Alice through the looking glass

In my final post of 2018 I welcome sci-fi author and fellow member of Meltham writers, Alice Barker.

Welcome, Alice! Tell us about your forthcoming novel, The Stars Rain Blood.

It’s basically a cyberpunk crime thriller set in an outer space colony. The main character, Declan, is pretty ordinary, but when a girl is murdered and he was the last one to see her alive, her gets caught up in the crime underworld and a web of syndicates and deceit because absolutely no one tells the truth; corruption runs deep and the only thing Declan can trust is his instincts. That’s really all I can say for now, because that’s all I’ve got; I like the story to develop as I’m writing it. I was watching the BBC series Bodyguard recently and it blew me away, essentially because nothing was ever straightforward and the emotions were so intense. I’m also a major fan of the whole Blade Runner aesthetic – Declan’s name is actually a nod to Blade Runner’s main character, Deckard – so I blended the two ideas together, ran with it, and decided: ‘hey, this is cool’.

Your first two books – Tales from Tomorrow and Paraplegion – were also sci-fi, and then you branched out into romantic comedy with Sketching Scarlett. Where do you see your future direction as a writer?

Oh God, that’s a tough one. The truth is that I don’t like to stick to one particular genre because I’m more into interesting characters than a plot, and they can turn up anywhere. So I would perhaps say that my genre is humanity. It’s actually taken me a long time to pin The Stars Rain Blood down because I have a lot of ideas swimming about in my head. I want to write a story about Boudicca, because she’s a historical figure that’s interested me of late. I’m also toying with an idea called Exodus, which is about what could happen when the Sun swallows the earth in twenty billion years time. That’s the thing I love about science fiction: it opens the door for a wealth of possibilities, because science is the last ‘here be dragons’ thing we have. We don’t know where it’s going. In twenty billion years time, will humanity be the same or different? That’s interesting to me. What also interests me is people placed under extreme pressure, because pressure brings out that primeval side to human nature that’s almost animalistic. Pressure brings out the best and the worst in people, and leaves them with a very raw psyche. So there’s that. But on the flipside I love writing about love, because I feel like love is this magical, mysterious force that compels people to do inexplicable stuff, and that too creates pressure. Yes, Sketching Scarlett was a light-hearted comedy romp on the surface, but Caleb was also under a lot of pressure to make things right for Scarlett. Love is all too often not taken seriously as a writing topic, but that shouldn’t be the case, because it’s a powerful drug that can make people do crazy, crazy things.

Tales From Tomorrow CoverParaplegion Cover PictureSketching Scarlett Cover

You’ve also studied Film. Do you feel that this has influenced your fiction writing?

Oh, definitely. In fact, when I was young I started writing stories, then I was a teenager and wanted to become a film director/screenwriter, and now I’m back to novels. But studying Film helped because it allowed me to learn how to focus on the visual aspects of stories. In Film, you only have a hundred minutes to tell a story, so you can’t get bogged down in the details; you learn pacing and how to keep the audience on their toes. Coincidentally, one of the biggest things I think most writers need to work on more is their pacing and flow; that seems to be the feedback I give most often. Too much back story or description, and the reader gets lost.

You’re about to launch a blog, RuleBreaker. What are your plans for that?

RuleBreaker is designed to be a platform for people to have their voices heard. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had my voice heard around the globe, but I wasn’t always successful in my endeavours; particularly in L.A, where more often than not you’re nobody unless you know somebody. When you’re trying to get your voice heard it often feels like it just won’t happen because your story isn’t quite tragic or inspirational enough. RuleBreaker wants to change that by giving people a chance to shine, without agenda; if people have something important they feel they need to say, I’ll consider it for publication. There’s also my online journal, which is updated daily and will allow people to get to know me on a personal level. My hope is that it’ll become like a giant online support network.

On your Facebook and Twitter pages you say that you’d like to make the world a better place. How in particular would you like to do that?

Truthfully, I believe there is no better medicine for this world than kindness and empathy. That was another reason behind starting RuleBreaker; when I was starting to study Film and beginning to network, I couldn’t believe how cold people could sometimes be. I mean, I know there are some weird people out there, but for the most part all fans want from you is a chat and a smile and to tell you how much they loved your work. So I decided that I would one day have something where, no matter how famous I became, fans could contact me and get a personalised response back. Honestly, we demonise others so often in this day and age, but it really isn’t necessary. I always try to see the best in people.

What other interests and activities are important in your life?

I love reading. I’m such an avid reader. And music, I love listening to music too. You’ve got no chance of me hearing you when I’ve got my headphones in. Music is my sanctuary. Facebook is important to me too because I have loved ones all over the world, and I like to check in with them at least a couple of times a day.

Finally, what question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?

‘What’s your favourite celebrity quote?’

And what is the answer?

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” That was said by Stephen Hawking, who is a man I miss very much. There’s so much hope and potential contained within that statement, and it helps me to push forward every single day.

Thanks for those interesting and inspiring answers, Alice.  Good luck with The Stars Rain Blood, Rulebreaker – and 2019!  

And a Happy New Year to all!

You can find out more about Alice and her books via these links:

Alice’s Amazon shop

Alice’s Facebook page

What’s in a Name?

A very merry Christmas to all my readers!

Here’s a little bit of (not specifically festive) fun for you. At Holmfirth Writers a few weeks ago we had an unusual writing exercise. We were presented with some paint samples, all with exotic names, sometimes without any apparent connection to the actual colour. I thought ‘someone’s spent a lot of time thinking these up. Does the name really matter that much?’ On reflection, I decided that perhaps it might ….

“Mr Arkwright? Crispin Fulgate from Sage Consultancy. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Fulgate offered his hand. The Chief Executive looked him up and down before taking it, then encased it in such a crushing grip that it was quite numb by the time he released it.

“Oh yes, you’re that marketing feller, aren’t you. Come to help us sell us paint.”

“That’s right, Mr Arkwright. I’m here to help Yorkshire Paints become a global brand.”

The Chief Executive motioned for him to sit in one of the opulent leather armchairs, then sat down himself behind his enormous oak desk.

“Now listen here,” said Arkwright. “We’ve got the best paint in the world, no question. Our emulsion will cover anything in one coat, and it dries in five minutes flat. Our gloss is rock hard and shinier than a brass button – and it’s water based, ’an all. Stick that up your arse, Dulux! And our prices are lower than theirs. So why is no one buying the bloody stuff?”

Fulgate thought for a moment. “Well, perhaps it’s the colours – maybe you’re not offering people the shades they want. Tastes change, you know.”

“Bollocks! I’ve got a posh bird down in t’ lab who’s come up wi’ more fancy shades than you’ve ‘ad hot dinners. You name it, we’ve got it.”

“Would you like to show me some samples?”

“I’ll show yer as many as you like. ‘Ere you are, this is one of them fancy ones.”

“I see. Pale pink, with just the faintest hint of green. I say, that’s very subtle. I like it. What’s it called?”

“We call it ‘One Too Many Meat Pies’. Now look at this. One of our gloss paints, for wood and that.”

“Yes, it’s certainly shiny, as you say – I don’t know how you manage to achieve that with a water-based paint. Most impressive. And I like the colour too – that fiery reddish brown. Very striking.”

“Like I told you, our colours are brilliant. That one’s ‘Morning After The Vindaloo’. Here’s another emulsion.”

“Pink with a hint of purple – yes, nothing wrong with that. What’s it called?”

“That one’s ‘Our Barry’s Nose’. Likes a drink, does our Barry.”

Fulgate took a clipboard out of his briefcase and began to write some notes. “Hmmm, I think I’m beginning to see where your problem might lie, Mr Arkwright. Let me see a couple more samples, so I can test my hypothesis.”

“Here you go, then.”

“I see. White with a speckling of light brown. A nice effect. Once again, a perfectly good colour. But I’m wondering what the name is going to be.”


“Oh, there’s nothing wrong with that. Inoffensive, suggestive of a certain lifestyle and an accurate reflection of the colour. A perfectly good name for a paint shade.”

“No, d’you want a cappuccino? We’ve got one of them fancy coffee machines next door. The paint’s called ‘Who Just Dropped One?’


pic (c) Joyful spherical creature 2016


Welcome, Hanne!

Today I am pleased to host a visit from Danish author Hanne Holten.

Welcome, Hanne. Would you like to tell us about your novel, Snares and Delusions?

First, I want to thank you for this opportunity, Tim.  Should I give a brief idea of the plot? Snares and Delusions is set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The protagonist, Hedda, faces her life — and death — in dreams and nightmares. At the beginning a feisty teenager, Hedda develops into an independent woman, through traumatic events and brief moments of romance. There are elements of Norse myths in the nightmare sequences, and I’ve drawn on Danish folklore about elves in a birth scene.
It’s not always easy to talk about one’s own writing, perhaps because it’s too close. I suppose one could say that ‘Snares and Delusions’ is an attempt to get inside the imagination of a character. On the other hand, one could say that about most fiction writing.

Various authors have commented on the third-person present-tense writing, but I couldn’t see any other way to do this. If my protagonist is dying and relives her life in dreams and nightmares, it isn’t possible to write in first person, because it suggests that she survives. Neither can it be told in past-tense: my character would be dead and there would be no story.  I must agree with Shakespeare that ‘we are such stuff that dreams are made of, and our little life is rounded with a sleep’.


To what extent does the novel draw upon your own experiences?

Obviously, I have no personal experience of the historical period. On the other hand, I’ve relied on my family history, although my protagonist is invented. The inspiration for this was a real person, but I know almost nothing about her. She hid her past and was long dead when I was born. I only knew that she arrived in Denmark from Sweden, that she had a boarding house, and that she had a daughter. Whether or not she was married is questionable.  Let me just add, that I don’t think it’s possible to write anything without drawing on personal experience.

Am I right in thinking that you are working on a second book? What can you tell us about that?

Yes, I’m working on, that is, I’m revising my second book at present. It falls in three parts, mainly set in The Great War and during the twenties and thirties’ Denmark. This time I work with two protagonists: a young man from Sønderborg (then part of Germany). He goes to China as a volunteer but ends up as a POW in Japan. My second main character is a young girl who lives in Copenhagen and writes a diary about her life, her puppy love, and the war as she sees it — from a distance.  Eventually, these two characters meet. They fall in love, but their love isn’t simple. The climate in Denmark during the twenties and thirties, the rise of Hitler, all makes their life together difficult. He carries the trauma of The Great War inside, and she doesn’t understand his fascination with the German ideas. The third and last part presents the female character, as a widow looking back on the events of her life.

You’re from Denmark, have spent time in the UK and now live in Germany. Where feels most like home?

Do you know, I can’t really say? Sometimes, I believe that I don’t belong anywhere. I left Denmark for personal reasons and enjoyed living in England for fifteen years. Admittedly, I have a certain nostalgia for that period, but I see little opportunity to return in the current situation. For me, Brexit is a sad development. There are good and bad aspects of living in Germany, but the current atmosphere of xenophobia is, I fear, present everywhere.

As well as writing, you also play music and paint. Which art form means the most to you?

It would be simple to say that every art-form is equally important to me, but that would be a simplification. I grew up with music as an essential part of my life — my dream was to become an opera singer. I did realize that dream to some extent but found that my calling veered in the direction of teaching. This I continue to do.

Although I always loved the fine arts and dabbled a bit in drawing, painting came later. When I first moved to London, I missed having pictures on my walls. I couldn’t afford to buy them, but I had some colour and brushes. In short, I started painting my own art-work and quickly developed my personal style. Painting is something I do with great pleasure, but my other activities — and the frequent lack of natural light — put it in the back seat as it were.

Always an avid reader, I started to write early. There have been times when I couldn’t find time to write regularly, but during my years in England, it became a necessity for me to write every day. I made many false starts on writing my first novel. It took years before I dared to believe it could be published. I don’t think Snares and Delusions would have appeared if I hadn’t joined Authonomy — up to that time, I had no feedback and felt hampered by insecurity and — procrastination.  That is a thing of the past now, I mean the procrastination.

What else is important in your life at the moment?

Cooking! I love to eat well — and a healthy diet is necessary to keep going.


Like most freelance writers, I must earn money besides through my writing. The teaching paid well during the first years I lived here, but then my job fell through. That’s another story. Suffice it to say that the number of students fell, but that I still have some loyal and promising pupils. To close the income gap, I administer two holiday flats in the house where I have my flat. The workload differs with the seasons but tides me over.
Friends and family are spread wide, so social media plays a large role in my day to day interest.

Finally, what question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?

There are always unanswered questions — and always questions we don’t ask. It’s difficult to think of something right away but give me a moment, and I might come up with something. I think we’ve covered most of what is important in my life, unless you’d like to know something about my publishing journey?

And what is the answer?

I believe that everybody is aware that getting a publishing deal with one of the major publishing houses is next to impossible unless you know some high animal — are a celebrity — or have a viable platform (a successful blog or another internet prominence). When I started submitting the former version of my book to literary agents: it was then Of Foes and Friends, I had no idea of this except a vague feeling that it might not be easy to get recognized. The theme for my book, or rather the Scandinavian setting might not interest a large audience. Having said that, I chose that setting for obvious reasons (being of good Danish stock) and thought it could appear exotic. Anyway, that brings me back to Authonomy and the feedback, which made me realize that there was plenty of plot gaps in the ‘Foes’. In other words, back to the writing desk. I rewrote most of the book and that version received admiration — but still no contract. That was when I decided to go indie. I took the plunge straight away. Only to realize that I hadn’t followed the advice that abounds for indie authors. That’s when I started my blog. Being unsure about how to do it, I started two blogs that I later united. A year on, there are still lessons to learn, but I know a lot more than I did. Learning by trial and error isn’t always the easiest route to take, but I don’t regret anything but my own naivety at the outset.

Thank you for those fascinating answers, Hanne.  Good luck with your writing!
smiley sun

You can learn more about Hanne, and Snares and Delusions, through the following links:





Snares and Delusions


Mapping Cakes

A guest post today from Angela Wren, whose latest crime novel, Montbel, has recently been published by Crooked Cat.  She’s here today to talk about her love of French cakes.  Mmmmm, I can smell them already ……


I’ve realised that I’ve spent so much time travelling in France that I’m able to wear out maps. I’ve just replaced my last one. Of course, each replacement – and there have been quite a few – means that I have to transfer all my notes from the old to the new. I’ve been doing that recently and I couldn’t help noticing how many notes I have about food. From restaurants in Sées or Montbel, to bakers in Arques or Saverne, to markets in La Roche or Millau and just about everywhere in between. But it’s the notes about pâtisserie that have particularly drawn my attention this time around, there seem to be so many of them. I even have notes of regret… Like this one about a favourite pâtisserie in Auxerre which had become the place to go for Mille Feuille. I also have notes about closed restaurants, or establishments where the menu has changed radically or where the place no longer exists. Imagine my disappointment having arrived in one village looking forward to having lunch in the restaurant on Sunday, only to find the place had been destroyed by fire some months earlier. That may have left a big black scribble on an earlier map, but it did provide the spark of an idea for the story that has now become Montbel.


But let’s get back to the cakes! Flicking through the pages of my atlas of France I can say that the absolute best amandines come from Baugé-en-Anjou in Maine-et-Loire (49). The pastry is ultra thin, light and crumbly. The circle of marzipan at the bottom of the pastry case tastes of fresh almonds, the almond sponge to fill the case is light, fluffy and very almondy and the top is covered with lightly toasted almond slices and then dusted with icing sugar. The very best Tarte au Citron – my favourite – can be found in Prémery in Nièvre (58). Fabulously light pastry case filled with a really sharp lemony curd and topped with a rich, dark chocolate button in the centre.

Boulangers and pâtissiers are artists and this is never more apparent than for specific seasons, festivals or local saints’ days. In September I found this fabulous display outside the local pâtisserie. Of course I had to have a closer look – the theatre director in me propelling me forward to investigate. A lot of the display was made from what I would call ‘prop-dough’. The pâtissier would probably refer to it as Pâte à Sel (Salt Dough). It’s very simple to make – a fixed amount of flour, half that amount of salt and some water. Then mix until smooth and turn out on a board and mould to any shape you like. I’ve created various props for stage, mostly food, with it. Once you have your shapes or models, put them on a lined baking tray and cook in a slow oven for two or three hours until rock hard. Leave to cool and then paint. And if you have the talent that this pâtissier has, you can create mushrooms and toadstools that look real!

But it’s not the inedible salt-dough that I am here for. In this particular shop you can get some of the most scrumptious nougat, made with honey. My favourite is the red berry one. It contains cranberries, raspberries and cherries and is delicious. Don’t keep it in the fridge, though; it will cause it to become brittle. A wrapping of baking paper in an airtight box is fine and, unless you’re like me, it will last for up to three months and maintain its softness. Enjoy!


A clear-cut case?
A re-examination of a closed police case brings investigator, Jacques Forêt, up against an old adversary. After the murder of a key witness, Jacques finds himself, and his team, being pursued.
When a vital piece of evidence throws a completely different light on Jacques’ case, his adversary becomes more aggressive, and Investigating Magistrate Pelletier threatens to sequester all of Jacques papers and shut down the investigation.
Can Jacques find all the answers before Pelletier steps in?



Angela Wren:  Bio

Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre. I’ve been writing, in a serious way, since 2010. My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work. My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical. I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio. The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.


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