February’s Guest Storyteller, Geoffrey Gudgion

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Geoffrey Gudgion started writing in warships during the Cold War, and afterwards consistently failed to reconcile writing with a business career. Following a row with his boss he took a career break, wrote Saxon’s Bane (Solaris, 2013), and didn’t go back. His second novel, Catherine Bonnevaux, is now with his agent. His third is “cooking nicely”.

Website & blog: http://geoffreygudgion.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/geoff.gudgion
Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/geoffrey.gudgion.author
Twitter: @geoffreygudgion

The novel in brief — Six hundred years ago, the village of Halgestede was swept away and the Bonnevaux dynasty born with a terrible oath. Today the Halstead Hall estate is crumbling and the Bonnevaux have forgotten the oath, but the oath may not have forgotten the Bonnevaux.

Intro to extract — Most of Saxon’s Bane was in a masculine voice, but the plot for Catherine Bonnevaux challenged Geoffrey to write some tender moments from a distinctly feminine perspective. Here’s a short sample:

 

CATHERINE BONNEVAUX (Extract)

 “Granny, about…”

“In a moment, darling. Shut your eyes. Tight shut. Let them adjust to the darkness. I’ve something to show you.”

Catherine obeyed, smiling to herself at this child-like complicity. Somewhere nearby a blackbird sang into the gloaming, filling the air with swirling trickles of sound. Faintly, from down in the valley, came the sound of piano music.

“You can open them now. Look around you. See, darling? The daylight stays in the blossom.”

Catherine opened her eyes. Above her, a lattice of branches and blossom screened a sky that darkened to purple in the East, and softened to the West where the Evening Star hung over the hill. Below the horizon the branches were almost invisible against the dark backdrop of the woods. In this near-darkness, the pear blossom appeared to float, unsupported, glowing white as if illuminated from within. Thousands of points of light, dabbed onto the night by a fine-point brush, so they sat within a galaxy of petals that moved almost imperceptibly on the night air.

Strange how you can grow up in a place and not notice something so beautiful, that you can live thirty years without being in this spot, at this time, at this season, with eyes that were not blinded by a torch. Catherine reached for her grandmother’s hand, and squeezed.

“Thank you, Granny.” Her voice caught.

“It’s always best at pear blossom time. There’s more leaf on the trees when the apple blossom bursts.”

“It’s wonderful.” She knew she’d always remember this moment. Her grandmother, birdsong, a distant piano, and blossom, fragrant and pure. A moment of communion that makes all else insignificant.

“I was wooed in this orchard. I was a young nurse, just nineteen. Your grandpa was such a dashing young man, a decorated officer, and yet he brought me out here and showed me the pear blossom at twilight.” Catherine gripped her grandmother’s hand again. As the light faded, the blossom was dimming, so that already it was brightest at the edge of her vision, but the scent remained, cascading its sweetness around them. Catherine felt her hand being lifted and shaken in emphasis. “There are things you wish you’d asked, and there are things I’d like remembered. So when you have children, bring them here, and tell them that your Granny fell in love under this tree.”

Catherine stood, swallowing, and stepped away from the seat, holding out her hand to feel for a branch she knew was there. The bark was coarse and damp, and lichen crumbled under her fingers. At the edge of her vision, a hint of blossom swayed to the movement in the branch. The moon was rising above Brambledown, bathing the valley below in a gentle, monochrome glow. Yellower lights shone in The Old Dairy, silhouetting Fiona in the picture windows. Her outline looked huddled, even at this distance, perhaps folded over her arms, tense. Piano music spilled past her through open French doors, and carried faintly up the hill. Rich, classical music, played loudly and furiously, and too heavy for the moment that she and Granny had just shared.

“Rachmaninoff,” Granny said, coming to stand beside her. “The C Sharp Minor Prelude. Not an easy piece.” They were quiet for a moment, listening, until Granny sighed. “He’s better at Chopin. That’s much too angry.”

Below them, the hunched figure stepped inside, and the music stopped with the shutting of the door.

“Don’t get too fond of him, darling, will you?”

Catherine didn’t answer.

“Only, things are complicated enough already. And I’m getting cold. Where’s that torch?” In an instant, a pool of light beside them turned the night fully black, shrinking the moon glow until only the lights of The Old Dairy were visible beyond the tracery of branches.

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Sarah says: Geoffrey, thank you so much for your return visit to my blog, this time as a guest storyteller. I love this extract from Catherine Bonnevaux, where you’ve captured with such authenticity and atmosphere that special female intimacy between Catherine and her grandmother. I can’t wait to read the whole novel.

For those who missed Geoffrey first time round you might like to read Interview with Author Geoffrey Gudgion, in which we discuss his first novel Saxon’s Bane, and my review of the book on Goodreads, where I awarded it five stars.

Book Review: “Balthasar’s Gift” by Charlotte Otter

balthasar cover_highres-1The Official Blurb: Maybe it was an error for crime reporter Maggie Cloete to ignore the call from the AIDS worker, before someone put four bullets in his chest. It is post-apartheid South Africa, at the turn of the century. But there is a threat to the country’s new democracy: HIV/AIDS, which is met with fear and superstition. Now that fear has reached Pietermaritzburg and an AIDS activist is dead. Maggie’s instincts are on red alert. Despite threats from politicians and gangsters, she learns too much about Balthasar’s life and his work at the AIDS Mission to be distant and professional. She is deeply, and dangerously, involved. Balthasar’s Gift continues the tradition of pacy, hard-boiled South African crime fiction.

IMG_0052_2About the author: Charlotte Otter lives in Germany but used to work as a journalist in South Africa. Fed up with reading crime novels that centred on the naked, mutilated bodies of beautiful young women, her debut novel focuses on a murdered blond gay man, Balthasar, who’s the widower to an AIDS victim and saviour to orphans.

Her novel was first published in Germany under the title Balthasars Vermachtnis and latterly in South Africa in an English language edition. Between 2008, when she started writing her novel, up to signing a publishing deal in 2012, her novel underwent fourteen revisions: three with her agent, three with her co-agent in London and one with her publisher. This just goes to prove that writing isn’t for the fainthearted.

At present, she’s working on her second Maggie Cloete novel, which is an eco-conspiracy that’s named after a rare and threatened butterfly called Karkloof Blue. Nowadays she has to squeeze her writing into two hours daily from 4.30-6.30 am, as she’s working full-time high up the corporate ladder in Information Technology. To quote her, “In my other life, I am a corporate hack, mother of three, reader, traveller, feminist and optimist. I am happily married to the love of my life”.

What I thought of Balthasar’s Gift: Firstly, I just loved Maggie Cloete, the novel’s central protagonist, and was heartily relieved when she was still alive by the last page. Yes, she’s abrasive, stubborn, disobedient, independent-thinking, impatient, rule-breaking, and probably every boss’s idea of a nightmare employee; but everything she does has a good reason and is governed by her demand for justice.

She wants the truth behind Balthasar’s death, which the authorities brush off as caused by a robbery gone wrong but which Maggie believes is related to something that runs far deeper and lies at the heart of what’s rotten about South Africa: its political corruption; its profiteering by a few at the expense of the masses, and its unwillingness to tackle the AIDS epidemic and deal with witch doctor style superstitions that lead to the further spread of the virus. In particular there’s a belief that having sex with a virgin will cure a man of AIDS, which includes sex with small children. So apart from Maggie seeking the truth about Balthasar’s death, she’s also searching for a two-year-old girl who’s disappeared and who the police don’t seem interested in finding.

Balthasar’s Gift is one of those rare novels that achieves a superb balance between being a fast-paced thriller and an informative read. As a reader, I gained deep insight into an area about which I previously knew little. The author’s style of writing is punchy, with her never using an extraneous word, yet managing to paint an extremely vivid picture of South Africa. And for those who enjoy a bit of love/lust interest in a story: Maggie, the motorbike-riding tomboy, is far from immune to the charms of a certain green-eyed street juggler called Spike!

Where you can buy Balthasar’s Gift:

English edition (paperback only)

African Books Collective
amazon.co.uk
amazon.com

German edition

Paperback

Ebook

To learn more about Charlotte and keep updated about her novels, do check out her WordPress blog and her author website.

 

“I never knew you were like that…”

Have any of you unpublished authors, or those published under a pen name, ever worried about what your family, friends and social associates might think about certain risqué or controversial elements contained in your fiction? Back in May, I interviewed Geoffrey Gudgion about his novel Saxon’s Bane. Since then, he’s published a most amusing post about some of the conversations he’s had with people about his novel, including one about “Shush, you know what”.

Geoffrey Gudgion

Draumr KopaCindy Callens, on the Belgian book review site Draumr Kopa, kindly asked me to do a guest blog. I shared some of the more amusing comments people have made since Saxon’s Bane was launched. Click here for Draumr Kopa.

Here’s what I had to say:

People have said some strange things to me since Saxon’s Bane was published.

“I never knew you were like that,” an elderly lady from my local church said one Sunday.

“Like what?” I asked. The question made me stop in my tracks, and the departing congregation flowed around us.

She shuffled, making that eyes-lowered squirm with which Christian ladies of a certain age simultaneously mention and avoid mentioning delicate subjects. “Well, you know…”

“No, I don’t know. What’s the matter?” I sensed that the subject causing her such embarrassment was of a reprehensible and possibly sexual nature, and my mind raced in a frantic ‘Oh-God-what-have-I-got-to-be-guilty-about’

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Interview with Author Geoffrey Gudgion

Gudgion-arbour I’m delighted to welcome Geoffrey to my blog to chat about his début novel Saxon’s Bane and various aspects of his writing life, including what he’s working on at the moment.

On Amazon, I  awarded Saxon’s Bane five stars and titled my review “A Superb Debut Novel by a Master Storyteller”.  I won’t tell you what the story is about, as Geoffrey is going to do that. All I can say is that I found it an exceedingly exciting read, of the sneaking-looks-when-you-should-be-working variety, and one of those novels your mind keeps returning to long after you’ve put it down.Geoffrey managed to make me care deeply about the fate of the three central characters (plus the horse), raising my pulse-rate far too high on occasions, while causing me to wish the stickiest of ends upon the baddie and his cronies. He paints a wonderful picture of a present-day English village: one rooted in a more savage past that, once unearthed, reasserts itself upon the psyches of so-called civilised people.

SP: Who is Geoffrey Gudgion? I know, but perhaps you’d like to tell the others.

GG: I’ve been many things. A Royal Naval Officer, but they weren’t quite ready for me, and a businessman, which paid the bills even though Corporate America wanted my English soul. Now I have one part-time job but mainly write. When not writing I go a bit mad on horseback. I’m married with two great kids who are old enough to be off the payroll. Oh, and I’m a really bad pianist. Is that enough?

saxons bane mockupSP: For the benefit of potential readers, could you describe Saxon’s Bane in a few sentences?

GG: It’s a thriller with a supernatural twist. An archaeologist shows a preternatural understanding of the Saxon couple she is excavating. A young man comes close to death in a car crash. Two people whose insight might be dismissed as obsession or post-traumatic stress, until the modern world around them starts to mirror the ancient, bloody past…

SP: Despite ending up with Solaris as your publishers, when working on your novel you had no idea it was fantasy novel. What sort of novel did you think you were writing?

GG: I simply didn’t understand ‘genre’. I had a story that was fighting to land on the page, that’s all. When it was published, people started labelling it ‘fantasy’, which surprised me because it’s meant to be believable in a real world framework. It’s also been called ‘horror’, although I think it’s a bit too lyrical for that, ‘historical’, even though 80% is set in the present day, and ‘literary’, which is good for my ego. Hell, it’s a ghost story.

SP: Like many creative people, you felt obliged to go down some “respectable” career paths first. Do you see this as wasted time, or as useful experience to draw upon in your writing now? And you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but is your main character Fergus’s explosive walk out from his job based on your own experience?

GG: Wasted? Nah. All life is a script, and life in the Boardroom gave me a wonderful supply of characters. And as for Fergus’s row with his boss, who hasn’t relished the thought, perhaps many times in their career, of telling the bastard on the other side of the desk what they can do with their job? I loved writing that bit.

SP: In your novel, you paint an extremely vivid picture of the English countryside and rural life. A reviewer complimented you on your ability to revive and modernise the great classical tradition of rural British horror, proving there’s nothing creepier than the countryside. Is there a time when you’ve freaked yourself out with your own imagination and had to run for civilisation without looking back?

GG: No. That must either mean I’m writing tame ‘horror’, or I’m really sick. Seriously, though, it is the unknown that freaks us out. As a writer, you know what’s coming. And if you don’t, you’ve lost the plot and that IS freaky.

SP: An emotionally damaged horse features greatly in Fergus’s convalescence following his near-fatal car accident: a sort of mutual healing between man and beast. Is there any parallel between what youBally & helmet describe in your novel and your relationship with that handsome horse you own in real life?    

GG: Horses possess a deep, wild empathy. They can understand us at a primal level, and unlock emotions that are buried within us. No horse has ever healed me in the way that Trooper heals Fergus, but horses have helped me keep my equilibrium. I can climb into the saddle tense, but the mental slate is wiped by the adrenalin-charged madness of a gallop, or the surge-and-soar of jumping.

SP: Now you’re not burdened with a day job, how do you organise your writing time and physical writing space?

GG: It depends on the stage I’m at with a book. On a writing day (and sadly that still can’t be every day) it’s tough at the beginning of a project and I have to force myself to craft words. By the end, it becomes and obsession and nothing else matters. It’s a bit like wading out into a river, slow and muddy at the edges, but once the current takes you it’s quite a ride. I write best in the mornings, and my most creative space is an arbour in the garden. When it’s too cold for that, I have a study where I play English birdsong as a background while I write.

SP: Now you’ve nearly finished your next novel, did you suffer or are you still suffering from any of the “second novel” anxiety experienced by some authors?

GG: I did at the beginning. I started Saxon’s Bane in hubris (“I can do that!”) and finished in bloody-minded stubbornness, determined to break through despite the rejections. By the time my agent Ian Drury accepted it, I knew what good looked like. The first drafts of my second book, Catherine Bonnevaux, were not good, and I had to learn to push on and leave imperfection behind me. I’d written 120,000 words before I knew it could be turned into something good.

SP: What is the second novel about?

GG: When newly affluent businessman Paul Devlin and his girlfriend Fiona buy a barn conversion near Halstead Hall, the ancestral home of the Bonnevaux family, they believe they are buying a rural idyll. They are met by a wall of resentment, and are drawn into a conflict that has its roots in pagan times. It’s a ghost story that interweaves modern greed with medieval piety and Dark Age myth. There’s a fuller overview on my web site at http://wp.me/P2FmIH-aR

SP: Having spent time in the Royal Navy, would you consider writing a contemporary maritime fantasy novel drawing on some of the wonderful sea myths?

Last year I went sailing with a friend, and we moored one night in a remote inlet where a Saxon church sat hunched on the shoreline and the bones of dead sailing ships poked through the mud as the tide went out. The setting gave me some ideas that may well surface in a future book.

Sarah, thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog. I’m honoured to be here!

And thank you to you, too, Geoffrey. It’s been a great honour and pleasure to have chatted with you. SP 🙂

 

Yay! It’s Publication Day for Sara Crowe’s Young Adult Novel “Bone Jack” :-)

51OspgEiqZL._SY445_Ash’s dad has returned from war. But he’s far from the hero Ash was expecting. He’s close to a breakdown, lost in a world of imaginary threats. Meanwhile, Ash’s best friend Mark is grieving and has drifted away into his own nightmares. Ash’s only escape is his lonely mountain running, training to be the stag boy in the annual Stag Chase.

But dark things are stirring. Ghostly hound boys prowl the high paths, and in the shadows a wild man watches. Ash begins to wonder if the sinister stories about the Stag Chase are true. Could Mark and Dad be haunted by more than just their pasts?

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Sara Crowe is a writer and photographer. She was raised in various parts of England. In 2012, she and her partner set off in a camper van and have been travelling around Britain ever since.
Her interests include folklore, collecting and using vintage cameras, nature and wildlife, and going for long walks with her dog.

She blogs at http://theforest.me

Bone Jack, her debut novel, is published by Andersen Press/Random House

It’s available in paperback and Kindle versions in the UK and Commonwealth countries from Amazon, Waterstones, and all good bookshops.

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Sarah P. says: I’m so excited for Sara having arrived at this great day. We first met on an on-line writing colony before she had an agent or a publishing deal, so to see her travel this journey to success is such an inspiration. She’s a very talented writer, whose rich and haunting prose, world-building and characterisation will delight young and old alike.

In the next couple of months I will invite Sara to my blog for an author interview, when those of you who’ve read  Bone Jack will have the opportunity to post mini reviews in “comments” and put your questions to her.

Wishing all the best 🙂