School of the Ages


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author interview -- crime writer Fiona Quinn has a Toolbox Philosophy

Posted by Matt Posner on May 25, 2014 at 8:35 AM

I met Fiona Quinn on Twitter. Her Twitter feed leds to her website, which has just superb nonfiction articles for crime fiction authors. She has the varied complicated employment history found among some of the most interesting authors -- and I made sure to ask about it. Now I'm pleased to introduce her.

Fiona, you’re originally from Canada but now live in Virginia. How was the transition for you?

I was born in Canada but had a two-border upbringing. My father was a college professor and during the college school year, we were in America, so I schooled here. We called Canada home as in, “We’ll be going home for the summer in three days.” My thought processes are more Canadian than American, I have found.

My two homes makes for very confusing spelling. Even today, my editor trolls my work for words like grey, towards, and honour. It also makes for an odd accent. Mostly, I think I sound southern when I speak. As soon as we hit the bridge going into Canada, my whole family will change into their Canadian accents, almost like changing our shirts. The first time my husband was with my sister and me as we “crossed over,” he was completely bewildered by our new speech patterns. Sadly, he’s from Texas and only has the one accent available. Poor boy.

I spent much of my college years in Europe; I wanted to be a travel writer. It seemed ideal to me that I could go to fabulous places, try incredible foods, meet interesting people do unique things, write about it and get paid. I was young – I thought that gig would be pretty easy to come by. But instead, I married and settled with my husband in Virginia. I’ve been here long enough now that my roots are pretty solid. Though, I am trying to convince Tex that we should retire to Vancouver.

Like many authors, you have a widely ranging education (it all looks cool).  How did that happen? What are some highlights?

How did that happen? I ask myself that all the time. The truth is that I love to learn, and I don’t really want to be cornered into learning one thing. I started out with history, art history, and foreign languages, because I thought they would be the best degrees for my travel gig. Then I was pregnant and knew I needed a closer commute, so I went back for my psych degree. Low and behold, there are zero jobs for psych majors. Back I went for counseling masters. I picked up lots of certifications along the way.

In the end, I stayed home with my four children, unschooling them – this means we woke up and learned about what we wanted to that day instead of following a planned curriculum. I read and read and read and read to them. I was their Girl Scout Leader, and we all worked on our black belts together. The rule in my house is you must be 18 or have a second-degree black belt before you can date. The dating part was incentive. It seemed to work. Hands on/ experientially educating my children was a wonderful way to educate myself as well.

What is the Toolbox Philosophy, and how can it be applied to everyday life? To writing?

My Toolbox philosophy in a nut shell: You never know what life is going to hand you in the way of emergency or opportunity – so always look for ways to add competencies (tools) to your tool box so you are ready. This might mean a new language, or a handy math formula. It might mean a car repair or a defense. It could be just learning to listen with empathy. Learning possibilities fill each day. I look for them and embrace them. I tried to give that as a gift to my children. As we say in our family (and my kids will correct me, “No, only you say that, Mom.”) “We are life-long learners” That means school is never out.

In my writing, I apply many of my tools. Some things I don’t know about, so I will try to experience them or minimally talk to someone who has. Tex goes along on my adventures with me. I have a scene I need to write where my heroine flies over a canyon on a zip line. Tex and I are going to go on a zip line over a zoo sometime this month. It makes life interesting. Tex sometimes wonders if I just form my writing based on what I want to try next. He’s an astute man.

Much of my Toolbox Philosophy is obvious if you stop by my blog ThrillWriting and take a look around.

Talk about your knowledge of archery and how it has shaped you as a person and as a writer.

Archery, to me is a unique defense in that it is very quiet and personal.

When I shoot my guns, I feel a lot of adrenaline and reaction to the noise and bursts of light. When I train with hand weapons - knives, asps, etc. - or even weaponless fighting, it is a chess game trying to out-maneuver one’s opponent. I fight within myself to keep focused on action/reaction and not give in to the adrenaline. This is not the case with archery.

For me, archery is slow, methodical, meditative, grounded, and quiet. When the arrow whispers off my string, I become an observer instead of a participant.

As a person - What an interesting question. For me, it’s important to spend time with both kinds of expressions: the soft and the hard, the loud and the quiet, the connected/interactive and the solitary. It’s a matter of balance. Archery will calm me right down. Like taking medicine. I let my stress release with the arrow and watch it fly away.

As a writer - The gift I get from archery as a writer is sustained focus. Eye on the target. Some days, I get bulls eyes; other days, I get caught in the weeds. A metaphor for the writer’s life, I think.

What was it like being a model in France?

Long and boring. Modeling is not an exciting way to make money. And one has to lose all modesty. Back in the days before computer enhancement, the way they changed a model’s body shape was with tape. Getting taped up was not lovely, but the end of the day and ripping all of that off? Oh, dear.

Meet any bridezillas when you were a florist? Come on, tell the truth:  it was really the future husband’s fault, wasn’t it?

I heard that there was a TV show about Bridezillas. No, it’s not my experience at all. The men were never there. The moms just needed to stay on budget, and the brides were nervous. I never experienced anything beyond that.

Please tell one more interesting story of your choice from your history of many jobs.

I was a governess for two families – one in Switzerland and one in France. Both families had a young daughter and a thirteen-year-old son. The boys thought that it was marvelous that my language skills were not up to par. Here, I thought that they were being very supportive helping me to conquer a new language when in fact, they were teaching me cuss words to take the place of regular every day words. Words that I would use in public.

I went to a sandwich shop in Germany once and thought I was ordering a ham and cheese; and instead, I asked the waiter if the naked baboons had weapons. Luckily, the waiter saw I was with this young, snickering boy and told me what was going on. I tried to escape the embarrassing situation by saying. “I’m so sorry for the confusion. Would you please direct me to the shit hole?” At which point everyone in the place was on the floor laughing.

Not believing that every young teen had the same evil thought process, I moved to Toulouse and boy number two. Sadly, the shop keeper was not as understanding when I told her I wanted to buy three prostitutes and seven easy b**chs.

Okay, now let’s start talking about your writing. What is Virginia for Mysteries all about?

We are fourteen Sisters in Crime authors from the Old Dominion. The anthology has seventeen short stories set in and around the state. Each story features a Virginia landmark, from the shores of Cape Henry Lighthouse to Richmond’s Old Hollywood Cemetery to Jefferson’s Monticello, transporting readers across Virginia’s rich, unique and very deadly landscape. I have two stories that were included, “Caged Bird,” set at St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry gave his speech, “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death,” and “Key to a Crime,” set outside of Henricus Historical Park where John Rolfe and Pocahontas were married.

Who are the Sisters in Crime and how did you all meet?

Sisters in Crime is a national organization which supports women who write crime (though men are welcome, too). I belong to the national group, and I am part of our regional group. Our book came out of a collaborative effort of two Virginia Sisters in Crime chapters. It has been a lovely experience. Some of the authors were traditionally published, some indie published, and for some this was their first publishing experience.

We all learned from each other about the ins and outs. Especially marketing which became much easier as a group effort. We made it to the Amazon top ten and were the number one seller at Crime Wave at Virginia Festival of the Book – a huge four-day book festival that takes places in Charlottesville, Va, annualy.

It must be exhilarating to do appearances with other writers. Any reflection upon that?

I have been to my fair share of author events, and it always seems to me to be a crapshoot. I feel so badly for the authors who sit behind their little table, smiles plastered in place, with no one buying or interested in anything beyond the free candy and directions to the loo. This is the case with us as well. Though we are usually well received, the slow times are still fun because we are together. Also, spreading tasks around for marketing the book means that no one is unduly burdened.
When we do panels and speak about our work, I always learn something that I can take into my writing. Lots of fun all around.

Now on to your novels. You’ll soon be launching the series Weakest Lynx. Tell us about your protagonist, Lexi or Lynx, and the genre and style.

I write romantic suspense. This particular series is about a young woman who grew up unschooled. Lexi Sobado had a unique spectrum of interesting and diverse mentors who filled her toolbox with some pretty unusual skills, and she needs them – all of them. Lexi was born with the good luck of being whip-smart, athletic, and pretty, in a girl-next-door kind of way. But that’s where her luck ends. Lexi is fighting for her life against enormous odds. Every time she thinks she’s safe, she needs to think again.

What would you like to say to readers to close this interview?

Thank you so much for reading – this interview, books, articles… all of it. It is a gift to writers everywhere that you read. You are much appreciated.

author interview -- Joe Perrone Jr. Talks Fly Fishing and Murder!

Posted by Matt Posner on May 18, 2014 at 3:50 PM

I never stop being surprised by how well I can connect with writers I meet. Joe Perrone Jr. was a friend of a friend who learned about my interview series and introduced himself. It turns out his family lives close to my second home in North Carolina. That's cool. One of the best things about mystery writers is the way they create characters with unique professions and backgrounds to product distinctive stories. Wait till you see how Joe does it!

You live in the western North Carolina mountains. How far is that from Charlotte, which is my second home? How did you wind up settling there?

Hendersonville is about two hours and twenty minutes west of Charlotte.  Incidentally, my two sons live in Charlotte, as do my niece and her husband.  Originally, my wife and I became interested in living in North Carolina after playing golf several times in Myrtle Beach.  We thought living on a golf course seemed attractive, so we looked at some properties there, but decided it was too expensive.  After returning home to New Jersey, I did a Google search for golf course communities in North Carolina and found one we liked in Hendersonville.  We sold our house in New Jersey and built a beautiful house here.  After 9/11, the economy went "blooey" (that's an official term) and we decided to sell and downsize, which is what we did.  We still live in Hendersonville, but not on the golf course.  We've been here for 15 years.

You and your wife Becky have two cats. Which one of you is the cat lover? How do you stop the cats from waking you up at odd hours of the morning?

Great question!  We both are - now.  My wife always was a cat lover.  I, on the other hand, was a (cat hater) for most of my life, until "the event," after which I became one, too.  To learn more you'll have to read the blog I wrote about it called "Wolfgang Amadeus (Not the Composer - the Cat!).  Since our two calicos, Callie and Cassie, sleep with us, their waking us is not a problem. 

Now let's get into your background. You were a sportswriter? What sports did you most and least like covering?  Talk about a memorable interview or story from that phase of your career.

The sport I least liked to cover was basketball (boring).  The sport I loved to cover was tennis.  My first major interview was with tennis legend Arthur Ashe.  Interestingly, he and I were both born in Richmond, Virginia.

You were a fly fishing guide. That sounds like a dream job for a fishing enthusiast. How did you get that job?

Ironically, it would never have happened without Becky's input.  When out fly fishing one Sunday in 1989, we encountered a guide with his two sports on the Delaware River in New York state.  Becky "interrogated" the guide about what it took to become one, and then afterward, on our way home, insisted that I become one, too.  So, I did.  Had it not been for Becky's motivation, I might never have become a guide nor written the Matt Davis Mystery Series

How did you transform your experience as a fishing guide into material for fiction?

When I finished the first Matt Davis mystery, As the Twig is Bent, which is set in Manhattan, I then chose Roscoe, New York, where I guided, as the setting for the next three novels in the series, so I could write with more authority about what I knew best.  I made Matt the chief of police (fictitious, of course, since Roscoe doesn't even have a police department), and the rest is history. 

The protagonist of your mysteries is called Matt Davis. (Great first name, BTW). Talk about him and what he brings to the table as a detective and as a viewpoint character.

Thanks for the compliment on the name.  Actually, it's a combination of the first names of my two sons: Matt and David (their uncle used to call David "Davis" as a kid).  Matt began his police career as a homicide detective in New York City.  Coming from that background, it was easy for him to assume the position of chief in Roscoe.  After all, how could anything be more difficult than his former job?  Well, it turned out that there were other challenges besides those of catching murderers, like learning to play politics in a small town and endearing himself to his new staff.  Fortunately, his easy going manner and love of the outdoors provided him with all the ammunition he needed to adapt.  Because he is a plodder and a "people person," he often relies on the instincts of others, like his good buddy Frank Kuttner, the owner of a local fly shop, to help him solve crimes.

You mainly write mysteries. How do you start planning them -- do you figure out the crime and then plant the clues, or start knowing very little and figure it out as you write? Or something else?

Basically, I will get a germ of an idea from a newspaper story, or a movie, or from reading a book.  I choose an appropriate title and design a cover.  Then, I lay out the physical book, including chapter headings, font selection, etc.  Once I have all that done, it's time to get to work writing the opening chapter.  Sometimes, I have the whole story line in my head, and other times I have nothing more than the basic idea.  A lot of the "hard work" occurs in my sleep.  I'm serious!  I often awake at three or four in the morning and hurry to my desk to record the dream or idea that has come to me in my sleep.  Then, I return to bed, and resume work later in the morning after breakfast. Other times, I will simply not think about the book at all, and allow my subconscious to whir away, working out the details.  Naturally, I do a lot of research, and that's where the Internet comes in really helpful.  I write on my computer, and there is always a search window open as I write.  

Which of your novels was the biggest challenge to finish? Which was the smoothest? Why do you think that was, in each case?

I think Opening Day was the most difficult.  In it, the body of a young girl is found by Matt when he is fishing on opening day of trout season.  There is no clothing, no identification, and no hint as to the girl's identity.  At the suggestion of my wife, I then created three possible victims, all teenaged girls, and went back to a time before the murder and followed each on the path that brought her to Roscoe.  Deciding who would be the murderer and which of the three girls would be the victim presented the biggest challenge.  Apparently the end result was acceptable enough, because the book received a B.R.A.G. medallion.

The easiest was probably As the Twig is Bent, because I knew early on exactly who I wanted the killer to be, and how I wanted to present the story.  "Twig" reached the #24 best seller spot in the Kindle book store among police procedurals.

You wrote a book about taking kids fishing. Will you share one tip from that book? How about a funny story about fishing with kids (no real names please!)?

I didn't begin fishing seriously until I was about 27 years old.  Learning the sport as an adult was easy, and it never occurred to me that teaching my own children how to fish shouldn't be done on an adult level.  As a result, none of my four children (two of my own and two step children) likes to fish.  The biggest piece of advice I can give any parent or adult trying to teach a child to fish is this: "Make haste slowly."  (Actually, that's a quote from my father, who used that saying often when it applied to any new endeavor.) By that, I mean you should teach a child to fish incrementally - perhaps only fifteen minutes the first time, and gradually increasing the time as you go forward.  Don't overwhelm them with a lot of technical stuff.  Just stick a piece of bread dough on the end of a hook, add a float (bobber) and let them catch something easy like a sunfish. Early success breeds success later on.  

Probably the funniest thing that happened while fishing was one time when I took my adult older son fly fishing.  I borrowed a pair of waders from an old friend for my son to use, and when he stepped into the water he said, "Wow, Dad, this water is really cold."  I told him that he would get used to the feeling and not to worry.  After about ten minutes, we both realized why the water felt so cold: the waders were dry-rotted and were rapidly filling with water.  It probably seemed funnier to me at the time than it did to him, since he was the one who was soaked.  We both have a good laugh every time we remember that day.  

Talk about the production of audio books for your titles. How did it come to pass? How involved were you in the process?

Actually, the suggestion to make my books into audio books came from a good friend, Bobcat Walker, who is also one of the repeating characters in the Matt Davis Mystery Series.  Bob is an avid listener of audio books, and recommended that I investigate the process.  I was about as involved in the production as one can be without actually narrating the book himself.  I prepared the manuscript (along with a pronunciation guide) and auditioned dozens of potential narrators until I found the right one for each book.  Presently, I have four books available: Escaping Innocence (a coming of age novel set in the Sixties), As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day, and A "Real" Man's Guide to Divorce.  Broken Promises (my other B.R.A.G. medallion winner) and Twice Bitten are currently in production.

What are you working on now?

At present, I am writing a stand-alone thriller called Getting Even!, which is the story of a soon-to-be retired FBI special agent named Horace Whittaker and his chess match-like contest with a serial killer roaming the Interstate highway system in the southeast.  It will be published in 2015.  I also have another Matt Davis mystery started that I plan to publish in 2016.  Concurrently, I am working on a literary novel called Changes, which is the story of a man struck by lightning and the challenges he faces due to the injuries and disability he suffers as a result of the event.  I began this book about eight years ago, while vacationing in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is where the book is set.

How can readers find you on social media?

That's easy!  I have a website:  I also write a blog once a week at  I'm on Twitter @authorjoep, and I'm also on Facebook: Author Joe Perrone Jr.  I love to interact with my readers, and they can email me anytime with questions or comments at [email protected].  

Thanks so much for the interesting and challenging questions, Matt.  It's been a pleasure.

author interview -- Louise Wise says even tragic lives can be funny!

Posted by Matt Posner on May 15, 2014 at 6:05 PM

Welcoming back after a gap of roughly two years, the remarkable Louise Wise.

Note:  please go to the end of this article to read some writing by Louise that is WAY better than anything by E.L. James.

Louise, you were last featured here in June 2012. What are the highlights writing-wise since that memorable visit?

Well, from thinking I’d found my ‘niche’ in the writing world with romcoms I’ve decided to go back to writing sci-fi romance.

I enjoy writing comedy though, and I’ll continue with the current book I’m working on, but the market is saturated with other fantastic chick lit writers and it’s hard to be noticed.

I’m seeing it as a positive because it is forcing me to concentrate on one genre, and the highlight is that I wrote Eden’s sequel and it was an immediate hit with the American market.

How do you define "sensual romance"? How did you decide to start writing it?

Eden and Hunted are my ‘sensual romance’ books. I’m too sweet and innocent to write erotica, so sensual romance is the next best thing. Seriously, sex sells but I didn’t want my sci-fi romances labelled as erotic because they aren’t (more adventure than sexy!) but on the same side of the coin I wanted them hot. Sensually hot. Not sleazy hot.

Last time you were here, you promoted a book called The Fall of The Misanthrope. I don't see it at amazon US. So what's the story behind that?

That is my ‘dark’ chick lit book but the title makes you think of literary works and it wasn’t working. The same book can be found under the title Oh no, I’ve Fallen in Love!

Do you really have a pink laptop? Can we see a picture of it?

Ha! Only the outside of her is pink. She’s an old girl now and it’s beginning to tell. Can’t take a picture of her because she’s camera shy.  

Matt says:  Here's someone else's pink laptop.

You said in your guest blog that you live an hour from the bright lights of London. Where, exactly? How do you like it there?

I’m from Northampton; the same place where the late Princess Diana grew up. I was born here so it holds a lot of nostalgia, and of course, my family are nearby. We’re a close family, but I long to leave. I want to live near to the sea. Cornwall, Devon or the Isle of Wight call to me!

I've been to London three times on vacation and have always gone to the tourist spots. Where should I go next time that welcomes Yanks but is a little less crowded?

Can I let you into a secret? I hate London! I don’t mind day trips and enjoy the hustle and bustle when I’m there, but for longer than a day? Nah. Get me out of there! If I were an American looking for English heritage I would give London a miss and head straight to somewhere like the City of York or Warwickshire, and the seaside towns here are beautiful. Then there is Scotland and Ireland (love Ireland. Belfast is amazing, although that part of the world is probably not good to visit at the moment). 

What have you been reading recently?

I’m reading A Kind of Mad Courage: Short Stories About Mothers, (S)mothers & Others.

It’s a book of short stories and one of my stories is featured. I hadn’t read the other entries until now and I’m really enjoying it.

I’m also working my way through Are You Still Submitting Your Work to a Traditional Publisher? By Edward C. Patterson, which is offering some amazing tips. Most of my books aren’t available as paperbacks so I’m finding this little gem great for that.

Self-publishing has a very friendly community (where we have been interacting over the years) but can still be lonely and frustrating at times. What are your greatest sources of motivation to stick with it?

The buzz of seeing your work read keeps me going, and I’m sure that’s the same for most writers. But ‘keeps me going’ sounds like I find writing a chore. I don’t. I love creating worlds and characters.

When did you first realize you wanted to write novels? What came of your early efforts?

I was always writing stories as a child, and my first full-length novel was written between the ages of 12 and 14. I don’t think I ever finished it! It was about animals able to turn into humans and become superheroes, over 100,000 words long, and all typed on an old Olivetti typewriter in my bedroom after school. Now, that’s dedication!

What are some important influences upon your style? Upon your choices of genre to write in?

I’m a positive, glass half full type of person and see humour in ordinary things. Even tragic lives can be funny! This is where I brought alive my romcoms. I mixed humour and the everyday mundane and it’s worked beautifully.

My sci-fi romances have an element of humour (as does life) but I’m more serous with these. I love reading about strong, domineering, confident men and helpless, or rather hapless, women and so incorporated what I love reading into Eden and Hunted. Basically, I wrote what I wanted to read.

How about an interesting story from your writing life?

I was researching A Proper Charlie and needed to know what it was like to work at a busy newspaper. I did all I could online, and that’s where I saw an advert asking for office clerks at the Chronicle (local newspaper). I applied, got an interview and researched the interviewer under the cover of being interviewed for a job that I didn’t want. But no, I didn’t get the job!

You often promote authors on your Wise Words blog. How do you get your ideas for those well-written entries?

Ha! Well, once I wanted advice on marketing so I asked writers to write in with their tips. Another time I wanted to know what they felt about authors writing their own reviews (nobody admitted they did it). I’m still getting a lot of hits on that topic.

Usually, though I whiz around other people’s blogs for ideas, or see what is trending on Twitter or the chats on FB and Google +. I like to encourage writers to be themselves on the blog, but I get many people who are so sugary sweet it’s nauseating. I have regulars who write for me and I encourage them because I know their writing is good, honest and they aren’t afraid of showing the world that they aren’t perfect.

Tell us about your book on blogging.

Ah, that. I keep meaning to update it and get it properly edited. Stop Press! Author puts out book not properly edited!!! It’s basically for the beginner who is starting out with social media, and it’s written in my ‘chick lit’ style (chatty).

What would you like to say to readers to close this interview?

Buy my books. Please?


Shop for Louise's books here:






See below for Louise's biography and some excerpts from her books.


Married,with four children, Louise Wise lives in England. She is a pharmacist technician by day and a writer by night. She was educated in an ordinary state school and left without achieving much in the way of qualifications; you could say she was the result of a crap school. Hungry for knowledge she enrolled in an Adult Education centre and studied English, maths and creative writing. Whereas other young girls asked for makeup and clothes for their birthdays, she asked for encyclopaedias!

Louise Wise used her general love of romantic fiction and interest in astronomy to write her first book. The book received many rejections stating the novel was too original for the current market, until finally, an agent took the book on but subsequently failed to find a publisher for it. Instead of becoming despondent, Louise realised that becoming a published writer WAS possible. She turned her back on traditionally publishing, threw herself into the indie world, and went on to publish her first chick lit book, A Proper Charlie and then Oh no, I’ve Fallen in Love!

As for the ‘too original’ Eden, it has been such a hit that Louise has nowfollowed it up with the sequel, Hunted. So far, they are both selling well.

Louise's Links:








I risked a look at the tall man sitting beside me. His golden eyes were on the road. I took a chance to observe his ruggedly textured face and noticed a small scar on his left eyebrow, and the laughter lines that fanned out from his eyes.

My eyes slid over his dark-coloured dinner jacket; his body contoured to it as though it’d melted over him. And, no matter how hard I tried to stop myself, my eyes dropped lower still towards his groin. I brought my head up, shocked at my actions, and stared straight ahead with my hands folded in my lap.

He looked askance. ‘Have I passed?’

‘At least you’ve combed your hair.’

Lex laughed.

I watched his hands as they managed the powerful car. He really was a magnificent looking man – if you liked the arrogant feral type. I sniffed, and looked away.

The restaurant was in the heart of London, close to the London Eye. The city was alive with people, music and laughter. Both manager of the restaurant and the maître d’ were there to meet us, and reminded me how influential Lex was. He was greeted with firm handshakes, and a few courteous words about Ladwick. Lex answered politely, but kept a possessive hand firmly on the small of my back. Instead of feeling annoyed, I felt cherished. It was a nice feeling.

The maître d’ showed us to a small table for two in an alcove. A bottle of champagne on ice was waiting for us, and my place was set with a red rose lying across a side plate. The maître d’ lit the candle in the centre of the table, and then uncorked the champagne bottle with a bang. My nerves evaporated - it was obvious that Lex was trying to impress me. I almost laughed; probably would have too had I not been trying not to throw up at all the over-the-top sweetness and ickiness of it all. I watched the vapour rise from the top of the green bottle, then the maître d’ filled our glasses and finally left us alone.

‘Dear God,’ I said, as a violinist serenaded a blushing woman while her partner looked on. Lex handed me my glass of champagne.

‘Just call me Lex,’ hesaid.

I looked back at him. He honestly thought I’d be impressed? ‘Lex, be serious, are you sure about this place?’

He looked puzzled, but then winked and said with a grin, ‘It’s where I bring the ladies.’

I remembered the kissing and the female voice on the telephone and the spear of jealousy to my stomach shocked me. Keep it light, I reminded myself.

‘Your conquests,’ I said. I’d forgotten how nice champagne was as the bubbles hit the back of my throat.‘Tell me, Lex, do you win them all?’

He frowned. ‘Not all,no.’

It wasn’t the answer I was expecting. To hide my confusion I picked up the menu. It was one of those restaurants where there were only a few choice dishes with the prices absent. I put it down again.

‘How was Dublin?’ I asked.

He pushed the candle to one side and the shadows danced against the wall. ‘Irish. How was your day?’

‘Fine. How’d the plans go for another Ladwick there?’

‘Do we have to talk about business? I’ve been talking about Ladwick nonstop for four days now. I want to talk about you.’

‘Short conversation,’ I said and he chuckled.

‘How do you like the champagne?’

‘I can take it or leave it,’ I said.

‘You’re a hard lady to impress.’

‘Why’d you want to impress me? We’re having a casual dinner, that’s all.’

He stared at me a moment. ‘What if I don’t want it to be casual?’

‘I wouldn’t believe you.You’re the country’s latest famous bachelor and enjoying every moment.’ I picked up the menu, but then put it down again. ‘There’s a little Greekrestaurant around the corner. Fancy it?’

‘I thought women liked these types of places.’

I pushed back my chair. ‘Oh, you so need to be educated!’

Lex peeled off some notes and laid them on the table, and then, giggling like kids, we dashed from the restaurant. Leaving the car where it was, we walked across the road towards a sedate little taverna. It was quiet and the gentle music of Greek ancestry played. A dark-haired waitress escorted us to a small table at the rear, and gave us both a menu.

‘This is better,’ I said.

‘You always surprise me,’ Lex said. ‘I really thought you’d have liked the Coral.’

‘Did you now?’ I peeked over the top of my menu at him. ‘You don’t know me at all, Mr Kendal. You just assume you do; like you assume you understand women.’ I dropped my gaze to the words on the menu, not paying them much attention, but feeling his burning gaze on the top of my head.

‘You’re right. I’ve underestimated you. I apologise.’

I raised my eyes. His hands were clasped in front of him on the table and he was actually looking contrite. ‘I was going to wine and dine you. Impress you with my fluent French–’

‘Parlez-vous français?’

He smiled but said, ‘Oui.’

My face remained passive as I said, ‘Dites-moi quevous avez toujours été un idiot?’

He looked shocked, but then laughed. ‘Yes, I’ve always been an idiot, I guess. So you speak French too?’

‘A little,’ I said. I was smiling too, only my smile was hidden behind the menu. I didn’t want him to see me thawing – not yet. ‘So, supposing you’d impressed me by speaking French, then what?’

‘The French and champagne not enough?’

I shook my head.

‘Well, after dinner we’d have gone for a drive. It’s a nice starry evening, and what could be better than cruising along listening to Van Morrison? ’

‘You made up a CD especially, didn’t you?’

He pulled a rueful face, and I laughed.

‘So where would you have taken me on the drive?’

‘A place where we could walk along the Thames just by ourselves; it’d be beautiful watching the silver moon dance on the surface. I’d have taken your hand…’

‘Yes?’ My heart was thumping; the menu – my guard - was lowering from my face.

‘Kissed each one of your fingers, and told you how beautiful you looked.’ His honey-coloured eyes were watching me intently. ‘I’d lean in, you’d lean in and we’d kiss. Gently. Softly. You’d look shocked, maybe embarrassed, and then I’d say, let’s walk. And we’d walk along the river bank. My coat around your shoulders. We’d hold hands, you’d relax. Then, beneath the moon, I’d stop, pull you against me and kiss you again. This time you wouldn’t be embarrassed.’

I couldn’t believe this.He was doing it again!

‘Did you have lessons?’ Iasked, breathless.


‘In seduction.’

His mouth twitched. He sat back, and picked up the menu. ‘Admit it, Velvet, you were falling for it.’

Insufferable, but correct, man. He was good, I’d give him that. Playboy at his best. I’d have to stay alert. Maybe I shouldn’t drink anything alcoholic tonight. Just in case.

Ooh, they had cocktails!I love cocktails. I snatched up the cocktail menu and, yep, they had myfavourite – Fuzzy Navel.

One wouldn’t hurt.

author interview -- John Hudspith gives away Kimi's Secrets -- and some of his own

Posted by Matt Posner on May 11, 2014 at 7:50 AM

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Today I'm welcoming, for his first visit to School of the Ages, author and editor John Hudspith.

John, we've known each other for years via Facebook but for some reason haven't gotten together to do this before now. The result is that we have too many things to talk about! But let's start with some basics.

Where do you live and how do you like it there?

Thanks, Matt. I live in the UK, somewhere near the middle, hopefully far enough inland to avoid tsunamis and high enough to avoid flooding. It’s an okay place to be, but I’ve got my eye on France.

What other careers have you followed in addition to your current work as a professional editor and self-published author?

I served an apprenticeship as a carton designer for a big UK company. Cartons? You know, those things we see every day but don’t really see: intricate cartons for Easter eggs, fancy ones for perfumes, fashion accessories and so on, or easier designs like cereal boxes and pharmaceutical machine-erected cartons. Note this wasn’t the graphic design on the carton, this was the technical make-up, creating a carton that could be die-cut from one flat piece of printed card; the locks, folds, perforations, fancy windows and so on. I went on to manage that company before starting my own – then writing took over, and I figure my twenty-five year apprenticeship spent looking at the finer details  of how to make things work, and organising production schedules to maximise gain, certainly helped me understand the workings of the writing craft and how to get the best results.

How about an interesting or funny story from your writing or non-writing life?

I could tell of the time when a buddy of mine, who owned a small printing works, and always printed the local rag – it had the word `COURANT` in the title – this time the printing plates folded up and the rag’s cover was produced to read without the O R and A – that was funny.

Or the time I spent two years in bed as a child with both legs in casts. I watched the world go by, watched people, wrote stories, watched people, drew pictures, watched people. That was interesting.

Being a writer and being an editor are not roles that always go together. How did you wind up engaged in these joint enterprises?

At the beginning I was as raw as the next. I joined a peer review site and became addicted to reviewing the work of others, breaking down the elements, explaining what worked well and what didn’t and why. The review process turned out to be a  great learning tool for me. Each new review brought more understanding of the craft and its genre conventions and reader perceptions and expectations and the wonderful writerly world we live in.

After completing one such review, the happy recipient asked if I’d apply the same to the whole novel. I did, and word-of-mouth soon brought more clients. Now I spend six days a week editing, and the on the seventh day I write.

A lot of your clients sell pretty well as independent authors. What does it take to win and hold onto a bestselling client?

A happy client. Do a great edit; hone that voice well, hone that story well. A happy customer is a returning customer. Simple as that.

We're coming together today because you have a promotion on for your first children's novel, Kimi's Secret. Please introduce the book and then tell us the details for that promotion.

Kimi’s Secret is a fantasy-sci-fi mix-up with a good dollop of icky horror and some funny moments. Kimi has a deformed hand, loves pink and her animal skull collection – just a normal kid. She gets hurled into a dimension where pink is outlawed, crows rule the roost, monkeys police, and roasted dodo is the dish of the day. Oh, and there’s aliens called greylians.

Buy Kimi’s Secret on Kindle Countdown from May 9th to 15th.

Here's how to find it at your local Amazon store. Click here:



I reviewed Kimi's Secret a while back. I'm going to pull out a few lines from my review and ask you to comment on the aspects that I mentioned.


I wrote:

Kimi's Secret is one of the strangest children's fantasies I have read in a long time, consisting of an odd mix of popular culture tropes and terminology.

Did you make a conscious decision to make the book such an unusual cultural blend (mojo, tulpas, grey aliens, etc)? What was the genesis of the work in terms of its widely various elements?

Yes I did. I stuck a huge board on the wall and wrote down all those things that excited me as a kid growing up: the X-Files and the alien greys, birds – especially crows and their ilk – magic and illusion – time travel – imaginary friends and spirit projection – talking apes. Could I produce a world where all of these things existed, and then a credible story to encompass and celebrate all of those influencers from my youth?

That board on the wall grew to five boards, and staring at them was akin to staring at my production boards of the past; it was simply a process of organisation. My maxim: with words, everything is possible, you just have to keep on digging.


I wrote:

Kimi is a down-to-earth, likeable girl, with good impulses and intelligence, who has the spirit if not the characteristics of L. Frank Baum's optimistic heroines like Dorothy Gale and Betsy Bobbin.

I don't know if Baum is as much of an influence in the UK as it used to be here in the states. But were there any girl characters you were thinking of when you created Kimi?

No, I wanted Kimi to be Kimi. I gave her a deformity, and forged her persona around that and the influence from her `secret agent` parents and the place in which she lived. She really was a blank canvas waiting to evolve.  


I wrote:

The book … is sweet and kind at a time when a lot of kids' literature has turned dark.

Please comment.

I wanted to produce a story that could be enjoyed by a nine year old or a ninety year old. This meant prodding at many boundaries without overstepping. Kimi has many rave reviews from kids to adults to pensioners – it’s a fun story, but at the same time I wanted to create a tale that the adult who enjoyed it as a kid could read again and discover a whole new level of understanding.


Kimi's Secret has a sequel called Kimi's Fear. Tell us about it, and then tell us what's next?

Kimi’s Fear carries on where Kimi’s Secret left off. Not only does she find herself on trial for a crime she didn’t commit and to prove her innocence she must jump through time and space and face her greatest fear, but there’s a greylian bounty hunter on Kimi’s tail who wants her brain. This particular `what-if` brought great conflict and many writerly hours of enjoyment.

The work in progress is my literary attempt at soul-spilling, where every boundary is overstepped; a story of humankind – although they’re anything but kind. 

What would you like to say to readers to close this interview?

Reading is a craft in itself.


John, how can readers and writers connect to you through social media?

Thanks for asking, Matt, here are my links!







author interview -- child author Heather Ellis has readers all over the world!

Posted by Matt Posner on April 7, 2014 at 12:35 AM

I like to have all types of authors here at School of the Ages -- still looking for a cookbook author, by the way -- and here is a first for me -- an author of children's books who is also a child! I'm looking forward to watching this very mature and well-spoken young person grow as a writer and a person, and I also congratulate her parents for getting her such an early start in this tough business. Bravo. Now -- let's meet the charming HEATHER ELLIS.


Since you're young, I won't ask you too many questions about your personal life. But where do you live and how do you like it there?

I live in a in a small village in the countryside in Yorkshire, England.  I like it there because there are lots of beautiful fields, trees and old buildings, plenty to do near where I live.

How old were you when you decided to write and publish books? How did that get started?

When I was ten years old I was bored on a Saturday morning, when I decided to write a story called The Sugary-Sherburts. I thought nothing of it but my mum and dad thought it was amazing. So my dad worked with me to edit the story and before we knew it, it was on sale, with amazon!

How is the experience of writing with your dad? What are the things you do and the things he does?

It's good fun. I write the first draft then he prints a copy off, edits and then passes it back to me. Eventually my mum does the final read through, she is an English teacher so does this kind of marking for a living.

I'm a teacher, so I love shout-outs to teachers. Has there been a teacher who has made a difference in your life? What happened?

Cool – what do you teach? 

Englishm like your mum -- of course...

One of my teachers was called Miss Kellett, she was really supportive and nominated me for an award (which I won). She bought my book and was my favourite teacher ever!

Tell us about the illustrations and covers of your books. Where do they come from?

They come from mine and my dad’s imagination put together to images. I tell my dad what to draw and he draws them, he is good at drawing, much better than me!

You discussed that topic even more during another interview. Talk about your three books and how each of them came to be written.

The Sugary-Sherburts  (

I was 10 when I decided to write this short children’s story. This book is how writing first got started for me! When I read it to people they thought it was quite advanced for a 10 year old. They thought it was a lovely read so with my dad’s help I decided to publish it on a site called It was very popular, and I was in the newspaper and on the radio because of how young I was.

I use CreateSpace too. I'm happy with them.

  The Sugary-Sherburts and The Stone Witch (

Due to the first Sugary-Sherburts story being so popular; naturally I figured that writing another would be a great idea. The first book was downloaded on Kindle by a lot of people from around the world (countries as far away from me as America, Canada and Australia!). I would say that The Sugary-Sherburts and The Stone Witch was even more popular than the first book. I really wanted to put a witch in my first Sugary-Sherburts story but I never got chance! The Stone Witch came into the series so that I could get my witch into the story! Watch out for Ola the witch in this book, she is pure evil!

Rosie and Camilla's Candyland Adventure

Rosie and Camilla’s Candyland Adventure was a little side project that I wrote. I was looking for something to write in-between The Sugary-Sherburts books, when this book came about. It is the lesser known of the books I have written but still a fun read if you like chocolate and candy!

You have some enjoyable promotional videos on YouTube. Who put them together?

Me and my dad did the videos on a web-site called Have you heard of it? My mum actually told us about this site because she uses it for classroom teaching, you can do easy, free videos and they look amazing! You should check the site out its awesome.

Your blog is very active, with many posts. I especially like the list of things to tweet, which I shared with some grown-up writers. How do you manage to write blog posts so often? How do you get ideas?  

Thanks I’m glad you like it. I get ideas from things that I’ve done, things I’ve read, things I’ve talked about with friends and family and watched on TV. It’s a difficult one to answer because ideas just come to me. I try and do one blog post a week to keep my blog active. My blog started because I wanted to keep a journal of my writing and the books I read. It's a lot of fun.

What are some of your favourite children's books, the ones you have read often?

How much time do you have because I love reading! There are so many book influences along the way; this list below contains books which have been my favourite books at some point in my life. The list covers from when I was really young, untill now.

“Not now Bernard, David Mckee.”

“Dinosaurumpus, Tony Mitton.”

“The Gruffalo , Julia Donaldson.”

“The Twits, Roald Dahl.”

“The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins.”

At the moment I am reading a book called The Bone Dragon by Alexis Cassale.

What is your opinion of some popular teen fiction such as the Twilight Series, Hunger Games, the Divergent Series, or any others?

Well, the Twilight series is on my list of books to read! I have just finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy; the first two books are probably my favourite books ever, didn’t really get into the third book MockingJay as much.

What's next for you in the writing business?

I have started another Sugary-Sherburts kids book but I have got side tracked writing other things. I have two other short stories that I am writing as well. Who knows what I will publish next, but hopefully one of them will be released later in the year. I’m sure you will be hearing more from me this year.

Thank you very much for interviewing me! Heather. 

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author interview -- Valerie Laws is a Crime Fiction Operator

Posted by Matt Posner on March 30, 2014 at 9:30 AM

I'm glad to have for a second visit the gracious and multi-talented Valerie Laws.

It's great to have you back, Valerie. I really enjoyed the last book of yours that I read, Lydia Bennett's Blog. But your new release The Operator is in the crime fiction line, and not your first. How did you get started writing crime fiction?


Thank  you Matt, it’s great to be back. I’ve lived a life of crime [fiction] since I was about 11 and have always read crime novels voraciously! THE OPERATOR is the sequel to my first crime novel THE ROTTING SPOT, which pre-dated LYDIA BENNET’S BLOG which you kindly featured on your blog. When I began to be published and to perform my work, I concentrated on poetry, but gradually the ideas for the crime novels began to stalk me and eventually I faced the massive task of writing that many words, and having done it, I’ve just done it again. The novels have been very popular and I enjoy reading from them as much as performing my poetry at festivals and events worldwide. I like to make my crime fiction dark, but witty, and with tightly constructed plots, hopefully without plot holes - I always spot those as a reader or viewer of film or TV. Crime readers are very sophisticated and deserve to be treated with respect by writers.



This book features returning characters. Tell a little about your history of writing about them.


Yes, THE ROTTING SPOT introduced female sleuth Erica Bruce, a petite blonde homeopath who is borderline anorexic, an exercise addict, who is fiercely protective of her clients and friends. She locked horns with sexy tall dark Detective Inspector Will Bennett, (yes another Bennet but with an extra t, an Austen homage perhaps?) whose eyes are ‘too blue’ and who is also an exercise nut but sceptical of alternative therapies. There’s a powerful sexual chemistry between them but they infuriate each other. Erica uses the techniques of homeopathy (a kind of ‘profiling’ and also listening to people, getting them talking) in her crusades to find the truth behind crime or missing persons. The two of them are back in THE OPERATOR, as Erica fights to clear her client from suspicion after the first murder, when a sadistic orthopaedic surgeon is found with a crown of seven metal spikes hammered into his head. Then other surgeons start being murdered as if in bizarre parodies of their operations... Erica is basically like me, as I am now, but younger, and though I’m something of an exercise freak these days, swimming like she does, I can’t run due to long term disability (car crash years ago) so I’ve written her and Will as able to run, which I can’t anymore!


Your villain is a serial killer who murders doctors using their own specialties. I can't help remembering a favorite movie of mine, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, with Vincent Price, in which the disfigured madman kills the medical team who messed up his wife. Most people would probably think of Se7en when considering a themed serial killer. What is your favorite serial killer movie, and why?


Silence of the Lambs. My brother many years ago introduced me to the book, which is brilliantly written and plotted, and the film which came out later is also excellent. Memorable characters, great plot, great dialogue, great cast. Lecter of course is a brilliant creation. Something else I like about it is how it treats women. Too many crime novels these days, and I’m not the only one who feels this, seem to be what amounts to torture-porn, with horrible sadistic and sexual attacks on women lovingly described, the victims’ sufferings dwelt on, women seen just as victims. Thomas Harris, and the film faithfully follows, plays with this stereotype - gender is at the heart of the film, the protagonist FBI agent is female, the latest ‘victim’ of Buffalo Bill is captured by him appealing to her strength, not ‘feminine’ weakness, and she remains active and courageous, the killer is gender-confused... I too have tried to right the balance by having alpha male victims in THE OPERATOR. The media in the novel are excited about a serial killer and call him The Operator but of course it could be more complicated than a simple serial killer - or perhaps not...



You are your own woman as far as writing is concerned, but if you could have the style of another crime fiction author, which one?


There isn’t just one, I love Raymond Chandler’s style and witty dialogue, so I’d like some of him, and I’m a big fan of ‘Golden Age’ crime queens like Ngaio Marsh (wonderful writer as well as plotter) and Dorothy L Sayers, I hope I’ve learned from them too, though of course they are dated in their attitudes not surprisingly! I do try to make the language of the book vivid and sometimes poetic, as well as witty.


Not Agatha Christie, right?


Christie was the first adult novelist I read, aged 11! The beginning of my lifetime addiction to crime fiction. She’s a brilliant writer but so many of the TV and film adaptations are simplified and ‘cosified’ that we all tend to forget she’s quite dark and so clever. Like Sayers and Marsh, like any pioneer, she did a lot of things first which now might seem old hat.


Have you watched DCI Banks? My wife and I saw three storylines and really like it.


Somehow I’ve never watched DCI Banks. Perhaps I should. I make sure I don’t miss series based on the books of Ann Cleeves - she has two series on two main terrestrial channels, one is ‘Vera’ which is filmed in my native county of Northumberland, where I live, and the other has just begun a new series on BBC, ‘Shetland’, on her novels set there.  I’d recommend both series and her books are even better! However I’m also very keen on US crime series such as CSI (New York and Vegas), Bones and the classic Law & Order. 


You list "sci-art installation specialist" among your job descriptions. Please explain more about this job.


As a poet, I’m also a scientist, I have a degree in maths/theoretical physics, and I also have a great interest in biomedical science, and have spent years working with anatomists, pathologists, neuroscientists, etc, in various Writer’s Residence posts, to learn about the science of dying and the brain. I create poetry which moves and changes form to reflect its subject, and have been commissioned to produce installations, art works, which are science-themed and involve changing text. Some are electronic, some are unusual eg spray-painting poetry onto live sheep to celebrate quantum theory (that became world famous!). My most recent installation SLICING THE BRAIN is about dementia and ageing and has been exhibited all over Europe, beginning with an exhibition side by side with works by Renoir, Degas and Henry Moore! It’s on a fifty inch flat screen and the letters vanish to change the poem into a sequence on the progress of dementia. The forms of poetry I invent (the quantum haiku, the embedded haiku etc) are world firsts. There’s more about these on my website The knowledge gained in dissections, pathology museums, brain banks etc is also useful for crime fiction!



You're a mathematician/physicist. I want to know more about that, too.


 Well it’s a bit bonkers really. When I was at school I was good at virtually all academic subjects but maths was a struggle and I never really understood it. It always bothered me but a lot of maths teachers then weren’t good at communicating their subject and once you got lost, you never caught up. I did a degree in English (specialising in ancient languages) at the usual age, and eventually trained as a teacher of middle school age students (9-13 in our system). Learning to teach maths at an elementary level, I suddenly understood it from the start, and so to prove to myself I could do it, years later after becoming disabled, a parent, etc, I did another degree, I got a First Class Honours Degree in Maths and Physics after years of study. I know, it’s insane! At that level these subjects are beautiful and stirring. Maths is basically a language, but it can say things elegantly that would take books of words to say badly! Later still I did an MA in Creative Writing.


  What's up next for you?


I’ve just had very exciting news about THE OPERATOR, it’s been taken up by WHSmith for its shops in airports, stations and ferry ports, which is a huge deal for me and my publisher. I’m doing a lot of appearances and signings to publicise the book, I love that, and still doing poetry performances - I’ve a new poetry book coming out this Autumn. I’m working on the next crime novel, which will be another Bruce and Bennett book, but eventually I want to write a sequel to LYDIA BENNET’S BLOG. If only physics could find a way to make each day twice as long!



My website:

THE OPERATOR is available on Kindle in the US for $3.99 here

and in the UK for £2.97 here. It’s also in paperback from Amazon, my publisher, or from bookshops.

Follow me on Twitter: @ValerieLaws


author interview -- Mary Ann Bernal Writes Ten Centuries Apart

Posted by Matt Posner on March 26, 2014 at 5:25 PM

One of my best friends in the independent author business is Mary Ann Bernal - and she's back again with news about her recent doings.

Welcome back to School of the Ages, Mary Ann. Since you've been here before, let me ask you some questions I hope you haven't been asked before. But before I do that, tell us about your latest work so that we can celebrate it together.


Thanks for having me back, Matt.  My latest release, The Briton and the Dane:  Timeline, veers off my beaten path, in that we start off in the 21st century and travel back in time to the 11th century.  This novel is dedicated to Gwyneth and Erik - however, they are not the same Gwyneth and Erik referenced in the trilogy; they have their own story to tell.  I must admit I did feel somewhat guilty about not giving the original Gwyneth and Erik more “screen time” when I wrote their story since the supporting cast had demanded to have their tales told, and thus, one novel turned into three.  In The Briton and the Dane: Timeline, I did not “listen” to the ancillary character demands, keeping the storyline where it should be, focused on the “stars”.

 Matt says:  there's an excerpt after the interview...

There are many references to the modern era in this tale, which the reader can relate to.  It is easy to speculate as to what might have happened in an earlier time, i.e., does Erik die in his sleep or was he killed on the battlefield?  Without documentation, one can only guess.  Of course, if Gwyneth’s true lineage is discovered whilst visiting another century, she would be considered the devil’s spawn and condemned to death.  This does not stop her from trying to incorporate her wealth of knowledge into her daily existence, knowing full well the dangers time travelers faced, but most importantly, taking care not to change the timeline.   Remember the Star Trek Paradox?  Yes, I did include the premise in the story.


Reviews have been positive, and I do hope to diversify my fan base with this release.


You and I are part of a group of authors who promote each other, also including Mark Barry (Wiz Green), K. Meador, and Ngaire Victoria Elder. I came late to this informal team -- how do you think you guys found each other and wound up working together?


The group was initially set up by historical fiction and children’s author, K. Meador.  K-Trina invited quite a few authors, some of which were unknown to each other when the group was created. 


It was through Mark Barry that I met K-Trina and Ngaire.  And how did I meet Mark Barry, you ask?  I answered his Facebook post request to submit a book title to be included in Green Wizard Publishing’s Catalogue and Indielit Scrapbook.  The rest, as the saying goes, is history.


While social media promos do more for visibility than for actual sales, being part of groups does have its advantages.  If it were not for the internet, interacting with friends in the UK, Spain and many European countries would have been impossible - think about it - what are the odds?


The support given by members of our group is priceless, and I cherish the friendships.



Your series is called The Briton and the Dane. Leaving out characters you have written about, who in history is your favorite and least favorite Briton, and your favorite and least favorite Dane?


My favorite “Briton” is the erroneously maligned Richard III whose reputation had been tarnished by the usurper, Henry Tudor (Henry VII).


My least favorite “Briton” is Thomas, Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby, whose treachery at the Battle of Bosworth cost Richard III his crown and his life.


Yes, in addition to being an Anglophile, I am also a Yorkist.


My favorite “Dane” is Cnut the Great who was King of Denmark, England, Norway and Sweden.  Rather than use force, he united the Danes and Englishmen (Anglo-Saxons) with cultural enticements (e.g. keeping local customs, acquiring wealth).


My lease favorite “Dane” is Harald Hardrada whose untimely invasion of England was the catalyst, which ended the Anglo-Saxon era.


When I was a child, I encountered subject matter somewhat similar to yours when I read Mary Stewart's books about Merlin and Arthur. Do you have any reflections upon this hugely popular author?


Mary Stewart is a role model for aspiring female authors, in my humble opinion.  Her gender did not stop her from becoming one of Britain’s best-selling authors, and her novels continue to spark the imaginations of today’s youth.  I read most of her books, but my favorite is The Last Enchantment.


What would you look for if you could fly a glider above the Battle of Hastings?


Finding Harold’s line that was retreating in confusion, and another break in the line later in the day, which allowed the Normans to fight their way into the Saxon position at the top of the hill.  If Harold’s men had held their ground, the results might have been different.  I’ve included a map for easy reference.


Final words to close this interview?


In today’s age, history is not in the forefront of favorite topics.  My stories incorporate current issues, such as the plight of the military family when their loved one is deployed.  I hope to instill some insight into the past, bringing to life people who lived in a long ago time, people who experienced the same emotions we experience today.  Hopefully, one day, society will learn from its mistakes.


Thanks so much for having me, Matt.  It’s been fun.

Brief Bio

Mary Ann Bernal, author of TheBriton and the Dane novels, is an avid history buff whose area of interestfocuses on Ninth Century Anglo-Saxon Britain during the Viking Age.  While pursuing a degree in businessadministration, she managed to fit creative writing classes and workshops intoher busy schedule to learn the craft, but it would take decades before her“Erik the Viking” novel was ultimately published.

Mary Ann is also a passionate supporter of the United Statesmilitary, having been involved with letter writing campaigns and other supportprograms since Operation Desert Storm. She has appeared on The Morning Blendtelevision show hosted by KMTV, the CBS television affiliate in Omaha, andwas interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald for her volunteer work.  She has also been a featured author onTriangle Variety Radio, The Phil Naessens Show, and The Writers Showcase, andhas been interviewed extensively by American and European bloggers.

Mary Ann is a New York “expat,” and currently resides in Omaha,Nebraska.






(You'll find all of my tweets here -- Mary Ann Retweets 'em all... -- Matt)




The Briton and the Dane: Timeline at Amazon UK


youtube trailer for The Briton and the Dane:  Timeline


The Briton and the Dane: Timeline  - excerpt


“It’s done, I leave for Wareham at the end of the week.  Another reenactment, Alfred the Great and the Danish Vikings, when Lord Richard commanded the citadel!” Gwyneth exclaimed.

“I didn’t think there were any of those reenactment groups left.”

“There are a few, but finding these reenactors was quite by accident.  I still can’t believe it’s happening.”

“How long will you be away?”Malcolm asked, calendar in hand.

“Just the weekend; I’ll be back early Sunday afternoon. I haven’t forgotten about the reception and convincing Viscount Beaumont to fund another year excavating the ruins; that is, unless you could speak to him?”

“Just how long is this event?”

“Two weeks.”

Malcolm watched Gwyneth intently, but their eyes locked for a brief moment, when the truth of unspoken feelings was revealed, acknowledged, then veiled within the recesses of two souls.  Gwyneth averted his gaze as she stood up from her desk, the flickering lights creating eerie shadows.  The seconds were a welcome respite from facing the inevitable.

Gwyneth fumbled through the drawers, searching for a flashlight, her shaking hands barely discernible as she groped for the familiar torch.  She wrapped her fingers around the precious light source and was relieved when the ceiling lights finally stopped fluttering.

Malcolm was also unnerved, his vulnerability exposed for a split second. He coughed, his eyes upon the floor while waiting for the moment to pass.  He concentrated on his work, his profession, and the reason for his visit.

“Take the two weeks,” Malcolm said.  “I’ll deal with Beaumont.”

“Oh, Malcolm, really?  Thank you. I will make this up to you, I promise,” Gwyneth beamed, hugging him briefly before stepping back, somewhat embarrassed.  “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”

“Gwyneth, I don’t mind, really, but now that this matter is resolved, I would discuss the reason for my visit.  I am pleased to inform you that you are now officially tenured, and I will be putting your name forward as head of the department.”

“That is your job; are you leaving?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Malcolm, stop being so secretive.  Tell me, I cannot bear thesuspense.”

“You are talking to the deputy vice chancellor, but you must not say a word until the appointment has been announced.”

In her excitement, Gwyneth embraced Malcolm, kissing him on his cheek, but this time he held her tightly, kissing her lips as the lights flickered unsteadily, plunging them into darkness.


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announcement: a new short fiction collection by London's Maria Savva

Posted by Matt Posner on March 24, 2014 at 5:55 PM

What a pleasure to hear from Maria Savva, who has a new book of short stories called Far Away in Time. That's a place (time?) I'd rather live than these times, for sure, especially in days of corporatized education reform....

Here is a brief Q&A with this busy London lawyer...

You have published many collections of short fiction -- what draws you to a form that isn't so widely read these days?

I read a lot of short stories as well as writing them. I love short stories. I think they're becoming more popular these days. Amazon have launched Kindle Singles and a large company like that wouldn't have jumped on the bandwagon for no good reason. People have less time for reading these days, our lives are busier than ever, and I believe that short stories are going to get even more popular for that very reason. With short stories you get a quick fix for your fiction addiction. 

The reason I write more short stories is because I constantly have ideas buzzing around in my head and have to get them down on paper. I work full-time, so don't have enough time to sit down and really concentrate on a novel at the moment. Short stories help me to keep the creativity alive. I also love the short story form as an art form. It's a completely different process from writing a novel. 

I know that readers tend to see short stories as a second class citizen when compared to novels, but it's up to us writers to show them that is not the case. I have had many of my readers tell me that they wouldn't usually choose to read short stories but after reading mine they are now reading others. 

All I can say is, if people aren't reading short stories they're missing out on lots of great fiction. Some of my favourite reads are short stories. For example, stories by Jay Finn, James Everington, Justin Bogdanovich, Darcia Helle, Jason McIntyre, J. Michael Radcliffe to name but a few... 

Explain the importance of the title Far Away in Time.

Far Away In Time is the title of a two-part short story in the collection. It was originally just one story, but the character, Mr Silverfrost, inspired me so much, I ended up writing a part 2. Many of my readers have said they want to see more stories or a novel with Mr Silverfrost as the main character. I'd love to find time to do that. 

The title came to me as I was wondering what to call the story. It's a fantasy and involves the main character Angie, meeting up with Mr Silverfrost, an old man she'd known when she was a child. It was a long time ago, so the title Far Away In Time came to me when I was juggling different ideas in my head. Then I realised that the title could have been inspired by the song Echo Beach, by Martha and the Muffins, a song I've always loved. I already had a story called The Beach and a story called 'Echoes of her Dreams' in the collection, so after coming up with the title and realising the link with that song, I decided to go through the book and add some more links to the song. I changed some characters' names e.g. I now have a Martha in the book, and changed the job of one of my characters to 'office clerk' as in the song. Readers will find some other links in there too.

What makes this story collection different from the others?

Maybe the links to Echo Beach. Also, it's full of stories of different genres. There is a fantasy, a mystery/paranormal, a couple of dark fiction tales... all the stories are different. 'A mixed bag' one reviewer said.


What's next for you?

I have a few things that I am working on at the moment:

1. Perspectives, a collection of short stories written by myself and Darcia Helle, inspired by photographs by the photographer Martin David Porter, will be published soon.

2. I am about to start work on a second collection of short stories, again collaborating with Darcia Helle, and this time two other writers. We'll be writing stories inspired by photos again. 

3. I'm editing my novel A Time to Tell for a second edition, planning to release that this year.

4. I am working on a sixth novel, a fantasy.

Tell my readers something they don't know about life in London.

That's a difficult one, because London is quite a well-known city and many people already know lots about it. 

One tip would be, if you are waiting for a bus for a while and it finally comes but is full of passengers and you won't be able to get a seat, don't be tempted to get on the bus. There'll be another one, or possibly two along any minute and they will be empty. Buses do actually come along in threes in London, it's not just a saying.

Also, London, at least North London where I live has foxes who often wander along the street, and on the odd occasion you can spot one. 

Well,  Maria -- after all that, I think it's a great time for you to tell us about your book!

Thanks, Matt -- here goes!

 About Far Away in Time...

Our lives are a series of stories, and we are the characters with the starring roles. The memories, regrets, secrets, and struggles that fill these pages are at once unique and relatable. These stories belong to us all.


Eight unforgettable tales reaching out to a place Far Away In Time...

 Watch the book trailer!

Shop for it...

Available on Amazon Kindle:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

 Amazon Canada

Amazon Australia

Also available at all other Amazon stores.

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Maria Savva lives and works in London. She studied Law atMiddlesex University and The College of Law. She is a lawyer, although notcurrently practising law. She writes novels and short stories in differentgenres, including drama, psychological thriller, and family saga. Many of her books and stories are inspired by her years working as a lawyer, although she has not written a courtroom drama to date. She has published five novels, the most recent of which is Haunted, a crime fiction/psychological thriller. Far Away In Time is her sixth collection of short stories. You can find out more about herwork at her official website:

author interview: novelist and lawyer Harper J. Dimmermann says change is the only constant

Posted by Matt Posner on March 17, 2014 at 5:05 PM

Today's interviewee hails from one of my favorite nearby cities to travel to, home of a lot of amazing history, a lot of cool writers, and a pretty scary St. Patrick's Day Parade...  Here is Philadelphia's own Harper J. Dimmermann.  

You have deep ties to the city of Philadelphia, so let's start there. What makes Philadelphia the vibrant and complex city it is known to be?


That’s right…I pretty much grew up here and my folks are actually still here. The city’s changed a lot since I was a kid: tons of gentrification, hip restaurants, bars…that sort thing. And of course we also have the history, which gives the city a real interesting vibe.


What makes Philadelphia such a great place for the action of a novel to take place?


Aside from all the usual intrigue that sort of goes along with urban life, more importantly for me at least, is the fact that I know this city. I think writing what you know is generally a good idea. It sort of helps me to relax and focus on the other parts of the novel, authentic characters, meaningful dialogue, etc.



What would you recommend people visiting Philadelphia do to get the atmosphere of the city (besides the usual tourist attractions)?


That’s a good question because I’m sort of sucker for touristy stuff. I would probably say the art museum. Maybe for some that’s touristy too but for me, it’s sort of this gem up on the parkway, easily rivaling some of the greatest museums in the world yet without all the hype. It’s highly accessible and sometime you almost feel like you’re the only one there.


I love the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the best in the U.S. A few years ago my wife and I saw the exhibit of Dale Chihuly there:  one of the most visually exciting exhibits I can recall.

Now let's talk about your legal career and about the idea of a lawyer as a novelist.




You are very successful as a lawyer.


You’re too kind (I’m blushing).

How did your training in law help you to get better at writing?


Let’s start with the obvious. I went into law because I didn’t have a clue about what I wanted to do with my life. I always liked to write and law school, in a masochistic way I guess, felt to me like a logical extension of my experience at Vassar undergrad, as an English lit major. I’ve been writing novels for the majority of the time I’ve been practicing and for me, there are perhaps distinct benefits. The first goes back to what I said before about writing what you know. By writing law or employing lawyers for characters (pretty natural, huh?), that sort of takes care of other givens in my book, freeing me up to concentrate on the subject of conversation or the deeper character traits. The second goes to writing I suppose, just as a means of communicating. In law, there’s this expectation that good legal writing is clear and persuasive. I suppose writing this way in a novel can be a good thing too…Sometimes I kick myself, when I feel like I’m not doing that.


How did your courtroom experience influence the way you write fiction?


This is a tough one for me. I’m not a criminal lawyer, which in my mind could easily make this whole process a lot easier for me. All that grit and violence every day could translate well for a novelist on the come. For me, it helps to get things right technically I guess; but admittedly, most of the action in the Hunter Gray series takes place outside the courtroom. The novel I’m finishing now is a dark comedy of all things and doesn’t even involve law. It’s been pretty surreal writing this one.


John Grisham is the obvious example of a lawyer who turned out to be a hell of a novelist. Reflect upon the man and his career in any way you like.


I’ve read Mr. Grisham before and obviously have a lot of respect for him and anyone else who can hit that level of mainstream success; he also strikes me as a humble person, which makes sense to me at this time in my life.


How can you balance your demanding legal career with your new endeavors as a novelist?


I’m a big proponent of doing a little every day and staying the course. I only write a couple pages a day, which at times seems at complete odds with my tendency to lack patience. However, just doing something, anything, can certainly add up over months, years, etc. Repetition and discipline can be really counter-intuitive ideas.


Now let's talk about you as a writer

What is your philosophy of storytelling? Of characterization?

I’m still not so sure whether I even am a natural storyteller, or a worthy one for that matter. I usually start with a simple idea, something that intrigues me enough to devote a year of my life to it and put together the cast, the characters who will occupy this world. I ask a slew of questions such as: Does that character make sense? Do I need that person? Why are they involved? After that I usually start to outline very briefly and then I start to write. After I write for a few weeks, I usually delete everything and start again, with the insights from those first few weeks. Eventually, constantly re-writing as I write, I make it through that coveted first draft. On the one I’m doing now, I pretty much scrapped three previous drafts, which was pretty painful as you might imagine.


What do you think makes a great mystery? A great thriller?


Really good question Matt… I suppose it has to do with keeping the reader guessing without making them feel impotent. That of course can lead to apathy and disinterest. It has something to do then with empowering the reader while disempowering them at the same time and a mutual forgiveness achieved by the end -- enough to get over the inevitable anticlimax.


Describe your books, both the one currently available and the ones that are coming.


The first, which I shelved, was a spy thriller set in Tokyo of all places. The next three sort of go together in a series, and involve this cat Hunter Gray, a pretty cerebral lawyer who keeps finding himself in a bunch of precarious situations. JUSTICE HUNTER was the one I self-published which helped me land an agent. The next two in the series are done and I guess all three are still looking for a publishing home. Finally, this one I’m finishing now is a dark comedy, about this guy who’s dying of cancer…I’ve started the next one too, which has lawyers for characters but will be something of a supernatural thriller.


What writers of any era do you believe have helped you to understand the direction you want to go as a novelist?


I have to admit that every day I feel more confused about the answer to that question. For me, it’s just about completing a novel in a way that makes sense to me at the time. Yet as with everything, change is only real constant in life and frankly my interests and desires evolve the same way; these factors impact my voice (or at least it seems that way up close). Right now, I’d have to say that Russian novelists, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky for instance, are highly educational in terms of the characters and dialogue. That’s gotta be rubbing off on me.


What is your strategy for finding readers and promoting sales of your books?


I’m a big proponent of twitter and self-publishing. For me, doing those two things has made a huge difference. It can be a bit lonely though at times (part of it seems so impersonal and even sterile) so right now I admit I’m craving more of a traditional experience: hooking up with the right agent, editor, publisher, that sort of thing.  



Tell a funny story from your life if you have one.


Does the fact that I have to think about this say something about me, i.e. Harper’s not a very funny guy? I actually can’t think of anything right now, but I’m in the mood to make some of those memories. I’m almost through a very dark time in my life…


What would you like to say to readers to close the interview?


Just thank you for reading and for your support.



Posted by Matt Posner on March 10, 2014 at 4:20 PM

These ideas about education need to be in the public discourse.

Here they are, from me.


The primary responsibility for a child's education lies with the parent's ability to make the child care about education. A motivated child will prosper even with a below-average teacher. Children don't do well in school these days mainly because they don't value school but see it as an obstacle to their pleasure in life.


While there are some poorly-performing teachers, they are a very small minority, probably a smaller number than the number of poorly-performing people in the general workforce.


Economics are an undeniable factor in school performance. To make kids better at school, improve the economy. Improve the nationwide standard of living; get people out of poverty. When parents are home at night and kids have food and clothes and don't have to get jobs, school performance will improve.


It is not necessary for education to be standardized, with every child being taught the same way. Every child should have a variety of teachers with different approaches and personalities, which is reflective of the variable and even chaotic experience the child will have out of school. As long as every teacher has skills and is not a bumbling incompetent, it should work out on the average.


Independent thinking and reasoning skills are necessary, but kids who care about their education will develop them by osmosis not only by seeing teachers demonstrate them, but by seeing THEIR PARENTS demonstrate them.


Children don't learn in terms of discrete packets, but in wildly varied ways. A child may not grasp something until years after it is taught, or may get it only after failing a test. Some children can't test well. Using testing as the dominant determination of student learning is an abomination for students. Using it to measure teachers' job performance is a cynical gimmick.


The standard classroom arrangement, with desks in rows and the teacher delivering content or giving silent work, is preferred by most students and works better. When assigned to learn on their own in groups, most students shut down or goof off. There are classrooms with kids who do better in that scenario and are lively, but they are unusual. You can't expect such peak classroom performances to become the norm.


The goal of educating students should not be to prepare them for corporate and office jobs. Not everyone belongs in that sort of job. In the present system, we are trying to train them to do analytical reasoning at a complex level, but not teaching them practical skills like cooking, typing, or balancing a checkbook.


It should not be necessary to go to college in order to get ready for a job. College is for people who are good at more complex learning tasks. People who aren't at ease performing such tasks should receive another sort of career professional training. Somewhere down the line, politicians or the media have confused two ideas. One, the correct one, is that college should be open to everyone, meaning that it shouldn't be closed to lower classes, minorities, or women. The other, the incorrect one, is that because college graduates make more money, everyone must be a college graduate. That isn't necessary! All you need is to have training schools for jobs that also make more money. The liberal arts curriculum is a waste of time for people whose personalities aren't suited to absorbing it. In present conditions, colleges are turning out large numbers of unemployable graduates. The job market can't accommodate a situation in which all Americans have college degrees and expect office jobs. That's ridiculous.


Teachers should have secure jobs because when their jobs are threatened, they don't perform well. Teachers should have secure jobs because they undergo large amounts of training and preparation for a moderate- to low-paying profession and are subject to the vagaries of chance in terms of the classroom. Teachers should have secure jobs because on the whole, excepting a few villains, they care about children and do extra to care for them. It's a profession that serves society and that has the potential for inherent nobility.


Detailed lesson plans are just paperwork. Some teachers need more detail than others, depending upon how their minds work. It also varies from lesson to lesson, day to day, class to class. The focus on lesson plans and unit plans and other such stuff is really about accountability, which is a corporate concept. It doesn't make sense in education.