Zi71bFS9nQHnivtvUJquhejTHIQ The Story Factory Reading Zone

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Guest Post: Plus Ça Change by Deborah Valentine

Today I'm pleased to welcome Author Deborah Valentine to 'The Story Factory Reading Zone'

About Deborah Valentine
Deborah Valentine's latest book is The Knightmare and is available on Kindle. Her first series of novels, Unothodox Methods, A Collector of Photographs and Fine Distinctions, were published by Victor Gollancz in the UK and were also published in the US. A Collector of Photographs was short-listed for an Edgar Allen Poe, Macavity, Anthony Boucher and Shamus Award. Fine Distinctions was also short-listed for an Edgar. They follow the turbulent relationship of ex-policeman Kevin Bryce and his sculptress partner, Katharine Craig, against a backdrop of mystery and mayhem. They will be available in Autumn 2013 as part of Orion's digital imprint The Murder Room.

She edited a number of niche-market magazines and has a special interest in history, particularly medieval history. She has worked with a number of distinguished academics on historical articles, some of which are now part of the catalogue of the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, Oxford.

With the publication of The Knightmare, she is working on a new series of novels that are a blend of fact and fantasy, history and the present with a bit of thwarted romance on the side, combining all the ingredients she loves best in a story.

My review of The Knightmare

Plus Ca Change from Deborah Valentine

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Its an old adage and deceptively complex. Things do change, sometimes quite radically, while others remain an underlying constant. This struck me as I recently attended the Matisse, The Cut-Outs, exhibition at the Tate Modern.

Matisse was an old man when he started doing his cut-outs. A new art form born out of a stroke, of being wheel-chair bound; his limited mobility left him unable to paint as he once did. But he could still see, he could wield a pair of scissors and, with the aid of a bevy of lovely young assistants, was able to create beautifully flowing works of art. At first, the work seemed child-like, almost primitive, but evolved into ever more sophisticated compositions. Things had changed, changed radically, yet his feel for expression, his artistic eye, remained a constant.

So what has this to do with writing? With the notable exception of Neil Gaiman, who constantly urges writers to make good art, few writers are comfortable calling themselves artists and instead speak of craft. But if Art is an expression of the inner life, of caring and purpose, then however poncy it may sound writers are artists. And we all change.

When I first started writing, with that child-like joy of play, I wrote a series of crime fiction, The Bryce Series. In the happy ignorance of youth, I didnt even know I was writing crime fictionit took my agent to point it out to me (writers couldnt get by with that todaywere all expected to be so savvy, or at least know what were writing!). Unorthodox Methods, A Collector of Photographs and Fine Distinctions were well received and are bound up in my mind with that first thrill of creation, that realisation of purpose in life: oh, this is what I doI write. I love those books and the people within them. But Plus ça change.

With The Knightmarea book with a touch of the supernatural, the historical epic and the romanticmake no mistake Ive changed genres, despite reasonable plaudits in a life of crime (so to speak). So why the change? Arent we supposed to stick with a formulaor at least a genreso we dont, heaven forbid, disappoint or confuse our audiences? I dont think audiences are given enough credit.

Life can throw a lot of things at youdeath, disability, poverty, something as simple as a change of path or as unexpected as happiness. Certainly I had my fair share of rocks on the road. I spent a number of years writing The Knightmare. Like Matisse (somewhat) I started all over again, getting my scissors out from time to time. Yet it was exciting following a new path, with new experiences both comfortable and uncomfortable behind me. It took me somewhere fresh, allowed the imagination to flow in other directions. As life goes on, you discover more things about yourself and the world around you. Perspectives change. There is a shift in the light, throwing up shadows or illuminating the dark.

But of course, some things remain the sameas it is with us all. There is still an emphasis on relationships of one sort or anotherfamilial, romantic or friendly. And however it has evolved through life, there is still a point of view or use of language that is unique to every writer. And a sense of humour (or lack thereof). When I, and when audiences, pick up this book, they still know its me. And I still love my characters.

Ive a new book in the offing, Who is Huggermugger Jones? It will mark a change for the hero and heroine of The Knightmare, as well as for their friends, introducing new characters who will instigate another era in their adventures. If there is one thing that stays the same is that I like a series. Because like the people around youfamily, friends, workmatescharacters grow too and have a life of their own. Not to mention a sense of humour uniquely theirs.

The important thing is not to be afraid of changeit gives a new lease of life to everything. Matisse could have dried up and blown away after his stroke. Instead he worked on his cut-outs for the last 17 years of his life. As a result of working with them, Matisse took the work another step forward, designing stained glass windows for the Dominican Chapel of the Rosary in Vence on the French Riviera. Hugely satisfied with the work he pronounced it the result of all my active life.

So is every book.

Monday, 1 September 2014


Apologies for the lack of update posts on my challenges and readathon. I had planned to update after getting back from holiday on Friday, but my internet gave out on me. Normal service should return shortly.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Back To School Book Blogger Challange: Day Nine

For the sake of anonymity I won't mention her name. She was my classics teacher in sixth form (and if she's reading this I'm sure she'll know who she is). She made classes fun and made us feel like grown-ups.
We had quite a small classics group, which met in one of the upper rooms in the school. It was a lovely group that enjoyed sharing its learning with each other. Part of the reason for this was the way that our teacher made us all feel valued. I particularly enjoyed when she would set us individual or paired tasks to present a certain topic to the rest of the class. These sessions made us go into much greater detail than we would otherwise on a particular subject, and they often played on our own interests. 

Her lessons felt much more like university seminars than other school lessons. We would sit together round a single table discussing whatever we were studying. Often she would bring us cups of tea and we would share biscuits. She used to tell us it was our little secret, as she shouldn't really be bringing us things out of the staffroom. 

She inspired me to love classics, even the architecture bits which I've never enjoyed learning about with anyone else. As a result I went on to do Ancient History and Archaeology at University, and then did my dissertation about how Ancient History is taught in primary schools (focusing on the Romans mostly). I even began to enjoy using my limited Latin skills to translate tombstones, and inscriptions in churches. 

So you can see that she really shaped my future, giving me increased confidence, as well as inspiring my ongoing learning. If you're reading this, thank-you. 

What do you think makes a good teacher?


Monday, 25 August 2014

Back To School Book Blogger Challenge: Day Eight

I think, for me, the most important thing I've learnt is not to be too preoccupied with visitor and follower statistics. 

When I began blogging it all seemed to be about statistics. Every form seemed to ask how many followers you had, every author wanted to know how many visitors would see their review. To get bigger, you were told, you had to make sure you posted at least once a day. It was important to join all the memes you could, check facebook every hour, and join in as many challenges as possible. In short, it was impossible to be a successful blogger and have any sort of 'real world' life. Or at least, that's how it appeared.

Now don't get me wrong, its good to make sure you have lots of contents on your blog. But its more important to interact properly with your followers and readers, and to get a good blogging-life-work balance. That means that stats can't be everything!

And they don't need to be either! I no longer put stats first, but I still get plenty of book review requests. The authors that ask me seem to be attracted by my style of review, the likelihood of getting a positive review, and (more often than not) simply getting their presence onto as many blogs as possible. 

I also enjoy replying to my comments in a way that wasn't possible when I had loads of people simply posting links to their own blogs, It feels like my readers and much more engaged with what I am posting, and not just jumping through hoops to get their own blogs recognised. 
In short, I'm enjoying blogging much more than I used to!

What would your top tip be for a new book blogger?

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Back To School Book Blogger Challenge: Day Seven

We studied quite a lot of books at school, but if I'm honest very few of them inspired me. My memories of school English Literature lessons are trying to understand Shakepeare and books that I generally found quite boring. 

It was the school English visits and writing assignments that inspired me. I watched Romeo and Juliet (The Leonardo DiCaprio version) for my GCSE coursework and rather enjoyed it. We also went to see a rather shocking (for a niave teenage girl) version of the same play (think nudity). At another time we acted out A Midsummer Night's Dream.

I remember going to see authors. The most memorable of these was seeing Anthony Horowitz. Now before I tell this tale you need to know that I have a short left arm (it only grew to just past the elbow). 
My school was lucky enough to go and listen to Anthony Horowitz talk about one of his latest books alongside several other local schools. I was really excited as I'd been reading some of his books at the time (actually one of these may have been assigned by the school, but I can't remember for sure). Being a young teenager this meant that me and my friends were in a rather silly mood. So, imagine the scene, several hundred young people packed together and listening with rapt attention to one of their favourite authors. At the end he starts to answer questions. "Would you ever give up writing?" one person asks. Mr Horowitz replies that he'd rather lose his left hand. 
At which point my rather over-excited friend started nudging me, "put your hand up, go on". And so, a little embarrassed but over-excited myself, I raised my left arm. 
Well, my memory is that Anthony Horowitz went puce. Poor man, I hadn't meant for him to be that embarrassed! At the signing of Groosham Grange he apologised profusely and I now have a very special signed copy.

What does this have to do with inspiring me you may ask. Well, having already made as much of a fool of myself as I could with Anthony Horowitz I didn't feel as nervous as I normal would writing to him. And so, a while later, I wrote to the author enclosing a story that I myself had written and asking if he had any tips. I may not have (yet) become the author I wished to be back then, but his reply did inspire me to never stop writing. So, without Anthony Horowitz I probably wouldn't be writing this here! 

Have you ever written to an author?
Did you receive a reply?

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Back To School Book Blogger Challenge: Day Six

Keep Blogging Smoothly or Mix Things Up?

Well, I hope my blog does a mixture of these two things already, but I must admit that its got harder now that I have a full time job.

Flowing Smoothly
One of the things I'd like to do this academic year is try to schedule some more posts in advance. I'm aware that my blogging can currently get a little slow during term-time and then suddenly speed up in the holidays (especially the summer ones). To combat this I'd like to spend more time in the holidays blogging and then set posts to come up during term time. These could be review posts, topic posts, or guest posts. 

Mixing Things Up
I want to continue to do memes and challenges during the holiday periods. I want to be more active it finding out when challenges (particularly reading challenges) are taking place and join them when I can. 
I also want to continue on doing more posts about England and indie author/ publishers. I need to try to keep up better with what's going on in the publishing world in order to do this. 

Please share about your blog and what makes it special

Friday, 22 August 2014

Back To School Book Blogger Challenge: Day Five

I wrote quite a lot about this yesterday when answering the question how to foster a love of reading in kids. So today I'd like to focus specifically on bedtime reading.
For as long as I can remember my Mum and Dad have read. As a youngster I was aware of books surrounding me, and enjoyed both the school and public libraries. But my favourite time of the day was most certainly bedtime, because this was when I would get to share a book with my parents.

I can't really remember what books I read in those early days. I'm pretty sure 'The Hungry Caterpillar' was one of them though. The readers I got set by school were generally below my level (there was a prescribed order and you couldn't miss any one) so we enjoyed reading books that my Mum or Dad, Grandma or Auntie had bought for me. My Mum used to talk to me about the pictures and what was going on, encouraging me to sound out the letters as I went. This was our routine and I loved it.

As I got older I began to read at bedtime on my own. I remember hiding the book when my Mum came to kiss me goodnight. She'd tell me to go to sleep and not to read too much. At first she would switch off the light herself, then she began to let me do it to give me a little more reading time (if it didn't go off after a while she'd pop her head round the door and ask me to stop reading). Often the book was too good though and I took to hiding a torch it my bedding and then reading by torchlight until my eyelids started sagging. On a few occasions this was pretty late!

So, what made this love of reading? Well, I guess it was partly the routine. But it was also the memories of lovely times with my parents and that feeling of love that was associated with bedtime. And then there was the fact that I'd often dream about what I'd been reading, sending me off into night-time adventures.

And so reading became for me about love, sharing and adventures. And I guess it still is to some extent for me today. How can you not love that?

What do you love about reading?

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