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Author, Avid Tweeter & Blogger, Lover of books, Teacher of Maths & Swimming, Mother, Speaks Spanish, Friend to many...

Saturday, 28 February 2015

FREE Children's Anthology

Please take the time to consider...

*~FREE via Amazon from 27th - 3rd March only~*

GURNARD'S BOOK OF DELIGHTS is a collection of stories written by children aged between four and eleven years of age for a Primary School literary competition. They had to write a story involving an element of time travel... and they certainly did that.

It features three bonus stories by authors, Vanessa Wester and S.P. Moss, who judged the entries.

S.P. Moss commented: 

"I've had so much fun reading your wild and wonderful stories. There were stories that made me giggle, stories that made me gasp and stories that amazed me with the places they took me to. I travelled in time back to the war, the Victorian times and even further - to the Aztecs, the ancient Greeks and ancient Egyptians with your stories. The time travel mechanisms were most ingenious - from boffin-like time-travel machines to everyday objects like a TV and a toy train. Not to mention a hat and some rather fabby pink boots - and even magic guinea pigs! Thanks to all of you who took part and keep on writing..." 

Any funds raised from sales of this book will go to Gurnard Primary School.

Please read & review.


Friday, 6 February 2015

Fifty Shades... the music is great!

Okay, it's been a while since I spoke about this, so here we go...

For those who read my blog, you'll know that I read the second book in the Fifty Shades Trilogy (worst £3 purchase of my life) and thought the writing was terrible!

However, I have not read the first or third so maybe I am missing something. Either way, one day I might read them! Doubtful, but never say never...

However, the song by Ellie Goulding is pure genius

For more visit Wikipedia 

As I wrote on my own trilogy acknowledgements, the Twilight Soundtracks inspired me whilst writing my own trilogy. Music is a powerful tool. So much so that I am even considering going to watch the film! It has to be better than the books... ha ha!

I think this is what I find most offensive. The media constantly draws comparisons between Twilight and Fifty shades. Now excuse me if I fail to see ANY similarities!

Bella was always perceived as attractive. Edward was a vampire that could read minds, which is why he was torn. Whatever people think, Twilight appealed to a wider audience.

Let's keep Fifty Shades for adults... at least those interested!

Enjoy the music,

Saturday, 24 January 2015

What a treat! Interview with Linda Chamberlain, author of THE FIRST VET

Linda, thank you for agreeing to be featured on my blog.

Before last month, I rarely read a book that featured horses! Now, I have read three. I thought a lot of the book & film “WARHORSE” as I read this. Not as much for the content, but for the fact that horses have been used (and abused) by humans for years. One of my favourite stories ever written, ANIMAL FARM, depicts this perfectly with the catchphrase “must work harder”.

In your book, THE FIRST VET, we get to see the other side. How men fought to protect and create a better life for animals by creating a new profession, veterinary science. Ultimately, they had a vested interest. The longer the horse lived, the more they could use it. However, your addition of complex characters added to my overall enjoyment.

This was my official review…

5 stars – Review on Amazon and Goodreads

“I came across this book by chance after I sent out a request for book links a few days before Christmas! For a change, I decided to buy some books instead of getting free books! I loved the sound of this one and I was not disappointed - what a fantastic story!

Basically, this book is written from the point of view of Bracy, a man who has given up a career as a surgeon to become one of the first vets ever. Even though set in the late 18th Century, the story is vivid and I immediately liked Bracy a lot. He stands by his principles, is kind, hardworking, and will not tolerate corruption.

Whilst challenging the new head of the veterinary college, a surgeon more interested in lacing his own pocket, he meets his "crippled" sister, who becomes another key figure in this well-crafted tale. Without giving away the plot, Bracy then goes on to establish himself as a vet in London and prove that he can help people keep their horses, and livelihood, alive.

I devoured this book and learnt a lot in the process. I would highly recommend for readers who love a romantic story with a historical element and horses! I also think it does a lot to raise awareness of the perception of disability that still exists today.”

What do you think of my review?

It made me emotional and I had trouble reading it aloud to my family. I’m a very emotional person and it was my first professional review so I was a little choked that you liked it so much. It’s great if friends, or even strangers, think your book is good but if a reviewer likes it, you have to take yourself very seriously. I used to do theatre reviews for a living and know how jaded some critics can become. I was never jaded but a critic searches for quality so much that they end up demanding it, unlike someone who doesn’t get out much! I was chuffed with your very erudite and well written review!

I am over the moon that my review created this response… you deserve my praise.

Moving on, did you find it hard to write historical fiction? I am currently writing one and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done! One step forward, two steps backwards. How did you research it?

Hard? I was screaming, ‘Let me write chick lit,’ most days. Writing isn’t easy. (I totally agree…)

Writing historical fiction is so frustrating and difficult that it’s a wonder anyone finishes one. There were so many times that I had to rewrite because I’d got the history wrong. Not all of it was easy to research. How did they ‘put a horse to sleep’ in 1794? How long would it take to lead a lame horse from Camden to the city of London? Such useful information is not on the Internet but there were plenty of sites telling me that women didn’t wear knickers in those days!

Fortunately, I was writing about a man who wrote a lot of books and he helped me a lot. He told me of his battle with the head of the college and explained many of the veterinary terms and medicines used at the time. I included his recipes and I used many of his cases. There was even an account of a young child burnt in an accident who Bracy thrust into a huge wine bucket full of icy water which was on the dinner table. It wasn’t generally known at the time that cold water would soothe a burn. I loved being able to put real events like that into the book although I swapped the dining room for a wood yard.

It’s a well-documented period in veterinary history and there are a number of books available that cover those early days. I also took myself many times to the Royal Veterinary College library and the British Library. There I found Bracy’s books, his many periodicals and his letters. That’s how I knew he was a man determined to give up surgery to help the horse, a man who cared little for money. He was a worthy hero of a book.

What was the editorial process like once the book was written? Did this take a long time?

I had a wonderful editor – Liz Bailey. She has written novels in the Georgian period herself for Penguin and was pretty damned sharp.  She kept my writing tight and she kept me in period if I slipped up, which I did occasionally. Thoroughbred? Did they call horses thoroughbreds then, Linda? she asked. No, they were known as blood horses, I should have remembered that.

I spent a few months rewriting once she gave me her suggestions. It’s not always easy to hear where your book is not working but it’s something authors and journalists have to learn to listen to. You need to find someone who treats you and your manuscript with sympathy and respect. They need to be able to explain why it’s not working. I particularly had to work with my opening chapter, a sagging middle and the character of Edward Coleman, the head of the college, who was too urbane and placid until I gave him a bit more temper. (This worked very well)

Can you tell us about the inspiration for the story?

Bracy Clark himself was the inspiration. He led in the first horse to the veterinary college; he was one of our first vets. He is still highly controversial today and I am drawn to a good contretemps! Let me explain…you see, he was ahead of his time 200 years ago and horse owners and veterinary professionals are still struggling to keep up with him now. He spoke out against strong bits, spurs and whips but most importantly he made the important discovery that nailing a metal shoe to a horse’s flexible hoof was harmful and shortening their lives.

He proved his case using science but his work was ignored by the veterinary establishment and it’s still being condemned now by many sceptics who remain unconvinced. Ah, but that is changing slowly; his name crops up on a number of websites and his work is being revisited.

More and more people are riding horses without shoes, myself included. I first found him in an obscure book by a German vet of all places and thought he’d make a brilliant subject for a book.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I began researching him, though, because the real story was very strong. He didn’t care about money and he spoke against the abuse of these animals the economy so relied upon. His battle against corruption helped me to understand why his veterinary work was suppressed; he was making someone extremely uncomfortable. That someone was the head of the veterinary college; a man he accused of pocketing the student fees, a man who was patenting and selling horse shoes and medicines! Imagine the headlines in the popular press today. (Animal welfare cases can get into the headlines today, but I wonder if it would make the front page?)

I was completely engrossed by the two main characters, Bracy and Christina. I respected Bracy for his dedication and Christina for her fiery nature. I found the way they both dealt with her disability to be beautifully portrayed. Do you think society has changed significantly in over 200 years in its perception of disability?

Yes, I do. I’m not saying it’s easy for people with disabilities but at least they are sometimes admired and celebrated for their achievements. They are given some protection in law against discrimination and they are much more likely to lead full, independent lives.

I went to the Paralympics just as I was beginning to write The First Vet and it was awesome. There were riders who had limbs missing, some who could barely walk and yet they rode a horse in a crowded stadium with such skill. Seeing them made me confident that someone with Christina’s disability would manage much better on a horse than she would on the ground. Riding would give her a rare chance for equality, a need in her that Bracy, as a Quaker, would understand. Thanks to the brilliant riders of the Paralympics, my character of Christina was born.  

I have never ridden a horse, and find that I am nervous amongst animals, having never had much exposure to them growing up in Gibraltar. What experience do you have, and did this help you write your novel?

I have ridden horses most of my life and I don’t seem to be able to give them up even now! I have my own horse, plus one for my daughter, and we look after them ourselves. If you have horses you learn how to care for them when they are injured or ill – you become their nurse even though you can’t become their vet. So, sadly, I am familiar with some of the medical conditions described in The First Vet and that was a great help. There is a scene in the book where Bracy is fighting for the life of one of his patients. It was very emotional for me to write because I’d been there and done that. Equally, there were appalling treatments that I was ignorant of, such as firing which is now illegal in Britain. Bracy described in one of his books how a burning hot, metal rod was applied to a horse with an injured tendon. He began to abhor the practice and said the scene he witnessed at a forge in Brighton was enough to ‘make a grown man shudder’.

Vanessa, don’t be frightened of horses! Remember they are grass eaters and are rarely aggressive. (I will try to remember that)

The head of the veterinary college, Edward Coleman, was not someone I regard as honest or likeable. He was definitely the villain, even though he kept the college in an outwardly ship-shape condition. The way your story evolved I was drawn back to my GCSE English days, when I studied THE CONE GATHERERS. I was in tears when I read that book, since its depiction of disability was brought to life by Duror, a man driven to madness by his disgust of his wife. Do you think a “nasty” character adds a certain depth to a story? Did anyone inspire Edward?

Yes, a story needs characters of contrast – the yin and yang of a book. A nasty, or negative, character gives the hero something to battle against and something to overcome. Once again, my character was based on the man himself or, at least, what I could find out about him in the history books. Edward Coleman was the head of the college for more than 40 years and one historian described him as an ‘unmitigated evil’.

Bracy’s own account of him would make a wonderful libel trial were he to write something similar today with our current laws against defamation unless he had proof of the corruption that he alleged. I didn’t set out to make Coleman a villain but the more I read of him the more I turned against him. Importantly, he couldn’t be two dimensional in my book. He was said to be a charming and popular man, particularly with his less educated students. He successfully secured the future of the college by getting funding from the government by providing vets for the cavalry regiments. He wasn’t all bad and I had to ensure that his treatment of Christina was misguided and not simply cruel. I would have been unjust had I made him a ‘straight forward baddie’.

But, according to Bracy, there was something very unethical going on thanks to Coleman and his young assistant, William Sewell. Places on the veterinary course in exchange for payment was one of the allegations. With such stories abounding, I didn’t need to make one up.

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

Primary school, probably. By secondary school I was rewriting news stories from the newspaper in my spare time. When I got a reporter’s job on my first paper (rather than go to university) I was writing on my days off. Time I got some help for this addiction? It’s the news story rather than writing that hooks me. A literary agent once advised me to ‘quit focusing on an issue and get on with the romance’ but I can’t separate them. They fuel each other. (I agree with you. Not all readers are interested in the facts, but I am not one of them. Give me a well-researched story and a healthy dose of romance and I am in heaven)

What advice would you give to new authors to finish their books?

Borrow a news editor who shouts in your ear – ‘Where’s that bloody story.’ That always helps productivity. Failing that – find out which is your most awake time of day to write; some people are better in the morning, others at night. Then devote some of that time to your writing. Never, ever wash the kitchen floor in your peak time when you could be nurturing that manuscript. Don’t iron any clothes and seriously consider whether or not skirting boards look better with a light dusting of…well, dust. (Ha ha ha… so that’s where I’ve been going wrong this year! I decided to do housework!)

Thank you for your time. Can you tell us where we can find out more about you and buy your books?

Thank you for having me here, Vanessa, and good luck with your own historical. Dare I ask which period you are working in?

Victorian Times. My novel is based on the lives of my great, great grandparents – the first Beanland to arrive in Gibraltar in 1866!

Find out about Linda via her Horse blog 

Follow her on TWITTER

Buy THE FIRST VET now as a paperback or for your Kindle/ Kindle App.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

50,000 VIEWS! Thank you to all... #VWAuthor

I just realised that my blog has been viewed 50,000 times!

This is another milestone in my epic journey from stay-at-home mum to writer (& social media obsessive!)

Five years ago, I decided to write for fun. I needed to let my mind go crazy and talking to myself was not very healthy!

One of my creations!
I am fortunate and lucky to be able to spend time with my children, whilst entertaining hobbies! I keep busy though... at the moment, I volunteer at the local Foodbank, help out with reading at my daughter's school, work during lunchtimes in a supervisory role, home tutor, read, and when I have time... write!

It seems apt to have reached 50,000 views when I am so close to 50,000 words on my new novel. A labour of love, I think. I also have 50 reviews for HYBRID via Amazon UK! So, fifty is a great number...

To anyone who has a dream, follow it. Whatever happens, never be the one that looks back on their life and wonder where it went and regrets decisions made. Even if things do not end up as you hoped, make the most of it.

This is what I try to do.

I may not be the career-driver business woman I thought I wanted to be when I was twenty, but I am happy. The simplest things are the best.

Thank you all for your support & encouragement.

All the best,

p.s. Look what someone wrote via Facebook today. It made my day!

"Hi, I read the Evolution Trilogy recently and it was great. I wonder will you write the epilogue book of Caitlin and Steve as the fourth book?"

Well, in answer to that, I never say never.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

LOSING IT ALL by Marsha Cornelius - Interview & Book Review #RBRT


I have had a wonderful holiday and finally managed to keep away from gadgets for a few days! Progress... Saying this, does a kindle count as a gadget? I was reading after all!

I had a fantastic time with family and have recharged my batteries. Today, the Christmas decorations are down and I have to prepare for my youngest 6th Birthday in the next week. 

I was extremely chuffed to create this hair style on her over Christmas! Creativity comes in many guises.

It is a scary thought to think that I started writing nearly 5 years ago already... the phrase, 'where has the time gone?' truly applies in my case.

Anyway, I have read some brilliant books recently. My latest one was called THE FIRST VET, which I highly recommend. Before that I read LOSING IT ALL via Rosie's Book Review Team, and I was lucky enough to get an interview with Marsha! So sit back, read & enjoy. 

I wish you all the best for 2015.


Welcome, Marsha! Thank you for agreeing to ‘talk’ to me via my blog. First things first, time for us to find out about you via one of your books…

I read “Losing it All” and thought it was different to any book I have ever read before. 

This was my review… 

5 stars – Review on Amazon and Goodreads

“What an original and heart-warming book! This is life at its worst, with the best outcome.

I admit that I did not think it would be my kind of read when I started it, but as I progressed I got sucked into this desperate world of homelessness, domestic abuse, and bad luck.

Overall, the characters were beautifully developed and I loved it. The author has managed to take a difficult situation and write about it. I don't know many that could do this.

Highly recommend if you want to read about romance against the odds”

What do you think of my review? 

I'm so glad that you enjoyed the story, and could appreciate the hardships my characters overcame. 

You story is different to others. It exposes the harsh reality of being homeless or getting abandoned or evicted. What or who inspired you to write it? 

I live in a rural area near Atlanta, Georgia. When we first moved out here, I took long walks in the woods, and came across an abandoned house. Although the windows were broken out, and the door was hanging loose, the structure was sound. I began to imagine who would be willing to fix up this old place, and Frank, my main character, slowly took form in my mind.  He's a homeless man who lives in a cobbled shanty near the railyards of Atlanta. For a man like Frank, having all that space, and a dry roof over his head, would be fantastic. 

The world you portray is one many of us choose to ignore. Yet, for me, it made me think about the fact that we are always striving for our easier existence. The question is could we do what Frank did? Would we be happy without our creature comforts? What do you think?

When I was younger, I loved to go camping: sleep in a tent, cook on an open fire, squat in the woods. Now? I don't mind hiking all day, but at night, I want a shower and a bed. (And a toilet nearby for my nocturnal visits.) I don't think there are many people who could endure Frank's lifestyle. Most people can't even endure being without their phones! 

I currently volunteer every week at the storage facility for FOODBANK on the Isle of Wight. The volume of donations we receive is incredible. The stories I hear about the people who receive the food at the distribution centres is even more amazing. Do you do currently do any voluntary work?

I've done volunteer work in the past, but not this year. In fact, I volunteered for a soup kitchen in downtown Atlanta. That's where I gleaned some of my research on homeless shelters and community services. 

What do you think makes a great writer? The story or the writing? I would say both, but believe that without a good story, the writing is empty. Do you agree with me? 

For the most part, I agree that there must be a good story. But I've come across examples where there is hardly any story at all, it's the writing that carries the reader along. I just finished Emma Donoghue's Hood. By today's standards, there is very little plot: no twists, or crises; no cliff-hanger, or evil antagonist. It's simply seven days of a young woman reminiscing about her relationship with her lover. The writing is so beautiful, though, that the reader is carried through the story effortlessly.  
Does anything you have ever been through come close to what you put your characters through?

Not at all. I've always considered myself a resilient person. I've lost jobs, gotten divorced and started over from scratch, but I never felt like I was losing control; that I didn't have friends or family that would be there to support me.  That was one of the tricky parts of writing Losing It All. I had to paint both Frank and Chloe into corners where they had nowhere to turn. 

Without giving a lot away, I have to say that the ending was fantastic. Was this important to you? You could have done many things with this story.

Oh, believe me, I wrote many different endings to the story. And I was tempted to write a more severe ending. But basically, I'm an old softy, so the ending had to be a happy one. 

Regardless of a great story, publicity and marketing is what really sells a book. Many people have mixed views on the use of social media. Do you think it is important? (I found you via an online Book Club after all). If so, how do you prioritise your time?

Social media is my only means of getting out the word on my books, so it's very important to me.  I tried book signings, but it's just not cost effective for a beginning author like me. I know big-name authors can draw people into a store who are willing to pay $20 for a hardcover book, but not indie authors like me.  I truly regret the demise of so many independent bookstores. They've been driven out by big-box stores like Barnes and Noble and online sites like Amazon. But whether we like it or not, digital books are the future.  Some online book sites, like Book Bub, and Pixel of Ink, have been a boon for my book sales, both when I list my books as free, and also when I reduce the price. My problem with social media is that it's so easy to get sucked into spending hours online chatting with readers, so I have to budget my time. My writing comes first. I spend my mornings working on a book. Then when my brain has lost it's edge, I get on Twitter and Facebook, and check my e-mails.  

Do you have an author you admire? If so, why?

I really admire Russell Blake. He's an indie author who has become very successful. He has a great website, and he owes all of his accomplishments to his marketing tenacity. I 'met' him years ago on Twitter when he was fairly new to the indie market, so I've seen how far he has advanced.  

What are you working on now? Tell us about it…

Book number five is at the editor's, so I'll be looking at a rewrite soon. Once it's complete, it should be ready for release this spring. The book is called, It's a Boy. It's a speculative story about women controlling the political and corporate worlds, and men are second-class citizens. My main character is Mason, who lives in this subservient society, and makes a series of mistakes that leads him down a path of moral corruption. 

Where we can find out more about you and buy your books?

My website is: http://mrcornelius.com

I can also be found at

Amazon Author page: http://amzn.to/SLhv6O (US)  http://ow.ly/CiOJs  (UK) 

Thank you for your time and for letting me read your book via Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Friday, 26 December 2014

FREE & Reduced eBooks from #TETrilogy

Merry Christmas to all... 

I would really appreciate it if you would take the time to download my NEW book, EMILY. It is free for 5 days only. My trilogy is also hugely reduced until New Year's Eve! It is a time of giving after all. I think food for the mind is a good thing.

Thank you & enjoy,

*~AMAZING DEAL via Amazon~*

EMILY http://t.co/UOwcXzFVuE

Emily has not changed in fifty years. A freak accident made her immortal, or so she thinks. When she is finally allowed to return to her beloved England all is not as she expected. So much has changed. The past she was holding onto does not exist. Since the Second World War, people have embraced a new age. In this era, people have an obsession with gadgets, strange clothes and weird music.

Added to this her blood-lust has become insatiable and her promise to control herself is torn to shreds. That is until she meets Paul. She never expected to find love... and when it happens, can she do what it takes to hold on to it?

Fate has never been kind to Emily, and it gives her everything she wants at a cost. She must pay a price for being a murderer. For within her twisted heart lies a dark soul.


EMILY is the prequel to THE EVOLUTION TRILOGY, comprised of Hybrid, Complications and Return, which has over fifty five star reviews. It contains some adult content.


Also, get the entire Evolution Trilogy as an eBook for a crazy price! http://t.co/FZWmGd6yQQ

Steven Thorn is about to learn that his life is not going to be straightforward. Before he does, he meets Caitlin and discovers the irrational attraction of first love. However, when everything becomes complicated, will love be enough? Regardless of what he is and where his loyalty should lie, a decision has to be made. Rules are meant to be broken.

From the University of Southampton to the depths of the Amazon jungle in Brazil, Steven and Caitlin will discover that in the game of love, destiny is always the winner...


"I loved the entire trilogy and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a paranormal story with a twist and some romance. I am impressed that the scenes that could have quickly turned these books into erotic were kept "clean" and "classy" while still bringing all of the emotion of the action between characters." 

"The Evolution trilogy was so much fun to read! All the components of a good series are there and I found myself thinking about the characters constantly. For me that is the sign of a good book - I can't get the characters out of my head, they come to work and the gym with me and I try to figure out what will happen next. I fell in love with Caitlin and Steven, the main characters in Hybrid, joined in on their adventures in Complications, and was rewarded with a finale that tied up all of the details and loose ends in Return book 3... A very satisfying ending! I highly recommend this trilogy." 
Susan L. Gerdon

"A great set of books. A must read for all. Imaginative story somehow believable. I would like to visit the community myself."
Lovely Lane

"Really enjoyed all 3 books, find them so readable and hard to put down. As soon as you start reading you feel involved in the story." 


THE EVOLUTION TRILOGY is a PARANORMAL ROMANCE with some scenes of an adult nature. It is comprised of three novels: HYBRID; COMPLICATIONS; and RETURN.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Mark Fine discusses his novel, "The Zebra Affaire"

Thank you, Mark, for agreeing to be ‘interviewed’ via my blog. First things first, time for us to find out about you, via one of your books. I read “The Zebra Affaire” and got sucked in! This was my review…

5 stars – Review on Amazon and Goodreads

“The fictional tale of Elsa, a white native South African, and Stanwell, a black foreigner from Malawi, and their forbidden love story within the harsh Apartheid regime of South Africa in 1976 is beautifully written and I shed a tear at its climax. The addition of non-fiction extracts throughout the story added a depth to the tale that made the situation more real. With the death of Mandela in 2013 it is important to reflect on both the man and the situation in his native South Africa.

I have recently been reading many historical fiction novels based on slavery and colonialism and was extremely glad to stumble across this book. The fact I have Dutch relatives only added to my appreciation of the novel, since I understand the language somewhat.

This is not a typical narrative, but it is definitely a book I would recommend to anyone interested in issues concerning racism and inequality within a tense romantic setting.”

What do you think of my review?

I’m touched my historical fiction novel moved you, emotionally. The fact that you cried tears, rather than was bored to tears, is a wonderful compliment. It meant you became vested in the plight of the principal characters’ struggle at the centre of the story, despite the unkind real-world circumstances they both faced.

I also agree with your supposition that it’s important to consider Nelson Mandela’s legacy. Will his shining example be emulated?  Or will current and future South African leadership follow the tragic norm in Africa—that of abuse of power, corruption and incompetence?  I hope for the former, but frankly I fear the latter will be closer to the truth…

If I must critique your review, there is one change I’d suggest. The third paragraph as written seems to suggest “The Zebra Affaire” was written in Dutch (not English). I know your intention was to say “…the novel feels very authentic because some of the local colloquialisms, a curse here an exclamation there, are written in the Afrikaans language—derived from South Africa’s first Dutch settlers.” [Fair point, Mark…  I am happy to be corrected!]

By the way I appreciate your elegant summary of my book with your phrase “… (it’s about) issues concerning racism and inequality within a tense romantic setting.” Perfect. [So glad you liked this]

What or who inspired you to write this story?

Though they don’t realize it, I would have to credit my two sons. I have this belief that if a people don’t know their history, they are destined to be forever lost. It was important to me that my sons learned about their African roots from their father; but my personal story isn’t that interesting. So I chose to couch the story from the perspective of far more intriguing characters, that of Elsa (who’s white) and Stanwell (who is black). The cruel dynamics of the love-struck couple’s story is all theirs, but the place and time that I inserted them is very much mine. This then provided me with the platform to shine a bright light on the dark underbelly of racism and tribalism. 

I was brought up in Gibraltar and I experienced the opposite. I felt like an alien for being a redhead and so pale, whilst living amongst tanned brunettes! Do you think people are always faced with some form of oppression wherever they are?

Such a complicated topic: and one that inevitably devolves into name-calling, hyper-sensitivity and frustration.  But let’s first focus on two specific words you used, Vanessa: “always” and “oppression”.  No, I don’t believe being different inevitably leads to oppression. As a personal anecdote: I arrived in a frigid, snowbound Minnesota neighbourhood in 1981—and to my surprise I found myself considered “an exotic”—apparently I was the first “white African” that this American Midwest community had met! And as such I was rather revered. I’m sure, unfortunately, that this isn’t everyone’s experience.

Vanessa, drilling deeper to the true intent of your question, you are certainly correct. There is little doubt that generally humans are not tolerant of others unlike themselves. And that this corrosive behaviour is in the end mutually destructive.  I wish the lessons of the past were learned, but that’s not the case. (Hence the need for historical fiction to constantly remind us.) Instead, we compulsively repeat the same disgraceful patterns of individual and institutional torment. Sadly, there is always a chosen victim that predators—like bullies in a schoolyard, gang up against. And invariably the victim is a minority. Except in apartheid South Africa! Here the oppressed were the majority. This shocking fact alone makes “The Zebra Affaire” a story worth telling.

If someone from South Africa in 1976 time-travelled to the present day, what do you think they would say?

A 1976 South African would be devastated by what they’d witness in today’s 2014 South Africa. Despite the fall of apartheid and the wonderful vision of Nelson Mandela’s “Rainbow Nation”—under the corrupt and incompetent leadership of current president Jacob Zuma, the nation is leaderless. Though the cruel laws of apartheid have been removed, they’ve been replaced by rapacious black tribal elites who are lining their own pockets to the detriment of their own people—and are using progressively blunt tools to keep the masses in check.

 And so I know what a time-traveller would say for I personally know such a person. A veteran of the guerrilla war against apartheid that was forced into exile for decades during the long campaign for liberation, and lifetime member of the ANC (African National Congress); this veteran is distraught by the self-inflicted wounds forced on the nation by the current administration. “I cannot believe this is what we fought for,” were the words shared with me, “I guess we have to soldier on.” The sense of betrayal felt by this veteran of the liberation struggle was palpable. Such a shame! [I agree… humans are capable of so much, yet they fail on so many levels when competing against each other for dominance!]

Why do you think no one speaks out when violence is staring them in the face? Is fear the reason people ignore abuse? For example, in hindsight, it is easy to point the finger at Nazi Germany, but The Book Thief recently got me thinking. I imagine most people did not know what was going on. How do you think people who do know live with themselves? Are they just evil?

Without a doubt it is primarily fear. Becoming invisible is a natural survival instinct; akin to an ostrich sticking its head in the ground. Though it may save one’s neck in the near term, it does not guarantee one’s long term survival. Appeasing a bully really doesn’t work, but it takes a special strength to stand up to that bully, alone. Clearly British Prime minister Neville Chamberlain blinked when dealing with Hitler, but to your point: he didn’t really know what was going on. Surely the true villains were the German political and military leadership who were well aware of the illegal military build-up and other secretive behind the scenes preparations. These senior men stood by and did absolutely nothing.  Certainly some were evil, some were ambitious, some were ideologues, but most were cowards.

In South Africa there was a duality that added further confusion—or plausible deniability to this mix. As I wrote in The Zebra Affaire: “Elsa was no racist. She never had to be; her government assumed that responsibility.” What I’m attempting to say is that Elsa never had to face within herself any personal demons of racism, she never had to go there, ever, as the laws scripted the rules of behaviour between the racial groups, and as such relieved her of any personal responsibility.  So add to the above list of sins, indifference.

Do you think love breaks down all barriers? Is not the point of, for example, the classic “Romeo & Juliet” that forbidden love is both a curse and a cure?

Love certainly has the potential to break down all barriers. I’ve always been intrigued by that which triggers the attraction between two distinctly different individuals; and in doing so creates such an immutable bond that very little can destroy it. I even question whether death can destroy it. For example in the “Romeo & Juliet” scenario, though the two lovers die their love ultimately lives on in the reconciliation of their two warring families. Or maybe I’m just a romantic… [nothing wrong with being a romantic!]

How did you find mixing fiction with fact in such an obvious way? At times, this detracted from the story, but I found it helpful and emotional. Especially at the end.

I had three principles guiding me: entertain, inform and to be sincere. If it was solely a work of fiction it would have been easier to write, as I would not have been bound by the inconvenience of facts. But “The Zebra Affaire” is an important story, and quite disturbing considering these events happened not too long ago. So I needed it to be believed, and so I wrote it in a way that it was both authentic and sincere. This realization compelled me to fill the reader’s knowledge gap on South African history. 

To do so I could have used conventional Chicago Manual of Style formats such as footnotes and endnotes to provide the historical or societal constructs of the period. But footnotes are tiny, difficult to read. And endnotes, they are parked somewhere at the back of book. So I introduced something novel—one reviewer called them “anywhere notes”—where I provide italicized expositions within the context of narrative.  Judging by the accolades this technique has received readers have embraced this format and now better understand the motivations of the characters (both good and venal) as the tension in the story builds.

Do you find it hard to write historical fiction? Do you spend hours doing the research?

Research took a year, including wonderful weeks in the field—the South African bush, documenting the behaviour of the animals in their natural environment. The climax of the story needed the suspense of an authentic safari. And it was crucial the animals and the bushveld played their role in supporting the human saga unfolding within their midst. I used both a video- and still camera to record these experiences; and I personally enjoyed reliving these moments when writing the story.

Writing historical fiction is a double-edged sword; there’s the benefit of an existing structure of date-stamped facts, but then there is the deficit when facts refuse to conform to the fictional narrative’s structure. But for me it is well worth the trade-off. I learn so much during the research process.  Believe me, it’s really interesting stuff—quite eye-opening actually. And for me a reward for working in the historical fiction genre is knowing that I’m able to transfer this knowledge to the reader within the context of a compelling, vivid story—set in an exotic location, without any of the pain of formal study. 

But I must emphasise, my objective is to first entertain. I’m focused on creating memorable characters, within a story construct that is filled with suspense, fraught with danger, and filled with passion. It just happens that the reader will learn something new about their world as the story unfolds.

Do you think social media is important? If so, how do you prioritise your time?

Vanessa, I wish I was as capable as you in this social media space. [I can but try…] Yes, it is important and I have found myself engaging with folks from all around the world due to its no-cost ubiquity and reach. I was delighted by the generosity displayed by strangers on social medial when creating the book. For example, I polled their opinion when selecting the best book cover.

Regarding the promotional reach, it has also proven to be helpful. In fact, Vanessa, that’s how we met. But I must admit it consumes too much of my time. This is due to my inability to process it efficiently.  I’d like to think it’s a flaw in the structure of Facebook, Twitter, Google + or whatever, but being honest I’m probably not using these platforms correctly. In short I’m overwhelmed by the volume of data I don’t need, and I’m constantly missing the most important stuff. Time to send out an S…O..S… [Ha, ha... I'll have the lifeboat waiting for you!]

Do you have an author you admire? If so, why?

It is not a coincidence that historical fiction is my genre of choice. It’s by reading Herman Wouk (“Winds of War”), Leon Uris (“Exodus”) and Irving Stone (“The Agony and the Ecstasy”) that I learned so much—without realizing it, because they are masters of weaving wonderful tales that both enthral and inform. These are the best attributes of good historical fiction. Add Ken Follett, Alice Walker, Tom Clancy and South African greats, Wilbur Smith and Andre Brink and I’ve been fortunate to have feasted on a rich, fulfilling diet of magnificent literature. My current favourite is Alan Furst (“The Foreign Correspondent”).

[I have read & enjoyed Leon Uris and Ken Follett… my husband is a fan of most of these!]

Where we can find out more about you and buy your books?

Vanessa you are welcome anytime to visit my site, leave a comment or two, and hopefully write a guest blog.  Your readers are most welcome as well. You will find me at my BLOG 

“The Zebra Affaire” is available to purchase in both paperback and Kindle editions via AMAZON.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

Vanessa, it’s my pleasure. I very much appreciated your interesting questions.