Interviewing a Writer – Ke Payne

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British author Ke Payne has kindly agreed to answer some questions for this blog.

Ke Payne, can you introduce yourself in a few words/lines?

I’m a British YA lesbian author with Bold Strokes Books. I was born and grew up in Bath, in South West England, but now I live in chaotic bliss in the Cotswolds with my partner, one scruffy Jack Russell terrier and two not-so-scruffy guinea pigs.

As a child and teenager what were the books that made an impression on you?

I remember reading Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at school, and it making quite an impression on me. While I had a sneaky feeling that I wouldn’t be visited by ghosts clad in clanking chains in the night if I was mean to someone, I was certainly struck by how important it is to treat everyone equally and with kindness. A book suggesting that one person can be shown the error of his ways, make him stop and think about which way his life is heading, then have a rethink and emerge a better person is as important today as when it was written 160 years ago.

Who are your favorite authors today and do you think their writings influence your own?

I’m a fan of Kate Morton, and love both the intricacies and Englishness of her novels. I like that her stories sway from the past to the present and back again, so that you can see how everything that happened in a character’s past influences everything about their present and, possibly, their future.

I wouldn’t say her writing influences me though. I’d love to be able to write something as complex as she does, but I can’t ever see that happening!

Who are your favorite lesbian authors?

Sarah Waters is a firm favourite. Her descriptions of London – whether Victorian or Second World War – are so evocative I can almost imagine the smog and noise. I love the way she weaves a story, with its various twists and turns too. Even though I’ve read Fingersmith lots of times, I still really enjoy the twist in it.

I also love a good Gerri Hill novel which, on a long summer afternoon lazing in the garden, can be hard to put down.

How many books have you written so far?

I’ve been lucky enough to have four novels published so far with Bold Strokes Books: 365 Days, me@you.com, Another 365 Days and The Road to Her. I’ve just had my fifth, Because of Her, accepted too. That’s scheduled for some time in 2014, I believe.

Why do you write YA fiction?

I write YA because I can remember just how much a book written specifically for a teenager/young person affected me at that age, both positively and sometimes negatively. After I wrote 365 Days, I had lots of emails and letters from teenage readers telling me just how true to life it was, and how much it had helped them personally. I also got lots of correspondence from people in their twenties, thirties and forties telling me they wished they’d been able to read a book like it when they were a teenager and going through the same anxieties that Clemmie, the main character, was going through. As a writer, it’s immensely gratifying to know that something you’ve written might have helped someone, in whatever small way, realise that they’re not alone, and that there are others out there sharing the same worries and confusion.

What other YA authors do you enjoy reading?

Michael Morpurgo who wrote, amongst others, War Horse. I think it’s important not to patronise YA readers and not to write more simply just because your target audience happens to be teenagers and young adults. Michael Morpurgo does that perfectly.

What inspired you to write your first novel?

About five years ago I found an old diary of mine on a visit home. It was one from when I was struggling to work out who I was, and every day’s entry was more anxiety-ridden than the last. Even though it made me a bit sad reading it, remembering a time when I was confused about my sexuality and in love with a girl at school who didn’t even know I existed, it still made me laugh as I’d peppered it with humour as, presumably, that was the only way I could cope with things back then.

After reading my diary I knew I wanted to write something that showed that, although being a teenager can be fraught with angst and unrequited love, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, and that it’s important to find the funny in the most unfunny of situations. 365 Days was borne out of that, written as a diary, about a girl who, to all intents and purposes, is probably me…

Would you say that you write lesbian fiction or novels where lesbians are the main characters?

That’s a tricky question. I classify lesbian fiction as being fiction written exclusively for lesbians, so I would say I write novels where lesbians are the main characters. The plot should be more than just the fact they are lesbians – the fact that they are is secondary (and a bonus!) The main point is that each character is just trying to go about their lives, but inevitably a girl catches their eye and confuses things.

Did you know right from the start that you wanted to write this kind of novel?

No. I started life as a short story writer for UK women’s magazines but when a friend leant me some Gerri Hill books, I immediately realised that I wanted to write the kind of books that I would rather read myself.

I still write short stories (under a pseudonym) as they help pay the bills, but it’s writing YA novels that I enjoy the most.

Does it make a difference to be a British and/or a European author?

Definitely. 365 Days and its sequel, Another 365 Days are as British as afternoon tea and biscuits. My humour, too, is very British, and not everyone gets it. As I’m published by a US publisher, they do sometimes ask me to write things that are more universally understood, especially when it comes to brand names which could be exclusively British. Of course, I’m always more than happy to do that. However, I do still read comments from reviewers who complain that they can’t understand my English “slang”, and that, for them, it ruins the book.

Whilst that’s disappointing, it’s still slightly better than the comments I receive complaining about my “English mistakes”, when what they mean is “non-American English”. I guess you can’t please all the people all the time, can you?

How did you conceive the plot for The Road to Her?

My favourite British soap recently had a lesbian storyline, which was a first for that particular soap. It got me thinking: how would the two actresses playing these characters react if their on-screen chemistry spilled over into real life?

So I wrote The Road to Her, where my two main characters are well-known soap actresses who fall in love on screen, only to start to fall for each other off screen too. I wanted to know what they would do. Would they just see it as blurring fiction with real life, and ignore it, or would they act on those feelings? Maybe their careers would be more important to them? Or maybe they’re both just confused. So many questions needing so many answers…

Do you draw your inspiration for your main characters from real life? Or do you totally invent them?

They’re mostly figments of my imagination. However, there is a lovely character in me@you.com called Joey who might just be a little bit like my partner.

Do you have a favourite character? Which one and why?

I’ll always be very fond of Clemmie Atkins from 365 Days and Another 365 Days, possibly because she was my first ever character but more probably because she’s a total klutz and I love her for it.

Are you currently working on a new book? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

As I mentioned earlier, I recently found out that I’ve had another novel accepted for publication in 2014, so I’m really excited about that. It’s called Because of Her and features a main character called Tabby Morton whose life is turned upside down when she has to move to London when her father is headhunted by a major finance company. She’s enrolled in an exclusive school in the hope that it’ll finally make a lady of her, but she hates it. It’s only when the kind and lovely Eden Palmer walks into her classroom one day and catches her eye, that Tabby begins to think that life in London’s not so bad after all.

I’m also currently halfway through writing a sixth novel, provisionally titled Once The Clouds Have Gone, about a girl who has to return home after many years when father dies and she inherits his business. It’s another YA romance, so of course there’s a stunning girl waiting in the wings to stir things up a bit…

Thank you Ke for your availability and your time!

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Code Name Verity

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This is an attempt at reviewing Code Name Verity without giving too much of the plot away.

Code Name Verity is a novel by Elizabeth Wein which was pointed out to me by Cari Hunter in the interview I posted on this blog a month ago. It has been categorised as a YA novel but I honestly believe it is a very restricting label. Code Name Verity deserves a wider and older audience and has the potential of a classic.

‘I am a coward. I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending.’

These are the opening lines of the novel. The narrator is Queenie. She’s a Scottish aristocrat who was arrested when she looked the wrong way (left, in true British manner) before crossing a street in France. She is now detained by the Gestapo in a former hotel near Poitiers, and forced to write a confession detailing the British war effort.

Through her crafty and witty confession, she tells the story of her friendship with Maddie, a working class Mancunian of Jewish descent and the pilot who dropped her in France, and the saga that brought her to France.

In the second part of the novel, the point of view shifts to another character and the story takes on a totally different meaning.

Code Name Verity is not just a war story. It is primarily a book about friendship, about love, about the powerful and mutual attraction, the gut-wrenching trust and the unfailing loyalty between two young women who in normal circumstances would never have met.

If you like good and well-researched writing, clever humour and strong heroines, you will love Code Name Verity. But be warned: it is a book that will bring tears to your eyes and will still haunt you long after you have read the last page.

Quotes from Code Name Verity:

It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.

‘We’re still alive and we make a sensational team.’

I am no longer afraid of getting old. Indeed I can’t believe I ever said anything so stupid. So childish. So offensive and arrogant. But mainly, so very, very stupid. I desperately want to grow old.

Interviewing a Writer – Cari Hunter

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Cari Hunter, author of Snowbound, has kindly agreed to answer some questions for this blog.

Cari Hunter, can you introduce yourself in a few words/lines?

I live near Manchester in north-west England with my partner and two cats. I’ve been a paramedic for eleven years and, more recently, an author with Bold Strokes Books. I like hiking, baking, running, writing, catching up on sleep, and frogs – though not necessarily in that order and certainly not at the same time.

As a child and teenager what were the books that made an impression on you?

Growing up, I read voraciously. Sending me to my room as a punishment never worked, as that was where all my books were. Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword shaped a lot of my summer holiday playtime, then later I developed a big crush on Nancy Drew. And if anyone knows the twist at the end of The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler you’ll understand why that was another one of my favourites.

Who are your favorite authors today and do you think their writings influence your own?

I’m a fan of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, the first three of which are my regular comfort rereads. More recently, I’ve raced my way through all of Karin Slaughter’s novels. Occasionally her plots are a little shaky, but her character development and story arcs just keep you coming back. She’s also very funny, which is unexpected given the gruesome nature of her themes. Last year, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein stopped me in my tracks and then broke my heart. It’s a long time since a book has done that to me and I’ll recommend it to anyone and everyone till I’m blue in the face. I’m not sure about these authors influencing me, but I’d love to be half as good as them.

Who are your favorite lesbian authors?

I’ve only recently got back into reading ‘LesFic’ – the local lesbian book shop closed its doors a few years ago and I fell out of the habit of keeping up with new releases. Sarah Dreher was my first LesFic experience and remains one of my favourite authors. I love her snappy dialogue, her sense of humour and her supporting characters. There’s a real nostalgia to picking up her books these days, which also adds to their charm.

How many books have you written so far? Have you written anything else?

I’ve had two novels published with BSB – Snowbound and Desolation Point – and my third, Tumbledown, is due out in 2014. I’m currently working on a new story; it’s not contracted at the moment, but I live in hope.

I wrote a whole series of fan fiction for the Terminator TV show (Sarah Connor and I have a long-abiding love affair) plus some shorter pieces for Rizzoli & Isles, which is a crappy show but very fun to fic. I haven’t written any fanfic for a while, but it makes for a nice change of pace so I’ll almost certainly get back to it at some point.

What inspired you to write your first novel?

It’s more “who” than “what”: my partner. She wanted a story for Christmas, so I set about writing Snowbound for her. I never imagined it would turn out to be a novel; it was certainly never conceived as such, which explains its rather unconventional structure. Unfortunately for my partner, once I got the writing bug I went off on a tangent and ended up writing a couple of novels’ worth of Sarah Connor fic while she waited for her Christmas present. I did buy her something in the meantime though – I’m not a total cheapskate.

Would you say that you write lesbian fiction or novels where lesbians are the main characters?

I would say I write lesbian fiction. There are tropes and conventions in the genre that I think Snowbound and Desolation Point make use of. Even though Snowbound wasn’t written for publication, I knew of BSB and LesFic in general and I’d read a lot of online fic, so their influence was there in the background.

Did you know right from the start that you wanted to write this kind of novel?

With Snowbound, I knew what kind of story I wanted to write, but I genuinely wrote it for an audience of one, hence setting it close to home (no research necessary!) and focussing on a medical scenario (not much research necessary). It was only after BSB contracted it that I thought, “Bugger, better go and check some of this stuff out.”

Does it make a difference to be a British and/or a European author?

It definitely makes a difference. Snowbound wears its Englishness on its sleeve. It’s set just down the road from me and it’s chockfull of northern colloquialisms, cups of tea and local foodstuffs. Its police are armed with nothing but batons and a sense of humour, and the plot revolves around that good old-fashioned British obsession: a spell of terrible weather. When I sent it to an American publisher, I was sure it would be rejected for being too damn English, but they wanted it and they kept it exactly as it was, and I love them very much for that.

Desolation Point is a different kettle of fish in that it takes place in the USA, but I knew I wanted to play with the UK/US cultural divide and I had already chosen a mixed pairing for my central characters. While Alex is from Boston, Sarah’s from up here near Manchester, so I could still write a story where someone got to say “bloody hell-fire” and “bollocks”, which suits me just fine.

How did you conceive the plot for Desolation Point?

To be honest, I pinched its main premise from one of my own fics. In my fic, someone runs the lead characters off the road and then spends the night hunting them down. At its most basic level, Desolation Point grew out of that. I had the initial parallel scenes – Alex’s assault and Sarah’s car crash – buzzing around in my head when I was finishing the edits on Snowbound, so I had a good idea of what was going to shape the characters. At first I thought about having a flood trap Sarah and Alex in the park, but I couldn’t make that work, so I sent Sarah up a mountain instead, set the storm against her and then had her stumbling across the main villain, which established the chase element. I had the main beats of the plot sketched out from the beginning, but I’m useless at sticking to a plan, so things remained very fluid throughout.

Did you draw your inspiration for the main characters in Desolation Point from real life? Or did you totally invent them?

I invented them from scratch, but there are odds and sods in the dialogue or descriptions that have come from walks my partner and I have done. We play the “I love my love with an A…” game when we’re knackered and trying to get back home. Sarah talks a lot like me and I too have to drink my tea while it’s hot enough to burn my throat, but otherwise she’s her own character.

In both Snowbound and Desolation Point the setting seems to be an integral part of the story. Could they have been set in another environment? Why did you choose the US as the setting for your second novel?

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I regularly walk in the Peak District, which meant I could describe it with confidence in Snowbound. Also, I doubt there are many LesFics set there, so the story has the advantage of novelty in its location as well as in its vernacular dialogue and general Englishness. It was staunchly northern English as well – I’m a proud northerner – and setting it elsewhere would necessarily have diminished that, which would have been a shame.

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I have no personal attachment to the North Cascades but, having spent a year working on Desolation Point, I couldn’t envision that being relocated either. The title would have to be changed, for a start, and I’m rubbish with titles. I’ve never been to that particular part of the States, but I did so much research trying to get everything right that I think I could find my way up Desolation Peak blindfolded!

I agonised about Desolation Point’s location before starting it. I didn’t want people to assume I’d chosen America just to broaden my audience (BSB’s readership is primarily American); in fact, I wondered whether I was shooting myself in the foot by not sticking to the English setting from which a lot of Snowbound’s appeal stemmed. Ultimately, though, I needed a couple of things to make the plot in Desolation Point work: one of my lead characters had to be proficient with a gun, and the location had to be expansive enough to get my central pair well and truly lost. I considered the Scottish Highlands and the Peak and Lake Districts over here but they just weren’t remote enough, so I decided to move things across the pond. That also solved the gun problem – as an American ex-police officer, Alex would know her way around a firearm.

Some readers might be a bit put off by the violence displayed in both books. Why did you think it was necessary to include details and descriptions?

Both stories have involved some genuinely nasty characters and I really do believe that if you’re going to have violence in your plot then it should hurt and it should have consequences. I suspect a lot of that stems from my day job, where I see the effects of brutality and trauma on an all-too regular basis. I’ve always tried to write realistically; the women in my novels are not super-humans, just normal people who get caught up in horrific circumstances, and they do things to survive that they’d never imagined themselves doing. If they get hurt, it takes them a while to get up again; and – because I don’t want to write cartoonish, toothless villains either – they do tend to get hurt. I never want to make the violence gratuitous, but nor do I want to shy away from the details or the after-effects. I hate books where a character gets assaulted in one scene and shows no sign of it in the next; anyone who writes like that has never sat opposite an assault victim and listened to them cry or tried to stop them bleeding.

I hope there’s enough humour and lighter moments scattered through the books to counteract their more brutal aspects, though I appreciate that the violence may be too strong for some people’s taste.

Between Snowbound and Desolation Point do you have a favourite character? Which one and why?

Oh, that’s a difficult one! I do have a bit of a soft spot for Sarah. She comes into her own in the latter stages of Desolation Point and she was a real darling to write. Having said that, most of the fun came from having her bounce off Alex, so they sort of come in a pair. Can I have them both? I’m having them both.

How has Desolation Point been welcomed so far?

So far, so good. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback and a fair few people telling me they’re looking forward to the sequel, which is a relief! It’s still early days and I know it’s inevitable that there are folks who won’t like it, possibly for some of the reasons I’ve already mentioned, but the majority of people I’ve heard from seem to have enjoyed the heck out of it.

Are you currently working on a new book? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

I finished Tumbledown, the follow-up to Desolation Point, in the year between Snowbound and Desolation Point’s publication dates. It’s my first shot at an all-out twisty thriller and is earmarked for release in 2014. Until the edits for that come back, I’m working on a new story set in England (in the Peak District, again) which is a sort of thriller-mystery in which the two main characters are long-time friends and occasional lovers. I thought it’d be interesting to explore an established friendship rather than the stereotypical two strangers falling rapidly in love. At the moment, its working title (courtesy of my partner) is Aye Up: It’s a New Story! and I have no idea whether it’ll ever reach publication. I’ve got about another 60,000 words before I start worrying about that!

Thank you Cari for your availability and your time!

NB: Both novels have e-book Kindle editions

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Snowbound

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Whether it is the author’s exceptional writing talent, the fact that we have had an uncommonly snowy winter, or a combination of both, but when I started reading Snowbound by Cari Hunter I was immediately drawn into the atmosphere and the plot.

Snowbound is set in the fictional English village of Birchenlow, in the Peak District during a heavy snow storm. Police Officer Sam Lucas and her partner Mac are called on the scene of a robbery. The burglary turns sour, Sam is injured and taken hostage in the middle of nowhere.

When one of the criminals calls and asks for help lest his younger brother might die, Dr. Kate Myles volunteers to go and assist him as well as Sam in the cold and isolated barn where the latter is held captive by the increasingly desperate and dangerous pair.

I do not want to spoil the story for you; suffice is to say that the two women connect in a way they had not anticipated. Sam is still bruised by her former relationship while Kate never seemed to have envisaged that there was more to life than her job and her cat.

I thoroughly enjoyed Snowbound. The novel is fast-paced and well-written. The characters feel real and true-to-life, the kind of women we might actually run into.

My Week in England

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The title of this post is no reference to a recent trip but to the title I gave to my first visit to England in the 1970s.

When I was 11, my parents took me on a journey to England. We spent three days in London (I remember that the hotel was near Piccadilly Circus). Then my parents drove to York where my father had a business meeting and I spent a week in the Midlands with the Brown family: my mother’s pen friend, her husband and their two sons – Alan and Steven.

I was in the first year of middle school but Alan, who was a little younger than me, was in primary school. I went to school with him for a week and more generally shared their family life.

Mrs Brown was a French teacher and she made sure I learnt new things every day. At the end of my stay, she made me write a short diary of my time with them. I had only learnt the present tenses and she had to teach me the past so I could write the following lines.

I had enjoyed this trip so much that I kept this little booklet which I found again a few days ago at the bottom of a drawer. Apart from a short daily account of my week, there are also photos and postcards and a few lines about English meals. Can’t you just tell that even then I liked writing better than art?

It was a fantastic idea and I am glad I still have it after so many years.

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Sunday: We went to Coombe Abbey. We played on the swings and slides. We went on the nature trail.

Monday: I went to school with Alan. I went swimming.

Tuesday: It was Alan’s barbecue. We put up his tent in the garden. For tea we had hot-dogs and beef-burgers. We made a trail to the woods and we played hide and seek.

Wednesday: I went to Kenilworth Castle and Coventry Cathedral in a coach. I had a picnic. After school I went swimming. I visited a big school.

Thursday: At school I drew a Kenilworth Castle. We talked about Coventry Cathedral. We did athletics. I ran and I did long jump and threw a cricket ball.

Friday: I went to school and won a badge for athletics.

Saturday: We went to the Battlefield of Bosworth. We saw the film Richard III.

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The King’s Speech

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Like a lot of people at the moment, I have seen The King’s Speech. It is a great movie starring outstanding actors, namely Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter.

I had never heard about George VI’s stammer until a few weeks before the film as released but now the Internet is full of stories that relate it as well as archives about his friendship with his speec h herapist Lionel Logue..

Although we get a lot of foreign films in France, most of them are dubbed rather than subtitled. When the film was first shown here, it was only in French and the linguist in me had no desire whatsoever to hear the king of England speak French! However my frustration must have rippled to such an extent that this week now the original version (with subtitles) can be seen once a day.

Colin Firth is perfect for the role as both a monarch in the making and a man who suffers greatly due to his speech impediment. Whenever he speaks we see him struggle and suffer with him.

The scenes where the king confronts his unorthodox and uncompromising therapist, are very entertaining. I can also very well imagine that some would be perfect for use in a language class.

Last, but not least, Helena Bonham Carter is a convincing and supportive wife as well as a credible queen-to-be. Like her husband, she is fully aware of how important it was for him to appear as a strong regal figure when both the country and Europe were in such turmoil.

If you are interested in knowing more about the story behind the story, here are a few links:
The film official website
The real speech
The WSJ interviews Mark Logue, Lionel Logue’s granson

Judaism in a Nutshell

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Prior to a chapter on Jews in Medieval Europe (England for me, France and Germany for my history colleague), I tought it would be wise to revise or introduce a few basics about Judaism.

I have settled on a matching exercise: the students will have to match 31 terms and their definitions. I have also added a few pictures. I realize however that it is not easy to select the words and notions I want them to understand and remember.

If you were in my shoes, what terms would you have chosen?