up until he met me and moved to Scotland.

List 3 interesting facts about yourself.

I met my husband at a foam party in Spain
I taught myself Romanian as I hated feeling like an outsider when visiting friends and family there
Very proud of my Glasgow accent, but I will avoid any kind of voice recognition at all costs!

Which would you choose? Penguins or monkeys?

Penguins since watching the TV series A-Typical about a teenage boy with autism and how he is so fascinated with penguins, sharing many interesting facts through his journals and drawings. I recently bought my son a book called The Penguin Lessons by Tim Michell, based on the true story of a young man who rescues a penguin. He loved the book and I have to confess that when I bought it for him I knew I’d want to read it after him.

Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?

I am empathetic and capable of seeing situations from lots of perspectives. I believe this is a useful trait for running the business I own with my husband, to try make sure everyone on team is involved and happy. In writing, this trait means I can create believable characters, who will act in ways authentic to their own personalities.

What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?

St. Andrews, as I spent a lot of time there throughout childhood, and now enjoy visiting with my own children. Two beaches to choose from, and some of the prettiest scenery in Scotland, with cobbled streets and historic ruins. When it’s not too busy, some delicious ice cream from the famous Jannettas is always a welcome treat.

What are you currently working on?

I am pleased to say that quite a few readers of Behind the Curtain have asked when the follow-up book will be out and this is what I am working on. No title as yet, but this time I write from my own perspective, picking up from when I met Florin in Spain, and continuing with our lives together as a multi-cultural family…including our two weddings, dancing chickens and learning that animals also speak different languages!

Tell us about your most recent book.

I was motivated to write Behind the Curtain not only to learn more about Romania, but also to try to counteract the often negative press about Romania and immigration. My husband Florin and I are raising our kids to be proud of both their Scottish and Romanian roots, so I wanted the book to make people re-think Romania and attitudes towards immigrants. The timing for books like this seems right.

It was great learning more about you and having you be a part of MTA, Carolyn. I read The Penguin Lessons a couple of years ago, and loved it. Wonderful heartwarming book! Wishing you much success and all the best with your future books! – Camilla

Where can we purchase the book?

My book is available on Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes and Noble, as well as via my own website (UK only).

Book Trailer:

Connect with Carolyn:

https://www.carolynmandacheauthor.com/
https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0957698925/
https://twitter.com/carolynmandache
https://www.instagram.com/carolynmandache/

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Book Shelf: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison

I’m late to the game with reading this one. Yet, glad I did. Actually, in the beginning I found it difficult to continue reading, nearly setting the book aside, thinking it wasn’t right for me. I kept going though, and so happy I did. A beautiful, heartbreaking story with genuine characters, villains stirring the blood to boiling point, rounded with the solid love of a mother. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

To support this website and the author’s interviewed, visit Support MTA for suggestions. Thank you! – Camilla

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Book Shelf: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I was completely engrossed in this vivid tale of an early 1600’s fishing village in Finnmark, Norway. The story is inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1621 witch trials. It is a powerful story of independent women, love, sorrow, and the fervor and frenzy that can arise surrounding Christianity.

To support this website and the author’s interviewed, visit Support MTA for suggestions. Thank you! – Camilla

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Meet the Author: The Healer’s Betrayal by Helen Pryke

Today we travel to the north of Italy to chat with Helen Pryke about how a rescue cat, an early love of reading, a mum’s encouragement, private writing space, bad allergies, the flute, working in the garden, CS Lewis, and caves in Tuscany come together as part of Helen’s current and present life.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi, I’m Helen, and I’m a British author who’s been living in the north of Italy since 1990. I write historical fiction set in Italy, suspense set in the south of England, where I grew up, and I also write children’s books under the pen name Julia E. Clements. I live with my husband, two sons, and our gorgeous rescue cat, Pan.

How many published books do you have?

Quite a few! There are four books in my Healer saga (I’m currently writing the fifth). I’ve also published two suspense novels, a standalone women’s fiction, two short stories, and three children’s books. I’ve also published a few of my books in Italian. All this since 2016!

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?

I’ve always loved reading, ever since I was little, and used to write stories inspired by the books I read. My first story was published in the school magazine when I was 10, I still have the cutting! My mum always encouraged me to write, and often said I’d be published one day. My only regret is that she didn’t live to see it, she died when I was 18 from breast cancer.

What does your ideal writing space look like?

For the first time ever, I have my own study to shut myself away in and write! Pan usually supervises, curled up on a stool next to me, and I love having that space to myself. I need total quiet for writing, which isn’t possible when everyone’s home!

What are you currently reading?

I get through books very quickly, which is lucky as I have hundreds on my Kindle! My current book is Shadow Pursuit, a thriller by Alistair Birch, but that will probably change tomorrow!

What is your favorite season and why?

Autumn, although this year it’s been unusually warm and we’ve been inundated with insects, especially stink bugs! I hate the summer, as it’s very hot and humid here in Italy, and I get bad allergies in spring, and I don’t like being too cold either. I’m British, so I’m never happy with the weather!

Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?

In my Healer series, every book I write gives me the idea for the next one! While writing The Healer’s Awakening, one of the characters mentions an ancestor who was tried as a witch. It only took a few words to spark the idea for The Healer’s Betrayal, which takes place in Tuscany in the 1600s and tells us the ancestor’s story. It ended up being the longest book I’ve written so far!

Can you play a musical instrument? 

I can play the flute, and used to play the violin when I was younger. I’d love to be able to play the piano, but never had the chance.

What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?

Reading, or working in the garden. After living in an apartment for 8 years, we’ve now moved to a detached house with a decent-sized garden, so there’s plenty of work to do!

If you could have a fantasy tea or coffee date with an author from the past, who would it be and what would you ask them?

I’d love to meet CS Lewis, so we could chat about the Narnia books. I loved reading them when I was little, I still have my battered copies, and I’d love to know more about his inspiration for them, how he dreamed up the characters, and all the different stories.

What is your favorite time of day and why?

Six o’clock in the morning! It’s my quiet time, to sit down with a cappuccino and some biscuits, and do some reading, while everyone else is sleeping.

What is the most enjoyable aspect you’ve found through writing?

The amazing people I’ve met, some of whom have become close friends. Both authors and readers can be so supportive and lovely, and they keep you going when things are difficult.

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve experienced to help create a scene?

After I wrote The Healer’s Secret, my husband, youngest son, and I spent 4 days in Tuscany where it’s set so that I could make everything more authentic. One of the scenes takes place in some caves, so we took a guided tour to experience it for ourselves. It was wonderful for adding authenticity – the moment when they turned the lights out and left us in total darkness was spooky! And I found some steps leading down to who knows where, which sparked my imagination and helped me create a particular moment in the story!

I’m currently working on book 5 in the Healer series, which doesn’t yet have a title. It follows on directly from book 4, and features Morgana’s daughter, Gemma. She has to leave Italy to escape the witch hunts, and ends up… well, you’ll have to wait and find out!

Tell us about your most recent book.

The Healer’s Betrayal is book 4 in my Healer series. Each book tells the story of one of the healers in the Innocenti family, and this one is about Morgana Innocenti. It’s set in the 1600s, a time of superstition, when people believed in witches and witchcraft, and women were persecuted and burned at the stake. It’s available to preorder from every online retailer, and will be published on the 2nd December. I do recommend reading the whole series, as every book is connected and little details pop up that you’ll recognise as the series progresses!

It was wonderful learning more about your books and writing’s life, Helen! I’ve added The Healer’s Secret to my reading list! Wishing you much success with all you do! – Camilla

The Healer’s Betrayal:

In an era of superstition and fear, it’s dangerous to be a woman—and even more so to be a healer . . .

Morgana Innocenti was born on the cusp of the 1600s, on the cursed ground inside the Grove. Deaf since the age of eight from a childhood illness, and able to see shadows where no shadow should be, she has learned to face any difficulty with strength and determination.

But a three-hundred-year-old vow of revenge, and a terrible secret revealed on her grandmother’s deathbed, throw Morgana’s life into turmoil, and nothing will ever be the same again. To protect her family’s name, she must marry a man she hardly knows, and trust that she has made the right choice.

While she settles into her new life, rumours arrive from England of witch hunters who leave a trail of death and devastation behind them as they cross the country. When her daughter is born with the mark of the devil, Morgana lives in constant fear that they will come to Italy.

She has no idea that she is about to suffer the ultimate betrayal. Before, she had to marry to save her family’s name. What will she sacrifice to save her daughter?

Connect with Helen:

https://www.amazon.com/Helen-Pryke/e/B01MXCQ92L/
https://www.facebook.com/helenprykeauthor/
https://twitter.com/helen_pryke
https://www.instagram.com/helenpryke/
http://www.facebook.com/groups/meettheauthorsgroup

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To support this website and the author’s interviewed, visit Support MTA for suggestions. Thank you! – Camilla, Founder and Host