Vivien Brown lives in West London with her husband and two cats. She worked for many years in banking and accountancy, and then, after the birth of twin daughters, made a career switch and started working with young children, originally as a childminder but later in libraries and children’s centres, promoting the joys of reading and sharing books through storytimes and book-based activities and training sessions. She has written many short stories for the women’s magazine market and a range of professional articles and book reviews for the nursery and childcare press, in addition to a ‘how to’ book based on her love of solving cryptic crosswords. Now a full time writer, working from home, Vivien is combining novel-writing and her continuing career in magazine short stories with her latest and most rewarding role as doting grandmother to two-year old Penny.
Vivien’s newest release:
Publication Date: TODAY; January 30, 2018
What sort of mother would leave her all alone… a gripping and heart-wrenching domestic drama that won’t let you go.
Lily, who is almost three years old, wakes up alone at home with only her cuddly toy for company. She is afraid of the dark, can’t use the phone, and has been told never to open the door to strangers.
But why is Lily alone and why isn’t there anyone who can help her? What about the lonely old woman in the flat downstairs who wonders at the cries from the floor above? Or the grandmother who no longer sees Lily since her parents split up?
All the while a young woman lies in a coma in hospital – no one knows her name or who she is, but in her silent dreams, a little girl is crying for her mummy… and for Lily, time is running out.
Buy Lily Alone:
Universal Amazon Link
JRR (Jessica’s Reading Room): Tell us a little about yourself.
I am married with grown-up twin daughters and a little granddaughter, and live on the outskirts of London with my husband and two cats. For many years I worked with young children, introducing them to the wonder of books and reading stories to them in libraries, nurseries and parks, often with puppets, props and songs to make the whole experience come alive. At the same time I was writing short stories for women’s magazines, and have now had about 140 published. Away from writing, I enjoy tackling and compiling difficult crosswords, watching and taking part in TV quiz shows, and eating lots of chocolate!
JRR: Sounds like a nice relaxing life that I can only wishfor! It seems like I have too many things to do and never enough time….
Lily Alone is your first novel. What made you want to write this novel? Where did you get the idea for it? This story could be every parent’s worst nightmare: Their young child alone.
I have written two earlier novels, under a previous author name, both only available as ebooks, but this is my first ‘proper’ publishing contract and my first paperback. Having worked with the under-fives, I am fascinated by their growing independence and skills, yet am only too aware that they are still so vulnerable and helpless in many ways too. I wanted to explore how a two-year-old would manage alone, and what circumstances might have put her there. The novel looks at other forms of loneliness and feelings of abandonment too, whether as a result of divorce, grief, negligence or old age.
JRR: Who was the most influential author you read when you were growing up? Did his/her writings influence you to want to become an author?
When I was very young I read all Enid Blyton’s Mr. Pinkwhistle books for their simple stories and touch of magic. In my teens I adored Leonard Cohen, starting with his song lyrics, moving on to his poetry and then reading his novels. He made me want to use language more imaginatively and play around with words so not only the meaning but the rhythm felt right. He probably made me want to be a songwriter rather than an author and I would still love to have a go at that, even though I am not very musical.
JRR: Who is your favorite author as an adult? Who inspires you?
I read lots of different genres of fiction so it’s hard to pick just one. I have loved both of Clare Mackintosh’s psychological thrillers, but equally enjoy a good happy-ending romance from authors like Iona Grey or Veronica Henry. But, for sheer storytelling, I will say Jean Fullerton, whose ‘nurse’ series based in the East End of London in the 1950s have a real sense of place and a feeling of being part of a close community, and instantly drew me in.
As for inspiration, I suppose I would like to write like Jane Corry or Clare Mackintosh – authors who tell complicated stories, often from more than one point of view, and tease their readers, making them wait – and guess – right to the end. But I want to use those techniques in my own way, to enhance my dramatic family-based themes, not to veer towards the psychological thrillers or murderous plotlines those particular authors write so well.
JRR: Clare Mackintosh is an author I look forward to reading at some point!
If you could have dinner with three people (living or dead) who would they be and why?
Firstly Victoria Wood, whose writing (from stand-up comedy and funny songs to TV situation comedy and drama) can be hilariously funny or tragically poignant, with everything in between. She was a perfectionist, so they say, and a joy to work with, but was also well known for being shy so I know she wouldn’t intimidate or dominate the conversation and I think we would have got along.
Next, actor Kevin Costner, who would sit opposite me so I could just look at him! The most handsome and charismatic man alive, and star of many of my favourite films. But it wouldn’t matter what he talked about because I could just listen to his sexy voice all night long.
And lastly, my own dad Wilf Smith, who I lost almost 25 years ago – just so I could see him again.
JRR: Great choices! You last choice of your father would also be one of mine. My father passed away almost 19 years ago and I had just turned 19. So this year will be tough thinking about that.
Which book have you always meant to get around to reading, but still not read?
I always feel I should have read more Charles Dickens. Great storylines and settings, wonderful characters with the most unusual names, but the old-fashioned language can be off-putting and it is often so much easier to watch a film or TV adaptation.
JRR: That is true. I just listened to the audio version of A Christmas Carol narrated by Tim Curry in December. I grew up watching the story on tv, so I knew it, but I had difficulty with the ‘old-fashioned language’ in it.
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
When it comes to writing and trying to get published, never give up. Perseverance really is everything, and often it can be more important than talent. If you are willing to listen to advice and criticism, take time to learn the craft, and work hard, you will succeed. I did!
JRR: Yes, you CAN achieve your dream!
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Yes! The news that my next novel, to be called Five Unforgivable Things, will be published in the UK in July and in the USA a few months later. It’s another domestic drama, following the course of a long marriage and the five pivotal moments when mistakes were made – mistakes so big that they altered the course of the whole family’s lives.
JRR: That sounds good! I look forward to it.
**Thank you so much for your time with this interview Vivien!
Before turning to writing, Rachel Amphlett played guitar in bands, worked as a TV and film extra, dabbled in radio as a presenter and freelance producer for the BBC, and worked in publishing as a sub-editor and editorial assistant.
She now wields a pen instead of a plectrum and writes crime fiction and spy novels, including the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the Detective Kay Hunter series.
Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel cites her writing influences as Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Robert Ludlum. She’s also a huge fan of Peter James, Val McDermid, Angela Marsons, Robert Bryndza, Ken Follett, and Stuart MacBride.
She’s a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint, and the first four books in the Dan Taylor espionage series contracted to Germany’s Luzifer Verlag.
Her novels are available in eBook, paperback and audiobook formats from worldwide retailers including Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Google Play.
A keen traveller, Rachel holds both EU and Australian passports and can usually be found plotting her next trip two years in advance!
Rachel’s Newest Novella Releases: The English Spy Mysteries
The English Spy Mysteries is a new concept: Combining fast-paced thrilling reads with episodic delivery in the vein of TV shows 24, Alias, and Spooks, series 1 is a must-read for fans of Robert Ludlum, Vince Flynn, and James Patterson.
JRR (Jessica’s Reading Room): Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a full time writer of spy novels and crime fiction. I lived in the UK until about 12 years ago, and then I emigrated to Australia. I currently live in Brisbane, Queensland.
In the past, I’ve helped to run a pub, played lead guitar in bands, worked in radio as a producer and presenter, and was a film extra in the James Bond film The World is Not Enough, which was a heck of a lot of fun!
JRR: You have lived quite a life with so many different experiences. Did you always want to become an author? What made you choose the genre you write in?
Absolutely – I was reading before I started school, and wrote my first short story when I was eight years old. It wasn’t very good, but it was a mystery so I started early!
I gravitated towards the crime fiction and spy novel genres because those were the sorts of books that were on the shelves at home. Both my parents and grandparents were voracious readers. By the time I was twelve years old, I was running out of stuff to read – at that time there wasn’t anything around like The Hunger Games. My grandad lent me his copy of The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins, and that kicked off my love of the spy novel genre. Both he and my mum also had a vast collection of Dick Francis novels between them, as well as books by Ed McBain and the like so that’s what started my love of crime fiction.
JRR: That is wonderful to come from a family of readers! What inspires you to write?
The ideas that keep going around in my head – it’s as simple, and as hard as that. Every time I see a news report that capture my imagination, it adds fuel to the fire. Plus, I love what I do. Now that I’m a full-time writer, I have an added incentive of course – it pays the rent!
JRR: Congrats on becoming a full time author! Keep on writing! Who was the most influential author you read when you were growing up? Did his/her writings influence you to want to become an author?
Well, both Jack Higgins and Dick Francis were influences while I was studying English at school. I had a bit of a hiatus from writing once I left school, because I then spent seven years playing guitar in bands.
JRR: Who is your favorite author as an adult? Who inspires you?
It’s very difficult to pick one author, because I’ve been influenced by so many. Authors such as Lee Child, Michael Connolly, Peter Robinson, Val McDermid, Robert Cray and Ann Cleeves all line the bookshelves at home (or the virtual ones on my eReader). When I returned to writing a few years ago, I re-read a lot of their books as well as every single interview I could find with them about the writing craft – it was like going back to school.
JRR: If you could have dinner with three people (living or dead) who would they be and why?
Charles Darwin, because he was a very savvy businessman
Keith Richards, because he’s been a guitar hero of mine since I was about 7 or 8 years old
My grandad, because I haven’t seen him for nearly two years – we’re catching up again in May when I return to the UK for CrimeFest, but if I could sneak in an extra dinner date right now with him, then I would.
JRR: That is a great list. Have fun catching up with your grandfather in May. I know you are looking forward to that!
Now, which book have you always meant to get around to reading, but still not read?
A few people have told me I should read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts but I’ve never got around to it (yet!)
JRR: Thank you for sharing that as I had never heard of Shantaram. It’s a huge book, close to 1000 pages! Now, what’s the best advice you have ever received?
Always have an up-to-date CV and an up-to-date passport, just in case you ever need to do a runner 🙂
JRR: Great advice! I need to get my passport updated….. hmmmmm…..
You are releasing three novellas called The English Spy Mysteries this month over the course of three weeks. They are:
Assassins Hunted (186 pages, published January 7th)
Assassins Vengeance (112 pages, published January 14th)
Assassins Retribution (129 pages, published today, January 21st)
What made you decide to go this route with these novellas? The novellas are just long enough to get us going then they are over and we want more! At least the wait is just a week in between and the final one is out now!
As the story developed, it became apparent that at over 100,000 words it was going to be too long to fit into one book. On top of that, I’ve been reading more and more about how people’s attention spans are shrinking – we spend a lot of time on social media or watching Netflix and things like that.
So, I put two and two together and decided to release the story in “episodes”, just like a Netflix-type series – each episode is fast-paced and ends on a cliff-hanger, so hopefully you want to tune in next week to find out what happens next!
JRR: That is also how Stephen King released The Green Mile many years ago. I remember seeing each serialized part in the store. I did not read it until it was combined. I love that book.
You are self-published. What has that experience been like for you?
A lot of hard work, frustration, steep learning curves, long hours, and some marvellous opportunities – I wouldn’t change it for the world!
JRR: Yay! That is always exciting that you love the way life is going. Now, how do you research for your spy novels?
I’m lucky in that because I’ve been writing spy novels on and off for about six years now, I’ve amassed a good number of experts I can turn to with regard to things such as weapons guidance systems, submarines, and things like that. When I started out, I read a lot of books on specialised subjects and real-life accounts by bomb disposal experts. The defence section of online newspapers is a good place to start, too – The Daily Telegraph in the UK is a good one.
Nothing beats real-life experience though – in the time I’ve been writing spy novels I’ve done everything from pistol shooting to flying a Black Hawk helicopter simulator!
The trick is to keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to learn, even when you’re not writing a story in the genre, so that you know where to find the information when you need it.
JRR: You have had some great experiences. You can’t know some things unless you have that experience. I am all for that as well.
You have both male and female protagonists in your novels. Who is more fun to write and do you prefer one to the other? Personally, I love a female protagonist who can be a badass. I love strong female characters. Then I also love villains, male and female alike. I like to say ‘the badder the better’ 😉
This is a difficult question to answer, because characters (and the inciting incident that kicks off a story) often pop into my head fully formed, so I don’t get a lot of choice in the matter!
It has been fun to write about Eva, because she’s like the really, really badass version of Kay Hunter, who leads my detective series.
The thing is as well, I see both of them as resilient rather than strong – I mean, they both have their limitations, but also rely on their experience and wiles to survive the situations they find themselves in, whereas someone like Dan Taylor has a bit more brawn on his side when it comes to facing down the bad guys.
I love villains, too!
Something I do keep in mind for every single character, even for someone who might only appear for a chapter or two, is to make sure they have a motive for what they do. Once I have that locked in, it becomes easier to create empathy towards them. Everyone has a reason for what they do, even the villains – you just have to keep tapping away at the character until you discover what that is.
JRR: Is there anything you want to tell us about Eva Delacourt, your protagonist of The English Spy Mysteries that we will get to know over the course of these novellas?
Eva finds it very hard to trust people, but she’s incredibly loyal once she has decided that you’re not going to harm her or the people she cares for.
Of course, if you do plan to harm her, you’d better watch out 😉
JRR: For someone who has not read anything written by you, what do you recommend for a start?
Any of my first in series books will give a reader a great taste of what’s to follow:
Assassins Hunted – the first book in the new English Spy Mysteries series
Scared to Death – the Detective Kay Hunter crime series
White Gold – the Dan Taylor espionage series
JRR: Is there anything else you would like to share?
I would love readers to come over and have a mooch around my website and find out more about me and my writing. You can find me at Rachel Amphlett.
Thank you so much for your time with this interview Rachel! It was a pleasure![Top]
Katie O’Rourke is a hybrid author, which means she has both traditionally published and self-published books. Her debut novel, Monsoon Season, is being published through LittleBrown and Finding Charlie was chosen for publication by Kindle Scout. A Long Thaw was traditionally published and then re-released on her own. She launched her fourth novel, Blood & Water, in November 2017.
Katie writes family sagas with overlapping characters, so they’re all connected. The stories in these books exist on their own and can be read in any order, independently from each other. They’re not sequels, but because all of the characters live in the same world, there’s an opportunity to revisit the past. Readers of Monsoon Season will find a familiar face in Finding Charlie; if you’re still wondering about Juliet when you finish A Long Thaw, look for her in Blood & Water.
Katie grew up in New Hampshire, went to college in Massachusetts, and has settled down in Arizona. These are the environments you’ll find in her stories because she thinks having an authentic sense of place is so important when you’re reading. Her work has been called women’s fiction, contemporary fiction, and literary fiction. She tries not to get hung up on genre labels and just writes the kind of stories she likes to read.
Katie’s newest release:
Publication Date: November 21, 2017
Tucson, Arizona is a place for runaways. Everyone comes from somewhere else and has a story about what they left behind.
Delilah arrives on her brother’s doorstep with a secret. She hasn’t seen David in five years. He ran away from their family long ago for reasons no one talks about and she still doesn’t understand. The stress of raising his teenage daughter alone sometimes makes David envious of his deliberately childless friends, Tim and Sara, but they’re runaways too, harboring secrets of their own. Blood & Water tells their stories and traces the deep connections between this unlikely group of friends.
JRR (Jessica’s Reading Room)Tell us a little about yourself:
I grew up in New England and have settled in Tucson with my boyfriend. I’m a writer and political junkie enjoying the tale-end of my thirties.
JRR: Same here about the end of my thirties! Did you always want to become an author? What inspires you to write?
I was in my twenties before I had any aspirations to be an author, but I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. It has always been the way I made sense of the world around me, to the point that I don’t quite understand people who don’t write.
JRR: What does your writing process consist of? Do you do research, listen to music or do you need complete silence?)
I can’t write in total silence. I prefer the music cranked up. I use a lot of my own family history for character backgrounds and I’m sure my internet search history is extremely confusing to the NSA.
JRR: I’m sure every writer is being watched by the NSA just based on their search histories! Especially crime writers….
You have traditionally published and self-published books. In your experience, what are positive and negative of both? Do you recommend one over the other? What was your publication journey like?
Self-publishing gives much more control over how your work is marketed, but it means spending time doing sales work instead of writing. The traditional route is good for an ego boost, confirmation that your work can make it past the goal keepers, but signing that contract means giving over the reigns and putting your trust in strangers who may or may not know how to sell your book. This journey has taught me a lot about myself, like maybe I’m a bit of a control freak. Kindle Scout has been a good mix of things, letting me design my cover while they handle the bulk of marketing.
JRR: What kind of advice can you give to aspiring authors?
This isn’t something to pursue to get rich. There are easier ways to make money. Do it because you enjoy it and you have something to say.
JRR: Good advice. Get your words out there. There will be someone who reads it!
Who was the most influential author you read when you were growing up? Did his/her writings influence you to want to become an author?
There are not enough female authors assigned in school, so I didn’t meet my inspirations there and I never had the idea that this was something I could become. But I read on my own and I remember Judy Blume and Lois Lowery. As an adult, I have been influenced by Sue Miller, Jennifer Egan, Ann Packer, Barbara Kingsolver, Jennifer Haigh. So many others.
JRR: Who is your favorite author as an adult?
If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Julia Glass. The Whole World Over was my template for Blood & Water.
JRR: If you could have dinner with three people(living or dead) who would they be and why?
Debbie Murphy, Kim Betts and Sean Flanagan- they’re my best friends in the world and part of the family I’ve made.
JRR: Which book have you always meant to get around to reading, but still not read?
JRR: That is one I have been meaning to read as well. Its a long one over 700 pages!
Your fourth novel Blood & Water just recently came out. What would you like to share about it?
First: My mom says it’s my best yet and I think she’s right.
Second: As I age, my characters do too and this book is about grown ups, struggling with real world problems like money and divorce, raising kids, caring for aging parents, learning who they can lean on. It’s the time in your life when the idea of family really cements itself, whatever it means to you; this is the time when you have to figure it out.
JRR: Mom is always right! lol. I need to read your books sometime. We are about the same age and it seems as I age, my reading has ‘matured’ as well, though I still do enjoy my YA novels! Those will always be a ‘guilty pleasure’ for me that I freely admit!
Your novels are all connected with characters crossing over to other novels. Though not sequels, they are in the ‘same world’. What makes you want to stay in this world with your characters? With the crossing over do you recommend your books to be read in a certain order? Will you keep writing like this?
I get to know the people in my books so well that they feel real to me. Sometimes a peripheral character has such a compelling story to tell, it needs its own book. Sometimes a beloved main character has more to say several years later. No one’s story is ever really contained within the pages of a single book.
I don’t think the order matters; whether seeing where the character came from or where they end up. I’ll probably keep writing this way as long as past characters keep speaking to me. I never know who is going to show up.
JRR: You received the rights to Ani DiFranco’s song ‘Overlap’ for Blood & Water. What was that experience like for you? That is quite the accomplishment to reach as an author.
I sent the request for Ani’s lyrics without any real expectation of hearing back, so getting permission was an amazing surprise. I’d always heard it was impossible to get the rights to song lyrics. I’ve been an Ani Difranco fan for decades and those words are basically the thesis statement for Blood & Water, so it’s been one of my favorite parts of this whole experience. I sent her an autographed print copy as a thank you and it blows my mind to imagine she might actually read my book.
JRR: That is so awesome. Maybe she will read your book and see what her work helped to inspire!
**Thank you so much for your time with this interview Katie![Top]