Tag Archive | Books

In conversation with Elizabeth Ducie

I am delighted to welcome to my blog, author and lecturer, Elizabeth Ducie. Elizabeth is the author of the prize-winning novel, Elizabeth DuciGorgito’s Ice Rink, and several collections of short stories. She lectures and writes on business skills for authors and publishes The Business of Writing series. Her latest novel, Counterfeit!, is out this month. Set in Southern Africa, it is the first in a series of thrillers based in the sometimes murky world of international pharmaceuticals.

In your book Counterfeit! regulator, Suzanne Jones is on a mission to stop the production of counterfeit drugs in Africa before more people die. What part of the pharmaceutical industry inspired the novel?

CounterfietThank you for having me on your blog. For many people, the words ‘pharmaceutical industry’ conjure up a vision of greedy multinational research companies, developing life-style drugs for first world countries, and charging huge amounts of money for their products. That may, or may not, be a true assessment of the industry giants, but it’s not the issue I’m looking at here. There are thousands of small and medium sized companies around the world, struggling to produce generics (off-patent, older products).

Do you have a background in the pharmaceutical industry?

Before I became a full-time writer, I spent more than thirty years working in the international pharmaceutical industry, helping governments set the rules that ensured drugs were safe and worked; and helping companies interpret those rules effectively. On occasion, I worked for ‘both sides’ within the same country, at the same time and this could sometimes lead to interesting discussions.

What do you mean?

I vividly remember an email once from the production director of a company in Ukraine, complaining about a demand made by one of the new government inspectors—an inspector I had trained. The email finished with the question: “this is what he said; is he right?” And although I can’t remember the details of the complaint, I remember thinking at the time that the inspector was erring somewhat on the side of caution. But that’s what new inspectors do: they are so scared of getting it wrong, they are overly cautious. So I gave the only answer I could in the circumstances: “he’s your government inspector; he grants you your manufacturing license. Of course he’s right—even if he’s wrong!”

Tells us a bit about the countries where you worked?

africa-globe (1)Pharmaceutical manufacturing is an expensive process. And the areas I was working in—Russia and the former Soviet Union countries; Latin America; and sub-Saharan Africa—were ones where money was generally in short supply. The factories were often old and in poor condition. We were not pushing them to set up state of the art facilities, such as the ones in America and Western Europe. All we were looking for was Basic Minimum Standards, as defined by the WHO (World Health Organisation) but even that was a hard pill for some of the owners and financiers to swallow.

Were companies willing to embrace the recommendations to improve quality and meet international standards?

I spent a lot of time explaining that investment in manufacturing is just that—an investment—rather than an expense that brings no IMG_4855returns. And some companies, some industries, some countries got it; others didn’t. For example, when the Soviet Union broke up, the cluster of companies in Ukraine found their domestic market shrinking overnight from 291 million to 55 million. They desperately needed to develop export markets in order to keep their factories going and their people in work. Therefore, they embraced quite quickly the concept of quality and international standards. Russia, on the other hand, had a population of 148 million. While this was still a big fall in numbers, it was a sizable domestic market and for several years, the government and the companies concentrated on this, without worrying about needing to satisfy the requirements for international trade.

IMG_4829In sub-Saharan Africa, the situation and the problems were very different. Billions of dollars were being spent on importing drugs from America and Western Europe. There were factories in most of the countries in the region, but the standards were very low; the regulations differed from one country to another; no-one trusted anyone else; and inter-continental trade was minimal. For most people, in most of the countries, the government supplied what drugs there were—and there were never enough. So for the purchase houses, getting the finance, whether locally or from international aid, was critical and it needed to be spent on the greatest quantity of drugs possible.

And that’s why counterfeit drugs were, and still are, such a huge problem in Africa. I once had a conversation with a government Minister who told me he couldn’t afford to worry about the quality of the drugs he was sourcing. He had to get sufficient doses of medicines to satisfy the needs of his country and if a few people suffered as a result, that just had to be the case. Shocking, but in the end, an inevitable conclusion.

What is a counterfeit drug?

drugsA counterfeit drug may simply be a safe and efficacious copy by an unlicensed manufacturer. However, it is more likely to contain too much or too little of the active ingredient; it may contain a totally different active ingredient, which might be harmful or lethal. It may be wrongly labelled. It is almost certainly a dangerous drug to take.

I would imagine there was a lot of money to make by producing sub-standard drugs.

The global market in fake medicines is around two hundred billion dollars, and comparing that to the global prescription market, which is worth nine hundred billion dollars, we can see just how big the problem is. The WHO estimates that somewhere between 1% and 10% of all medicines are counterfeit, but that in some countries, the figure may be as high as 50%. And with the growth of the internet and online trade, this problem is no longer just a third world one. In 2014, an Interpol operation led to the seizure of 8.4 million doses of counterfeit drugs and the shutting down of more than ten thousand websites selling counterfeit medicines.

What is the single most important thing you would recommend us to do to protect ourselves from counterfeit medicine?

These days, many of us make a lot of our purchases online. I buy books, clothes, computers and accessories, theatre tickets and food. One thing I would never buy online is medicine.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for visiting my blog today and sharing your experience of the pharmaceutical industry which inspired your latest novel, Counterfeit!Counterfiet

You can find out more about Elizabeth Ducie’s work on her website, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter

Valentine’s Day…a day for love

It is February, the month of chilly winds, lashing rain and bouquets of red roses, for we mustn’t forget February has the day dedicated to love. Valentine’s Day is a day eagerly awaited by many and dreaded by some, yet within 24 hours it’s over and done with and nothing more than a memory. It should be nothing to get worked up about, but inevitably some of us will. How we, as individuals, celebrate Valentine’s Day  may evolve over the years, but come the 14th February, our thoughts will still turn to love – even if its just briefly.

 Yes, this is me.

Yes, this is me.

I was a child when I received my first Valentine’s card. It was from my mother, who placed it carefully in my cardigan pocket for me to find before I went to school. She put it there because she didn’t want me to feel the heartache of not receiving one. Even though I was young, I appreciated the thought.

GetAttachment

Me, dreaming of my latest crush.

As a teenager, Valentine’s Day began with high hopes which slowly dwindled as the day progressed. On the rare occasion I did receive one, the guessing game of who it might be from was far more exciting than the discovery of the sender. Needless to say, it was never the boy I had a crush on at the time.

Having a regular boyfriend finally guaranteed a token of love on Valentine’s Day.Blackpool C By then it was the 80’s and padded cards, with cute, fluffy animals, were the vogue. It was also the age when size really did matter. Shopkeepers rubbed their hands with glee as they watched a trail of young men carry large, unwieldy cards under their arms in the hope of impressing their girlfriends. If you received a card which had all three elements (size, padding and a cute animal), then you were well and truly loved and he was a keeper.

Wedding C-cropMarriage and children adds a new dimension to Valentine’s Day. Meals out have to be planned, babysitters booked in advance and chocolates and wine are added to the shopping trolley – along with a tin of  baked beans,  two loaves of bread and a GetAttachment (5)packet of nappies. When life is busy, Valentine’s Day becomes a touchstone and a reminder to show our appreciation to our partners. A wise person once said, “Before children, a couple holds hands together. When children come along they hold hands with the children. Sometimes we need to be reminded to hold hands again.” Valentine’s Day is that extra reminder to us all.

So how do I celebrate Valentine’s Day now? We will probably choose a box of chocolates and a nice bottle of wine together. We have long given up going out for a meal on one of the busiest nights of the year, so we will spend the evening at home. If the weather is fine we might go for a nice long walk and just appreciate life in general. Perhaps it will not be as exciting as a teenager’s experience – or as devastating, but it will be calmer and less planned than when we were young parents.

And did I marry the boy who gave me the biggest, most padded, Valentine’s card? Yes, I did and this year we will be celebrating our pearl wedding anniversary. Although, it might have been a whole different story if he had forgotten it was Valentine’s Day!

3d Old Sins Long Shadows

Why wait for a man to make Valentine’s Day special for you? Snuggle up with a dark, mysterious hero, like Daniel Kellow, from my debut novel Old Sins Long Shadows

3d The Gossamer Trail

or

curl up with Joss, the troubled hero in The Gossamer Trail , who’s dislike for Beth turns into a passion so strong that he is willing to give up his own identity to be with her.

book the gossamer trail

 

 

A Cornish Maid in London

On Wednesday, 18th November, I was fortunate to attend The Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) 2015 Winter Party, which was held at The Royal Overseas League in London.

Tickets were a sell out, as it’s a great opportunity for writers, agents and publishers to meet, whilst sipping bubbly and eating canapés. The event was also a great opportunity for the RNA to present its inaugural Industry Awards to people who have contributed to the success and sales of romantic fiction.

I made the most of my whistle-stop tour to the capital by spending the morning sightseeing and the afternoon watching Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. This was quickly followed by the RNA Winter Party.

There was a real buzz of excitement and noise at the event, as new writers, established authors and experienced agents met with one another and new friends were made. Three awards were presented; Bookseller of the Year, Best Adaptation of a Novel and Media Star.

The award winners are announced.

The award winners are announced.

The Bookseller of the Year Award went to WHSmith Travel Book Buyer, Matthew Bates in recognition for supporting many RNA members’ books and turning them into bestsellers.

Runner up was Michael Korel, Waterstones, Camden, in recognition of his support for the romance genre, in particular indie romance writers.

The second award, Best Adaptation of a Novel, went to Debbie Horsfield for her adaptation of the Poldark series, written by my favourite author, Winston Graham. I was surprised to learn that in the early days he was a judge of the Romantic Novel of the Year Award and had links to the RNA for many years. This discovery made me feel even more privileged to be a member of the RNA, as I attempt to follow in his gifted footsteps.

Runner up was Jamie Patterson, an independent film director from Jump Start Productions, who adapted RNA member Cally Taylor’s novel, Home for Christmas.

The final award of the evening, Media Star, was awarded to The Romaniacs, a popular blogging and social media group.

Runner up for the Media Star Award was Radio Gorgeous, which broadcasts podcasts which are particularly supportive of women authors.

Photo by RNA

Matt Bates, The Romaniacs and Jamie Patterson

Katie Fforde and David Headley

Katie Fforde and David Headley

After the awards, Katie Fforde, president of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, was delighted to announce that Goldsboro Books were going to sponsor the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2016. This news was a wonderful way to end the award ceremony.

More wine and bubbly flowed, as everyone got back to the serious task of mingling before the evening came to a close.

Two train journeys later, I was able to kick off my high heels and put my feet up. My last visit to London was many years ago, but I found it as vibrant, busy and fascinating as I remembered. Now I am back in Cornwall (which is also vibrant, busy and fascinating, but in a completely different way), however, I am glad I made the journey to London and resolve not to leave it so long next time.

Photos of award winners courtesy of the RNA

North Cornwall Book Festival, Pasties & Cake.

IMG_0423I believe to be a great writer one has to read a lot and be willing to learn from others. Book festivals are a great way to meet fellow readers and writers. The North Cornwall Book Festival, which this year was held entirely in the small parish of St.Endellion, was no exception. Although it ran for three days at the end of October, I was only able to attend the final day. However, I couldn’t have picked a better day, the autumn sun was shining, the people (both authors and visitors) were friendly, and the pasties and cake for sale were delicious.

For those who have never been to a book festival before, it is open to all who have an interest in reading IMG_0427and/or writing. It usually involves a variety of presentations, workshops, interviews, readings and book signings by authors, with the aim of fostering a love of literature and writing, whilst providing an opportunity to meet your favourite author, or discover new ones.

I arrived too early, but was still welcomed by Festival Chairman and established author, Patrick Gale. I had just finished reading his latest book A Place Called Winter, so it was great to be able to tell him face to face how much I enjoyed it.

Next stop was my first workshop, “Handling Romance in Fiction” by Alison Mercer, author of After I Left You and Stop The Clock. At the risk of sounding like a rom com script, Alison had me at “Hello…” because she quickly followed Alison Mercerthe greeting with “…help yourself to the chocolates on the table and the cake on the side”. Needless to say, I liked her approach to the workshop immediately and was the first to reach for a sweet. As with most workshops, the attendees varied in experience, from those who aspire to write, to those who have published before but just want to polish up or expand their writing skills.

Alison fostered a workshop which was relaxed, informative and encouraged open discussion and input, yet at the same time skilfully kept us all on track and to time. She took us through the key events of a writing arc to help develop a storyline, and the main types of characters one might use that can add depth and subplots to a novel. We read extracts from books which depicted very differing romantic encounters and discussed why they work, why they may not work for every reader and the use of the senses to enhance the storytelling. The workshop ended with an opportunity for us to write a paragraph depicting a romantic encounter. Everyone was very supportive of each other’s efforts and we all came away feeling motivated to attend our next event.

In my case, it was to seek out the Cornish pasty tent. They were delicious, just as I knew they would be, and feeling energised and a bit cheeky, I accosted Patrick Gale and asked for a photo. Being the gentleman that he is, IMG_0426he said “Why have one author when you can have three,” and led me outside to where Neel Mukherjee, author of The Lives of Others  (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and The Costa Novel Award in 2014, and won the Encore Award in 2015) and Alison Mercer were sitting. All three kindly posed, despite having their coffee break interrupted and being blinded by the sun.

Next stop was to have my bibliotherapy session with Ella Berthoud , author of A Novel Cure.  A bibliotherapist helps you to tackle life’s ups and downs, with the healing power of a good book. They find out about your reading history, likes and dislikes, passions and pet hates, and discover what is happening in your life. They then suggest the perfect collection of books to read over the next few months in order to reflect your life and overcome the problems you may currently be facing.

At the moment, my only problem is finding the right books to read which will enhance my own writing skills, butIMG_0428 will also be enjoyable. I love the “author voice” of Winston Graham and Francine Rivers, and would like to read more historical romances with a similar narrative. Ella was able to quickly assess my needs without her assessment feeling too intrusive, and I soon discovered her mind is like a literary encyclopedia, with a recall memory that was jaw dropping. She was able to provide me with a list of historical novels that would inspire me to become a better writer, but also be a pleasure to read. I can’t wait to start the first one and, just in case you are interested, these are the books she suggested for me.

The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capello
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
The Arthurian Saga Series by Mary Stewart

IMG_0429Sadly, it was time for me to leave, so I didn’t get the chance to catch up with friend and ex-work colleague, and now successful children’s author, Veronica Lamond or the other poets, illustrators and authors who held workshops that day. However, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and will certainly return next year to have my creative juices energised again and my book shelves filled with new, inspiring reads.

 

Tears are valuable, do not waste them.

Photo by Xedos4

I have come to the conclusion that being a writer is similar to being on a roller coaster. There are highs and lows, twists and turns, and terrifying moments when you have to muster up some courage from the darkest recess of your psyche…. or wherever courage tends to lurk. At times I wonder why I even climbed on board, considering that in reality I am not very brave when it comes to roller coasters.

The highs are many, ranging from that “eureka moment” when you have an idea for a novel, to the feeling of satisfaction when the words on the page vividly portrays what has been playing out in your mind. There are also thrilling moments – like seeing your book in print for the first time or being nominated for an award. It is at times like this I feel like screaming “faster” and start planning my next ride.

Needless to say, the lows can be painful, crushing and a reality check. I experienced one only the other day when my laptop took a document and book trailer I had been working on within its technical claws and refuse to give it back.

FreeDigital Photos.net Photo by Jesadaphorn

Photo by Jesadaphorn

When a technically minded knight in shining armour managed to get the laptop working again, my document and book trailer had disappeared into the ether – leaving my knight somewhat perplexed. Even a magic aide called a “recovery thingummy-jig” did not help. I normally save things elsewhere to avoid such a catastrophe, but this time I did not and now they are gone – forever. Lesson well and truly learnt.

So I moped, grumbled and felt very sorry for myself, but it got me nowhere as moping, grumbling and feeling sorry for oneself tends to do. I realised that if I wanted to lessen my misery, the only thing I could do was do something about it. After-all, in the grand scheme of things when the world is in such turmoil and real life tragedies are being experienced every second of every day, my loss is so very minor. Determined (and too stubborn to allow a computer to have the upper hand) I started all over again, trying to remember what I had written before my memory began to fail me and I ran out of chocolate.

There are far more worthy things to shed a tear over than the many things we allow to make us miserable. The lows in life are many, so it only seems sensible to be discerning on which “lows” we allow to affect us. An annoying, temperamental laptop, with a diva complex, is not going to be one of them and my tears deserve a more worthy cause.

Photo by Iosphere

Photo by Iosphere

 

All photos are from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Book Review: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Redeeming Love by Francine RiversInspired by the biblical story of Gomer and Hosea, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers tells the inspirational love story between Sarah, a prostitute, and a devoutly religious man called Michael Hosea.

Rivers tells a beautifully written tale of an abused, betrayed child who grows into a physically and emotionally damaged young woman. Her view of life and people is skewed by the horrific experiences of her past and only great patience, understanding and unfailing love will help her leave her past behind. She finds this in a quiet farmer called Michael who believes God has answered his prayer for a wife when he first sets eyes on Sarah/Angel and falls instantly in love.

This is a Christian romance, but don’t be put off if you are not religious or of a different faith. The strong belief and dialogue Michael has with God, as he inwardly struggles, gives a reason why he behaves as he does and therefore makes his character more believable.

Rivers captures the complicated emotions of an abused victim, and in doing so provides an explanation and understanding why Sarah struggled to be saved from an abusive life.

Although at times it makes difficult reading, it is a lovely story of how a devoted loving man will always be there for you to catch you when you fall…and what woman would not want that.

Today’s book is the sum of the past.

I saw the flicker of scepticism in my friend’s face before she had a chance to mask it. Unfortunately, the look did not surprise me, as it was a reaction I have become familiar with in others.

“Really?” she asked.
“Yes. Why do I feel that you don’t believe me?” I challenged.
The scepticism changed to nervous, embarrassed laughter.
“Well…,” she said eventually, “…you just don’t look the type.”

You would think that I had just confessed to robbing a bank vault or expressed a wish to be a nun, but the reality was not so dramatic. Yet, my confession that I liked to read historical romances had, I could tell, subtlety changed my friend’s view of me and, in that moment, I felt it was not towards the positive.

So has the historical romance genre become uncool to read? I certainly hope not! However I can’t help wondering why a business woman, who is independently minded and (I hope) fairly intelligent, not be considered the “type” to enjoy historical romance. Perhaps its chequered history can be partly to blame…

In the past, historical romances were chaste and even sometimes lacked the now obligatory ‘happy ever after’. If lust and passion reared their obscene heads in England, as with Lady Chatterley’s Lover, publishers risked being brought to trial under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

However, the titanic plates of the romance genre shifted by the 1970s and the historical romance genre were all about domination. Today we may find these hard to tolerate and even label them abusive. However, these novels were ground breaking for the time as, for the first time, novels showed passion and lust that was previously, for decency sake, not referred to. Readers lapped up these stories in the privacy of their own homes. Yes, the 70’s was the hippy era and free love for all, or so we are to believe, but for many women the reality of their lives was much more mundane. Reading about a passion filled, dominate hero gave the reader the escapism that they longed for. These readers were, strangely, being rebellious in their own way, although readers of today may be horrified to hear this view.
By the 1990’s women wanted to read about sassy heroines, who were independent and no longer victims. Although historical romances remained, trying to remain true to the historical period would place the inevitable constraints that contemporary romances did not have to limit themselves to.
By the 2000’s a whole sub-genre of romances grew in popularity, including humorous, suspenseful, inspirational, erotic, science fiction, paranormal, vampire and werewolf romances.

Perhaps this explosion has left the traditional historical romance appearing, to some, a little out of date or stuck in a rut.
Perhaps the historical romance genre of the past has given my friend a slanted view of the typical historical romance readers of today. Does she believe lovers of historical romance are still like the wide-eyed 1970s reader, who, strangely in her opinion, enjoyed reading about dominant heroes and must, therefore, be lacking in some part of their life.

The reality is that the well written romance of today are about women finding their own identity and their journey getting there, whilst finding Mr Right along the way. It can have the historical detail of the classics, the passion and lust of the 70’s and an independent heroine of today that is a survivor of the constraints placed upon her. Historical romances can be fluff and fun, after all who needs serious reading all the time, but equally it can be an informative, passionate roller-coaster that can rival any thriller, autobiography or mystery. It’s the author and their skill that matters, not the genre it is placed in.

PhotoFunia-1431540322