Posts in Author blogs

Hidden depths: Peter Street gets grave

Posted Monday 11 February 2019 by Preeta Press in Author blogs

Peter Street

Northwest publishing house Preeta Press have been in touch about an author and book which have got them excited ...

"Peter had no confidence in reading and writing until at the age of 32, after a serious accident when he badly injured his back, met an English Literature teacher from a local high school who was in the next bed. Both were in hospital for an extended period and during the boring long hours of recovery, Peter decided he wanted to learn how to read and write and the teacher agreed to help him. They have remained lifelong friends.

Following this, Peter discovered he an aptitude for writing poetry and became well known on the national poetry scene and was given a grant to write poetry from the the Royal Literary Fund. He has had several successful published poetry collections.

At the age of 64, Peter was diagnosed with autism and whilst this was a relief it was the impetus he needed to write his autobiography.

Hidden DepthsHidden Depths is the first volume of his autobiography to be published. He chronicles how working as a gravedigger, for the first time in his life, he found social acceptance and friendships.

One of his first jobs was digging in sand and Peter imagined the beaches at Blackpool. Unfortunately, the reality was much more frightening as the sand came into the grave and began to drag him down. Luckily a fellow grave digger noticed the situation and eventually it took two of them to get him out, much to his relief. The next day there was a bucket and spade waiting for him in the workman cabin.

"One of his first jobs was digging in sand and Peter imagined the beaches at Blackpool. Unfortunately, the reality was much more frightening as the sand came into the grave and began to drag him down."

There was also the poignant side of the work when he was given the horrendous job of burying a stillborn baby, made more difficult as he knew the mother personally.

Set in the middle 1960s, the book also tells the love story between Peter and Sandra, who against the wishes of both sets of parents, fought to be together."

"She’'d have been burned as a witch in those days": Sharon Bolton visits Ramsbottom Library

Posted Monday 3 December 2018 by Ian Anstice in Author blogs, Events, Opinion

Sharon Bolton at RamsbottomIt was great to see a big author like Sharon Bolton come to a library like Ramsbottom for several reasons.  For one, the library is not huge unlike many that would normally see Sharon. Another is that the library is absolutely gorgeous, in a picturesque Lancashire town very reminiscent of the area described in her book “The Craftsman”. And, finally, of course, this was the culmination of the Great North West Read, a regional promotion that was instrumental in having such an author in the region in the first place.

But what was she like?

Well, the intelligence shines off her for a start. This is someone who would be fascinating no matter what she was talking about and this talk, which she must have delivered several times at least before, was no exception.

It started off spooky. Her parents lived in a church. They had quiet neighbours, people joked. But it got the young Sharon thinking that the best place to bury someone you have murdered would be in a graveyard. After all, there’s so many there already, another one may not be noticed.

Sacrifice BoltonHer first book to sell was “Sacrifice” and she was thrilled to get it not just in bookshops in this country but also internationally. It’s a thriller with a slightly supernatural twist. But not too supernatural, for she is a Gothic writer and thing with those is that, however it may appear, there’s no magic involved. Sharon sees magic as, vaguely, like cheating. It’s just human wickedness. But that should be scary enough.

“From the very first page I want my readers to be scared. If they're reading in bed, I want them to want check underneath them." she days.  You don't need gratuitous violence or ghosts to scare people, just hints and a good story will do it.

She then goes through her other books. Her next one was “Blood Harvest” which was rewritten from her very first big story idea which she never did get published, just with all the supernatural stuff taken out. There was a short trailer about the book which did, indeed, look very spooky.

Sharon used to live near where the Jack the Ripper murders took place so, Sharon being Sharon, this got her thinking. So she wrote a book partly inspired by the grisly Victorian events and produced “Now You See Me”. She did a ton of research for the book, including finding out that the lore around Jack is largely made up by detectives who worked on the case wanting to sell books. But one thing is clear: Jack was either very clever or very lucky, because he killed people in busy areas where it would have been easy for someone to have spotted him.

Bolton Now You See MeThe book started a series featuring a young female police constable – also a feature of The Craftsman – called Lacy Flint, trying to hunt down a killer while keeping her own dark past a secret. . Sharon thinks it's one of her best and may bring her back.

The author was born in Lancashire and lived there for her first eighteen years, being raised amongst all the local traditions of ghosts and the Pendle Witches. But the latter were real people.  Twelve men and women were executed for "murder by witchcraft", Mainly women. Sharon, being rational, discounts the magic aspect but also the criminal bit, saying at the very worst they were low level confidence tricksters.

What makes society turn on weakest, she asks. “"We don't hang people for witchcraft any more but there are still witch hunts".

So she knew she wanted to write about the area but, damn it, Jeanette Winterson got there first and, what is more, her book “Daylight Gate” was excellent. Sharon even read an extract of it approvingly, where it says "The North is a dark place ... Lancashire is the wild part of the untamed.". She is constantly amused that Lancashire people don't feel indignant by that description, they feel proud.

"She’'d have been burned as a witch in those days, she says. And looking at that intelligence in her eyes, and from what I know of the intense sexism of the times, I’d say she’s probably right."

So now to Craftsman, where Florence is a senior police officer looking for closure over a murder decades before and wondering if she caught the right man. Foolishly, too, she has brought the son with her. "It's a book about me or a woman like me"

And then suddenly it was question time, which Sharon insisted on. She likes questions.

She says her characters are not always “nice”. They have dark sides and that Lacey evolves immensely over the series. Sharon is more interested in baddies

Why is Sharon no longer called SJ? Because men have got over not being comfortable reading women authors.  When she started, it was thought being female would put off men. Not any more. Especially as being there is social media, everyone knows she’s a woman anyway. Moreover, there are quite a few “SJ” authors so it was getting confusing. So ... Sharon.

Sharon Bolton witch huntWhy did she choose the Falklands as a setting for one of her books? She always thought islands are perfect for thrillers. But every Island in the UK has already been taken so she chose the Falklands, which are like the UK but decades ago. Also, she likes islands. And Pendle felt very island-like in the book.

Why has she not written about Salem? She’s interested but there’s more than enough material in England and Salem has been written about enough.  Also, the same thing happened there than in Pendle. Driven like in America often by mercenary reasons.

But I suspect that Sharon is not driven by mercenary reasons, although she notes that as a professional writer she does not have the luxury of simply not writing. I suspect she writes because she has to write. And they can’t be kept in but burst out of her. Like a demon. A very rational, scientifically explainable one.

A video of the visit can be seen here.

The library is a sensory time bomb: Patricia Dixon on her visits

Posted Wednesday 31 October 2018 by Patricia Dixon in Author blogs, Events

Libraries have played an important part in the lives of many of us. Here, crime-writer Patricia Dixon reflects on her memories of them.

"On November 6th, I will take part in Tameside Libraries Mini Crime-Fest and whilst I prepare for the event, my thoughts have travelled back in time to somewhere that holds a very special place in my heart.

Droylsden LibraryA ghost from the future, hiding in the shadows, I observe my five year-old self, holding the hand of my father as we visit Droylsden Library for the first time. It became a Saturday morning ritual, the eager five minute walk from home that always felt like five miles once I was loaded up with books. 

Now I am as a teenager, sitting at the polished wooden desk with my friends. The library served a dual purpose, a warm and a quiet place to do our homework and, if we were lucky, we might also meet boys.

Patricia Dixon library bookNext I am a fashion student, an odd looking girl with spiky-hair wearing home-made clothes, Dr Marten boots and far too much make-up, a pile of reference books aid the search for inspiration. My friend and I have a crazy plan to run away to London so scour the heavy telephone directories, hoping to find the address of Bob Geldof or at least his phone number.

Time has shifted and in this scene I have changed so much, a young mother with two small children, listening to story time.

The library is a sensory time bomb, the scent of books, the hum of voices, and the smooth lines of an art deco building with its square glass windows that stood the test of time. My ghostly self wishes the librarians still had the book stamp. I longed to have a go and can still hear the sound as it prints the date in ink. I smile, remembering how I often begged my mother to take back a late book and pay the 2p fine; such was the shame of forgetfulness.

The circle is almost complete so I return to the present, wondering if my five year old self, the teenager or the student would believe that one day their books would stand on the shelves of the local library. The name on the spine is different now, but inside their words litter the pages, in print, forever. And maybe two more ghostly visitors will pop by, my parents, who will see their daughter’s books on display and if they do, I hope it makes them proud".

Patricia DixonPatricia Dixon is speaking at Stalybridge Library on Tuesday 6 November 1.30pm to 3. She is the author of crime books "Over My Shoulder" and "They Don't Know" as well as a series of fiction based in France.

Rooftop protests not recommended – Jenn Ashworth on the power of libraries

Posted Monday 9 July 2018 by Ian Anstice in Author blogs, Opinion

Jenn AshworthWe were very lucky to have Jenn Ashworth, author of several books including the most recent Fell, talking to the Time To Read group. She is a passionate advocator for libraries and a brilliant speaker so we all fell silent – not a normal thing in the meetings - when she started speaking. We were not disappointed.This is a summary from my notes that the author has checked.

"being she truanted in public libraries she gained a lot out of it"

Jenn started with her upbringing and a confession or two, for she had a “troubled and troubling” childhood and often truanted. However, being she truanted in public libraries she gained a lot out of it. “Libraries were a place to go for free and that were warm and safe” she said, saying they offered “a strange combination of safety and freedom”. The author found the time she spent skiving at the Harris Library in Preston as “a way to be part of the community”.

"The best things the librarians did for her was not telling her what to read"

The best things the librarians did for her was not telling her what to read. So she read everything, from  Jane Austen to Stephen King to a guide to how to get published simply because she did not know this was not the right thing to do. But the librarians did teach her one thing. Forgiveness. Jenn sometimes did not return books and repeatedly lost her library card but that did not prevent the library from allowing her to take out more, for which she is very grateful.

"She remembers forgetting she was in a library for a couple of hours due to that book. How had Melvin done that?"

Baby and Fly PieThere was a book, “The Baby and Fly Pie” by Melvin Burgess, which made as big an impression on Jenn than the forgiveness shown. Although it was a depressing dystopia, it allowed Jenn to be “lost in that world and not in mine” and that was what was so important for her at the time.  She remembers forgetting she was in a library for a couple of hours due to that book. How had Melvin done that? How had the book managed to transport her to a different world? Jenn had to find out. She stole the book from the library. 

"Authors can go to festivals to sell books but authors don’t go to libraries for that to the same extent. Talking to readers, in a way that libraries can facilitate, is why they write."

What libraries do is incredibly important and have life-changing effects. Authors are usually deeply and personally grateful to libraries and can be their biggest champions as a result. Libraries develop relationships with readers and the wider community in the way that other purveyors of books do not. The staff often have a unique personal relationship with readers and with reading groups. Authors can go to festivals to sell books but authors don’t go to libraries for that to the same extent. Talking to readers, in a way that libraries can facilitate, is why they write. A writer wants to make connections and want to write to explore what it is to be a human, messily in relationships with other humans, the landscape and the world - and to help the reader think about those things for themselves …  and libraries can be very helpful in that. The local connection libraries have are important. Jenn comes from the Northwest and knows that the region has a strong literary community that is under-represented in the publishing and prizes worlds.

Jenn at lecternThen there were some tips on how to get the best out of an author visit:

  • Be clear on what the author is doing, what they’re good at and what genre they write. For example, Jenn, like many others, finds the teenage age group challenging and would not appreciate discovering a group of teens being dragooned in to one of her talks.

  • Be clear to the author as to what you expect them to do and why you want them. If it’s for an end-of-year celebration for reading groups, who may not have read the author’s books, tell the author that and they will prepare very differently than if it is for a group of fans who have read every word of their writing.

  • If an event is pairing the author with another one, there needs to be a reason. Just availability or geographic closeness is not enough. The authors will read eachother’s  books and discuss them so there needs to be a thematic or other connection.

  • Make sure the branch library staff know who is coming and not to be afraid of them. Authors very rarely bite.

  • Authors need to make an entrance at the start of the talk to make the opening crisp Fell ashworthand obvious. For this reason, have them in a separate room (be it staffroom or broom cupboard) beforehand.

    "Authors know what libraries are like. They have not come for the building but for the audience."

  • Give authors advice on travel and parking. Think about how easy it is getting to the venue will be and offer to pick up from the station if necessary.

  • Get in touch with the author’s publicist as soon as you can. An author will give an image or two but the publicist can help with graphics, how to do publicity and social media.

  • Above all, get whoever is introducing the author to have read the book. The library staff have the personal connection with the audience and if they don’t have a connection with the book, the audience will see that and take their cue from them.

  • If an introduction is delegated to front line staff, make sure they want to do it and know what to do. A terrified introduction does not a successful event make.

Rooftop protestAuthors do not expect libraries to be swish. There’s no need to apologise for not being so or if the building is a bit small or grubby. Authors know what libraries are like. They have not come for the building but for the audience. They know that a library is not a place where people simply come to get culture but to make culture.

"a library is not a place where people simply come to get culture but to make culture."

Jenn then finished with a story. When she worked in a prison library, she talked about a book she had published. Her audience talked about her book and then offered to do a rooftop protest and show the book to the television crews filming it from helicopters. You don’t tend to get such offers from festival audiences. Those who attend library events tend to be more helpful. Although, of course, rooftop protests are not recommended.

North West Libraries

Librarians in the North West have pioneered partnership working to encourage new readers into libraries. Time To Read is a partnership of librarians engaged in reader development activity in public library authorities in the North West Region. 22 public library authorities in the region currently support Time To Read.

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