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NinaMilton

Sabbie Dare and Friends

I have been writing fiction since my reception teacher, Mrs Marsden, put a paper and pencil in front of me. I can remember thinking; What? Do real people write these lovely books? I want to do that! I gained an MA in creating writing and sold my first books for children; Sweet’n’Sour, (HarperCollins) and Tough Luck, (Thornberry Publishing), both from Amazon. I also love writing short stories and they regularly appear in British anthologies. I now write crime fiction, published by Midnight Ink. The idea for In the Moors , my first Shaman Mystery came to me one day, in the guise of Sabbbie Dare. She came to me fully formed and said; “I'm a young therapist, a shaman, and sometimes I do get very strange people walking into my therapy room. Honestly, I could write a book about some of them...” I am a druid; a pagan path which takes me close to the earth and into the deep recesses of my mind. Shamanic techniques help me in my life - in fact they changed my life - although, unlike Sabbie, I’ve never set up a therapeutic practice...I’m too busy writing and teaching creative writing with the Open College of the Arts. I’m a fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Although I was born, educated and raised my two children in the West Country, I now live in west Wales with my husband James. IN THE MOORS, the first Shaman Mystery starring SABBIE DARE was released in the US in 2013 and UNRAVELLING VISIONS will be out this autumn, but you can already reserve your copy on Amazon. Join me on my vibrant blogsite, http://www.kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com where I offer students and other writers some hard-gained advice on how to write fiction.

The Soundtrack of a Novel

 

“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music” 


Walter Pater’s said that. It’s a famous quote of his, more famous than he is. When I first heard it, I checked him out, to find he was a nineteenth-century art critic and literary theorist who was born in the East End of London.

 

Some think that this quote is bunkum, and that art doesn’t move towards being music, but the idea resonates with me. Why else would Leonard Cohen have moved his writing sideways from prose and poetry to lyrics (oh! the money, maybe…).  Music often enhances reading; I played Bob Marley all the time when I was consumed by A Brief History of Seven Killings 

 

When I write, I’m always aware that certain scenes make a sort of music in my head. My characters, right from before I had anything published, always listened to music, often (this is possibly why these stories weren't published!) for long, closely-described scenes.

 

Then I read the critically acclaimed Teddy Wayne, and heard about how he created a ‘soundtrack’ to his most recent novel Loneran unsettling story of obsessive desire. In his article, Wayne says…A great deal of pop songs are also about romantic obsession and loneliness (often in the same breath), and many ostensible love songs, when you examine the lyrics, are really avowals of stalker-like pursuit or thoughts of the object of desire; the British seem to have a particular fondness for this kind of ballad

 

Wayne chose ten tracks that informed his portrayal of his protagonist. I’m writing book four of the Shaman Mysteries, Flood Gate, and I'm doing the same thing. My chosen tracks each represent a character, and I’m finding wonderful inspiration from listening to these songs. Follow the links to hear the music.

 

In order of appearance:

 

Larry Waish is a small-time poultry farmer who recently lost all his hens in one of the many floods that plague the Somerset Levels. What he’s discovered, is that his neighbour is to blame for his loss, and he’s hopping mad. Larry really loves Country and Western and plays The Eagles Heartache Tonight  a lot, while he’s trying to cope with what happened between him and Jack Spicer at Harper’s Coombe 

 

Jack Spicer, who’s real name is John, farms 200 acres of Somerset land, as his family has for generations. He's recently lost his daughter, and is helping bring up her daughter, baby Olivia. He knows he's been driven to do wrong, and t’s tormenting him. He's a bit of a classical buff, and listening to the slightly sinister tones of Shostakovich’s first piano concerto helped me build his character. By the end of chapter one, Jack is dead.

 

Sabbie Dare is a young shamanic practitioner and therapist who knows it is her destiny to be of service to people on the very edge of life. The victims of evil…the perpetrators of it.  Sabbie’s mad about Pet Shop Boys and pagan music which can vary from folksy to rocking, and includes groups like IncubuSucubus, Dahm the Bard and The Dolmen 

 

Kelly King was 28 when she threw herself off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. She’d never really recovered from her life in The Willows, a local authority children’s home where Kelly, Sabbie and Debs Hitchings all lived when they were children. Kelly was depressed, directionless, and addicted to chocolate cookies. In her last days, she plugged into the music of her childhood, such as Pink’s There you go.

 

Debs Hitchings is a beautician who wanders from boyfriend to boyfriend and job to job. Debs turned up at the very end of In the Moors, (Book One) where she cuts Sabbie’s tortured hair, and has a small part in Unraveled Visions. In this book Debs, and the story of her past, takes centre stage. She’s known for cracking out Beyoncés Crazy in Love 

at the top of her voice as her heels skittered across nighttime pavements.

 

https://www.milesdavis.com

 

Quentin Lachapelle is a thirty-five year old photographer with a nice studio, a pretty wife, and a flourishing career. He meets Sabbie and Debs at Kelly King's funeral, where he offers to take some glamour shots of Debs, although he finds Sabbie’s dark skin tones and angled face interesting. There is more to Quentin that meets the eye…or the lens of his cameras. Quentin is a Miles Davis fan, of course. 

 

DI Reynard Buckely. Fans of the Shaman Mysteries will be delighted to hear that and Rey and Sabbie are still an item. In fact, things hot up between them considerably! Rey made his musical preferences clear in In the Moors, so there’s only one group I could play, and that’s the Stones

 

Fenella Waish is Larry’s sister. Now in her forties, but still living in their childhood home, Fen seeks help from Sabbie for longterm Ornithophobia, her paralysing fear of birds which prevents her going anywhere near Larry’s poultry shed. Fenella loves her laptop, which is her window on the world. Scared to be Lonely might bring tears to her eyes, but she plays it again and again.

 

Tara Yorkman. Before she died, Kelly was fruitlessly searching for her friend Tara, who lived at The Willows from when she was little. Kelly, in need of someone to care for, always looked out for Tara, until she was a teenager. Then she disappeared. When Kelly’s spirit comes to Sabbie in a dream, she feels indebted to continue the quest for the missing girl. I listen to Taylor Swift and other noughties music to get in touch with Tara.

 

Victor Doyle is a successful Bristol business man, a builder of local housing. Now 55, he's loaded, charming and still handsome in a chiselled way, although he’s put on a bit of weight. In the community, he’s a well-loved philanthropist, but underneath, the man is pure, unadulterated evil. I think he’d be rivitted by Pretty Women from Sweeny Todd.

 

If you're writing a novel, or a series of short stories, try finding and playing the soundtrack that perfectly accompanies the story and the characters. It can make a tremendous difference to the outcome. 

Books Are the Things That Make Us

— feeling amazing

Books are the Thing that Makes Us

 
Until I was four, we lived near a big red brick library which was in the centre of a park; St George's Park in Bristol. My father was the one that would take me into the library, rather than just to the swings and duck pond, and I can recall  the way the high bookcases loomed over my head, and the smell of the place, which I believed was the scent of bookworm. Dad would let me chose my own books from the children's section because he’d be busy picking his selection from the grown-up fiction. He loved authors like  Howard Spring, Neville Shute, George Orwell and John Steinbeck. I liked Milly Molly Mandy, the tales of Little Grey Rabbit and anything by Beatrice Potter. When we got home, he’d read the books to me. 
 
When I look back, the strangest, most obscure stories have left the biggest impression. One of the most loved books I actually owned was called Unicorn Island. My father read to me when I was little, but very soon I’d learned to read on my own and then I reread it a million times afterward. A coastal village of disparate animals are in fear of the offshore island, where white flashes of the dangerous unicorn can be seen circumnavigating the mountain.When the hero’s little brother falls dangerously ill, he and his friends take it upon themselves to brave the island and come back with a healing herb. They discover all manner of wonderful things there, and the unicorn turns out to be the most marvellous of all. There is a slightly sinister atmosphere to the story and a gravity you don’t often find in picture books now…a precursor (but with a far longer story) of Where the Wild things Are.
 
Not long after I’d started to read on my own, I realized I wanted to be a writer.
 
My first infant school teacher, Mrs Marsden, read a story to the class. It might have been the fable 'The Mouse and the Lion', but I can't really remember.
 
Mrs Marsden finished reading aloud and then asked the class to write a story themselves. It was then that I had my early epiphany. I was dumbfounded. For the first time, I realized that the books I loved had actually been written by real human beings. Before that, I thought they must have fallen from some sort of story heaven. It was a revelation. I haven't looked back.
It was Mrs Marsden that turned me onto full-length fiction. I was going to borrow yet another Milly Molly Mandy from the class bookshelf when she accosted me, grabbed a thick volume from the shelf above and said, “You’re past all these baby books. Try this that one, Nina.” She handed me Mary Poppins, which I can remember taking to bed because I could not put it down. Maybe I read it too young, though, for when I read it aloud to my children thirty years later, the only things that rang a bell was the marvellously flavoured medicine and a strange man on a ceiling.

I was often in bed with asthma, when I was small, and liked a stack of books beside my bed. There were books I’d return to time and again as a small child. The Adventures of Manly Mouse was one – Manly lived in a world where mice who went about their human-like endeavours in a little mousy town. Manly was a deliciously flawed character, often losing his job or breaking with good friends. He drove a dilapidated car and was easily duped by more suave mice. A phrase our family uses to this day came from the lips of one of Manly’s posh employers who had put Manly to work cleaning his posh car (he turned out to be a poor mouse in scam disguise)…and when I say shine, I don’t mean shine, I mean gleam. And when I say gleam, I don’t mean gleam, I mean glitter
 
I can’t pretend I didn’t grow up on Enid Blyton, but the works that made the most impression were the magical Narnia stories, the weird adventures of Alice and the tiny world of The Borrowers. By the time I was twelve, I’d read all of the Anne of Green Gables series. I loved the way Anne hurtled through life. Her ‘modular’ way of learning (by making every mistake in the book – literally) suits me to this day. But, as the books watched her grow into a woman, I also (creep!) loved her commitment to duty and her attitude to life, which reminds me of that quote from Man for all Seasons, when Richard Rich asks… 'If I was, (a teacher) who would know it?' And Thomas Moore replies…'You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public, that…’
I wrote my first novel at the age of fifteen. Well, okay I started to write a novel which I never finished. I wrote it by longhand and asked my friend to type it out. She was doing exams in typing at the time, so she was quite pleased. Every evening, I wrote in one corner of the room, while she typed at the table. Blissful silence until Maggie looked up and said, 'it is a bit old-fashioned, but it's really nice.'
 
'Thanks,' I simpered. I'm hoping people will enjoy it.'
 
'Nina,' she said, 'I was talking about my new dress. I've been talking about my new dress for the last five minutes.'
I do believe I've got better since then, both at writing and listening to criticism! I can remember bursting with pride when I received the first copies of the first book I had published; a children's novel with HarperCollins (still available from Amazon).
 
As a children’s writer, I am bound to be influenced by the books I read as a child.I’ve even tried to rewrite some of their ideas into my own work, although that has rarely worked, and most of those early stories were never published. They were my apprenticeship, I guess, and although almost all of them are gone from my hands, I will never forget their stories and characters.

In some ways, the books I read made me the person I am. They were probably more influential than my textbooks or my teachers…or even my parents.
 
I think that’s true of a lot of people. Books are the things that make us, when we are young. Finding ourselves inside those marvellous adventures gives us hope, fires our dreams and helps us cope with the things life throws at us. 

 

 
Source: http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/sarah-hilary-shadow-side-of-writing.html

Queue Here for the Best New Novels for 2017!

 

 

I’ll let you into a little secret. I’ve just sent a complete draft of the next Shaman Mystery to my agent…and she loved it. So now I’m polishing it up with a rag, some spittle and a tin of beeswax, in the hope that, sometime in 2017, FLOOD GATE, will start to become a book.

 

In the meantime, I wanted to know which great writers already have a book in the new year pipeline, and can reveal that the news is exciting.

 

I did enjoy The Girl on the Train, even though I knew there were flaws in the plot, because I firmly believed in the main character and her descent into alcohol hell. Paula Hawkins’ new book Into the Water, is out in 2017, and I wish her all success with it. She’s  sticking to the psychological thriller genre, using, I hear, themes of truth and family secrets. Definitely one to try. 

 

It always puzzles me, why some first-time authors with huge success, don’t write a second book, while some churn out one every year. I loved Arundhati Roy’s Booker winner, The God of Small Things when I read it in 1997, and now, 20 years after its publication, her 2nd book, The Ministry of Utmostherppiness (Hamish Hamilton) is due out. The one thing I now know, is that she’s still good at titles! I do hope it’s worth the long wait.

 

Colm Toibin only came to my attention when someone recommended Testament of Mary. I was impressed with his take on a New Testament character, and also with his ability to get deeply into the female mind. In May 2017, he’s releasing House of Names, telling the story of how Agamemnon orders the sacrifice of his daughter, to gain good omens for the Trojan war. When he sails home victorious at last, he’s faced with a family filled with hate and the need for vengance. The last book I read about the Illiad was THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller, which won the 2012 Orange Prize. I loved that book, and I hope that this one proves as exciting. 

 

One of my favourite writers, Neil Gaiman, has also chosen to weave mythology and legend into modern storytelling in his latest offering, Norse Mythology, due out in February. Gaiman’s ability with words, and his subtle understanding of how to use symbol and allegory, will surely promise this to be a great read.

 

Right this moment I’m reading Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends, a book of essays about reading and writing, but he’s most  famous for Wonder Boys, one of my favourite books and also a great movie staring Michael Douglas as a washed-up author who discovers the next wunderkind

in his creative writing class. I’ve always had a theory about Wonder Boys; surely it started life as one of those writing exercises where you take various crazy items and have to work them into a story – in this case – Marilyn Monroe’s jacket, a dead dog, a tuba-paying transvestite and a squashed boa constrictor. Will Moonglow, (Fourth Estate) be as inventive and funny as Wonder Boys? I sincerely hope so.

 

Later in the year, lovers of William Boyd will have a treat with The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth. Last summer, I read his story of an early female photographer, Sweet Caress, and I’m ready for more.

 

I’m ‘into’ The Hogarth Shakespeare Project at the moment, which is asking bestselling novelists to retell Shakespeare's works. "Hogarth" was launched in October last year, with Jeanette Winterson's take on The Winter’s Tale. I’ve just finished Margaret

Atwood’s Hag-Seed and loved it – laughed all the way through, while marvelling at her brilliantly woven analysis of The Tempest. Read a full review of the book hereSince reading it, I’ve watched Helen Mirren as Prospera in the DVD of Julie Taymor’s version of The Tempest, and have booked up to see the Royal Shakespeare version which is on now in Stratford on Avon.  



I can hardly wait for the 

next book in the project’s series, written by Tracy Chevalier, famous for Girl with a Pearl Earring. She has rewritten Othello. In New Boy, the story of Othello is set in a Washington school, with 11-year-old friends Osei, Dee, Ian and Mimi being the key players in the tragedy.

 

And finally, I’m looking forward to Tessa Hadley's next book of short stories. She was my tutor on my creative writing master’s degree, and I’ve admired her work every since. Brilliantly observant of the human condition, and a lyrical writer, she’s particularly great at the tricky form of short fiction. In Bad Dreams, the stories focus in on crucial moments of transition, and the blurb is enticing me to put my pre-order inreal things that happen to people, the accidents that befall them, are every bit as mysterious as their longings and their dreams.

 

 

In the meantime, while we’re still waiting for these books to arrive from Amazon, or at our chosen bookshops, I’ll wish you a very happy, prosperous and healthy 2017, and get back to putting the finishing touches to my latest novel, in which I delve into some shocking secrets that Sabbie Dare discovers in her past…

The UK Costa Book Awards

Costa Book Awards – the shortlists are out!

 
Another year, another book prize announced. This is one of my favourite book prizes, which has afforded me unbelievable reading. Novels like The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, How to be Both by Ali Smith, Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. 

Costa offers several awards each year, Novel Award, First Novel, Biography, Poetry, Children’s Book, and Short Story, and I already have several of the shortlist for each of these on my own ‘to read list’. 
 
I’m keen to get Rose Tremain’s The Gustav Sonata. I’ve love Tremain since she began to write, which is many moons. She has won the Orange Prize, the Whitbread Award, the Sunday Express Book of the Year and been short-listed for the Booker Prize. But when I recently read her book Trespass I was thrilled to find she’d written a novel about murder. Was Tremain writing a crime thriller? My review of Trespass can be found here This new novel is set in Switzerland where the second world war is still a long-ago echo coming off the mountains. It’s described as “a striking portrait of friendship” 
 
There are four books in the First Novel shortlist, but I’ve heard of each of them Francis Spufford is already on the list as Golden Hill became the Waterstones Book of the Month, and Kit de Waal, shortlisted for My Name is Leon is know as a short story writer. But I’d never heard of Susan Beale’s first book The Good Guy and Guinevere Glasfurd’s The Words in My Hand. . These are set in the US and long-ago Holland respectively, so on my beg, borrow or buy list they go.
 
 
Biography is not my favourite writing form, but this year I’d love to read Hisham Matar’s memoir The Return, It was  five years ago,as tension increased during the harrowing situation in Libya, that I read his Booker-shortlisted novel, In the Country of Men

 It felt a very pertinent and current read at the time, and is partly his memories of his childhood, during the time Colonel Gaddafi's regime took hold in the seventies. A boy of nine watches his father taken away for questioning and does not know what to think, or whom to trust. The novel is writing in such deceptively simple prose, but powerfully examines themes of conflict, family ties, and betrayal.
 
http://www.picador.com/books/the-bees
In the past, the Poetry Award has sent me rushing to read current poets. Carol Ann Duffy’s The Bees won five years ago, a short book I love to return to. Bees are central in this collection,…bees / are the batteries of orchards, gardens, guard them … and while doing that recalls bitter memories of what we have lost,This year, it will be Falling Awake  I read first. I’m already in love with Alice Oswald’s poetry, especially Dart, a shape-shifting epic poem about the river Dart, and the people who live around it. In the White Review, Oswald said; I’m interested in trying to push against my own principles. Each book I make marks a frontier, and then I move into the next country. You can hear Oswald read here.
 
 
Who doesn’t love Francesca Simon’s Horrid Henry books? Now she’s on the Costa Children's shortlist with her first novel for older children: The Monstrous Child, described as a black comedy focusing on Nordic myth. This is the one that I want to read, it sounds scrumptious and long-awaited.
 
 
I have a very soft spot for the Short Story award, which hasn’t been going for very long, because in its inauguration, my Open College of the Arts student, Guy Le Jeune, came third with his story Small Town Removal, which I’d read in its very early stages. The Short Story Award shortlist will be announced soon, and all the shortlists will announce their ultimate winner on Tuesday 3rd January. From these five the Costa Book of the Year is selected. Fireworks will explode, Champagne will pop its cork and one writer will be very pleased…and a lot richer. 

 

Gold-Starred Rules for Shy Networking Writers

Gold-Starred Rules for Shy Networking Writers

 
 
 
 
Nina Milton, speaking and reading at the Wells Literary Festival
Blogpost fans who know me personally, would probably say I’m a bit of an extrovert, and can happily walk onto a stage and address a crowd, especially if it’s on the subject of books…especially if it on the subject of my books. 
 
Click to see more
In public, or among friends, I come across as bubbly, gregarious and confident. But actually, folks, I’m not an extrovert at all. Like many writers who love their own company and that of their characters, I’m actually a bit of a trembling flower. But I can do a conjuror’s magic trick which allows me to walk into a company of strangers and look outgoing, which I learned at the age of fifteen. 
 
As a kid I was painfully shy, which I blamed on my first name. In an age when unusual names were not common, I was teased mercilessly about mine. My mother had called me Nina – not after the famous Nordic singing duo or the ‘high priestess of soul’, but after her friend’s daughter, who for no reason I can fathom, pronounced the name to rhyme with nine, rather than teen. From my earliest memories, I hated my name. Kid’s called me ‘nine-o’clock instead of Nina Crane, or counted up across the street at me…’one-a, two-a three-a… 
 
Me at the Carmarthen Book Fair
When I took my first part-time job, I swore to change all of that. I went to work behind the sock and tie counter in a local department store. I was asked what my name was and I simply introduced myself as ‘Nina’  pronounced as in Nina Simone. Now, instead of bizarre and laughable, my name was singular and cool. A tiny alteration in pronunciation which did wonders for my ego, and taught me an interesting lesson…we can pretend to be more remarkable than we really are.
 
I’m telling you all of this because it’s Christmas Fayre season again, and I’m off to events  all over Wales to promote the Shaman Mystery Series. Last Saturday I was at Carmarthen library to promote my books and myself as a writer.
 
And on Saturday December 10th, I’m in the pretty town of Llandeilo, at the Llandeilo Book Fair.
Landeilo is tucked at the foot of the Black Mountains in South Wales, not far from Swansea, and is packed with lovely shops, as well as holding a book fair. 
 
Book events are not only great for selling your books, it’s also a place to meet other authors. I put on my ‘Neena, not Nine-a’ face and pretend to be fearless and undaunted, despite still being that trembling flower inside. To help me, I use my gold-starred rules for shy networking writers, and I'm going to share them with you!
 
 
Here are my gold-starred rules of networking for the writer who is shy at heart. I find they help a lot.
 
1. Use the four-pronged approach. First brought to the fore by Dale Carnegie, just remember to…
  • SMILE, 
  • ASK A QUESTION, 
  • LISTEN,
  • LEARN THE NAMES.
 
2. Be interested. Being actually interested in the other person stops the stench of desperation coming across and keeps that smile in place…naturally. It will also allow the right questions to pop into your mind – questions like, “what brought you here today” and “what sort of writing do you do”, and remind you to listen to the answers while getting that person’s name into your head (asking for their card really helps!)
 
 
 
 
 
3. Have no agenda. This springs naturally from being interested in the people around you. Concentrate on finding out about them, look keen to know more. No one wants to be in the same space as the ‘hard-selling, self-obsessed person’ for long.
 
 
 
 
4. Sort your plan. This is essential for hiding shyness and projecting confidence. Before you leave the house, get your ‘one minute blurb’ for your latest writing project clear in your mind. Look at my blogpost on elevator pitches to help you with this one. Remind yourself of your particular talents and strengths. It's important to map out what you want to talk about, because (rightly) be concentrating on rules 1-3 may take such things out of your mind. With rule 5 in mind, tell yourself all the ways your writing is wonderful – get your list prepared.
 
5. Be your passionate self. Having sorted your plan, you won’t need to look pushy because you’ll have more confidence in yourself. You’re smiling, so you’ll already be feeling happier. So now you can drop any artificiality and allow your lovely self to show through and demonstrate what you feel passionate about – I promise you, that’s always a winner. 
 
 
 
Do not say sorry. Okay – if you tip your wine over the books on your neighbour’s table, you might have to ask their forgiveness, but you should neverapologise for your writing or make excuses for your books, or admit that you’re not sure how good they might be. Your stories have value. When you sort your plan, put these values in the list. If you are selling your book, whether to a punter or a publisher, do not start with ‘sorry, but…’ That makes it sound like you’re asking for a favour, when in fact, you're offering to show them some marvellous work.
 
Have your cards ready. All writers should have some sort of business card. If you already have a book in print, there are fun alternatives, too. I like to use bookmarks, with the covers of my books, a short blurb and my contact details. Other writers use postcards. I have also seen greeting cards using the jackets of novels, but these are too costly to give away and should instead be there to raise revenue.
 
 
Try for generosity. You’ll be wanting people to be generous to you, to give your work a chance by stocking, reading it or publishing it! So you can afford to offer something in return, even if it’s only turning up an hour early to help put out all the tables.
 

 
 
 
Follow the leads. You’ve come home with a dozen cards from other writers, agents, booksellers and publishers. Follow them up, even if it’s only an email to say how nice it was to meet them. Keep those links going, as you never know where they might take your writing. And they'll remind you just how much you enjoyed the event, even though you're a shy n

Seamlessly Blends the Mystical…A review of Beneath the Tor by Nina Milton

Seamlessly Blends the Mystical…

 
 
An extremely original and engrossing novel - highly recommended…seamlessly blends the mystical with the realities of every-day life

Thank you, Indie Shaman for you marvellous review of the third in the Shaman Mystery Series.

Beneath the Tor is a compelling and well-paced mystery which contains recognisable and authentic diverse characters…an absorbing and intriguing murder mystery.

 

I was so delighted when June Kent, editor of the Indie Shaman Magazine review my latest novel, because I love that magazine! Every issue is packed with articles on spirituality and shamanism, laid out in a colourful and well-balanced way, with regulars, such as Plant lore, a poem, Community News and always contributions from the elders of the shaman world. Book reviews are a regular in the mag, and I was proud – honoured – to be among them.

Almost as important, I can buy Indie Shaman as a hold-in-the-hand magazine. I spend enough time on that computer – I like to flop down in comfort to read…especially when the mag says lovely things about my writing…

Set in the West Country, Beneath the Tor is the 3rd of author Nina Milton's  Shaman Mystery series in which therapeutic shaman Sabbie Dare uses her shamanic skills to solve murder mysteries. 

I write my crime thrillers for all readers, but as Sabbie Dare, my central character in the series, is a  shamanic practitioner by trade, the opinion of those who live a shamanic way of life is crucial to me. I aim to make my books, and my heroine, authentic, and so I was quite relieved when the review reinforced this, saying how the book…features many of the issues that affect contemporary shamanism including the serious as well as the amusing (one of my favourite phrases is from a potential workshop participant stating, "I'm already a shaman. I've done all the courses.")  The book also contains excellent descriptions of Sabbie's shamanic journeys and of her work with her guide, an otter called Trendle.

By the way, if you're reading this, and wondering what a shamanic journey is, and how a person's
guide can be an otter with a name, then dip over to my explanatory Page in this Blog; British Shamanism

Writing a review for good fiction…the editor's review continues…is difficult due to the tendency to get absorbed in the story, carrying the book with you everywhere, staying up late 'just finish this bit'…and totally forgetting about the review…And this was certainly the case with Beneath the Tor!

I'm full of gratitude for this endorsement from Indie Shaman, but also dead chuffed that June Kent couldn't put my book down!

If you'd like to read a bit of Beneath the Tor, you can do so. By clicking here, you will find yourself on my Amazon "Look Inside" Page where you can click on the cover of the book.

Meanwhile, have a look at Indie Shaman. It's not just for people with rattles and eye fringes, but for anyone interested in living ethically according to shamanic principles. The 48-page full-colour magazine can be ordered via snail mail or, for a mere £10 (UK) per year, downloaded as a PDF.

Thanks again, Indie Shaman!
Source: http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/the-seven-novels-that-entirely-changed.html?spref=fb

Motive for Murder–Change or Status Quo? The Shaman Mystery Series

Motive for Murder–Change or Status Quo?

 



 
 
 
In Unraveled Visions, the 2nd of my Shaman Mystery Series, a character says…“Ninety-nine percent of murders only have one of two true motives. Change, or status quo.” 
 
Is that so? Rey Buckley,  detective and love interest in the Shaman Mysteries Series believes so; I’m still unsure; I never pretend to hold the same views as my characters. 
 
Detective Reynard Buckley meets Sabbie Dare – the 30 year old heroine of the series – at the start of Book One, In the Moors. D.S Buckley is investigating a child abduction and murder when he knocks on her door. Rey is the archetypal humourless, maverick policeman who quickly brands shamanic therapist Sabbie as a crank. He considers her profession ‘mumbo jumbo’, finding its lack of objective evidence perplexing. Sabbie is equally hesitant…As a bloke, a copper and someone who wore their hair as if they were about to pull on flying goggles, I hadn’t put ‘listening to women’ anywhere on his priorities list.  Even so, she can’t help finding him…interesting – there’s a wriggle of lust in her belly. This makes for a relationship a bit like an upmarket cocktail – bitter, and full of ice, but with a sparkler fizzing at the edge that gets deeper as the books continue.

Sabbie walks in the spirit world to find answers to people’s problems and comes back with images and symbols which manifest each client’s underlying issues. Meanwhile, Rey Buckley clears up crime through old-fashioned police work and hard facts. But they understand they have something in common. They both solve things using what Sabbie would describe as her link to the spirit world – Rey would more likely call it ‘a hunch’.
 
When Rey tells Sabbie that he thinks all murders are due to one of two motives, ‘change’, or ‘status quo’, she challenges this immediately. What about money? Crimes of passion? Suicide bombers? What about madness? But Rey’s answer is unequivocal. He believes all killers crave one of two things. Either they want change – the big win, a new political situation. Or they are desperate that things should not change – they kill their lover’s spouse, or kill to stop a crime being discovered. Sane or mad, Rey concludes that the motivations which drive people to kill is not complicated at all.
 
Well, he would, wouldn’t he. Reynard Buckley worked his way up through the ranks and by book three he's having trouble fitting into the ethos of the modern UK police force. Sabbie survived an extreme childhood; she never knew her father, and after she lost her mother at six years old, she was brought up in children’s homes. She believes she’s the stronger for this background. She gained that strength with the love of two elderly couples; her foster parents Gloria and Philip, and Rhiannon and Bren, two cunning folk she lodged with while taking her degree. 
 
In the Moors focuses on a vile, debased couple, sadistic paedophiles who have murdered and buried their child victims in the vast and boggy Somerset Moors. As the book progresses, we learn that they are long dead, but their spirits are still wandering around the site of the killings; a ruined cottage out on the moors where Sabbie detects their presence…“You can call me Kissie, darling,” said the woman. She had to search in her memory for her name, as if she’d not thought of it for a long time. “We’re Kissie and Pinchie.” she looked at me in such an openly inviting way that I felt my spine contract. 

Kissie and Pinchie killed for ‘change’ – repeating the awful pleasure it afforded them. But at the heart of the novel is another killer, who is kidnapping young children. Is this a desire for change, or a need for status quo? Not until the very end of the book, when Sabbie is in the clutches of the killer, does she find out.
 
Book two – Unraveled Visions – is set in the underworld around migrant workers from other countries. Sabbe meets Kizzy and Mirela, Bulgarian Romas who are working in slave conditions. Kizzy is missing and her sister is worried… “Kizzy say we move on. Go find better thing to do. More money. She say, save and go back head high. She say, Mirela. take little risk. I don’t like. She say, ‘Mirela, you so uncool’.”
“Uncool?”
“Like I will never dip my toe.”
“In case the water’s too cold?”
“In case the water poison.”
What Sabbie uncovers is a sickening trade in which life is considered so cheap, bodies are simply discarded. This, too, is “change”…and these despicable people are making a lot of money. 
 
As the Trilogy of the Shaman Mysteries progress, Sabbie begins to realize that it is not entirely coincidence that she constantly encounters these shadow sides. By walking into the otherworld – the spirit realm that shaman enter in a trance state – she has encountered profound philosophies of life. It has made her understand how we carry two sides to our nature. There is always a shadow side to our psyches; inside us is the possibility of hate, greed, envy – the things that lead to wrong-doing, hurting others…murder. It’s her business, as someone who walks on both planes of existence, to help where she can, even when her own safety is threatened.

In Beneath the Tor – book three of the series – a sudden death becomes a catalyst…Alys was dancing as the stars reeled, dancing on Glastonbury Tor on Midsummer Eve. She danced as if the drumbeats were bursting out of her. As if her feet were charmed to never rest.
        I saw her dance.
I saw her drop.
She fell to the ground without a stumble or a cry.
What or who as killed Alys? As Sabbie begins to investigate, she discovers that someone is killing and maiming in Alys’s name. Is this revenge or sudden madness? Is it change or status quo? 
 
I love puzzling out the mystery aspect of my crime fiction, to baffle and amaze the reader, and love to spring surprises on them to keep them on the edge of their seat. My readers say they stay up all night, turning the pages of the Shaman Mysteries; I’m awake at night sorting out the permutations of each murder. How did they do it? Where did they do it? What happened after they did it? And most importantly why did they do it – what brought them to that moment they kill another human being? Was it change, I ask myself? Or status quo?

Right now, I'm writing book four, and this time we definitely have status quo causing the murder we witness see right at the start. At the same time Sabbie is helping her old friend Debs through a terrible time, which will involve finding a missing girl…and the men who are holding her prisoner…

Even I get terrified when I read my books
Nina Milton’s  Shaman Mystery novels, published by Midnight Ink, are available online from Waterstones   the Welsh Book Council and Amazon

“Sabbie Dare is the most compelling protagonist I’ve met this year . . . Milton’s tale is riveting.”…Library Journal starred review 
“Nina Milton has created a unique fictional world in her Shaman Mystery Series, featuring Sabbie Dare as a young shaman. With Beneath the Tor  she passed the ultimate test of a writer, that of causing me to put off useful jobs which I really should have been doing, in order to see what happens next. She has become a mistress of plot-weaving, and above all, she pulls off the trick of setting the totally fantastic amid the totally everyday and making the two fit together with pace and excitement”.…Ronald Hutton, author of Pagan Britain and The Triumph of the Moon.
 

MOBY-DICK; or THE WHALE by Herman Melville

 

MOBY-DICK; or THE WHALE
by Herman Melville
 
'Read Classic', an occasional series of posts on 
Kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com
 

 

 
 
A friend gave me my copy of Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville as a gift, around 15 years ago. It measures 6 1⁄2” by 4” by 1 1⁄2” with 798 gold-edged wafer-thin pages and 135 chapters, a ‘Collector’s Library’ edition, ‘complete and unabridged’.
 
When I first tried to read it, I got bored quickly. I was 150 pages in and they’d only just gone aboard The Pequod – 200 pages in and we still hadn’t met Ahab…
 
Steadily, I read less, until the little golden book was forgotten.
 
Then my reading group, bless them, decided that we should all read a different 19th century American work. I pulled out Moby-Dick, blew off its dust and started again.
 
Maybe I was in a different place, a different reading mindset. But instantly, I loved it. I dove into the rich, warming narrative – words that go on and on. I swam within them as if they were fish teeming in the Pacific. I’d finished it within the four allotted weeks, and watched the 1956 film, starring Gregory Peck as Ahab, with  a screenplay by Ray Bradbury. At the meeting, I read out the passages I particularly loved…
 
And then it was, that suddenly sweeping his sickle-shaped lower jaw beneath him, Moby Dick had reaped away Ahab's leg, as a mower a blade of grass in the field.... Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations.
 Chapter 41, Moby Dick
 
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was born in New York in 1819 and by the age of 13 was working in a bank. At 18 he completed his education and moved from job to job; school teacher, newspaper reporter, merchant sailor. He went West to (unsuccessfully) seek his fortune. Down on his luck he set sail on a whaler bound for the South Seas, where he spent time in the company of the natives. He detailed his adventures in a series of novels which, in his own lifetime, proved continually more popular than Moby-Dick. 
 
MOBY-DICK; or THE WHALE, first appeared in 1851, when he was 32. Now, it is considered his seminal work, and having read it, I know it is a masterpiece, a gothic philosophical allegory and a scathing satire on life. 
 
It is profoundly inventive, intense and ironic, the style and language standing alongside other great experimental novels, from Tristram Shandy  to Ulysses. I loved its soaring voice, which moves from long passages of soliloquy, through pieces of script format, to sharp and dramatic dialogue
 
…“Look ye! d'ye see this Spanish ounce of gold?"- holding up a broad bright coin to the sun- "it is a sixteen dollar piece, men. D'ye see it? Mr. Starbuck, hand me yon top-maul."
While the mate was getting the hammer, Ahab, without speaking, was slowly rubbing the gold piece against the skirts of his jacket, as if to heighten its lustre, and without using any words was meanwhile lowly humming to himself, producing a sound so strangely muffled and inarticulate that it seemed the mechanical humming of the wheels of his vitality in him.
Receiving the top-maul from Starbuck, he advanced towards the main-mast with the hammer uplifted in one hand, exhibiting the gold with the other, and with a high raised voice exclaiming: "Whosoever of ye raises me a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw; whosoever of ye raises me that white-headed whale, with three holes punctured in his starboard fluke- look ye, whosoever of ye raises me that same white whale, he shall have this gold ounce, my boys!"
"Huzza! huzza!" cried the seamen, as with swinging tarpaulins they hailed the act of nailing the gold to the mast.
"It's a white whale, I say," resumed Ahab, as he threw down the topmaul: "a white whale. Skin your eyes for him, men; look sharp for white water; if ye see but a bubble, sing out."
All this while Tashtego, Daggoo, and Queequeg had looked on with even more intense interest and surprise than the rest, and at the mention of the wrinkled brow and crooked jaw they had started as if each was separately touched by some specific recollection.
"Captain Ahab," said Tashtego, "that white whale must be the same that some call Moby Dick.” 
Chapter 36, The Quarter-Deck.
 






Most of the information between the pages is now anachronistic and almost forgotten, but I was fascinated by how  whale blubber was rendered down on board into barrels of oil – how the first steak from a kill would be eaten ceremoniously. And yet, counterpointing all the minutiae and trivia, the ways of Moby Dick remain unknown. Melville (and Ishmael) are sure upon that; the white whale is like God in his Heaven, which makes Ahab a fool for trying to find and outdo him. The result, of course, is futile…and fatal.
 
The book teems with ideas, imagery and emotion, but between these subtleties lie those hard facts.  Melville makes use of his first-hand descriptions of whaling alongside an encyclopaedic knowledge of the nature of the whale…
 
The Forty-barrel-bull schools are larger than the harem schools. Like a mob of young collegians, they are full of fight, fun, and wickedness, tumbling round the world at such a reckless, rollicking rate, that no prudent underwriter would insure them any more than he would a riotous lad at Yale or Harvard. They soon relinquish this turbulence though, and when about three-fourths grown, break up, and separately go about in quest of settlements, that is, harems.
Another point of difference between the male and female schools is still more characteristic of the sexes. Say you strike a Forty-barrel-bull- poor devil! all his comrades quit him. But strike a member of the harem school, and her companions swim around her with every token of concern, sometimes lingering so near her and so long, as themselves to fall a prey.
Chapter 88, Schools and Schoolmasters
 
The book is chocked with symbolic motifs which develop and inform the text’s major themes, and I enjoyed spotting them. The first one is the colour white, which Ishmael, finds threatening; white waves albinos, whale spout…
 
It was while gliding through these latter waters that one serene and moonlight night, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and, by their soft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude: on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen far in advance of the white bubbles at the bow. Lit up by the moon, it looked celestial; seemed some plumed and glittering god uprising from the sea…
Chapter 51, The Spirit-Spout
 
Then there is the coffin, which symbolizes life and death. When Ishmael’s friend, the harpooner Queequeg, falls ill, he asks the carpenter to build him a coffin, but survives and stores his belongings in it. When the Pequod sinks, the coffin becomes Ishmael’s lifeboat.
 
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off -- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.
Chapter 1, Loomings 
 
And the themes themselves are grand. Like the heroes of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy, Ahab suffers from a single fatal flaw. He is obsessed, monomaniacal, believing that, like a god, he will remain immune to the forces of nature while pursuing the White Whale…it’s his inescapable fate to destroy this evil.
 
The Pequod represents the world…its crew, all of humanity’s fears, frailties and faiths are acted out. It is a symbol of doom, painted black and covered in whale teeth and bones, mementos of their violent death. The name was taken from a Native American tribe made extinct by the white invaders. 

 

But despite the wanderings of both book and ship, there is a plot, and it uses causality, something I love in a story. From the beginning, Ishmael notes Ahab’s eccentricity and madness getting worse, until, The Pequod encounters the whaling ship Rachel, imploring help to search for the missing whaling-crew, including the captain's son. But as soon as Ahab learns that the crew disappeared while tangling with Moby-Dick he refuses the call to aid – something unheard of in whaling tradition – and goes off to hunt the White Whale. After The Pequod goes down, Ishmael, in his coffin, is ironically rescued by the Rachel which has continued to search for its missing crew.

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty; soon coming to BBC TV

Louse Doughty in London. Photo: Andrew Crowley, The Telegraph

I love it when a favourite read of mine is set to become a film or TV drama because I can bore everyone to pieces by droning on about how the book is so much better than the film, while secretly enjoying the story all over again.

 

 

 

 

I recently reviewed Susanna Clarke's book, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell in this way, and now can’t wait to watch

Faber & Faber UK 
Farrar Straus & Giroux US

Apple Tree Yard

the steamy psychological thriller by Louise Doughty, on BBC telly. I call this a thriller, but Doughty herself says…the weird thing is, I don’t think I’m writing thrillers, but quite a lot of other people seem to. I thought Apple Tree Yard was a feminist indictment of criminal  justice…

Emily Watson, one of my favourite actors, will play Yvonne Carmichael, a middle-aged woman who falls heavily in lust…I am both relishing and daunted by the prospect of taking on this role…she’s already been quoted as saying…it’s grown up, steamy and of queasy moral complexity

 

 

 

 

 

Watson in Gosford Park

Photo by rottentomatoes.com

If you’re not already familiar with Watson’s work, try her early films. I first saw her as Maggie, in the TV adaptation of Mill on the Floss, but then caught Hilary and Jackie, in which she plays the cellist Jacqueline du Pre. She was brilliant in the star-studded film Gosford Park, and most recently, she was wonderful in The Theory of Everything, the film about Stephen Hawkin. 

 

The BBC describes Apple Tree Yard as…a provocative, audacious thriller that puts women’s lives at the heart of a gripping, insightful story about the values we live by and the choices we makeBut what I recall most vividly about the story is how quickly I was hooked. Doughty shows Yvonne Carmichael's well-ordered life plummeting into the ground. At the outset, Yvonne is a happily-married, eminent geneticist who, after giving evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee, meets Mark (who’ll be played by Ben Chaplin) on her way out of the House of Commons. Her fall to earth begins as they indulge in raunchy sex in a crypt chapel. 

 

Yvonne thinks she can keep her marriage and her red-hot affair in separate compartments, but, from the start of the book, we know she is on a downward spiral because we’ve already caught a glimpse of her future – and it’s not good. Or, as Hilary Mantel says…there can’t be a woman alive who hasn’t once realised, in a moment of panic, that she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong man…A compelling and bravely written book

 

Something I always relish in a novel is the use of place to bring the right atmosphere to the writing. This almost always involves good descriptive skills…the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster beneath the drowned saints and the roasted saints and saints in every state of torture

 

I read the book after it was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Steel Dagger (for best thriller), in 2014.  Like most readers, I was gripped, not just by the heat of the read, but also by the varied styles Doughty uses. Yvonne has sex with Mark in seedy locations; a broom cupboard, a disabled toilet, the secretive doorways and back alleys of London. In between these scenes, written in the difficult and arresting 2nd person point of view…I don’t know it yet, but the man is you…Yvonne writes long letters to Mark which deepen our emotional connection to her, which she hides on her computer in a file marked VATquery3. Every so often, we return to the trial. The two of them are in the dock at the high court. All that illicit passion, betrayal and deceit has led to murder. A perfect story for a four-part television drama, in other words.

 

Before reading the book, I knew Doughty had already written, between her other novels, a book called A Novel in a Year, originally a series of articles in the Telegraph. Writing a book in a year isn’t necessarily a good thing. The writer may end up with something less than perfect, too hurried. But on the other hand, knowing you are going to write every day for 52 weeks

(a chapter a week, perhaps, or a first draft in 6th months, leaving half the time for research and revision), concentrates a writer’s mind wonderfully. I read A Novel in a Year in 2015 because I was about to do just that. The third of my Shaman Mystery Series Beneath the Tor was delivered to the publishers precisely one year after I’d agree the contract date, and I used the Nanowrimo method, to kick-start the process – http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/writing-that-very-first-draft.html

 

Louise Doughty has already managed that…My first, Crazy Paving…took me 18 months. By the time it came to writing my second, I was theatre critic for a Sunday newspaper, which meant I had all day to write before going to the theatre in the evenings: as day-jobs go, it was a corker. Dance With Me was written in seven months. Honey-Dew… about a girl who murders her parents…was written in eight months while I was sick with exhaustion…

 

Doughty’s most recent book, Black Water (Faber & Faber UK, Farrar Straus & Giroux/Sarah Crichton Books US) was published a full 3 years after its predecessor, Apple Tree Yard, but it is very different, with a new direction again. She’d gone to Bali, where the book is set, for a literary festive, and came back with the seeds of an idea.

 

I was lying awake…and a really strong image came to me of a man lying awake at night in a hut in Indonesia, mortally afraid. Why is he so afraid? In the opening pages, he decides that men with machetes are going to come and kill him. But I didn’t actually know who he was, I didn’t know how old he was, I didn’t know why he was there. But what I did know about him was that what he was afraid of wasn’t what was going to happen; he was afraid of something that he himself had done…Of course, he’s a metaphor for Indonesia itself. Because a military dictator came to power in 1965, there was never any truth and reconciliation, there was never any coming to terms with this massacre.

 

Likened to a John LeCarre, and described by The Bookseller as…a meditation on guilt and responsibility…I can’t wait to get my teeth into a new Doughty story, while I’m waiting for Apple Tree Yard to appear on the small screen.

 

 

A day at the Hay Festival

Marlon James, 2015 Booker prize-winner,

with OCA alumni, Pat

A  Day at the  Hay with the OCA


A day in the sun at Hay…it’s one of the selling points of the Hay Festival – photos on the website are focused on people under sun umbrellas reading their latest purchase and drinking cool lager. This is a risky ploy for a Welsh summer event, but it paid off for the Open College of the Arts posse that arrived at the festival grounds on bank holiday Saturday. We’d come for the culture, of course we had. We’d come for the literature, naturally, for the heightened conversation we’d enjoy with each other after sharing events. But the fact the sun was out certainly helped. We'd come to see the stars of the literary world, and they turned out to be really nice people as well as great writers...

 

A Nobel Laureate, a Man-Booker winner,

the Samual Johnson Prize winner...

no, not us in the selfie, the great writers we'd come to enjoy

to read the rest of this blogpost, follow the link to weareOCA

 

THE NAXALITES

 

Talk about buses, coming along in pairs. 

 

Two books, published recently, both examined the Maoist uprising in India. Now, I didn’t even know that there had been a Maoist uprising in India, so two novels in close succession felt like more than coincidence. But it's probably no more than a good example of Jung's collective consciousness at work. 

 

In both books, a young man is drawn into a radical far-left movement called Naxalism, its name derived from Naxalbari, a tiny village to the north of Calcutta where impoverished peasants rose up against the police and landlords in 1967, sparking off dreams of a nationwide insurgency that would replicate Mao’s earlier revolution in China.

 

I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Lowland first, and this was my introduction the the Naxalites, a movement I’d never heard of  before. I love learning new things from the fiction I read, however, at the end of the book, I still didn’t know anything about the uprising. That story is skirted and what is examined instead is disappearance, the not knowing. 

 

Subhash’s younger brother, Udayan, has gone without trace, and he’s missed by all the people who care for very much for him in a multitude of different ways  Lahiri explores these lives – lives lived with a blankness where a person should be. What Lahari is saying, it seems to me, is that disappearance is more poignant than death, for there is no closure when someone vanishes off the face of the earth. Udayan's family are trapped in the unkowning. How differently would have been their lives if that disappearance hadn’t happened? How different are their lives  because of that mysterious gap appearing in the centre of the family.

 

As I was reading Lowlands, I fell in love, once again, with Lahari’s  erratic, dancing prose and the power of her characters, who feel and believe and with such passion and depth. But her short stories are more lucid than this longer book. The writer is far better at getting under the skin of characters 

 like this, exploring their dreams, fears, failures and secrets,  than she is describing settings or actions. Rather than demonstrating any overarching narrative drive, Lahari’s Indian family seem to live in the clouds, if not in the Cloud. But at the end of the book, I could truly say I'd loved it, because the ending is exqusiite. It both explains the beginning and takes us in a circle back to it. It’s because of this one little device, which I had to wait  432 pages for, that Lowlands stays with me,

 

In direct contrast, The Lives of Others, by Neel Mukherjee does not try to 

skirt around the issue of the Naxal 

uprising. We learn how punishing was the regime the idealistic students set for themselves, in their attempts to emulate Chinese Communism, and we also see in graphic detail the way the police and state dealt with their beliefs. 

 

The structure Muckherjee has chosen takes us alternately from the Ghosh Family (and their long-standing business empire) and their teenage son, Supratik. The family - or at least Supratik's mother - is struggling, as in Lowland, to come to terms with the disappearance. Their lives, in contrast to the starving peasants Supratik is now starving alongside, are rich and charmed, to the point they simply cannot imagine any other life. As with Lowlands, we watch several generations, this time mostly in flashback back from the starting point of 1967, to learn how much the family members truly hate each other. 

 

While Lowlands had a problem with getting to grips with setting, this book seems to not bother with properly introducing characters. Constantly I got lost and frequently I was grateful for both the glossary and the Ghosh family tree, printed at the front of the book.

 

I found the chapters focused on Supratik grueling but easy to read. It was the Ghosh chapter I found troublesome. I seemed to constantly be waiting for characters and their situations to be introduced and explained, while trying to figure out what was happening and what had happened to this unpleasant family. I almost gave up several times, as I wondered where this book was going. But when the writer gets to grips with a scene, he's wonderfully colourful and imaginative.

 

The Lives of Others seemed to be telling and showing me far less than I thought I'd need to understand the story, yet, when when I’d finished it, and pondered upon it, I realized that somehow I’d gained a complete picture and could see the romance and direction of its narrative perfectly. 

 

If you like to discover new information while reading fiction, or love books that tackle large issues, you'd probably enjoy either of these. Lowland was short-listed last year: The Lives of Others won the prize the year after. Why not read both and decide for yourself if the Booker judges made the right choices.

Beneath the Tor by Nina Milton

Beneath the Tor (A Shaman Mystery) - Nina Milton

 Thank you, Publisher's Weekly, for the great review of my new book!

Nina Milton. Midnight Ink (midnightinkbooks.com), $14.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4382-0

At the start of British author Milton’s unsettling third Shaman mystery (after 2014’s Unraveled Visions), a group of 10 people, all “keen to explore shamanism,” climb to the top of Glastonbury Tor to celebrate Midsummer Eve. When Alys Hollingberry, who has been dancing nonstop, suddenly collapses, Sabbie Dare phones emergency services. Another participant says it’s too late (“I saw her spirit go”). On the day of the inquest, Alys’s grieving husband, Brice, receives a strange email (“The Tor needs no sacrifice. The utter waste of blessed life signals doomsday”). It’s signed Morgan le Fay. Since Brice doesn’t want the police involved, he asks Sabbie’s help in identifying Morgan le Fay and figuring out this person’s connection to Alys. Meanwhile, a priest alleges that Alys took drugs during the celebration on the tor that may have led to her death.

 Milton puts an intriguing New Age spin on the traditional English mystery.

 

The Chimes by Anna Smaill

The Chimes - Anna Smaill

The Chimes by Anna Smaill

 

I could tell The Chimes was written by a poet, as soon as I opened it and started reading – long before I discovered Anna Smaill has also had a book of poetry published. The language here is lyrical, with the introduction of words that add to its strangeness, the narrative necessarily fragmented and filled with sensory impressions. But it’s perhaps because Smaill is a violinist, that in her first novel, she’s deeply imagined what a world without writing, but full of music, might be like. 
 
She describes a dystopian future, where Britain’s democratic government has been swept away by a catastrophic event called the ‘blasphony', and replaced with an autocratic, musical ruling elite in Oxford, known as the Order. The written word has been replaced with the ‘Carillon’, a vast musical instrument made from palladium, the ‘pale Lady’, a rare metallic element, which sweeps away people’s memory, leaving them with a life that feels the same each and every day. At times, the pitch of ‘the chimes’ causes physical collapse followed by death
 
Anna Smaill Photo Credit - Natalie Graham
Simon Wythern has inherited a gift from his mother, who died of ‘chimesickness'. Like her, he can see other people’s memories. Now, he's heading for London, his memory bag over his shoulder and a melody in his head that leads him along…

‘You going in to be prentissed?’ 
I shake my head. ‘I’m going in to trade.’ 
He studies my farmclothes and my single roughcloth bag and is tacet awhile. ‘And a ride back?’ he says. ‘You’ll be looking for one, I suppose?’
I meet his look and there’s nothing in my eyes. I don’t need a ride back. I have a name and a song to find, a thread to follow. But it’s not something to share. With my gaze I dare him to ask again, but he turns to the front and hitches the reins. We go forward and the cart’s bumping goes through me…
 
Simon joins a pact of urchins, run by a boy called Lucien. They mudlark the Thames riverbank and search ‘the under’, the abandoned subterranean city tunnels, for the Lady, which they can trade for food, not knowing that this trade maintains the Carillon which oppresses them.
 
Simon’s friendship with enigmatic Lucien becomes a beautifully described love affair, as they begin to piece together the memories Simon’s mother left him, with the memories Lucien has of being a gifted musician in the Order. 
 
Rather like Pullman’s His Dark Materials, every small child in The Chimes learns to play an instrument and finds the meaning of themselves through the music they make. This creates a focus for the novel, a point we can understand about this complex world; 
 
I pick up my recorder and I start to play, even though I don’t know how to make the voice that is missing. When I have played all my feeling into the first part of the tune, I still don’t know, but by then it is too late and I no longer care, so I just play it. I play it high and reckless and free so that it flies above all the others. I play it with some of the anger I feel and some that I throw in for extra. I play a voice that has never known anything except for luck and beauty…
 
The Thames from Oxford to London
 
 
It took me a little time to get used to Smaill’s use of music as a controlling, menacing force, but I loved the way she used musical terminology in her character’s speech. Above the story, which starts out as an absorbing read, is a wider theme of shared  memory and how important that is for a cohesive society, and the dystopia she creates is very believable.

But as Lucien and Simon travel to Oxford, bent of destroying the Carillon, the plotting thins and loses its connection with the body of the story. When Smaill needed to ‘up’ the dramatic tension, as we reach the climactic end of the book, her plotting doesn’t quite succeed as well and her rich writing style. I can vouch for how hard it is to create a convincing, plausible and yet thrilling end to a story, tying in the loose ends needed to be tied, while yet not knotting them up too tightly or letting them unravel completely, and keeping the reader believing in the tale and its inhabitants. I wished Smaill had spent a few months sorting out what was wrong with her denouement, but it didn’t stop me enjoying the world she’s invented, the language she uses, and the glorious characters who inhabit The Chimes.

Walking the Rainbow Path: an article on shamanism by Nina Milton

Walking the Rainbow Path

 
 
This week, I'm delighted to be the guest blogger on the Druidlife blogsite with an article about shamanism. 
Druidlife is an excellent site for pagans, with reflections from Nimue Brown, a writer and author. Her blog is full of…life, community, inspiration, health, hope and radical change…and I'm honoured to be part of that.

 
A guest blog, by Nina Milton
One sunny autumn morning, fifteen years ago, I shipped up in Bath, to attend an introductory workshop on shamanism. As a druid, I was used to enjoying guided visualisations and wanted to know more about what happens when you stop being ‘guided’ and sink deeply into a trance that takes you away from everything around you. I’d started reading about shamanism; books like The Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda, Cave and Cosmos, by Michael Harner and Your Shamanic Path, by Leo Rutherford, showed me that shamanism was a historic world-wide phenomenon, but also that it still thrives today.
I’m an OBOD a druid, so it was British shamanism I was most attracted to. It uses archetypes I already knew from the Celtic myths, comforting symbols such as cauldrons and oak trees, and did not depend on mind-altering drugs to attain a state of trance…
 
 

Can the Shaman Mysteries Passt the Bechdel Test?

Can I pass the Bechdel Test?

 
What is the Bechdel Test? Can I pass it?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test
 
Last year, I had never heard of the Bechdel Test. Then, sometime in 2016, I came across a comic strip by cartoonist Alison Bechdel; Dykes To Watch Out For. It seemed just the sort of thing I’d love – as a writer who portrays the Somerset Levels in their books I’m always interested in any sort of small watercourse...
 
Bechdel credits a friend for the idea, and also gives a nod to Virginia Woolf, in particular the 1929 essay A Room of One’s Own, where Woolf says about fictional women…almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. In 1929, that might be expected, but almost one hundred years have now passed…surely things have got considerably better?
 
Bechdel’s test wasn’t much more than a quip, but it has moved into mainstream, especially being applied to the world of film scripts. To pass the test, a film must contain the following: (1) At least two female characters, preferably named, who (2) talk to each other about (3) something other than the men in their lives.
 
 
For film, the test has narrower goalposts than even I first thought. Let’s take some standard female leads: Clarice Starling, Erin Brochovitch, Catherine Tramell (in Basic Instinct) and both Thelma and Louise. Turns out a lot of the time these strong women are talking to, or about, men. However, some of my favorite films do get a clear pass. 
 
Helen Hunt as Carol
In As Good as it Gets, Helen Hunt’s character Carol has a long, wonderful conversation with her mother about childcare (oops...and about getting a man....), while The Children of Men, as well as featuring the lead male in flip-flops, has a strong female cast (Clare-Hope Ashitey, Julianne Moore and Pam Ferris), who talk about the dystopian issues in hand,  rather than their love-lives. Sideways, a great film about wine, has Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen talking about…wine…(for at least 30 seconds before returning to the subject of their men). And I don’t want to leave out Mulholland Drive, where Naomi Watts and Laura Harring spend a lot of time talking about a missing person, and each other.

 
 
Surely, in the world of literature, many conversations have been written between women without the slightest whisper of romantic chatter? Way before Woolf, came intellectual giants such as both Bronte sisters, George Sands, Elizabeth Gaskell and Jane Austin. I could clearly recall both the Bennet and the Dashwood sisters having long, interesting conversations with each other. But Part 3 of the test is the sticking point. When I checked back…yep, they were talking about men. Getting married informed their lives – of course they were talking about it.
 
In today’s literature, surely, so long as we steer clear of chick lit, we’ll find good pass marks. And we do. Books ranging from The Hunger Games to The Handmaid’s Tale are passes, as is my recent favourite, The Help.
 
 
So now I have to ask myself about The Shaman Mysteries. Does my crime fiction series pass the Bechdel test in its entirety? I am so pleased to announce that it does - all three books. Sabbie Dare actually has very few conversations about her lovelife with other women. Here are three conversations from the three books to prove this:
 
From Book One: In the Moors  With a Dutch client called Marianne Winne:
 
 In the Moors  
“How’s work going, now you’re back?” I asked.
“Things are all right. I feel sometimes ‘wobbly’.”
“But you manage.”
Marianne nodded. I wouldn’t have noticed in normal lighting, but in the flickering glow of the candle I could see that her cheeks were covered with a fine layer of perspiration. “I get through the day.”
“Have you heard anything further about the redundancies?”
“Rumours are still flying around the building.” She examined her delicately pinked nails. “I don’t know why I took it that bad. No one else on the list had such a reaction. I did not know how pathetic I could be.”
“Rubbish. You come across as a strong person.”
“No longer. When they re-interview the posts, going off sick like that will count against me.” Marianne sat on the lounger with her hands folded like tidy napkins in her lap. They didn’t fidget, those hands, ever. They exuded utter composure.
“We are going to discover what this is about. Then you can walk into work like the old Marianne and knock ’em flat.”
She shook her head. “I lost my nerve. You should never lose your nerve. At Simpson and Grouche, if you lose your nerve, you are as good as dead.”
“Dead?”
“In the water, as they say. Washed up.”
“Marianne, could you describe your office to me?”
She didn’t even blink at my sudden change of direction. She’d got used to my often bizarre questions. “Oh, it 
 
is good. Very light, you know. We grow plants in the windows.

I beat a tattoo with my pen on the paper. “Remind me who phoned you that afternoon?”
“My line manager. Will Clyde. He is a nice guy. He sent me flowers when I was off.”
“Can you remember his exact words?”
Marianne shook her head. “I can’t remember much about what happened, Sabbie. I sort of…”
“Yes. I remember you saying. You were in shock–”
“Fit. It was like a fit.”
“You collapsed.”
“I could not move. Like Lot’s wife.”
I cast my mind back to my years with Gloria. She’d had a strict Pentecostal upbringing and was always quoting things from the bible. “Like a pillar of salt?” I hazarded. “Like you’d been petrified?”
“Petrified is a good word,” Marianne agreed.
“You don’t recall anything?”
“No. Strange, that is, as I have a good memory.”
I placed the write-up of my last shamanic journey in her lap. “Just look at the words in capital letters.”
She glanced down. Almost instantly, she gave a sort of hiccough, as though forcing back tears.
“Do the words make you feel a particular way?” 
“The same.” Her breath was scraping through her throat as if it were closing over. “The very same, Sabbie. The words he used…the list for re-interviewing…that is what he said, more or less.”
“Phones are funny things, sometimes,” I said.  “You can’t see the person. It’s easy to muddle voices or mix one turn of phrase with another. In the end, it’s the words that will have an effect.”
She trained her gaze on me. The only indication that I’d rattled her was the way the paper quivered in her hand. “What do you mean, Sabbie?”
“I just want you to consider the possibility that you didn’t have that dreadful reaction because your job was on the line. Maybe, some time in the past, you heard a similar voice, or similar words that really were a threat. To your life, even.”
“But, I know that cannot be so.”
I was sipping away at my boiling tea, as if I wanted to be in sympathetic pain with my client. “It’s not your office, in my shamanic journey. It belongs in the fifties, or even before. I’ve been wondering if the reason you can’t remember these words is because they didn’t happen in this lifetime.”
I watched her mouth fall open in slow motion. I’d waited for her to reject my suggestion out of hand, but she was thinking about it, in her usual unruffled manner. 
“You are saying I lost my job in a previous life?”
“No, Marianne. I'm saying that you lost your life.”
“How would I ever know?” she asked. “How would I ever remember such a thing?”
“You don’t remember. Maybe you never will. But if a voice said the exact words to you for a second time, that might have made you feel as dreadful…as petrified…as it did the first time.”
 
 
From Book Two: Unraveled Visions  With a Polish émigré called Kate; 
 Unraveled Visions  
 
“At that moment,” said Kate, “I had nothing. In England, money goes faster than in Poland.”
“I bet that’s true.”
“I needed food for my child. I needed the fare home.”
I didn’t think there could be much that is more scary that being broke and alone in a foreign country. 
Kate shook her head, and her hair swung. She lifted a pale hand and brushed it from her face. The action rang a bell; a thing Rey had told me. The way his DS Gary Abbott had gone a little crazy over that first dead woman’s body.
“Did Gary…did he ever talk to you about the murder, the woman they found in the summer, that turned up in–”
“Yes. Please – I know this. It is this that I want to tell you about.”
I looked at the chestnut shine of her hair. “She reminded him, didn’t she?” 
“He had pestered the doctor. The woman who had done the autopsy. What is she called? Path…”
“Pathologist,” I said, wondering where this was taking us.
“The woman’s stomach, it was all opened, when they found her. You know?”
“Sort of. No, I don’t.”
“Gary said…that it wasn’t fishes. He told the woman, but she didn’t listen, I don’t think. Now, he is dead, and another woman is dead!” 
Slashings. The police are looking for a Ripper.”
 Her face was as white as paper. Even her lips were white. “I have been reading. Everything in the papers.”
Waves of assumptions suddenly formed into a single solution. 
“DS Abbott knew who killed that woman, didn’t he? He knew who was going to kill Kizzy, even before she died.”
“Perhaps. I don’t know. Not a name, or a thing like that. But one thing is sure. The person who killed the girls. They killed Gary. They shot him.”
Neither of us spoke. I shivered, the cold of the open window getting to me. “How do you know?” I asked, at last.
“Because…I survived.”
“You? You encountered the murderer?”
“Yes. I encountered. But I didn’t see them. I didn’t see anything much.”
Kate turned from where we were standing beside her table full of cooling Bulgarian food. She closed the kitchen window. She worked at the plastic string and the roller blind cascaded down. It was rose pink, with a scalloped edge, trimmed with lace. She pulled it right to the sill. She moved to the kitchen door, and shut that tight too.
I felt a tremor on my lips. I sucked them in to stop it showing. She shook her head, as if it was too difficult to tell. She wanted me to draw her story out of her. “How did you get away, Kate?”
 
 
 
 Beneath the Tor 
From Book Three: Beneath the Tor  With a friend called Shell:
 
“Alys and I met at school, did I say? So I know her better that any other friend; better than Brice. Do you follow? I know things Brice does not.”
I gave a nod.
“We were doing our exams when she started seeing this older bloke. A specific older bloke, actually. A teacher.”
“Goddess!” 
“This chap was new in the Humanities department and to be honest, we wouldn’t think of him as old at all now, I guess he was two, three years out of university. He was a fantastic looker and Alys wasn’t the only girl with a crush on him, a gaggle of sixth-formers used to follow him around, on the pretext of their history studies. It was Alys who got him in the end.” Shell smiled. “She wasn’t especially pretty or anything, but back then she had a big, cheeky personality. She knew what she wanted and usually got it.”
“So she got this teacher.”
“It was the worse thing that could have happened. She fell so heavily. It couldn’t end in anything but disaster, could it? She got pregnant and he paid for her to have an abortion in a private clinic, in the hope of keeping it quiet. In fact he put a lot of pressure on her to have the abortion, although I don’t suppose she had many other options. She’d left it late telling him, so by the time she went in, she had to have the drip and everything and it went horribly wrong.The bleeding wouldn’t stop and she was rushed into the general hospital. Naturally, it all came out at school. Alys was sixteen, over the age of consent, but the bloke got the sack. She never heard from him again. She messed up her exams and we didn’t see her all summer holidays because she refused to come out with the rest of us.”
“She was probably depressed,” I said.
“And how. At the start of the sixth form she looked a wreck. That cheeky personality was in bits. The weight had fallen off her and she still wasn’t eating. I was scared for her, Sabbie. I’d been a rubbish friend too; all summer we’d gone off partying and do you know what she’d done? She’d joined a sort of club called the 100 Day Fast.”
For some reason, although I’d never heard the term before, it made my skin go cold.
“For one hundred days, you drink only water.”
“What? That’s crazy. Dangerous.”
“Yes, it was horrible. She was still doing it, and trying re-take her GCSE’s and start her A levels all at the same time. I thought she was going to break down and end up in hospital, but I rallied the gang round and we gentled her back into eating. By the end of the school year, she was okay. Not eating well – to be honest she’s never eaten well since – but she’d put on half a stone.”
“Poor Alys,” I said. 
“Why did you mention drugs?”
“Oh, nothing. No reason.”
“Really?”
 

I feel  proud of myself, but not at all surprised. I never intended to concentrate on romance in my books. Yes, there are relationships, but the theme has always been how Sabbie Dare uses her understanding of Shamanism to help solve the villainy she encounters – and she certainly does encounter villainy – make no mistake, she will continue to do so!
 
 

Beneath the Tor: What a Grand Launch; it rocked and BuZZed

 

WHAT A GRAND LAUNCH:

 

IT ROCKED AND BUZZED!

 

BENEATH THE TOR by NINA MILTON

 

Some people came by broomstick…

Saturday 27th February, I launched the third in my Shaman Mystery Series, Beneath the Tor, at The Avalon Room in Glastonbury.

 

Others flew in from Ireland, 
or drove from the other side of the UK

I’m please to tell you that it was a blast; everyone had a great time, there was standing room only, and as one attendee said on facebook…Ronald Hutton – and chocolates!

 


Here are some memories of the event:

 

Sam: Was great fun. Really enjoyed it. Congratulations. Downloaded the book to my kindle last night. Now just waiting for some peace and quiet to start reading... It may be a while but can't wait!!

Judy: A lovely mix of a fascinating talk, brilliant snatches of reading and a great end with that great singer who entertained us as you were signing your books

Nina, ready to sign Steve's books

Jean: We had a wonderful time. You are amazing.

John: Well done Nina

Lu: Lovely day out in Glastonbury at Nina Milton's fab book launch. 

Claire: Enjoyed seeing you and Jim and the lecture and reading were great.

Sarah: Avalon calling. Just returned from a weekend at magical, mystical Glastonbury. Plugging myself into the spiritual mains, so to speak. A bit of a whirlwind weekend actually, it was great to be at the fab Nina Milton’s book launch on the Saturday afternoon, an excellent talk by Prof Ronald Hutton with acoustic guitar and song by Arthur 'ZZ Birmingham' Billington..

I managed to have an hour of contemplative practice in Chalice Well gardens which reminded me of times gone by ... both joyful and not so joyful. Mixed feelings really. The whole experience served to remind me that wherever we are, the Land is sacred. We do not need to travel to another place to appreciate it. Honour Mother Earth and experience Her delights everywhere!

Steve: Hi we had a great time 

Charlotte: Thanks for making [my children] so welcome - I only hope they left some buffet for everyone else and didn't completely decimate the Ferrero Rochet...Anyway I've already read the book and I blame you entirely for my lack of sleep due to not being able to put it down.

David and Cathryn: had a wonderful time, and I thought the book launch went exceptionally well. I really enjoyed being back in Glastonbury, and I have started 'Beneath the Tor'

Aravis:  That was such a lovely week-end, everything went perfectly, as far as I could see.   I hope you were happy with it.  Thank you very much for inviting me!!  I'm enjoying Beneath the Tor so much I would like more of my friends to get to read it

Vicky and Bob: had a most memorable Glastonbury Experience! Thank you too.

Sue: Arthur ZZ Birmingham rocked the crowd! I thought the roof was gonna lift right off.

 

If you were there, I hope you are now enjoying Beneath the Tor, or other books from the Shaman Mystery Series. Please remember to write up your review for Amazon, Booklikes or Goodreads.com. And why not ask your local library to stock them? Finally, having finished with the book, why not pass it on or lend it to a friend? 

 

But if you weren’t there, you can indulge now in some of what went on during the afternoon. 

 

Introducing Beneath The Tor…

Nina explained how she’d wanted to write ever since her reception class teacher told the class to write a story and she realized that the lovely books her daddy had been reading her hadn’t just arrived from ‘book heaven’ but were actually written by people!

 


Ronald Hutton on Shamanism…

Witty, erudite and expansive,

Professor Ronald Hutton talks about shamanism

Ronald Hutton is professor of history at Bristol University and a world authority on paganism. He gave a talk on the history of shamanism, concentrating on how it arrived in the West and was taken up and made obtainable by the great exponents in this country and the US especially. He then very cleverly (well, he is clever!) explained how my books tapped this seam. Readers nowadays like two particular genres of novel; crime fiction and fantastic fiction. By entering Sabbie Dare’s two worlds…as a 30 year old woman faced with dilemmas, worries and, sometimes, danger – and her journeys into the spirit world as a shaman…I have successfully blended the two.  (thank you, Ronald...)

 


Nina's Readings:

 

From In the Moors…

Nina Milton reads from her series

“It was awful,” said Cliff. I’d given him a glass of water and he was holding on to it as if it was a healing elixir. The pulps of his fingertips were crushed around it, until the surface of the water trembled and slopped onto his cords jeans.

“Perhaps it will help to describe what happened to you.”

Cliff downed the rest of the water and spent time examining the tumbler, turning it round and round and gazing into it as if it were a crystal ball. His hands were bony at the knuckles, the fingers long and pale… to read more from the book, click here

 

From Unraveled Visions

The retrieval was unceremonious and without dignity. The woman’s body was winched from Dunball Wharf at 17.13, dripping with sluice-slime. The hip bones shone white against the sun and there were fish swimming in her belly… To read more from this book click here

 

From  Beneath the Tor…

 “A chivalric slaying,” said Morgan. “It was promised.”

The acolyte had brought them here. It was his plan to find Sabbie Dare. He didn’t expect to witness such distress.

Such magic.

For there he is. Ready for the taking. The Black Knight.

The man in black hurtles down the stairwell. He goes straight past them. A door bangs below.

He can do this. He wants it. First time. A line of cold steel straightens his back. His hands are steady; rock-hard fists…to read more from the book click here



Arthur ‘ZZ Birmingham’

Arthur ZZ Birmingham creating a storm

 

This is where the party really began! Arthur, blues guitarist extraordinaire, knocked the crowd’s socks off with his wonderful music. Everyone had their foot tapping as he played and sang. Thank you so much Arthur for making the afternoon complete and filled with a great buZZing atmosphere!

Thank you, and goodbye...