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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Cover - Front
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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characters, Western Massachusetts

The Stranger Next Door

Okay, so I’ve told you about two characters in The Sweet Spot: an old coot and one impertinent woman. Benny and Leona offer a bit of comic relief to this novel, which will be released in January. Now, let me tell you about the stranger who moves next door.

His name is Harlan Doyle. Edie, the book’s main character, notices him at the Memorial Day ceremony held at the town common. Besides being the only non-resident there, Harlan has deep scars on his face his sunglasses can’t hide. It’s obvious from the way he stands he was badly hurt one time.

So what’s Harlan doing in Conwell? He’s here for his fresh start. But he does have a connection to this hilltown. He is moving into his grandmother’s house, which is next door to Edie, her father and aunt. They live on Doyle Road, so you know the family goes way back. His grandmother died three years earlier and the house, which was left empty, needs a lot of work. Harlan is a woodworker, so he can handle it.

Harlan has had his rough times. He acted badly after a failed marriage, but as he says, he at least had the anonymity of the city. He didn’t drink, do drugs, or bother his ex-wife in a nosy little town. He had to recover from a serious accident. But the Harlan we meet has gotten over that. He’s a kind and rather shy man who is amused by his neighbors and what happens in town. He is envious of the close relationship Edie has with her crusty so-and-so of a father.

Of course, his neighbors and townspeople are curious about him as well.

He has a key role in this novel’s story.

Writing about Harlan was also a chance for me to demonstrate my knowledge of woodworking and building that I acquired via osmosis. My husband, Hank, is a master woodworker. When I showed him the book, he said I got those parts just right.

Here’s an excerpt. Edie welcomes Harlan to the neighborhood. He’s living in a tent outside because his grandmother’s house is uninhabitable.

“Hey, there,” she called to Harlan, and when she was closer, “My name’s Edie St. Claire. I’m your next-door neighbor.”

Harlan pulled himself upright. His bad leg felt dead and useless, so he punched it a bit to get it moving, feeling embarrassed. Edie kept smiling as if she didn’t notice. He was on his feet and stretching himself upright. He nodded.

“I’m Harlan. Harlan Doyle.”

She stood at the bottom of the steps. She held something wrapped in aluminum foil.

“I know who you are. Pop told me about you. So did my Aunt Leona. I hear your truck go by. I brought you something.” Her hand swung forward. “This is for you. Banana bread. I made it myself this morning. It has real walnuts.”

Feeling too tall and awkward standing on the porch above this woman, he limped down the steps. He took the bread. It was still warm.

“That was awfully nice of you,” he told her.

Edie glanced around. Harlan saw what she saw.

“You got a lot to do here.”

“I work with wood.”

“Work with wood. What’s that mean?”

“I build furniture. One-of-a-kind pieces.”

“Fancy stuff?”

“Sometimes.” He grinned. “My tools are supposed to get here soon.”

Her head tipped to one side.

“You gonna sell the house when you’re done?”

“No. I’m planning to live here for good.”

“For good? Really? People usually fix up these old places to make money.”

She came nearer. Her blue eyes opened wider. He felt himself smile.

“Not me. This house belonged to my family.”

She laughed as she gestured toward the tent.

“You’d better hurry up then. Winter always comes faster around here than we think, and your tent’s not gonna keep you very warm.”

He nodded. Edie only came up to his shoulders. She didn’t seem to mind being this close to a man she just met.

“I was going to go into town to find a roofer. I don’t have a phone yet. I thought I’d use the payphone near the store.” He slapped at his right thigh. “Bum leg. It’d be tough for me going up and down a ladder carrying bundles of shingles.”

She studied his leg and then his face.

“Were you in the war?” she asked quietly. “Is that how it happened?”

“I was in an accident.”

He glanced away for a moment. Her eyes were still on him.

“You got hurt real bad. Sorry it happened.” She paused. “I know someone who can help you. His name’s Walker St. Claire. He’s my brother-in-law. He does this kinda work, and anyone who hires him gets his money’s worth. He could help you find a plumber and electrician, too, if you need ’em. You got a paper and pencil? I can give you his number.”

“Come inside.”

Harlan stumbled forward, dragging his leg, impatient at his clumsiness, but he made it to the door first, so he could open it for her. The kitchen was a large, square room with wooden cabinets and six-over-six paned windows that would let in natural light once their glass was washed. This was the first room he cleaned. The appliances were long gone, except for an iron cook stove in one corner. The plumbing was missing beneath the sink, but its porcelain was in decent shape. He already fixed the leg on the kitchen table. That and a chair he found in the attic were the only pieces of furniture in the room. He set the bread on the table.

“I liked your grandmother an awful lot,” Edie told him. “I work at my in-laws’ store. I used to bring her groceries on Saturdays. It was the day she baked, and she always gave me something to take home.”

“I’m afraid I didn’t know her very well. I only came here a few times when I was a boy.”

“That’s a shame. Elmira was a wonderful woman, and she was awfully kind to us. I remember she made us all dinner when my mother died. I still have the pink blanket she crocheted for Amber after she was born. Amber’s my little girl.”

She laughed.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

“Whenever your grandmother hired Pop to help around the house, she made sure he completely finished the job before she paid him. She’d give it a close inspection. She knew my father all right. She’d say, ‘Alban, don’t ever try to fool an old lady, at least not this old lady’.” Edie raised a finger. “I suggest you do the same, Harlan Doyle. I love my Pop, but he’s bit of a rascal, if you get what I mean.”

He handed her a paper and a stubby pencil from the counter. He watched her write.

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: One of the bonfires lit at a holiday event in Taos Saturday: Bonfires on Bent Street.

 

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characters, Writing

Crusty Old Coots

I like characters who are crusty old coots. My next novel, The Sweet Spot, has good one. His name is Alban Sweet.

The Sweet Spot is the first of my hilltown books to be launched, this one in January. As I’ve explained before, they are set in a rural stretch of Western Massachusetts, where my family and I once lived. I also reported on it for a local daily.

The town of Conwell and the characters in my book are fabricated although, heaven knows, those little towns (population 1,200 and fewer) are full of characters. Alban Sweet, who is known as Benny to most everyone except his late wife, his sister, and a few of the old-timers, would feel at home.

He’s Pop to Edie, his daughter and the novel’s main character. His granddaughter calls him Poppy.

Alban is a rascal of a guy who has run the town dump for about 35 years. (The novel is set in 1978.) He brings home the stuff people toss out that he feels still has some value. The outbuildings behind the home he shares with Edie is full of the junk. Yeah, he’s a bit of a drinker.

And he has a notorious feud with the town’s road boss because he keeps borrowing stuff from the highway department without asking. In keeping with a good feud, the road boss makes sure his dirt road is plowed and graded last.

Alban loves his daughter and granddaughter, Amber. (His other two daughters won’t have anything to do with him.) He would do anything for them. His love is true.

By the way, Alban is made up and not based on anyone real although I will admit I have met more than my share of crusty old coots. And, yes, my other hilltown novels have them.

Here’s a scene from early in the novel. Edie and Amber have just returned from a Memorial Day party at her in-laws. Earlier that day, the town has a ceremony to honor the soldiers who died in war, including Edie’s husband who was killed in Vietnam. Alban wasn’t invited to the in-laws’  because he got stinking drunk one year and insulted one of the guests. So, Edie and her daughter brought Pop a plate of chicken and the fixings from the party. By the way, the character, Harlan Doyle, has a significant role as the book moves along.

Edie watched her father eat. His thick white hair fell in front of his eyes. She needed to cut it again.

“What’d you do today?” she asked.

Pop ran a hand over his whiskers. He grunted.

“I straightened up the place,” he said.

“That so?”

Edie laughed because the room was filled tightly with junk. The kitchen sink was stacked high with dirty dishes. She and Amber would have to wash them tomorrow.

“When I got sick of that, I got the mower started and tried to cut the grass, but it’s gotten so goddamned high. I’ll have to use the weed whacker from the highway garage.”

Pop cut two short rows in the grass before he left the mower next to the old doghouse filled with gas cans. Edie wasn’t surprised. The closest distance between two points for her father was usually a crooked line.

Edie planted a hand on her hip.

“I saw how far you got. It couldn’t have taken very long,” she said.

Pop ignored her.

“I tried to take a nap on the porch, but there was too much hammering next door. Bang, bang, bang, that’s all I could hear.”

“At Aunt Leona’s?”

“Nah, the other side. Doyle’s.”

The Doyle place was located at the bottom of their dead-end road, closed up after the last Doyle, Elmira, died, and the family who lived elsewhere couldn’t decide what to do with the property. It must have been three years ago, and Pop got a few bucks keeping an eye on the place.

“Somebody moved in? Elmira’s house has gotten really rundown.”

Pop glanced up from his plate.

“I went over to see what’s what and met the fella. Damnedest face I ever seen. Scars up and down like somethin’ clawed him. He walked with an awful bad limp.”

“What clawed him?” Amber asked.

“Didn’t bring it up. It’s not polite, honey. I’ll let your Aunt Leona do it.” Pop grinned at his crack. “Friendly guy though. Name’s Harlan Doyle. His father, Aldrich, grew up next door. Elmira’s boy. He went to Japan in the war, and when he came back, he married a woman and moved south to be with her people. They used to visit the old folks here once in a while. Says he remembers me.”

“I saw a man at the ceremony today,” Edie said. “He wore sunglasses, but they didn’t cover the bad scars on his face. He’s tall, but his body was crooked like somethin’ wasn’t holding him up.”

“That’s him.”

“He says he’s gonna fix up the place?” Edie asked. “Is he really planning to live there?”

“That’s what he says. Maybe I’ll get me some work out of it.”

Pop made smacking noises with his mouth. He pointed toward the hutch.

“I almost forgot. I got a present for you, Amber. Go see over there.”

Amber went to the hutch. She held a wooden box when she twirled around.

“This it?” she asked.

“Yup, darlin’, bring it here.”

Pop’s eyes grew bigger as he told Amber to twist the crank on the box’s bottom, and after she did, the workings produced a tiny, tinny tune. Edie shifted in her chair to give her daughter room. Amber opened and shut the lid. She smiled at the gift and at Pop.

“Thanks, Poppy.”

Edie hoped her daughter would never be ashamed of her grandfather. Even though Ma got mad at Pop, she always defended him for working hard for his family. “Somebody has to take care of the dump,” her mother said when her sisters complained how horrible their father smelled.

When Ma got sick and after she died, Pop took Edie to the dump when Leona was not available to babysit. She stayed close to her father, or if the weather was bad, she waited in his attendant’s shack when he went outside to help a customer. Some people stared, wondering why Benny Sweet brought his youngest to such a place. Afterward, Pop told her about a treasure he salvaged from their load of trash. “People don’t realize what great stuff they throw away” was his motto. Or he’d reveal an observation, say “how the widow living near the store was dumping a lot of vodka bottles lately.”

Pop chuckled.

“Do you like the box?” he asked Amber, and after she said yes, he pulled himself upright. “By the way, next time you see Marie, you can tell her for me the chicken was a little dry this year. I’m gonna need a coupla beers to wash it down.”

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Yes, it is late November and I still have kale — and chard — growing in my garden despite very cold nights. Being a good Portagee, I have to grow kale. I make kale soup once a week, enough to last three days.

FINAL NOTE: Here is the link to my first novel Peace, Love, and You Know What on Amazon. If you live in Taos, you can find it at the local book stores.

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