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.