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Are you in a Reading Slump?

Reading Slump

By Rebecca Reed

It’s something that happens to many bookworms, you have so much to read but not enough focus. You really want to sit and curl up with your book but you end up reading the same sentence over and over again. It’s just frustrating, well not to worry we have a few tips to help you get out of that reading slump.

1. No time limits

Read at your own pace, and don’t rush yourself. It is so easy to get thinking about the next book you want to read whilst reading your current novel, but chill. You have all the time in the world and it’s not a race.

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2. Don’t feel guilty

Don’t stare at your bookshelf and feel guilty that you are not currently reading, mix it up a bit and do something different. Bake a cake, take a nap or just binge watch the next season of American Horror Story on Netflix. Maybe your brain just wants to relax for a day or two. If you’re reading a thriller, for example, there are only so many twists your brain can take.

3. Go book shopping

Our favourite kind of shopping! Have a look at our store here for our recommended reads or go back to your list of books that you need to buy and treat yourself. It’s exciting to wait for your happy book mail. It might also be the boost you needed to get you back into your book for an hour or so.

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4. Put the heavy stuff down.

It’s easy to get caught up in the same heavy genre, crime fiction, thriller fiction and even science fiction can get a bit too heavy for your brain to process. It is okay to pick up a nice easy book that just reads itself. A feel-good read, a lovely little romance. Allow yourself to relax. A good author to always fall back on is Jacqueline Wilson. A favourite for many children around the world, but adults can enjoy them too.

5. Re-organise your bookshelf.

A guaranteed way to get you excited about your books again, whilst re-organising your bookshelf, you may find a book you bought months ago and the excitement will come flooding back. Also, you may find your long-lost favourites and you might want to revisit your favourite characters again.

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Reading slumps do get us bookworms down, but we hope these tips manage to get you reading again. Do you have any tips? Let us know in the comments below.

Author Interviews

“My characters only work when they become real to me, and then they let me tell their stories” – Elizabeth Haynes talks to World of Books about her writing, her work, and The Wurzels

Author Elizabeth Haynes

Author Elizabeth Haynes

By Admin

Elizabeth Haynes grew up in Sussex and began to write from an early age, even buying herself a typewriter at the age of thirteen. She studied English, German and Art History at Leicester University, and moved on to become a Police Intelligence Analyst. It wasn’t until 2005 when a friend introduced her to National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org/), that she began to work on her writing with a greater sense of purpose. National Novel Writing month is an annual challenge to write 50,000 words of a story throughout the month of November. Over the next few years (particularly each November) the first draft of Elizabeth’s debut novel, ‘Into the Darkest Corner’ came into fruition. That was in 2008. By February 2011, the book was published by Myriad Editions and featured on Channel 4’s TV Book Club. It was also voted as one of Amazon UK’s Rising Stars and won the Amazon UK Best Book of 2011. Since then Elizabeth has released ‘Revenge of the Tide’ in March 2012, and last month her newest book, ‘Human Remains’ was published. Her books have been released in 30+ countries globally and in over 20 languages. Elizabeth now lives in the South East of England with her husband and son.

Q) You’ve given up working as a Police Intelligence Analyst in order to concentrate on being a writer full-time. Are there elements of the work that you miss?

Definitely! I miss it every day. I worked with a fantastic bunch of people and I loved being part of a team, especially one that had an impact on serious and organised crime. It’s hard to beat the buzz of being involved in something that has such an effect on the people’s lives, and on the area where you live. I also find it quite difficult to work on my own, in a quiet environment having previously worked in a busy office – I have to have my radio tuned to Talk Sport because that was what the guys in the office would listen to.

Q) Obviously your books have stemmed somewhat from your experience in this job. How closely did you draw from it?

With each book, I’m using my experience more and more. I think at first I was nervous about accidentally giving away some crucial aspect of police procedure, or, worse, getting something badly wrong and losing credibility. Luckily I’ve managed to get some senior officers to check each one. I’ve always been a bit disappointed that intelligence analysts don’t feature in crime fiction very often, and I wanted to address this oversight which is why my main character in ‘Human Remains’ is an analyst. I’ve also managed to get an analyst into a prime spot in my fourth and fifth books, too. Unfortunately a lot of crime fiction is quite unrealistic and I know many police officers and staff find it difficult to read because of this. It was very important for me to get the details right, whilst still writing fiction that was engaging – quite a difficult balancing act. Real life crime is often visceral, grubby, painful; and also, sometimes, pointless and mind-numbingly dull. When it comes to violent crime, the motive is often something as ridiculous as one party getting drunk and being annoyed at the other party – or there might be no motive at all. It’s much harder than I thought it would be to get the balance right between realism and entertainment, and I’m still not sure I’ve done it. I need more practice.

Q) You’re obviously a great advocate of National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) – why do you think this worked for you so well?

If it hadn’t been for NaNoWriMo, I would never have finished a novel. I had written short stories, extracts of things, ideas, for many years but always got to the ‘this is silly’ stage and put it to one side. If I got stuck, I would give up. NaNoWriMo forces you to get over those stumbling blocks and just carry on writing. I managed to write 50,000 each November but it was only on my fourth attempt that I managed to write a complete manuscript with a beginning, middle and ending. That was the novel that eventually became ‘Into the Darkest Corner’.

Q) How much research did you do for each book?

I still do all my first drafts during November for NaNoWriMo and because of that I don’t do extensive research before I write. I usually know roughly what I’m going to write about (for example, boat renovation and pole dancing for ‘Revenge of the Tide’; decomposition and mind control for ‘Human Remains’) and I research just enough around those topics so that I can write without becoming completely unstuck. Once the story is written, I have a much clearer idea of the gaps in my knowledge and then I can research more into those particular areas before I crack on with the editing process.

Q) You mention on your site that you actually lost the last 5,000 words of your first Nanowrimo story because of a hard disk failure, and so you stress always backing up your work. What other crucial lessons/words of advice would you give to aspiring writers out there?

I’m very good at stating what I think is the bleeding obvious, so forgive me if these tips sound a little basic: firstly, you need to finish something. If all you have is half-finished manuscripts, it’s hard to get anyone to take you seriously as a writer. I think it’s better to have a completed story that needs editing and has flaws, than to have a perfect fragment of genius. Secondly, get used to sharing your work. Let everyone read it, and listen to feedback. That one is particularly difficult when you first start, but it’s a stage you have to go through! Thirdly, and more specifically, I’ve just started using Scrivener to organise my writing and I wish I’d discovered it years ago – I can highly recommend it, especially if you have a complicated story and/or multiple narratives.

Q) Oftentimes authors say that their characters stay with them even when they’re not writing their story. Kathy in ‘Into the Darkest Corner’ has a particularly harrowing back-story – did she, for example, take a long time to let go of after the book was published?

'Into the Darkest Corner' book jacket

‘Into the Darkest Corner’ Hayne’s debut novel

I don’t think I will ever let go of her. I know she is really a figment of my imagination but she did become very real to me and I felt it was important to tell her story and get her out there. In another sense, she will never leave me because I get emails and messages from women around the world who feel like she is real, too. Cathy represents a lot of people for whom violence in the home is a daily reality and not a story. I also get emails from people who want a sequel to the book so that they can be reassured that Cathy and Stuart are safe and happy. I like to think they are, and that Mrs Mackenzie is living comfortably in a retirement home in Suffolk. Unfortunately, in the interests of keeping it realistic, it’s likely that Cathy is going to be looking over her shoulder for the rest of her life, isn’t she?

Q) If you had to lose one of the five senses (touch, sound, sight, smell or taste), which one would it be?

That would be so difficult. I think the one I would miss the least would be my sense of smell as at least I’ve experienced that a bit when I’ve had a cold!

Q) What is the oddest bit of feedback you’ve received from a fan?

Quite recently I had an Amazon review for the US edition of ‘Into the Darkest Corner’ which said “I found myself asking ‘why don’t you shoot him when he breaks in’ a lot.” Taking aside the issue of guns not being as easy to come by here in the UK, I thought that if Catherine had shot Lee it would have made for a very short book, wouldn’t it?

Q) Your newest novel ‘Human Remains’ was published 14th February this year. It tells the story of Colin who is very intelligent but socially awkward, and spends his time collecting academic qualifications and attempting to meet a woman. When a decomposing body is found by a female Police analyst called Annabel in the house next door to where she lives, it doesn’t seem like anybody had noticed the woman was missing in the first place. Understandably appalled by this, Annabel then finds evidence that women are going missing all over her home town with no-one raising the alarm, and sets out to investigate. You’ve mentioned that the difference in this book to your two previous releases is the exploration of the absence of relationships and how the loneliness surrounding this can affect people differently – sometimes dangerously. Did you approach writing this book differently because of this? And what sort of reaction are you expecting from your fans?

'Human Remains' came out Feb 14th

‘Human Remains’ came out Feb 14th

It’s important to me to make each book different, so initially I did want to explore the absence of relationships and what social isolation does to us. The other main difference with this book is that I’m not writing a past/present narrative but using two main narrative voices: Colin’s, and Annabel’s. It’s the first time I’ve written a male first person narrative and it was hard to do. It was particularly difficult because Colin is much more intelligent than I am and it took a long time for him to start to ‘talk’ to me – it only happened when he realised I wasn’t going to make him a figure of fun, or a caricature of evil. I know that sounds pretty wacky but my characters only work when they become real to me, and then they let me tell their stories. I never have any idea of what reaction I’m going to get! I think this one is particularly dark and grim in tone, but people seem to like that, so who knows? My best critic is my husband, who is unswervingly honest, and he says it’s his favourite of the three.

Q) What two things do most people not know about you?

Most people who meet me seem quite surprised that I’m quite a happy soul and despite how gruesome ‘Human Remains’ is, I’m actually really squeamish. The other thing not many people know is that I’m a massive fan of The Wurzels.

Q) Would you ever try writing for another genre?

Definitely. Before I tried my hand at writing crime I wrote romance/erotic fiction. Not that it was any good, mind you, but I quite liked it. One of these days I’d like to write a ghost story, too.

Q) And finally, World of Books is dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?

The idea of a book being destroyed, unwanted or unloved is abhorrent to me. I believe in passing on books, either because you love them and want to share them, or because you don’t love them and think someone else might. Lovely as it is for me to be able to make a living from writing, the real joy is that there are people I’ve never met, who are reading things I’ve written – that gives me a massive buzz.

Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth Haynes

Thank you for a fantastic interview Elizabeth!

Don’t miss ‘Human Remains’ out in stores now. And if you fancy reading ‘Into the Darkest Corner’ visit the World of Books store and grab a copy today. For more information on Elizabeth Haynes and her work, visit her site at http://www.elizabeth-haynes.com/

Author Interviews

Award winning author Roger Smith talks to us about his work, social media, and advice for his 16 year old self…

By Admin

Today we are talking with the thriller writer, Roger Smith. Roger was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. His thrillers CaptureDust DevilsWake Up Dead and Mixed Blood are published in seven languages and two are in development as movies in the US. His books have won the Deutscher Krimi Preis (German Crime Fiction Award) and been nominated for Spinetingler Magazine Best Novel awards. He recently published a novella, Ishmael Toffee.

Roger Smith

Roger Smith

How did you start writing? Did the writing process come to you naturally or was it something that you had to learn?

I wrote my first (very short) crime novel when I was ten. I have always loved crime fiction, but I grew up in apartheid South Africa where writing crime  would have been a short-cut to irrelevance. So I shelved any desire to be a crime writer, became a founder-member of an anti-apartheid film co-operative, and later wrote a lot for film and TV. By the time I finally wrote my first thriller in 2007, crime, sadly, was all too relevant in South Africa.

Following on from this, what is an average day in the life of Roger Smith?

Ashtanga Yoga. Writing. Editing and correspondence/ social networking. Swimming in the ocean. Reading and TV if I have the time.

Your books are renowned for being packed full of action and are very fast paced, have you ever considered writing in a different style, or a different genre?

Interestingly, I have a horror novel coming out later in the year, the first in a series. Called Vile Blood, it’ll be billed as “Roger Smith writing as Max Wilde” to avoid any confusion with my crime thrillers. I was very flattered when the great Jack Ketchum, World Horror Grandmaster, said:  “It has characters you care about, a nasty wit and a strange kind of charm. Can’t wait for the sequel.”

Two of your books are in development as movies, is it hard to see your source material being adapted for the big screen?

No, books and movies are different animals, with different demands. Whatever ends up on the screen, my books will still be on the shelves and eReaders.

Has there ever been a line, or an event in your book you have decided to remove or has been censored due to the level of violence?

Martin Amis photographed by Angela Gorgas in Paris in 1980

Martin Amis photographed by Angela Gorgas in Paris in 1980

No. If people do it, I write about it.

Who is your favourite writer?

Writers I admire: Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith, Ian McEwan, Pete Dexter, Richard Ford, Martin Amis (pictured), Daniel Woodrell, James Sallis.

What are you currently working on? Is writing a second or third book easier than writing your first?

I’m working on my sixth novel, another thriller set in South Africa called Sacrifices. The one-liner: “when the bad guy is you.” For the first time I haven’t created a villain as a character, just two people at war with the darkness in themselves. Interesting to write.

And, no, writing never gets any easier, and the prospect of the empty page (or monitor screen) each morning is as terrifying as it was when I started my first book . More so, in fact.

Your books have received overwhelmingly positive reviews from users on Amazon and from critics, have you been surprised at the good press and do you read user reviews?

I’m very pleased that my dark crime fiction has found appreciative readers around the world. I do read  reviews when I come across them and am very grateful that readers take the time to post their thoughts. Reader reviews help sell books. Period.

You’ve built a large and engaged following through Twitter, is social networking an essential tool for a modern author?

It’s vital. Every day people are talking to me on Twitter and Facebook about my books. Amazingly immediate. I’m always astonished when authors tell me they don’t need social networking. They’re either bestsellers or very naive.

If you could go back and give your 16 year old self any advice, what would it be?

Don’t wait until you’re in your forties to write that first novel.

Thanks to Roger for talking with us today, we are a massive admirer of his books – they are absolutely packed full of action and we strongly recommend you pick one up. Don’t forget you can also visit Roger’s website by clicking here. Roger is very active on Twitter and you can follow him by clicking here.

More interviews soon!

Author Interviews

Author and editor Keith Lowe talks about ‘New Free Chocolate Sex’, his superpowers and advice for authors

By Admin

Keith Lowe, British author and editor was born in London in 1970, and grew up in Hampstead. After travelling around the world for two years, Keith went on to study English Literature at the University of Manchester, and then to work in history publishing. His first novel, Tunnel Vision (2001), follows a man who is challenged to visit every station of the London Underground in a single day. His second novel is New Free Chocolate Sex (2005) and he has also written Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg, a history of Second World War bombing, which was released in 2007. Keith’s newest book, Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, is due out in April this year.

Keith Lowe (photo by Liza Messing)

Keith Lowe (photo by Liza Messing)

Hi Keith,

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Your new book sounds really interesting – we may all have studied the Second World War at school, but the aftermath, and the suffering that continued across Europe is a lesser known topic, but an important part of our history and who we have become nonetheless. We’re pleased to be able to chat to the author, it’s a real pleasure.

Q: Right, so we’ll start with a simple one, when did you first begin to write?

I’ve enjoyed writing ever since I can remember. I wrote my first ‘book’ when I was five years old – I still have it – a tense and brilliant thriller called ‘Dracula in Monsterland’. For some reason this masterpiece has yet to find a publisher. I first set my heart on a career in writing when I was sixteen, and haven’t really taken my eyes off it since. I studied literature at university, and then went into publishing because I wanted to understand the industry. Along the way I have acquired a deep love of history, which is what I write about now.

Q: What are your three biggest pet peeves?

Parking tickets, people who don’t know how to listen, telly programmes that cut from one scene to another every half a second in order to try and make a boring subject appear interesting.

New Free Chocolate Sex

New Free Chocolate Sex

Q: Your book, ‘New Free Chocolate Sex’, tells the story of Matt and Sam, a young marketing director of a confectionary business, and a young woman who is working on a TV documentary which aims to highlight the exploitation of African people in producing chocolate for the Western world to gorge on. When they are trapped inside Matt’s chocolate factory for a weekend, they are forced to face their differences and become united in their attempts to escape. Although this book is essentially a simple story about “two people, and how they are changed by their experiences”, when speaking about your novel you have said, “throughout the book I use chocolate as a symbol not only of how the characters work, but also of how our world works, and there is a part of me that hopes that if my characters can learn to change, then we can all do so”. Since its release in 2005, do you believe national awareness of fairtrade chocolate has increased for the better?

Yes and no. There are a lot more fairtrade products out there – from coffee to bananas – and companies like Divine and Green & Blacks have been leading the way when it comes to chocolate. To a degree, the major chocolate companies have bowed to public pressure – but the pressure to keep costs low is far greater, and most still do the bare minimum for their suppliers and their workers. It’s fairly depressing, actually. We’re all so concerned for ourselves in the current economic climate that we regard it as a luxury to think of what life might be like for child labourers in Cote d’Ivoire.

Q: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

The ability to say precisely the right thing, succinctly, without hesitation, in any situation. Not just in my writing, but in everyday life. I tend to, er, well, I don’t know… what was I saying again?

Q: How often do you experience writer’s block, and how do you go about tackling it?

When I was writing fiction I used to get writer’s block fairly frequently, and found the only way to get over it was to stop what I was doing and go out for a long walk. It’s not such a problem when writing history, because it’s less creative: the facts are there before you – you just have to know how to arrange and analyse them. If I get a block now it’s a sure sign that I haven’t done enough research.

Q: Your new book, ‘Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II’, is due out 5th April 2012. This non-fictional work acknowledges the 35 million deaths that occurred throughout the Second World War, but it continues to tell the story of the ten years that followed, and how Europe continued to suffer, outlining “the warped morality and the insatiable urge for vengeance that were the legacy of the conflict”. How long did it take to research for this book? And how did you go about cutting down the information so it would fit onto a reasonable amount of pages?

It took five years to gather together the research for this book – and that still feels like the bare minimum.  I tried to cover themes that affected every country in Europe, so there was a good deal of research in foreign languages too, for which I needed plenty of help. I can struggle by in German, Italian and French, but I can’t even pretend to understand Polish, Serbo-Croat or Hungarian, so I had to employ half a dozen translators and call in lots of favours from bilingual friends and family. As you rightly say, honing down the huge amounts of information was one of my biggest challenges. It was a matter of deciding what the most important themes were, and trying give a feel for the rest without going off on any lengthy tangents. I wish I could claim that I managed all this on my own, but it would be a lie: fortunately I have a brilliant editor at Penguin who whipped me into shape.

Q: Obviously your writing style for your first two books varies greatly to your non-fiction work, what genre of writing do you prefer?

Fiction is incredibly liberating, because you can do virtually anything you want to. If you want your characters to have superpowers, they can. If you get bored of one of them, you can kill him off. But when you’re writing history books you can’t make anything up – apparently that’s quite frowned upon…! It’s a serious point, because the facts often get in the way of a good story, and there have been times when I really wished events had taken a slightly different turn, or a particular person had said something just a little more dramatic. Unfortunately real life doesn’t always arrange itself into a nice story structure.

On the other hand, the joy of writing non-fiction is that you don’t have to make anything up at all: the story is all ready for you, and all you have to do is discover it. That can be really exciting. There’s nothing like discovering a new document in an archive – something that has been handled by Churchill, or De Gaulle, and which has only been touched by a handful of people since. Writing history also gives you a perfect excuse to interview all kinds of people you would never otherwise get the chance to meet. That’s not something I ever had when I was writing fiction – instead I spent a lot of time going slightly mad in a room on my own.

Q: Who is your hero?

I have lots of heroes. My mother has to be top of the list – how she managed to raise five kids and hold down a job at the same time baffles me. Thinking historically, I have always been in awe of those who did the right thing even when it was difficult: people like Captain Oates, or Hans and Sophie Scholl. Or people with real vision, like George Kennan or Jean Monnet. I could go on…

Q: What advice would you give as an editor for authors hoping to get work published?

I’ve been out with sales reps when they’re selling books to bookshops, and it’s terrifying. They have to summarise the book in just one sentence, and then move on to the next. Put yourself in their shoes – summarise your own idea in a single sentence, and if it sounds boring then you know what sort of reception it will get from a publishers’ sales team.

Once you’ve done that, write a decent, lengthier proposal, with a gripping first paragraph and a handful of reasons why it is unlike any of the other million books out there. Then edit it. Then edit it again. And again. And then get lots of people to read it and give you their sincere opinions – and be prepared to accept criticism.

If it’s fiction, make sure the synopsis is short and punchy, and include the first three chapters. If it’s non-fiction, concentrate on showing that you know your subject backwards, and that you are the best person to write the book. And finally, no matter who you are, get yourself a good agent!

Q: And lastly, the one we ask everyone! World of Books is dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?

Absolutely. I could not do what I do without second hand books. My office is filled with fantastic books that have been allowed to go out of print – they are what underpins any original research I might have done. Almost none of them are available as e-books, and I don’t think I’d download them even if they were. Flicking through the pages of a real, physical book, being able to scribble notes in the margin, leaping backwards and forwards to the notes or the index, and smelling the dust and the age of the pages – no digital media can recreate that experience.

 Thanks for chatting with us Keith, learn more about Keith over at the Simon and Schuster website here, or follow him on Twitter. Don’t forget to check out the World of Books site for loads of cheap books.

Author Interviews

Thriller author and journalist Matt Lynn talks about eBooks, making a story real and the drama of war

By Admin

Matt Lynn, British thriller writer and financial journalist, was born in 1962. Throughout the 90’s Matt worked for The Sunday Times. He is now writes a column for the Wall Street Journal and is a regular contributor to The Spectator. In terms of his novels, Matt is most well-known as being the author of the Death Force series, which started with Death Force in 2009, then continued with Fire Force (2010), Shadow Force (2011) and continues with Ice Force which is due out 29th March 2012. Matt is also the author of Insecurity (1997), and The Watchmen (1998). As well as writing fictional books, Matt has written two business books, The Billion-Dollar Battle: Merck v. Glaxo and Birds of Prey: Boeing v. Airbus.

Matthew Lynn

Matthew Lynn

Hi Matt,

Many thanks for agreeing to an interview with us today, we love the Death Force series here at World of Books; they never fail to have us on the edge of our seats!

Q: So, we’ll start with an easy one, when you were younger, what career did you imagine yourself having?

A footballer, like most small boys. I never particularly saw myself as a writer. It was only after leaving university and working as a journalist that I started thinking about writing novels, and even then it took me a few goes before I got it right.

Q: In the past you have ghost-written dozens of military thrillers. What made you step back and begin writing under your own name?

Well, that’s easy – the money and the fame! Ghost writing was a great experience because it gives you a lot of experience, and allows you to try out different ideas and styles. And you get well-paid. But after a while it gets frustrating seeing someone else get the credit for what is after all your work.

Q: As we’ve already mentioned above, your new book, Ice Force, is due out 29th March. The book continues the story of a group of mercenaries that were first introduced in ‘Death Force’. In ‘Death Force’ we read about their fights and trials in Helmand, Afghanistan, in ‘Fire Force’ the team is thrown into the unforgiving hands of Africa, and in ‘Shadow Force’ they fight pirates in Somalia. In this most recent instalment the team are forced into “a deadly battle for survival in the frozen wastelands of the Arctic”, where they are tasked with locating a murdered millionaire’s blackbox in the ruins of his targeted plane. This newest book sounds just as exciting as the previous three Matt, for those avid fans of yours out there, what can they expect? And are there any surprises in store?

It is a different kind of story, mainly because the Arctic is such an extreme environment. It is as much a survival story as anything else. They are battling the elements, and trying to stay alive. Also, the plot is slightly different. It is much more of a mystery. The unit has to find a plane that came down near the North Pole – but then find out why it came down.

Q: As we mentioned in the previous question, location is obviously an important factor when writing each new

Ice Force Cover

Ice Force Cover

book – Afghanistan is brutal and “the most fascinating combat theatre in the world today”, as we so often hear on the news Africa is full of corrupt regimes and natural resources making it a melting pot for “the dogs of war”, and Somalia remains “a gruesome and failed country”, where the poverty of the people makes piracy a way of life. In ‘Ice Force’ the team touch down in the Arctic. This novel contrasts to the ones before because it sets the mercenaries in a place where there is not already an ongoing battle, and there has not already been wars waged. Why did you choose to do this?

I’ve always enjoyed Arctic thrillers. It is a fascinating place to set a story – it is the closest thing you can do to taking your characters to a different planet without straying into sci-fi. Also, it is really contemporary. There is a huge geo-political battle going on for the oil under the Arctic, and that seemed a good subject for a thriller.

Q: When talking about researching for your books you said you “spent a lot of time interviewing soldiers who had fought in the PMCs”. What real-life stories have inspired you or stayed with you?

Lots of them. By talking to soldiers and mercenaries you collect lots of information. I think what you learn most from the mercenaries is how exposed they are. They are put in very dangerous situations. But they don’t have any of the back-up of regular soldiers.

Q: We know that you have been inspired in your writing by Sven Hassel, who wrote a series of books based on his time in the German Army on the Eastern Front. Obviously military history is a source of great interest to you Matt, why is this? And have you always held this fascination?

War is great drama – it is full of human interest, and conflicts and stories. It is the perfect arena to set stories in. And although the technology changes slightly, the basics of warfare don’t change very much, so historical books are a great source even when you are writing more modern stuff.

Q: You’ve written a few e-books, including ‘BlackOps’ and ‘Lethal Force’ (check out Matt’s Site for more details). It’s got to be asked Matt! Kindle or real books?

That’s a loaded question! E-books are real books. A book, after all, is a collection of words and ideas, not a particular physical object. I love printed books of course, but right now I mostly read on my Kindle. And e-books are opening up all kinds of new possibilities for writers. So in general I think e-books are a great thing for writers.

Q: In the appendix of each of your novels there is a detailed list of all the weapons used throughout the book. How long does it take to research all these?

It is part of the research process of the whole book. I like to include lots of kit, and I need to have a rough idea of how it works to create the story. I try to include some old weapons and some brand new ones. And the appendix is there for readers who want to know a bit more about each weapon.

Q: Of your work people have been known to say statements such as “you can taste the dust and smell the blood” (and World of Books heartily agrees!) If this is the case for a reader of your stories, how real do they become in your mind whilst writing them? And how easy are they to shake off?

The stories are very real. I transport myself to the place in my mind. That is the only way to make it realistic. And of course you find yourself becoming very bound up in the book you are writing – though actually, it is the characters that are harder to shake off than the place.

Q: And the final one we ask everyone! World of Books is dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?

Sure. As a writer, I think e-books are a preferable form of helping the environment, because of course we get paid for them. So I agree with the objective. But it would be better if the writers got paid something.

Thanks for the interview Matt, you can find a whole range of books by Matt at the World of Books.com website or check out Matt’s website here and don’t forget to follow him on Twitter.

Author Interviews

“I think I find words hardest of all”: new author Grace McCleen speaks to World of Books about her debut novel, her little people, and her inspirations

By Admin

Grace McCleen was born in 1981 in Wales. Speaking of her childhood Grace says, “I grew up in a fundamentalist religion and didn’t have much contact with non-believers. My parents weren’t typical converts so we didn’t have much contact with other believers either. When I was ten I was taken out of school and we moved to the country [Ireland]. I spent all the time in the fields with two sheepdogs, or making things in my room”. When Grace and her family moved back to Britain she went back to school and her English teacher suggested she apply to Oxford, which Grace got into with only two A-Levels; it was here that Grace studied English Literature, and she later completed an MA at The University of York. During a period of ill-health Grace often made things, some of the things she made were little model people (you can look at these on Grace’s site), much like the little people the character of Judith makes in Grace’s debut novel The Land of Decoration. After this time, Grace decided to become a full-time writer and musician. As we’ve mentioned above, Grace’s first novel, The Land of Decoration was published 1st March 2012, and has seen her shoot into Waterstones’ list of most promising writers of 2012. Described as a “tremendously affecting novel”, Grace’s debut has been widely acclaimed across the literary world.

Grace McCleen

Grace McCleen

Hi Grace,

Thank you for agreeing to talk to us today! We’re really excited to talk to an author who has just started out as a published writer, especially someone who has sparked so much excitement!

Q: One of the main things that struck us about your website is the artwork on display, not just from the paintings and sketches you worked on at A-Level, but the navigation around the site itself. Art is obviously something that stimulates you Grace, and allows you to express yourself; do you find it easier to explain how you’re feeling through the medium of art or through words?

I think I find words hardest of all. I think the most enjoyable thing for me is to express myself through music, so art is in the middle. They’re both still quite difficult, but not as hard as words.

One of Grace's little people: Jake

One of Grace’s little people: Jake

Q: We’ve got to admit, we here at World of Books love your figures of little people (these can all be seen on Grace’s site). When you were younger you created dozens of these models (including recognisable characters such as Rumplestiltskin, Sherlock Holmes and even the tooth fairy) which, in their medieval clothes all seem as though they could have stepped right out of a fairytale. Our favourite is Mother Gentle, as she seems to exude a warmth that matches her name. How long did each figure take you to make? And what do they mean to you?

I can’t really answer that as I made them all together, so I made all the heads together, then all the arms and legs together, then the bodies. So I had heaps of heads, arms and legs lying around. Overall it took about 7 or 8 months to do all of them. I wasn’t very well at the time so I was doing them mainly at night-time when I felt better. It was about 4-6 years ago now, and I suppose it was like a period of madness. Being ill, I couldn’t really do anything or see anybody so I completely entered into this little world. I wanted to make houses as well, I could have done lots more, to be honest, it could have taken the rest of my life!

Q: Where did the idea for The Land of Decoration come from?

I didn’t really get the idea from making these models because I was interested in making things even as a child, so the book has sort of gone back to then. The idea came from a book I was writing to begin with, a very long book which didn’t work very well, but in the first page of The Land of Decoration I just took the ideas completely from the long book, despite it not having anything to do with Judith.

Q: When speaking about your songs you say “most of the songs came one afternoon when I was playing into a dictaphone”. Do new ideas for songs come to you whilst you go about everyday life, or do they naturally flow when you sit down to the task?

– No not really, they seem to have stopped now. That was about 2 years ago when I wrote most of those songs, but I’m not writing anything at the moment. Maybe I won’t ever again, I don’t know.

Q: So for any aspiring authors who are aiming to get where you are now, what advice could you give?

Don’t go to any creative writing classes or schools because they’ll turn you into a clone and you’ll just end up writing the same as everyone else. To be honest, if you’re meant to write, you’ll write. Don’t force yourself to, don’t try to tick any boxes or jump through any hoops. Don’t try to fill any criteria that is supposedly to do with good writing, because all the most amazing books have broken all the rules and often weren’t understood at the time and were criticised and ridiculed. Work in a vacuum if you can. Read, read other really good books. Stick to your guns and go with your instincts.

Q: As we’ve already mentioned, your debut novel, The Land of Decoration, was released March 1st. The novel tells the story of ten-year-old Judith, who is part of a small religious sect along with her Father. Although she is bullied at school, Judith finds peace in her model of the Promised Land which she calls The Land of Decoration – a little world full of little people, roads and seas. When Judith is fearful of going to school one day, she believes she performs a miracle through her model world, but from then on her life is turned upside down. When asked about this work, you said “in the novel I tried to dramatise what belief can feel like. The whole story is a metaphor for that”. Do you think it has become harder in our modern society for people to hold onto as pure a faith as Judith does in your novel? As religion is often a subject a lot of people avoid, have you been surprised at the rapid success of your work?

The Land of Decoration

The Land of Decoration

Yes I do, I think it has become harder. I think even people who have a faith and believe in God and Christianity, often waver a bit sometimes. Judith’s faith is quite unusual, partly because she is a child and partly because she is so isolated so she doesn’t have much to challenge this faith. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised at the success of the novel. I have had people who have gotten the wrong end of the stick and who have thought I wrote it to have a go about God and Christians, but on the whole people have been fascinated because it’s like a window into another world, and I always thought it would be like that, I didn’t think the subject matter would alienate most people. I think this is mostly due to the way I deal with it; you could write a very boring and offensive novel about religion, but I think because it’s through a child’s eyes, it’s humourous, touching and quite innocent.

Q: “If fiction is life in microcosm, then the most intricate examples of the art are those in which protagonists create their own miniature worlds. It is in this tradition of microcosmic fiction that one might tentatively place Grace McCleen’s loveable, unique and thrillingly uncategorisable debut novel…This is an extraordinary and peculiarly haunting novel” (review from The Financial Times). To what extent would you agree that this novel is “uncategorisable”?

Yes, I suppose I would agree with this. Obviously it is a novel and most people see it as that, but I liked this review very much.

Q: So we know that you’ve finished writing your next book (pause whilst we have a quick cheer here!), which is due out in 2013, and will be called ‘The Professor of Poetry’. This second novel is “about time, stillness and music”. For those of us who are already fans of yours based on ‘The Land of Decoration’, what can we expect from this book?

There isn’t much storyline, it’s kind of a very still novel, and I expect it will be challenging and potentially boring for a lot of readers. In contrast to The Land of Decoration it’s very slow-paced, and it deals with very tiny things. No-one is getting beaten up, there’s no strike, there’s no heads down the toilet, it’s very much about details and internal monologues; the style is incredibly different. I think some people really will like it and some people really won’t.

An inspiration for Grace: Franz Kafka

An inspiration for Grace: Franz Kafka

Q: Who inspires you?

Marilynne Robinson, Cormac McCarthy, W.G Sebald, those are just contemporary writers. I could go on forever! There’s lots of other writers like Kafka, the Brontes, Thomas Mann, and that’s just prose writers. It depends how long you want the list to be!

Q: What is your favourite book?

Oh my goodness, I really don’t know. Possibly Moby Dick, Mrs Dalloway, possibly HouseKeeping. Those are definitely three of my favourites.

Q: And lastly, World of Books is dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?

I don’t believe in wasting books. It is important to give books a new home. I particularly like old, or second-hand books rather than new books, because they have a history. There are little stains on the pages and scribbles that you can share. I think it’s a crime if a book is thrown out.

Thank you for a great interview Grace! Make sure you grab a copy of The Land of Decoration if you haven’t already, it’s well worth a read as an introduction to an exciting new author! And if you fancy a good read, make sure you visit the World of Books site today!