Conversations with Authors

Interview with Geoff Woddland 04/06/12

 Ice King by Geoff Woodland is set in the early nineteenth century and follows the course of William King, a courageous man who speaks out against the slave trade. This human drama has it all and is held in high esteem by all who have read it. It made the list at and

Mr. Woodland, originally from Birkenhead, Cheshire, UK, now resides in Australia with his family and enjoys a fair bit of traveling.  It is my pleasure to interview this fine British colleague.

When did you begin writing?

I have always dabbled. On a serious level, I began with a text book about air freight, which was an in-house project for the company I worked for at the time, and which enjoyed worldwide distribution. I then moved on to novels, some of which may never see the light of day. Ice King is my first published novel. I am now working on the sequel.

What is your creative process like?

Basic idea and I start to write, and, of course, rewrite. When working with historical fiction, nearly every fact requires one to check period reference works, such as on dress, terms of speech and such, but I enjoy it.

What is your writing schedule like?

Typically, I try to get any ‘must do’ items done in the morning so I can spend my afternoons writing. At the moment, marketing Ice King has interfered with my work on the sequel. But, generally, I am moving forward.

I imagine that you are an avid reader.

Yes, and I’m grateful to have my Kindle 3 with its wi/fi and wireless link. It cut down my baggage weight on a recent trip to Asia. And it came in handy while I was stuck on an aircraft for nine hours in Kuala Lumpur. It would have been dreadful being trapped with only an airline magazine to read.

What can you tell us about your favorite authors?

There are so many, from HG Wells to Howard Spring. Also Christopher Nicole, Stephen Leather, Frederick Forsyth, James Clavell, Bernard Cornwell, etc. In their own way, they have all played into my development as a writer.

What advice would you give to those striving to become authors?

Write, revise, write, revise. If you believe in yourself, it will only be a matter of time before others will agree.



Interview with Thea Phipps 03/23/12

Thea Phipps writes humorous mysteries. Charades With a Lunatic and The Doll in the Wall had us laughing throughout. Loved the aunties in Charades.

I’ve heard snippets about her third book and am eager for its release. For now, I am happy to post her interview to share with all of you.

Something of your background that prepared you for this venture.

 There were several things that set me up.  Probably first of all would be my DNA.  Besides inheriting my father’s short legs, English teeth, and ability to sit and stare into space, I inherited his love for reading mystery stories.  Not only was he a reporter for one of the local papers, he wrote Barnestorming, a weekly humor column.

 Secondly, when I was in 5th grade a classmate lassoed me into writing a 100 page mystery story with her.  It was a masterpiece of misspellings, inept police, kidnapped horses, and jungle-covered islands off of the coast of California.  We had a character that played professional football with Joe Namath, and his best friend, an accountant.  I remember the first line of our book with fondness:  ‘The sun was high and warm.’  Like it would be anything else…  From then on, she continued to write, while I merely supplied her with plot embellishments and a token sentence in her stories just so she could say we wrote the ‘books’ together.  We had gotten back together to write a few more times after we had graduated, but we soon discovered that it didn’t work to yoke two very different people into the same creative harness.  She continued to write her own way, while I went back to doing art. 

 Do you see real family members or friends in your books?

 Family and friends lurk in the back of my brain when I write, but only after a work is finished and I’m editing do I see that they’ve made an appearance.

My mother seems to crop up quite often.  First, in a virtually deaf Austrian, Elsie Schnitzler, who shouts everything she says, then in Zinnia Bunt-Joliet, an elderly ballet dancer plagued with arthritis and a European’s love of malodorous cheese. Thirdly, my mother shows up in Chloe O’Rourke, a tiny octogenarian who wears a different wig in every scene. 

I have also placed one of my brothers and his wife in the first book, Charades with a Lunatic.  I did this at his request.  When the book was going to be published, I called him up and offered to change the names.  He insisted I leave their names in the story even though his wife had a slight anxiety attack over it.  They make their appearance on page 250. 

Besides them, there are many friends who seem to have unconsciously slipped into my writing.  There is Tamsin Hugo, the best friend of my protagonist.  She was inspired by Vanessa, a friend I had when I was 19.  We roomed together, worked together, and did volunteer work together until I got married at 20.

 Since my first book came out, I have had requests from other friends to purposely be put into the stories.  Nathan Beatty, an artist, appears in my third book, soon to be published.  I haven’t come up with a title to that one yet.  It is set in Greece.  My husband suggested The Greek Caper, and a friend came up with Run into Strange Capers, but nothing has been decided.  Three other friends, Debi, Lisa, and Kara, show up as themselves in my fourth book.  I am only halfway through writing that one.

 How did you come by the idea of “Charades with a Lunatic”?

 There were two contributing factors.  First was a sense of desperation coupled with insomnia.  There was a dry stretch where I couldn’t find any good books to read.  I was in urgent need of entertainment and it seemed as if all the books I kept running across were full of grotesque murder scenes, foul-mouthed prostitutes, or scarred female detectives who sniffed their armpits to see if they were clean enough to attend cocktail parties.  I took it as a personal challenge to see if I could come up with a more wholesome mystery, so I took up writing.  (It was only supposed to last a night or two, but it has continued beyond 3 books.) 

 With Charades, I wanted to come up with a fun premise, something that would intrigue me, something I would do if I had the chance, so I developed the concept of a treasure hunt that takes place in an old English mansion.  I wanted atmosphere, so I added storms, flickering candles, lightning, secret passages, and eccentric characters.  I didn’t intend to write a comedic mystery, but by the end of the first page, I found myself overwhelmed with a desire to poke fun at my imagination.  I enjoyed that so much, I kept going.  In fact, I think I would lose interest in writing if I couldn’t use humor.         

  I love the aunties–any insights on their coming into being?

 When I was in grade school my family would watch The Snoop Sisters, a series featuring Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as elderly mystery writers solving crimes.  They were generally clueless and scatty, but oddly shrewd, extremely lady-like, and hilarious as they got themselves into trouble.  This is another example of belatedly realizing my inspiration.  It wasn’t until I was working on my 3rd book that I saw from what recess of my mind the aunts, Astrid and Aurora, came from.     

 What did you learn from your first novel that has helped you with your others?

 One thing is that a book is never finished, a writer just has to know when to let go.  (Don’t even mention the word ‘rewrite’ to my husband.  He is continually asking, ‘Isn’t that thing ever going to be finished?’  In fact, I’m thinking of using that as a reader review on the cover of the third book, along with my mother’s ‘I think it’s a waste of time.’) 

 Secondly, I learned that the most important thing for me is to just have fun.  If a writer does not enjoy what they are doing, neither will the readers. 

 I have also learned to be true to my natural writing rhythm, which is to engage my right brain and play with the plot and the characters, however messy, and then only after I’m finished go back and use the left side of my brain to polish and edit.

 And fourthly, I learned that the saying, ‘practice makes perfect’ is true.  The more I write, the easier it becomes to deliver a greater impact with a shorter sentence, something else I needed to learn.

 How do you like to approach writing?

When I began, I was writing in the middle of the night, my only tools being an electric typewriter, a hand towel under it to muffle the buzzing so it wouldn’t wake my husband, and a bottle of Corona at my elbow. 

After the insomnia left, I realized that I needed ‘white noise’ to work.  Silence seemed too vacuous and television intruded, so, having graduated to a laptop, I wrote in local coffee shops and delis.  I was surrounded by all the ‘white noise’ I could wish for… Except for those times when badly behaved children entered the scene.  I’d once lost over an hour of work over a little girl who would rhythmically scream, run across the bench seats, and lick the window in an endless loop that had me fascinated.  Then there was the little boy who kept trying to spit on me from his vantage point two booths down.  I only thought of ‘medicating’ him after he threw a wet noodle in my hair.  

To get back to your question, once at the coffee shop, I found the perfect method to prime my pump.  I have a ritual.  Usually I find a private niche, such as a booth or a table in the corner, set up my computer, pull up my files then set the computer to hibernate.  Then I eat breakfast while reading a book.  When I’m ready, my timer pops much like a roasting turkey.  I am suddenly overcome by a desire to write instead of read, and at that point all that is left to do is to open my computer, type, and sip my frozen mocha.  For three years that has been my unfailing ritual… except for the frozen mochas.  I found myself resembling that Butterball in the oven, so I’ve replaced the frozen coffee drinks with iced tea.  I figured better a kidney stone than a motorized wheelchair in Wal-Mart.

Interview with Lynne Morley 03/09/12

Lynne McLean (aka Lynne Morley) originates from The Wirral, a peninsula in the northwest of England, and uses her knowledge of the area as a background for part of her debut novel “Brooklyn Bridge” which also takes place in New York.   She has a great love of the Isle of Anglesey and the island also has a place in the story which is about a brother and his young sister who go to live in America to escape tragedy and start a new life.  They are saved from a brutal attack by two young Americans and the four become close friends, bonding into a family.   The story spans three decades and chronicles the successes and heartache of the four and the love between the English girl and one of the Americans who is black.

What was your inspiration for this story?  These four characters had been in my head for many years.   I used to fantasise about them as I grew up and make up stories in my head.   It wasn’t until I retired that I found the time to write down the stories and eventually put them together as a novel.  I must have edited it a dozen or more times before I was happy that I had done justice to my characters.

Are any of them based on real people?  Not really.   I have no brothers or sisters, but if I did I would want a brother like John in the story.  I think Bob, or Robbie, the main male character, is a lovely man and his character is probably based on my ideal, whereas Jeff just wants a family and is loyal to those he cares about, whilst not being without faults.   As for Carolyn!   Well there is a lot of me in her.

Do the places you write about exist?   Yes they do.   All the places and houses mentioned on the Wirral are from my past life and so is the caravan in Trearddur Bay, Anglesey.   I didn’t visit New York until after the book was published but I researched very thoroughly so even the house in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, does actually exist and is described accurately.   I have since visited New York and sailing under the Brooklyn Bridge was one of the most emotional experiences of my life.

How did you ensure that their life in America was authentic?  A good friend in America helped edit the story and made suggestions regarding schooling and other events which are different in America, e.g. Robbie working in a bar at 18 when in America he would need to be 21.   I had to change some things to fit in with American law.  Better that than someone picking up on it later.

What has been the general reaction to your book?  Absolutely wonderful.   I cannot begin to explain the rush of adrenaline I get every time someone says they have enjoyed it or I get a good review.  It isn’t just the ladies who loved the story.   I know of at least two macho men from opposite sides of the Atlantic who couldn’t put the book down.   Now that really boosts my ego.

Have you had any other work published since your first novel?  Yes, in collaboration with 15 other authors from around the globe I took part in an anthology to raise money for the victims of the Japanese earthquake.  Two of my short stories and a poem were included in “Rainbow Lights Ablaze” which was printed in 2011 and I am very proud to have been a contributor to that book.

So what is next?  Well, many loyal fans of “Brooklyn Bridge” would like a sequel to that story, but in the meantime I am half way through a romantic thriller called “No Tomorrow”.  


Interview with Joanna Stephen-Ward 03/08/12

The world of opera holds great potential for drama, colour, restless rivalries and, in today’s literary offering, intrigue.

 Vissi d’arte is a fine novel by the budding Aussie author Joanna Stephen-Ward, who is now living in Cornwall. This work combines the volatile ingredients of five young opera students, Australia’s part in the Vietnam crisis, convention competing with change and a past that won’t stay put.

 Perhaps I should add that “Vissi d’arte” is also an aria from Puccini’s Tosca, wherein the soprano sings a supplicating plea, which entails how she has lived for art and piety but now needs miraculous help in her dire predicament.

 JC: What was the inspiration for your first novel, Joanna?

 JSW: An opera school is a competitive place, especially for sopranos. The opera school I attended for 3 years in Melbourne was a hotbed of ambition, love affairs and brilliant talent. I quickly realized that I was never going to make it as a professional, but the seeds of Vissi d’arte were sown.

 JC: Are any of your characters based on real people?

 JSW: Only one. My singing teacher Gertrude Johnson was the founder of the theatre. She was an opera singer who sang leading roles at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, including The Queen of the Night. Her career was curtailed by a tragedy similar to the one experienced by Harriet Shaw in my novel. It many ways my novel was a tribute to Gertrude.

 JC: That’s very nice. Now, you have a second novel Eumeralla and this one is based in the Australian Outback. I understand that the only things it has in common with Vissi d’arte are the mystery and Australia. What was the inspiration for that?

 JSW: My family. Many the events, inter-marriages, mysteries and tragedies in Eumeralla really happened.

 JC: Any any of the characters real?

 JSW: Yes. Too many.

 JC: Are you one of them?

 JSW: Yes.

 JC: Which one?

 JSW: I’m not saying. Sorry. It’s a secret. Maybe one day I’ll reveal all.


Interview with Meredith Stoddard 03/07/12

I am pleased to add this new feature to my blog. My literary colleagues are very interesting people. Readers often wonder what goes into the creation of a novel. My first interview is with the talented Meredith Stoddard. I thoroughly enjoyed her historical fiction work The White House, available on Amazon. She also recently published A Fond Kiss. And, as you will see, she continues to create.

JC:I’d like to know what got you started.

 MS: I honestly don’t remember a time when I wasn’t creating stories even if it was just in my head. My parents have a seemingly endless supply of tales about the stories I would make up even before I could write. I was always the daydreamer in class, and sometimes I even wrote those stories down. Most of them are lost now, but occasionally I wish I had them back. Even while I was building a corporate career, I still was daydreaming. I’ve written a library of books in my head. I just haven’t had time yet to get them all onto paper.

 JC: How do you go about your research?

 MS: I’m a voracious reader. I especially like reading about the history of places that I visit. If I go to theBahamas, I have to read about the history of theBahamas. If I’m in the mountains, it’s the mountains. The historical fiction that I’ve published is the by-product decades of vacationing on theNorth Carolinacoast and soaking up all the local history I could get my hands on. I’ll read something in a history or travel book  or hear something on a tour and it will spark questions and I’ll want more detail. I’ll just start searching from there. That’s one of the things I love about the internet is that I can find out a ton of information and follow my curiosity anywhere. Once I’ve picked a topic I just read everything I can find on it, and then I’ll try to pull back and see where the story is in what I’ve learned.

 JC: How do you construct your stories?

 S: I look at it like cooking a dish. I usually start with the character interaction. Very often I’ll write the dialog first almost like a script. That’s the meat of the story for me. Then I’ll add attributions and description like seasoning. I’m not one for huge long descriptions. As a reader, description has to be extremely well-written to hold my attention past a paragraph, so I try to break up description and mix it in with action.

 I also outline almost everything. I know some people don’t like them, but I’m a Strunk & White disciple. In Elements of Style they say to “work from a suitable design” and for me that means I need to plan out where the story is going to go. I’m not a slave to the outline, but I use it as a tool to keep me on track. For a longer work like the novel I’m working on it also gives me small milestones so that I don’t get overwhelmed. My writing time is limited because my children are young, those milestones are important to keep me from feeling swamped.

 Once I’ve got it all drafted I just edit edit edit.

 JC: How does it feel to have something published?

 MS: Beyond wonderful. I went through years and years of working so hard for things that weren’t what I really wanted to be doing. Things for other people/companies that paid well, but just never felt right. I was good at training and instructional design, but even after eleven years it always felt like a temporary thing. Now that I’m able to write and get it out for people to read, I feel like I’ve finally found my footing. Everytime someone buys one of my books or I get a review I’m just giddy. Fortunately, none of the reviews I’ve gotten have been bad (knock on wood).

 JC: What are you currently working on?

 MS: I’m taking a break from historical fiction and working on a novel that I started writing years ago. It’s contemporary fiction and will be the first of a series that I have outlined about a young woman who is overcoming a childhood trauma and getting her life together only to have the proverbial rug pulled out from under her by fate. That’s about as far as I can go without giving any spoilers. It’s a romance in the old medieval troubadour sense, but in a contemporary setting. I’m most excited because the characters have been living in my head for years. I feel like I’m finally exorcising them.

 There will however be more stories from the coast. I have a list of Outer Banks history and legends that I want to tackle. I’ll keep publishing them as ebooks until I’ve written enough. Then I’ll most likely publish a printed collection.


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