Fresh Fiction with Novel London

This Friday I will be reading from my upcoming novel, My Life as a Bench, at Novel London.

Novel London is the brainchild of writer Safeena Chaudhry. Having been to many short story and poetry events she noticed a lack of new novels from new novelists being read on the literary scene and decided to launch a regular event where writers read out their opening chapter.

This Friday, October 7th, Novel London will be celebrating fiction from London and beyond at independent bookshop Travelling Through Bookshop & Cafe in Waterloo. There will also be readings from Ben Starling and Helena Halme, and author Stephen Marriott will be the compere. The event is free and you can register for tickets here.

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What I Learned from Famous Writers at London Book Fair

IMG_4276 (1)London Book Fair always buzzes with big names and LBF16 was no exception. Meg Rosoff, Deborah Levy and Judith Kerr were all interviewed at the English PEN Literary Salon (a designated area away from the publishers’ stands). Sadly, I missed all of the above but I did manage to catch appearances from other successful writers: Jeffrey, Peter and Jeanette. But can you learn anything useful by listening to a half-hour slot from an established name?

First up, I happened to be sitting in the PEN Literary Salon area (meeting a friend) when who should show up behind a wall of press photographers than Jeffrey Archer in a novelty tie (it may have had books on it, but I wasn’t close enough to see).

Archer is brash (often dismissive of press and underlings) and irrepressible. He talked about book promotion rather than writing, and declared himself a “storyteller” rather than a writer. He produces about 14 drafts of each novel.

Peter James is the antithesis of Archer. Where Archer is loud, larger than life with an ego that fills the room (Olympia), Peter James is quieter, considered and calm. Whether or not this is due to the amount of time he spends with dead bodies I don’t know, but this unassuming man certainly sees the darker side of life firsthand as he often accompanies police on various raids and has lost count of how many autopsies he has attended.

James offered sound advice, saying character is key, followed by research (to ensure accuracy) and finally plot. ‘You’ve got to surprise yourself as a writer or you won’t surprise the reader.’

Jeanette Winterson was both formidable and passionate as she regaled the audience with her Version 3thoughts on Shakespeare, theatre, and the London he knew – a young city where everything was urgent and people lived life to the full.

Winterson’s latest novel, The Gap of Time, is a reimagining of The Winter’s Tale. ‘I am a foundling,’ Winterson said, ‘it has an abandoned baby at its centre and I used to read it looking for clues.’

She went on to say that there are three available endings: revenge, tragedy and forgiveness, and that as she gets older she is more interested in forgiveness.

Impassioned and inspiring, Winterson followed her dynamic reading by sharing her view that creativity is at the centre of everything. ‘Creativity is a birthright. Never doubt that what you’re doing is at the centre of life. Money is not the heart of life, it’s creativity.’

 

Room at the Top

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This is a photo of the house I rented with five other students in Nottingham. It was rundown and in a rough area, not that we cared at the time as it was more important to be near the college and city centre.

My room was at the top. It provided a fascinating window on our street that happened to be in the red-light area of the city.

Watching from that window provided the inspiration for my novel I Came to Find a Girl.

This extract forms the end of the first chapter (after a woman’s body has been found nearby).

 

Back in my room at the top, I looked out the window to see if there were any girls out on the corner at the crossroads. The wall where they liked to sit was empty but I sketched it anyway – the waiting-for-a-trick wall with its bricks falling from one end.

I reapplied my eyeliner and pinned up my hair, gathered my uniform together, and raced down the two flights of shag-pile carpeted stairs. “Seeya,” I shouted out in the greying light of the hallway, and slammed the front door behind me, pressing my fingers against it to check.

Two women with bare legs were sitting on the wall opposite. It’s too cold to dress like that, I thought. What are they doing there? Have they not seen the news? I wondered if Mum and Dad had. Probably not, this was local stuff. They didn’t even know I was living in the red-light area.

As I turned onto the main road, I saw the police cordon further up the hill by The Vine, our local pub. Nottingham and particularly our scrappy corner of the city suddenly seemed more dangerous, and yet nothing had changed. The threat of a madman roaming the streets had always been there. It’s probably safer than normal – police everywhere, I thought. But still, to make the twenty-minute trek across town to Saviour’s Bar and Restaurant, I slipped my keys between my fingers. The sharpest, jagged-edged Yale was between my index and middle finger, and gripped discreetly by my side. Everyone needs keys.

Five Star Stories #Kindle Countdown

TSUNAMI_thumbnail.jpg‘Pure, genuine, accessible and extremely moving. From parkour to euthanasia, from sexual predators to finding a dead body in your yard; from accidental heroism to hereditary predilections towards infidelity; the range of subjects covered in these stories is vast’ Literogo

‘A collection of very well written dark comic tales. They start off innocent enough then completely throw you with a dark twist or something completely bizarre. Highly recommended’ Dean Winstanley, Goodreads

‘I’ve found in London Tsunami exactly what I’ve been looking for: extremely talented contemporary short story authors, the modern, living, active writers with the very real potential of joining the greats’ Mediascover

 

On offer until 22 February 2016 Amazon UK click here.

On offer 21-28 February 2016 Amazon US click here.

Stickers on Book Covers

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Stickers (or more likely pretend stickers) are all the rage on book covers. Those little bright circles used to contain important additional information, such as a shortlisting for a literary prize, but now it can be almost anything including frequent claims that the latest release is the new Gone Girl or for fans of The Girl on the Train or Stieg Larsson.

Anyway, I can hardly complain since I have joined in with my own circular cry for attention, but why stop at one? Perhaps I could coat my entire book cover in circles filled with the best and most exciting quotes?

Rewriting the City and its Dark, Twisted Streets

Why I chose Nottingham as a setting for my novel I Came to Find a Girl

Nottingham, UNESCO City of Literature, has provided the setting for classic novels from the likes of DH Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe, and continues to inspire today with writers such as John Harvey, David Belbin and Nicola Monaghan using the city in their contemporary works. Nottingham is also the main setting for my novel I Came to Find a Girl.

I Came to Find a Girl is a psychological thriller about art student Mia and how she meets famous artist Jack Flood when he’s in the city for the opening of his own exhibition. Mia goes back to his hotel, accepts a drink, and later wakes up naked with no idea what has occurred. She fears she may have been filmed for one of Flood’s future video artworks. Should she go to the police? And what has happened to here missing friend Jenny? Women are being murdered, and the city seems to have become a more dangerous place.

IMG_3610The novel began as a desire to look at what it’s like to be a young, single woman in an urban environment – the dark side of the Sex & the City/Bridget Jones lifestyle, if you like – and the reality that there is a downside to sexual freedom and that women will always have to watch out.

Thankfully most people live their entire lives unscathed by serious crime, but there is always the ‘what if’ scenario – that moment in anyone’s past where taking a wrong turn, though no fault of one’s own, could render a person vulnerable to harm. Moments like this are also more likely if you’re young and out partying, your better judgement fuzzed by alcohol, and so that’s why I chose to make my protagonist a young student, out enjoying her new found freedom in Nottingham’s numerous bars and clubs.

Nottingham’s lively, attractive centre is compact, and has a small-town feel, making it the  perfect setting for characters to repeatedly run into each other, even though one of them would rather not.

There is the legendary Rock City and the many other clubs and bars that contribute to Nottingham’s reputation as a great night out, and there is the contrasting sprawl of its various residential areas that span out from its heart.

Every night out ends with the need to return home. A bus or tram will only take you so far, and a cab may be too costly for the young. All women know that even the shortest walk home can suddenly feel treacherous if there are footsteps behind.

I spent three years in Nottingham, firstly in the Meadows area and then in Forest Fields. Walking home late at night was always a concern. My house was in the red light area and cars would sometimes slow by the kerbside, although thankfully apart from the odd proposition nothing untoward happened. But these memories triggered a sense that (like all cities) Nottingham is a place where dark happenings sometimes occur, and that the numerous worm-like streets that spread out from its beating heart could provide the perfect backdrop for a story that is ‘dark, haunting, twisted’ (according to the Telegraph). Nottingham is an attractive, vibrant city and as it continuously evolves, so too will it continue to inspire.

This feature was first published on NottsLit, Literature with a Nottingham Connection.

Meet the Author on BookFabulous

Version 2Rana Asfour is featuring a Q & A with me on BookFabulous:

Rana writes: ‘One of the most exciting thrillers to come out in 2015, I Came to Find a Girl by Jaq Hazell (aka Jacqui Hazell) is the one you should be reaching for if dark, intense crime fiction is your thing. This deliciously intense novel about female art student Mia, and her entanglement with award-winning, renowned super artist Jack Flood has hit the shelves to very high praise.

‘Described by the Telegraph as ‘Dark, haunting, twisted’ and listed in their top best crime fiction for 2015, and described by yours truly as ‘a disturbing reflective book that will refuse to loosen its grip on you for some time’, BookFabulous thought it fitting that more be known about the author, her book and her writing. Read the full interview on BookFabulous.

A Room of One’s Own – it’s the Place in One’s Head

You’re a woman and you write, so no doubt you have a dedicated writing space and a private income? No, me neither. It’s quite a while since Virginia Woolf stated that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”.

IMG_3307When Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own was first published in 1929 this was most likely true, but is it still the case? Money has always been an issue for writers, both male and female. How do you make art pay? DJ Taylor’s new book Literary Life in England Since 1918 looks at the ongoing struggle that most writers face in order to pay the bills so that they can write what they really want to write.

Journalism, teaching, a quiet role in publishing: these have traditionally been the jobs that have provided a steady income for writers, but as the workplace becomes ever more competitive and demanding many writers find they are left with little energy for their art, and yet at the same time they cannot survive on writing alone.

The Society of Authors this week issued an open letter to publishers urging them to address the issue of author earnings which it says are “falling fast”. Authors are “the only essential part of the creation of a book” and yet “the percentage of UK writers living solely from writing” has fallen from 40 % in 2005 to 11.5 % today. So, yes, when it comes to money nothing has changed, in fact it’s getting worse, but do we need our own cubby-hole in which to create?

Since moving to London 23 years ago I’ve set up home in 15 different places and while some flats or houses have provided enough space for a completely separate room that I can call my own, many others have not. London property prices being what they are space is at a premium and for me the luxury of a personal, hands-off, me-only writing space became impossible as our family increased from two to four.

Until recently my desk was a family affair, subject to a ridiculous level of hot-decking. The main computer was rarely left alone. This could slow me down, but there was no reason why it should. All my first-drafts are longhand, as are my edits, and that means I can write anywhere: in an armchair, or a coffee shop, waiting in a car and on trains.

Trains are particularly good for writing (as long as you have a seat). Perhaps it’s the steady movement combined with confinement and boredom. I may as well get on with it and go elsewhere in my head because this is the one true room of one’s own – the place in one’s head.

As a skill, craft and discipline writing is completely portable. You can do it almost anywhere. There’s no point waiting for perfect conditions (such as your own clear desk in your own swish room), you the writer must take control, ignore all chores (think Iris Murdoch’s school of housework), as you make space in that room in your head to let your imaginary world grow.

Of course a room of one’s own and money to support oneself would help a woman write fiction, but at the same time the lack of one or both of these criteria should not close the door on literary ambition, although in all likelihood its realisation may well take longer.

Think of Jane Austen writing at that tiny table by the window in the front room at Chawton (listening out for the creak of the door to warn her of interruptions), or the Brontes all together in the dining room at the parsonage in Haworth, and JK Rowling upstairs in an Edinburgh cafe (whilst on benefits). No one said it would be easy. The compulsion to write is strong – it has to be to enable a writer to reach the end whatever their personal circumstances. Lack of sponsorship or a private space to write are hurdles that can be overcome as long as you nurture that one true room of your own – where the magic happens – the place in your head.

 

This feature was first published on Women Writers, Women’s Books

BEST CRIME FICTION BOOKS FOR 2015

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Wow, what a great end to the year. My novel, I CAME TO FIND A GIRL, has been included in The Telegraph’s Best Crime Fiction Books for 2015. The review and full list is here.

And more good news, LONDON TSUNAMI & OTHER STORIES received an amazing review from literary website Literogo. Happy days.

Meanwhile, I spent quite a while queuing at the Post Office to send off copies of I CAME TO FIND A GIRL to the winners on Goodreads. Fingers crossed they all arrive safely. Happy New Year!