Valerie Connors Interview: “I always knew I’d write a book one day”

valarie conners

Animal lover, businesswoman and general badass author Valerie Connors talks to me about her books and how she looks to her life for inspiration for her novels.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.

Some of my earliest characters sounded an awful lot like me talking, which I think is fairly common for beginning writers. But by the time I finished my fourth novel, A Better Truth, I felt I had finally created a main character whose voice was completely and consistently different from my own. I write commercial fiction, so my stories are plot driven, but I want my readers to feel an emotional attachment to my characters as well. I try to put in lots of twists and turns so my books will keep people reading late into the night because they want to know what happens next. And I hope that some of my characters will stay with them for a while after they’ve turned the last page.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I always knew I’d write a book one day. I didn’t know when, and had no idea what I’d write about, only that it would be fiction. My business background is in finance, accounting, and accounting software implementation. My mother was an artist, and my father is a musician. I had a decade or so of music studies too, until I discovered boys, and all that went straight out the window. So until I started writing a decade ago, my creative side had been neglected during all those years of working only with numbers.

It was actually a story from my mother’s past that finally inspired me to sit down and start writing. My third published novel, A Promise Made, is based on that story. I draw on my past experiences for settings in my books. Most of them are set in places I’ve lived or visited, places that evoke strong emotions for me. I also use people from my past as the foundation for my characters so I can visualize them when I’m writing. People who have given me a hard time at work appear in my books as villains, and that’s fun for me!

Please tell me about your books. What really makes you work stand out from the crowd?

My first novel, In Her Keeping, is about a woman who wants desperately to have children, but can’t. When her marriage falls apart, she moves to the mountains and finds herself living next door to a tiger sanctuary and caring for a tiger cub instead of a baby.

Shadow of a Smile is about a mother and daughter, family secrets, and lies. When the main character’s mother dies suddenly, Meredith discovers that her mother’s life was very different than she thought it was. The story is told from two points of view, the main character in the 1990s, and through the mother’s journals that were written in the 1960s. As the story unfolds, Meredith learns the truth about her mother’s life as well as her own.

A Promise Made is set in post World War II America. It’s about a young woman who finds herself with a small child and an abusive husband. When she has finally had enough, she leaves the marriage and takes her three-year-old son from a small town in Upper Michigan to New York City to make a new life for herself and her child.

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A Better Truth is a psychological thriller whose central character struggles to recognize the difference between reality and hallucination, nightmare and memory. Willow St. Claire experienced a horrible trauma as a small child, and the harder she tries to forget it, the more vivid her memories become. She finds peace and tranquillity alone in a mountain cabin, until a knock at the door one night sets in motion a chain of events that will change her life forever.

Readers tell me that my books are hard to put down. They seem to enjoy my twists and turns, and they love to hate my villains.

Writing across a number of genres, how do you adapt your writing style to suit each novel?

It’s interesting, the business of choosing a genre to write in. My first novel, In Her Keeping, was categorized as women’s fiction, but I wasn’t thinking of that when I was writing it. My publisher was the one who made the designation. Same thing with my second, Shadow of a Smile. When I wrote A Promise Made, I didn’t set out to write historical fiction either, my story just happened to have taken place in the past. My latest, A Better Truth, didn’t start out to be a psychological thriller; it just sort of evolved into one. Sometimes your characters can surprise you, and it’s best to follow their lead. I will say, though, that A Better Truth turned out to be the book I had the most fun with. Adding a touch of madness to your protagonist can make a story much more interesting!

If you had to choose, which style of writing is your favourite and why?

I would definitely choose the thriller/suspense genre because it’s just so much fun to write it. It’s fun to keep readers guessing, and me too sometimes, right up until the end.

What books do you enjoy reading and how do these impact on your writing?

I listen to audio books on my commute to and from work five days a week. I live in the city, so it’s not unusual for me to be in the car for an hour or more each way. So I like books that are long and involved, which is how I started reading Stephen King, and Ayn Rand. I enjoy psychological thrillers, mysteries, and suspense, but I also love a good literary novel, women’s fiction, or historical fiction, particularly the ones set in the World War II era. I believe that for a writer, reading lots of different kinds of books is a requirement of the job. It’s like continuing education. Some authors demonstrate how to create tension and suspense. Others can teach you character development. Ayn Rand taught me that it’s possible for an eleven hundred-page novel (Atlas Shrugged) to keep my interest all the way to the end. Perhaps more surprising is that I’ve read that book several times. I’m a different kind of reader now, however. I find myself analysing the writing, looking at structure, pacing, and point of view.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

I find inspiration everywhere. The inspiration for my most recent novel, A Better Truth, actually came to me at the hair salon. When my old hairstylist left, they gave me an appointment with a tall, attractive blonde woman named Willow. I thought that Willow would be a great name for a character, and I immediately started assigning attributes to her. Before long the whole story unfolded. I usually get a first line in my head, and build the opening scene around that. The title comes next, or at least the working title. Then I decide where the story will end. Once I know where I’m going to start and where I’m going to end up, I get to know the characters and follow their lead. That’s where the magic is.

Fortunately, I haven’t experienced writer’s block yet. On the contrary, I currently have five projects started. Since I still have a full-time day job as the CFO of an engineering firm, I sometimes have to wait several weeks before I have the time to sit down and write. So by the time I get to the keyboard, I have lots of material that’s been simmering in the back of my mind and is ready to spill out onto the pages.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

It would be Stephen King, absolutely. He’s such an amazing storyteller, and comes up with the wildest ideas. Imagine how much fun that would be!

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Yes, at the moment I’m working on a dystopian thriller that’s still in the early stages. I’ve also started sequels to my first novel, In Her Keeping, and my fourth novel, A Better Truth. My detective series and a love story are also on my project list. One day I hope to spend less time at my day job, and more time writing.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Yes, the latest Stephen King novel, Sleeping Beauties. It’s written with his son, Owen, and is being released on my birthday next week. I’ve already pre-ordered the hardcover and the audio version. There have also been so many good psychological thrillers lately, by authors I hadn’t read before. I just finished two by Ruth Ware, who wrote The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood. There are so many amazing authors out there. I just keep buying more books. I have two writing rooms in my house where I can be surrounded by books while I work. That makes me very happy.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

To learn more about me, and my writing, I hope you’ll visit my website at www.valeriejoanconnors.com where you’ll find the first chapter of each of my books. My Facebook author page is: https://www.facebook.com/Valerie-Joan-Connors-Author-178400845541233/. Follow me on Twitter at: @VJConnors

Thanks for your time Valerie, it’s great to hear your thoughts!

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Saigon Dark Review: A Fascinating Emotional Rollercoaster

saigon dark

Following my interview with Elka Ray, I checked out her innovative novel Saigon Dark, a thrilling tale focusing on morality and how seemingly small decisions can come back to haunt you.

The novel follows a desperate mother, disillusioned with her life, who finds herself in an impossible situation. In a bid to escape it she makes a decision that will change not only her own life, but also that of those around her. Spanning over a decade, the novel shows the fallout from this one wrong turn and how it impacts on the protagonist, Lily’s, life, as well as that of those she loves.

Elka, who has travelled extensively, draws on her strong knowledge of Asian culture and geography to provide a novel that, although exceptionally emotive and thought provoking, is also richly depicted, and filled with luscious descriptions of the Vietnamese way of life which her character now lives. Every description is well crafted and designed to stick with you- I can still picture the ‘four dark marks, like fingerprints dipped in ink’ that adorn the wrist of a local beggar.

Characters are often described, not in definite terms, but through a discussion of how they make the protagonist, Lily, feel or the memories they evoke in her. Through the first person narration we see a world filtered by Lily’s morals, memories and beliefs, creating an unreliable but fascinating narrative.

Fundamentally a strong thriller, Saigon Dark is a complex novel that does not fully belong to any genre. This is a tale of bitterness and betrayal, love, loss, and a desperate struggle to hide the truth.

Strike on Screen: Where’s the Charisma?

cormoran strike

The Silkworm, the BBC adaptation of J.K Rowling’s novel of the same, has just finished, although perhaps not in the blaze of glory that viewers expected. More like a fizzle of fast running before the killer, who had barely appeared previously, was finally caught in quiet possibly the lamest struggle in the history of action scenes.

I have already mentioned in my previous review of the TV show, that the books, although interesting, witty and adventurous, are also widely inconsistent and, at times, highly unbelievable. The TV series embraces both these qualities, whilst at the time offering us a protagonist who is about as charismatic as a dead fish.

Tom Burke is a solid actor, but his Cormoran Strike is dull and uninspiring. Despite the sharp lines he has as the one-legged solider turned private detective, his delivery is strangely monotonous. In the final episode, his portrayal of a man with one leg improves vastly as he is shown limping across the road after his glamorous assistant, who is chasing the unconvincing villain of the piece, a literary agent embroiled in a very long-winded revenge plot. That is perhaps the only saving grace to the show, which has gone on for far too long (and there was only two episodes The Silkworm, which accompany the three of the adaptation of Rowling’s first Strike novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling).

Both adaptations were identical representations of the novels on which they are based, but this does not excuse the poor acting and casting. Burke, despite his stilted dialogue delivery, is a good choice for the foul-mouthed, large framed detective, but Holliday Grainger is a poor selection for Strike’s capable and empathetic assistant Robin Ellacott. She is too glamorous, which works well during the scene where the pair visit a literary party, but looks out of place in the homely setting of her partner’s parent’s house, or even in her employer’s gloomy office. Grainger seems to know this herself, and wears a bemused expression in almost every scene bar those in which she is allowed to wear her glad rags.

Overall, I was not entirely impressed by the visual depiction of the Strike novels, although they do capture some of the craziness that Rowling’s novels have to offer. There is something great about the way the books feel like those real life situations that are so weird that you only believe them because you have actually experienced them yourself. The TV series also encapsulates this, embracing the unusual names, bizarre situations and outrageous settings of Rowling’s London with ease. However, the wooden detective, his beautiful but out of place assistant and the unfrightening villains they chase all conspire to make the series less than enticing.

At the end of the final episode, the announcer stated that the adaptation of Career of Evil, the third novel in the series, will be shown sometime next year. A hard core Crime Fiction fan who has followed Strike ever since Rowling was first unmasked (deliberately, in one of the worst attempts at hiding the truth I have seen in years) as the writer of the series, I will of course be watching- if you’re not a fan and you didn’t catch all of the rest, I really wouldn’t bother.

The Lighterman Review: An Intense Thriller That Will Keep You Hooked

the lighterman

The third in the Charles Holborne series, Simon Michael’s gripping novel evoking the dark and twisted setting of 60s London. There is a hint of John le Carré in this tough legal thriller that packs a punch as the reader is swept along towards a fascinating conclusion.

Following on from the first two novels featuring Criminal Barrister Charles Holborne, The Brief and An Honest Man, The Lighterman begins with a jaw-dropping action scene. The spellbound reader is drawn into a bombing that evokes the horror of the Second World War with a flashback to 1940s London, which is in the grip of terror as Germany bombs the city and its residents flee.

It is in this intense start that sets the pace for this intense and well-crafted book, as we follow Charles in his quest to protect his family and his reputation. His past returning to haunt him, and Charles is forced to face up to the consequences of his previous actions.

One of the best things about this novel is the names, some of which could have come straight out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. From Ninu Azzopardi to Billy Hill, the characters’ names are so incredibly unbelievable that become realistic, and add another dimension to the complex and intriguing people who populate this rich story.

With a great combination of history, adventure and crime, The Lighterman is makes for a unique read that stays with you. Every now and then I see something or hear a phrase that reminds me of part a of Simon Michael’s exhilarating book. Despite flicking between the 40s and 60s, there is something deeply relatable about the novel that makes impossible to put down and leave readers riveted. This was another book that I have been meaning to review for a while, but once I started it reading it I found it impossible to put down and devoured it in less than a day. I would urge anyone who enjoys challenging, dark thrillers to check this out- you will not be disappointed.

How Roald Dahl Changed Childrens’ Literature for the Better

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Happy Roald Dahl day!! I hope you had a truly rambunctious day dressing up and eating cakes and taking tea and generally observing and enjoying yourself, as the great man would have wished.

Although my first love was and always will be Crime Fiction, Dahl has been one of my heroes ever since I first read The Twits. Here was an author unlike any other: a man aiming his books at children and managing to convey very adult messages in an incredibly patronising way. His books were easy for my young mind to grasp but his rich and evocative descriptions and superb use of language imprinted upon my impressionable young mind and made his writing impossible to forget.

His stories have that timeless feeling that is usually associated with fairy tales and fables. There is no situation in which a Roald Dahl book cannot be referenced, and no sadness that cannot be cured with a trip down memory lane and a re-reading of James and the Giant Peach. This, in my opinion, is why his books have stood the test of time- they are still performing Matilda as a stunning stage show (I saw it recently as part of a hen party and would thoroughly recommend it) on the West End, and the BBC regularly adapts his novels into beautiful and insightful adaptations.

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Additionally, what makes Dahl’s tales truly timeless is their ability to convey complex feelings and emotions through simple narrative and unfiltered dialogue. The characters are so realistic that they could be real people, despite many of the books being aimed at young children. Their almost poetic simplicity gives the reader a selfish feeling of enlightenment as they forage for the message behind every action in Dahl’s work.

Whilst other books aimed at children can feel forced, Dahl effortlessly offers writing suitable for readers of any age, with many adults taking away messages from these surprisingly complex stories. They are also surprisingly adult in their themes, with issues such as severe poverty, abusive parents and sheer desperation all explored in an understandable way. Many of his characters face serious peril in the course of their adventures, but despite this Dahl manages to excite and beguile the reader through his sumptuous descriptions and down-to-earth storytelling style.

Quentin Blake’s stunning illustrations combine with Dahl’s masterly storytelling and flare for imagination to create genuinely perfect books that are beloved by both adults and children. So on this, the day dedicated to celebrating this extraordinary man and his exceptional work, I urge you to go forth and read!

T.S. Junior Interview: “What I like about crime fiction so much is that it deals with the most extreme situations that people find themselves in”

T.S Junior

Short story writer T.S Junior, who is soon to publish his first full length novel, provides me with an overview of his inspirations and how his love of politics and experience working in prison has helped him to create the tension filled tales he has become known for.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and mystery writing?

This is a great question. The truth is that only after twelve years of writing fiction do I think that my writing style has started to set like concrete. It started with Crime and Punishment for me. Fyodor Dostoevsky is of course mythically good. The close psychic distance in his third person narration, with a lot of indirect discourse, formed my approach to fiction. His philosophical bent and use of gritty imagery also influenced me. What I like about crime fiction so much is that it deals with the most extreme situations that people find themselves in, and like in Crime and Punishment, trying to get at the dark psychology that makes criminals and good people driven to desperation tick is awesome. 

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I started off writing by winning an essay contest when I was nine years old. I won and I got to go to a baseball clinic run by Boston Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski. Then I wrote for college and local papers and did some freelance copywriting. But my background as a state prison guard has influenced my fiction the most. I’d written crime and horror stories before, but the darkness of the prison environment gave my work an added layer of depth and grit when it comes to street life and the criminal mind that perhaps some of my dark fiction writer colleagues aren’t privileged to.

Please tell me about your recently published collection of short stories and how well it’s doing.

I’ve just published my first book, a collection of short stories called Some Poor Taste Wartime Humor. There are ten stories that center around the darkness within the human heart, and the things that lead us astray. In one story, Christina 2/15/89, a disgraced former detective whose daughter went missing years prior, gets a break in the case which leads him to uncover a nightmare. In Son of a Ruined Patriot, a War on Terror vet suffering from severe PTSD and consumed by conspiracy theories, thinks the world is ending and kidnaps his estranged son. I think what draws people to my writing is the complexity of the characters and situations, and the dark truths. And then the fact that I write in a traditional style that is accessible to anyone. I’ll be honest, I get bored easily while reading, so I pack my stories with action. My first novel is coming soon, a crime/ conspiracy novel concerning The Bilderberg Group.

How do you adapt your writing style when composing short stories? Do you find the word limit restrictive or freeing?

The most important approach to short fiction as opposed to working on longer pieces, is keeping the writing bare bones. I’ll admit that at times I can get wrapped up in my head about word counts and genres and subgenres, but mainly that comes with publishing short stories. Drafting is the fun part. When I draft short stories I do a lot more exploratory writing than I’d normally do. To be specific, I usually don’t know what the story should look like until the third draft. In Some Poor Taste Wartime Humor, all ten stories in the collection went through at least four drafts. So overall writing short stories is freeing in that if the thing ends up being useless, it’s not like you wasted years of your life pouring your lifeblood into a failed novel. Believe me, it sucks; I’ve done that seven times!

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

Maybe it’s because I work in a paramilitary environment, a prison, I’m disciplined, or maybe I should take credit for instilling a good work ethic in myself. Either way, I don’t think in terms of inspiration or writer’s block. What I do is “embrace the suck.” I take that expression from an event I took part in during the Massachusetts Correction Officer Academy. They made us run laps around an old gymnasium for two hours, then put us through an obstacle course, and then made us engage in hand-to-hand-combat. It was called The Suck. The funny thing is that during it I got my first runner’s high, so I had the time of my life. I take the same approach to writing. I sit down for a writing session everyday, aiming for about a thousand words. Sometimes it’s garbage; sometimes it’s gold. I have zero expectations about quality. What’s so cool about “embracing the suck,” is that I’ve had at least four experiences where one day’s garbage becomes gold six months later. In those cases, I had raw material to rewrite as opposed to starting from scratch with an idea.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Cormac McCarthy. I just love everything about the man. He’s influenced by Fyodor Dostoevsky like Hemingway, Faulkner and myself also. His mystical, almost-religious approach to writing is something that, while I can’t pull off, I admire. Plus, he writes gritty novels involving violence and rugged men, westerns and crime novels, an aesthetic I appreciate. I spent my early twenties imitating his writing.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I am absolutely thrilled about my upcoming novel, Dusk in the Shining City. I’ve created an excellent series character named Claude Sharkey, a detective in a small Massachusetts city, who gets tied up in foiling a massive conspiracy perpetrated by the Bilderberg Group. I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist. The Bilderberg Group is a real life organization that holds an annual conference with leaders of industry, politics, and media all in attendance in an off-the-record setting. There they informally agree on future world events as a supranational governing body. If anyone reading this is interested in learning more, I recommend the magnum opus on the topic written by a man named Daniel Estulin. It’s called The True Story of the Bilderberg Group.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?

To bring up Cormac McCarthy again, he’s been working on a novel called The Passenger for a couple years. He’s apparently trying his hand at a novel involving technology and even sci-fi elements, which is way out of his element, so I’m thrilled to see where he takes that. I’m also into Nick Cutter, the horror writer, Brad Thor who writes thrillers, and then Denis Lehane and James Ellroy.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’d like to thank you, Hannah, for graciously allowing me space on your cool blog from across the pond to talk about myself and my book, Some Poor Taste Wartime Humor: Short Stories. Folks can go to my website www.tsjunior.com to learn a little more about me, and they can find the book on Amazon for only $1.

Many thanks for T.S Junior for speaking to me, it’s great to hear your thoughts and learn more about your new novel.

The Silent Death Review: Pre-War Berlin at its Most Gruesome

the silent death

Following the recent announcements regarding the TV series billed as the most expensive German television show going, I checked out the dark and thrilling Gereon Rath novel The Silent Death.

In the bleak noir setting that is 1930s Berlin, the intrepid inspector, a Cologne native out of his depth in a new city following a disastrous case battles a dastardly and sinister serial killer bent on keeping film silent.

Added to this fight are his inner demons and his new boss, who is determined to keep Gereon on the straight and narrow and make him a team player. But with a private job on the side that suddenly links to the case, dubious connections and an increasingly troubled love life, the Inspector remains a complicated and intriguing character, and his exploits bring life to the story amid the grime and dissolution of a Germany in the grip of Nazism that is creating both political and social unrest.

Author Volker Kurscher is an expert storyteller and this evocative setting combined with his superb characterisation makes this a thrilling read from start to finish. When translated the dialogue can at times sound clunky and stilted, but the characters shine through despite this thanks to the graphic descriptions Kurscher lavishes on even the most minor passers by.

When he does get his teeth into a description, Kruscher is a true artist, creating emotive and stirring depictions of pre-war Berlin that offer a unique snapshot of this glorious city’s history. As I have already mentioned when reviewing Mark Ellis’s exquisite Historical Crime Fiction novel Merlin at War, I am no history buff, but thanks to Ellis I have come to enjoy novels set in the past, and reading The Silent Death I again have the feeling of being transported back to another era.

With Scandinavian and European Crime Fiction still a big hit and the upcoming TV series to look forward to, there has never been a better time to check out Gereon Rath and his unconventional investigative techniques.