Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Christmas Contest by Victoria Benchley: An Excerpt

The Christmas Contest 1,200 Words

Angela's heels clacked on the pavement.  Through the rehabilitation center's glass doors she could see Duncan waiting in his wheelchair.  His faithful attendant, Jerry, hovered behind the investigator.
Duncan took in the details of his approaching girlfriend's appearance.  Angela made him want to leap from his seat.  He didn't require a wheelchair, but the clinic's policy demanded he be pushed from the facility.  He still limped, but he'd worked hard in rehab, focusing on his future, and had recovered faster than anyone thought possible.
Angela tried to make it to Edinburgh every other weekend to encourage Duncan and keep him company.  She stayed with the family, but the Dewars made themselves scarce at the therapy center when she visited, giving the couple time to be alone.  The Scotsman extracted a promise from the lass that when he was released, she would greet him and take him home.  He hadn't seen her in three weeks and couldn't wait to hold her in his arms, away from the hospital. 
As Angela drew closer to the doors, Duncan's grin grew by degrees until the muscles in his cheeks ached.  She had almost reached the entrance when he noted a startled look on her face, then a crowd rushed between them and blocked his view.
Storming through the sliding doors, a noisy group of a dozen people charged towards Duncan.  Bright lights from flashing cameras went off, producing temporary blindness.  Confused, the investigator had no idea what was happening.
"Here he is, boys.  The hero of the UK," a vaguely familiar female voice rose above the din.
"How does it feel to find redemption?"
"When did the two of you get back together?"
"How do you plan to spend the reward money?"
"Have you had any contact with Caroline Menzies?"
"How did you keep your relationship hidden from the public?"
Questions fired like bullets from an automatic weapon at Duncan, who remained blinded from the brilliant bursts of light.
"Now, now.  Can't you see he's tired?  Pictures only, boys.  That's what we agreed upon," the female voice said.
He turned his head to see who was orchestrating this gang of what he now understood to be reporters.  As his pupils dilated and his vision returned, he saw who spoke.  There, dressed in a strapless, dark brown leather bustier with matching skirt and spike-heeled boots, towered Cassandra Baines.  Her platform stilettos raised her to well over one and a half meters, giving her a height advantage.  The former model stepped next to Duncan, bent at the waist, and planted a kiss on the investigator's cheek, angling herself to the cameras, allowing the photographers an ample view of her bosom.
Duncan squirmed away from Cassandra as best he could, seated in the wheelchair.  It didn't occur to him to get up and leave.  His old girlfriend draped her arm around the investigator and pulled him close, sitting on the edge of his chair, as cameras flashed, lending the drab lobby the lighting of a discotheque. 
"That's it boys.  Clear off," Cassandra ordered as a security officer for the hospital approached the group.
The reporters dissipated as quickly as they'd arrived, leaving Duncan alone with Cassandra and a stunned Jerry.  The Scotsman scanned the room for Angela, but she was nowhere to be seen.
"What do you think you're doing?" Duncan asked, incensed.
Cassandra's smile transformed into a hurt expression.  She jutted her lower lip forward in an exaggerated pout.
"Just helping you get back on your feet.  Imagine the publicity this will generate for your consulting venture.  Now, everyone knows you're here to stay.  You should be thanking me instead of scowling, Poppett." 
Cassandra bent over Duncan and, placing a palm on each side of his jaw, attempted to draw him into a full blown kiss.
"Uhm, uhm," someone cleared their throat behind Cassandra.
Duncan jerked his face free while Jerry looked on, bemused at the scene.  Cassandra straightened to her full height and turned to see who dared interrupt her mini-tryst.
"Excuse me," Angela said in a business-like tone, stepping to one side and then moving her body between Duncan and the former model.  "Are you ready?" his girlfriend asked with a pleasant voice, smiling at both the investigator and Jerry while ignoring the woman.
"Yes," Duncan rasped out.
He tried to keep his eyes off Cassandra, but gave her a sidelong glance as Jerry wheeled him from the lobby.  His old girlfriend tapped away on her mobile phone, ignoring their procession.  Duncan couldn't remember the last time he felt so awkward.  Everything happened so fast.  What must Angela think?
Jerry, who by now had collected his thoughts and formed an opinion on the scene in the lobby, saw Duncan into the passenger seat of the car.  Duncan said his good-byes and thanked his attendant.  Jerry gave him a wry smile, as if to say Now you're in for it,  before shutting the vehicle's door.  Duncan studied Angela.  Her hands trembled at the wheel.
"I'm sorry, Angela.  I had no idea that was coming."
"Just what was that?" Angela asked, her eyes trained straight ahead.
"I don't know.  I suspect Cassandra is trying to cash in on the media attention I've had since the story broke about the treasure at Lindisfarne.  I tried to get away from her."
Duncan had been instrumental in discovering a lost hoard of riches, hidden by the monks on Holy Island hundreds of years before.  His recent case had almost cost him his life and when the press got hold of the details, Duncan featured prominently in their headlines.  Years before, he achieved brief fame for a breakthrough technique he'd invented employing mathematics in accident investigations.  It was then he'd dated Cassandra Baines, a well-known model in the UK.
"That's not what it looked like," Angela said, her voice full of anger.
The lass flashed her cellular at Duncan, who took the phone in his hand.  There, on the on-line page of Edinburgh's leading rag, was a photo of the investigator leering at Cassandra's cleavage with a pleased expression on his face.  In reality, the camera angle affected the photo; he had tried to pull away from the model with a look of disgust, however, that wasn't the story told by the picture.  It appeared Duncan drew back for a better look at the beauty's figure, his visage reflecting nirvana.
"That's a delirious smile if I've ever seen one," Angela commented as she drove the vehicle from the car park. 
Duncan thought at light speed.  He needed to dig himself out of this hole as fast as possible.
"Now, Angela, can't you see I'm an injured man?  I've just been released from hospital.  I had no idea she would show up.  I was looking forward to seeing you come through those doors.  I'm a weak and helpless invalid.  In fact, you could have your way with me now, quite easily," he said.  Humor always appeased Angela.
"If I had my way with you at this moment, you'd be on that curb over there, thrown on your duff!" Angela retorted, pointing to the pavement as the vehicle rounded a corner. 
Maybe humor wasn't the way to go.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Victoria Benchley: The IAN Interview

Victoria Benchley lives with her husband of over twenty years and their two children on the West Coast of the United States. She started reading the classics at an early age, as a way to avoid chores, and counts Dickens and the Bronte Sisters as her favorite authors. After a career in corporate America, spanning public accounting, cash management, and real estate investments, at national and international firms, she chose to become a stay-at-home mom and full time taxi cab driver for her children.

Victoria is the author of the Duncan Dewar Mysteries and a stand alone novel, The Snail Man.  Inspired by her travels and Scottish relatives, she enjoys creating stories set in Scotland and Europe.

She is a Christian and enjoys quilting, cooking, and traveling (including road trips!), as well as reading and writing.  On Sunday afternoons during football season, she can be found enjoying an NFL game.

IAN: Please tell us about your latest book.  

V. Benchley: My latest book is The Christmas Contest.  A new adventure in the Duncan Dewar Series, this novel is two parts romantic comedy and one part mystery.  The reader gets to experience Christmas and Hogmanay in Scotland with the Dewar family and their friends.  As usual, the characters find themselves in a bit of a muddle.  Recovering from serious injuries sustained during his last case, and hoping to nurture his fragile relationship with Angela, Duncan and his family decamp for a relaxing Christmas holiday in the village of Taye, Scotland.  Joined by the irascible Chef Mondo, their stay ends up being a whirl of festivities, food, misunderstandings, and a jewel heist.  But it's not just about Christmas in Taye.  The village council is out to make a name for the town by hosting an elaborate Hogmanay celebration, complete with ancient traditions.  Is Duncan up to the ultimate contest for Angela's heart?  This good natured romp through the holidays will warm your heart as you join the Dewar family and their friends for an experience not to be forgotten.

IAN: Is The Christmas Contest published in print, e-book or both?  

V. Benchley
: The Christmas Contest is available as an e-book.

IAN: Where can we go to buy your book?

V. Benchley:
IAN: What inspired you to write The Christmas Contest?

V. Benchley: I am of Scottish descent.  I remember many of my relatives, and their writings, mainly humorous poetry, survive.  Their wit and love of family, along with my own travels to Scotland inspired The Christmas Contest.  Also, their holiday recipes played a role in the inspiration and feature prominently in some of the competitions in the book!

IAN: Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?

V. Benchley: I’m afraid I winged the first draft.  I start with an idea, or rough outline, in my head, and just begin writing from there.  The characters often take me in an unplanned direction!

IAN: How long did it take to write the book?

V. Benchley: The Christmas Contest is Book 5 in the Duncan Dewar Mysteries Series.  I began writing immediately after I completed Book 4.  I believe this helped the process along, because I completed the first draft in two months.

IAN: Do you have a specific writing style?

V. Benchley: I mainly write in a third person limited mode.  Occasionally, I employ the third person omniscient limited style.  This helps the story along when my main character is out of commission, or details from another's thoughts add richness to the narrative.  I grew up reading these styles, so that is what comes naturally to me.

IAN: How did you come up with the title?

V. Benchley: The Christmas Contest is a holiday themed novel.  There are several competitions going on at once in the book, some not so obvious and only revealed at the end.  I've left it up to the reader to determine which was the real contest referred to in the title.  Each character has their own challenges or game to win.

IAN: What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?

V. Benchley: I hope my readers will enjoy many laugh out loud moments and grow more attached to the characters of this series.  I also trust the novel will help put them in the holiday spirit.

IAN: How much of The Christmas Contest is realistic?

V. Benchley: The Hogmanay traditions mentioned in the book are all genuine, although some are no longer practiced.  The area of Scotland where the story takes place is real, as is Scotland's history with the Christmas holiday.  As far as the romantic comedy aspect of the book… well, let's face it, fiction is sometimes better than fact! 

IAN: Do you have to travel much concerning your books?

V. Benchley: I have travelled to all the locations mentioned in my books and/or have had a loved-one reside there.  One of the experiences Duncan has in The Laird's Labyrinth actually happened to me while staying in the same area! 

What was the hardest part of writing your book?  I find the most difficult part of writing most of my books comes midway in the process.  I feel as though I have to grind out about one fourth of the book.  Once over that hump, things flow pretty well.  However, I never went through that rough patch with The Christmas Contest, perhaps because it starts up where The Laird's Labyrinth lets off.

IAN: Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand-alone?

V. Benchley: I'm kicking around several ideas for my next Duncan Dewar Mystery.  Will Duncan choose the village life of an innkeeper over Edinburgh sleuthing?  What events or people from his past come back to wreak havoc on his professional and personal life?  Will he and Angela get around to tying the knot? 

In addition, I plan to begin work on a new mystery series.  I am currently busy developing the characters for this exciting venture.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

PJ McDermott: The IAN Interview

PJ McDermott was born and bred in Scotland. After leaving school at sixteen, he worked in various jobs on building sites and in factories before he learned to play guitar and began performing in pubs and clubs around town. At twenty-one he returned to college and from there went on to Glasgow University, where he eventually graduated Bachelor of Science. 

At twenty-seven, PJ married and moved to Australia with his wife, Sue, settling in the beautiful city of Melbourne. He has two daughters, one son-in-law and two delightful grandchildren—Mia, 3, and Ryder Patrick, 1

Please tell us a bit about your books.

PJ McDermott: I have just finished writing book two in my science fiction series, The Prosperine Trilogy. It’s called Rise of the Erlachi and it was launched on 5th November on Amazon. The novella is approximately 40,000 words and continues the adventures of
Commander Hickory Lace of the Alien Corps.

The Corps has been searching for an interstellar messiah since the discovery of an ancient manuscript in Turkey eighty-four years before. In Book 1, Avanaux: A Hickory Lace Adventure, Hickory meets up with the mysterious Teacher and foils a plot by alien mercenaries to steal Prosperine’s precious resources, a key ingredient for FTL fuel.

‘Erlachi ’takes place six months later. The fabled Sword of Connat-sèra-Haagar has been stolen and Hickory and her team have been ordered to find it.

Their search takes them deep into the high mountains of Erlach, where they discover that their arch-enemy, Sequana, is rallying the northern tribes to war.

As well as overcoming the dangers in this hostile environment, Hickory and her team must restore the rightful king to his throne, and rescue the Teacher if they are to retrieve the Sword and stop Sequana.

Fail in their mission, and Prosperine will be plunged into a new Dark Age that will threaten the very existence of the aligned planets.

IAN: Have you published your books in print, e-book or both?

PJ McDermott: Avanaux is available as an e-book and in paperback. Rise of the Erlachi is currently available only as an e-book. A paperback edition will be available in the next few weeks.

IAN: Where can we buy your books?

PJ McDermott: The Second Coming (The prelude to Avanaux) is available free of charge at Amazon: and at itunes

Avanaux: A Hickory Lace Adventure (eBook) is available at Amazon:

The printed version of Avanaux is available at Amazon and at Barnes & Noble

Rise of the Erlachi (e-book) is available at Amazon

IAN: What inspired you to write The Prosperine Trilogy?

PJ McDermott: After writing the gritty coming of age novel Small Fish Big Fish under the pen name Jacob Carlisle, I felt I needed a change to something lighter. Fish was the book I had to write, if you know what I mean, but it took me four years and it was hard!

As a teenager, I devoured science fiction stories by authors such as Asimov, Niven, Le Guin, Herbert, Huxley and many, many others. I loved the genre and found it a great escape from the boredom of school. That love of SF has stayed with me throughout my life. (I still watch re-runs of Dr Who!), and so after Fish, I decided to try my hand at creating an SF story with a difference.

IAN: What do you hope readers come away with after reading The Prosperine Trilogy?

PJ McDermott: The Trilogy has a religious premise, but it’s not a spiritual book—it’s an adventure story. The character of the Teacher is loosely based on Jesus and I play with the idea that perhaps he may be one of many Sons of God sent to save intelligent beings on other worlds. I guess I’d like my readers to reconsider the universe-centric mindset of mankind and our ideas about God. But if they just enjoy the story that’s great!

IAN: How much is realistic?

PJ McDermott: My background is in science, so I’ve tried to be credible with my world building, for instance the parts about faster than light travel and Avanaux’s climate. I don’t go in for magic wands as a solution to difficulties characters might find themselves in, but in other areas I let my imagination run free. The plants and animal life (as well as the natives) are colourful and, well—alien, and probably break quite a few of the laws of nature.

IAN: How did your interest in writing originate?

PJ McDermott: I read with envy about those authors who began writing as a seven year old and just kept going! I didn’t discover my love for writing until late in life. I’d already enjoyed successful careers in business when I came down with cancer (not once, but twice). Thank God I’m cured now, but it certainly gave me pause to think what I was doing with my life. I realised that I wanted to lease some sort of legacy for my children and grandchildren to remember me by. I joined a professional writing class and loved it.

IAN: Do you see writing as a career?

PJ McDermott: I wish I had started writing earlier. I feel there are a lot of stories inside me, desperate for expression. So, yes, I do see writing as my career. I will write for as long as I get pleasure from it and for as long as people want to read my work. Does that mean I will make a lot of money from my writing?  Ha! I wish.

IAN: Did you learn anything from writing these books?

PJ McDermott: Heaps of things. I did an enormous amount of research into archaeological discoveries in Turkey, the bible stories, history. In terms of the business of writing, this is a whole new industry and it takes time to understand how it works. Not just the writing (although development of those skills is one of the most exciting parts of learning) but everything to do with self-publishing—cover design, formatting, writing promotional blurbs, marketing and promotional opportunities etc.

IAN: Do you have any advice for other writers?

PJ McDermott: Following on from above, writing can sometimes be a lonely experience. The best advice I can offer anyone starting out is to realise that good writing takes time to develop. Find yourself a professional writing group in your local area and one or two via the internet that fit your needs and aspirations. Listen to more experienced writers talking about their challenges and how they overcome them. This will same you heaps of time and heartache. The other piece of advice is don’t stop. Write as much and as often as you can and share it with others.

IAN: Do you have anything you would like to say to your readers?

PJ McDermott: Without readers, a writer is nothing. The most delightful moments in my life as an author are when a reader tells me they appreciate my work. Writing, like other creative arts, comes from the heart. A book is like a child, born of many months of labor, and every parent loves to hear others praise their new-born!

So, if you enjoy my books, please leave a review. Better still, drop me line. You can contact me on with any questions or suggestions you might have. I'd love to hear from you.

IAN: Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand-alone?

PJ McDermott:
I’m currently working on a first draft of book three of the Trilogy, tentatively titled The Scarf. Some of the questions readers might have about Hickory’s birth father (who apparently died in a car crash back on Earth. No spoilers!) and about the Teacher will be answered here. There will be, of course, action and intrigue aplenty.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sarah Stuart: The IAN Interview

Sarah Stuart

I live on the edge of a quiet English village where wildlife sightings are common. The subliminal theme of my published novels is a plea for animal protection from exploitation worldwide. Many of my dogs are, or were, rescues, and I donate 50% of my royalties to animal charities. 

My passion is the theatre and I’ve been lucky to see so much from the inside out, and to meet so many stars of stage and screen. I’ve watched performances in Europe and the USA in addition to London’s West End and Northern Ballet productions, and it’s fascinating; I know so much about what goes on behind the scenes. 

IAN: Please tell us about your latest book.

S. Stuart: ILLICIT PASSION is the second book in the Royal Command series, but it has been written to be read as a standalone novel. It is set partly in the Western Highlands of Scotland on the Kinloch Wildlife Reserve, and in London, whilst a concert tour of Europe opens at the Opéra Bastille in Paris and concludes in Kraków, a city in Poland. 

Showbiz superstar, Lisette Marsh, is blackmailed with a threat to expose illicit love, a secret that she, and her father, thought safely hidden forever. Michael, touring with her to promote the music of Kit Marsh, initiates an audacious plan to free her from a life of humiliation and pain that puts the whole family in peril, both from the paparazzi and in physical danger from the blackmailer.

Meanwhile, their daughter, Harriet, the new owner of the Book of Hours, deciphers coded entries made by Queen Margaret’s great-granddaughter, Lady Harriet Allanach. Will she too follow her namesake’s example and comply with the queen’s command "I direct and beseech my heirs to find love where they may", or walk away from the twin she loves, and shouldn’t love, before it’s too late? 

I’m delighted that it has been awarded 5 stars by Readers’ Favorite. 

IAN: Is Illicit Passion published in print, e-book or both?

S. Stuart: Illicit Passion is published only as an e-book at present. A print copy will follow in time for Christmas.

IAN: Where can we go to buy your book? 

S. Stuart: Illicit Passion is available at all Amazon sites at 

IAN: Do you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?

S. Stuart: The Royal Command books are character-driven: I never knew the end until I reached it. There was a point in Illicit Passion when I didn’t know whether someone would live or die. Dangerous Liaisons began as a love story, which it is: readers familiar with the queen’s command “to find love where ye may” will understand how that grounded Lisette’s reaction to acting lovers opposite her father onstage. The promise to obey the queen’s decree, asked of every heiress, creates a potential minefield.

IAN: Do you have a specific writing style?

S. Stuart: Yes, I do. I never use dialogue tags; I see no need for them. Each chapter may be divided into two or three parts: each uses the POV character’s name once and after that everything that is done or said, is done or seen to be done, said or heard, by that character, and all thoughts are theirs. It seems to be fairly unusual: judging by the reviews, it works well. 

IAN: What do you hope your readers come away with after reading Illicit Passion?

S. Stuart: That they will question the morality of killing for fun, whether an animal species is endangered or not. To understand that being a Christian isn’t about being perfect; it’s the ability to recognise one’s wrong-doing, try to make it right, and to forgive.

If that seems a serious answer when my novels tend to be regarded as steamy, it’s because nobody likes being preached at and I avoid doing it. The primary purpose of a novel is to provide entertainment and escapism: I hope my readers lose themselves in a different world. 

IAN: How much of Illicit Passion is realistic?

S. Stuart: All of it. Where I have used actual historical characters, like Margaret Tudor, Henry VII’s eldest daughter, the fiction fits into her recorded life, even to the degree of her being in the right place at the right time. Kinloch Wildlife Reserve, featured first in Dangerous Liaisons, was a working shooting estate: I know a lot about wildlife but I owe an ex-gamekeeper for facts about the running of such an estate, and the financial risk of converting it to a reserve. The theatre, and the basis of many of my characters, comes from my own experience. I was living in Wales when a producer of the musical “Annie”, to be staged at the Arts Theatre that is part of Aberystwyth University, asked for a dog to play Sandy. I had several obedience-trained dogs at the time and I supplied one whenever required for six years. A dog-handler must be present at all times so I had the opportunity to meet countless directors, performers, and all the backstage staff. Some of the musicals and plays were on their pre-West End premiere run and the actors and actresses were truly international stars. Hounding by the paparazzi occurs more in London, and it can be vicious if they scent a story. 

IAN: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

S. Stuart: I was lucky enough to have a mentor, the late, great, “first lady” of romantic suspense, Mary, Lady Stewart. Some years ago I had an article about the rescue of a stranded dolphin published and in it I referred to the knowledge I’d acquired from reading about a similar situation in “This Rough Magic”. She contacted me, which was a great thrill. She read one of my early, unpublished, novels and told me the main protagonists, the lovers, should meet in the first chapter, not a third of the way through the book. I followed that advice in Dangerous Liaisons, and introduced Lisette and her blackmailer in the prologue of Illicit Passion. If I could choose a writer to replace her it would be Nicholas Sparks; a reviewer compared my writing to his, specifically “The Notebook”, which I hadn’t read. I did, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

IAN: What book are you reading now?

S. Stuart: Screamer by R. E. Wood. It’s a thriller, gripping to the point of being frightening and very well written.

IAN: Are there any new authors that have caught your interest?

S. Stuart: Several: Sharon Brownlie (Betrayal), Bruce A Borders (Inside Room 913), Robert K. Swisher Jr. (A Circle Around Forever), Ica Iova (She Never Got to Say Goodbye), Rebecca Bryn (Touching the Wire), May Panayi (Malbed Mews), Tara Ellis (Bloodline), Bethany Turner (I’ve Loved These Days), and John Fioravanti (A Personal Journey to the Heart of Teaching). 

IAN: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

S. Stuart: My “one entity” includes a vast number of people I have never actually met. It astounded me after I hit “publish” for the first time and asked around on Twitter and Facebook for advice on publicity, how many other authors made practical suggestions. The group spread rapidly to encompass “strangers” from all over the world, many of whom weren’t writers, but all had something to give, and willingly still do. I make a point of doing the same for new authors when I can. “Indie”, to me, means freedom, but it can be lonely too. One example of a friend I haven’t met is a reader fan from Texas who found me on Goodreads and sent me a message quite recently. “I hate you. I’ve read eight chapters, can’t stop, and I should be at work!” Later, she wrote one of my best reviews on Illicit Passion.

IAN: Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand-alone?

S. Stuart: Dynasty of Deceit will be the last book in the Royal Command series: another standalone. It is plotted and the first two chapters are complete. I’m also committed to writing a short story for a charity anthology in 2016. However, the Royal Command series is on hold for the present. I’m working on a new novel, still based in show business but with a very different slant.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Rebecca Bryn: The IAN Interview

I live on a smallholding in West Wales with my husband, rescue dog and a flock of sheep. A self-taught artist, I paint the fabulous coastal scenery in watercolour and have work in private collections worldwide. I love walking, gardening, good company, and anything creative. My stories reflect my interests and my concerns, my love of family, animals and the countryside, my hatred of injustice and intolerance, my determination, and my sometimes gravely-challenged ability to forgive. I’m fairly laid-back, have developed a pretty thick skin, and I rarely get angry. I suppose I’m a contradiction.

IAN: Please tell us about your latest book.

R.B.: Touching the Wire, my second published novel, is set the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, in 1944-45, and also in 70s and present-day England. It’s a story of the women of the holocaust and the effects the holocaust still has on our lives. It’s dedicated to the memory of a very special Polish Jew whose pain haunts me still.

Miriam, a Jewish nurse, steps down from a cattle wagon into the heart of a young doctor. As their relationship blossoms, they fight to save lives amidst the horrors of a death camp, joining the camp resistance and risking death daily. Liberation catapults them from one hell into another as they are separated. While Miriam is left behind in the camp infirmary, sick with scarlet fever, the doctor is forced onto the March of Death across Poland in the bitter January of 1945, taking with him stolen evidence of war crimes.

In post-war Britain, to protect his new family, the doctor fails to keep his promise to reveal the truth about the death-camp doctors and is haunted by guilt. It’s his granddaughter, Charlotte, seventy years later and fighting her own demons, who unravels her grandfather’s past and keeps his promise to his lost love.

IAN: Where can we go to buy your books?

R.B.: My second novel, Touching the Wire is available in e-book or print at

My first novel, The Silence of the Stones, a psychological thriller set in West Wales is available at also in e-book or print.

IAN: Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand-alone?

R.B.: Where Hope Dares is my third novel, a stand-alone thriller, and I hope to release it later this month.

Where Hope Dares is available for Kindle at

It’s a story of courage, faith and hope in the eternal struggle of good over evil.

In a time of social, religious and political upheaval, two isolated cultures clash with devastating results. Kiya, a young healer, is kidnapped and brutally raped by Alaric the Chosen to fulfil the ancient prophecy of The Gift. He takes her north across the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco to the high priest of one of his people’s pagan gods.  Raphel, Kiya’s storyteller husband, embarks on a thousand-mile journey to rescue her from the high priest’s warmongering regime. Kiya and Raphel both look to Abe, an enigmatic peddler for aid, but Abe has a secret agenda of his own – a prime directive dictated by a long-dead pope. The two lovers find help where they least expect it, but who can they really trust – friend or foe?

IAN: What inspired you to write Where Hope Dares?

R.B: Where Hope Dares was inspired by current scientific thinking about the past, present and future of our planet, and mankind’s less than beneficial stay upon it It’s also inspired by our strange relationship with our gods, and religious and racial tolerance as a whole.

IAN: Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?

R.B.: I rarely use an outline. I have an idea of a beginning and a notion of the end. How I get from one to the other is largely down to my characters and where they take me. It’s usually a dramatic, painful and circuitous route, for them and for me.

IAN: How long did it take to write Where Hope Dares?

R.B.: Where Hope Dares was actually the first novel I wrote, back around 2004. Then it was called Destiny, and wasn’t very good: I’ve learned a lot about writing, character development, settings and research during the last eleven years. But I always liked the story, and still felt strongly about the issues that led to its conception so, last year, I decided to rewrite it. I spent about six months converting the tale to my new and, hopefully, more readable style of writing. I then sent it out to beta readers who informed me of its many shortcomings. Obviously much had been lost in ‘translation’. This was a setback I hadn’t anticipated but I was undaunted: all criticism is valid and useful – it’s just a matter of knowing how best to make use of it and apply it. Fortunately, one reader, who has since written me a brilliant scientific ‘afterword’, suggested I gave a more prominent role to Abe, an itinerant peddler and one of my minor characters. It took several months to ponder how this could be achieved and how it would impact the plot, and six more to weave what was essentially a new character into the original story, but it has transformed the novel, given it added depth and lifted it, I think, to a higher plane.  So, you could say it’s taken me eleven years to write Where Hope Dares.

IAN: What do you hope your readers come away with after reading Where Hope Dares?

R.B.: Oh gosh. That’s a difficult question to answer. I hope they value what and who they have. I hope they see greed and intolerance as evils. I’d like to think they’ll see our planet as a fragile and beautiful thing that we should protect at all cost, not plunder indiscriminately for a quick buck: it’s the only one we have and we have a duty of care to all the creatures that share it with us. I hope they see religion for what it is, a comfort and a way of life to those who believe, whatever their creed, not a weapon to beat others’ religions with. I’d better get off my soap-box.

IAN: How much of the book is realistic?

R.B.: The science behind it is as up-to-date and factual as I can make it. The history of the Oromo people and the settings were researched, as were the biblical texts that drive the underlying story and sub-plot. The characters and the coming together of the three aspects of the tale are entirely figments of my imagination.

IAN: How is Where Hope Dares different from others in your genre?

R.B.: I’d like to think it digs deeper, both into mine and my readers’ psyches. I’d like to think there are important issues underscoring the story: things like love, loss and hatred, tolerance, faith and what we build faith on, the errors of corporate greed, political and religious idealism and fanaticism whether for good or evil, and the diminishing resources and overpopulation of our planet.

IAN: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

R.B.: I think Tolkien’s skill at creating great characters with moral strengths and weaknesses, and providing richly-described settings and a believable, totally-grounded and historically-documented world has to be the greatest influence in my writing. Not that I could ever hope to emulate his work.

IAN: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

R.B.: My long-time friend, Sarah Stuart, author of romances Dangerous Liaisons and Illicit Passion, has been a huge support throughout my life and my writing career. She is my harshest and most honest critic, and also helps with editing and proof-reading my novels. (aka tearing apart rubbish and ‘upcycling’ it J)

IAN: Did you learn anything from writing Where Hope Dares and what was it?

R.B.: All the research into my novels has taught me something. The Silence of the Stones taught me about rune-casting, in fact I actually used real rune-casting to drive the story, and also it opened my eyes to mental illness. Touching the Wire gave me a humbling insight into the holocaust and makes me grateful daily for what I have. Where Hope Dares kept me awake at night, thinking of what man is doing to the earth, but the research also gave me hope that the planet will survive despite our attempts to destroy it. The writing process itself has made me realise that I never give up. The bigger the challenge, the higher I climb.

IAN: Do you have any advice for other writers?

R.B.: Research, research, research. Then write, take criticism and act on it if it improves your writing and the story. Rewrite, edit, proof-read, take on board suggestions with an open mind but stay true to yourself. Don’t try to write in isolation: join a writing group – The Word Cloud on-line forum is a great place to start. And keep at it. It’s a huge learning curve and, after three published novels and several unpublished ones, I realise that the more I learn the less I know.

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

R.B.: I hope you enjoy my tales as much as I enjoyed writing them. On a higher plane: appreciate what you have, love with all your heart, bear no malice, care for our planet – teach your children well: they are our future.

IAN: What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing your three books to life?

R.B. Another interesting question. I do like a challenge! Time to do the research, and write and promote is a huge challenge. The learning curve has been almost vertical at times, and encompasses aspects of writing and publishing I had no idea existed.

I think for me, the main challenge, apart from learning my craft, is allowing myself to dig deeply into the painful parts of my life and laying my soul bare to my readers in order to give life to my characters. In that respect, writing has been cathartic but it hasn’t always been easy. In my early attempts at writing I tended to gloss over emotion, as I often did in life. But the results were bland, superficial, false and, as in life, unreal. By bringing my own pain and emotion to the surface, I’ve made Alana, a struggling artist in The Silence of the Stones, a woman fighting to carve out her own path and free herself from her mother’s apron strings and the feeling she has of responsibility for her mother’s happiness. Walt, in Touching the Wire, suffers the guilt we all carry in one respect or another: by tapping into my own I could show the effect it had on his life and his family. Kiya, in Where Hope Dares, has my determination and my eternal optimism, though her faith is far stronger than mine will ever be. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Dianne Astle: The IAN Interview

Dianne Astle has worked at a variety of jobs in her life. She has been a draftsperson, a news correspondent for a radio station, a teacher’s aide, and most recently had the opportunity to practice servant leadership in a faith community. Dianne loves fishing, riding horses, and walking with her dog. She lives with her husband Doug, his three cats and her beloved dog Thomas.

IAN: Please tell us about your latest book.

D.A.: The release date for Ben and the Watcher of Zargon is September 25th.  This is the write-up from the back of the book. Grade ten isn’t turning out the way Ben hoped. His best friend is no longer Ben’s roommate, but has been replaced by a strange boy who follows him everywhere. Jealousy awakens the dragon fire within Ben when the girl he likes returns to school with a boyfriend. That fire and the scales peeking out from under his shirtsleeves are making it difficult to keep his secret. Ben needs to go to his mother’s home world to learn how to transform into a dragon. If the training comes to late Ben is in danger of becoming something that is neither human nor dragon.

IAN: Is Ben and the Watcher of Zargon available in print, ebook or both?

D.A.: Ben the Dragonborn and Ben and the Watcher are available as print and ebooks.  They are or will be available through Amazon and I hope to have them available through IngramSpark soon.

IAN: Will Ben and the Watcher of Zargon be available for Pre-order at Amazon?

D.A.: Yes, it is now at this link.

IAN: What motivated you to write?

D.A.: I went for a walk with a friend and we both said we would like to write a novel one day. When I said this I didn’t think I would ever do it. My life was rich and full. I wasn’t looking for something more to give it meaning.  However, one day the idea for a story came to me. Once I started to write the characters into existence it was too late to turn back. I was in love with them and the world they lived in. I needed to let them live. Sometimes they come and speak to me in the night and I wake up with a smile on my face.

IAN: How long did it take you to write your books?

D.A.: My first book took me seven years to write.  After it was finished, I sent it out to traditional publishers and got some very encouraging rejection letters. More than one publisher kept it for a long time because it was on their ‘maybe’ pile. When I moved and took a new job, I put Ben the Dragonborn on a shelf for another seven years. My second book took me only seven months to write. I am still editing it, but it must be finished by September 15th

IAN: Who designed your book covers?

D.A.: The current cover on both my books was designed by photographer and artist, Sean Sherstone. I originally asked Sean to do a Youtube video for Ben the Dragonborn. He did an awesome job and then very kindly volunteered to set up a web site for me.  When I was thinking of a new cover he was the first person I asked.

IAN: Do you have a specific writing style?

D.A.: I do not have a specific writing style.  I start at the beginning and write with a vague idea of where I’m going. If I have any writing style it is that I spend a lot of time rewriting and editing.

IAN: What were you hoping your readers would come away with?

D.A.: I was not thinking of what I wanted my readers to come away with when I first wrote Ben the Dragonborn.  All I was interested in doing was telling a good story.  However, one of the major themes in the book has been a major theme in my life. A central theme of my life is the importance of being an original and not a copy.  I have often been heard telling others to seek the treasure of their own true selves. In Ben the Dragonborn, Ben must discover who he truly is to help a world in need of peace. In the second book, Mack must accept who he is and the destiny that is his and his alone for the sake of all six worlds. In the third book the brownie is on a journey of self-discovery and change which will have an impact on all brownies and two of the six worlds.

IAN: What books have most influenced your life?

D.A.: One book that had a profound impact on me was Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.  In Solzhenitsyn’s story of being a prisoner in the Russian Gulag there were people who were true to themselves and the call to love. They often died rather than sacrifice who they were. Other people were willing to do whatever it took to survive. They lived, sometimes at the expense of others, but also at the expense of their own self-respect. They lost an important part of themselves. The Gulag Archipelago communicated to me that the most important thing I can do is be true to myself and what I believe. 

IAN: What was the hardest part of writing?

D.A.: The most challenging aspect of my writing is that I had learning disabilities in school. Not only that, but I was a dreamer off in my own little world when important things were being taught, like where a comma belongs. Correct grammar is still a struggle for me even though I now have a Master’s degree. In my first book I felt that I could by-pass hiring an editor. That was a mistake. The second book has had the benefit of two editors and a creative writing circle. Recently, I took the step of having Ben the Dragonborn professionally edited by Ashee Enz of Clean Edits. I did this even though it was getting glowing independent reviews. I made most of Ashlee’s suggested changes.

IAN: What book are you currently reading?

D.A.: I am currently reading Kathy Huth Jones most recent release. I am really enjoying Mercy’s Prince. I had to put it aside for the time being because of publishing deadlines, but I can’t wait to get back to it.

IAN: What new authors have you discovered?

D.A.: For a long time my favorite authors have been Terry Brooks, Stephen Lawhead, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. In the past two years I have discovered wonderful authors among  the self-published.   Sudan by Ninie Hammon was a particularly powerful and moving story based on real life events.  I also really enjoyed Hubris by P.A Wilson, Flight of the Griffin by C. M. Gray, and Aranya by Marc Secchia. It is impossible to name every excellent independent author I have read in the last two years. I need to say that twitter works for promoting books. I would never have considered reading a book about Amish vampires; however, Barbara E. Brink was so creative in her tweeting that I picked up her books and loved them.

IAN: Tell us about your next book. Is it a sequel or a stand alone?

D.A.: My next book will likely be entitled Moses and the Dragonborn.  I have laid the groundwork for it in Ben and the Watcher of Zargon.  Ben, his uncle Zinc, Allison, and a brownie named Moses are chosen to go to Farne to rescue Ben’s dragonborn grandfather.  If Moses and the Dragonborn unfold as I expect it to, then the most important story line will be about Moses and the brownies.  I hope to have this book out by the summer of 2016.