Indie Book Reviews (5)

We mark the reopening of the book review list with a review of Leigh Podgorski’s novel, Desert Chimera.

Desert Chimera by Leigh Podgorski (Amazon UK and Amazon US)

Leigh Podgorski’s biography notes “her scholarship and fascination with the diverse cultures of the Earth” and her novel Desert Chimera is a testament to both that attention to detail and her desire to do justice to the beauty and complexity of those cultures. Set over a period of less than twenty four hours in the evocatively named Desert Wolf Café located “on a lonesome slice of highway” in Death Valley, four characters are brought together to witness another two fight for control of their entwined destinies. These six very diverse individuals with lovely names – café owner Eppie Falco, handyman Leo Monroe, travellers Mack Starr and Consuelo Vasquez, and the two central characters Luke Stone and Armand Jacobi – are well painted by the author and their natural, well-rounded dialogue plays a significant part in drawing the reader in. Continue reading

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore: new to Kindle next week

This week, Evie Woolmore discusses her new historical magical realist novel, The Salt Factory.

salty9_optionI was chatting to a friend the other day about my books and she asked, as people sometimes do, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I was able to answer, quite honestly, that the original idea for The Salt Factory came so long ago, that I can hardly remember. But it is a novel that, despite the agonies of plotting and rewriting, I have absolutely adored throughout.

As a reader, it is just the sort of novel I enjoy. It is a bubble of a world where time slows down and all the things we took for granted slowly stop being true. It captures that feeling of falling in love, of permanent change, of the dawning of a completely new perspective on the world. All those things happen to Thelonia Jones in one way or the other, and yet the novel isn’t really about any of them. It is, in the manner of all my novels, a book that seems to be about one story and ends up really being about another.

As Lector’s Books pointed out in my interview with them a couple of weeks ago, my novels do tend to have a twist in the tail, not in the sense of a thriller or a crime novel but in a subtle slide in the way the world is revealed. Unlike the writers whose magical realist works I admire, such as Erin Morgenstern or Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I do not simply present my alternative world as is, without explanation, because for me the explanation Continue reading

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.

Author as genre?

This week allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore discusses the challenges of marketing across genres.

As I put the finishing touches to my new novel, The Salt Factory, and draw together the marketing plan to accompany its launch, I find myself facing once again that eternal dilemma: which categories to use on Amazon.

Fiction. Yes.

Now what?

In an interview with Diva magazine in 2011, author Sarah Winman was told by the interviewer that she was being described on the magazine’s cover as the new Sarah Waters. Winman’s reply? “Poor Sarah!…We’re very different. I don’t think I’ve earned the stripes to even be compared to her, quite frankly.” Winman’s modesty perhaps misses the point: when a generic label fails to be useful or available, an author name often stands in its stead. Yet which Waters was Winman to become? The “historical” novelist, the “gay” advocate, or the “supernatural thriller” writer, to name but three.

This is a tool that print publishers have used for years, describing an author as ‘the new’ somebody else. If you liked this, you’ll like that. It’s a testament to the old-water-in-new-bottles scenario that many feel print publishing has become over-reliant on, but it is also a mark of how little genuine development there has been that no one has yet come up with an innovative way for authors to market themselves differently.

I have blogged before about how rejections of my books by print publishers have generally concerned their perceived difficulty in finding a marketing pigeonhole for my type of novels. But if someone had actually asked me, I would have told them that if they liked Erin Morgenstern and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, then they would like my novels too. It’s a difficult thing to admit that one’s novel is bouncing off other people’s walls, when one of the things I know sets my books apart is the sheer originality of the ideas. But I can say with certainty that if you loved the imaginative possibilities of The Night Circus then you’ll love those same qualities in Equilibrium and The Salt Factory. If you think Zafón has captured the magical, mystical possibilities of Barcelona beautifully then you’ll find my evocations of the slip in time between contemporary and wartime Warsaw in Rising Up to be equally vivid and engaging.

I can say these things not because I copied what those writers did, because I didn’t. But  what I do have in common with them is a desire and an interest in using fiction to bend reality just a little bit to see what might be just beyond the boundaries of perception. I am nodding when I read them, out of admiration as a reader and out of understanding as a writer. You might no more describe Zafón or Morgenstern as science fiction or fantasy as you would an Evie Woolmore novel, but what are the alternatives? Indeed Amazon categorises The Night Circus as contemporary fantasy. But that category is so big that it also includes Ben Aaronovitch’s magic crime procedurals and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as well as various vampire and imagined worlds novels.

Zafón himself considered this issue in a Q&A about the creation of The Shadow of the Wind, where he says “it is a story that is made of many stories; it’s a story that combines humour, it combines mystery, it combines a love story, it combines historical fiction – it combines many different genres, to create a new one, a new genre, a hybrid that does all those things as well.”

Unfortunately he doesn’t give that genre a name.

Perhaps there is something in reversing the process and  ruling genres out, rather than in. In what seemed at first a daring idea, I began to consider whether putting my novels in the Historical Fiction category really was the best thing to do. Certainly they all have historical settings, but then I began to wonder what sets one historical novel apart from another. And what do they all have in common? Historical authenticity seems an essential quality in a historical novel, and the recent trend towards the novelisation of historical figures (such as Hilary Mantel’s trilogy) is one of many narrow trends within a genre that might otherwise be seen as relatively homogenous. Authenticity is certainly important to me, and I do a lot of research to make sure that settings are accurate, but am I contributing something new to the genre of historical fiction? No, probably not. Because what I am contributing is nothing to do with the historical aspect. And so, by way of an experiment, I am relocating my novels from historical fiction to historical fantasy, because I am, like Zafón and Morgenstern and Aaronovitch and Attwood, trying to say something new in fantasy.

I should like one day not to be the new Sarah Waters or the new Erin Morgenstern or even a other-gendered reincarnation of Zafón, but to be the only Evie Woolmore. My books are recognisably a genre in themselves, historical fiction infused with an otherworldly setting, worlds where the boundaries are blurred and things are not quite what they seem. But for now, my readers will be able to find my books under the big and welcoming umbrella of fantasy, where minds are open to distinctive voices saying interesting things.

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.

Cadell Blackstock interviews Crash Cole, star of his new novel ‘Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ – new to Kindle this week

Cadell Blackstock (CB): Thanks for making the time to sit down with me and talk about the book, Crash.

Crash Cole (Crash): Where’s your publicity assistant?

CB: Who?

Crash: You know, the hot redhead with the legs that go on forever, the fiery demon that guards the gates of heaven—

CB: Does anyone actually fall for that crap?

Crash: Woah, guess who didn’t get laid last night!

CB: Too busy writing about you, unfortunately. You ought to know all about sacrifice (Crash gives him a strange look, but Cadell doesn’t notice) seeing as you’re an actor, slave to your craft…

Crash: (looking around him) Where are we? What is this place? Why’s everything so— so white?

CB: Can we focus, Crash—

Crash: You choose some really weird places to hang out. Seriously mate, this place gives me the creeps. There’s absolutely nothing here. Is this the inside of your brain?

CB: —just for five minutes?

Crash: Make it two and I’m all yours. Well, obviously not literally. Not my type mate, sorry, no offence.

CB: (rolls his eyes) You’re much more trouble in the flesh than on paper.

Crash: That’s your fault, not mine. Shouldn’t have made me such a favourite with the ladies.

CB: Yeah, what is that all about?

Crash: Totals, mate, totals. 1003 in Britain alone. Well, it may have been 1004. Or maybe 1005. Last few days are a bit hazy, mate, if I’m honest.

CB: That’s the population of a small town…

Crash: So? I’ve got a reputation to keep up. Get it?

CB: Tell me you’re not really this crass all the time.

Crash: Of course not. It’s just the way people perceive me to be. Deep down I’m a serious, thoughtful guy.

CB: (looks at him in disbelief)

Crash: I am! (pauses, studying his fingernails) Actually I am, you know that. Last few days things have been different, you know? (lowers his voice) I can feel things are about to change. What have you got in store for me, mate? You about to turn my world upside down?

CB: Maybe.

Crash: Am I gonna like it?

CB: You hate being bored.

Crash: I am bored. You’re right. I’m tired of making the TV show, I’m tired of reading my name in the effing tabloids. Time to do something different, time to move on. Maybe I’ll just jump on my bike and take off somewhere, far away from all this meaningless crap. You know what, you’re no better than the rest of the media. You just create what you want to see, what you think people want to read. You don’t pay enough attention to the details, you just take the photo and tell people what you think  they want to hear. It’s just a myth, I’m just an effing myth. I am the hollow man…

CB: TS Eliot?

Crash: I’m not as stupid as I look. Don’t be fooled by the leather jacket and the bike helmet, and the trail of lacy knickers I leave in my wake.

CB: Crash?

Crash doesn’t answer.

CB: Is everything OK?

Crash: (gets up and wanders around listlessly) Seriously, what is this place? Where have you brought me?

CB: (hesitates) This wasn’t entirely my doing, Crash.

Crash: I haven’t read Eliot for years. You’re a writer, what’s that poem about?

CB: When did you first start reading poetry?

Crash: Years ago, when I was still a motorbike courier, before all this— stuff— before Crash and the girls— well, not before some of the girls, I admit, but most of them. Come on, what is that poem about, the “hollow men” one?

CB: Some people say it’s about death and dying, about the way the souls cross over—

Crash: That’s what this place reminds me of, heaven—

CB: About the way the dead see the living—

Crash: (looking around nervously) Where’s that noise coming from? D’you hear it?

CB: You said you feel like a hollow man, like a myth, a construction of other people’s imaginations.

Crash: Are we about to go into a press conference, mate, or some sort of DVD signing? Is that what I can hear, a crowd, paparazzi, journos drunk on free coffee?

CB: Crash?

Crash: (dragging his attention back to Cadell, he moves to the edge of his seat, rubbing his chest with the palm of his hand) What? Oh, the myth thing. Well, yeah, obviously, I mean, it’s like everyone thinks they own a piece of me, you know, they think they know me, they think they have the right to judge me, just because I’m in the public eye all the time. How would they like it if I popped up in their bedroom and gave them a bit of feedback? (looks around) What is that noise?

CB: (glances at his watch) The five minutes are nearly up. Look, Crash, this is important. Would you rather write it yourself, write your own story in your own words?

Crash: What did you say? I can’t hear you too well— What did you say, mate?

To find out what happened next, buy Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ by Cadell Blackstock for Kindle from Amazon UK or Amazon US.

Equilibrium by Evie Woolmore: Review by the Historical Novel Society

allonymbooks is delighted to announce that Evie Woolmore‘s historical magical realist novel Equilibrium has just been reviewed in the Indie section of the Historical Novel Society:

“Equilibrium” is an evocative tale of two sisters – Epiphany and Martha – who are mediums performing on stage in London in the early 1900s. Lady Adelia Lyward sees the performance and wants Epiphany to give her a private reading in order to learn the truth about her brother’s death – not knowing that the sisters have a previous connection to her household: Martha was a housemaid to the Lyward’s two years previous. She had a child by Adelia’s husband, Lord Rafe Lyward, left the household in disgrace, gave her child away and attempted suicide. She knows there’s more to the Lyward household than meets the eye.

“Equilibrium” starts slowly, but the mystery surrounding Adelia’s brother’s death is skillfully revealed. I would like to have seen the historical elements of the story more strongly developed and expanded – not just the social changes in England during this period but also a clearer picture of the experiences Adelia’s brother had during the Boer War. But the story is rich in complex characters just the same, and the character of Epiphany gives the story a calm and delicate reality as the plot unfolds. I recommend “Equilibrium” to readers who enjoy historical fiction with spiritualist influences.

Equilibrium is available for Kindle from Amazon UK or US