Tag Archive | writing

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

Be the friend you wish you had.

A few days ago I met up with some fellow authors for lunch. We talked a lot, laughed a bit and, I believe, an enjoyable time was had by all. I went home feeling inspired to return to my writing and happier for having a pleasant lunch with some friends. I call them my friends, even though our lunch date was the first time I had met them face to face.

Illustration by Digitalart FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Illustration by Digitalart

In the past, a friend was considered someone whom one has a bond of mutual affection. Today, however, the term friend is used more liberally and can take many forms. Here is just a few I have thought of, although I’m sure there are many more.

Illustration by Digitalart FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Illustration by Digitalart

The friend on social media who you have never met.

The friend on social media who you have never met, yet you share more with them than the people in your life.

The friend on social media you have met and accepted as a friend, but only because you did not want to offend them.

The friend in your life who is really a friend of a friend. You speak and socialize, but in reality, if it was not for the mutual friend, you probably wouldn’t be friends.

The friend at work. You enjoy each other’s company at work and at work functions, but would not socialize outside of work. This one could also include clubs, the gym etc.

The toxic friend, who drains you emotionally, uses or manipulates you, or is just generally unsupportive.

Photo by Witthaya Phonsawat

Photo by Witthaya Phonsawat

The friend you meet up with regularly, enjoy each other’s company, but would never trust with a secret.

The friend you meet up with regularly, enjoy each other’s company and feel you can trust with a secret.

The friend you meet up with regularly, enjoy each other’s company, feel you can trust with a secret and will remain your friend when times get tough. This is the friend we all want to have and those that find it are very lucky.

Photo by Nenetus FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo by Nenetus

From childhood through to young adulthood, we are busy making friends. New schools, different classes, hobbies, nights out, college, university and work are all great opportunities to make friends. As we get older, settle into our careers and have families, opportunities to make friends become less and some old friends, for one reason or another, fall by the wayside. In the case of toxic friends, I recommend you kick them to the kerb with a hobnailed boot. Suddenly, time has moved on and we find we have fewer friends than we once had.

Photo by Nenetus

Photo by Nenetus

There is nothing lonelier than to feel one has no friends. The reality is, we are surrounded by potential friends, it’s just having the courage to go out to find them and invite them into our life. The depth and quality of the friendship may vary, but as long as we are realistic in our expectations, new friends can be made. You never know, one of them might be the friend that lasts a lifetime and if not, at least you will have some fun along the way. And how do you keep a friend? I would think trying to be the friend you wish you had.

All illustrations and  photos from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In conversation with romance author Jo Beverley

Today I am delighted to welcome romance author, Jo Beverley, to my blog.

Jo Beverley

Jo Beverley

Jo is the NYT bestselling author of over thirty-nine historical romance novels, all set in her native England. Her novels have won the RITA, romance’s top award, five times and she is a member of Romance Writers of America’s Hall of Fame.

Publisher’s Weekly declared Jo Beverley as “Arguably today’s most skilful writer of intelligent historical romance…” Her work has been described as “Sublime!” by Booklist and Romantic Times described her as “one of the great names of the genre.”

Welcome to my blog, Jo and thank you for taking time out of your busy day to chat. Just for fun, which five words do you think best describes you?

Five?  I can come up with laid-back and creative, but I’m really not self-analytical.

What inspired you to write your very first book?

Photo by Kromkrathog FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Vocation, perhaps? I always had stories in my head and started to write them as a child. I fiddled around, with my efforts becoming longer, until we emigrated to Canada and I had time on my hands, and then one poured out. I do feel that I have always been a writer, just as I have not been an athlete, a musician, or an inventor. I’m fortunate to have found the way to be what I’m meant to be.

 

 

What are the challenges (research, literary, psychological or logistical) in bringing a book to life?

I suppose, being true to it. I don’t pre-plan my books, so sometimes I find myself hurtling along and have to stop because though it’s fun it’s not true. Then I have to toss the rubbish out and dig deeper for what’s really going on.  In addition my books always hit a spot about half to two-thirds through when I’m sure that this time it’s not going to work. My husband calls it “the time of the book.” The only thing to do is carry on.

I don’t get writer’s block, though I sometimes find the energy weakens on a book. In that case I start something new, or return to an old project, sometimes just for fun, and return to the other one later. I do believe in preserving the fun in fiction, in all senses.

What books/authors have influenced your writing or writing style and why?

Photo by usamedeniz FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo by usamedeniz
FreeDigitalPhotos.net

That’s a tricky one because I’d have to say all of them. I’m sure everything we read has some effect. I’ve never been a great one for how-to-write books, though some have been helpful along the way. Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block was helpful. I read it early in my writing life and it liberated me to do just that. I didn’t have to “write what you know” or be literary-serious about this. I could invent people and places for the sheer joy of it and hope others would enjoy reading my stories.

By the way, the SF writer Orson Scott Card clarified the “write what you know” for me when he pointed out that he knows more about the books he’s read, the films he’s watched and the stories other people have told him than what he was doing as a teenager.

While you are writing, do you ever feel as if you are one of the characters?

No, but I’m often inhabiting them, if that makes sense. Mostly I see what’s going on as a video but I also get inside their heads and share their emotions in order to share all that with the readers. There have to be bits of me in my characters, but I’ve never been interested in writing disguised autobiography.

Tell us a little about your latest book and why you chose that story-line/setting?

I assume you mean the MIP? (Masterpiece/mess/monster in progress.) It’s a marriage of convenience story, which is a favourite of mine. I also write linked books and this one, The Viscount Needs a Wife , rolls out from last April’s Too Dangerous for a Lady . In that one the hero has a friend  who’s a town dandy.

Braydon was in the army, but we’re past Waterloo and he’s sold out and is enjoying his money and his leisure. Being a bit bored after a year of gadding about he’s happy to become involved in Lord Faringay’s anti-terrorism activities. (Yes, that does make sense in the Regency.) So he has the life he wants — London-based, but with challenging government work. Then he unexpectedly inherits a title and, worse, a country estate. When he arrives at Beauchamp Abbey he also finds the previous viscount’s mother and daughter, both intent on making his life worse.

So, as the title says, The Viscount Needs a Wife, in particular one who’ll look after the estate and deal with the troublesome women so he can return to London. A friend suggests a widow, Mrs. Kitty Cateril, who turns out to be sensible and forthright, and so he settles on her. The novel follows their relationship as they learn about one another and make necessary adjustments, but there’s an external plot about an attempt to kill some of the royal dukes — the king’s sons.

The story opens just before Princess Charlotte died in childbirth in November, 1817. Despite George III having seventeen children, she was the only legitimate grandchild, so the royal succession was in peril. Braydon’s called upon to find the culprits and keep the royal family safe.

It sounds really interesting. You have written many books during your illustrious career and experienced many book launches. Do you still get excited or nervous when your latest book is launched?

I’m not sure books launch these days so much as flow out when the sluice gate is raised. With the promo build up and many readers pre-ordering copies online to be delivered on the day, the actual day doesn’t mean much. The reviews are in, as are the orders from the major booksellers. My editor, agent and I all watch the bestseller lists, but part of our attention is on the future.

I find that time is odd in a writer’s life. When Too Dangerous for a Lady was released my mind was deep into The Viscount Needs a Wife, and we were already discussing the back copy and cover.  Too Dangerous for a Lady was important, but not at the top of my mind. In addition, these days all my backlist is available in e-book, and mostly in print, so I have  thirty-nine “live” books, plus a number of novellas. If I get an e-mail from a reader it’s as likely to be about one of my backlist as about the latest one.

 

Are there any words of wisdom you would give to your younger self at the start of your writing career?

Well, about ten years ago I should have claimed back some rights to books that weren’t truly in print, because I could probably do better now publishing them myself. Now the publishers have realized their value and are less likely to release them.

At the beginning? Perhaps I should have tried harder to get my first book published back in the late seventies. On the other hand, I don’t think I was a good enough writer, and I’m not sure I was ready then in other ways.  By 1988 there was much more support and education for romance writers and I learned. Also, word processors and computers were becoming available. I don’t think I could have written many books on a typewriter. Not long after I sold my first book, the internet became more available and I had access to writers around the world. So I think I did all right in the end.

Jo Beverley

Jo Beverley

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I write for your entertainment and pleasure. If ever I dissatisfy, it’s not for want of trying. But I also have to be true to myself, my characters and my stories, so it is what it is. And thank you.

Thank you for a candid and informative interview, Jo. I’ve really enjoyed it.

For more information on Jo’s books, please visit Jo Beverley’s website by clicking on this link .

 

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

In conversation with romance author Jane Jackson

Jane Jackson

Jane Jackson

Before my first book was published, romance author, Jane Jackson, was incredibly generous with her time by answering some questions I had about the publishing industry. A professional writer for thirty years, three times shortlisted for major Awards, today is the launch date for Jane’s  29th published novel, The Consul’s Daughter. Married with a growing family, she has lived in Cornwall all her life where wonderful scenery, fascinating history and pioneering inventors provide inspiration for both her historical adventure romances and her new Polvellan Cornish Mystery series. I am, understandably, delighted such an experienced and successful author has agreed to be my first guest.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today, Jane, as I understand 2015 has been a busy year for you so far. Are you able to tell us a little about what you have been up to?

The-Consuls-Daughter-192x300I’ve been working on a sequel to The Consul’s Daughter but took a break to write the third of my Polvellan Cornish Mysteries, The Loner, which I hope to finish by the end of July. Then it’s back to complete The Master’s Wife.  After that I’ll begin research for a trilogy of historical thrillers. I also have outlines drafted for four more Polvellan Mysteries. Because these are present-day and at 25,000 words much shorter, writing them makes a lovely change even though they need just as much research!

You have enjoyed a very successful career as a writer, was there a particular moment, incident or book that inspired you to write your first novel?

There was. It came about through a combination of circumstances.  I was a single parent with two small children and an ulcer which meant my life revolved around playschool and domestic life. I’d loved reading since I was four, so I decided to have a go at writing something. I finished a Correspondence Course in Writing that my mother had abandoned. I enjoyed the challenge and learning something new, but realised that journalism and writing for TVPhotoFunia-1435845382 weren’t for me.  Then I had a nightmare. In my dream I ‘saw’ a bar in an old Cornish pub, and a group of fishermen who were members of the village male voice choir.  One of the men started laughing. At first everyone was amused. But he didn’t – couldn’t – stop and he laughed himself to death.  It was still vivid in my mind next morning. I wondered if such a thing could actually happen (it could, and had) and discovered the joys of research. Deadly Feast took three years to research and write. It was accepted by Robert Hale and I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

How long does it take to write a book now and do you have any writing quirks or habits that help with the writing process?

The length of time varies depending on the length of book. I always get drawn along unexpected paths of research and end up doing far more than I need. But of what I learn, 90% remains under the surface supporting the 10% that appears in the story.  My longer novels take between 8-10 months to write. One quirk I have is to begin researching the next when I’m ¾ of the way through the current one.  This means that though I still suffer end-of-book-blues, they can’t last long as the next one is demanding to be written. My Polvellan stories take 2-3 months each.  Another habit is to do a rolling edit – re-reading the previous day’s work as soon as I sit down. This gets me tuned into the story and raring to move it along.  When the book is finished it gets another careful read-through so it’s as good as I can get it before it goes to my editor for his input.

As an experienced author, is there anything you have learnt during your writing career that has surprised you?

The way the characters in my books become absolutely real to me. They are a product of my imagination, yet it’s as if they actually exist in another dimension and I’ve found a way from my world into theirs allowing me to live the events and emotions.  Though I plan my stories in detail, the characters make choices and take actions I hadn’t foreseen. These have consequences which add further layers to the story.

I can certainly relate to that. If you had to choose a career that had nothing to do with writing, what would it be and why? 

When I was at school I wanted to work in a pathology lab. What appealed to me were the research and discovery aspects of the work. But I failed maths – twice.  So though my potential medical career fell at the first hurdle, my love of research was already in place, waiting to be developed.

So now you use your love of research in your writing career. If your “significant other” had to choose a career for you, what would they choose and why?

I’ve just asked him and his answer made me laugh because he said ‘a pathology lab.’  (I was a fan of the original CSI series, and I also enjoy NCIS and Kathy Reichs’ books.)  ‘Or maybe a Records office or archive. Definitely a job where you’d be involved in research.’   He knows me well!

The-Consuls-Daughter-192x300I understand your 29th book is coming out today called The Consul’s Daughter, would you mind telling us a little bit about it?

I’d be delighted! Caseley is the 21-year-old daughter of Teuder Bonython, successful shipyard owner and consul for Mexico. When he falls ill, and her brother refuses to be involved, Caseley takes responsibility for the shipyard, the consulate, and her father’s health. Not conventionally beautiful, Caseley also resigns herself to a life without love … until she encounters Jago Barata, half-Spanish captain of a Bonython ship. Jago is fearless, determined, a brilliant sailor – he’s also impudent, arrogant, and unnaturally perceptive. Love is the last thing on Caseley’s mind as their every encounter sets her and Jago at each other’s throats.

But just when she thinks Jago is out of her life for good, Caseley must deliver a letter to Spain on behalf of her father – a letter containing information that could seal the fate of Spain one way or another. It will be a journey filled with doubt, intrigue and danger – and the only ship leaving in time is Jago’s…

It sounds really exciting, what inspired the plot/setting for this latest novel?

Cornwall

Cornwall

In a biography of Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick I read that he spent time in Mexico, installing huge pumping engines at silver mines.  I thought that sounded interesting.  Then I read that when silver is extracted from copper, lead or zinc ores, the process requires mercury – which was shipped out to Mexico from Spain.  But in 1874, the middle of the Victorian era and a favourite period of mine, Spain was gripped by civil war and ships were trapped by a blockade in the port of Bilbao.  My historical romances always have a connection to Cornwall. So once I know the background and period (usually inter-dependent) I think ‘what if?’  What if the owner of a ship repair yard also owns and charters ships?  What if one of his captains is half-Spanish? What if, being a respected businessman from a long-established family, the yard owner is also a consul?  What if he is sent documents from Mexico vital to Spain’s future but he’s too ill to take them himself? What if he has a daughter? What if, a crippled foot caused by the accident that killed her mother has left her with a limp? Unable to dance – an important social skill in young women – she was taught Spanish by a sympathetic teacher?   For me, plot grows out of character, and character choices influence development of the plot.

Do you think the names of the main characters in a book are important and why did you choose the names in this latest novel?

Yes, I do think names are important.  They need to be right for the period of the story and for the location.  They also need to ‘fit’ the characters so you can’t imagine them being called anything else.  I chose Caseley, which is actually a Cornish surname, partly because it was different but authentic and I liked the sound of it, partly because at that time children were often named for grandparents, godparents or to flatter someone from whom the family might have ‘expectations.’  Bonython is an old Cornish surname. Caseley Bonython works well.  The same applied to giving her father the first name ‘Teuder.’  You have to admit ‘Teuder Bonython’ does have a certain ring to it! My hero is half-Cornish half-Spanish. Jago is Cornish for James.  His surname, Barata, is Spanish from his father. But he also has a middle name from his Cornish mother’s family, Lansallos.

 Where and when can readers purchase  The Consul’s Daughter?

Ebook edition available 2nd July  price £2.99

Paperback edition available 30th July price £12.99

Click here to view and buy the book

Finally, is there anything specific you would like to say to your readers?

Thank you, BD, for inviting me onto your blog.  If anyone has further questions I’d love to hear from you.

You can reach me via my blog or my Facebook Page .

Thank you, Jane, I’ve really enjoyed our chat today and I wish you all the best for The Consul’s Daughter.