Friday, 20 November 2015

Sue Barnard - Guest

By Barbara Scott-Emmett

I recently read Sue Barnard's novel The Ghostly Father, which I reviewed for BookMuse.

Sue says that the book she always wanted to read was an "alternative version of Romeo & Juliet - the version in which the star-cross'd lovers don't fall victim to a maddeningly preventable double-suicide."

"Why," she asked herself, "should there not be such a book?" And since there wasn't one already, she decided to go ahead and write it.

I was so impressed by The Ghostly Father, and the determination Sue showed in writing the book she wanted to read, that I decided to ask her a few questions to find out more about her.

Which work most influenced you when growing up?

I think this would have to be the Blue Door Theatre stories (The Swish of the Curtain, Maddy Alone, Golden Pavements and Blue Door Venture) by Pamela Brown. They were what triggered my love of the theatre.

Where do you write?

My desk (if you can call it that) is a table in the corner of my conservatory. It has a lovely view of the garden.

Who or what had the biggest impact on your creative life?

Shakespeare. Two of my three novels are based on his works!

How far are you influenced by other media, such as music or fine art?

I enjoy both, but I wouldn't go so far as to say they've influenced me to write anything new. I prefer to appreciate them for their own sake.

Do you have a phrase that you most overuse?

I probably have loads, but I try to edit them out!

Which writers do you enjoy?

Terry Pratchett (I'm devastated that there will be no more from him), Lindsey Davis (I love her portrayals of ancient Rome), Sally Quilford (my friend and mentor, who taught me everything I know about writing romance), and those lovely girls at Triskele Books. Plus all my fellow-authors at Crooked Cat Publishing!

Why do you write?

Because I love it.

What makes you laugh?

Monty Python, Blackadder, The Two Ronnies, One Foot in the Grave, Round The Horne, Flanders & Swann, good stand-up comedy such as Live At The Apollo, and satirical news programmes such as The News Quiz, Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You?

Do you have a guilty reading pleasure?

Yes. I read on the loo!

Which book do you wish you’d written?

That's a tricky one, as there are so many. But one of my all-time favourites is That Devil Called Love, by Lynda Chater (first published in 1999). It's a modern reworking of the Faust story, told with great perception and humour, in which the heroine finds out the hard way that youth, beauty, wealth and fame don't necessarily hold the key to lasting happiness.

Which book has impressed you most this year?

A book which I had the pleasure of editing: Pride and Regicide, by my dear friend Cathy Bryant. It's beautifully thought out, and is written so cleverly that it's almost impossible to tell that it wasn't written by Austen herself.

Would you share what you’re working on next?

I'm working on a time-slip story based on an old French legend. I can't say which one, because that would give too much away!

What’s the best way of spending a Sunday morning?

As lazily as possible.

What's your favourite punctuation fail? (Suggested by JJ Marsh!)

AAAGGGHH - don't get me started on that, or we'll be here all day and probably most of tomorrow!

Sue Barnard is the author of the award-nominated historical fantasy The Ghostly Father and the romantic intrigues Nice Girls Don't and The Unkindest Cut of All. She is Editor at Crooked Cat Publishing.

Find out more about Sue from her Blog or Facebook page.
Follow her on Twitter @SusanB2011
Her books are available from Amazon.

Sue was interviewed by Barbara Scott Emmett, author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion.

Friday, 13 November 2015

In My Bottom Drawer (5) - Gillian Hamer

In My Bottom Drawer (5)

With a budding career as a new 'Queen of Crime', we put crime author, Gillian E Hamer, under the spotlight and demand she comes clean about the early manuscripts gathering dust under her bed.

With three paranormal thrillers under her belt - The Charter, Closure and Complicit - plus her latest crime novels, False Lights and Crimson Shore : The Gold Detectives I & II - she has already experienced the highs and lows that indie-publishing offers. Also, she has had a total of three literary agents in the past ten years, and so even in her early work, there must have been something that drew the eye to her writing.

But like all authors, she has novels that she would rather see hit the shredder than hit the headlines.


Many many years ago, when I was a fledgling author (and I use that term in the very loosest sense) I decided I wanted to be a writer of erotica. After years of secretly reading my nan's Mills & Boon and Jackie Collins novels, I felt I was perfectly placed to unleash my new-found sexual powers on an unsuspecting world.

At the time I was dating a chef called James, who looking back I realise had one or two odd deviances, role play among the mildest. He also fancied himself as a budding Tolkien, so we decided to pool our 'talents' in a novel called The Stranger.

The premise was that we would write one chapter at a time, discussing only the vaguest of plots beforehand (two strangers meet, begin a journey together that would end who knew where... ) and wherever chapter one left off, the other writer would take on the baton and write chapter two, ending on a cliff-hanger for the other to take over in chapter three and so on.

Clearly, James had a different end goal to mine, and the novel soon bordered on illegal. I've no idea whether it remains gathering dust in some cyber-space email trash bin, but you can rest assured that's the best place for it.


I'll remain a little reticent about slating this novel, because it does have something, just not enough of anything specific. It was the first novel I wrote that I thought was professional enough to pitch to publishers (I don't think I knew literary agents existed back then) so I bought a 1999 Writers & Artists Handbook and sent the ms out to a long list of publishers - and unsurprisingly received a long list of rejection letters in reply.

One though caught my eye, it was the most encouraging input I could have hoped for and gave me a shred of belief in my writing. It was from a fiction editor at Hodder & Stoughton (as was) whose name I remembered many years later when I began to submit The Charter. She had moved to a literary agency by then, but remembered me as I'd remembered her. She became my first agent and helped bring on my writing in leaps and bounds.

So, although MMS remains buried in an old laptop somewhere, I reckon I may dig it out one day and see if I can shape it into something resembling a crime novel."

Friday, 6 November 2015

Triskele talks to Tamim Sadikali

Tamim Sadikali is the author of Dear Infidel, a book which takes us into the heart of a British Asian family celebrating Eid ul-Fitr, the Islamic feast that marks the end of Ramazan, the month of fasting. The place is northwest London and the time is November 2004, eighteen months into the second Iraq war and seven months before London’s 7/7 bombings, and four cousins – two pairs of brothers who rarely see each other – foregather at the house of one of their parents.

Catriona Troth reviewed Dear Infidel for Book Muse UK a couple of months ago. She wrote that it, "does what the media has so singularly failed to do - show us shades and variations within the British Muslim community. Not between extremists and others – but within one ordinary family."

Here she talks to its author.

Hi Tamim. I’ve just realised that you, like me, are a Warwick-maths-graduate-turned-author. So I have to begin by asking you about your journey from mathematician to author. Was writing always part of your life?

Ha! Small world… But I’ve only became bohemian with middle-age. In my late teens I was a dictionary-definition geek: whilst most ventured out and ‘experimented’ with life, I’d stay in and go through S-level pure maths papers for fun. Eventually I hit my own brick wall with the subject and fell out of love with it. And it was only in my late twenties, well after I’d graduated and started a career in software, that writing fiction just sort of happened. I remember the moment well – I was in the kitchen of my parent’s house late one evening, on my own, and I just began writing a scene that come in my head…scribbling, really. Over the next few days I kept on scribbling and before I knew it, I had ten thousand words worth of scribbles.

Dear Infidel is set in the very specific time period between the 9/11 attacks in New York and the 7/7 bombings in London, when the news was full of brutal images of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We get the sense that your characters know they are living on the lip of a volcano.

Was the idea for the book born at this time, or was it necessary to achieve a certain distance before you could write about it?

Definitely the latter. 9/11 started something whose tentacles have fanned out – continue to fan out. Going back to maths, this is chaos theory: with random storms still blowing, knocking over whole countries as well as vulnerable individuals. It took time for the charge set in motion to detonate, and thereafter, to observe and make sense of that domino effect.

The book has five narrators - four cousins, plus one spouse. (For those who haven’t read it yet, there is Pasha, living in leafy Cheshire with his English girlfriend, disillusioned with Islam but nostalgic for the trappings of his culture; Aadam, successful enough, fond of the British, but tormented by the daily bombardment of news from the war; Nasneen, his wife, a sexually frustrated feminist in the process of rediscovering her religion; Salman, the most religious of the four men, desperate to bring his children up in a true understanding of Islam; and poor, lost Imtiaz, locked in a cage of his own making.) 

How did you go about developing a distinct outlook and voice for each of them? Were some of them easier to write than others?

I aimed for a few, inter-related things: that the characters should be holistic (and therefore believable), and that the author’s hand should be undetectable. Put another way, that none of them should be my mouthpiece.

When I was writing, I consciously became each character – crawled under his or her skin. (There are writing exercises to support this – answering Qs like: what’s ‘X’s favourite movie/food/drink? Who would ‘X’ vote for? How would ‘X’ spend a lazy Sunday afternoon?) As time went on, this became surprisingly easy: to think like a fundamentalist, a Westernized playboy, a porn addict. Once I understood each of them – their outlook and basic motivations – writing as them became surprisingly easy.

One of the moments I love in Dear Infidel is when the cousins all stop to watch a few minutes from a Carry On film. In that moment, they seem utterly British. A few minutes later, it is a Bollywood film that captures their attention. The juxtaposition of those two things seems to distil, and celebrate, the positive side of the second generation immigrant experience. Was that your intention with that scene, and did it take you a long while to find the right elements to encapsulate that?

No, I wasn’t deliberately demonstrating their British credentials – but I’m heartened that this was your interpretation.

These characters are indelibly British: whether it’s those much trumpeted ‘British values’, or British humour, they need no leap of imagination to connect. That they are, hand-in-hand, being pulled by opposing and yet equally irresistible forces, doesn’t override or erase or trump or subvert their Britishness. Regardless of what anyone thinks – even what they themselves think – they are, and forever will be, both British and Muslim. That tension will ebb and flow, manifesting itself both negatively and positively – but they’ll always find Carry On films funny. I guess there’s a message in that.

I kept thinking, as I read, that I would eventually understand why you chose the title, Dear Infidel, but it remains somewhat enigmatic to the end. The title, like the narrator in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, seems to reach out of the book and address the reader directly, but the rest of the book does not. How did you come to choose it and what does it represent for you?

In art, you can say things that you just can’t get away with elsewhere. That said, you may have smoked me out here… When I started writing this novel, I intended it to be some magnum opus on the Muslim/non-Muslim faultline. But then I simply let the blank page take me wherever it wanted, and discovered that I was less interested in ‘Muslim issues’ than I initially realised.

Whilst I touch upon some ‘Muslim’ subjects: hijab, religious schools, terrorism,… - the payload is not in covering these per se, but in illuminating how the coverage of them unsettles the individual. And as this small unsettling is repeated, pretty much every day, this Butterfly effect leads to personal chaos. It’s this that I wanted to communicate – and principally to the non-Muslim reader. The title, Dear Infidel, is a non-literal/tongue-in-cheek expression of this sentiment.

None of your characters finds any real resolution at the end of the book. And in the decade since the book was set, things can hardly be said to have got better for Muslims in the UK or the rest of the world. How optimistic/pessimistic are you for the real life Aadams/Nazneens/Salmans/Imtiazs/Pashas they represent?

I’ve never bought into Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations theory. Rather, what I see is a clash of extremisms: a lunatic strain of Muslim thinking and neo-colonialism, feeding off each other in a symbiotic relationship, and all the while draining the middle ground. I’m pessimistic.

Following the publication earlier this year of Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place, there has been a great deal of discussion about diversity within the publishing industry itself, and within the books it chooses to promote. What steps do you think the industry needs to take to get more BAME voices heard?

This is a very tricky question – personally, I’m against positive discrimination. I’d rather have no platform at all, than be given one out of charity.

That said, the conservative tastes of the book buying public is a thing of woe. But if the existential nausea of a 25 year old Cosmo girl is what gets tills ringing, is it really the publishing industry’s role to change that? Honestly, I don’t know.

Like all industries, publishing is reactive: it identifies a pattern and then milks it. How many times have we read a double-page spread on ‘ exciting new voice’, only to realise that they are ‘exciting’ because their dad played polo with Prince Charles? Or that they are the next brown face to drop on the radar in the wake of Zadie Smith and Monica Ali..? If the industry is happy to engage in these forms of positive discrimination, they might as well share the love.

Can you recommend some books by BAME writers that you think deserve to be much better known?

I reviewed a couple of titles for Bookmunch recently that I thought were excellent: The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah and One Point Two Billion by Mahesh Rao.

You’re sitting in your favourite writing place. What can you see around you?

No-one. Not a soul. I don’t need blue skies and a beach, or a misty mountaintop. All I crave is splendid isolation…to be far from the madding crowd.

Thank you, Tamim!

You can read Catriona's full review of Dear Infidel on Book Muse UK