Friday with Friends: Researching Fiction – H.R. Kemp

Researching fiction

I enjoy doing research and I love learning new things, but that means I can spend so much time researching that I get very little writing done. I can disappear down a research trail for hours or days, and enjoy every minute of it.

It’s a common joke amongst writers that we don’t want anyone tracking our online research history. I’ve researched the Iraqi war, illicit drug trade, poisons and dangerous drugs, mining activities, weapons inspections, oil refining processes, and political scandals. I’m sure my computer’s search history could get me into serious trouble. I’m glad no one is looking at it.

How much research is required for a novel or story?

US author, Tom Clancy, said:

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”

So how real do fictional stories have to be?

After all, there’s only so much information you can put into a story before it becomes boring or bogged down in unnecessary details. What I learn from research can be sprinkled lightly to add context rather than simply dumping in facts. You’d be surprised how much research it takes to provide a taste of real life, a feel of accuracy, or an authentic atmosphere for a story.

While I was writing my latest mystery suspense thriller, Lethal Legacy, it became clear I needed to have a stronger grasp on how illegal bikie gangs operated. I’d read up on them, researched them on Wikipedia, and spoken to law enforcement officers about them. They all provided great insights but I still didn’t have a feel for the people who join gangs, their motivation or their experience.

Before Covid and all its accompanying restrictions, I visited the Adelaide Supreme Court. No, the police hadn’t looked at my online search history, thankfully, I was there to observe a trial and get a feel for the court processes.

I’d never been inside the Supreme Court before and I showed up not really knowing what to expect. I’d scanned the online daily schedule but it only listed the names of the accused and didn’t identify the charges. I’d hoped they’d have more information on their noticeboards.

Once I explained why I was there, the Court Sheriffs were wonderfully helpful. They steered me away from a ‘boring’ trial and towards an ‘interesting’ one. It was just what I was looking for, perfect for my plot line and research needs.

Four bikie gang members were charged with kidnapping and assault of an ex-bikie member. And, since it was only just starting, I was able to follow the proceedings from the pre-trial Voir Dire process – hearings to decide what evidence will be admitted during the trial – to the selection of the jury, through the hearing of evidence. and to the final verdict.

Being inside the courtroom was nerve-wracking, especially when coming face-to-face with four burly men who’d lived by a violent code. They were hardened criminals who traded in guns, drugs, and any other illicit substances they could get their hands on. Their activities disregarded any responsibility or consequences.

It gave me a lot to think about.

During the Voir Dire process, the Barristers jostled and bickered to gain the advantage. The Prosecutor wanted to use all the evidence, concrete or hearsay, to achieve a conviction, and of course, the defending Barristers tried to have as much of the evidence dismissed as they could. The Judge questioned and interrogated each piece of evidence and then ruled on what would be admitted and what wouldn’t, to ensure a fair trial. It was a long and tedious process with lots of repetition.

I’m sure TV courtroom dramas had coloured my expectations of what a trial was like. I’d expected the Barristers to be immaculately presented and very articulate, even passionate. Instead, the Defence Barristers wore crumpled shirts, smelled of cigarette smoke, and even their robes and wigs looked worn. Generally, their arguments lacked passion or any emotion, they were usually repetitive and sometimes, frankly, dull.

For this trial, each of the four gang members had their own defence Barrister, but there was only one Prosecutor.

I wasn’t able to attend every day, but I spent a few days each week observing and I filled an entire notebook with notes. I learned so much.

I heard evidence about their club hierarchy and the different roles within the club. I learned about their rules and their initiation processes and heard about aspects of the bikie world I would never have found through other forms of research. It was valuable information that I could use to provide context when developing a character who becomes involved with a bikie gang.

I also learned that despite these men being callous and tough, they were strangely incompetent. They were arrogant, and their arrogance led to their downfall. They’d thought they were invincible.

It was intriguing to watch others at the trial. After all, people-watching is one of my favourite pastimes, and this presented a rare opportunity to observe the behaviour and reaction of others in a very different environment.

The local paper carried photos taken of the four accused before the trial. What a transformation. Instead of the rough, unkempt bikies, clean-cut young men sat in the dock. Especially the president. His cold eyes, hard facial features, scraggly beard, and long, greasy hair had been tamed and he now looked like an office worker or accountant.

It was also hard to believe that the Sergeant at Arms, the man responsible for maintaining obedience in the gang, was the same man whose mother brought him a freshly ironed, clean shirt, every morning. She handed it to the Court Sherriff every day, just before her son was brought into the courtroom. She and his sister attended most days and it was clear that his mother hadn’t known what her son had been involved in.

I watched the gang president’s wife/girlfriend become agitated as damning evidence was presented before the court. She protested any accusations against her partner. The president’s father sat silently beside her while his son avoided his gaze.

As a writer, my imagination was filling in the scenarios and history that had brought them here.

I attracted the attention of Police observers, journalists, and law students but once I explained my reasons for being there, they were helpful and willing to answer my questions. They even asked me about my impressions and thoughts.

Despite the amount of time I spent at the trial, researching and observing, and all of my copious notes, the trial scene in Lethal Legacy was removed in the last edit. I’d gained a lot of contextual information, so the research was still worthwhile, but some of these notes may have to wait to be used in another book. I don’t know yet.

I love drawing on real life, but it’s a jumping-off point. All the research in the world can’t make a plot work, a character resonate, or a scene intrigue.

I’m a keen observer of people and an avid consumer of news and political commentary. I have a work history, I’ve studied, I’ve travelled extensively, and I have life experience that blends to imagine plotlines, evoke settings, and draw characters that I feel I know.

My characters are not real people, that would be too limiting, but I do bring together characteristics to make a compilation character.

But beware, everything can be categorised as research. A snatched conversation, a strange encounter on the street, a person catching my eye with a gesture or an interesting fashion flair. They are all filed away and find their way into stories as I write. You never really know where a particular detail will come from.

Follow this link to read H.R. Kemp’s Meeting the Author’s interview …

Meet the Author: Deadly Secrets by H.R. Kemp

Where to find H.R. Kemp’s books:

Lethal Legacy:

Deadly Secrets:

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Meet the Author: We Are Saul by Richard Dee

Today we travel to South Devon in England to chat with Richard Dee about how the Merchant Navy, Tower Bridge, Agatha Raisin, a persistent dream, independent authors, spring, sourdough bread, Ripples, a tailor’s dummy, and a cloud of plaster come together as part of Richards’s past and present life.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Richard Dee and I’m from Brixham in South Devon, England. When I left school, I went to sea in the Merchant Navy, qualifying as a Master Mariner and serving on all sorts of ships. When my children were young, I left the job, with its five-month trips and worked ashore in several different places, before becoming a Thames River pilot. I took ships of all sizes up and down the river, including through Tower Bridge and loved every minute of it. Following a shoulder injury, I took early retirement and moved back to Devon, to a house near the cliffs, where I walk every day.

In which genre do you write?

I write speculative fiction, either sci-fi, steampunk or futuristic psychological thrillers. I also chronicle the exploits of a reluctant amateur detective called Andorra Pett. She’s a cross between Agatha Raisin and Miss Marple, a sleuth for the space age.

How many published books do you have?

I have eighteen novels, three books of short stories and a textbook published under my own name. I’ve also appeared in several anthologies.

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

I never wanted to write, my teachers despaired of my ability at school. Even when I was at sea, visiting places and seeing incredible things, I found it hard to think of anything to write home about. Then, one day, I had a dream that wouldn’t go away. Every night it was the same one. I ended up writing it down, when I did that, more dreams appeared, and I realised they were connected. The rest is history. In a twist, one of my dreams was about a man who had vivid dreams, that became my favourite story of all the ones I’ve written.

What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?

All my ideas come from a moment of inspiration. It might be an overheard remark in a coffee shop or an item I see on T.V. Whatever it is seems to stir some part of my brain and I’ll have a dream, either when I’m asleep or when I’m relaxing. I sort of watch a film of the story playing in my head and just write down what I see. I can rewind or slow the action but I can never fast-forward. So I never know the end until I get there, just like the reader will.

What does your ideal writing space look like?

I have a small office room in our house. It’s untidily tidy, if you know what I mean. It appears to be disorganised but I know where everything is. There are pictures on the walls of special memories, family members and places from my life.

What are you currently reading?

These days, about 95 per cent of the books I read are by independent authors, people who you might never have heard of. I was fed up with the continual repetition of the traditional publishing setup, once they have a best seller, they tend to go wild promoting clones and derivatives of it, you only have to look at bookshop shelves to see that. Indies, being unbound by that sort of restriction, are producing original and different work, that (in my opinion) is far superior.

What is your favorite season and why?

I love spring, with all its promise, when the Earth starts to wake up and there’s new life everywhere.

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

I cook, bake Sourdough bread and walk along the cliffs, when I first retired, I set up an Organic bakery in my hometown, I thought it would be something to do. I started supplying local cafés and shops. The business grew far too quickly and I couldn’t keep up, yet I wasn’t making enough to be able to finance expansion, reluctantly, I had to close it down. I still bake for a favoured few but mostly for myself.

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

There are so many that have that kind of effect, I guess it comes from having a long life with many experiences. Music from the 70s is the biggest source of emotion, especially from bands that I’ve been lucky enough to see. Songs like Ripples by Genesis or the opening of Hot August Night, the live album by Neil Diamond are just two.

What is your favorite time of day and why?

Early morning, the world is quiet and it’s just me, either at my keyboard or out walking in nature.

Have you ever had any Do It Yourself disasters?

I was investigating the loft of a house we had just bought. I had a torch and suddenly saw a tailor’s dummy, looking at me. I stepped back and went through the ceiling, landing in the bedroom in a cloud of plaster.

What are you currently working on?

I have about ten half-finished projects, which I alternate as I get ideas. It can all get very confusing.

Thanks for sharing about yourself with us, Richard. It was great getting to know you a bit more. I absolutely love the mouth watering photos of your bread creations posted on social media. Here’s wishing you all the best! – Camilla


When Saul is paralysed in an accident, he thinks it’s the end of his life. In fact, it’s just the beginning.

While trying to come to terms with his injuries, the mysterious Dr Tendral offers him a way to make a difference. All he has to do is join his project. There are no other details until he agrees, he’s either in or out.
What choice does he have?
Agreeing is just the beginning. Saul undergoes drastic surgery, only then is the full depth of the project revealed.
Or is it?
As time goes on and he learns more about Tendral’s scheme, Saul’s new life becomes increasingly difficult.
In the end, he has to abandon everything as he learns the truth.

All second chances come with a price.

Where to purchase the book:



Connect with Richard:

You can keep up with me at where you’ll find free short stories, regular features on writing, book reviews and guest appearances from other great authors.

There’s also an offer for a FREE novella, when you join my subscriber’s newsletter.

I can be found on Facebook at and contacted by email at mailto:[email protected].


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

News: Camilla on Break from Meeting the Authors

February 16 2022

Hello everyone! Meeting the Authors is on pause for the month of February and March.

I have accepted a very part-time position as a Family Navigator with the Family Navigation Network, which is a part of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities.

I need a month or two to get settled. I will then open the contact form, resuming author and book blogger interviews, and Friday with Friends.

Plus, it’s my birth month. Here I come 52! I traditionally take this month off from MTA. May you have a wonderful February and March, and I will see you on the other side. I will continue to be active on facebook, twitterinstagram, my personal blog, and in facebook groups. If we aren’t connected on those platforms, I’m happy to connect there, too.


If we’ve not been properly introduced you can visit my MTA interview here …

Meet the Author: Words of Alchemy by Camilla Downs

Meet the Author: The Adventures of Henry the Field Mouse by Josephine Coker

Today we travel to the Cotswolds by way of the Pacific Northwest of the United States to chat with Jo Coker and Sue Dockstader about how a rural upbringing, the second world war, a florist, Hong Kong, a community mediator, the South China Sea, airmail pages, wellie-clad walks, Cotswolds Radio, and knitted mice come together as part of Jo and Sue’s past and current lives.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

This author interview will be a little different, as my 87-year-old Mum and I are a publishing team! We are thrilled to share our unusual route to fame and fortune- and yes, we are still working on the fortune part! My mother, author Jo Coker, lives in the beautiful Cotswolds in the west of England, while I am living in the fabulous Pacific Northwest of the US. I’ll let her tell her story here, but as her editor/publisher/struggling social media maven, I may chip in with a few comments here and there…

Jo: I’m a grandmother of 3 globe-trotting grandkids and coming late to the world of publishing. My grandchildren live in America, England and Germany, and their adventurous lives are quite a contrast to my quiet, rural upbringing in the English countryside during the second world war. After getting married, I moved to a small market and worked for many years as a florist and teacher of flower arranging and am still an avid gardener.

A few years ago, my daughter surprised me by publishing the wildlife tales I wrote for her children. She transformed my scrappy typed pages into the delightful book titled The Adventures of Henry the Field Mouse. I wrote the stories to stay connected with my grandchildren and inspire them with a love of the English countryside when they moved overseas. It was a shock to be presented with a fully illustrated book 20 years later, but I am thoroughly enjoying becoming a published author in my 80s!

Sue – I am a “recovering” British and Hong Kong lawyer who left the UK on an adventure in 1986 and haven’t lived there since! I currently work with nonprofits to resolve their communications struggles, volunteer as a community mediator, and write magazine articles. Over the years, I’ve worked on a variety of book projects with several different authors and am thrilled to have finally realized my bucket list wish of publishing Mum’s stories.

In which genre do you write?

Jo: I write children’s stories about the English countryside. My original motivation was to be sure my grandchildren would know something about where their grandma lived while enjoying the view of the South China Sea from their 14th floor apartment in Hong Kong.

I did not plan my writing to be intentionally educational but wanted all the wildlife animals to be as authentic as possible. So, they are not wearing clothes and sitting around drinking tea- but diving in the river for water iris and digging for insects in the compost pile!

The main character is an amiable field mouse called Henry who encounters other mice and numerous wildlife characters as they explore their garden surroundings. I thought it would be fun for them to venture beyond the safety of the garden, so devised a way for them to “hitch a ride” in various vehicles by squeezing in past the brake pedals and hiding under the seats!

How many published books do you have?

Jo: Three! The first two books are based on the original stories I sent my grandchildren. I still can’t believe my daughter kept those flimsy airmail pages for 20 years! Once we saw how the fabulous illustrator, Barbara Richards, had brought my countryside tales to life, I was persuaded to dream up a few more adventures for Henry and his pals.

So, at 85, I started writing again! I feel like I finally got into my stride in the third book, introducing a new animal for Henry to befriend in each chapter.

Sue: Although we’ve all become more aware of the importance of ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ it seems my Mum was a “woke Grandma” when she was creating Henry! He meets all kinds of different animals who don’t look like him or live in the same kind of home, but after a few cautious enquiries he always manages to make friends. These innocent tales of hedgehogs and horses, water voles and moles, and town and country mice are a delightful way for little ones to learn about acceptance.

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

Jo: When my grandchildren moved to Hong Kong, I really wanted them to know something about where I lived. I also remembered how exciting it was to get letters as a child. So, I would send letters off to them at regular intervals, including a chapter about Henry climbing the churchyard wall, or falling into a muddy river, or discovering the delights of waking up on a snowy morning. All very alien concepts to my well-travelled grandkids. And it worked! They loved their summer visits to England, which always included lots of wellie-clad walks along the hedgerows gathering twigs, feathers, and snail shells to create a beloved “nature table.”

What is your favorite season and why?

Sue: My turn! Although I think Mum and I agree on this one- Spring! We both love flowers and enjoy that energizing sense of renewal as you watch brave snowdrops emerging through the frosty ground! Knowing that the days are slowly getting longer, and the gloom of winter will soon be over- yes, long dark wintery days are something the UK and the PNW have in common.

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

Jo: That reading in church for years (and reading to my grandchildren, of course) was excellent training for reading on the radio! My local radio station, Cotswolds Radio, asked me to read a couple of stories for them to share during one of their “junior DJ” programs. Apparently, I did a good job and I returned to the studio numerous times to record all three books which they broadcast on their afternoon Storytime show. It was a little intimidating to speak into the microphone, among all the technology, reading to no one, but I was thrilled that even at my ripe old age I was ready and able to learn something new.

Sue: Mum’s constant optimism and encouragement have also been great motivators for me to try lots of new things. I have never been very tech savvy, so building a website for Henry, battling Mailchimp and overcoming the challenge of adding Mum’s recorded stories to the website have all been surprising achievements, prompted by her writing.

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

Jo: Apart from the connection with my grandchildren, it has been lovely to receive scribbled notes and relayed messages from some of Henry’s young fans. Before Book 2 came out, I heard from a friend that her grandchild insisted I should be told that it’s “urgent” that I “hurry up and get the next book published.” Of course, I make sure these young supporters always get their copies “hot off the press.”

Another unforeseen benefit of writing these books has been the deepening connection with my daughter, Sue. Our book production and marketing discussions during the past two years of lockdown have been an absolute joy and lifesaver for me. Sue and I have not been able to see each other for over two years, so having this project to work on has been a wonderful way to stay connected. We have enjoyed endless hilarious phone calls where we have discussed marketing strategies and she has tried to explain the machinations of Facebook and Instagram- truly wonderful highlights in a time when we could have been stuck with conversations about the weather and COVID.

Share an interesting or funny story from your childhood.

Jo: I was the eldest of three sisters growing up in a small village. My parents were kind hardworking folk who started their working life at an early age and did not really see the value of a good education- especially for a girl. When I was offered a place at the local grammar school, a big step up from the less academic secondary modern school, they declined the offer. They had no concept of how much I would have enjoyed and benefited from a more academic education, but worried about the extra expense and how they would struggle to offer that opportunity to all three daughters.

Fortunately, I was able to go to college as an adult where I studied adult education and floristry, which helped me develop a second career as a florist later in life.

I only wish my parents could see me now, in my 80’s, a published author and “star” of the local radio station – a little smarter than they realized perhaps?

What are you currently working on?

Jo: I’m always having ideas for new stories involving different animals, we’ll see if another book emerges. I wonder if Henry could stowaway on a ferry and find his way to my grandchild in Germany?

When I’m not learning about book promotion, I keep busy in my garden and knitting for local charities. I’ve been knitting teddy bears and blankets for years, and recently adapted a pattern so I could create some adorable mice. At a local craft fair, I had one of the knitted Henry lookalikes peeping out of a pocket and found that children loved the idea of having their own special friend to look after. I think I may have sold more knitted mice than books that day!

Tell us about your most recent book.

In the final book of the series The Adventures of Henry the Field Mouse, Henry and his tiny friends embark on more adventures beyond their garden home meeting a squirrel, a fox, a mole, a donkey, a rabbit, and a harvest mouse along the way. Sometimes they are scurrying beneath the hedgerows and other times they embark on daring rides in the car of the family from the big house. They even manage to hide in a bus so they can join the village ladies on an outing to a local stately home. Once again, the illustrations are beautiful and will transport the imaginations of little adventurers beyond the garden into the woods, fields, churchyard, and beyond. It was great fun to dig into my own memories of seaside trips, small town railway stations and fairs on the village green to provide Henry with even more opportunities to explore the English countryside and make a few new wildlife friends.

It was wonderful to have you both on MTA! The Henry the Field Mouse books sound like wonderful books that I would have loved to read to my kids when they were younger! I am touched and inspired by how these books came to be. Thank you for sharing with the MTA audience. Wishing you both all the best! – Camilla

Where to purchase the book?

The book is available from a number of retailers local to Mum’s home in the Cotswolds: The Black Cat Café, the Post Office and the Cotswolds Pharmacy all in Northleach; Beatons Tearooms and Bookshop in Morton in Marsh and Borzoi Bookshop in Stow on the Wold.

We also have an Etsy store, and are always happy to pop a book in the post straight from the boxes in Mum’s garage!

Connect with Jo and Sue:

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Friday with Friends: The Perfect Time to Write – Kim Rigby

The perfect time to write

Last year I watched a few writer friends successfully complete NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, and a splinter of envy edged its way inside me. How had they mustered the energy, the discipline to write 50,000 words in one month? I was in the defence force – discipline had been my life, from ironing five sets of white uniforms on a Sunday evening, to achieving a mirror polish on my shoes. Yet I could not find it in me to manage 50,000 words in a month.

You may be laughing. You may know authors who get up every day and write religiously for three hours. These unicorn writers rise early, shower, clean their teeth and arrive at their desk like newborns, bright-eyed and brimming with ideas. But for me, the idea of NaNoWriMo was akin to a fairytale. Yes, I wrote and released Patrick the War Man in 2020. And yes, I released The Hag in 2021. But to write a book in a month? That kind of wizardry belongs in one of my books.

And so I wondered, when is the ideal time for me to write? Is it early in the morning, when the Eastern Koel is whooping in the tree outside my bedroom window? Despite his naughty cuckoo tendencies, he’s the ideal alarm clock with his repetitive call. Perhaps it’s later in the afternoon, as the smudge of storm clouds appear in the western sky. That pause, between the wind dropping and the first few drops of rain, that could signify my time to sit down and tap away. Or maybe I should wait until the evening, long after the Australian air force jets have finished their noisy manoeuvres over our house?

Should it be in spring time, as I stay indoors to reduce the dreaded bane of hayfever? No one can ignore the call of fresh growth, and new ideas bursting forth like blossoms. Or should I write in the midst of summer, as I avoid the hot sun and subsequent lupus flare? No, no, it will be better in the stillness of winter, when we are encouraged to go within, to relish the shorter days, eat warming foods, and contemplate our brief lives.

And then I realised all of these times are the perfect moment to write, because in each moment there is a snapshot, a unique sight that warrants describing. I am further blessed to have friends in the Northern hemisphere, and each day on social media, I see the exact opposite of what is going outside my own window. It’s a steamy, overcast day here, but other friends are experiencing snowfall, short days, and lingering chill.

Inspiration is everywhere. If I need to write a gloomy scene while it’s blisteringly hot, I know I’ll find the perfect picture and description online. I can’t currently visit London or San Francisco without a lot of hassle, but there will be someone online showing us exactly what it’s like in these cities right now. I love this immediacy, this intimate glimpse into a far-removed, exotic landscape, especially when so many of us have been housebound. And in a world that has been picked up and shaken like a snow globe, it’s reassuring to see that the seasons continue, that life still goes on.

Perhaps I can’t muster 50,000 words in a month, but I know the rhythm of the seasons will inspire me to explore, imagine, and eventually complete my next story.

Follow this link to read Kim’s Meeting the Author’s interview …

Meet the Author: The Black Fire Chronicles by Kim Rigby

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

Book Shelf: The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

Gripping adventure traveling between worlds, covering and uncovering secrets, with strong characters. I loved, loved, loved this story. I kept imagining it as a movie, with the scenes of the book playing out as movie scenes. It’s a fantastically written story that pulled me in and captivated my attention.

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

“Disclosure: This website is an affiliate of and will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.”

Meet the Author: When Love Sticks Around by Danielle Dayney

Today we travel to Virginia to chat with Danielle Dayney about how writing for a music magazine, two doodles, Grease, two daughters, Queen, a monarch butterfly, and The Snorks come together as part of Danielle’s past and current life.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Sure! I live in Virginia, just south of Washington D.C. in a small town with my husband of almost 17 years, my two daughters, and my two doodles. My house is a circus when everyone is awake, so I do most of my writing in the early morning hours while the house is still quiet.

I have been a writer of some sort, on and off for most of my life. I wrote my first short story in second grade; in college I wrote for a music magazine, interviewing rock bands and reviewing CDs (remember those things?); and before I quit my job as a real estate assistant in 2016, I wrote property descriptions. Since quitting that job, I have focused on my own writing again.

How many published books do you have?

I have one published book, a coming-of-age memoir titled When Love Sticks Around.

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Reminders of Him, by Colleen Hoover. I recently discovered her when I read her psychological thriller, Verity, and I love her writing style. This book is not a thriller but is equally good.

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

Grease! I have probably watched that movie a thousand times, but it never gets old. I watched it with my mom when I was a kid, and now I watch it with my daughters. There’s the music, the dancing, and most of all, the relationship between Danny and Sandy. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have any one of those epic dance scenes happen in their lives?

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

I get really, really, nervous before any kind of public speaking, so I rarely do it. But two songs come to mind that would probably help me calm down: “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen and “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. I guess I have eclectic music taste.

What cartoons did you watch as a child?

I am an eighties kid, so I watched Scoobie Doo, Flintstones, Jetsons, The Smurfs, The Snorks, and so many more. I was a cartoon junkie. But my favorite cartoon as a child was Jem and the Holograms. By far. I never missed an episode except for the day my mom and stepdad got married at the courthouse. As you can see from the photo below, I wasn’t too happy about that.

What’s your favorite insect, and why?

My favorite insect is the monarch butterfly. When I was in second grade, my teacher brought in these caterpillars with green, white, and black stripes for us to care for. We fed them, gave them water, and watched them wrap themselves up into a chrysalis before completing their metamorphosis and becoming gorgeous orange and black butterflies. Ever since, they have been my favorite insect and favorite butterfly.

Do you believe things happen for a reason? Do you have an example from your own life to share why you believe this?

I absolutely believe things happen for a reason.

One time, when my husband and I first moved to Virginia, we put an offer in on a house in a small town other than the one we live in now. It was cute, right on a small lake. But the appraisal came back at a whopping $75,000 under the contract price. We ended up walking away from it and renting a townhouse in our current town on a street called Papillion (the French word for butterfly, which felt like kismet). That was in 2012. We loved it so much we never left the area.

Looking back, if we had purchased that other house, we wouldn’t have been as happy there and my husband’s drive to work would have been atrocious.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a novel set in Detroit, Michigan, a city that holds a very dear place in my heart. I lived there from 2005 until 2009 with my husband. We were in our mid-twenties, and made life-long friends there. I still think of it as a second home. I’m also working on another memoir. All the while, I’m actively marketing my recently released memoir, When Love Sticks Around.

Tell us about your most recent book.

When Love Sticks Around is a coming-of-age memoir about growing up poor in the Midwest. It’s also about living in a blended family and what those relationships, or lack of relationships, look like. Mostly, it’s about love.

It was great having you on MTA, and learning more about you and your writings, Danielle. Here’s wishing you much success with your memoir and future books! – Camilla

Book Blurb:

Hand-me-down pants that don’t quite fit, twilight bike rides down sleepy neighborhood streets, sweaty family camping trips. The things that almost break you, and the things you barely notice.

It’s hard to see the shape of your life until you’re looking back on it.

In this collection of short essays, Danielle Dayney recounts her experiences as an awkward child in the piecemeal family that raised her. From her biological father’s absence to her mother’s battle with cancer to the birth of her daughter, Dayney’s stories venture beyond anecdote to nest safely among the tangled experiences that shape the people we become. With a keen eye for the pebbles of humor and glimmers of beauty along the rough roads of her life, Dayney has crafted a book that feels as familiar as a home-cooked meal and as exciting as the first night in a new city.

When Love Sticks Around is a memoir of love, loss, humor, identity, and above all, family—the one you’re born into and the one you gather along the way.

Those are the things worth sticking around for.

Where to purchase the book.

The book can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, and other retailers.

Author website and socials:


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Book Shelf: me and white supremacy – Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Laylae Saad

me and white supremacy – Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Laylae Saad

This is a powerful and informative book. I not only read it, I completed the workbook section also. In the past I would have read the title of this book, and looked away thinking that this book is not meant for me. On May 25, 2020 that changed. My heart cracked open, allowing me to know and understand that I MUST educate myself on this topic.

In years past, I had been apathetic, stayed silent, ignorant of the enormity of this situation, and thinking that none of this applied to me because I am a good person. The days following May 25th, I chose to educate myself and my eyes and mind have been opened to the horrors that my brothers and sisters have been living. I think many of us feel this book is not meant for us. Let your heart guide the way. It doesn’t have to be this book. Choose any of the books, talks, or movies out there and educate yourself on the definition of white supremacy and white privilege. It’s not what you may think.

Quote from the book, “There is no clean, comfortable, or convenient way to dismantle a violent system of oppression. You must roll up your sleeves and get down into the ugly, fertile dirt.”

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

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Meet the Author: Beneath the Fear by Sheila Rawlings

Today we travel to South London to chat with Sheila Rawlings about how graphic designing, being an avid reader, crime investigation, an overactive imagination, writing in the dining room, destroyed plans, James Bond, going for walks, Formula One, a choppy boat trip, Stieg Larsson, and breaking into a celebrity’s house come together as part of Sheila’s past and current life.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Sheila Rawlings, and I am a trained graphic designer and self-published author. Having spent 33 years working for a weekly magazine publisher, I now spend my well-earned retirement writing novels in South London, where I live with my husband Martin – to whom I have been married for nearly 46 years. Apparently, my long service medal is in the post.

Having been an avid reader since childhood, I must have read hundreds of books over the years, all of which not only contributed to my love of writing stories but also greatly helped to improve my writing style. Unfortunately, as I’m reluctant to part with my growing book collection, it means I’m now running out of space to house them. Fortunately, since the arrival of Kindle, I now mostly download e-books, as they’re easier to carry around – much to the relief of my husband, who was beginning to think he was living in a library.

In which genre do you write?

My preferred genre is psychological thrillers. As I watch a lot of TV dramas and have always enjoyed a good thriller, it’s a genre I feel most comfortable with. However, having attended a ‘crime investigation procedure for authors’ course just before the pandemic, I decided to introduce a crime element to both my latest thriller, and the one I’m currently writing.

How many published books do you have?

I’m still relatively new to writing, so I’ve only published two novels so far. However, I’ve just finished the first draft of my next novel, so hopefully it won’t be long before those two are joined by a third.

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

I suppose the seeds of becoming a writer started to take root when I was a child, as, due to an overactive imagination that needed an outlet, I was an avid book reader. With no electronic devices or computer games to distract me, I could always be found curled up somewhere with my nose in a book; partly as a way of escaping my annoying little brother’s tantrums – of which there were many – and partly to drown out the arguments that often occurred between my father and my maternal grandmother, who lived with us. Unfortunately, having been a prisoner of war during World War 2, my father had acquired a quick temper and little patience – which my grandmother regularly managed to put to the test. Therefore, immersing myself in a good book was the only way to escape the chaos of my everyday surroundings.

However, as my parents regarded writing stories as just a hobby, when I eventually left school, I was encouraged to train for a ‘proper’ job … as they termed it. So, I became a graphic designer instead.

I did start to write a novel several years prior to my retirement. However, as anyone in publishing knows, there is no such thing as regular hours. So, I only got as far as the first two chapters before constant work commitments rendered it impossible to finish. Added to this, my husband had unfortunately developed clinical depression, which meant I suddenly found myself trying to cope with a difficult home life, while at the same time doing a demanding and full-time job. Therefore, it wasn’t until 2013 that I eventually managed to finish the story and publish my first novel.

What does your ideal writing space look like?

In my mind, my ideal writing space would be a large, dedicated study where I could shut myself away with all my many books; a room that would also have enough wall space to hang up a large white board where I could plot out my novels. However, back in the real world, as I live in a small, two-bedroom terrace house with very little storage space – let alone a spare room to convert into a study – the reality of the situation is I’m restricted to using the dining room instead. Unfortunately, with no lock on the door, it’s difficult to avoid interruptions – or constant offers of a cup of tea. As it’s also the only room we have for entertaining, it means packing all my things into a large plastic box every time we have guests staying. Fortunately – and I never thought I’d hear myself saying this – thanks to Covid, visitors have been a rare occurance.

What are you currently reading?

As I write regular monthly book reviews on my website, it means I usually manage to read at least one book a month. Currently, I’m in between books, having just read the excellent novel ‘One Step Behind’ by Lauren North. It’s a gripping and tense psychological thriller, about a woman whose life is systematically being ruined by a stalker. If you’re looking for a good read, I can highly recommend it.

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

During my husband’s long struggle with depression, one unavoidable fact became abundantly clear. Nothing in life is guaranteed. No matter how well we plan our future – or how much control we think we have over it – at the end of the day we’re all at the mercy of fate. As I knew only too well how devastating it was to suddenly have all your carefully made plans destroyed in the blink of an eye, I decided to use that experience as the underlying theme for my latest novel.

I started by asking myself a question. What traumatic event would be guaranteed to not only tear a person’s life apart but also be impossible to recover from? My answer was simple: to suddenly lose someone you loved in tragic circumstances, with no warning or time to prepare for it. Realising the premise would make for an explosive start to my novel, I then placed my main protagonist in exactly that position, creating a scenario where her husband is fatally shot during an unexpected bank robbery, leaving her not only traumatised but also a prime witness to his murder.

They say novelists are either ‘plotters’ or ‘pantsers’. Well, I’m definitely a ‘plotter’. I had my beginning, and, because of my love of Cornwall, I was pretty sure the rugged Cornish coastline – with its secluded and atmospheric coves – would be the ideal setting for a dramatic end to the story. Together with a rough idea of how all the characters would come together to facilitate that ending, all that remained was to piece together the story like a jigsaw puzzle. As writing a novel is an organic process, it took several drafts before the story was finally completed to my satisfaction, by which time – with the help of an excellent editor – it had changed dramatically from its original conception.

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

As I’m a great film lover and passionate cinema goer, there are several films I would gladly watch repeatedly … and quite often do. For sheer escapism, a James Bond film will always hit the spot – especially the ones with Daniel Craig, who brings a refreshingly gritty edge to the character. As I mentioned before, I’m also partial to a good thriller and can easily watch Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ trilogy multiple times. Having read the books, I consider him a brilliant thriller writer, whose novels have made excellent movies – although I far prefer the Swedish versions to the American ones. Nobody does crime thrillers quite like the Scandinavians.

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

I sometimes wish there were more hours in a day, as writing a novel can be an all-consuming activity. You get so involved that time seems to evaporate into the ether. However, although it’s hard to tear myself away from the computer, I do have other interests in my life. For instance, as well as reading books, I love going to the cinema or the theatre. I’m also a great fan of motor racing – especially Formula One. As a lover of good coffee, I often start the day in one of our excellent, local independent cafés. We have several nearby, so I’m spoilt for choice. Since the pandemic struck, it’s been tough for small businesses, especially in the hospitality sector, so I’ve tried to support as many local ones as possible. Truth is, I would miss the coffee shops if they disappeared. Lockdown was bad enough.

I know it’s trendy to spend time in a gym these days but, as far as I’m concerned, pumping iron is best left to the young. However, I do enjoy walking. I find spending time in the fresh air – and I use the term loosely, as I live in London – clears my head and gives me time to think through any ideas I might have for my current projects. Fortunately, we have several parks and gardens within walking distance, so at least I can pretend to be in the country. Walking also helps keep my poor aging joints moving, so I endeavour to walk every day – although on cold days it can be hard to leave the warmth of the house.

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

That’s an easy question to answer. For me, there’s no better way to escape all the difficulties of life than to immerse myself in a fictional world of my own imagination. There’s something really satisfying about creating characters, giving them different personalities, then placing them in a challenging situation to see how they each deal with it. It’s amazing how they can surprise you. It’s also a good way of releasing the hidden adventurer that lies within, as you can use your characters to act out scenarios you would never have the courage to do yourself in real life.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve done or experienced to help create a scene.

In my second novel, my main protagonist is taken on a boat trip off the Cornish coast. I had little experience of motorboats when I planned the scene, nor had I ever been out on a rough sea. Therefore, while I was on a location trip to Cornwall, my husband and I decided to join one of the local boat trips to Seal Island, which lay just off the coast of St Ives. It was mid-September, so the holiday season was virtually over. As the weather had also started to deteriorate, when we arrived at the quay, we discovered we were the only passengers for that day. However, instead of cancelling the trip – which we fully expected him to do – to our surprise the owner said he was quite happy to take just the two of us. As a result, not only was the sea as choppy as I had envisaged for my character, but I also got to enact the scene for future reference. The finished description in the book is therefore exactly how I experienced it.

Share a funny story from your childhood.

My father was a milkman, and as a child I used to help him deliver the milk at weekends and during the school holidays. Although she wasn’t one of his customers, Bernard Braden’s daughter lived in one of the streets on my dad’s milk round. At the time, Bernard Braden was a well-known TV presenter and chat show host, and we often saw him and his wife, Barbara Kelly – an actress and TV panellist – visiting her.

One Saturday, having accidentally locked herself out of her house, his daughter stopped my dad and asked if I could climb in through her kitchen window and open the front door for her. Not expecting to be locked out, she had fortunately left the window slightly open. However, it was too small for an adult to climb through. As I was only 12 years old at the time and slim, I was therefore the obvious candidate. It was a bit precarious, as the window was above the kitchen counter. So, I not only had to negotiate my way over the counter, but I also had to avoid breaking any of the crockery she had left on it. Finally succeeding and dropping to the floor, I then made my way down the hallway to open the front door. When I returned to school the following Monday, I took great pride in telling all my friends that I had spent the weekend breaking into a celebrity’s house.

Tell us about your most recent book.

My most recent book is ‘Beneath the Fear’. It’s a psychological crime thriller which centres around Samantha Copeland, a young woman who, having planned her life down to the finest detail, suddenly has it cruelly torn apart when she witnesses her husband’s murder during an unexpected bank robbery.

Although the police believe she has vital information to help them catch her husband’s killer, Sam is so traumatised by the experience that her mind refuses to recall the details of that day, having buried them deep within her subconscious. Desperate to get justice for her husband, she eventually decides to retreat to an isolated village on the Cornish coast, where she hopes the peace and quiet will heal her fragile state of mind and help her to finally face her fears.

Unfortunately, fate isn’t finished with her yet, and she soon discovers that the police are not the only ones keen to find out what she knows. However, unlike the police, they are determined to stop her sharing it.

It was wonderful to have you on MTA, Sheila. I very much enjoyed learning more about you and your books. Wishing you all the best, with much success! – Camilla

Where can we purchase the book?

‘Beneath the Fear’ can be purchased in paperback and e-book formats through Amazon or ordered as a paperback through any local bookshop. It can also be ordered online through Waterstones. The ISBN number is: 978-1-9196103-0-6 and the link is:

Book Blurb for ‘Beneath the Fear’:

Spoilt and indulged since childhood, Samantha Copeland believes bad things only happen to other people. However, after witnessing her husband’s murder during a bank robbery in Oxford, that illusion is cruelly shattered.

Traumatised by the experience, Sam eventually retreats to the Cornish coast, where she hopes to heal her fragile state of mind. Unfortunately, instead of the peace she so desperately craves, she soon finds her vulnerability tested to breaking point by a series of unnerving and unexplained incidents. However, after meeting her enigmatic neighbour, Tony Walker, and local handyman, Nathan Scott, Sam soon discovers these are the least of her problems. The worst is yet to come.

Connect with Sheila:


Twitter: @SheilaRawlings

Facebook: SheilaRawlingsAuthor

Instagram: thrill_writer


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Meet the Author: The Day the Pirates Went Mad by Trevor Atkins

Today we travel to the west coast of Canada to chat with Trevor Atkins about how writing on the floor, electric swing, Treasure Island, sea shanties, Captain Charles Johnson, cannonballs, The Matrix, living on Mars, and a giraffe wearing a bowler hat come together as part of Trevor’s writing life.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Of course! I live on the west coast of Canada with my family and I’ve been working with words for much of my life, but have only recently pursued historical fiction. Even writing with the aim to publish has only come about recently. I was first motivated to show my daughter that nowadays there are easily available platforms through which you can share your creative ideas with the world. That’s how we ended up writing our three-act play, “The King and Queen’s Banquet”.

My latest book, “The Day the Pirates Went Mad”, is a historical fiction adventure set at the turn of the 18th century, and is the first in a series for middle-grade readers.

What is an interesting writing quirk you have, something we wouldn’t know from reading your biography?

Does this count as a quirk? I actually do most of my writing and revision on the floor, with papers spread out all around me. I’m typically only at my desk when I’m typing up new additions or updates. Or when I’m researching. If I wrote at my desk too, I’d never be out of my chair!

Do you listen to music while you write, or do you like it quiet?

Yes – I very often have music playing. Usually something lo-fi or ambient when writing, or electric swing for the energy when revising. While writing “The Day the Pirates Went Mad” a lot of sea shanties were also playing on repeat, especially “The Derelict” by Abney Park – it’s a great musical rendition of Y.E Allison’s poem. “Yo ho! And a bottle of rum!”

How did you get the idea to write “The Day the Pirates Went Mad”?

The spark was an idea for a short story I decided I would write for my daughter. One about a girl overcoming a cursed pirate treasure, inspired by the greedy in-fighting and backstabbing represented in R.L. Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and Y.E. Allison’s poem “Derelict” – all that for a bit of gold and silver. This tale would take us on our own adventure during the Golden Age of Piracy, and simultaneously let us talk about what life was really like back then versus how it’s been popularized in pirate fiction.

Then the short story developed into a novel! But knowing we had done it before kept the fire burning to do it again on this larger scale. And, after almost five years, “The Day the Pirates Went Mad” was published last spring. I was (and still am!) very happy to share it. I hope it helps make learning fun for some young readers.

On that note: For those that might want to take it a bit further than just reading – perhaps in a classroom or in a homeschooling family – we’ve written a Teacher’s Guide and made it available through the website at, along with our behind-the-scenes and research-related blog posts.

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

Off the top of my head, I’d pick Captain Charles Johnson, the author of “A General History of the Pyrates”. Really, it would be interesting to talk to anyone from the past to understand better what their life was like. Especially those more normal things that don’t make it into the history books you read at school. Details of much of our everyday past aren’t always easily found. With Charles Johnson, this is doubly true as Charles Johnson is a pen name and it isn’t clear who he really was. It would be fun to find out the truth of that, why the pen name, and also to talk about how factual his recountings of those now famous pirates actually are.

What’s a great piece of advice you’ve received?

There’s a bit of dialogue from a opening scene in “The Matrix” where Trinity has fallen and is telling herself, willing herself, to get up and get moving again. “Get up, Trinity. Just get up… Get Up!” I recall this when I need to mentally kick myself in the pants to get on with whatever next step I’m supposed to be taking in my writing. Mind over inertia.

What writing advice would you give to your younger self?

Write more stories, sooner. Shorter ones too, so more would be complete – more I could look back on as finished work. Since we can only move forward, I can only tell this to my current self. We’ll see if I listen!

But to anyone, including myself, I would say: don’t delay. Work towards your creative goals now. As much as you can at a time. Writing, drawing, composing, whatever it may be. Practice and get better – from now. How could you regret that?

If you could be one of your characters for a day, who would you choose and what would you do?

Any one of the crew from the New Adventure would be interesting. Even being a passenger would be good too! I’d be glad to see and experience first hand all the scenes I’ve been visualizing. However, I’d like to avoid yellow fever, cannonballs, or any other things of that sort.

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

This could be a real option for many people in the next few decades – very exciting stuff! I’d be tempted by the idea of the adventure. But it would be very hard for me to trade in all Earth’s natural beauty and our modern comforts for a permanent pioneering life on a harsh new world. Still, I would be an avid reader of the news following any such colony, and all the R&D related to making it possible.

A giraffe knocks on your door and is wearing a bowler hat. What do they say and why are they there?

Not a question I was expecting at all! What immediately popped into my mind was “The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me”, a fun read by Roald Dahl. So I guess I would expect the giraffe to ask me about washing our windows, and I would say yes – they need it!

What are you currently working on?

I’m very excited to be outlining book two of Emma Sharpe’s Adventures. The base concept is feeling good, and my next step is to explore the specific story beats. At the same time, we’ll be expanding the Teacher’s Guide with some relevant STEM activities, and will also be continuing to add to our behind-the-scenes & research-related posts. I’ll be sharing updates as things progress via our mailing list and on my Facebook page. So please, feel free to follow along!

It was wonderful to have you be a part of MTA, and to learn more about you, your writing practice, and what’s next! Wishing you all the best, Trevor. – Camilla

Where can we buy “The Day the Pirates Went Mad”?

An excellent question! “The Day the Pirates Went Mad” is available internationally via Amazon:


The Teacher’s Guide is free to download from

Book Blurb

In 1701, seeking adventure and fortune, Emma Sharpe runs away from the orphanage she was sent to after her parents landed in debtors’ prison. She stows away aboard the New Adventure and finds a home and a new family in the comradery of the crew, but she wonders what her special skill is; why did the captain allow her to stay?

Now she is on her way to the West Indies, the setting of so many of the stories she has heard about exploration and pirates. After being blown off course to a deserted island, the crew recovers a cursed pirate treasure. As tempers fray and arguments become more frequent, Emma starts to believe there might really be a curse on the gold they took. With the help of cabin boy Jack Randall, Emma dares to confront the growing threat of violence amongst the close-knit crew. Will they save everyone in time? Can they save themselves?


“THE DAY THE PIRATES WENT MAD” is an entertaining ‘cozy’ historical fiction set at the turn of the 18th century and the Golden Age of Piracy is just around the corner. Follow the adventures of eleven-year-old Emma Sharpe as she learns to sail the sea, bonds with her shipmates, and then must save them all from a cursed pirate treasure before it’s too late!

While exploring a theme of greed/wealth vs. family/friends, “The Day the Pirates Went Mad” also conveys a ‘boatload’ of learning about the life and times of those sailing the seas 300 years ago – but without dwelling on the grittier realities (that’s the ‘cozy’ part). Entertainingly educational!

Although intended for ages 10-12, older readers can also enjoy this story and it’s suitable for sharing with younger readers when supported by an adult. (You know your kids’ reading-levels best!)

About the Author

Trevor Atkins lives with his family on the west coast of Canada and has been working with words for much of his life, but has only recently pursued historical fiction for younger readers. A storyteller and role player of detailed characters, Trevor loves to weave together many intertwining threads when writing. His bane is the perfecting effort of revision – there is always more that can be tweaked and improved. But then comes the day when enough is enough and the story must be set free for others to see!

Connect with Trevor:

Website, Teaching Resources & Behind-the-Scenes:

Now Available

Author’s Facebook Page:

“Look Inside” on Amazon:

* paperback:

* ebook:

Silverpath Publishing:


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