Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Toodle-pip... you have to read this interview! Beasts, criminals, and jets!

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I first “met” S.P. Moss online via TheWriters’ Workshop around 2011. She had announced that her first book Bother in Burmeon had won a prize and was getting published. I ordered a copy for my children & their primary school and used the opportunity to launch a literary competition which resulted in Gurnard’s Book of Delights.

When I was given the opportunity to read Trouble in Teutonia pre-release I was flattered and apprehensive. I always give an honest review, regardless of whether I ‘know’ the person so I felt under pressure. I mean, how many reviews are genuine when solicited?

It was a huge relief that I loved the book, but as a fail-safe I also got my 11 year old son to read it.

Before we review, here is the blurb...

Trouble in Teutonia by S.P. Moss

Running, running - but from what?

A steam carousel whirls Billy into the middle of the last century, the middle of the Cold War, the middle of a mystery...

Who has captured Kathleen, the daughter of US Space Scientists?
Where is the missing prototype jet?
Why is the legendary Beast of Ratshausen back, haunting the forest?
And what is an international criminal doing in command of an RAF station?

Billy’s knowledge is a time bomb and time is ticking away...


“The start had me gripped instantly as I envisaged a werewolf racing after a girl.

At present day, we again meet Billy (introduced in Bother in Burmeon), a boy on route to becoming the next Dr Who (without a blue tardis or bow tie!)

When the time-slip event happens we are thrust into the Cold War! The descriptions are vivid, the action is full on and the characters are wonderfully developed. I loved Billy’s inquisitive nature and as the plot unfolds you find yourself more curious. The addition of a space rocket adds to the excitement! His side kick, the brainiac American girl Kathleen, is a wonderful addition.

This book is obviously written for a younger audience and there were some occasions which I found implausible, but overall it worked. The only thing I found distracting was the translations as footnotes (my son disagrees and thought this was great). Something that struck me as odd was the fact the ebook ended at around 90%, since there was a lot of material at the end (on the paperback there were a lot of blank extra pages).

In summary, a great read for 8-12 year old children with an interest in action, war, space rockets, great characters and time travel.”

Vanessa Wester (adult age... you don't need to know my age! HA!)

“I found the story line much more interesting than the 1st one as it added more drama, mystery and suspense as with a werewolf, a kidnapped girl and a criminal! (Cue the beasts, criminals and jets!)

The objective of the villain good, as a German trying to breach the cold war as a rank outsider...

From the first chapter, I was hooked and I read it in a day! Brilliant!”

Michael Wester (age 11)

So there you have it! Now, to grill, I mean, have a chat with the author... Welcome to my blog, S.P. Moss - can I use your first name, or is this highly confidential?

I don’t think it will contravene the Official Secrets Act, so I’ll whisper it in your ear – it’s Susan. The use of initials in my author name, by the way, is less to do with positioning myself as the next J.K. Rowling or disguising my gender, and more to do with the retro-style of the books, emulating Capt W.E. Johns, the author of Biggles.

I had no idea… Thank you for letting me read this book. What did you think of my review?

I think it’s top hole. I’m not too sure that Kat would accept being described as a side kick, though! The right balance of action, character development and atmosphere is something that an author continually struggles to achieve, so I’m glad I hit the mark for you. The footnotes were a tricky one – I wanted to use a little bit of German to add to the atmosphere but was aware that few 9-12 year olds would know much German, hence the footnotes. And the blank pages, I’m told, are something to do with a multiples-of-sixteen-leaves-run. Plenty of room for readers to start scribbling the next story?

Yes, blank pages are always great for inspiration! Talking of which, what inspired you to write about Billy and his adventures?

I was inspired to write The Bother in Burmeon while writing a biography of my RAF officer dad for friends and family. Armed with logbooks, sepia-tinted photos and a few addresses of old chums, I set about the task that my father never had a chance to start. I was fascinated by what lay behind the hours in the log books, and what happened before and after the black and white snapshots. And, while I was writing the biography, my young son started asking questions about his granddad, who he had never met.

One of those delightful “what if?” questions flitted through my mind and with it, a lost world of danger, dirty deeds and derring-do. The Bother in Burmeon was born.

Do you think the past repeats itself?

A fascinating question, and one that is raised in Trouble in Teutonia, where one man’s past is another man’s – or boy’s – future. As Professor Blunderby points out to Billy in the story, maybe the answer lies in how we perceive and experience time. 

Could it be that past, present and future exist simultaneously, in another dimension? But that normal human perception only allows access to time in a one-way linear fashion? And in Billy’s case, his perception does not always operate in the “normal” way?

Do you think it is easier to accept a villain in the past than a present day one?

My master-villain, Featherstonehaugh, is riddled with attitudes that we would regard as most un-PC these days, but setting the story in the past allowed me to expose these attitudes – and set them up for the ridicule they deserve. It’s interesting if you look at, say, Bond villains over the years. The ends are the same – world domination being top of the list – but the means change with time. General Kwok in The Bother in Burmeon and Count von Stachelschwein in Trouble in Teutonia have both been given excuses for their villainy – Kwok is drug-dependent and von Stachelschwein’s family have been murdered. But as for Featherstonehaugh, is he just evil? You’ll have to read on to get the answer to that one!

Who is your favourite fictional villain in a book, film or both?

I love a bit of swashbuckling as far as villains go. The fight scenes in both books were heavily influenced by the kind of films that Grandpop and Featherstonehaugh would have seen at the cinema as boys – Errol Flynn vs. Basil Rathbone in Robin Hood, for example. I pictured Basil Rathbone when writing Featherstonehaugh. Or Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr (playing Rupert of Hentzau) in The Prisoner of Zenda

When it comes to women, they don’t come much more villainous than Hilda von Einem in John Buchan’s Greenmantle – she makes Cruella de Vil look like Doris Day!

Who’s yours?

Mine has to be Voldemort... do not mention his name! Ahhhh...

I have to say that I loved the addition of a female accomplice... And the fact she was mathematical. Nowadays, children sometimes don’t see how maths and science can be useful and interesting. Did you want to make children think about this at all when you wrote the plot?

A lot of people in the public eye these days – especially authors – claim to have been “rubbish at maths”, as if they’re proud of it. It’s odd that you never hear anyone boasting about “having no imagination” or “being useless at creative writing”! Kat’s mathematical prowess wasn’t a conscious effort to put the record straight but I definitely wanted to create a character who children would find cool because of her ability. There’s a tendency these days to rewrite history and for the 1950s and early 60s to be seen as some sort of Dark Ages where girls only worried about learning cooking and housekeeping for their future husband. But if you read a book like A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (published 1962), which inspired the characters of Kat and her parents, you’ll see that attitudes in those days were not all so backward!

I can not claim to be rubbish at maths since I am a maths teacher (supposedly!) - one of those rare authors who try to go where they shouldn't. Anyway... moving swiftly on!

Will we be seeing more of Billy and his antics? I hope Kathleen also makes another appearance...

Oh, definitely. I will be bringing back my favourite characters as the series progresses. Radar from The Bother in Burmeon only has a cameo appearance in Trouble in Teutonia, but he will take a major role in the next story. And there are plans afoot for Kat, too.

Now, a bit about you... When did you start writing, and do you have any plans to dabble in other genres?

I wasn’t exactly born with a quill in my hand, but as good as! I have been writing ever since I could, and still have such masterpieces as The Blue Tits Nest and The Hampsters of Hampton House in my possession to prove it. The Bother in Burmeon was actually my fourth full-length novel and the first written for the 9-12 age group. I’m not sure how I would describe my previous efforts, apart from pretentious nonsense, so it is best to draw a thick veil over those. I enjoy writing short stories and have even had one published. As far as the short stories go, I have dabbled in historical, literary, ghost stories and humour.

Did anyone inspire you to become an author?

Authors certainly weren’t pushed as celebrities, personalities or brands when I was a child, although I was a member of the Puffin Club and loved reading how authors whose books I enjoyed got their ideas. Adventure and mystery were always high on the agenda for me, from authors such as Susan Cooper, Alan Garner and Philippa Pearce, as well as the occasional dose of Biggles, Boy’s Own-real-life adventures and Commando Comics, usually pinched from my brother. But the author who I suppose sparked the idea that I could sit down and write a novel was S.E.Hinton (another Susan!) who wrote The Outsiders when she was 16.

I know you go and visit schools to promote your books. Can you give us a taster of a typical day, please? 

Well, I hop into my 1962 E-Type and motor through the Riviera, off to a champagne breakfast with Johnny Depp on his yacht. Um, no. Although I do lead a double or triple or even multiple life, like many authors these days, that isn’t part of it!

I do love school visits – especially that no two are ever the same. The most important thing is to involve the children. It’s not about me, or selling my book – it’s about them, and their enjoyment of reading and literature. 

When I go into a school, there is normally play-acting involved which teeters on the verge of chaos. 

I have had everything from being related a love-story between a pink marshmallow and a white marshmallow to being asked if I’m Kate Moss’s sister! I’m not, by the way, although we have the same stunning looks and figure - ha, ha!

Loving your sense of humour... Back to serious matters! Do you use social media to promote your books, or does your publisher take care of this?

Writing for 9-12s, I have to bear three target audiences in mind when it comes to promotion:

·         Children
·         Parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians
·         The publishing industry – bookshops, literary agents and so on

Social media is one good way of reaching the adult audiences and I do what I can, although it’s mostly about promoting the books rather than myself as an author. I have Facebook and Pinterest pages for my books, a trailer on YouTube and although I am not on Twitter, my publisher is busy tweeting about all the Circaidy Gregory titles.

For children, the best form of promotion is good old face-to-face through school visits and other events. As I live in Teutonia, sorry, Germany, I can’t get over to the UK as often as I’d like to, which is why I’m thrilled when fellow authors do events off their own initiative involving my books – I am looking at you here, Vanessa!

I have websites for both the books, which is a slight indulgence on my part. I see these more as adding value to the books rather than generating awareness – there’s lots of extra info on the cars and planes involved, and some rather natty cartoons of the characters, along with their likes and dislikes. I come from a background in advertising, so this was jolly good fun to work on.

Where can people buy your books and find out more about you?

You can zoom over to http://www.burmeon.com and http://www.troubleinteutonia.com for more Bother and Trouble, and follow the links there to buy the books. Or you can whizz over to the publisher’s website at http://www.circaidygregory.co.uk
"I have told you to read it... or die!"
I’m always happier if people buy the books direct from the publisher, as it means a little more money in their coffers, and in mine, as well as supporting a small independent business. 

I’m also very pleased for people to drop in to my Facebook page for the latest news and views – that’s at https://www.facebook.com/Burmeon?ref=hl

Thank you for your time... Anything else you wish to add?

What a spiffingly enjoyable grilling that was! Many thanks to you and Michael for your reviews: readers’ feedback is so vital, whether it’s your first book or your 200th, I imagine. I’d be cock-a-hoop to hear any more comments on this interview, or my books, questions, ideas for future adventures, either on your blog or via bother@burmeon.com


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Stefan Armitage: MA Script-Writing Research...

Today, I would like to introduce you to Stefan Armitage & hopefully some of you might be able to give him a hand for some research he is doing...

Please read & share :)
Thanks for your help

Stefan Armitage is currently undergoing an MA in Script-writing at Bath Spa University. 

"I am currently in the process of writing a paper about how new writers break into the television industry, with the primary focus being on Sitcom and Comedy-Drama.

Would you be able to answer a few questions regarding situation-comedy writing and the process of the industry?

Your answers can be as long or as short as you wish, and you can answer as many questions as you like...

Thank you for taking the time – I can’t describe how helpful all of your answers will be for my work.

Kind regards,
Stefan Armitage"

Email: stefan@musicallyfresh.com 

Firstly, could you give me a brief bio of your experience as a scriptwriter/editor – maybe an outline of your aspirations?

In terms of getting yourself noticed in the industry:

What steps or processes have you taken to get yourself noticed? (Do you use an agent? Calling-card scripts? Was good networking and associates crucial to getting your foot in the door?)

What are your feelings on using radio as a “stepping-stone” into television?

How much input did you have on the first draft of your pilot script? (Were there a lot of rewrites? Did you have to allow for edits to be made that you weren’t happy with?)

How much do you believe a writer should ‘hone his craft’, and study sitcoms from the past and present? (This includes watching/reading)

What overall advice can you give somebody who wants to be commissioned for the first time?

What advice can you give somebody to become re-commissioned?

In terms of writing sitcoms:

How crucial do you think an element of ‘Drama’ is in creating a successful comedy show? Or do you believe it’s a question of your target audience?

Should you only write about “what you know”?

Do you believe the “jokes” featured in a sitcom must be relatable to the majority of the audience in order for the show/series to be deemed successful?

Do you believe the “family sitcom” is becoming a thing of the past now? And soon, only niche sitcoms with niche audiences will remain?

In terms of taboo and dark comedy – are there topics that simply cannot be touched on? Or, do you believe comedy can be found in any subject as long as it’s handled correctly?

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Happy Easter

Since I have lived away from Gibraltar for nearly 20 years (I know... shocking) Easter has lost some of its religious significance. When I was growing up (did I ever? HA) in Gibraltar, the Easter period was massive since most of the population is Catholic.

My recollections growing up are...

* Fasting over the 40 days in Lent (mainly chocolate or giving up sweets!)

* Making crosses out of palm tree leaves on Palm Sunday

* Good Friday reenactment of the Crucifixion (click here for lots of images) - I will never forget the sight of women walking barefoot with a look of utter desolation

* Watching my mum bake & cook a lot (recipe's & picture to follow...)

* Chocolate... especially the mini Suchard Chocolate eggs in a tube (I searched the internet and could not find a picture of them... boo hoo)

* AND family time. Lots of friends & family sharing good food & company.

In England, all around I see a LOT of chocolate for sale, although at my children's school they did go to Church for a service the day before they broke up for school. And they had a Easter themed competition for best use of materials, best cake, most religious, and best Easter garden ...

My daughter made a Simnel cake all by herself - I was very proud!

Some of the entries.
This year I decided to try and adopt some of recipe's handed down to me and have been busy baking with my niece and two daughters.

So, I decided to share the recipe's here and show you the goodies!

Bollos de Hornazo (Easter Bread)

This recipe was handed down to me by my mother, who learnt it from my grandmother, who learnt it from... (you get the picture)

This one was made by my niece!

Find the recipe HERE - my last Easter post!

Mantecados (Spanish Crumble cakes!)

Choose a cup & fill with sugar, then refill the same amount with vegetable oil. Add self raising flour until you form a firm dough. Break off pieces, roll them up, then dip in sesame seeds, and place on a baking tray.

Bake for approx. 5-10 mins until golden, 200 degrees C

Torta de acerga (Spinach Pie)

First time I have tried this... until I taste it tomorrow the jury is out!

HERE is an online recipe via Mama Lotties - an online Gibraltar Recipe Website!

I also made up a new dish this week!

Salmon, Spinach & Ricotta Lasagne.

Since I rarely get comments... here is an incentive to chat. If I get more than 10 comments I will share the recipe)

So, that's it FOLKS... have a very HAPPY EASTER tomorrow & try not to get sick eating too much chocolate!
My daughter's second Simnel cake - the first one had to be sampled & devoured two weeks ago!
All the best,
Vanessa :) xx

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Welcome Amalie Jahn... a writer with a conscience

Thank you, Amalie, for agreeing to say Hello via my blog! Firstly, how did you end up becoming a novelist and why?

I became a novelist because I have stories inside of me that need to come out! And, I love to write. I tried for years to make it work, but there was always something preventing me from moving forward. Finally, I turned the page on a chapter in my life, and realized it was time. And here we are.

I have read “Among the Shrouded” and I loved it - this was my review. What do you think? Is it fair?

“I started this book yesterday afternoon and have been gripped ever since. I have not read a book so quickly in ages, and even though I am now disappointed that I have finished it, I am thrilled to bits I found it in the first place.

I loved the main characters...

Mia, a strong, intelligent woman surprised to find love in the shape of an "aura-less" seemingly average man. With the power to "see" the good in people, she has to learn to use her instincts instead.

Thomas, a man forced to adapt to life in adoptive care and all the stronger for it. He has always "found" a way to stay out of trouble, but his free will is going to be put to the test.

Kate, a Ukrainian student wanting more out of life and willing to do what it took to secure the future of her sisters at any cost. Her positive outlook and ability to "enable" the right thing to happen lead to a tricky situation.

All three are inter-linked in a plot that is laced with intrigue, suspense, romance and a fast-paced thrilled.

Ticked all my boxes! Loved it... And the best bit was, it had an important message in the end - you'll have to read it to find out more! Enjoy :)” January, 2014

First, thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to read the book. It’s an honour. And the gift of your review is truly the icing on the cake. I am so very happy you enjoyed it. I especially appreciate that you saw how each character was forced to grow beyond the confines of their gifts. I think character growth is fundamental to a story and I’m glad you were able to pick up on it.

I have to ask this… how did you end up writing about this very difficult subject matter? I recently watched a documentary about men promised jobs and then held to ransom by their employers – basically, do as you or told or we will kill you? It’s pretty grim stuff, and yet in your story it is not too hard to read about what can happen. The spiritual element to the story kept it from being completely believable (if that makes sense).

I live a very blessed life. The freedoms I’m allowed simply because I was born where I was, instead of somewhere else are not lost on me. Fresh water to drink, sanitary living space, extra food to throw away, and the gift of waking each morning without fear… these are all things most of my readers enjoy and very often take for granted. 

Sadly, human trafficking takes all of these basic necessities from millions of women and children all over the world. And it’s a crime that goes largely unnoticed by most of us, even when it’s happening right in our own neighbourhoods. I felt called to simply make people aware, if nothing else, about the reality of modern day slavery, and adding the paranormal element was a vehicle to present the information without coming across as preachy or critical.

What do you enjoy more from writing? Escapism or creativity burst? Why?

I enjoy both! It’s amazing to be able to step out of my own shoes while I write and step into someone else’s. I get to make choices that I wouldn’t necessarily make in my own life and have relationships with my characters that don’t actually exist! But I like creativity bursts as well. I love when something hits you and you MUST stop what you are doing RIGHT THEN to get it out. And it just flows. It’s a beautiful thing.

What about the editing process? Fun or hardship?

Ugh. I like making my manuscripts better and I like getting to that final product, but actually doing it… drudgery! It’s hard to pick just the right words and get sentences so they flow perfectly. It’s hard to know what’s important to keep and what can get trashed. It’s hard waiting for my editor to get back to me with the next instalment. It’s all just hard!

Do you think social media is important? If so, how do you prioritise your time?

Absolutely. I have learned so very much from the authors who have paved the way before me. They have so much knowledge to share. Additionally, without the mass market media that comes with a large publishing contract, I am in charge of creating my own brand and doing my own marketing. It would be impossible to reach my target audience without social media. 

It is, however, a blessing and a curse. It’s easy to get sucked into the social media vortex and abandon writing for the day. I’m guilty of it, but I try to make sure I set aside time to either write or market, one at a time.

What is the most important thing you have learnt, as an author, since you published your first book?

Follow your heart. There’s no one way in this business, and every day, people will come at you with the next guaranteed way to sell a million books by next Tuesday. You just have to know what is driving your ambition and let it guide you. I have no aspirations of stardom… I just want to share my stories and make people feel something. That’s it. And so I let that lead me along my path.

What advice would you give to new authors?


Just kidding! There’s a huge learning curve in this business and if I knew then what I know now, I might have never published my first book. I would tell them to learn as much as they can from everyone around them and never give up on their dreams. It’s as simple and complicated as that.

What is your current project? Are you giving yourself deadlines, or are you just seeing where it goes?

I’m editing a follow up to my first novel “The Clay Lion” entitled “Tin Men.” It will be off to the editor’s in a few weeks and then the waiting begins. While that’s going on, I’m partnering with a good friend of mine, who happens to be a wonderful chef, on a cookbook! I’m looking forward to it!

Can you name a children’s and adult author you admire and why? What is the best book they have written and why did you enjoy it?

Children’s author would have to be Katherine Paterson who wrote “Bridge to Terabithia.” I hated reading as a child. I was (and still am) a slow reader, and it always felt like a ghastly chore to sit and read. When I read “Bridge to Terabithia” in sixth grade, it was the first time a book ever made me cry. Once I realized the enormous power of the written word in the form of conjuring emotions, I was done. I’ve been an avid reader and writer ever since.

Dean Koontz is one of my favourite adult authors. I’ve pretty much read everything he’s ever written. I’m always impressed by how descriptively he writes (one of my weaknesses) and how prolific he is as well. He’s written over 178 books. Can you imagine having that many stories inside you? Amazing.

Where we can find out about you and buy your books?

Amazon The Clay Lion http://amzn.to/Ztvzj7
Amazon Among the Shrouded http://amzn.to/16s6ADF
Amalie Jahn Amazon http://amzn.to/17NSyKr
Author Website www.theclaylion.com
Amalie Jahn Author Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/AmalieJahn

Thanks so much Vanessa! I enjoyed answering your questions and look forward to seeing the interview! XO


It was a pleasure to feature you.
Vanessa :) xx