An Interview with Author Chris Jane

I read The Year of Dan Palace by Chris Jane recently and was really impressed by the quality of the writing and the originality of the story. My review is on this page if you missed it and there are some excellent reviews of the novel at Amazon.com.

I was delighted when Chris Jane agreed to answer some questions about The Year of Dan Palace.

Why did you write The Year of Dan Palace?

As little kids riding in the back seat of my dad’s car, my sister and I would hold our breath every time we passed a cemetery. To let it out before the last headstone was in the rearview mirror was bad luck (death, most likely). I held onto that superstition until I moved into a little house directly across the street from a cemetery.

Before moving in and waking up every day to headstones glowing in morning sunlight, jutting out of a low fog, or capped in snow, I was still a little like the child in the car who’d thought death unacknowledged didn’t exist. I was also like any number of people who know they’ll die, sure, but they don’t believe they’ll die. You can tell they don’t believe it because they drive drunk, text while driving, or wear dark clothing at night while walking alongside a busy road. Like them, I believed, “Death is something that happens to other people, not to me.”

But while living across the street from the cemetery, I’d watch as, every other day or so, this little yellow backhoe trudged along the path, stopped near this or that vacant patch of grass, dug a hole, and drove away. The mourners would come, stand around the raised casket that had been positioned over the hole, and then, when the service had ended and the body had been lowered into the ground,  make their way to their cars. After the last car had driven away, that slow, yellow backhoe would chug back over to dump scoop after scoop of dirt on top of the casket until the hole was filled.

It was a very reliable routine. It pounded into to me, “Someday, no matter what you do, this will be you. This will be you. This will be you.”

I started thinking about life, and about how much of it isn’t lived. A cliché idea, that life should be lived to the fullest, but usually just that – an idea. But why? Why don’t more people break routine, escape a moderately satisfying but in no way gratifying position of security, to do what they want to do, live the life they want to live? And if they did, how would that affect the people closest to them?

The Year of Dan Palace answers those questions. For Dan, anyway.

What kind of reader would enjoy The Year of Dan Palace?

I’d like to think almost any kind of reader would enjoy The Year of Dan Palace. But the reader I’m almost positive won’t enjoy it is the one who, upon reading in the synopsis that a man delivers a doomsday prediction, 1) assumes there will hard-hitting action, guns, possibly some torn shirts revealing heaving cleavage, and buildings exploding in clouds of fire and brick dust, and who 2) does not like having his or her expectations not met.

How did you develop your characters?

In the case of this book, backward. I’d always known what I wanted their relationships with one another to be, but it took a few revisions to figure out who they were and why their relationships were what they were. The process led with behavior and ended with motivation.

What has been the biggest influence on your career as a writer?

Other jobs. Not writing creatively and becoming unmanageably irritable. But more than that, having a spouse who is loving and generous and who has twice given me permission to quit my day job – once as a cab driver, and recently as a daily newspaper’s feature writer – so that I can stay home and write. And mow the lawn and shovel and weed and grocery shop. I try to earn my keep.

If you don't mind answering - Are you working on any new writing at the moment?

I am, as of today. Until today, I’d been occupied with putting together sets of questions for “5 On,” an interview series on Jane Friedman’s website (the series asks writers and others in the publishing industry to answer five questions about writing, and five about anything having to do with the business of publishing - as entertaining as it is educational).

Now that I’m ahead of schedule, there’s time to play with a vague outline that’s been sitting around on a piece of paper for about a year. The only hold will be choosing names. I thought I’d have the villain’s (for lack of a better word) taken care of this morning when I saw a man in Starbucks I don’t like based on overheard conversations, but I forgot to ask his name on my way out. I might go back tomorrow. He’s there every day.

****

Thank you so much Chris for taking the time to answer my questions and hope to hear more about the man with no name soon.

Details of all Chris Jane's books are at Amazon and the author's website.



The Departure: a short story by Chris Jane

I read a novel by Chris Jane a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed reading it so much I immediately looked for something else by this author.

The Departure is available in Kindle Unlimited so I opted for that. It's a short story which starts where the film of The Graduate finishes. If you've ever wondered what happened next, this version gives a good idea; and it creates considerably more sympathy for Mrs Robinson than the original film.

The story is very well written and evolves the character of Benjamin from the point where he crashes out of the wedding through the next twenty four hours to a rather different ending than the film implies.

Chris Jane writes with a wonderful clarity and precision and this is demonstrated again in this short story. The author has recently published a collection of twenty short stories which I've downloaded already and am looking forward to reading.

You can find details of all books by Chris Jane at Amazon and the author's website.

Reviews Revisited: The Government's Top Salesman Tells All… by John Problem

One of the best things about ebooks is that once published they just stay there waiting for you, the reader, to find them.

I was having a browse around the Kindle Store the other day and The Government's Top Salesman Tells All… by John Problem came up in the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" section. I think this part of each book page on Amazon is fascinating especially when it throws up some strangely contrasting titles. Anyway I remembered that The Government's Top Salesman Tells All... is a very amusing and entertaining read and as we are all getting ramped up with General Election fever it seemed timely to give my book review a re-visit.

When I initially discovered The Government's Top Salesman Tells All... I was on the lookout for a free download and it was the blurb that caught my attention and made me decide to read the sample on the Amazon site.

As soon as I started reading I was engaged by the hero of the nation, Jason Bryggs. I thought he was going to be just another city slicker looking to make a killing for himself (which he is) but the cleverness of this piece of writing is that you like Jason, sympathise with him and want things to work out.

Author John Problem has a healthily irreverent attitude to the government and a very funny way of writing about "The Prime Minister and Nick". The opening of the book explains what Jason Bryggs' new job is. So, I'm giving away no secrets by telling you that it is to sell off whatever national assets he can in order to reduce the National Debt.

And Jason sets about his task with gusto as there's no shortage of rich buyers out there looking for the chance to buy Britain's heritage. The plot derives considerable plausibility from the big sell-off by the Thatcher government in the 1980s of British oil, gas, electricity, telephones, water companies, coal and steel. And, of course, the recent disastrous sell-off of Royal Mail means it's not such a big step to what Jason Bryggs is commissioned to do in the book.

Some of the characters are a bit far-fetched but usually very amusing; at times this book is laugh aloud funny. The writing style is sharp and pithy and moves along at a cracking pace. I read it in a couple of sittings and thoroughly enjoyed it. Light hearted and entertaining but with overtones of seriousness, The Government's Top Salesman Tells All… is well worth a look.

There are details of all John Problem's books on his Amazon author page. The Government's Top Salesman Tells All… isn't free now but you can borrow it with a Kindle Unlimited subscription if you've got one.

The Year of Dan Palace by Chris Jane

When I read the beginning of The Year of Dan Palace I felt sure I was onto a fantastic book and this has proved to be the case.

From the powerful emotion of the break-up of Dan and Nina's relationship in the opening pages to the completely unexpected ending, this book really is amazing. 

It's a story about the complex relationships the main character, Dan Palace, has with three women: Nina, his current partner; April his ex-wife; and Jenny, a young woman he meets as the story evolves. 

But it's also the story of a mid-life crisis triggered by the impending end-of-the-world (as Dan sees it) and a belated young adult road trip.

Dan is prompted out of the predictability of his mundanely successful life by the idea that a comet is going to end the world. He consequently decides to leave Nina and to try and make amends with April. In the process he hooks up with Jenny and her boyfriend, Andy, which results in a sequence of unexpected consequences.

The storyline moves rapidly from one eventful day to the next and the reader is soon immersed in the everyday trivia of Dan's existence and his attempts to change his life. At times the plot is surreal and bizarre creating for the reader a sense of the mental turmoil Dan is experiencing.

One of the great strengths of the book is the attention to detail. This is not a book for a quick read despite the ever changing plot. It's a book to savour and enjoy the beautiful clarity of the writing. The book's other strength is the excellent characterisation. These people are so real even though their behaviour is, at times, very peculiar.

I thought The Year of Dan Palace was stunningly good and I recommend it highly. Author Chris Jane has written other books which I shall definitely be reading as soon as time allows. You can get details of The Year of Dan Palace at the Amazon Kindle Store or the Author's Website.

Counterphobia: A Collection of Horror by William Hage

I read Porcelain, a horror story by William Hage, the other day and immediately downloaded the collection of which it is a part. 

Counterphobia is a set of seven horror short stories which further demonstrates William Hage's ability to create suspense and write scary stories.

There is a good mix of content in this collection from the macabre and bizarre in Welcome Home to the seriously creepy in Chuckles the Clown.

I particularly liked No One Lives Forever, where the ending is not at all what it seems it's going to be, and The Shape, definitely the scariest story in the collection. I wasn't so keen on The Lake and The Sinkhole which both feature a terrifying creature for the horror aspect of the stories but I liked the writing style which created a good sense of the mundane and routine aspects of life as the setting for each story. And I read Porcelain again and enjoyed it as much as on the first reading.

What I liked in every story was the writer's scene setting and character introduction which created a plausible backdrop for the fantastical events that ensue.

Counterphobia is a good title for the collection. To quote from the book description: The pursuit of situations and instances in direct relation to an individual's fear for the purpose of overcoming this fear, or to find pleasure or excitement in it. Symptoms of counterphobia while subjecting oneself to these fears can include trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, and even panic attacks. You were warned.

Each story explores a different phobia which is identified as a subtitle. I've learnt some new words, for example, Thanatophobia and Limnophobia. It's worth reading the story and trying to work out the phobia before looking it up if you're unfamiliar with the term.

A really enjoyable collection which, with the exception of The Shape, is scary but not too scary.

Check out William Hage's website and Amazon Author Page for details of Counterphobia and other books.





Reviews Reviewed: FAG by Jonathan Hill


One of the best new books I read and reviewed in 2014 was FAG, the debut novel from accomplished short story writer, Jonathan Hill.

My review is here if you missed it.

The novel is set in Brierley's Boarding School in the 1930s where, to quote from the book description: a new term opens with appalling tragedy, the repercussions of which lead to devastating consequences. The headmaster, who will stop at nothing to cover up the incident, fights for the reputation of Brierley's, while several of the school's inhabitants are left fighting for their lives.

I read the novel soon after publication and was pleased to post a five star review on Amazon the next day. Several months later FAG has acquired seventeen mostly five star Amazon reviews which include such accolades as:

"Searingly powerful"

"Thoroughly compelling"

"Impressive and dramatic"

"Important, challenging"

"Magnificent"

"A gripping page turner".

The title of the book has proved controversial. The juxtaposition of the word "fag" in its traditional, English Public School usage with its latter day homophobic insult is one of the complex, strengths of the book. However Amazon (in many ways rightly) includes the word on its proscribed list and won't accept reviews that reference "fag" in any way.

There are some interesting reviews of FAG at Goodreads as well.

If you haven't read FAG yet I recommend it highly. It's highly-readable, good quality literary fiction; a fascinating story which explores issues that are as relevant today as the time in which the novel is set.

More details of FAG and Jonathan Hill's other books on his Amazon Author page or website.

BLOGS ROUND-UP

It's ages since I've had time to go blog visiting but I've been catching up today and what a treasure trove I've been reading.

First up is a new blog I've found from the creator of Coco Pinchard, Robert Bryndza. He's got a great series called Coco Pinchard Meets and the one that caught my eye was an interview with one of my favourite indie authors, Jonathan Hill. Some entertaining and informative Q&As and you get tea and cakes too.

Jonathan Hill's got a Happy New Year Authors' Resolutions piece from himself and several guest authors plus a word on the ubiquitous apostrophe.

To finish off 2014, Wendy Percival added a lovely story about her mum's 1948 Christmas at Family History Secrets.

The amazing Saskia Tepe is sending New Year Greetings from Australia in her new blog Saskia and Richard's RVing Adventures. She wrote a final poignant post on her Surviving Brigitte's Secrets: A Holocaust Survivor. Her Daughter.Two Traumatic Journeys Blog which if you've read her book you will really want to read. It's four months now since I read Surviving Brigitte's Secrets and I still think about it. A truly wonderful memoir.

If you're interested in the post WW2 era you might like this blogpost by my number one favourite indie author, Michael Murray: An Extraordinary Account of Resilience and Courage , a review of “Colourful Characters in a Bleak Landscape” by Giselle Birke.

There's an eclectic mix of posts at Iridescent Publishing's website but if you scroll down a few entries there's a very amusing apostrophe post.

Celtic Cousins' Adventures author Julia Hughes has news of Inspector Crombie and some up-dates on the Griffins at http://www.juliahughes.co.uk .

Jenny Worstall is linking to a book review of Thrift: The Misadventures of an Inadequate Teacher by Phil Church that she's written as a guest post on another blog at https://jennyworstall.wordpress.com/ .

And finally, if you like infographics check out Lizzie Lamb's Annual Wordpress Report. I want one too!

My December Indie Reads


Click a link to read my blogpost.





Porcelain: A Novelette by William Hage

Porcelain is a horror novelette by William Hage in which an antique doll acquired by the narrator turns out to have some unexpected characteristics.

The book doesn't take long to read but long enough to make shivers go down your spine. The initial setting is an out-of-the-way B & B somewhat reminiscent of The Bates Motel in Psycho. The owner of The Whateley Bed and Breakfast is an elderly woman who seems pleasant enough on first meeting. However her motivation for agreeing to sell her beautifully crafted doll is much more sinister than at first apparent.

The story is well written, quite scary and completely plausible but I'll say no more about the plot not wishing to give anything away.

Although available separately, Porcelain is part of a collection of horror short stories, Counterphobia. I don't list horror stories as a genre I usually enjoy reading but I enjoyed Porcelain so much I downloaded Counterphobia straightaway and read it in one go.

I have a subscription to kindle unlimited and have read several blogposts recently (notably Mark Coker at Smashwords) expressing reservations about the concept. As a reader I'm finding that the subscription really facilitates reading new authors and new genres. Both Porcelain and Counterphobia are available in kindle unlimited and I suspect I wouldn't have read either of them otherwise.

Check out William Hage's website and Amazon Author Page for details of these and his other books and look out for my review of Counterphobia.





A Ripple in Time (Celtic Cousins' Adventures Book 2) by Julia Hughes

The first Celtic Cousins novel is A Raucous Time which I enjoyed reading several weeks ago. It introduces the two cousins of the series title, Rhyllann and Wren, who adventure through a sequence of escapades and an on/off relationship with the taciturn but kindly Detective Inspector Crombie. I liked these three main characters and wanted to read more about them so was looking forward to reading the second book in the series  A Ripple in Time.

Wren has made an uncanny psychic connection with Carina, a young woman emigrating to America one hundred years ago and consequently averts the Titanic's tragedy. This single ripple in time sparks a fire domino effect - an inferno that in the present day threatens to incinerate Europe. Determined to restore our world's timeline Wren tracks down Carina's great-granddaughter and they join forces for this seemingly impossible task. But then Wren makes a fatal mistake: he falls in love and if the Titanic suffers her original fate, the granddaughter will cease to exist.

It's true to say that A Ripple in Time wasn't quite what I was expecting. D.I. Crombie doesn't really feature at all other than through a couple of tangential references and the paranormal aspects of this novel are developed much more than in the first volume. However, I enjoyed reading the book and still found the characters of Rhyllann and Wren engaging and interesting. Author Julia Hughes has introduced a new main character, a young woman named Carrie, who is central to the storyline and proves to be the catalyst for much of the drama in the plot. There are some great supporting characters especially the dictatorial Gabriel and Carrie's eccentric Grandmother.

There are some good passages of descriptive writing which give the novel its sense of time and place and this is really important because the structure of the novel is extraordinary. The book description says that A Ripple in Time is "a paranormal time travel romantic adventure".

Paranormal
Time Travel
Romance
Adventure
to which I would add
Historical
Dystopian
Mystery
and
Mythical.

Is it possible to write a paranormal, romantic, historical, dystopian, mythical, mystery adventure novel? Yes, it most certainly is if you are Julia Hughes and you've published A Ripple in Time!

Several days after I finished reading the book I was still trying to unravel all the intricacies of the plotting. At times the writing is slightly tongue-in-cheek and I suspect the author enjoyed writing the book just as much as I've enjoyed reading it.

You can find details of this and all Julia Hughes' other books on her Amazon author page.

I noticed that Detective Inspector Crombie is back in the third Celtic Cousins' adventure An Explosive Time so I've downloaded it into my WTBR folder to read later in the year. Watch this space!

Learning Lines? A Practical Guide for Drama Students and Aspiring Actors by Michael Murray

Here is one of my occasional promotional pieces for the books I publish  www.spurwing-ebooks.com.

Learning Lines? 
A Practical Guide for Drama Students and Aspiring Actors 
by Michael Murray

When Michael was a student at R.A.D.A. he was told by his drama tutor, "You do not learn lines: you study a part" but how exactly do you study a part? 

In "Learning Lines?" Michael describes the principal dramatic elements that writers use to construct their scripts and which actors need to know in order to understand and learn a role. He shows you how to interrogate a script for evidence to build a character; analyse your scenes; divide your role into its units and objectives; and identify the sub-text. With this knowledge you can then learn your lines authentically instead of rote-learning them. Michael considers the memorisation process and how it can be used to optimise the learning of lines and describes his own practical step by step approach to learning a role using scripted material he has written specifically for the purpose.

Michael has many years' experience as an actor, drama teacher, writer and director; he is a drama in education specialist and has an M.A. in Education.

If you've ever thought there must be a more stimulating and effective way of learning lines than simply rote-learning, then this is the book for you.

If you're an aspiring actor or drama student the book will be particularly useful but it should also interest those who intend to write and direct and those who are interested in literature and the drama.

These are the ebook retailers where you can buy Learning Lines? A Practical Guide for Drama Students and Aspiring Actors by Michael Murray. 

Just click a link to go to your favourite store.