Finding Nina front cover
characters, Crooked Cat Books, Fiction

Finding Nina

UK author Sue Barnard shares a post she wrote about the main character in her new novel, Finding Nina. This is the second time Sue has used Nina as a character. As she says, Finding Nina is part-prequel, part-sequelRomance with a twist 2019.04.07 to Nice Girls Don’t.

Another character is Nina’s mom, Alice. Or as Sue says, “There are two sides to every story, and I wanted to give Alice the opportunity to tell hers.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Sue’s last novel Heathcliff, which fills in those missing years when Emily Bronte’s character disappeared. We are fellow authors at Crooked Cat Books. I like her humorous Facebook posts about public displays of typos — alas, unintentional by those who wrote them.

Read on.

WHO IS NINA?

Back in 2012, when I first started writing Nice Girls Don’t, I intended it to be a stand-alone story and I had no plans for a sequel.  Only after it was published (in 2014) did it dawn on me that a loose end had been unintentionally left dangling.  The book is set in 1982, but in one key scene, mention was made of something which had occurred almost forty years earlier – a baby girl, born in secret during World War Two, and given up for adoption.  This was not referred to again in Nice Girls Don’t, and thankfully it didn’t affect the outcome of that story, but it did leave open the possibility of another one: What could have happened to that wartime baby?

The baby was Nina, born in mid-November 1943, when World War Two was still at its height.  Her mother was seventeen and unmarried, and although the war had changed many things, the prevailing post-Victorian attitude to illegitimacy was not one of them. So one month later, just before Christmas 1943, Nina was handed over to a childless couple who formally adopted her and changed her name to Stella.

Finding Nina is part-prequel, part-sequel to Nice Girls Don’t– but it isn’t just about the eponymous Nina/Stella.  It’s also the story of Nina’s mother Alice, who is always present in the background in Nice Girls Don’t, but who (for reasons which anyone who reads the book will appreciate) never really steps out of the shadows. There are two sides to every story, and I wanted to give Alice the opportunity to tell hers.

Here is how that story begins: 

Wincanton, Somerset, England – 14thNovember 1943

“PLEASE! Help me! I can’t do this!”

Alice panted in agony as the pains increased. She had never imagined that it was possible to suffer like this. It felt as though a vicious steel band was being tightened around her stomach.

The boot-faced middle-aged midwife threw her a look which was at best unsympathetic, at worst downright hostile.

“Help? You must be joking. There’s a war on. Even if we had the stuff, we wouldn’t waste it on the likes of you. You got yourself into this mess, my girl, and you can get yourself out of it. If you’d kept your legs together nine months ago, you wouldn’t be here now!”

Alice didn’t need to be reminded that there was a war on. It was because of the war that she was now in this dreadful predicament. Without the war, she would never have left her home village to work as a Land Girl. She would never have lost her father in the freak air raid two years earlier. And she would never have met Tom, the handsome Scottish soldier who had been stationed in the nearby town, and who had captured her heart.

Closing her eyes to shut out the midwife’s glares of condemnation, Alice clenched her teeth in a vain attempt to suppress another scream. Through her pain-soaked consciousness she clung desperately to the one thought which could sustain her: the distant but already fading memory of the baby’s father.

Tom had never even known about her pregnancy. He had been posted to India eight months earlier – and his letters home had ceased before Alice had even realised she was overdue. She had no idea exactly what had happened to him, but for him to cut off all communication was so out of character that she knew she could only fear the worst. Any remaining hope of ever seeing him again was fading with each passing day.

Was it a crime to fall in love? Was it a crime to seize the moment, knowing that it might never come again? If so, she was certainly being punished for it now. Not just through the physical agony of a long and difficult labour, but also with the mental anguish which came with the knowledge that she was about to break the most damning commandment of all. The unwritten Eleventh Commandment which had been drummed into her for the whole of her short life: Thou Shalt Not Bring Shame Upon Thy Family.

“Come on, Alice. You’re doing fine.”

These words were spoken by a different voice. It was a few moments before Alice realised that the bullying midwife had been joined by a younger nurse, who was now holding a cool damp cloth against Alice’s burning forehead.

“It doesn’t…feel…like it…” Alice gasped.

“You are. It won’t be long now.”

The older midwife, who was crouching down by Alice’s feet, spoke again. “It’s breech.”

Through the fog of pain, Alice wondered if she detected a trace of malice in the woman’s tone.

“Breech? What does that mean?”

“It’s coming out feet first,” the younger midwife explained. “It means it might take a little longer.”

A little longer? How many more hours can this go on?

“I can’t…”

“Yes, you can. Come on, now. Push gently, and I’ll guide the baby out. We can do this together.”

“No! I…” Alice’s next words were lost in a piercing scream, then another, then another. Then, suddenly, it was all over. She lay back, panting and exhausted.

“Well done, Alice,” the younger nurse said, as she covered her with a rough utility blanket. “You’ve got a beautiful baby girl.”

The older midwife snatched up the baby, marched across the room and placed her on the scales. “Six pounds five,” she barked.

“Is that good?” Alice asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

“It’s not bad, considering,” the younger nurse answered. “What are you going to call her?”

“I don’t know…”

As her daughter was placed in her arms, names were the very last thing on Alice’s mind. She glanced down at the wrinkled features, and the tiny fingers which were already gripping her own.

Yes, she thought, she is beautiful. And she is going to need a name. But what’s the point? I can’t possibly keep her.

She looked up at the young nurse. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Nina.”

Alice looked up at her through brimming eyes. “That’s a lovely name. I’ll call her Nina, after you.”

FINDING NINA is officially released June 3, but is already available for pre-order.

1943: A broken-hearted teenager gives birth in secret. Her soldier sweetheart has disappeared, and she reluctantly gives up her daughter for adoption.

1960: A girl discovers a dark family secret, but it is swiftly brushed back under the carpet. Conventions must be adhered to.

1982: A young woman learns of the existence of a secret cousin. She yearns to find her long-lost relative, but is held back by legal constraints.  Life goes on.

2004: Everything changes…

 ABOUT SUE:

Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet who was born in North Wales some time during the last millennium.  She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.  She now lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.

Sue’s own family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Finding Nina, which is her sixth novel, is not that book.

Blog   Facebook   G+   Twitter   Instagram   Amazon  Goodreads  RNA

ALSO BY SUE BARNARD:

The Ghostly Father  Nice Girls Don’t  The Unkindest Cut of All  Never on Saturday  Heathcliff

 

 

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Author Interview, characters, Crooked Cat Books

Meet Martin Carter of Cultivating a Fuji

Author Miriam Drori has written this post about a character in her latest book, Cultivating a Fuji. She writes about Martin Carter, the book’s main character. Here’s what Miriam says about Martin: “Probably every reader has met a Martin at some time in their lives. Did they worry aboutBookArrival3 him? Did they wonder how he came to be like that? Or did they just laugh and move on?” Intriguing.

I have a confession to make. Miriam is also my editor, so I am looking forward to reading her book.

Here, I will let her tell you about Martin Carter.

Who is your character?

He’s called Martin Carter. He comes from London, lives by the sea in Bournemouth and works there as a computer programmer. This is 1977. Nowadays, he’d be called a software engineer.

What does he/she look like?

He looks normal – short brown hair, blue eyes, average height. His clothes look a bit geeky sometimes, or maybe it’s just the way he wears them. But still, he gets mistaken for normal. Until he opens his mouth.

What is your character’s back story?

What stands out in Martin’s childhood is bullying. He was the one all the children loved to make fun of. The adults in his life provided no support whatsoever. The teachers believed children had to solve their problems on their own. His parents were too wrapped up in themselves to be able to help in any way.

What is your character’s role in your novel?

Martin is the main character. His whole life is laid bare in the novel – not as a series of episodes, but rather via two main events, decades apart, that elegantly divide the novel into two parts. In the first part, Martin is sent to Japan. In the second part… you’ll have to read the novel to find out.

Why should readers care about this character?

Probably every reader has met a Martin at some time in their lives. Did they worry about him? Did they wonder how he came to be like that? Or did they just laugh and move on? Many of the characters in the novel choose the last of those options, but fortunately not all of them do. Even those who make the effort struggle to make him out. But readers have the advantage of being able to delve deeper inside his head and emerge with a better understanding and possibly empathy.

Give a brief excerpt featuring your character.

In this excerpt, Martin has just paid a visit to Kevin, who’s in hospital. Kevin was all set to go to Japan when he broke his leg. That’s why Martin’s going instead.

Martin retraced his steps to the hospital entrance, an easy task when you simply had to follow the EXIT signs. On the way, he paused at a flower shop. Inside, a man was looking around at the flowers, some in pots, others in bunches. A woman was talking to another, presumably the assistant. A pink rose leaned towards Martin from the other side of the glass, and seemed to be smiling. If the rose were a person, Martin thought, it would have tried to start a conversation with him and given up.

Martin studied the smile. Was it kind or leering? He couldn’t tell. With people he could; they were much more transparent. Often Martin was sure he knew exactly what they were thinking simply by watching their faces. Mostly, they were thinking something uncomplimentary about him.

Martin hadn’t noticed the flower shop on his way in. He’d been concentrating on finding the way to Kevin’s ward in orthopaedics. Following the signs along several corridors. Trying to look as if he knew where he was going so that no one would ask if he needed help. Turning on his heel when he reached a dead end and trying again. Once in the ward, looking carefully at each face he passed until he found the one he recognised, even at that unusual angle.

Should he have bought flowers for Kevin? He wasn’t sure, but he thought that might be something normal people did. Never mind. It would have been too normal an action for him. Kevin wouldn’t have expected it. He was probably surprised that Martin turned up at all, and he wouldn’t have gone if John hadn’t suggested it. Martin had considered making the excuse that he’d only just got back from the passport office and tomorrow he’d be busy packing, but in the end the visit went well and he was glad he’d made the effort.

A man standing in the doorway of the flower shop addressed Martin. “Excuse me, can I help you choose some flowers for a patient? We have some lovely, fresh chrysanthemums. Or our daffodils would make a fine present. Would you like to take a look?”

How dare he assume I want to buy his flowers, was Martin’s immediate thought. Just because I’m looking doesn’t mean I want to buy anything. I wasn’t even inside his stupid shop.

“No!” Even Martin was surprised at the volume of the word that came out of his mouth. The vendor was clearly taken aback. Martin turned and marched past him towards the exit. Serves him right, he thought, although he was beginning to wonder whether the flower-seller really deserved that response. He’d been annoyed at being disturbed from his reveries, and had directed his anger at the man who was really only doing his job. Never mind. That was the advantage of interacting with strangers. You didn’t have to see them again and know they remembered a previous embarrassing incident.

A brief synopsis

Convinced that his imperfect, solitary existence is the best it will ever be, Martin unexpectedly finds himself being sent to represent his company in Japan. His colleagues think it’s a joke; his bosses are certain he will fail. What does Martin think? He simply does what he’s told. That’s how he’s survived up to now – by hiding his feelings.

Amazingly, in the land of strange rituals, sweet and juicy apples, and too much saké, Martin flourishes and achieves the impossible. But that’s only the beginning. Keeping up the momentum for change proves futile. So, too, is a return to what he had before. Is there a way forward, or should he put an end to the search now?

Gradually, as you’ll see when Martin looks back from near the end of his journey, life improves. There’s even a woman, Fiona, who brings her own baggage to the relationship, but brightens Martin’s days. And just when you think there can be no more surprises, another one pops up.

Throughout his life, people have laughed at ‘weirdo’ Martin; and you, as you read, will have plenty of opportunity to laugh, too. Go ahead, laugh away, but you’ll find that there’s also a serious side to all this…

Miriam Drori on social media

Miriam Drori can be found on Facebook, Twitter, GoodreadsPinterest, Instagram, Wattpad and on her website/blog and social anxiety blog

Amazon page: Author.to/MiriamDroriAtAmazon

Cultivating a Fuji: mybook.to/cultivatingafuji

Social Anxiety Revealed: myBook.to/socialanxietyrevealed

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Checking the Traps, Isabel Long Mystery Series

When You Gotta Write Poetry

For the next few weeks, I will be running posts that appeared in blogs by my fellow authors and others. Here is one about writing poems for my latest mystery, Checking the Traps. Not my typical form of expression, but my victim and a suspect write poetry. So, I had to. This post appeared in author Angela Wren’s blog: http://www.angelawren.co.uk/

Like what you read? Here’s how to buy the book on Amazon: https://mybook.to/checkingthetraps

I wrote poetry before I could write prose. I began in college, where I fancied myself a poet, and a few years afterward until real life, including having six kids and a 25-year writer’s block, took over. When I did resume writing, I turned to prose, that is, novels and short stories. I no longer wrote poetry. Ah, but that changed when I wrote the third book in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

In Checking the Traps, Isabel is hired by a local bad boy drug dealer, Gary Beaumont, to find out how his half-brother died. Did Cary Moore jump from a bridge known for suicides or was he pushed? But what fires up Isabel’s interest in this case is that Cary drove heavy equipment by day and wrote poetry at night.

Gary lends Isabel the notebooks in which his half-brother transcribed all of his poems. As Isabel discovers, Cary’s poetry in the early books are really juvenile. But he gets better, well, enough that a famous poet uses the poems for his own in what turns out to be an award-winning book. (Yes, the poet is a suspect in the man’s death.)

Isabel also finds poetry that Cary wrote as gifts for other people.

So, that meant I had to write poetry, too, for this book.

Actually I found writing poetry wasn’t hard at all. I was able to channel that inner poet to come up with several complete poems plus lines from others. I tried to imagine what a man who had never gone farther than 100 miles from his country home would write about and how he would write it. I figured on a plain but sturdy style of writing. There would have lots of imagery from nature. The poems would not be long.

Poetry, including a reading where Isabel corners the famous poet, figures big in this book.

Did the experience inspire me to write more poetry? I will be honest and say no. But I enjoyed letting one of my characters do it instead.

Here’s an excerpt from Checking the Traps. Jack is the owner of the Rooster Bar, where Isabel works part-time. He’s also her love interest in this series.

Jack motions me to come behind the counter.

“I’ve got somethin’ to show you,” he says. “I forgot all about it. Here you go.”

Jack hands me a paper. I immediately recognize Cary Moore’s handwriting. It’s a poem he called “The Barman.” It’s a lot more sophisticated than his second book of poetry, aptly named Book Deuce, which I read this afternoon after Ma and I returned from our field trip and before I got myself ready for work. Cary got heavy into rhyming with Book Deuce. Sometimes it works, a lot of the time it doesn’t. They remind me of the poems I read when I was a kid in elementary school. It appears Cary read them, too.

But here’s “The Barman.”

What’ll it be tonight, boys?

The barman asks each one.

Give me some hope in a bottle.

Give me courage.

Give me love.

The barman laughs.

Sorry, boys, it’s only beer.

He even signed the bottom.

“I like it a lot,” I tell Jack. “You should frame it and hang it behind the bar. Want me to do that for you?”

Jack’s face squeezes into an amused squint.

“Really, Isabel?”

“Yeah, really, Jack. Let me put it in my bag.”

 

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Checking the Traps: Meet My Next Victim

For the next couple of weeks, I will be running posts that appeared in blogs by my fellow authors and others. Here is one about the victim, Cary Moore,
in my latest mystery, Checking the Traps. This one appeared in author Sue Barnard’s blog http://broad-thoughts-from-a-home.blogspot.com/. Like what you read? Here’s how to buy the book on Amazon: https://mybook.to/checkingthetraps

My mysteries always have a victim. And it’s Isabel Long’s mission to find out what really happened to that person.

Isabel, a longtime journalist turned P.I., focuses on solving cold cases in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. In the first, Chasing the Case, a woman had disappeared 28 years earlier. In the second, Redneck’s Revenge, a junkyard owner supposedly died in a fire because he was too drunk to get out.

And in Checking the Traps, the victim is a highway worker by day and a poet by night. The official ruling was that Cary Moore jumped from a bridge known for suicides. His half-brother, Gary Beaumont, doesn’t believe it. For years, Gary has been trying to get someone to look into it, and now that Isabel has solved two cases, he turns to her for help.

It’s not as if Isabel and Gary have had a friendly relationship. After all, he and his brother, Larry, are drug-dealing bad boys who terrorized Isabel a bit in her last case.

But Isabel has a fondness for those men who take care of the roads, especially in snowy winters.

Plus, she is intrigued by the story of a poetry-writing truck driver. Cary hand-wrote his poems in composition books, and as Isabel goes through them, she sees a vast improvement. Perhaps that is the influence of the famous poet who was his neighbor. And as the case goes on, she finds the poems he wrote as gifts to people.

His poetry certainly reflects the person Cary was. Here’s an excerpt:

As I read Cary’s poems, I get an image of the self-taught poet. Or perhaps he was a natural and only needed practice to get it down. He wrote about the world around him. I smile when I read in one he calls “Close to Home” that he’s never traveled more than a hundred miles from where he lives and doesn’t feel he needs to go any farther.

Cary wrote about cutting wood, apologizing to these grand beasts, as he calls the trees on his land, but his family needs to keep warm this winter. In one poem, he finds a pair of old skates in his barn and remembers as a child, gliding on ice, if only life was still that easy.

Cary was married to a woman, Cherie, who runs a hair salon in their home. They were expecting a child when he died. He was a handy guy and a hard worker. But he’s also a bit of a boozer and drug user, so he’s got problems. And as it turns out, he was a bit naïve, especially concerning his famous neighbor.

In this scene, Isabel and her ‘Watson’ — her 93-year-old mother, Maria — visit Cherie. Isabel wants to know more about her late husband’s poetry. Cherie works on Maria’s hair while they talk.

 “I think he got ideas for poems when he was drivin’ truck for the town, especially when he was plowin’ in the winter. He’d keep his eyes on the road, but his mind would wander. He started keepin’ a notebook in the cab of his truck, and on his breaks, he scribbled stuff down.” She laughs. “The other guys on the crew kidded him about it, but he didn’t care.”

“When did he write?”

“At night usually, on the weekends some. He did it at the kitchen table. He wrote on paper. He didn’t use a typewriter or computer. When he was finished with a poem, he’d write it down in one of his notebooks.”

“Did he show you his poems?”

“All the time. He read them out loud, too. They changed over the years. You’ll see. They get more serious.”

“One of the notebooks looks like it caught on fire.”

“I came home one day and saw Cary throwing it into the woodstove. I grabbed the book and put out the fire. I think he was going to burn ’em all. He wouldn’t tell me why, but he was upset about somethin’.”

“How long was that before he died?”

She holds the scissors above a strand of hair as she thinks. She turns, blinking toward me.

“It was a few weeks before. I hadn’t thought of that.”

 

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Building Character, On Writing

Meet Beth Haldane of the London Murder Mysteries

Alice Castle is the latest author to appear in this series I call Building Character. The author of the London Murder Mysteries series, Alice chose to write about her protagonist, Beth Haldane, who she calls a Marmite character. That means you either love her or loathe her.

But as Alice puts it, “Beth cares about the right things. She loves her son, she hates injustice.” I would say those are commendable traits.

Here I will let Alice do the talking.

Who is your character?

My favourite character in my London Murder Mysteries series has to be my protagonist, Beth Haldane. She’s a bit of a Marmite character, as we say in the UK – you either love her or loathe her, 17362662_1817860305204464_694387859854246869_nalthough luckily for me even the people who’ve told me she drives them nuts have carried on reading the books. I think she has enough redeeming features to atone for the fact that she’s a terrible prevaricator. She’s so bad she’ll even put off prevaricating until tomorrow.

What does she look like?

Beth has a long fringe which, as one of my reviewers pointed out, is now almost a separate character in the stories. The rest of her hair is brown and also pretty wilful. She wears it in a pony tail which she has to adjust a lot. She is also very short. The fact that she often can’t quite reach things or see over the heads of other people makes her try a lot harder in many ways and is one of the clues to her determined character.

What is your character’s back story?

Beth is part of Dulwich, as she has lived there all her life, but she has always felt like an underdog, due to her height, her appearance and her family circumstances. This enables her to see the absurdities of the place (and there are plenty) more clearly.

What is your character’s role in your novel?

Beth drives the action – she is forced by circumstances to become an amateur sleuth, then astonishes everyone, including herself, by being rather good at it.

Why should readers care about this character?

Beth cares about the right things. She loves her son, she hates injustice. She doesn’t like the idea of people getting away with bad things. In a city like London, where crime often goes unsolved and people can die unmourned, Beth is determined to get the bottom of the mysteries that she stumbles into.

Give a brief excerpt featuring your character.

Beth Haldane’s small hand tucked itself into DI Harry York’s big, comforting paw. The warmth and firmness of his grip did a lot to distract from the horrible scene in front of her.

‘Can you see the head anywhere?’ she said through half-closed lids.

There was a pause.

‘Nope,’ York confirmed. ‘Looks like it’s been… eaten.’

‘That might explain the crunching sound I heard earlier,’ said Beth faintly.

As crime scenes went, it wasn’t actually the worst she’d ever attended. But the fact that it was in her own kitchen did make things very nasty. And seeing the perpetrator, sitting only a yard away from the grisly remains, was altogether too much.

‘Magpie, you’re a bad, bad cat,’ said Beth crossly. Magpie, looking up from washing her paws after a delicious extra breakfast, gave Beth a mildly affronted glance before continuing her ablutions. Feathers really did stick in the teeth.

(From Revenge on the Rye, published December 2018)

A synopsis of Revenge on the Rye:

Beth Haldane, SE21’s answer to Miss Marple, thinks she is going for a carefree stroll on Peckham Rye with her best friend, Katie, and her annoying new puppy, Teddy. But before Beth knows it, she is embroiled in her most perplexing mystery yet.

Strange events from her family’s past, present-day skulduggery in the art world, and the pressures of moving school in south London threaten to overwhelm Beth. Will she be able to piece together the puzzle before her son’s crucial interview at Wyatt’s? Or will Beth’s insatiable curiosity finally drag down all her dreams for the future?

Join Beth, her irascible on-off boyfriend, Detective Inspector Harry York of the Metropolitan Police, and the dog walkers of Peckham Rye in a tale of murder, mayhem – and bloody revenge.

About Alice Castle

Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, set in Brussels and London, was a European hit and sold out in two weeks.

Death in Dulwich was published in September 2017 and has been a number one best-seller in the UK, US, France, Spain and Germany. A sequel, The Girl in the Gallery was published in December 2017 to critical acclaim and also hit the number one spot. Calamity in Camberwell, the third book in the London Murder Mystery series, was published in August 2018, with Homicide in Herne Hill following in October 2018. Revenge on the Rye came out in December 2018. Alice is currently working on the sixth London Murder Mystery adventure, The Body in Belair Park. Once again, it will feature Beth Haldane and DI Harry York.

Alice lives in south London and is married with two children, two step-children and two cats.

She is also a mummy blogger and book reviewer via her website: https://www.alicecastleauthor.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alicecastleauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DDsDiary?lang=en

Links to buy books: http://www.MyBook.to/GirlintheGallery

http://www.myBook.to/1DeathinDulwich,

http://myBook.to/CiC

http://myBook.to/homicideinhernehill

http://myBook.to/revengeontherye

Death in Dulwich is now also out as an audiobook: https://www.audible.com/pd/B07N1VNMLT/?source_code=AUDFPWS0223189MWT-BK-ACX0-140657&ref=acx_bty_BK_ACX0_140657_rh_us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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