Sunday 28 February 2021

Candi Spillard and her new book, The Evening Lands


Tell me about your book 

How would you feel if one day, in mid-life, you discovered that you had - not a guardian Angel, but a guardian Devil? That the same individual which afforded you all the luck you’d had in life - and let’s face it most of us reading this have had rather a lot - is busy inflicting misery on the rest of the human race. What would you do? 

You’d want to fight to foil his schemes, of course! And that’s how I came up with the characters of the naïve environmentalist Verity Player and her evil nemesis, the devilish Stan ‘Satanic’ Mills - a shadowy being composed of all of humanity’s irrational fears. 

Having battled against Mills for the soul of the Banking system in The Price of Time, Verity now has to turn her mind to Mills’ hold over the people responsible for human rights abuses. 

The book is the second in a series, each of which stands as a story on its own. 


Tell us about the research for this book  

The Evening Lands started with two ideas: how on earth, I wondered as an idealistic Teen reading about the Milgram experiments (yes: that’s the sort of reading material I devoured as a Teen - biographies of famous scientists) can anyone be persuaded to deliberately inflict pain upon another human being? And then a snatch of lyrics from a rock ballad: ‘Hitting me with the third degree’ - what did that mean? 

My research took a dark turn: everything from the Spanish Inquisition to Guantánamo Bay. But hidden in the darkness was a gem: in every generation, from the witch hunts of the Middle Ages to the two sides in World War II, someone turns up who realises - and proves by example - that humane methods work better than pain and coercion. They earn converts, or information, rather than grudges and enemies. In the USA, Sherwood Ford Moran and his interviews of grounded Japanese airmen; in Nazi Germany, former salesman Hans Joachim Scharff. I could go on... 

I wrote up some of my research for The Evening Lands - starting with my own experience at the business end of a Police interview - on my blog ‘In Surreal Time’. You can read about it from this post onwards: 


 What inspired the book? 

In the midst of the furore over the Feinstein Report in 2015, I wanted to bring out the human side of all this: how do ordinary people, from our times, face extraordinary situations like these? And what force lurks behind those who still, in spite of generations of findings to the contrary, insist upon the inhumane treatment of those from whom they need information?  

I wrote the first draft then, and put it aside. I picked it up again when the American presidency changed hands in 2017. Although it’s never stated explicitly, the action takes place in a ‘2017 that never quite was’ - so in a way it’s an Alternative History, but never far away from the one we lived. 


What's next? 

I’m working on the next book - Harvest Home in which, in a surreal turn, one of the perpetrators of the atrocities in The Evening Lands is forced, by the aforementioned guardian Devil, to visit our main character in her own home and make amends. The twist: though from opposite sides of the political spectrum, the two must conspire if they have any hope of thwarting Mills’ latest plan - or a pandemic will wipe out humanity.  

The kicker is that I wrote the first draft years before Covid-19 swept the world... 


How can we get a copy of the book? 

The Evening Lands is available electronically from Amazon - - and from other outlets, all linked from my website You can also contact me directly from the website for a signed copy.  


Friday 26 February 2021

Themed Writing


Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

How we get ideas is a bit of a mystery. We dread being asked that question when we give talks.  Because the ideas just come, don’t they? In my case they come when I’m cooking, driving, swimming, walking or doing the ironing. They don’t usually come when I’m sitting at my computer. An odd overheard conversation, a chance encounter or something I see will spark off an idea for a story.

A lot of writers have been unable to work during lockdown. Is it perhaps because they’re tucked away from life and have nothing to write about? Or is it just the anxiety?

Can you force the creativity?

 Ironically, in looking for prompts for my prompt book, I’ve used other prompts to give me ideas. So, for example, the prompt I’ve just read said: “Write a scene or story that includes a character eating cereal. What does a character's favourite cereal say about their personality? Do they carefully pick the marshmallows out of their Lucky Charms, or do they eat Aldi bagged cereal by the handful straight out of the container? Or, perhaps your character prefers healthy oatmeal with no added sugar.” I’ve turned this into “Write a story about a character shopping in a supermarket.  Every item they pick creates a thought. Weave those thoughts together to make a story.”

I’ve now written two books of prompts like this. Each contains a prompt for every day of the year. Other writers have contributed. I’m working on a third and then I’m going to put all three together so that you have a choice each day. I use these myself to inspire short stories, pieces of flash fiction, memoir or articles that I complete between major edits of my main projects. It’s good to get away from editing and back to something more creative. 

I’ve recently had some success in competitions; I’ve had three pieces listed and they’ll all appear in anthologies. In all three cases I was writing to a particular theme.

On my Fair Submissions web site I have a section called “Themed” where you can find calls for submission and competitions that have a particular theme. Look in the labels and find “Themed.” 

So, yes, I think you can force creativity a little and you don’t have to wait for inspiration to kick in. 



Tuesday 9 February 2021

Ludic Reading and Getting Lost in a Book


Yes, I do mean ludic and not lucid. I was once accused of having a typo in an academic paper because I’d used this expression.  The reader had thought I meant lucid.  No, ludic is the word.

Stops seeing the marks 

It literally means playful. Ludic reading means reading has become a game, a source of entertainment and recreation, rather than just a task.  And this happens, in my opinion, when you stop seeing the little marks on the page, when you stop turning those into words and you cut to the chase. You just see a film in your head. The question for you as a writer is can you create the same film in your reader’s head? Is this not the ultimate test of whether your writing is working or not?


Not everyone can do this

It isn’t that straight forward, though, for not everyone has this experience. Some people do not like reading fiction and quite is possibly because they cannot get into the state. I once shared a table at our local film club with a lady who had an MSc and so was a competent reader. She enjoyed films so she had no problem with story.  She just couldn’t pick up story by reading a book.  

I spent over twenty-five years teaching in comprehensive schools in the UK. I met plenty of students who could read competently enough but didn’t enjoy reading.  They never had this experience either.


The lucky ones

Those of us who can get “lost in a book” are the lucky ones. We can be transported to other worlds.  This is especially useful in these days of “lockdowns”. I can experience this as well when I’m writing my own works or editing other people’s.

I’ve talked to my university students about this.  They all study English, Drama or Creative Writing. They all have this experience too.  They probably have to, in order to be interested in those subjects.

Shall we take it to extremes and become like Mo in Corneila Funke’s Inkheart series, able to make characters become real and walk out of books? Or, even more sinisterly as he did to his own wife, put a character into a story? Ah but isn’t that what we writers are supposed to do anyway?     


Image by Leandro De Carvalho from Pixabay     

Monday 1 February 2021

News 1 February 2021



So, there are signs of spring in the garden, the days are getting longer and the vaccine is being rolled out. Are we turning a corner?  

News about my writing and other creative projects

The Class Letter, the fifth book in the Schellberg Cycle is now almost completely edited. I have finished the first draft of Not Just Fluffy Bunnies, and I’m still working on The Business of Writing.   I’m interspersing this with short stories and flash fiction.

This month I was a winner in one of the competitions I’ve entered and this means I’ll have two short stories published in an anthology which will be produced as a paperback and an e-book.  In another competition I didn’t win the grand prize but the work was good enough for them to include it in the anthology they’re producing. More news about these when they’re out.   

I continue to write for Talking about My Generation:

This is going to be a series and is very similar to the exercises I provided for the Bury Art Museum. Readers are invited to send in their work. I’ve provided six of these and they’re publishing one a week.  

We’ve now started a series on memories of childhood holidays. Colwyn Bay was always the benchmark seaside place for me and everywhere I’ve been since has bene compared with it. It’s not such a grand place now, but the beach is still lovely and there’s a rather nice coffee shop / ice cream parlour within walking distance that was there then and still does well now. Well it did.  Let’s hope it can carry on when we have the virus under control.   


The Young Person’s Library

This month I’ve added:

Fairfield Amish Romance: 15 Story Amish Romance by Diane Burkholder, Elanor Miller, Susan Vail and Isabell Weaver  These are fifteen gentle romances, suitable for lower secondary school students. They could have been edited a little more sharply but nevertheless they are a good escape read and they give some insight into the Amish way of life.


The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis A classic of course.  Worth a read if you don’t know it. However, I have to confess to not enjoying it as much as I remember doing so the first time I met it. Am I getting more critical or are people writing better these days?  And probably fluent readers, upper primary will still enjoy it.


Current reading recommendation

I have to recommend this month A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I’ve always liked Bill Bryson’s style anyway. He always writes as if he’s sitting in your lounge and talking to you. He has a very controlled and effective voice.

This book is packed with facts and information.  I doubt there is any fake news. Every fact is verifiable. And there is at least one fact on every line. It’s a long read, coming in at 672 pages in the paperback. So, a heck of a lot of facts, then.  

Bryson’s research has been thorough.  It isn’t just regurgitated knowledge. He has visited places and talked to people as well.  

There’s quite a bit to be worried about: will Yellowstone Park blow any minute – it’s long overdue? How many more animals will become extinct? The rate at which that happens, and to plants as well, is alarming.  And will we be one of the victims?  What’s going to happen to the climate? Are we actually coming to the end of an ice age and will the planet get too warm for us?  

He covers so many topics: space, the ocean, genetics, evolution, particle physics, and many, many more.

Very pertinent of course was the chapter on diseases and viruses and he all but predicted what is happening now.

In many ways it’s a terrifying read. There is so much that can go wrong and there was so much chance involved in life being able to form. Yet there is nothing here that would challenge or reinforce any religious belief.

It is also awe-inspiring. This life, fragile as it is, is worth celebrating.

You have to admire the amount of work Bryson has put into this. There is so much there I think I may have to read this book again.              



Note: these are usually mobi-files to be downloaded to a Kindle.  Occasionally there are PDFs.  

The time I’m offering The Best of CafeLit 5 which contains stories by me and by other writers I’ve got to know. Every year we publish in paperback and an e-book the best of the stories we’ve had on the CafeLit e-zine. Often we ask readers or writers to help us to select. I’m offering here the mobi-file for your Kindle.  

Stories on CafeLit vary a lot. Some are very short. Others can be up to 3,000 words long. Some are funny.  Some are dark.  Some are written by regular contributors.  Sometimes a new writer comes along – and we hope they’ll stay with us. The variety is pleasing, and they all go well in any case with a cuppa around four o’clock. They all suggest a drink. You can even look for a drink you fancy, on the site and in the books, and read a story that suits that.    

Please, please, please write a review when you’ve read the book.

You can download it and lots of other free materials here.

Note, that normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £0.99 to £10.99.  Most on Kindle are about £2.99 and the average price for paperback is £7.00. Writers have to make a living. But I’m offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.


The Schellberg Project

The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust and also for other writers and readers of historical fiction.

Sometimes I also write about what might be of interest to other writers.

There were three posts in January:

The Unwelcome Angel by Chrissie Bradshaw

 I actually won this book in a raffle at a Christmas party I “attended” via Zoom. It is a novella set in the 1940s about the diphtheria outbreak.  It is a useful reminder that there were other challenges in the 1940s apart from World War II and the Holocaust.


An alternative point of view

This was really a response to a comment by someone who had read Clara’s Story. It hadn’t actually occurred to her that ordinary German citizens had a story to tell about this time.  


Hush Hush

The Holocaust was not talked about much by ordinary people during the years immediately after World War II. Now, of course, it is on the school curriculum – Key Stage 3, year 9, when student are 13-14 years old.     



School visits

I’ve suspended these until further notice. I’m now starting work on a series of on-line materials.  

Some notes about my newsletters and blogs

They do overlap a little but here is a summary of what they all do.


Bridge House Authors For all those published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprints. News for writers. Links to book performance. Sign up here.


Chapeltown Books News about our books. Sign up here.


The Creative Café Project News about the project and CaféLit – for the consumer rather than for the producer.  Sign up here.   


Gill’s News: News about my writing, The Schellberg Project, School Visits and Events. Book recommendations and giveaways. Find it here.   


Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher News about conferences and workshops to do with the young adult novel. (infrequent postings) Sign up here.  


Red Telephone Books News about our books and our authors. Sign up here.


A Publisher’s Perspective Here I blog as a publisher. Access this here.   


The Creative Café Project Listings and reviews of creative cafés. See them here.   


CaféLit Stories Find these here


Gill James Writer All about writing and about my books. View this here.


Gill’s Recommended Reads Find information here about books that have taken me out of my editor’s head and a reminder of the ones I’ve highlighted in this newsletter.    


Gill’s Sample Fiction Read some of my fiction here.


The House on Schellberg Street All about my Schellberg project. Read it here.


Writing Teacher All about teaching creative writing.  Some creative writing exercises. Access this here.     


Books Books Books Weekly offers on our books and news of new books. Find them here. 


The Young Person’s Library The children’s book catalogue. Access it here.


Fair Submissions  Find it here.   

Opportunities for writers are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.  

Happy reading and writing.