Evie Woolmore’s interview with Lector’s Books

Lector’s Books tells a wonderful tale of how a book can enchant you so much that you put your life on hold to read it straight through from start to finish. Fortunately for me, the book in question was my novel, Equilibrium (information about the story, an audiobook extract, and links to Amazon from the Equilibrium webpage).

So I was delighted when Lector’s Books invited me to give an interview about writing, about Equilibrium and about my new novel The Salt Factory, to be published later this month.  Read my interview, find out more about the excellent Lector’s Books website, and check out some of their recommendations for great indie published novels. Lector’s Books have also published a review of the novel on Amazon.

Love him or hate him, you’ll want to get to know him: Cadell Blackstock on his creation Crash Cole

You only have to turn on the TV or flick through a magazine to see how much attention our wicked sides are getting from the media and advertisers. Soap operas love their villains, newspaper column inches are devoted to moral ambiguity and the thinner sort of woman’s magazine is full of headlines including the word ‘cheat’. Doesn’t everyone love a rogue?

Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ began seven years ago as the collision, literally, of two quite distinct ambitions. One of them was to concede at last the love-hate relationship I have with opera, that normally loiters in the shadows. Opera’s affinity with darkness is often revealed as compellingly as any movie and though I might never admit this down the pub, some of my favourite anti-heroes are not Loki or Blofeld but the operatic bastards: Mozart’s Count Almaviva or Puccini’s Scarpia. Operatic stories tend to be very good ones, if at times  laboriously realised for those of us who are tone-deaf or ignorant of German, and I had long felt that an operatic libretto might retell and translate effectively in novel form.

My other motivation was to try to process the increasing hysteria that follows people in the public eye, to try to understand it and fashion it in such a way that it became the backdrop to a story. The extreme reactions people show to public phenomena and public figures has only been exacerbated by twitter in recent years, but in 2006 one event in particular caught my attention. After the near epic reaction to the death of Princess Diana in 1996, the dragster accident which nearly claimed the life of British TV presenter Richard Hammond presented a different kind of challenge to the British public. Hammond was lucky enough to live, but he was seriously injured, and his rescue, recovery and rehabilitation were  exhaustively covered by the TV and newspaper media. I was fascinated by the level of interest shown in Hammond – a popular personality who, with his good looks, good sense of humour, knowledge of cars and bikes, and suitably British sense of self-deprecation, was appealing to both men and women – and by the way people responded quite personally to his situation. It wasn’t particularly that it could have happened to one of us rather than to him – he was driving a jet-powered dragster at 288mph when he crashed – but that his real life persona, his lack of artifice, and the fact that he wasn’t playing a character in his work made his accident very real to us. The inability of audiences to disassociate the real person from the fictional has always interested me, but here was an example of a very real kind of empathy. People literally felt for Hammond. After the emotional tidal wave around Princess Diana’s funeral it was a small step for me as a writer to imagine how that might manifest in a different way after an accident like Hammond’s.*

So, back to the story. Which opera to retell? I wanted to write about a huge character, big in the public consciousness. I wanted someone who inspires sympathy, empathy, envy, hatred and attraction. Someone men want to be and women want to be with. Someone who, when suffering a near tragedy, will inspire most of those people to want him to survive, perhaps in spite of their rational selves. Yet success does not generally come to those who have been entirely nice, good, or well-behaved. I wanted this figure to be divisive, dramatic, compelling but not necessarily in a good way. So who else but Don Juan, recast as Don Giovanni by Mozart in 1787? A great lover, adored by so many for what he is, not who he is, a man who takes what he wants without thought to the consequences. What men among us don’t secretly harbour a version of Don Giovanni inside them?

And so Crash was born, a mostly popular public figure, a façade, a construction of, by and for his fans, who has an accident which nearly kills him. Only is it an accident at all, or is it the consequence of Crash’s own actions, the wilful desire to have his own way finally caught up with him? On the verge of his passing, Crash is saved by the literal adoration of those same fans, their love and affection hauling him back from the brink of death. But what is the life that Crash almost left behind? And as he races the press to find out the truth about his accident, what will happen to the co-dependence between him and his fans? Can they keep him alive or will the truth kill him?

Seven years on since I first wrote the book, that intimate overblown relationship between star, media and public has become even more extreme than it was then, and perhaps it is a shame that twitter and facebook were not as strongly established at the time the novel was written to merit reference, though they would not have changed the story. Bringing the novel to publication in 2013, I decided not to update the novel to include reference to social media, because it was a detail that did not alter the central premise. It is not that the novel belongs to its time but rather, like Don Juan and Don Giovanni, that the story of love, hate and revenge stands the test of time.

Love him? Hate him? Crash is a divisive figure who feeds the public consciousness much as they feed his need to be alive. I hope you’ll want to get to know him though. He remains one of the best characters I have ever written, and I am delighted to let him out into the light.

To buy a copy of Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ by Cadell Blackstock, visit Amazon UK or Amazon US or search the European Amazon sites for Cadell Blackstock)

*It should be noted that this is not a novel about Richard Hammond – if he will forgive me, it was only his accident that inspired me to write this story, and not the man himself. I was as relieved as anyone that he made a full recovery.

Equilibrium by Evie Woolmore: an epitomising epigraph

This week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore discusses the background to her novel Equilibrium.

After reading the comments which followed Dan Holloway’s recent discussion of effective ways to promote independently published novels, where it was suggested that authors could use the first 100 words of their books as a promotional tool, I considered using this blog entry to explore this approach. So here they are, around one hundred words from the start of my novel Equilibrium.

May 1903. There is surely no more fitting place for a disgraced housemaid to take her life than on the hidden stairs that slide beneath the Wapping wharves into the Thames. Out of sight they plunge into the lower reaches of the river, flights of stone and wood that at low tide lead to quiet shores but, when the business of the river is in full flow, pass utterly unseen beneath significant exchanges played out on grand piles above. The tide is on the turn but Martha cannot see that in the darkness. What she sees is the detritus of a day’s unloading as it smacks and scrapes in waves against the warehouse walls… 

But  then it occurred to me that if an effective sample is intended to provide a good flavour of the book, then is it really possible to do that with just the first 100 words? Or any 100 words? After all, did you ever see a film trailer that only showed the title sequence? Did you ever go into a bookshop and just read the first paragraph of a book before buying it?

One solution could be to bring together several 100 word extracts from throughout the book – perhaps half a dozen – rather in the style of a trailer, though hopefully not a selection that either leaves you not bothering to go on to read the book, or leaves you knowing how it ends. But as I was leafing through the Continue reading

Life after death: science vs. faith

This week’s news about Harvard neurosurgeon Dr Eben Alexander III‘s near-death experience during a meningitis-induced coma has re-energised the debate about what light science can shed on questions about the afterlife. This divisive issue has generated a considerable body of scholarly and non-fiction writing for over a century, exploring the differences between scientific and divine truth, and the possibility of using science to prove definitively whether or not a form of life or consciousness exists after death. From the philosophical rationalisations of Richard Dawkins to the direct challenge by physicist Simon Singh to the television psychic Sally Morgan to undergo a scientific test under laboratory conditions to prove her ability, the burden has remained with believers and practitioners of the paranormal possibilities to provide indisputable scientific evidence of their position. Several institutions are engaged in the disproof from the scientific angle, including James Randi’s Educational Foundation, whose mission is to “help people defend themselves from paranormal and pseudoscientific claims”, while in the UK one of Britain’s leading psychologists, Professor Chris French, is a leading figure in a larger skeptical movement who have proposed that a very simple test would be able to prove one way or the other if psychics are genuinely speaking to the spirits of those who have died.

Cynics have been quick to note that Dr Alexander has a recently published book to promote which not only details his experiences, but also no doubt provides more scientific detail about how he drew the conclusion that what he had seen was genuine and not a product of brain chemistry, a topic on which he is an acknowledged professional expert. Dr Alexander explains: “There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the Continue reading

Stumbling over the past: the Warsaw of Rising Up

In this week’s blog, Evie Woolmore recalls how a weekend in Warsaw inspired a novel.

To arrive in Warsaw by train at the end of the last century was like waking up inside the memories of one of John Le Carre’s characters in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The train had cut a ponderous path through the Czech Republic, slowing but not stopping at tiny concrete stations on a single line track. Through the dirty windows I glimpsed slender, behatted men, always alone, pulling up the collars of their coats, turning a cold shoulder to onlookers as they lit their cigarettes, waiting, always waiting for something. At every border crossing I had been scrutinised by uniformed soldiers, moustachioed, bushy eyebrowed, curious about the British woman travelling alone through their country. The Iron Curtain had long been torn down but its shadow still seemed to fall, gauzy and grey.

It is not surprising I arrived in a contemplative frame of mind as the train pulled into the subterranean central station. When I emerged into the late October afternoon, I realised why Warsaw nestles shops and walkways beneath the streets – because even on a bright sunny day in autumn, the wind is brutal, scouring the plains all the way from Siberia, and whistling across the sheer glass facades of the endless modern buildings that dominate the modern Warsaw skyline. The roads seemed as wide as the buildings were high, perhaps echoing the Wisla River that cuts a swathe Continue reading