Wednesday, 27 May 2015

You have to love ANNIE!

I went to see the film Annie with my youngest daughter last week and loved it! We went back again a few days ago at her request.

You have to love the kids showings via CINEWORLD, great value for money at only £1.75 per person! The popcorn box, which includes a drink & snack is also only £2 for these showings! I think we're going to see the Shaun the Sheep movie on Friday!

Today, I saw the DVD for Annie and bought it. For £5 you can't go wrong!

So, what's great about ANNIE? Where do I start?

I watched the original when it came out on cinema and I remember crying. It was so sad. Yet, the songs were fantastic.

Here's the original 1982 version of "It's a hard knock life" via YouTube

And a link to the 1999 version via YouTube

The songs in the original are hard to beat... and yet, this new modern version does an incredible job! I am so going to buy the soundtrack. I loved them all and the new ones are now fixed on the brain! Yep, even more annoying than Frozen!

I loved the voice of Jamie Foxx in particular, and was amazed Cameron Diaz pulled this off. Both are incredibly talented.

However, the stand-out casting in this movie was the little girl... Quvenzhané Wallis

I find it hard to believe that this girl, who is younger than my 12 year-old-son, can pull off such a massive role. Truly incredible. And what a voice! I would not be surprised to see here turn into a singer later on in life. Perhaps, she can be the next J-Lo?

Check out Wikipedia for the overview of the cast. It worked! Interesting to see the review via Rotten Tomatoes. I guess not everyone liked it. But, I thought it was great and it made my daughter and I laugh and sing! You can't complain to that...

Today, I went to see Avengers Assemble, Age of Ultron with my older kids and I got bored! Same old, same old. This got much better reviews, but personally I don't get a kick out of fighting, destruction & death! Oh well... apparently humans are all evil, apart from those that are "super". I guess I had that coming, having written a trilogy which also explores the theme of evolution!

Anyway, both offer great escapism. Hope you enjoy finding out about them and get some time to check them out.

Enjoy the rest of your week,
Vanessa :)

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Talking to Susan Ward

I met Susan Ward via Goodreads. She recommended her book on my Group and I decided to give it a go. After reading it and enjoying it a lot, I have the pleasure of welcoming her to my blog.

“The Girl on the Half Shell” is a fantastic book with a lot of layers. I thought it was an incredibly addictive read. Enjoy my review…

Stunning cover too! 
WOW... I am emotionally drained. This book has it all. What an incredible story.

Chrissie Parker is the daughter of famous rock star, Jack Parker. She is a very confused and traumatised 18-year-old girl, who carries a burden from years earlier. She believes that she had something to do with the death of her brother, Sam, and has self-harmed numerous times to help deal with the guilt that she feels. This is so sad and is portrayed brilliantly in the writing.

She is about to audition at Julliard to become a cellist, like her mother, and heads to New York with her crazy best friend. However, before she does she meets Alan Manzone, a rock star on the brink of disaster, who has been helped back to the road of recovery by Jack for the last few months. The attraction is instant and fate decides to give them a helping hand by cancelling her flight the next day. Alan comes to her rescue and gives her a lift on her private jet to NYC.

Chrissie is out of control and Alan is frankly too old for her (10 years older) but the chemistry that develops between them is unstoppable. I was totally hooked and loved how their story develops.

There are a few scenes that annoyed me a bit. She has a lot of baths, he washes her a lot, and the sex develops too fast and becomes too extreme considering her limited experience. I would have thought that if Alan truly loved her he would have realised she was really just out of being a school girl. These issues could have been avoided if she’d been in her early twenties, but I understand why it worked better to catch her when most vulnerable. Even so, at times I honestly thought he had pushed the boundaries in the relationship too far.

Saying this, Chrissie acts irrationally a lot. She is not a stereotypical girl. She does not do what you’d expect. I love this about her. We can all act a bit insane at times.

The ending is fantastic. I will not give a spoiler, but it is not what you would usually expect. Chrissie grows up and makes the right decision. Alan has helped her on many levels and it’s wonderful to see so many issues potentially resolved.

Overall, I found the author on Goodreads and asked to review her book! I am SO glad she let me do this and am so lucky to have come across this book. Definitely recommended, but not for those who can’t stand references to ‘Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll!’

*~Rated: 5 stars~*

Now, let's start with my questions. 

First off, I have to ask this… How does this story relate to your ‘real’ life? What inspired you to write it?

It is based in my hometown, in the world I grew up in, in the era I grew up in, and Chrissie is a composite of girls from my clique in high school and parts of her are me, but I won’t tell you which parts.

(I promise I wasn’t going to ask…)

Jack is based on a real person I knew all through my childhood. Chrissie’s house is modelled after a real house. The neighbourhood, Hope Ranch, is my childhood stomping grounds. Everything in the book is based on something real or really lived, either personally, or through a friend.

(I loved Jack as a character, I can understand why you made him so real now)

Your female MC, Chrissie is a very confused character. She has no idea what she wants from life. Was it hard to decide how old to make her? 18 is very young and can be considered to be when young people are most vulnerable.

We have five children. I’ve been raising girls for over 30 years. That’s definitely the way I was, growing up in a very sheltered environment before the world of technology. You have to remember this is before the internet age. For better or for worse, most of us, what we knew of the world, was direct experience.

(I must have led a sheltered life then… or at least, I know I kept away from many situations that could have gone bad!)

Us Santa Barbara girls were not sheltered and naïve about the world. As for girls, they haven’t changed. Eighteen is a very confused, volatile state for a girl, in my opinion having raised so many.

(I have two sisters and no brothers and we all kept away from trouble. But, I know friends who made mistakes along the way. I also have two daughter myself. If any of my daughters got together with an older man at 18 I’m pretty sure I would flip! Ha ha)

Your male MC, Alan Manzone, has such a harsh take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Yet, his honest approach made him more believable. As much as I wanted to slap him at times, I also feel head over heels for him. Funnily enough, his commitment to Chrissie was never in doubt.

Your reference to drugs and its use is harrowing and realistic throughout. Alan is one of the victims. Do you think drugs can be the ultimate escape for those looking for meaning in their life?

Drugs are never an escape or assist in finding the meaning of life. They are the trap that prevents both. However, having known addicts, it’s usually in recovery when they make their greatest personal growth.

(True, but I have seen many get into drugs for escapism or due to peer pressure. I said no, but many of my friends didn’t. In the end, it can destroy people, as I saw in the recent River Phoenix documentary! So sad…)

Many background characters add depth to this novel. Do you think Chrissie, like many at times, purposefully surrounded herself with ‘needy’ people? She comes across as very innocent, even though frustratingly stupid on occasion.

Most fragile people surrounded themselves with needy people. Those who need rescued personally often grab on to be people who need rescued. I’m old. This is a theme of human behaviour that hasn’t changed in my lifetime. Beneath every person I’ve ever known trying to rescue someone, is a personal crisis they need rescuing from.

The reference to sex in this novel is very raw and animalistic at times, definitely for over 18. How do you feel when you write these scenes? Are you ever embarrassed to talk about it with friends and family? I know, personally, I got a few looks from friends from some of my scenes!

My husband and children have not read my books. They don’t want to run into a sex scene written by mom J However, I’m not at all embarrassed to discuss my view on sex scenes in romance novels. Sex is the expression of who we are and our emotional state and should be consistent with that state. I don’t believe in writing a sex scene just to include a steamy bit. I have a novel that’s over 400 pages that is a bestseller that does not contain a single sex scene even though it’s romance. Not having sex was the physical expression of the state of those characters.
However, people in crisis, I’ve often found, become sexually intense. That’s why the scenes in Half Shell are raw and animalistic. Both Chrissie and Alan are dealing with intense, deeply buried emotional conflict. Those issues struggling to come out are expressed in their sexual interaction.

I think Alan expresses this pivotal point in his life with, “The opposite of death is not life, Chrissie. The opposite of death is you. You are my opposite of death.

It is the physical expression of our being, our emotional condition, and I hope, that how I’ve written the scenes. I don’t think anything less raw and animalistic would ring true.

With the advent of Fifty Shades, a book I am still to read, do you think people like to read about situations considered taboo before? Especially from the privacy of their kindle?

I don’t write about things I consider taboo. I try to write and speak to young women about the issues in their, in all our lives, that we don’t talk about. Poor Chrissie, however, is getting a handful of my contemporary women’s issues. She’s struggling a lot, for all of us.

Additionally, I wanted to write a character who self-burns in a way readers could understand her, maybe help someone who has issues. This issue has personally touched my life through someone I love. I’ve received so many emails from people with substance and self-harming issues, whether it be anorexia, burning, cutting that humble me, their kind praise and appreciation for writing this book.

You book is currently on a FREE promotion. How did you go about advertising it? Are you loyal to Amazon’s KDP program? Many authors, including myself, would love to know how you got into the top 100 in the US & UK! The Holy Grail…

The most important thing to me is readers reading my work. Some people chase NYT bestsellers list, US Today. Me I chase something I call shelf space. That’s the number of people who have read my books. Now, being virtually unknown last year, Amazon KDP offered me the best way to distribute my work to readers. Chrissie has been slowly growing in fan base for the past twelve months. This book is alive based on word of mouth. The readers who love it really love.

So, it was a combination of timing and word of mouth.


I help back from ever offering her free until my one year anniversary. I wanted her book birthday to be perfect. I didn’t know any major promotion, Bookbub or Ereader News, I let my reader base know she was going free. I would say word of mouth and regular tweeting is how she got into the top 100.

Which is the character you have created to date and why?

Chrissie is my favourite. She is the narrative in my head, though you would never know it if you met me. Her uncertainty. The way watches the world. Her mess, all internally contained in your least likely women. She’s my favourite because I think she’s like most women.

Have you ever watched that Movie, What Women Want, (I have indeed – love it!) with Mel Gibson and he’s out walking and he hears all the women’s thoughts around him. I loved that because it’s true. We think, we worry, we doubt, we are hardest on ourselves.

The life in our head is often different than the life we live. Just like Helen Hunt’s in What Women Want. It’s so true.

Do you get a kick out of reader feedback? How do you deal with reviews that are critical?

It may surprise you but I thank ever reviewer, positive or critical, and if possible establish a discussion with the critical readers. I will never be able to please every reader with a work, we have five kids I’ve never been able to please all of them on a single day, but I love to listen, hear, get feedback and sometimes learn from the people who did not like my work. It’s the only way to grow in your craft. The productive review can often be the review that is critical of you. It also helps define who is and isn’t my reader market. I’ve learned a lot about the demographic of who my books appeal to and don’t appeal based on critical reviews. And what I learned surprised me.

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

Very important. When I first released I wasn’t on twitter, Instagram, and had only 20 Facebook Friends, my kids & a few intimates. I didn’t know anything about social media. It took me 6 months and the help of a girlfriend who is a blogger for me to get up to speed, but it’s really improved my market exposure. Throughout the day, I periodically touch base. Pretty regularly actually. I try to leave my desk and relax my mind about every two hours. I go sit outside and stare at the ocean. That’s when I touch base with my social media.

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

That I didn’t know a darn thing when I started. It’s hard work to sell a book, and it takes a village to do it. I have a tightknit of supporter and author friends, and we work together for each other. It’s made a definite difference in the level of success I have.

(I hear you on this… the road is long!)

Do you think books are timeless, or do you think some fads disappear?

Great books last forever because what they say to people is timeless. Enjoyable books can have longevity. The trite, trendy fad driven creation dies quietly. (This is true in all things. Fashion. Music. Cinema) However, no author knows which kind of book they’ve written until the readers tell them and they face the test of time.

What is the best book you have read and why did you enjoy it?

The best book I've ever read is Through a Glass Darkly. I thought it was an amazing accomplishment. The blend of history, drama and characterization. I just ached for Barbara on every page and got a definite feel for the time she lived in. It kept me flipping pages for 700 pages, and while I didn't want it to end the way it ended, I still love the book.

I thought it was an absolutely amazing read.

What is the best book you have written, and why did you enjoy writing it?

Without a doubt The Girl on the Half Shell. I enjoyed it because if readers what to see what I’m saying to women in that book, there is something to find. So many women have told me that this book has helped them. I get a lot of “how did you know” messages. However, if you just want an intense and raw story, you can have that as well. It’s a book where you can take away something different depending on what you want to take away after reading it.

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

I’m exclusively on Amazon. Amazon buypage

Our you can visit my website and read my blog

Or you can like me on Facebook

And follow me on Twitter @susaninlaguna

Thank you again for letting us find out more about you and for your honest responses!