When I was in grade school, I wrote a poem that was published in the school paper. If my memory serves, it went something like this:
We have a little system that we do each night,
And when we do this, we never fight.
Mom is the one who washes, of course,
Dad dries them off, the father the boss,
And I am the little boy who puts them away,
Who goes to school every day.
Certainly not a great poem but it was the first piece of my writing ever to be published. Little did I realize it at the time, but that experience unexpectedly came full circle years later during my midlife. While this latter career was based on my writing talent, my first career was based on my artistic talent.
When I was seven years old, I was taken to see my first Broadway show, Oklahoma. From then on, I wanted to be a scenic designer…the person who creates those pretty stage pictures. Growing up in New York City, I saw nearly every show that opened on Broadway. I studied at various places to become a designer. I got into the scenic design union after passing a very stringent test and worked at CBS-television. There I designed such shows as Captain Kangaroo, The Merv Griffin Show and The Jackie Gleason Show.
Things were going well…until they weren’t. The TV shows moved out of New York, and I was left designing soap operas and commercials, which didn’t suit me. Since my wife was from San Francisco, a city we both loved, we decided it was an ideal time to move across county. I had no steady job at the time, my daughter was not yet enrolled in a regular school, and the landlord gave us a bunch of money to vacate the apartment so he could renovate it and raise the rent. We took the money and moved across country.
I got work with the San Francisco Opera painting scenery and we found the Victorian house we always dreamed about. Again, things were going well… until they weren’t. My wife, Ellen, contracted a rare liver disease. There was no cure nor liver transplants at the time. The prognosis was three years. And indeed, she did die three years after the diagnosis.
It was an extremely difficult time, but Ellen had a great sense of humor that helped us cope with the situation. It also surprisingly thrust me into a speaking and writing career. After Ellen died, I realized how beneficial therapeutic humor was during her terminal illness. It helped us rise about the situation and, if only momentarily, gave us a reprieve from the challenging time we were going through.
I wanted to share with the world what I had learned about how humor could enable us to rise above any situation. I joined the National Speakers Association to find out about the ins and outs of being a professional speaker. I had almost failed speech in college because I feared getting up and speaking in front of a group. But here I was speaking to groups of upwards of 1,500 people because of my passion about the value of therapeutic humor. And it was the speaking that led to my writing career.
At one speaker’s convention, I kept hearing colleagues say, “If you want to accelerate your speaking career, you need to have a book.” It seemed like every speaker I heard that year was saying, “You need to have a book, you need to have a book.” When the conference ended, I went back home, put together a book proposal on the benefits of humor. After numerous rejections and revisions, my literary agent sold The Healing Power of Humor to a mainstream publisher.
The book hit a nerve with readers. I think it was, in part, because of Norman Cousin’s book, Anatomy of an Illness, which talked about his personal journey of healing himself with laughter. Even though my book was published way back in 1989, The Healing Power of Humor is still going strong today with a 40+ printing and a 9th foreign language translation.
One book led to another. For example, the hundreds of uplifting quotations I didn’t use in the first book became the basis for the second. That book led to a series of quotation books that got reprinted in many different formats with several different publishers. And those publishers continued to release several of my other non-quotation books.
Comedian Jerry Lewis has said that Allen Klein is “a noble and vital force watching over the human condition.” Klein, also known as, “Mr. Jollytologist”® and “The Ambassador of Light”, shows audiences worldwide how to use humor and positivity to deal with life’s not-so-funny stuff. He is an award-winning professional speaker, a TEDx presenter, and author of 30-plus books including, The Healing Power of Humor, You Can’t Ruin My Day, and Embracing Life After Loss. His latest book, The Awe Factor: How a Little Bit of Wonder Can Make a Big Difference in Your Life was named by SpiritualityandPractice.com as “One of the Best Spiritual Books of 2020.”
I was coming up for air following the release of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, delighted and humbled by the connections with new friends and readers around the world. And while that odyssey took me across half the planet, the explorer in me, unsurprisingly, remained unsated.
Much of that journey’s appeal were those moments of mystery akin to the original Scandinavian Sagas, when there wasn’t always a conclusion. No answer, solution, nor even a clearly marked finish line. Those dreamy expanses where horizon and cloud comingle in misty swirls. You convince yourself where you are is real, and beyond that, perhaps, lies the magic that fuels everything. Meanwhile, tangible, imagined, physical, emotional, geographical and spiritual boundaries remain. At times by our own making, other times, imposed upon us.
While Gone Viking: A Travel Saga embraced the adventure, playfulness, and discovery inherent in travel it remained, I believe, within acceptable parameters. Now I’ve gone “viking” again, a series of voyages toward the unknown. Only this time I’m setting rule books aside. We’ll play fair; make no mistake, just not necessarily within guidelines. And I welcome you. There’s always room for another adventurous wanderer, another Viking. But this time, our destination lies elsewhere.
This venture was unlike any I’ve experienced—the result of travel restrictions, yet through it all the world opening anew—a depth and breadth of connectivity that simply wasn’t there before pandemic was our norm. This may also be the most ambitious expedition I’d undertaken. As a recently appointed Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, I felt an obligation to do justice to what every traveller craves, the experiences we pursue—exploration no longer being shuttling one’s husk between locales accumulating passport stamps, but mental, emotional and tactile transport between places, times, and sensory touchstones, occasionally glimpsing just what it is we’re doing here.
Gone Viking II takes place over a number of years—before, during, and after the voyages of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga—what preceded the first epic trek, what else occurred at that time, and what followed. All of this reflecting a changing world in which travel restrictions became our new normal. Invariably these wanderings, recording the world around us, emerge as scribbles in journals, our present day version of scribes putting quill ink to velum. Once more I’ve done the same; with a weatherproof pack and blank notebooks. Again I’ve gone viking. Only now, it’s a journey beyond boundaries.
This, from what may be my favourite journal, dog-eared and embossed with a map of the world, frayed pages held in place by an elasticized band, while taped to the inside back cover is a photo of me and my dad:
“Travel. The allure of escape, exoticism, and yes, for some, bragging rights. For the rest of us it represents time-warp slivers of childhood—when this world remained a place of mystery, adventure. Where you can live, for a spell, a hero’s life—desert sand, high seas and buried treasure. X marks the spot to other worlds, imagination, moments when the universe is nothing more than pure potential.”
I was on the sofa in our tiny highrise apartment, the ambient score a rattle of shopping cart wheels on sidewalk, reminiscent of passenger trains slowing through town, crossing roadways. Clack-clack, clack-clack … clack-clack, clack-clack. Identical journeys in their way. Somehow synesthetic. The same familial line of sensory sounds associated with every peregrination—whirr of rubber on bitumen, rumble of engines asea, and the wind-fueled rustle and snap of mainsail and jib.
I remembered losing myself in the incubating whoosh of a bow parting ocean in feathers of froth, a blend of cocooned isolation combined with utter connection. And the comforting, familiar yet foreign hum of coach tires speeding on sand—coastal highway where road was literally the coast, low tide sand that stretched for miles to the dunes at Te Paki. Speed limit on the beach: 100 km/h. The light there at that time was the same as where I am now—flat, dampened sunshine, the kind that makes you squint, tear-up, and question your emotions. Every photo from that long, dreamy trip is over- or under-exposed, muted in a way I now realize captures the experience precisely.
Back to the train, or more accurately, trains. We’d been living with covid for what seemed a very long time—numbers spiking again at an alarming rate. And I was attending a lecture, virtually. Propped up in a nest of plump pillows, feeling like a sultan, a steaming cup of coffee to hand. Travel author Monisha Rajesh spoke to us through laptop screens, as she was the presenter for London’s Royal Geographical Society lecture series. The subject? Her travels around the world on eighty trains, some of the world’s most scenic.
It had been a year since my own travel plans had been cancelled as a result of the pandemic—flights, accommodations, rental cars and commuter trains—refunds received, some forgone, airline points reinstated and turned into cash. From a traveller’s perspective things looked dire, other than a pleasant but fleeting debit balance on the credit card. So along with a stack of travel-lit, -logues and -memoirs, I was doing my best to quell wanderlust as best I could. And for a jonseing dromomaniac, Monisha’s globe-spanning lecture was an ideal, albeit temporary cure.
When we eventually swapped messages, I was pleased to learn one of her favourite experiences on that expansive journey had been her travels in Western Canada, specifically through British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies. Interestingly, the same pockets of planet a globetrotting friend from Greenland described as her favourites as well. When I rode a similar route aboard Via Rail, I felt much the same. Even as a local I was awed, slicing through mountains of sandstone, limestone and shale, a route I’d bisected many times in a car, but somehow from the sliding perspective of a train the same land’s renewed. Invigorated. Old stone reborn.
I hope you’ll join me for this excursion. While the beauty of our ongoing journey, individuals met, and windows onto life’s meaning remain ajar, I believe this new viking voyage, shared space and travel, resonates now more than ever.
(From Bill Arnott’s travelogue Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, sequel to his award-winning bestseller Gone Viking: A Travel Saga.)
Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of the award-winning Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, the travelogue sequel Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, the suspense-thriller series The Gamble Novellas, the poetry collection Forever Cast in Endless Time, and the #1 bestseller Bill Arnott’s Beat: Road Stories & Writers’ Tips. For his Gone Viking expeditions he’s been granted a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society. When not trekking the globe with a small pack and journal, or showing off cooking skills as a culinary school dropout, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making music and friends.
Connect with Bill on social media: @billarnott_aps
To see Bill’s previously published interview, go here …
Dash to the supermarket on the way home from work. Pile the bags into the car boot and head for home. Pour myself a drink while I put it away; the first in five days but I deserve it after slaving from nine to five, or rather eight to six for a demanding boss.
Check my phone to confirm where we’re meeting tonight – glad rags or casual?
8.30 in the pub for a quick bite and then on to the new club which has just opened. Smart casual it is then as I browse my wardrobe after the quickest bath in history. No time for wallowing tonight – people to see, dancing to be done and with a bit of luck, some flirting thrown in for good measure. The night is young and so am I. Bring it on.
‘Hi Mum. In case you haven’t guessed, it’s your favourite daughter, Lisa, and yes, I am after something. How are you fixed for Friday night? Do you fancy a bit of babysitting with the monsters? – er, I mean your adorable grandchildren.
‘Great. Paul can pick you up about 7.30 if that’s OK. We won’t be back late, but it’s ages since we’ve had some time to ourselves and we wanted to try out the new restaurant that’s just opened. Perfect. Thanks, Mum. Love you.’
‘Paul, what do you think about going out somewhere on Friday? We could try the cinema, or even splash out and go to a show. The kids are old enough to be left on their own and we’ve got to start trusting them sometime. I said Katie could have her friend for a sleep-over and John will be out with his mates.’
‘Anything interesting on TV tonight? It looks as if it’s all the usual repeats. Maybe we should sign up to one of those streaming programmes, or even buy some films on DVD. Do they still make them? I’ve out of touch with all this new technology. What do people do for entertainment these days?’
‘Hi Jen. It’s me, Lisa. I wanted to sound you out about this football bash on Friday. Are you going?
‘Yes, I wasn’t sure but let Paul talk me into it. You’ve been before. What are they like? Knowing that lot I imagine it’ll be a bit riotous.
‘Really? That’s sounds good. I’ll book a cab and then we won’t have to worry about driving. Great, we’ll see you there. If you can’t beat them, we’ll have to join them.’
‘Nanny Lisa. Mummy says you’re coming on Friday to look after us while she and Daddy go for a Can-oo-doodle. Can you bring me some sweeties? And will you read me a story? And can we make some cakes like we did last time? That was fun. I promise I’ll be ever so good. Love you lots.’
‘This lockdown is driving me crazy. Do you remember the times Friday night was party night? Funny how people always used to say Saturday was their big night out, but for us it was always Friday. Perhaps because that was the first time you asked me out, and Saturday you would be down the pub with your football mates. Now the highlight of my life is a trip to the supermarket. Which reminds me, Paul, we’re running short of pretty much everything so we need to stock up. I’d better make a list.’
Same old, same old. Will it ever end? At least we’ve got our date for the jab. We’ve got to be at the health centre for 11 next Friday. I hope it’s not pouring with rain. Roll on the Spring.
I’m beginning to lose the plot. If it wasn’t for the date on my laptop, I wouldn’t know whether it was today or tomorrow. It’s come to something when I’m reading the holiday ads, even if there’s no chance of getting away this summer if things continue as they are.
Things are looking up. The news is more positive, the sun actually shone today, and I’ve just seen the first daffodils in the garden.
I don’t believe it. My collection of short stories proved so popular I’ve already had people asking about my next one, even though it’s in a totally different genre. All that time making up stories to keep the grandchildren amused has paid off. I’m now officially a published author.
I check my dairy for the zillionth time even though I know the venue and date off by heart. The cab is booked for next Friday. I’ve Googled the route for the posh West End hotel who are hosting the event in case the taxi gets lost. The new dress is hanging ready in the wardrobe, and the hairdresser is booked for 10 o’clock. Even if I don’t win, the publicity will ensure my name is known in all the best literary circles. My acceptance speech is prepared and I’ve rehearsed until I’m word perfect. What could possibly go wrong?
Baby P was sadistically abused, tortured, and killed by his relatives. I read this story as a child in the paper and was horrified. It was an early taste of the pure evil that runs in this world, and the horrors that humans are capable of inflicting upon each other.
That’s not the most cheerful introduction to my work, or indeed to me. But I like to get straight to the point.
From an early age, I experienced immense rage at cruel injustice that plagues our world. When I was seven, I watched Titanic, and one scene made me weep. It wasn’t the scene where Jack died. It wasn’t the scene where the other passengers died. It wasn’t even when Rose spoke solemnly of how Jack had saved her.
No, the scene that pulled my prepubescent heartstrings was when Cal and Lovejoy set up Jack to make it look like he had stolen the ‘heart of the ocean’ necklace. Jack was chained to a pole at the bottom of the ship. Later, Rose rescued him.
Seeing Jack unjustly accused of something he hadn’t done, and being a prisoner in such a nasty way, made tears fall from my eyes. The cruelty of it all; the unfairness, and the possibility that he would drown, all for a crime he hadn’t committed, made me unbelievably sad.
As I’ve grown up, I’ve witnessed many distressing things in film and TV shows. Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and Dexter are all fantastic shows. And they have all yanked at my heartstrings, shocked my pulse rate, and let screams tumble from my larynx.
Why do I enjoy this? Why do I love to consume such vile, terrible scenes in the media I watch?
I think a lot of it comes from the sheer, heavy accompanying emotion. It shows us what humanity is capable of, but also the good that comes out of it. When I saw Jack in that position, I wept. But it made the ‘payoff’ of Rose coming to rescue him, even more triumphant. The cruel injustice followed by the heroic display of compassion and empathy flooded my heart with relief.
It’s like when a serial killer or rapist is caught and sentenced to jail. The crimes they commit are appalling. But knowing they will spend the rest of their lives rotting in a prison cell because of the brave men and women that put them there is comforting. It is a big relief to know that for every evil person out there, there are two or three good ones ready to put things right.
The worst kind of evil, for me, is committed in the name of good. My favourite Disney film is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (Unsurprisingly, one of Disney’s darkest.) The villain in that movie is one of Disney’s most petrifying figures. He is also certain of his righteousness.
There are people in this world that use their beliefs as a weapon to instil fear into others. What these people believe doesn’t really matter, because they all think the same. That their cruelty is justified, their means are necessary, they are correct, and somehow more important than other people. In my young-adult novel Anne, the antagonist is Anne’s abusive father who beats her mother and uses his extreme religious beliefs to justify his cruel behaviour. He condemns his unfaithful wife as a ‘fornicating slut.’
Egotism is a big fuel for cruelty. Psychopaths possess high degrees of narcissism and grandiose. When researching my novella Psycho Girl (the second novella in my duo-storybook Every Last Psycho), I watched movies like The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, The Hand that Rocked the Cradle, and The Bad Seed. The same traits came up. Eerie calmness. Cool self-assurance. Determination and skillful intelligence.
A psychopath is a master manipulator. Someone who knows how to twist the emotions of empaths and regular people. Not all evil is committed by psychopaths, which is weirdly more chilling. At least psychopaths can blame their atypical brain patterns. What sort of horror causes a perfectly ordinary person to colonise an entire society of people? Or molest children, or murder their family?
Ultimately, I can’t go out and stop all the evil that is in this world. But I can cast some light by bringing these people to the forefront. If I write characters who are cruel, nasty, self-absorbed and vicious, I can juxtapose them with characters who are good-hearted, selfless, compassionate and kind. In my novel Around Midnight I contrast the kind-hearted protagonist Megan with the manipulative ‘bad boy’ Vince. He sucks Megan into his calculating clutches. But her light prevails.
Balance is the key to everything. The universe has a balance of light and darkness. If we understand and stay aware of the darkness, we can combat it. Then we can help stream in more light through the blinds.
To see Zarina’s previous interview on MTA, go here …
I hadn’t planned to become a mental health advocate. For two decades, while I struggled with my own writing, I taught writing to adults. I also published a monthly email newsletter for writers in central Ohio, USA, and blogged about the writing process. People reached out for writing advice and I coached those who asked. The work brought some joy, but never felt completely “me.” I continued, knowing it helped others and because my clients praised my work.
Things shifted with the release of my award-winning running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink (Mango, 2019). After I wrote openly about my struggle with anxiety and depression from bipolar disorder, and how running helped me find more stability, most of the people who contacted me weren’t interested in writing. Instead, they wanted to hear more about how I hauled myself off the sofa, took up running, and saved my life. They were trying to save their own lives, or the lives of their friends and family. Their questions launched my next adventure: wellness author.
But the work I’d done in the years leading up to this wasn’t lost. During the decades I blogged about “writing” I was actually chronicling my emotional struggles. Distorted thinking, self-doubt, and recurring nightmares brought on by bipolar disorder often made it hard for me to publish even one post a month. Other times, in a manic spree, I would post every day. My struggle with consistency felt like failure and I was often ashamed. So, I wrote about it. As I grow into this new role as an advocate for emotional wellness, I see that I was always writing from a mental health perspective. I had simply miscategorized my work.
When my editor at Mango Publishing Group invited me to co-create the writing journal, You Should Be Writing (Mango, 2020), offering quotes from our favorite authors as prompts, we included chapters on self-care (Writing as Medicine) and on helping others (The Role and Responsibility of the Writer). Given the emotional struggles of many writers, the quotes in these “wellness” chapters are just as important as those that address the sound of language or the craft of writing. Writers need them all.
When I think too long about moving from writing teacher to wellness author, the anxiety resurfaces. When it does, I think back to a day years ago when depression, once again, had me paralyzed on the sofa. A high school friend’s social media post inspired me to pick up a kitchen timer, leash up our dog, and jog for sixty seconds. The journey that culminated in my first book being published began when I thought “If she can do it, why can’t I?” So now, when I feel afraid about the shift in my writing focus, I search for others who have made similar transformations. Stories of people who change directions mid-career give me the same courage I felt that first day I leashed up the dog to run.
These days, when people reach out for writing advice, I’m more likely to ask about their mental health than their writing. I talk and write about the need for a strong support system, meditative practices, and joyful movement to feed heart and mind. Each of us, writer or not, needs these to fully pursue our passions.
What emotional stability tools do you have in place? Do you move every day, even a little? Do you write as a practice, recording the wild patterns of your mind? And do you sit or walk in meditation to feed the deepest part of you?
Every tiny tool counts. If you need to build a kit, reach out. I’m happy to help you begin.
Strolling along the banks of the Seine on a summer evening, I knew that this scene – the river almost too bright to look at, the lengthening shadows, the young couples sitting on the stone quay, their legs dangling over the water, the murmur of French conversation, the Eiffel Tower a silhouette on the Paris skyline – was one I wanted to capture in my writing.
Of course, these days it’s possible to research a location on-line, but I love travelling, and if I can, I like to visit the place I’m writing about to absorb the atmosphere – the scents and sounds that you can’t get from a video on the internet. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Paris, one of my favourite cities several times, but when I was writing the Paris chapters of my debut novel, French Kissing, I knew I had to visit it again. In the book, Anna, who is English, accompanies Alexandre, who is French, to Paris so that he can show her the city he adores, and I wanted to see the city through her eyes, and to make certain that their route through the city, could be followed by anyone exploring Paris for the first time – not that I need an excuse to visit Paris!
It was some years since I’d last visited the city, and as I walked the same route as my characters, I realised I’d forgotten the color of the bouquinistes on the Left Bank (dark green), how loud is the roar of the traffic as it circles the Place de la Concorde, and also how beautiful the Eiffel Tower looks when it glitters at night – all things that ended up in the book. And it was only when I was climbing up the steep winding streets of Montmartre, looking at all the typically Parisian apartments, with their French windows and iron balconies, that I knew this was where Alexandre lived.
It was a trip abroad that inspired the location of my current WIP. When I travelled from London to Athens and then on to Santorini, Crete and Kefalonia – my first visit to Greece – I knew I simply had to write a novel set in this beautiful country. I took lots of photos, wrote brief descriptions of white sugar-cube houses and silvery-leaved olive groves in my writer’s notebook, and also made quick pencil sketches – I find that drawing a scene means that I notice all sorts of details that hopefully will give my story a real sense of place when I’m back home in England, writing on my laptop.
Looking now at the sketches I did of the places I visited in Greece – beaches with black volcanic sand, glorious views from a hill top in Athens, fascinating ruins of ancient Greek temples – I can feel again the fierce heat of the Mediterranean sun, and the hear the chirping of cicadas, and this all helps me to recreate the scene in my writing.
Not everything I see on my travels makes it into my stories, but it’s all there in the back of mind, inspiring me as I write.
It was wonderful having you share your inspiration, Lynne! I can certainly understand how these locations were so inspiring. Here’s hoping for many more travels once things have settled. Wishing you all the best! – Camilla
To see Lynne’s interview previously posted, go here:
Lynne Shelby writes contemporary romance/women’s fiction. When not writing or reading, she can usually be found in the audience at a theatre or exploring a foreign city – Paris, New York, Rome, Copenhagen, Seattle, Reykjavik, Athens – writer’s notebook, camera and sketchbook in hand. She lives in London with her husband and has three adult children who live nearby.
Her novels are available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
How does a writer get from illiteracy to writing a cozy paranormal mystery series set in the quaint English village of Sunken Madley?
1. The Trail Begins Here
We are all born illiterate. So before I could read, I was read to, mostly by my brother, some years older than I and the best of siblings. He must have shared his love of the written word with me from my infancy, because I can’t remember a time before he did just that. He would mark the words with his finger as he read. The letters were mystical symbols to me that somehow had the power to grant expression of the story to the one who had the skill. The book I loved the most and asked for again and again was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis, first of the Narnia books.
This fired my imagination like no other story. Treasure Island, fairy tales, Robinson Crusoe and the rest, were all set in the past or in a far off land or make-believe. But the Pevensie children existed in both the reality of the present and a fantastical world of magic. Away from the novel, in my mind, I was off on expeditions through the wardrobe that were all my own. I began reinterpreting the stories, changing and what-if-ing the plot. The characters became part of my imaginary world.
2. A Reader
I started school at four. While at what was styled ‘Infants School, I learned to begin deciphering the magic runes. Not that I learned at school. In fact, during the 11 or so years of compulsory education, I recall acquiring only one fact: the difference between U-shaped and V-shaped valleys, which information has, naturally, stood me in good stead.
One day, our terrifying form teacher began reading to us, his hapless class. As he was refraining from bellowing, hurling objects or striking students, we naturally regarded this as a good thing and listened quietly and attentively. The book was a slow starter, but it had a new word in it, a new species and I was enchanted.
(Hobbit House in New Zealand)
JRR Tolkien had entered my life, for good, with The Hobbit. Rather than wait for the laborious read-aloud when my preceptor felt like delivering it to us, I acquired a copy, and the slow start gathered speed. I learned to read the runes on his map and came to know Bilbo’s route by heart. For the length of the story, I took up residence in The Shire and journeyed through perilous lands to the book’s glorious ending.
3. I Discover Treasure
At home, one thing there was a-plenty: books. Among some battered paperbacks, I found the mystery genre: Agatha Christie, with the title that was to become Ten Little Indians or And Then There Were None. The ingenious plot assembles a party of strangers onto a remote English island, where one after another is found murdered. I was fascinated and soon was seeking the shelves at home, the library and the bookshop for more and more Christie. I feasted, and over the years repeatedly returned to the table for the banquet. What I did not know was that I had met the writer who would one day be hailed as the queen, the godmother, of a new genre: cozy mystery.
4. Golden Heyer
I began a new school where, at the age of 11, the girl I sat next to gave me a priceless gift. She introduced me to works of the historical novelist Georgette Heyer. A romance writer? You may say with surprise. Yes, because here was a new rich seam of literary delight with Jane Austen-style wit. Book after book in her canon filled my shelves, my mind and heart. I even discovered mysteries among her Regency tales in Cousin Kate and The Toll Gate.
About this time, my brother showed me one of the action thrillers of Alastair MacClean. Spellbound, I began reading book after book. However, it was the eerie Puppet on a Chain that became my favourite to such an extent that I studied the Netherlands and began learning Dutch.
6. The Return of the King
It was time. The moment had come to unite me with what was to become my all-time favourite book: The Lord of the Rings. Of course, thanks to my brother. We read it at the same time, working our way through the three volumes, picking up a book when the other was busy. For the days it took us to read from first volume cover to third volume close, we talked and thought of little else. JRR Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth was more real to me than reality.
(Lord of the Rings – The One Ring)
7. Medieval Mystery
I can’t recall exactly who told me about them, but it was definitely a good fairy in human guise: The Cadfael novels, set in the twelfth century and beginning with A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters. The writing impressed me in particular because Peters has her monk sleuth solve crimes with only the aid of such technology that was available at the time. On the library shelf next to Ellis was a book by Elizabeth Peters that accidentally checked out one day. A whole new series, this time of archaeological whodunits was now at my fingertips.
8. Sir Terry
Knowing I liked science fiction and mysteries, one day, my brother asked me if I’d heard of the Discworld. No. The what? It sounded rather weird at first, but this was my brother recommending it after all. And so, I read The Light Fantastic. I wanted more mystery and shenanigans in the peculiar flat earth of Sir Terry Pratchett’s imaginings. (Photo by Luigi Novi) Eventually, I had read the back catalogue and longed for the moment when the next novel was released.
The book above all that books that captured my heart was the third in the ‘Witches’ series. Witches Abroad is a road movie of a tale as Granny Weatherwax makes her way through foreign fairytale-gone-wrong parts. These of the Witches series were the stories that were to have an influence on my own yet-to-be-created magical world.
Meanwhile, I became curious about actual witches, I read about witchcraft, and later met two ghostbusters. I heard about experiences with the supernatural. I concluded witchcraft was rather a lot of work.
9. Racing Riddles
I suspect that all avid readers are also avid inspectors of other people’s bookshelves, searching for new and wondrous literary treasures. And thus, with Nerve, I think, I discovered a new pleasure. Dick Francis’ murder mysteries are set in the world of horse racing. This was not a sphere of which I had no experience. However, it was his ability to write in first person of such a diverse variety of characters that struck me. I marvelled at how Francis handled romance and intimacy with such deftness, and the cleverness of his plots.
10. The Unhappy Medium and the Happy Outcome
And then … I began to write …. non-fiction, marketing. I wrote more and more of that until I had somehow convinced myself that I was a strictly non-fiction author incapable of penning fiction. A friend kept telling me I could do it, but it was unimaginable. And then … two novels came into my experience that were to change my life.
I met the now bestselling author of The Unhappy Medium, TJ Brown. We made contact as fellow writers and quickly established a rapport. Interested in what he had penned, I read his first and, at the time, only novel. I was captivated. It had all of the components I enjoyed the most. I was bowled over by the ingenious juxtaposition of suspense and hilarity, either holding my breath or giggling helplessly.
That was the first novel. But the second was the clincher: The Unhappy Medium II: Tom Fool. Tim was writing the next in the series and, as I’d done copious amounts of editing, he asked me to top edit it for him. It was the ride of a lifetime. I went through the edits with him on the phone, frequently suffused with laughter, fascinated by the devices he was using to tell his story. I noticed the emotional terrain, and what worked and what needed tweaking. What a learning experience it was!
Tim’s judgment was: if you can do this, you can write your own novel. I was still not a believer. Then one day, on a couple of pages of a large stretch book, in a pub, Tim revealed to me the secret of plotting a novel. He made it look so easy that I believed it was.
Then came The Call. One afternoon, in November 2017. Tim had been told by a fellow author of a new genre. As soon as he heard the news, he was convinced that I could write for it: cozy mystery, and an even better fit: cozy paranormal mystery.
Soon Tim helped to plot out my first novel in the genre: Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth. I wrote the first draft in three weeks. Tim mentored me through the editing process, created the cover and the logo, and helped me conjure a map of the village. Before I knew it, it was published. Even before then, book 2 was forming in my imagination, that spawned book 3, and later 4, then the most recent, book 5, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths.
Amanda Cadabra’s homicidal witch-clan goes over a Cornish cliff when she is three. This creates what, many years later, becomes the cold case that is the story arc running thought the series. That arc comes to its finale and climax in this, the book I have just written: Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths.
And so the trail has led me home. I love, I adore, creating cozy paranormal mysteries. Nevertheless, since I’ve started writing fiction, reading anything that’s not for research has rather gone by the board. One day I’ll get back to it, but for now, I have a new trail to follow. I can’t wait to see where it takes me … and my readers.
The moral of the story? ‘I could never be a writer,’ you say? The book you’re reading today could be part of your trail of breadcrumbs to the novel that, right now, you’re convinced you could never write. Never say never.
Thank you again, Camilla.
It was wonderful to have you on Friday with Friends, Holly! I very much enjoyed following the trail of bread crumbs to Sunken Madley.
I had the same reaction the first time I read Agatha Christie. I was hooked. I read every single book she had written (may be missing one or two of the rare books), and ended with reading her autobiography.
Deeply grateful to you for this inspiring post. Wishing you all the best, always! – Camilla
To see Holly’s interview previously posted, go here:
Holly Bell is a cat and chocolate lover who lives in London and began publishing novels less than two years ago. After writing reams of non-fiction over the years, a fellow author convinced her she could write fiction. Photography and videography are also things Holly does and has done professionally and for pleasure.
Rainbows, butterflies and honeybees seem magically to show up whenever she’s outside. Holly firmly believes that we are all born storytellers and anyone can write a book, however small.
Camilla very kindly featured me some many months ago on ‘Meeting the Authors’ and so much has happened since that interview, that she suggested I update you all about the two new books I’ve had published, what I’m writing at the moment and a little more about me.
Well, since I was a little girl living in Scotland I have wanted to farm. Having been frustrated in my attempts to attend agricultural college by my parents, I never gave up my dream, but got on with the business of life and put it on the backboiler for many years. After marriage, kids and a string of interesting but not riveting jobs, I divorced and met the most wonderful supportive man. Since we married he has quietly encouraged me to finish my university degree, and then to live my dream, and in 2005, we bought a run-down agricultural bungalow in Cornwall and began smallholding.
Then, I retrained as an agricultural lecturer and landed the most wonderful job, putting together training courses for smallholders and farmers. Still smallholding, I began a small, but successful commercial cider making business on the smallholding, won a prestigious Sustainability Award in Cornwall in 2014. My first book, The Sustainable Smallholders Handbook was published in 2019, my second, How to Live the Good Life in France, in March 2020, just as Covid was beginning to dominate the world, and my third, Living off the Land: My Cornish Smallholding Dream, was published in June 2020.
I began writing as a teenager, but had my first article published in Smallholder Magazine many years ago, when I was living in Cornwall. The thrill of seeing my words in print was matched when readers got in touch directly. I realised there were so many interested readers that I’d be stupid to miss the opportunity of writing a full length non-fiction book. There were so many other smallholding based books, all aimed at teaching people how to keep animals that I wanted to do something different, and the idea of helping people to look at their smallholding or rural business as a business seemed to be the way forward. Yes, it’s a ‘Good Life’, but aspiring smallholders need to appreciate it’s a hard life too. I’m delighted with the success of the book, but as a non-fiction work, realise that updates and coverage of many new situations need included, and so I’m currently aiming to make the new version even more popular.
My book, Living off the Land is autobiographical, and with an introduction of my early and teenage life, quickly moves to Cornwall, and the highs and lows, debt and final success we had on our smallholding. This was a very difficult book to write, as previously non-fiction never really touched on the personal. In this book I lay bare my stormy relationship with my mother, who developed dementia and came to live with us, eventually setting fire to our house one night as we slept. Whilst some members of my family have found it disturbing to read, I have to admit that the process really helped me move on from this incredibly hard period of my life. I have no regrets, and hope my experiences can help anyone else in similar circumstances.
Here in France, lockdown was at first frustrating and to channel my boundless energy, John encouraged me to set a strict pattern of writing every other day. The discipline has been fruitful and has become the ‘norm’ for me now. Current projects are a new and expanded version of my first book, and I’m thoroughly enjoying writing a black comedy set in an agricultural setting in my native Scotland. Who knows what my future career as a writer holds? Meantime, I haven’t given up the ‘Good Life’. Here in SW France I have a small apple orchard, a few walnuts, an acre of woodlands and a field where I keep my beloved sheep. I’ve just started to grow pomegranates, have far too many apple trees, and am trying very hard to resist the idea of getting some ducks.
It was wonderful to learn more about you and your background, Lorraine. Thank you for sharing with us. I’m adding ‘Living off the Land’ to my reading list. It sounds like a great book! Wishing you all the best! – Camilla
To see Lorraine’s interview previously posted, go here:
First, I’d like you to understand something very fundamental and important about me; unless it’s a box with a new pair of shoes (preferably swanky boots or trainers), chocolate, or better still, some bling, I hate boxes! Metaphoric boxes that is. I hate the labels, but more than that I despair that mankind still believes in categorising people into them.
I am many things these days: a mother, a nurse, a writer, a publisher, and a wife. But this is not the entirety of my identity and neither is the fact that I am dyslexic. It pains me that people believe a diagnosis, skin colour, the language you speak or your country of birth is reason to single another person out, whether to degrade or uplift.
I was diagnosed fairly early in life thanks to my awesome mom. Kindergarten was spent with other kids who had learning disabilities. Missus Zenolli, was my teacher and I will never forget her. Much taller than my five year old self, grey soft short curly hair and round framed glasses with a smile that lit up the darkest room, and life. I clearly remember those years because she filled them with so much fun. Learning was fun!
But as we all know, life is not filled entirely of fun and games, and soon I was old enough to go to Grade 1. My first year of primary school was spent with a teacher whose name escapes me but the memory of her long blond hair and scrutinising brown eyes does not. Grade 1 would be the first year of many where life taught me the gift of adversity. PS adversity is not a bad thing–okay!
Grade two and standard one (or 3rd grade) was spent in a ‘special class’ called the A-Class. We were essentially a part of the school, but separate too, and because of this separation the other kids looked down on us. It wasn’t their fault, nor the fault of the well-meaning teachers who wanted to give kids like myself a better chance at learning and practicing our brains to think, take in, and digest information like everyone elses. It’s human nature, although it did take me a few years to understand this.
Standard five (7th grade) handed me one of the greatest life lessons ever. A teacher, I’ll call her Miss Owl for the purpose of the story, took an immediate dislike to me from the first day I entered her class. Without a “how’s your mother”, she put me in the corner of her classroom and told me I was unteachable, that I should make peace with the fact that I’d end up no better than a street sweep. (PS. Street sweeps are awesome–I once met a lady who drove those machines and loved Tolstoy!). At the time, her words and disdain for my inability to learn conventionally almost broke me. She refused to teach me English, sighed whenever she marked my work, handing it back with huge fat F’s scrawled across the pages and pretty much protected any child who decided to pick on me for being, ‘dumb,’ or ‘stupid’, the list goes on.
Buoyed by the determination to prove Miss Owl wrong, I started writing and printing my own books in primary school. I even wrote a short play based on ‘the washer woman’ from Enid Blyton’s, Far Away Tree, and performed it to my class. My dad’s office Xerox was the most amazing thing since sliced bread, and my friends loved their weekly photocopied and stapled together books of stories and my awesome (not really) graphics. They were always about a little girl and her weekend adventures – no guessing who the lass was, eh?
Miss Owl and her hatred for my dyslexia, I soon realised, stemmed from a lack of education. A fear of, If I can’t teach this child it will reflect badly on me. It took time to realise, it wasn’t me – it was never me! It was her, and the moment I realised this, my world began to change, evolve, and take shape for the better.
Highschool was a blur of hormones, rock bands, boys, and trying to pass math and science. I scrapped by on my bum. Back in the day you did as your folks said. Mine told me I’d take math and science till matric (year12/12th grade). Don’t gasp, they weren’t bullies, they were my parents, and as we all know (and by we I mean parents) it’s not the easiest thing to know what’s good for your kid – now is it? In saying this, if it weren’t for their persistence I’d never have been allowed entry in to Nursing.
Nursing had been one of my passions growing up. To heal the sick and love those who were unloved. I used to perform endless surgeries on my poor Oupa (grandfathers) banana trees and use all my mom’s band aids and bandages on her aloe’s and my tree in the back yard. Even our poor dog got bathed in mercurochrome and bandaged up like a mummy. I wrote quite a few manuals on how to heal a dying banana tree and how to ease an old dogs arthritis – poor things.
After being unceremoniously kicked out of beauty school (my dad’s idea cause I was too much of a tom boy), then travelling Europe and Israel, I decided it was time to begin studying. By this time, I was already at least 4 years older than all the other students and thoroughly afraid of failing but what I lacked in the ability to take in information on the same level as my peers, I made up for in gusto. Also, I was blessed with the most amazing lecturers. But I did fail my first year. I simply couldn’t grasp the complex terms and equations, (pharmacology has equations people) staring back at me from the textbooks and I was sure as hell not going to let anyone in on my secret either. I wish I could explain what it feels like to look at really long words. If you’ve ever watched the first Percy Jackson movie or read the book, it looks like that – where all letters looked jumbled and upside down – and unfortunately I’m no daughter of a god or goddess (though Mom is an absolute angel – which is better). Well that’s what all the medical terms did to me. They jumped and turned inside out. Add math to it and well…
It still happens on days when I am too tired to get my brain in to gear. There’s the odd occasion when I really am exhausted, I battle to make sense of what someone is saying, and I have even been known to talk funny and write upside down – literally.
In practice I was a goddess (still am), it was always the theory which hindered me. But I found ways around this. And yes, I had another Miss Owl. Funny how these super intellectuals sniff a weakness a mile away. I’d barely walked into her lecture hall and she’d sussed me out. She taught nursing Ethics and Research, no images and stories to be had here. Like my primary school Miss Owl, Lecturer Miss Owl went out of her way to try and fail me. I didn’t get flying colours in her subjects but thankfully with Ethics it’s like parrot work – there is only one answer. As for research… got there by the skin of my teeth.
Fortunately, our head of Faculty was an old nurse with the spirit and mind of a twenty year old go getter. It was because of her and her amazing staff that I passed. She recognised the problem—and the solution. The lecturers gleefully accepted their challenge. I was allowed to rewrite my exams after they gave more of their time to paint me pictures. No, art wasn’t involved. We discovered that my brain loves anatomical images and the stories which go with them. By studying the images as my lecturer spoke my brain automatically memorised them. Pharms was as easy. Spending the day with a GP in the community I walked out understanding what was in our textbooks and much more. What was even more amazing is some of the girls would come to me to explain complex case studies. The way my brain digested and regurgitated information, it turned out, was what helped so many of my peers understand their work. I even ended up giving some lectures which in turn taught me more. Cool how a bad thing can be swung round in to absolute awesome!
All this adversity added to my prickliness about being singled out, misrepresented, misinterpreted and mistreated. I got called into more than one disciplinary hearing for speaking down to a superior. Even though I was in the right, I’d had to learn that there was this thing called diplomacy. This was harder to learn than math by the way. I’ve always made a point of advocating for my patients, especially when they could not do so for themselves. I formed bonds others could not, simply because I saw life differently. I was, and still am, focused on uplifting not judging.
If you’re wondering how dyslexia affects me as a nurse these days, please know that just because I am dyslexic does not mean I can’t read and write (you do know I am an award winning author?). But it does cause frustration particularly as everything is computerized and programmed these days. My eyes and my brain take longer to adjust when I am booking in a patient or adding notes to a file.
The fear of failing returned when I decided to write my first book. Fortunately, and unfortunately, in the beginning I ran in to a plethora of Mr. and Ms Owls – at first it hurt and I almost gave up. But as any writer will tell you – your story will never give up on you. Every moment I could spare I used to practice my craft. I joined a thriving online writing community filled with people from all walks of life, many who didn’t care that I was dyslexic, and showed me that really it doesn’t affect my writing abilities one little bit. I’ve come a long way since, and know I have a longer way ahead – but I do look forward to it.
So, through all of these difficulties and the heartbreaking approach of the Mr and Ms Owls of the world, what is the lesson you learned? I hear you ask. Well the lesson was that others do not determine my fate, my destiny, or my future, and nobody will ever tell me I can’t do something.
As you can see. I’m no street sweep, but sure as the sky is blue I am a Nurse, a mother of triplets, and an Award Winning Bestselling Author! (Capital letters are there for a reason.) These days, I am writing stories left right and centre baby! Did I get any special treatment along the way because I am dyslexic? Hell no! Did I want any? Double hell no! And why? Because I have learnt that nothing except yourself stands in the way of you succeeding. I’ve never allowed dyslexia to be my undoing, in fact I call it my super power. I get to see the world from a different perspective. It’s like standing upside down – how does everything look now? Pretty awesome huh?
At the end of the day, if you want to tell the world a story using pictures, or words on paper, or videos, nothing and nobody should stop you – well maybe there are a few rules to be taken into consideration (because ain’t nobody want you spewing drivel and hate), so hey, go for it!
Be kind, be true, be loving to yourself and when you are you will see how easily it flows out of you and into others.
Thank you so very much for this inspiring and uplifting share, Michelle. Wishing you all the best with your latest book, and all future books! – Camilla
To see Michelle’s ‘Meet the Author’ interview previously published on MTA, go here …
Michelle Dalton is the bestselling and award-winning author of three women’s fiction novels. Michelle juggles married life with triplet sons with the demands of a busy nursing career, her passion for writing, and her publishing house, 3 Umfana Publishers. Michelle speaks openly and passionately about the challenges and rewards of dyslexia.
Can Calla acknowledge the truth of her past, accept her gift, and embrace an open invitation to love?
On the anniversary of her father’s untimely death, forensic anthropologist, Doctor Calla Conroy, is thrown in the deep end of a murder investigation.
To complicate the situation, the voice in her head has returned.
With everything to lose and no time for a psychotic break, Calla ends up in the small highland’s village of Lairg. Here she meets the handsome Detective Hamish Bell, who elicits powerful emotions that frighten her.
Can Calla make peace with her traumatic past and the reality of her gift? Or is she simply losing her mind, her heart, and possibly her career?
Welcome to a new series on Meeting the Authors …. Friday with Friends. On select Fridays we will feature a unique guest post/interview with an author that has previously been interviewed on MTA. Welcome to Tom Williams to help kick off this new series.
When Camilla was kind enough to offer me space to write on her blog, I asked if she had any idea what people would like to read about. She replied, “If you want to write about your passion of dancing, that may be fun.”
Well, I always love writing about tango, but I also want to encourage you to read my books. And although I keep wanting to write a book about tango, I never have yet. So can I write about my dancing and link it to any of my novels?
Oddly enough, maybe I can.
A very, very long time ago, I used to ice dance. Here’s a photo of a much younger me posing with wife, son and competition cup (we all danced on the same recreational competition team).
One of the other ice dancers had taken up Argentine tango and started teaching it and she persuaded Tammy and me to give it a go. That was over 20 years ago.
It’s fair to say that we got quite enthusiastic about it. In 2003 we made our first trip to Buenos Aires and life was never quite the same again.
We’ve been back more times than I can remember since then. We’ve danced in France, Iceland, Portugal, Turkey and Romania. We’ve tangoed for fun in parks in Barcelona and hotels in the Highlands and semi-professionally in an Army base and on a narrow-boat. Tammy has even gone dancing in Korea. Here we are dancing where we live. (Please be gentle with us – it was 10 years ago.)
As I took up writing, the idea of a book about tango obviously came up once or twice. I even started on one, but I was never able to make it work. Instead I ended up a writer of historical novels.
My first book, The White Rajah had just been turned down by all the major publishers on the grounds (mainly) that it was “too difficult for a first novel”. My agent suggested I write something more straightforwardly commercial.
But what? I started asking around my friends if they had any ideas.
On one of our trips to Buenos Aires we had met an Alaskan woman who was even more passionate about tango than we were and was living there for six months. (The most we have ever managed has been six weeks.) It was her suggestion that there were lots of interesting figures linked to the early history of European colonisation of South America and the struggles for liberation from Spain. So it was that I discovered the real-life British spy, James Burke, and his role in the 1806 British invasion of Buenos Aires. His Argentinian adventures were to become the basis for Burke in the Land of Silver.
I had a lot of fun following his footsteps around the town, exploring the remains of the old fort (now hidden away under the presidential palace) and riding out into the Andes, which he crossed on horseback. Sadly, my research into his life didn’t allow any room for tango. James Burke was active in Argentina early in the 19th century and tango only arrived almost a century later. The South American poet and historian of tango, Horacio Ferrer, writes:
“Nowadays, it is thought that between 1895 and 1900, Tango was born as a musical art clearly predestined and unmistakable.”
(Argentinian poets write like that.)
High in the Andes: not ideal dance conditions
Leaving aside issues of historical authenticity, there is limited potential for tangoing in the snow at 3,000 metres on the road to Chile, though we did get the odd dance in back in Buenos Aires. Poor James Burke, however, doesn’t get to dance at all, though he does join a group of gauchos, the cowboys of Argentina, as they sing after a cattle drive.
The guitars began to play again and everybody joined in singing long, slow songs about the loneliness and loss that seemed an inescapable part of living in this vast emptiness at the bottom of the world. The words were sad and the melodies plaintive but the singing evoked the beauty of the landscape and the passion with which they loved it.
In Argentina, many people believe that tango is principally about the songs and only secondarily about the dancing. The music of tango is the soundtrack of Buenos Aires and the songs are still songs of loss and loneliness; the struggle to find love and the inevitability of its loss. They are sad songs that somehow make you feel happy. It is true, as the great tango composer Astor Piazzolla said, that “Tango is darkness made light through art.”
The real James Burke may never have got to tango, but he did go on spying until well after the Napoleonic wars were over. He carried on in my books, too. In fact, I have just re-published the first three books (starting with Burke in the Land of Silver) ahead of publishing two new ones later this year. I’ve carried on dancing, too: the photo shows Tammy and me celebrating our Ruby Wedding two years ago.
James Burke, spy
James Burke’s published adventures take him from South America to Egypt and, inevitably for any Napoleonic wars hero, to Waterloo. His further adventures will see him up to dark deeds in Spain and Ireland. You can find out more about Burke and his world (and my other books) on my web-site: http://tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk/.
Tom Williams used to write about business but he’s given that up to indulge himself and write historical novels. Besides three books about James Burke he has three others set at the height of Empire in the mid-19th century: The White Rajah, Cawnpore and Back Home.
He lives in Richmond and, when he’s not dancing (or teaching people to dance), he spends a lot of time street skating.
Thank you for this great post! I absolutely love it, as I find it inspiring to learn more about the past and current lives of authors. I adore the video of you and Tammy dancing. You two are beautiful! Wishing you all the best, Tom! – Camilla