Tuesday 28 July 2020

In conversation with Paula Readman after the recent release of her single author collection, Days Pass Like a Shadow

We have recently had the privilege of publishing Paula's single author collection. Here's what she had to say.   

Thank you for inviting me to your blog Gill to talk about my book, Days Pass like a Shadow a collection of thirteen dark tales which are all linked by the theme of Death and Loss. This collection features my most favourite stories that I have written so far. Though I’ve been busy writing almost every day since finishing working full-time nine years ago, it has only been in these last couple of years that my confidence has grown enough for me to feel I fully understand the process needed to create stories to a high enough standard that they are selected for publication.
Each of stories in Days Pass like a Shadow has its own story behind its creation. The first story in the collection The Meetings began life as a submission for the magazine, People’s Friend. I received some positive feedback from their editor but he didn’t like the ending and wanted me to rewrite the story. I did, but then he told me it had lost its sparkle in the rewrite. Shortly after its rejection I came across a writing competition and decided to change The Meetings back to its original story line and entered it. To my utter delight and amazement, it was overall winner in the competition. It proved to me; if your work suffers rejection in one place try somewhere else.
The idea behind On the Streets of Kabul came to me in a dream. It seemed so real and shocking it woke me. So not to wake my husband, I got out of bed, went to the kitchen and turned on the light so I could write down the dream while it was fresh in my mind. It seemed so real I could feel the heat, taste the dust and smell the fear. For Days Pass like a Shadow, I extended the story to give it a rounded ending.
Perfect Justice is another story that came about under extraordinary circumstances. When I was working full-time in an electronics factory, I would go in early so I could get a parking space. Before it was time to start work, I would either make notes of plot ideas or read books on how to write to be published. I did the same during my lunch breaks too. Of course, my work colleagues knew about my crazy dream to become a published writer.
One day I noticed a supervisor was always watching me. My job was to hand-build units. If I had shortages of parts, I had to make notes of what I needed, and then go and collect the parts from the storeroom.  On three occasions my supervisor called me out for writing in company’s time.  So Perfect Justice was born. As they say, don’t get mad, get even.  The surname Perfect came about when my work colleague, Kathy told me about a girl she knew who had the same surname. She said, she wasn’t Perfect, but horrible. 

What’s next for me? Now my focus is more on writing novels, though I won’t be giving up writing short stories, Gill. I’m busy constructing a new novel, which is a follow-up of my novella, The Funeral Birds. It’s the continuing story about a failing private detective agency, but it has a twist as there’s a four hundred year old witch in the story. I do have a couple of other projects I need to finish first before I can concentrate on it solely.

I had planned to do a garden party at my home to launch my book but unfortunately, the Covid-19 put a stop to that. My writing group was going to get involved with the local radio station. They were to come to the group to do an interview with us but again that was cancelled. I’m hoping by next year things will be a lot easier and the village WI will want speakers to come along again as I had put my name forward. I’m busy marketing online with thousands of other writers but I’m not sure whether it will reap the rewards we all hope for.  

  To buy a copy of Days Pass like a Shadow, you can purchase it from the publisher at Bridge House, from Amazon online or order it through your local bookshop.

What got me started was the need to prove to myself that I could.  I left school poorly educated and it was a comment made by a Polish colleague who laughed at me when I said I didn’t understand the working of English grammar. She explained that they learnt English at school. I felt ashamed as English was my birth language yet I didn’t understand how it worked when written down.  That’s when I decided to teach myself from the second-hand books bought off EBay by my husband as we couldn’t afford to pay for a writing course at the time.
Reading about English Grammar was like reading a foreign language, I had no idea want they were talking about, but I persevered and now I think I understand though I do have moments of doubts.
Do I have a routine? Yes, I suppose I do. I’m at my most productive in the morning. I have a small office at the top of the stairs where I work facing a wall of books. I sometimes have music on in the background, a mixture of classic and new age music, but mainly instrumentals. I find it helps me to stay focused. The winter months are the best for writing long pieces of work, as I don’t have to worry about the garden.
My husband has always been supportive of me, but was mainly friends to start with. Now the rest of my family are on board once my work became more widely published.
What am I most proud of with my writing? That I never gave up and kept the faith in my ability.  

Sunday 26 July 2020

Writing Girl in a Smart Uniform

About the book

The story is based on something that really happened but for which we have a yet had no real explanation. A house in Germany held a special class in its cellar. Disabled children and children with learning difficulties came as day students to a little school in a house that belonged to woman by race defined as a Jewess even though she was no longer Jewish by religion.  There is an irony there.  The school survived and continued to operate from the house until the 1960s and only moved because it became too big.
We believe that the equivalents of Dad’s Army were asked to destroy the house and its occupants. They refused. The Hitler Youth were then asked to clear the house and they also refused. So it was down to the BDM girls. The BDM was the girls’ version of the Hitler Youth. They really were threatened with dire consequences if they didn’t obey.  So, they set fire to the cellar – but got the children out first.
The story came to us via my mother-in-law who was the granddaughter of Clara Lehrs, owner of the house where the school was held.
In this instance I’ve used fiction as a way of uncovering the facts.
We’re not even certain if this is the school she used to tell us about but some of my further research had led us to believe that this was the school she meant.

Research for this book

It all started with a sabbatical from the University of Salford and was based on some letters my mother-in-law received in 1979. Renate James (nee Edler) started to write her story but sadly lost her life to breast cancer in 1986. I decided to finish the story for her.
The letters were from her classmates at a school that she went to in Nuremberg. The school had to close because it wasn’t teaching the Nazi curriculum. Renate thought she was going to Stuttgart. In fact she was sent to England on the Kindertransport only days after her parents told her she was Jewish.  That has stopped many a publisher wanting to publish the books. How she could have not known, they asked. Well, she didn’t. So, I’ve published them through my own publishing company.
The girls kept a round robin letter going for several years and they filled three exercise books. One lady had found the middle one in her attic and made it her duty to contact every single one of the girls, including Renate.
The letters give a real insight to what it was like being a young woman during World War II in Germany. Before I started writing I transcribed all of the letters- some of them were very difficult to read - and then I translated them.  I really got to know these young women quite well that way.   
As I worked on telling Renate’s story as a novel, I found out more and more about her grandmother, who became the subject for the next book, Clara’s Story.            


Why I was inspired to write this

I wanted to explore a little more how young German women thought and why there was this resistance to authority just in time. Have I got it right? Who knows? I’ve given the protagonist a hard time: her parents separate, she has a Down syndrome step-brother, an abusive older brother and a nicer older brother who is killed in the war.  And there are many other problems as well.

What's next?

Well Face to Face with the Führer is the story of Renate’s mother, also a remarkable woman. The cover has a handbag and an antique pistol on it.  I say no more. But what might have been one of her achievements?  That is waiting in the queue to be published.
I’m also on my second draft of The Round Robin. I’m exploring in more detail three of the girls who were involved in the letters and their class teacher. The book is really fictional and only very loosely based on the original girls.
Then I’m planning a book about Helga who is a fictional character in Girl in a Smart Uniform. She is another Holocaust survivor but her story will be mainly in the 21st century.
As I wrote the first draft of The Round Robin I encountered another interesting character. One of the girls has an aunt who is involved in the German resistance. Will this series ever stop?        

How can we get a copy of the book?

Just click on the picture above. Links to the other two books are down below.

Do you have any events planned?

I have a whole workshop for schools. See details here. I’m happy to adapt to facilitating this via Zoom or other similar video-conferencing facilities.    

Friday 24 July 2020

Paul Williams and The Art of Losing

Today I'm talking to Paul Williams about his book The Art of Losing. I had the honour of editing this for Paul. The stories in it are compelling and it was a great pleasure workign with him on this collection.   

  1. Tell me about your book.

The Art of Losing is a collection of short stories I wrote in my various journeys around the world. I have lived in Africa, the Middle East, USA, UK  and Australia, and each story is a window into some crucial experience I had in each of these countries. Most of the stories have been published in leading international literary journals and some (to my surprise!) won literary awards. As I gathered these stories together for this collection, I realised that most of them were about loss, and how to deal with loss – of country, home, faith, identity, loved ones. Much of the world is in exile, many millions are refugees, and I have had a little taste of this. We all deal with loss differently, and I deal with it by writing. Writing is catharsis and therapy and helps the pain of loss, but also is a positive way out. That makes it sound painful but many of the stories are humourous, absurd even. 
  1. Tell us about your research for this book.


As many of the stories are based on personal experience, the research was what academics call autoethnographic – describing and systematically analysing my own personal experience in order to understand the cultural experience of being alive here and now in this particular place and time. Researching your ‘self’ as a subject may seem weird but it is a valuable and important way to gain self knowledge, insight and epiphany ( self realisation).

  1. What inspired you to write this?

I teach Creative Writing at a university in Australia and teach a very popular course in particular called Writing the Short Story (over 100 students this semester!) where we look at this amazing art form that captures the essence of a distilled experience in a few thousand words. I wanted to gather all the stories I had written and share my experiences with the world.
All the stories are true in some sense, and each story was inspired by some deep emotional event – the death of my father, falling in love, rescuing a baby bird, how a friend of mine dealt with her child abuse with fantasies of revenge, and each story deals with an epiphany of some sort- some self realisation or insight I have had about myself, the world and I wanted to share this miracle of being alive, survival, personal growth and consciousness.     

  1. What's next?

Since publishing this book I continue to write short stories – one appeared in the Chicago Quarterly Review this year (about loss!). I have also fallen in love with crime writing and published a bestselling closed/ locked room mystery called Twelve Days  (Bloodhound Books 2019) which is a tribute to Agatha Christie and a modern version of her amazing novel And Then There Were None.  I have another crime novel coming out this year with the same publisher, called Don’t Tell, about gas lighting, serial killers and deception in relationships (!). My text book Novel Ideas : Writing Innovative Fiction came out this year too, about my love affair with the novel form.    

  1. How can we get a copy of the book?

The Art of Losing is available directly from Bridgehouse Publishing and also on Amazon.  Just a note here of praise to Gill and BridgeHouse – it is amazing independent publishers like her who keep the literary conversations going, so please all writers and readers support this essential fabric of the publishing industry, so necessary in this corporate conglomerate publishing world that subsumes and homogenises everything.  

  1. Do you have any events planned?

COVIT 19 has put an end to the book launches l had planned this year, but (and here is one positive coming out of the pandemic) people are reading more books, taking time to live in literary worlds, and I have had increased sales of all my books, some wonderful emails from readers, good reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. We have had to adapt to moving events and activities online and we are now more in tune with the virtual and online social media environment. It is important to be visible here, so please, if you read my books, visit my website, leave a comment on Amazon or Goodreads and let’s keep the conversation going and our community alive! 


Monday 20 July 2020

Reviews please

From time to time I’ll make an appeal here for a review. Reviews are so important for writers. I’ve actually taken the decision to review every single book I read.  Often it’ll just be a two- line review. It’s not too onerous at all. I’ve not yet had to give a terrible review - I guess that’s because I tend to read the books I’m likely to like.
 I’m taking the view that if I want people to review my books it’s only fair that I should review others’ books.  Besides, if I’m reviewing everything I’m reading, then my reviews are legitimate; I’m not just doing mates favours.
Here's the blurb:

"Girl in a Smart Uniform" is the third book in the Schellberg Cycle, a collection of novels inspired by a bundle of photocopied letters that arrived at a small cottage in Wales in 1979. The letters give us first-hand insights into what life was like growing up in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

It is the most fictional of the stories to date, though some characters, familiar to those who have read the first two books, appear again here. Clara Lehrs, Karl Schubert and Dr Kühn really existed. We have a few, a very few, verifiable facts about them. The rest we have had to find out by repeating some of their experiences and by using the careful writer's imagination.

Gisela adores her brother Bear, her gorgeous BDM uniform, and her little half-brother Jens. She does her best to be a good German citizen, and is keen to help restore Germany to its former glory. She becomes a competent and respected BDM leader. But life begins to turn sour. Her oldest brother Kurt can be violent, she soon realises that she is different from other girls, she feels uncomfortable around her mother’s new lover, and there is something not quite right about Jens. It becomes more and more difficult to be the perfect German young woman.

We know that BDM girls set fire to the house in Schellberg Street but got the children out first. This story seeks to explain what motivated the girls to do that, and what happened to them afterwards. 

So, if the book mentioned above appeals, I’m willing to supply a PDF or mobi-file for review. Just contact me via the form here.       

Thursday 16 July 2020

Girl in a Smart Uniform

It all started from one of those situations where truth was stranger than fiction. In fact the truth was so strange that I eventually decided to self—publish all of my books in the Schellberg Cycle. Most publishers thought it was just too far-fetched:  Renate Edler didn’t realise that she was Jewish until a few days before she came to England on the Kindertransport. “How could she not know she was Jewish?” they cried. Well, she just didn’t.  

Something else very odd happened at about that time. Her grandmother, the Jewish connection, but long since converted to Lutheranism, sheltered a school for the disabled children in her cellar. It survived there pretty well undisturbed and after the war ended continued much as it had before the Nazi regime arose. In fact it carried on in the house and only moved out when it got too big for this residential property We know that the equivalent of Dad’s Army were asked to destroy it. They refused and the Hitler Youth were charged with the task. They too refused so it was left to the girls. But for some reason they decided to let the children out first. Thank goodness.

Girl in a Smart Uniform attempts to work out how that may have happened. It also looks at what motivated young women to become good BDM members (the girls’ version of the Hitler Youth).

It does contain some people who really lived. Yet they are background figures here. This it to date the most fictional of my stories in The Schellberg Cycle. You can read more about them here.  

I find this an interesting process. It’s a little like acting. You have to get into the characters’ heads and work out what they would do in these circumstances. I suppose we might call it imagination. I found this useful at many stages in this project. There are primary resources, repeated experience and this very useful tool: the imagination. It’s as essential for writing historical fiction as it is for fantasy.