Character Interview; Lou Carling from The Mess Of Me

themessofme-BLANK (1)

 

Q1 What did you eat for breakfast?

I just had a coffee. I wasn’t really hungry. Toast is so filling in the morning and I’ve gone off milk lately on cereal. Just a coffee most days. Coffee is fine. I do have two sugars in it though, which is quite bad, so I’m gonna’ cut that down to one pretty soon.

Q2 Do you have any pets?

Yeah, we have a dog called Gremlin. God knows what he is. He has ears like a bat and a smashed in face like a pug? He’s small and fat with along tail and weird, wiry fur. My best friend Joe calls him an experiment gone wrong. Mum bought him for me and my sister when my dad left us. It was the first thing she did! Went out and got us a puppy.

Q3 How many siblings do you have and are you close to them?

I only have one sister, Sara. She’s eighteen and off to University soon. We get on pretty well, but I wouldn’t say we were close exactly. I’ve always viewed her as a bit of a blur. She rushes around, never stays still, always in and out and involved in some huge drama. She’s always arguing with my mum too. They’re terrible together.

Q4 Who is your best friend? And why?

My best friend is Joe. We’re probably only best friends by accident, to be honest. His mum Lorraine (she is absolutely terrifying!) and my mum were in the hospital at the same time having Sara and Travis, one of Joe’s older brothers and became friends. Lorraine has five sons, and Joe is the middle one. We were forced on each other, I guess. We knew each other even when we were in our mother’s wombs! Poor us. Having to sit there, forced to listen to their constant bitching and gossiping! He’s still my best friend because he gets me. More than anyone. And I get him. We basically just swear at each other and our friendship is based on insults. Joe is calm and gentle, not like the rest of his insane family. They don’t see him like I do. Which is sad. I feel sad for him a lot.

Q5 Who are you scared of?

A few people, actually. My dad scares me a bit, or at least he did when I was younger. He was always ranting and raving and slamming doors and storming off. I hated him and the way he treated my mum. She put up with it for years but then he left her for another woman. I’m not really scared of him now. I just think he’s pathetic. Joe’s mum Lorraine scares the shit out of me. She’s like a pitbull, I swear, a pitbull in red lipstick. She’d wipe the floor with anyone. She’s not frightened of anything or anyone. Christ, she’s a horrifying specimen. Her new bloke Mick is a bit scary too. Her oldest sons, Leon, Travis and Joe have a different dad. Mick is father to the youngest two boys, Will and Tommy. Of course, he dotes on them. They can do no wrong. But he seems to hate the oldest three. So it’s like a constant war zone at their house. Mick is a lot like Lorraine and they fight like cat and dog sometimes. Physically and everything. But do you want to know who scares me the most? Well, it’s Leon. Joe’s oldest brother. Leon and Travis are very close in age and always together, up to no good. Travis is okay. He’s no angel, but he has a nice smile and isn’t too mean to Joe. But Leon? There’s something about him that chills me to the bone. Something missing in his eyes. If there’s anyone to be scared of around here, it’s Leon Lawrenson.

Q6 What is your greatest fear?

Well, it will probably sound stupid to you. Stupid and shallow. But my biggest fear is getting fat again. I was such a porker until I started dieting and exercising. Now, I’m losing weight fast and lots of strange stuff has been happening. I’m more confident, which is weird, because I always just wanted to disappear before. Boys are interested in me now! Which is mental! Boys never looked at me before. I’ve had some weird little moments with Joe this summer, and Travis tried it on with me… I know, I know! But yeah, getting fat again terrifies me. I’m not joking. I never ever want to be that girl again. I hated her. I won’t be her again. I know my mum and sister think I’m taking the weight loss too far, but it’s easy for them to say. They were never fat like I was. They don’t understand.

Q7 What are your hopes and dreams?

Well, right now, I sort of hope Joe and I can get ourselves out of the mess we’re in. Since we found that stuff in his brothers’ wardrobe, everything has got a bit scary. Suddenly Travis and Leon are being nice to Joe, and I’m really worried about what he’s getting into…As for dreams? Mine are pretty basic. I want to be left alone, because most people annoy the hell out of me. I want them all to leave me alone and let me get as skinny as I want. I want to be skinny. Super skinny. I want to be skinny forever. Aside from that, I hope me and Joe are best friends forever and nothing ever comes between us, and I dream of working with animals one day. I haven’t decided what yet. Maybe just a dog walker or a dog trainer or something? I couldn’t stand being around too many people, I know that.

Q8 Do you have any hobbies?

Running. I love running these days! And listening to music, though Joe takes the piss out of my tastes as I seem to like a lot of old stuff like Bob Dylan. Joe is really into music and wants to be a drummer. He’s saving up for this drum kit and forming a band with his mates. Walking the dog? Except that’s not really a hobby, just something I always end up doing because Mum and Sara are too busy. Writing on my wall. You could call that a hobby, I guess. My mum hasn’t noticed yet, but I’ve been scrawling my thoughts and feelings on my bedroom wall for ages now. I’ve even started the ceiling. If she ever wants to know anything about me or my life, she only has to look! Smoking weed and drinking cider with Joe and my other friend Marianne? Naughty hobby, I know, but we’re teenagers, right? We’d regret it if we didn’t break the rules a bit.

Q9 Describe yourself in one sentence

Fucked up, sarcastic, nerdy mess of a girl on the verge of….something

Q10 What’s your biggest secret?

I’m not going to tell just anyone, am I? Christ, I don’t want the world to know! I don’t want anyone to know. It’s huge and it’s embarrassing and it would change everything if it ever got out…and I although I daydream about what could happen if it did, I’m too scared, too shy, too messed up to do anything about it.

The Mess Of Me

Interview With Author Miriam Hastings

As you know, I’ve started a new feature on this blog where I pick the best Indie book I read that month, share it with you and then interview the author. The best book I read in January 2018 was The Minotaur Hunt by the award-winning Miriam Hastings as highlighed in this post. Miriam kindly agreed to an interview and here it is! You can find Miriam’s bio and links at the end of this post.

Miriam Hastings.jpg

1. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Why do you write?

I never made a conscious decision to be a writer, I need to write and always have. I have been making up stories ever since I can remember and writing them down from the moment I learned to write.

I have always had a vivid imagination and when I was a child I spent a lot of time in fantasy worlds that I created. I think I write fiction as an adult to meet the same needs I had then. This is partly a need to escape from reality when it’s too unbearable, but also a need to address the problems life poses by approaching them from a more creative angle. Writing is a way of taking control of reality because you can shape it and reshape it through words, expressing your own experience and vision of the world and, through doing that, you can transform reality into something greater.

2. Can you tell us about The Minotaur Hunt – what inspired you to write this particular book?

I wrote The Minotaur Hunt in my late 20s (it was first published when I was 31). I suffered from an extreme anxiety disorder as an adolescent, caused by childhood trauma, and was admitted to an adult acute ward when I was 14 and kept there for three and a half months. I was admitted to hospital again when I was 23.

Later, after I was 26, while I was writing the novel, I worked with people who had been moved out of the big asylums like Bradley. First I was working in a MIND day centre and then in a group home.

I was also studying for a part-time BA degree and designing and hand painting ceramic tiles, so it was an extremely busy period in my life! I used to write for half an hour every evening – I doubt The Minotaur Hunt would have been written if I hadn’t done that! But it was as if I had no choice – I felt driven to write the novel no matter what else I was doing at the time.

Throughout my 30s and 40s, I continued working part-time in the field of mental health, both doing therapeutic work with service users and also teaching on courses for mental health professionals, e.g. training courses for psychiatric nurses, social workers, psychologists, etc.

I wrote The Minotaur Hunt because I wanted to help people understand what it feels like to suffer from mental distress and to be labelled as “mad” or “mentally ill”, and the way it renders you totally illegitimate within society, so that your feelings and experiences are dismissed and pathologised, your experience of past trauma is disbelieved, and the social and family problems causing your distress are ignored and never addressed.

I also wanted to help bring about change within the psychiatric system because I had both experienced and witnessed so much abuse.

Looking back on it, I’m amazed at my own naiveté and arrogance – that I imagined my novel could change such a vast and impervious system! Sadly, I don’t think the closing of the big Victorian asylums has changed attitudes or brought about improvements in the way service users are treated, as I once hoped.

3. What is your writing process? How does it all come together?

In the years when I was studying and teaching it was often hard to find the time to write regularly. Now I like to write for at least an hour or two every day, but I am disabled with a progressive degenerative illness and these days my major problem is living in chronic pain and suffering from stiffness and weakness in my hands and wrists which make the physical act of writing difficult. I have to rely largely on voice recognition. I have a dictaphone that I use for making notes and for capturing ideas. I can download my notes to the computer from my dictaphone, although this involves a lot of correction and editing so it isn’t always useful.

When I first begin a novel, sometimes I have to be disciplined and make myself work on it every day but once I’ve become really involved in the story and the characters, I can’t wait to start writing each morning.

When I begin a novel I rarely start at the beginning – I don’t usually know where the beginning will be! I think writing a novel is like doing a large complicated jigsaw puzzle. I know what I’m aiming for but I don’t tackle the whole picture at once, just a small area at a time, as I might concentrate on the sky when doing a jigsaw. I recognize and build up connections gradually. Once I am about halfway through, it becomes much easier – sections begin to fit together and I see the whole work taking shape. I find the important thing is to keep writing; I don’t let myself get stuck over Chapter 2 if I could easily write Chapter 6. I know Chapter 2 will become clearer later, a novel is a long piece of work, I think if you don’t keep writing, it will never come into existence at all so it’s important to be disciplined. Occasionally I know how I want to begin but often the beginning and the end don’t become clear in my mind until I’ve written the rest of the book.

This sometimes applies to short stories as well, but I tend to write short stories in a more straightforward chronological manner from beginning to end; however the first and last paragraphs are the last things I work on because it’s vitally important to get them right in a short story – even more than in a novel.

Writing a novel is very different to writing a short story and to some extent it takes different skills. When I am writing a novel I need to know as much as possible about the characters and their lives, whether I’m going to use that information in the novel or not. However, when I’m writing a short story I don’t necessarily know everything about the character or their life.

4. What is more important to you, the characters or the plot?

I think my writing is more character-driven than plot-driven. The characters, their psychological make-up, their relationships, the life experiences that have made them who they are, interest me most. The plot is vitally important, of course, but mainly in relation to the characters and the way it affects them.

6. Do you have a day job, and if so, does it help your writing in any way?

For several years, as well as running therapeutic groups, I was a part-time lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London, teaching post-colonial and cross-cultural women’s literature, and creative writing for personal development.

I think working with people has always fed into my writing because people fascinate me. I can’t imagine how I would create my characters if I didn’t know how people think and feel, and something of the richness of their lives.

After I became too disabled to work for a college or other institutions, I began teaching from home and running writing groups; also leading guided creative writing for personal development both in groups and for individuals.

Sadly, I’m able to do very little work now – less and less each year as my health problems increase – but I still run some writing workshops at home.

7. Do you write with a theme or a message in mind, and if so, what might it be?

I have always seen writing as a political act, however, I don’t necessarily set out to express a particular message. I don’t consciously write stories to give a message so much as to express a vision. On the other hand, the outsider is a constant theme in my work, and in all my writing the main protagonist is in some way an outsider.

8. What are you working on at the moment?

I have just finished a novel, The Dowager’s Dream, set on the north coast of Scotland during the brutal clearances in the region. The story was partly inspired by the lives of my great, great-grandmothers, Margaret MacKenzie and Christine Patterson, also by an extraordinary account written in 1809 by the Minister’s daughter of Reay, describing a mermaid she saw in Sandside Bay, Caithness – but the mermaid in The Dowager’s Dream is not pretty, being a dark symbol of both sexual and cultural repression. For several years I was researching the Highland clearances and themes of dispossession and ethnic cleansing are central to the novel.

Now I have several ideas for novels which I’m working on until it becomes clear which one I want to concentrate upon! There is a thriller (my first!) set in Cornwall; a novel about a group of young people living in short-life housing; and finally, a novel about three young sisters, which is exploring the secrets and taboos that all families hide.

I’m also working on a short story about Emily Bronte which I’ve been struggling with for quite some time.

9.Can you tell us about your publishing experiences so far? 

I was very fortunate with The Minotaur Hunt because the first publisher I approached, the Harvester Press, accepted it straightaway, and then it won the Mind Book of the Year Award which helped promote it. The Harvester press were a small independent publishers who mostly published literary criticism for universities but also some literary fiction. Unfortunately, they were taken over by a big multinational corporation, Simon & Schuster, soon after The Minotaur Hunt was published who closed down Harvester’s fiction list leaving me without a publisher. It was about the time that publishing changed a lot, following the ending of the net book agreement, most independent publishing houses were gradually taken over by a few huge multinationals that were totally profit centred. Mostly because of winning the award, The Minotaur Hunt sold out in hardback, although small numbers have usually been available through eBay, but I couldn’t find any other publisher to take it on. A few years ago I decided to write a new epilogue as it was 20 years since it was first published. I was inspired by Angela Carter’s “afterword” to her early novel, Love, written years after it was published. In my Afterword I revisit all the characters to see what has happened to them in the years since the novel finished. First of all I published this revised edition of the novel on Kindle and Kobo, and then in September I published it as a paperback.

I have written five novels since The Minotaur Hunt but sadly none of them have been published. I have published several short stories and poems in anthologies and literary magazines. I had a collection of short stories, Demon Lovers, shortlisted for the Scott Award in 2010 and I’m planning to self publish that as it so difficult to get short stories published. I have already published three short stories on Kindle and Kobo, The Doll and Other Stories: Strange Tales. I think it’s really sad that so few publishers, including small independent presses, publish short stories. I love reading short stories myself and I know lots of other people do too.

10.Do you find it hard to say goodbye to your characters? If so, which character from The Minotaur Hunt would you revisit if you could?

I love all my characters, even the minor ones and the unattractive ones, and I never forget them. As I said above, I have already revisited the characters from The Minotaur Hunt in the new epilogue I’ve written.

11. Tell us what inspires your writing

Anything that stimulates my imagination! Inspiration comes from all manner of things; I am always getting ideas for short stories and novels – some of which I will discard later but many I keep and return to; sometimes after several years.

I always begin with an idea, sometimes with a story I have heard or read, often this might be taken from history or from myth or legend. I’m a highly political person (with a small p!) and I’m always gripped by stories of injustice, abuse, alienation or persecution – these are the kind of stories I always want to tell (as with the Highland Clearances).

12.What is your approach to marketing and self-promotion?

This is the part of writing that have always found most difficult. I hate it! And I am really bad at it. When I first wrote The Minotaur Hunt I went about practically apologising for having had the temerity to write a novel!

I am getting better at it, partly because I’ve realised I must, given the extreme commercialisation of the publishing world today. I do have a website and a Facebook author page.

At the moment I’m approaching literary agents with my latest novel, The Dowager’s Dream, but so far I’ve had no luck. One of them was very enthusiastic at first but decided in the end that it wasn’t for him.

If none of them are interested, I will try some small presses before publishing it independently.

Miriam’s Bio;

For several years I worked in the field of mental health in a variety of roles. I ran therapeutic workshops for survivors of childhood trauma. I taught on community links courses and ran consultancy and personal development courses for mental health service clients, and training courses and workshops for mental health professionals.

I also worked part-time for the Faculty of Continuing Education at Birkbeck College, University of London, teaching a course for women in creative writing for personal development, and also teaching modern literature, cross-cultural and postcolonial literature.

I’m disabled by a progressive degenerative disease so now I work from home as a freelance tutor in literature and creative writing. I still run therapeutic creative writing workshops and offer individual sessions in writing for personal development and self-exploration.

I have had work published, including fiction, literary reviews and mental health articles. My first novel, The Minotaur Hunt, was published by the Harvester Press and won the MIND Book of the Year Award, a revised edition is now available as a paperback and on Kindle and Kobo. In 2010, I had a collection of short stories, Demon Lovers, shortlisted for the Scott Award (Salt publishing), three of these stories are published on Kindle and Kobo as The Doll and other stories: Strange Tales.

Connect with Miriam;

Facebook

Twitter

Website

New Feature; Indie Book of The Month!

Welcome to a new monthly feature for my blog. I read A LOT, and I read a good mix of indie and traditionally published books as well as a real mix of genres. I’m always looking for ways to repay the indie community who are so supportive of me, so I thought why not post a book of the month feature?

At the end of each month, I will post a blog promoting the best indie book I read that month. I will also be contacting the author for a follow-up interview. After highlighting the book of the month, I will also link to any other indie books that caught my eye, as well as the best traditionally published book I read this month and the best new author I discovered this month. But the main feature is the indie book!

So, please allow me to introduce you to the very best indie book I read in January 2018. The Minotaur Hunt by Miriam Hastings

This fantastic book about life inside a mental institution won the MIND book of the year award and was previously published by Harvester Press. Here is the blurb;

A winner of the MIND Book of the Year Award, this is a present-day story with a legendary model. To the people of Crete, the Minotaur was a creature of darkness and horror. Locked in a labyrinth where no-one could see him, he became the scapegoat for everyone’s worst imaginable nightmares and terrors.

Chrissie and Rachel are Minotaurs. They meet in Bradley, a rambling Victorian institution for the mentally ill. As the novel unfolds and their respective stories are gradually revealed, their growing relationship becomes a rich source of shared experience and a focus for their deepening knowledge of themselves.

The Minotaur Hunt is an arresting story of modern society which draws on some of the most evocative qualities of myth-making. In its fearless exploration into some of the darkest areas of human experience, it strikingly portrays the complexities and difficulties of human communication in a powerful and moving narrative which is both disturbing and honest, captivating and profound.

This is a revised edition of the novel with a new Afterword by the author.

And here is my Amazon/Goodreads review;

I was drawn into this book from the very first page. Rachel is a 16-year-old girl who has a habit of escaping from everyday life whenever she feels like it. She simply curls up on her bed and waits for the boat to come and take her to the world she has created in her mind. It’s a beautiful world, inhabited by elegant and sexless creatures who would like her to live with them permanently. Rachel cannot do this while she is still anchored to the real world, and her desire to do so results in her parents committing her to an institution for the mentally ill. At such a young age, Rachel is terrified and confused, but she gradually discovers true friendship among the other inmates, Chrissie, Rosie, Daniel and David. Rachel and Chrissie become particularly close, eventually realising that they have experienced similar trauma. This book is set in the 1980’s, a time when the mentally ill were still treated quite badly in such places. The relationship they all had with the ward doctor made for some interesting reading. I could never quite decide if he was on their side or not, or simply manipulating them. This is a beautifully written book which gave me characters I could truly care about and I thank the author for that. I felt like they were all real and I was part of their journey for the time I was immersed in their lives. There is a tragic ending for a few of the characters and hope and recovery for some of the others. I was desperate for things to turn out well for all of them! There are some fantastic characters in this book and some really thought-provoking issues dealt with. It really made me think all the way through. I also enjoyed the mythical element to it which at times provided a slight relief from the starkness of life inside the institution. A brave and wonderful book. I would love to read more from this author.

I highly recommend this book if you are looking for something to really get involved with. Not only does this book totally pull you into these characters lives and minds, this novel really invites you to think about mental health. Not a light read and contains some upsetting scenes, but in my view, an extremely important book by a fantastic indie writer, who I really hope has more books out soon!

The Minotaur Hunt by [Hastings, Miriam]

Other Indies I Enjoyed This Month;

Ghosts of London(book 3 in Mark Gillespie’sFuture of London Series)

The Oscillator by JK Neve

Best Traditionally Published Book of the Month;

Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

Best Author I’ve Discovered This Month;

Matt De La Pena

Silence Is Dangerous

Warning; Political post. If that’s not your thing, you better scarper now. If you’ve had enough of politics, you’ve been given fair warning to scuttle off and ignore this. I’m not often political on here. I try very hard to keep politics from my Facebook author page too. On my personal page, not so much. But my other social media profiles, Twitter, Instagram etc, it is politics free. But sometimes I can’t stay silent. Sometimes it’s dangerous to do so. And if you think politics have nothing to do with my books, you’d be wrong too. All of my books revolve around social issues, one way or another. To give you an example, the book that I am currently submitting, The Tree Of Rebels, is set in a future based on my fears for where we are heading as a society, and the next book after that, Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature is a story about a mother and son in a low socio-economic position, and how they struggle to survive fear and despair. The book I have just started the third draft of, A Song For Bill Robinson, is also mildly political in nature, as one of the main storylines is the threatened closure of the community centre due to local Government spending cuts. For me, as a human and as a writer, these issues are real and they are happening. But I digress…

I get it if you’re fed up with politics. I really do. I’m fed up too. Believe me. I wish I could do what so many others seem to be able to master. I wish I could plug my ears, close my eyes, bury my head and build a little happy bubble around me. Really, please believe me, I am as sick of politics as the next person. It’s literally doing my head in. First, we had the General Election in 2015 here in the UK. In a shocking twist, the Tories beat Labour. Then we had Brexit. More drama, more division, more hatred, and another shocking twist. Then there was the US Election. And Trump. Don’t even…. ugh. So I do understand. It’s been horrendous. (Unless you’re happily sat on the extreme right and aren’t scared by the threat of World War Three or climate and planetary destruction that is, in which case it’s not been horrendous for you at all.)

But for those of us who are scared, disappointed, angry, confused, it has been a horrible few years. We are all sick of it and we all want to turn off the TV, avoid social media, tell people not to talk politics, and declare areas as politics free.

But it’s not quite that easy, though oh how I wish it was.

You see, politics is very, very interested in you.

Politics affects everything, from the roads you drive on, to the very air you breathe. And I feel like this; if you are lucky enough right now to not be affected by Tory policies, if you are fortunate enough that you do not need to rely on the NHS, on state education, on fair rents, on mental health or social care, then lucky you. That’s brilliant. You won’t be affected by the vicious cuts in place or those to come. It would be nice if you could spare a thought for those that are, such as the millions of children who will be suffering increased class sizes or shorter school days, once the next round of cuts to education sets in. But if you can’t even do that, then please think about the air you breathe and the planet you live on. Think about the future of this planet under the rule of a Government who have increased taxes on solar and wind power, and are in favour of fracking despite the local communities saying no. This is not our planet. It belongs to those we leave it to. Our children and their children.

And if we stay silent, because the truth scares us, or because it upsets us or keeps us awake at night, then surely we are playing into their hands and giving them the subservient and docile electorate they want. If we do not speak up for those who are suffering, what does that say about us? Who will speak up for us when we are suffering?

7FDDSQl

I wish I could ignore politics. It invades my life and gives me sleepless nights where my brain aches and my guts churn. It makes me angry and desperate on a daily basis. It makes me cry when I am alone walking the dogs. It makes me worry about the future of my children, their education, their future jobs and homes. Their planet. It affects me on a daily basis because I am reliant on the NHS, on the state education which is being destroyed as we speak. It affects my 9-year-old son in ways that distress us all. It makes me look at my 2-year-old and feel intense guilt for even choosing to bring him into this world.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is, a politics-free world would be nice and avoiding politics would be refreshing, but I feel like this is dangerous. Silence is dangerous. Silence allows these terrible things to continue. Believe me, they will take your silence as silent agreement. We have to speak up and speak out. Even if it hurts us to do so, even if it angers us to argue and debate with people, even if we are left with disappointment and despair. We are not sheep or cattle. We are thinking, feeling, creative beings and despite what they want you to believe, it is not natural to human nature or behaviour to leave people behind, to allow cruelty, to turn our backs. Society works when we all look after each other. We would not have got this far as a species if individualism and selfishness had always been the order of the day.

I know this post will alienate some followers. I fully expect to be unfollowed by some, ignored by others. That’s fine. That’s a risk I’m happy to take. It’s got to the stage now that it’s dangerous to shut up and keep quiet. Too much is at stake now. It’s not even funny anymore. Personally, when it all hits the fan, I want to know I can look my children in the eye and say I tried. I fucking tried.

The society the Tories are building right now horrifies and offends me. And I won’t shut up about it. I will argue and debate with anyone who is up for it. And I will continue to weave the ordinary stories of ordinary people into my books so that they may have a voice there too.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to vote. But I am going to warn you that silence is dangerous and turning your back on what’s going on in this world right now is very, very wrong.