Monday, 13 November 2017

Polly, a novella

I'm pleased to announce that my new novella Polly will be published on 30th November by Stormblade Productions, with an online Facebook launch party to be hosted that day by Carrie Buchanan between 8pm and 10pm.  You can find the launch here.

Leaving her cheating husband and hollow marriage behind, Polly goes to Paris to visit a city she’s always wanted to see and open the next chapter in her life.  The City Of Love is everything she wanted it to be and even more - the grandeur of the architecture, the Seine, the people, the atmosphere.  This could be the start of something special, something new.

But why did she keep running into the strange man she met on the plane, the one she christened Mr Creepy because his smile made her skin crawl?  Perhaps it was just her imagination, perhaps it was paranoia but still…

Quickly making new friends - an American called Katrina and a waiter called Francois - she hoped to start again in a city that didn’t know her and never mind their melodramatic stories of a ‘necktie murderer’ stalking the backstreets of Paris.

What could possibly go wrong?

This all began with a Facebook message, in August 2015, from Neil Buchanan at Stormblade Productions asking if I’d like to write something for him.  Since I’d never had an audio book of my work done before, I readily agreed and the first idea came to me in late August, as I was driving and the INXS song New Sensation came on the stereo.  I’d already decided I was going to have a female protagonist (Carrie Buchanan narrates the Stormblade audio and it made sense to utilise a terrific female voice actor as much as possible) and my mind made the link that a new sensation could be a bloke or a destination.

I originally thought it’d be horror (since that’s my default genre) but the tone shifted as I worked on the notes (and my novella Drive, a dark thriller, began attracting attention).  I had most of the story in my head to pitch it to Neil and Carrie at FantasyCon that October and, buoyed by the fact they liked it, began writing in November.

I had trouble with the original ending (which was a lot darker than it is now) and talked it through with my friend Sue Moorcroft at one of our regular Trading Post meet-ups but otherwise it flowed well, with the first draft written in little over a month.  After taking a fortnight off, I wrote the second draft, sent it to my pre-readers (Kim Talbot Hoelzli, David Roberts and Sue) and using their notes, wrote the third draft in January 2016.

The bulk of the story takes place in the Latin Quarter of Paris, somewhere I’d wanted to visit since my teens (like Polly).  I was lucky enough to travel there several times on business, where the local manager of our company delighted in showing me around his wonderful city, pointing out places of interest and feeding us in fine restaurants.  On one occasion, I got to walk alongside the Seine to Notre Dame, taking lots of pictures. listening to the people and music around me and realised the Left Bank was everything I had always hoped it would be.

A few years later, in May 2012, I was in Paris with my colleague Rosie for a business meeting we managed to wrap up by lunchtime.  After a meal, we took the Metro to Notre Dame, had a drink at the Hotel Notre Dame St Michel and as it was a gloriously sunny May afternoon, we walked alongside the river to the Louvre, taking in the Bouquinistes and the Love-Locks on the Pont Des Artes bridge.  Polly does exactly the same walk.

Finally, I was able to work my love for The 400 Blows into the story.  Polly stays in L’Hotel Truffaut (named for Francois, the director) and all the names come from either the actors or the characters in the film. The one exception is the disco where Polly meets Manu – another favourite film of mine is Pauline a la Plage, directed by Eric Rohmer, so he lent his name to Club Eric.

In real life, Paris was everything I wanted it to be and more - as beautiful and grimy as London can be, with fantastic architecture and a wonderful atmosphere - and I had a lot of fun revisiting it with Polly.

The Metro at Saint-Michel, Paris - May 2012
A Bouquiniste, alongside the Seine, with Notre Dame in the background - May 2012

The plane hadn’t stopped before the first telephones began chiming with incoming messages and passengers got to their feet to pull their belongings from the overhead lockers.  Nobody had sat between Polly and the man and she’d noticed him giving her furtive looks throughout the flight, mainly at her legs.  Horrible creepy man.
She waited until he got up and retrieved his laptop case and a small rucksack before she moved across the seats.  He looked down and gave her a sour smile.  “Enjoy Paris,” he said.
“I’ll enjoy my romantic weekend,” she said.
“I’m sure you will,” he said and pushed into the line of people.
Polly watched until he’d left the plane before she stood and waited for someone to let her into the queue.

She went through passport control quickly, the immigration staff apparently uninterested by blonde English women.  The man behind the counter quickly checked her photograph then handed the document back with a curt, “Thank you.”
“Merci,” she said and offered him a bright smile.  His expression didn’t change.
Charles DeGaulle airport was light and airy, with high ceilings, plenty of glass and pale marbled floors.  It wasn’t overcrowded and Polly allowed herself to be carried along with the knot of fellow passengers to Arrivals.  Some bags had already come onto the carousels and she stood to one side, trying to spot Mr Creepy but he was nowhere to be seen.  Ahead, through the windows, she could see roads and car-parks and the sun struggling to break through the clouds.
After she got her case, Polly made her way to the entrance, checking signs and trying to read the language rather than look at the symbols.  She passed a couple of small cafes, the smell of fresh coffee intoxicating.  Further on was a big restaurant, surprisingly full and kids dragged their parents into a McDonalds franchise next door.  Between the two was a toilet and she went in, relieved herself, washed her hands and stared in the mirror.
The forty-four-year-old Polly Harper who stared back looked better than she’d expected.  Yes there were perhaps a few too many laugh lines around her mouth and eyes but they added to her, she’d earned and wore them well.  Her straight blonde hair was cut to her shoulders and looked good, the fringe covering most of her forehead.  She had a narrow nose, blue eyes that seemed darker in winter than summer and thin lips, none of which she particularly liked but all of which made her Polly.  She’d never really considered herself pretty but now, looking at herself in the mirror and disconcerted by the vaguely haunted look in her eyes, she realised she would have to or else she’d crumble.  What she’d discovered at home, what she’d walked in on, didn’t reduce her - if that was the view she took, she was lost.  No, she was as pretty as she’d ever been, if she wasn’t prettier than she was yesterday or the day before that and she needed to keep that in the forefront of her mind, to try and drive away the haunted look.
She saw the girl, her eyes large with surprise and perhaps fear.  She saw Dale’s hands all over her tits and felt a shiver run down her spine - no, don’t think about it.  It can’t be changed, now is the time to move forward.  Think ahead, think positive.  She was here in Paris, so what if she was on her own, she might have been in Barcelona now with a husband she didn’t know was cheating on her. 

Polly ordered a coffee from a busy stand near the main entrance.  Next to it was a newsagent and she glanced at the headlines as she waited for her Americano to cool.  The police, apparently, were no nearer to finding out the identity of the so-called Necktie Murderer, having just released a suspect.
She blew on the coffee and took a sip - strong and rich, just as she liked it.  Now what?  She hadn’t planned beyond this point and couldn’t decide between catching a train into the city, which would be more glamorous or a taxi, which would be more direct.
She looked up as Mr Creepy came out of the toilet, stopped by the door and used his handkerchief to wipe the corners of his mouth.  Surprised, Polly stepped back behind a pillar and counted to five, then peeped around.  He was looking in the opposite direction, towards the signs for the train station and that made up her mind on how to get into the city.
Mr Creepy turned slowly and locked eyes with her.  A small smile played at the corners of his lips and he nodded.  “I see you,” he mouthed.
Startled, it felt like his words had pulled the oxygen from her lungs as her heart seemed to thud against her ribs.  She slipped behind the pillar again and rested her head against it, her mouth suddenly dry, the only sound the rushing blood in her ears.  Had he really mouthed that?  Perhaps he was trying to be flirty, a kind of “peekaboo, I see you” and not something sinister, but it hadn’t felt like that.
“You’re being paranoid,” she said out loud as if making a sound would confirm it.  Nobody paid her any attention, which didn’t help.
Not wanting to see what Mr Creepy was doing - if he suddenly appeared around the pillar, with that little half-smile, Polly was convinced she’d scream - she grabbed her case and made for the main doors, trying to lose herself in the gaggle of people there.  She didn’t turn, didn’t pause, just barged her way through and out into the cool morning air.
A few people were standing at the taxi rank but there were more vehicles than passengers, so she stopped by the drivers door window of the first unoccupied one.
“Are you free?” she asked the driver, a huge black man who spilled over his seat onto the centre console.
The driver nodded and smiled.  His left canine was capped in silver.  “Oui, je suis entrer.”
“Merci,” she said and got into the back, sitting behind him.  As he pulled into the traffic, shouting heartily at a bus that wouldn’t let him by, Polly risked a glance behind but couldn’t see Mr Creepy.  She took a deep breath, willing her heart rate to slow down.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Star Wars At 40 (part 11) - Poster Art

As a visually stunning film, Star Wars lent itself readily to artwork interpretations so for the eleventh entry in my Star Wars At 40 thread, I thought I'd look at some of the posters that came out in 1977 and 1978 to promote the film.
Tom Chantrell (1977)
Perhaps because it was one of the key UK release posters, this remains my favourite.  Tom Chantrell (1916-2001) was a British commerical artist who, according to the Guardian, helped "define the look of British film advertising."  He designed the posters for hundreds of films, starting with The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) and working through to the 80s when original artwork for film posters fell out of fashion.  At the same time, his bread and butter work - exploitation films, Kung Fu movies, British sex comedies and Hammer horror - wasn't being released on the big screen and he moved successfully into designing video covers.
Drew Struzan (1977)
Drew Struzan (born in 1947) has since become synonymous with the Star Wars saga, but this was his first work for Lucasfilm.  Apparently, after finishing this, he realised he hadn't left enough space for the credits so, with no time to do it again, ripped the poster's edge and added extra paper to the sides.  He painted a new background, as if the poster had been hung on a wooden wall and added in Obi-Wan Kenobi for good measure.  It is said to be George Lucas' favourite poster and is now part of the Museum Of Modern Art's permanent collection.
Tom Jung (1977)
This was the first theatrical release poster for Star Wars, created by Tom Jung who began his career with La Strada (1954) and worked on a wide variety of films through to the end of the 80s.  As well as drawing the back cover for the Star Wars original soundtrack, he created posters for The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi and drew the covers for the novels Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command.
Tom Jung (1977) US quad poster
The Brothers Hildebrandt (1977)
The Brothers Hildebrandt (twins Greg and Tim) were born in 1939, with Tim passing away in June 2006 due to complications of diabetes.  Collaboratively they worked as fantasy and science-fiction artists, producing illustrations for comic, children’s books, posters, novels, calendars and trading cards.  Perhaps best known for their Tolkien-inspired work in the 70s, Greg Hildebrandt believes it was this that led them to Star Wars.  “The reason they called us,” Greg said in interview, “is because Tim and I had just done the Lord of the Rings calendar, and we had a fan following."

Fast workers, they had just thirty-six hours to create their painting, based on Tom Jung’s theatrical one-sheet.  The resultant poster became a signature image of the 70s and was used widely on merchandise, as well as becoming the main theatrical poster in the UK, Spain and Turkey.
Tom Beauvais (1977) - unused concept art
In an interview with Film On Paper (linked here), Tom Beauvais says, "The job came into the office and we all had a go at designing for it, but obviously Tom Chantrell’s version was eventually chosen. I used day-glo paper to really make the title of the film pop with bright colour. I started by putting ordinary yellow paint on the lightsaber but it looked too much like custard so I ended up using more day-glo on that to give it the right feel."
Dan Goozee (1977) - unused concept art
1977 - unused promotional poster
 The famous pre-release poster (which is simple and very effective), selling the film on the success of American Graffiti.

John Berkey - The Battle Of Yavin (1977)
John Berkey - novelisation cover art (1976)
George Lucas was a fan of John Berkey and purchased some of his space artwork whilst working on his ideas for Star Wars.  One of Berkey’s illustrations - showing a ship diving from space towards a metallic world - is echoed by the Ralph McQuarrie painting of a Y-Wing descending on the Death Star.

Berkey (1932-2008) was known primarily as a sci-fi artist but, in his own words, “never cared much for science fiction”.  A legal dispute (between 20th Century Fox and Universal over links between Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica) made it impossible for him to work on the first film, but he did produce at least eleven pieces of artwork for it.  'The Battle Of Yavin' poster was included in the Star Wars double-vinyl soundtrack album and shows off a dogfight over the Death Star (and includes several Millennium Falcon’s).  The 1977 novelisation featured his group shot of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.  During an interview in 2005, Berkey said he had “yet to see Star Wars.  I suppose I should see it one of these days.”
Howard Chaykin (1976)
This was distributed at conventions and comic shops during 1976 to hype Star Wars to sci-fi fans.  Only 1,000 copies were apparently produced.

The great Ralph McQuarrie (who I wrote about at length here) also created several concept poster designs, all of which featured his original font.

This was used as the cover art for the Del Ray novelisation in the US

2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, which was released in the US on 25th May though it didn't hit the UK until 29th January 1978 (following a 27th December release in London).  I was lucky enough to see it in early 1978 and it remains my favourite film to this day.

To mark the anniversary, I'll be running a year-long blog thread about the film with new entries posted on the first Monday of each month.

May The Force Be With You!

Find all the entries in the thread here

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The Little Village Christmas, an interview with Sue Moorcroft

As regular readers of the blog will know, I’ve been friends with Sue Moorcroft since 1999 when I first joined Kettering Writers Group and, as a genre writer (the group leader had more of a literary persuasion), I was sat at the back with her and we had great fun (we were the only ones publishing regularly).  Since then, she's gone from strength to strength and I've been fortunate to interview her several times on the blog (which you can read  herehere, here and here).  Tomorrow sees the paperback launch of her latest novel The Little Village Christmas (the first in her new three-book deal with Avon Books) and I loved it, partly because it's a great story well told but also because it revisits her fictional village of Middledip.  With that in mind, Sue & I took some time to sit down for a Publication Day Eve interview…

MW:  Thanks for sitting down with me, Sue, on the eve of the paperback publication.  The ebook was launched on 9th October, how does it feel having two launches?

SM: Getting the ebook out a month or so before the paperback and audio is something I’ve encountered before. It allows reviews to be posted, which helps the sales team sell the paperback into retailers (if the reviews are good). This time there’s only four weeks between ebook and paperback releases but it was about eight for The Christmas Promise, last year, when it did seem as if the paperback release took a long time to come around.

Generally, I feel having two launches is fine as it provides two opportunities for publication-day promotion. It does eat up twice as much time though.

My last book, Just for the Holidays, was released in ebook, paperback and audio on the same day. It seems as if summer books and Christmas books have different selling patterns.

MW:  Does the staggered launch affect your promotional activities for the book?

SM: Yes. We keep things like radio interviews back for the paperback. Presenters are sent a copy ahead of time and, if I’m lucky, read some of the book and have it in front of them on the day. I quite often work with different people at my publisher’s too – the digital media manager for the ebook and the publicist for the paperback. We aim a lot of digital stuff, like Twitter chats, at the ebook. For The Little Village Christmas the blog tour has been put together to cover both ebook and paperback/audio, which is great.

MW:  Since this is your third Avon novel, are you finding the promotional process any easier?

SM: I’m not sure whether ‘easier’ is the correct term. I enjoy promo, so long as I have time to do it. I’m spending a couple of days on writing interviews such as this one, messing around with YouTube videos, going on the radio and making a few graphics for social media. Then there’s a competition for those who read my newsletter, one for Twitter and one for my street team, Team Sue Moorcroft.

A Street Team meet up in Birmingham, October 2017
MW:  How does your street team fit into this?

SM: I feel privileged to have a street team. Simply put, a street team is made up of people who like someone’s work so much that they’re willing to tell others about it. A reader suggested it to me. At the time, I felt that only big American authors had street teams, but I cautiously dipped a toe in the water and people were kind enough to join. It’s run through a closed Facebook group where I can post news and gossip and ask people to share my social media posts. I’m doubly fortunate that some members of my street team are book bloggers and so they have a good reach with the reading public.

There’s more information about Team Sue Moorcroft on my website.

MW:  This is your second Christmas novel (following last year’s Number One Bestseller The Christmas Promise, which I wrote about here), do you feel any better about the festive period now?

SM: Yes! It’s amazing how having a bestselling Christmas book has changed my view of the season. Also, it warms my heart to see books being given as gifts, and Christmas books for Christmas gifts are popular, so I had a fair number of reviews coming through in January and February as The Christmas Promise made it to the top of people’s ‘to be read’ piles.

MW:  Do you find it difficult writing a winter novel during spring and summer?

SM: Not terribly so. Having written for magazines with six-month lead-ins for some years I did get used to writing my Christmas stories in June and summer stories in December. Writers have to have good imaginations – I don’t expect you ever did research with real demons or ghosts when writing about them! Writers adapt.

Having said all that, this summer I was able to write part of One Summer in Italy while in Italy and I did find it extremely helpful in putting over atmosphere. My agent and editor have both commented on how easily they were able to ‘put themselves there’.

Sue with her agent, Juliet Pickering
MW:  I liked The Little Village Christmas a great deal, as I mentioned before, not only because it’s a cracking story but also because it revisits Middledip.  How was that for you?

SM: Oh, now, that was lovely. I visited ‘my’ village for a chapter or two in The Christmas Promise and it made me hungry to get back there for a whole book, hence The Little Village Christmas. (My books are all stand-alone but several of them are set in Middledip.) I found that quite a few things had changed in my absence. Gwen’s no longer at the shop (although Tubb is still at the pub) and a couple of continuing minor characters had seen changes in their lives.

MW:  Was it good fun involving characters from previous novels?  They aren’t used as in-jokes (they are integral to the story) but for longtime readers like myself, there was a nice resonance to seeing them in the pub.

SM: Yes, definitely. In particular, The Little Village Christmas has provided me with the opportunity of learning more about Carola, who’s head of the village hall committee and is always trying to involve people in community projects. She entered the book when things weren’t going well for her and it took her a long time to admit the truth to Alexia. Alexia’s a bit of a reluctant heroine, as she’s about to leave the village when the book starts, and it’s ties to villagers like Carola that make it hard to actually make the break. The project Alexia’s working on, transforming The Angel pub into The Angel Community Café, goes very wrong when someone runs away with all the money so she feels she has to mount a rescue mission too.

Gabe and his pony, Snobby, also play strong supporting roles. I always enjoyed Gabe. He’s a bank manager who’s never cut his hair since he left the bank and lives peaceably on his little plot of land with his cats and chickens. Gabe’s the uncle of my hero, Ben Hardaker. Ben’s a woodsman who’s come to live only on the very fringes of the little village of Middledip and he fits into Gabe’s family a treat. He describes himself as ‘an oddball having a bad day’. He’s really trying to move on when he meets Alexia and for a while it looks as if she’s just what he needs … but life’s never that easy. He finds himself drawn into Alexia’s problems no matter how hard he resists.
Sue (2nd from right) at FantasyCon in Peterborough, September 2017 (with me, Lisa Childs and Peter Mark May)
MW:  I’ve timed the interview now because I’ve yet to make the transition to Kindle and I know you’re a keen e-reader.  Do you ever read paperbacks these days?

SM: Definitely, and hardbacks too. I’m reading the new book by F1 World Champion Jenson Button at the moment, and that’s in hardback. (I wonder whether he’s reading The Little Village Christmas?) I still have several hundred paperbacks and hardbacks and rarely find rereading a hardship. I have to be honest and say that I find an e-reader easier to handle, though, as I have a nerve problem in my left arm and an e-reader can be held in one hand.

MW:  So, what’s next?

SM: I have structural edits to tweak on One Summer in Italy, but at the same time I’m planning my next Christmas book. I don’t have a title for it yet but I do know it’s going to be set in London as well as in Middledip and that it will be about Joe, who’s gone from rags to riches, and Georgie, who’s gone from riches to rags. At the moment I’m just bringing together background information but I’m really looking forward to getting into it because this is the book that’s been hammering at the back of my mind while I was writing One Summer in Italy. At least this means that I’m planning a Christmas book in the run up to Christmas, and I have the promo for The Little Village Christmas, of course!

Thanks for inviting me over, Mark. As always, I’ve enjoyed our chat.

Best-selling and award-winning author Sue Moorcroft writes contemporary women’s fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. A past vice chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and editor of its two anthologies, Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a creative writing tutor. She’s won a Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award and the Katie Fforde Bursary.

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