An Italian Family Drama with Rowena Holloway
I'd like to welcome fellow suspense author, Rowena Holloway, to Fearless Prose. I'm going to ask all sorts of probing questions so readers can find out what makes her tick.
What characteristics do you think contribute to a successful business woman?
After all my business studies you’d think I could rattle off a nice succinct answer about leadership, self-esteem and emotional intelligence, and I could turn to the text books (if I still had them).
Yet my experience has taught me that ‘success’ is a relative term. When I first quit my day job to write, my mother would introduce me to her friends as ‘my daughter, who used to be successful’. Thanks, Mum.
At least it’s all good fodder for us writerly types.
Follow your bliss. That’s my advice. Be aware enough to figure out what gives you joy and strong enough to make it happen. It might be a circuitous path, because we all have to pay the bills and care for loved ones, but if we know our purpose we’ll get there.
Do you think of yourself as an adventurous person and why?
I think I’m most adventurous within the pages of a book—that way I never have to camp out.
What is your idea of blissful happiness?
Silence. Especially when accompanied by a glass of wine and good book. Of course, I’ll also take a good walk on a long beach with my dog, Alfie—the best dog in the world, but aren’t they all?
What is it about the suspense genre that appeals to you?
I’ve always loved puzzling things out and I treasure my Hitchcock collection (movies, TV series, the Hitchcock magazine—I’ve got them all!), so it wasn’t really a surprise to find that’s where my musings led me. Dark and twisted, that’s me.
When I come across a story that keeps me guessing about what’s really going on I can’t put it down. When that’s accompanied by a few twists that change the context of everything that’s gone before—well, then I’m in heaven! There’s also that edge of your seat tension that comes with knowing something is lurking and following the build up to its appearance.
Suspense can come in many forms and I think it’s richer for that. But don’t ever kill the dog. I always get nervous when a dog is introduced in a novel.
Name a couple of your favourite authors and/or what you’re currently reading.
The writer I re-read most is Maggie O’Farrell. I admire her subtlety and her ability to elicit powerful emotion with just a few strokes of ink, and it’s her work I study in an effort to grow as a writer. Having said that I’m a big fan of most suspense—from thrillers to mystery and anything that has a meaty ‘why’ question at its heart.
The last book I couldn’t put down was Inheriting Fear (you might have heard of it ;) ) and the book I’m currently reading is Eye of the Sheep. It’s written from the point of view of an autistic boy and is fascinating and moving, but not suspenseful. I’m an equal opportunity reader.
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All About the Book
'All That's Left Unsaid'
What is your latest book about?
All That’s Left Unsaid is a story of love, greed and family secrets set in Positano, Italy.
“All my life, I waited for my mother’s affection. Now I must compete with a dead woman.”
When Harriet Taylor learns her mother once lived in Italy, a secret she has kept for thirty years, Harriet accepts the challenge to determine if the remains known only has the Positano Skeleton belong to her mother’s long lost friend. Yet how can she probe old secrets when she doesn’t speak the language and no one wants to talk to a foreigner about the skeleton or the past? Then a homeless man hands her a photograph and she must decide how much she will risk to discover the truth.
In the dark chasm of Italy’s past, some things are best left buried. And a mother's silence can be deadly.
Why did you set part of the story in Italy?
Food, wine, gorgeous landscapes (you thought I was going to say ‘men’, didn’t you?). I love everything about Italy, and the language feels good rolling off the tongue, as Harriet discovers during her travels. The choice to set the novel in Positano in the south of Italy rather than somewhere else is down to a Robert Downey Jr. Or more specifically, the movie Only You. The locations are breathtaking. So when I sat down to write about a family secret Positano was the setting that emerged. I’m glad it did because it was such fun to research.
Did you draw on your own life experiences at all to write this book?
If I answer that I might have to kill my mother (just kidding, Mum).
There are a few experiences that crept into the novel. How can they not? I have travelled extensively and so my memories are embedded in the settings and Harriet’s attempts with language, though hers go better than mine did. At the time I began writing I’d just been hounded out of a job I’d lived for and my mother and I were going through a really rough patch. I’d often get phone calls from her that made me stomp into my office and pound out my frustrations on the keyboard.
You can probably imagine how raw those first drafts were, but with time comes objectivity. I think I’ve let it compost long enough to allow All That’s Left Unsaid to become an emotive and intriguing suspense.
I think that everyone can sympathise with Harriet trying to live up to work and personal expectations. How has her family situation affected her?
I certainly hope readers can relate to her. Expectations certainly have a lot to answer for. Harriet was rejected by her grandfather and ignored by her mother. As a very young child she had her grandmother’s love and support but when her gran died, Harriet was bereft. She’s always felt undeserving of love.
As soon as she got her degree she fled to London, following her dream of becoming an investigative reporter, but that feeling of being unlovable led her to choose a relationship with a man who was unavailable in several ways—you can’t be rejected if you can walk away or so she believes. She’s always trying to win approval, at work and with her mother, and like most of us who try too hard, she fails spectacularly.
Harriet is already questioning who she is when her mother reveals she wasn’t always the unhappy, Valium addicted woman Harriet knows. The revelation is both a blessing and a curse: her mother’s request that she find the identity of the Positano Skeleton is an opportunity to redeem herself, but she’ll have to face what she ran from six years earlier. She has no idea what passion and danger await her in Italy.
I especially find the angle of a woman without the backing of authorities trying to unravel a mystery intriguing. Did this make plot revelations more difficult?
Some things were certainly a challenge. Amateur detective novels interest me because the protagonist often has to find creative ways to obtain information that a cop could access easily. One of the things I love most about suspense is the discovery of the real story. Had Harriet found a competent policeman early on a lot of the mystery would have been lost: he (or she) would have known or been able to find out what really happened at the villa in 1963 and could easily scare off her stalker. Not to mention if Magliari, the first cop she encounters, had been sympathetic to her cause there would have been no story!
What I found most difficult, and I didn’t discover this until well into the first draft, was that first person, present tense limits how information can be revealed. The reader can only know it when Harriet knows it; they can only see it from her point of view. Suspense arising from the reader knowing something Harriet doesn’t (someone lurking around the corner, the dark intentions of her stalker) isn’t available. Furthermore, present tense meant I couldn’t foreshadow events. Harriet wasn’t able to hint at anything in the future because she had no way of knowing it. Yet those are also the strengths of this type of storytelling and first person has an immediacy you don’t get with past tense. I certainly hope readers find it just as suspenseful.
The idea of discovering something shocking about a family member is an awful thought. What internal struggles does Harriet have?
As a kid I longed to discover something shocking, and was thrilled to discover I’d had Cornish ancestors who were smugglers! I embraced that background and my errant relatives. Later, I discovered they weren’t blood relatives and that there was a good bit of exaggeration involved in the whole smuggling story. I found that quite confronting. Everything I’d believed about my heritage was wrong. I guess a lot of that feeling found its way into Harriet’s story.
As for Harriet’s struggles, I often find the character’s internal journey is the most difficult to plot and seems to work best for me when I let it emerge. That’s what happened with All That’s Left Unsaid.
Her internal journey is very much about discovering herself and confronting her unconscious assumptions about her mother and herself. Harriet believes her birth trapped her mother on the farm and that her mother resented her for that reason. Learning that her mother had a whole other life halfway across the world forces her to question what she believes to be true. And the more she discovers about her mother’s life in Italy—the villa, the friend who vanished, the secrecy surrounding it all—the more she comes to question everything that has shaped who she is and the choices she’s made.
During that first draft (and there were many ‘first’ drafts) I was focused more on her outward struggles—solving the mystery, overcoming the threats stirred by her questions. It’s often only after I’ve dealt with the plot elements that I recognise how my subconscious has been at work. It was only when I had some distance from the novel and began to edit that I recognised the most prevalent theme was silence. Harriet has a lot of internal thoughts about her mother’s silence, and her own inability to open up to those around her has consequences for everyone. Silence has shaped who she is and how she relates to those she loves.
By the time I realised how thematic that was I’d already titled the novel All That’s Left Unsaid, so perhaps my subconscious had been tapping at my thoughts for a while.
Thanks for having me over, Sandy. It’s been great chatting with you and your readers.
Watch the Book Trailer
For your chance to win one of two FREE e-copies of 'All That's Left Unsaid', answer this question. (Winner announced Friday 1st May.)
What location do you think would make a good setting for a suspense novel?
Up close and personal with Alexandra Sokoloff
I am thrilled to have the vivacious, globe-trotting Alexandra Sokoloff chatting with me today!
Ask a question for the chance to win an audio book.
Grab a cuppa and get ready to learn things you never knew about this best-selling author and screen writer, not to mention her awesome characters.
Alexandra describes herself in one sentence.
I’m an author, screenwriter, teacher, dancer, feminist… and I’m from Berkeley.
What drew her to the thriller genre?
I fully admit I’m an adrenaline junkie! But I’ve also always had a strong sense of social outrage. My biggest theme as a writer is “What can good people do about the evil in the world?” The crime genre makes it possible to address issues of social injustice and explore the real roots of good and evil in a really in-depth way, at the same time that you’re delivering a roller-coaster experience of suspense.
I'm guessing she's an adventurous person, but does Alexandra think so?
I’m laughing, because “adventurous” is probably the word I hear used most often by other people to describe me. It would be pretty hard to deny it, given that I’m now living half in Scotland because two years ago I met the Scottish crime author Craig Robertson at a writing conference in Colorado Springs, and two months later I’d moved to Scotland and in with him - despite the fact we’d never actually had a date.
Where does that come from? I was raised by parents who loved to travel and so I had a lot of exposure to different places and different cultures. I got addicted to that early on. And part of it is I really throw myself into research; I strongly believe it’s my job to give readers the experience of adventure. They don’t call them “thrillers” for nothing.
What makes her laugh out loud?
Besides being asked if I’m adventurous? J Fawlty Towers. The Reduced Shakespeare Company. Danny Bhoy. Craig Robertson. Our two-year old nephew.
Now, we all know I'm a passionate advocate for strong women, so I asked what characteristics contribute to Alexandra's business success.
For me, relentlessness helps. If one way isn’t working, or stops working, I try something else. Loving what I do keeps me going. Being supportive of other people and sharing what you know is key. Checking in and re-evaluating your dream periodically is important, because your dream will evolve. And it doesn’t sound very businesslike, but what really helps is to realize that you’re not alone. The Universe, the Goddess, God, Providence, whatever you want to call it, is an endless source of aid and inspiration. If things aren’t going so well, get quiet with yourself and check in with your spiritual source. It may take a while, but the answers will come.
And her idea of blissful happiness is..
I have good days and I have bad days, but I have to say my life is pretty wonderful as it is. I make my living as an author, I write a series I’m passionate about and that readers are passionate about, I live with a brilliant and talented creative partner, I have a great family and great friends, I travel frequently as part of my work, I’m often given the opportunity to teach wonderfully creative people in interesting parts of the world. “Frenetic” is sometimes a better word to describe it than “blissful” – but it’s still pretty amazingly good.
What is on your bucket list?
Well, my partner shares my love of travel so we’ve got a long list of adventures to come! Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Egypt in general, Moscow, anywhere we can see the Northern Lights….
And personally I’m very committed to setting the Huntress series up as a television series. [Now I'd like to see that!] I don’t think it would have been possible ten years ago; the themes are just too radical and challenging. But great television like Mad Men and Deadwood have pushed the envelope far enough that it may just be time.
Alexandra's favourite authors.
So many, but I love Mo Hayder, Tana French, Stephen King, Lee Child, Dan Simmons, Val McDermid, and Denise Mina. I am currently re-reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, because the story takes on a whole different resonance when you’re living in Scotland!
We all want to know what her next project is.
I’m writing Book 4 in the Huntress series. It’s a struggle at the moment because I seem to be writing three different books at once. I think it will all become more clear to me once Cold Moon is out there and I start getting reader feedback. I learn so much from what readers tell me about the books!
(Read more about the Huntress series below.)
Connect with Alexandra on her blog, Facebook, Twitter or Goodreads.
Grab a copy on Amazon.
'Cold Moon' coming 5th May
Let's learn a little about this series of nail-biting thrillers.
What is the Huntress series about?
The Huntress series follows a haunted FBI agent, Matthew Roarke, on an interstate manhunt for a mysterious woman who may be a female serial killer. But as a former profiler, Roarke knows that female serial killers don’t really exist. So there’s a whole mystery not only about who she is, but about what exactly she’s doing and why.
If you’re new to this series I strongly recommend that you start with Book 1, Huntress Moon, and read the books in order. I’ve written them more as a serial than a series, and the action takes place one month at a time.
I love that in the Huntress series the protagonist isn’t exactly a villain, because she has a strong motive. What are Cara Lindstrom’s positive character traits?
Cara is absolutely committed to doing as much as she can to eradicate the human suffering perpetrated by evil people. She’s really pretty selfless about that, too. Other than that, she has certain skills, but I wouldn’t exactly call them positive.
You skilfully maintain the sexual tension between the hunter and hunted. What do you think the key to this balance is?
Thank you! I look at them as two halves of the same person. Or really, of the same soul. It’s a very romantic notion, the Platonic idea that each human being is half of one complete soul that has been split apart, and we spend our lives searching for our other half. If you believe that, you can well imagine how almost violently those two halves might struggle to find and join with each other, despite all odds, obstacles, and sense. So I think of Roarke and Cara as two halves of the same soul that are magnetized to each other; they can’t help themselves, even though actually uniting could destroy them both.
And the other part of their nature is that they are fighters, and they’re fighting the same battle, by very different rules. So together they are a powerful crime fighting team. (Others may disagree…)
How does the perception of events vary from Cara to Agent Roarke?
Cara lives very much in the moment and experiences life with a sort of magical realism. She believes in portents, in synchronicity, in animism, in monsters, in absolute good and absolute evil. Her chapters are written in present tense to capture that immediacy.
Roarke is a very intuitive man working in a very rational profession. So his way of seeing things isn’t always so different from Cara’s, it’s just been trained out of him. And some of it he’s rejected because it’s too frightening to live that way. He’s a lawman, but since he’s been tracking Cara he’s really struggling to keep a grasp on reality.
What is Agent Roarke’s greatest fear?
Great question! I think his greatest fear is that Cara isn’t crazy – she’s actually right.
Where do you draw inspiration for your settings?
The Huntress series moves from state to state, so far in the American West. But it’s based mostly in California, my home state, which I have always found staggeringly beautiful. It’s so great to have a whole series in which to explore locations that have enthralled me, and some that have haunted me. As a former theater director and screenwriter I am very driven to give settings thematic resonance. That’s easy to do in a state I know so well – I have a lot to choose from.
I spent a large portion of my childhood on the road; every summer my parents loaded the kids up in the station wagon and drove across the U.S. via different routes so we could get a sense of the whole country. So I take a lot of inspiration from that early wonder – the magnificence of the natural settings I saw on those road trips, and the very unique characters of really every city and town we passed through. I try to give my readers a sense of the beauty and mystery I felt about those settings.
Ask Alexandra any question you like for the chance to win an audio book of 'Huntress Moon'. The winner will be announced on Saturday 18th April.
Don’t you just love it when you discover a new favourite author? There are so many great fiction writers out there, but it is something special when your reading experience is taken from enjoyable to give me more NOW!
I recently had such a windfall when I stumbled across the talented Russel Blake’s work. I was hooked by his fast-paced style and vibrant locations from the first page of JET and have since read all 7 books in the series. I’m thrilled to say that the promise of tightly edited, twisted plots and non-stop action never fails to deliver.
To steal from Russell Blake’s own words, this series is... 'unapologetically over-the-top, with an emphasis on larger-than-life breakneck action...'
The series starts with Jet — an ex female Mossad assassin — who is pushed to her limits in order to protect those she loves, and discover the truth about the past she is hiding from.
I love a kick-ass, intelligent, female heroine. Combine that with her complex background, a vulnerable toddler, and a host of villains with almost infinite means, and you've got a winner. The suspense is well crafted and the settings vivid, taking you on a tour of all the seediest locations around the globe.
What sets this series apart are the details; they are in the layered characters, vivid scenery, captured cultural essences in each location you visit, and meticulous combat elements.
I’m going to start a rumour here that I suspect when Russel isn’t enjoying his dogs, fishing and tequila in Mexico, he’s a
covert operative (even if his only mission is to contest world domination by clowns). Seriously, the level of detail about weapons and general sneakiness must have taken considerable time and research to amass and it adds an authentic flavour to his work.
Perhaps best of all, for a limited time, he has JET – Ops Files, the prequel to the series, which is every bit as gripping as the rest, available as a free download. Count that as a big win for readers, who get to sample his wares at no cost.
That’s enough of selling the praises of the JET series. I have to hurry and read some more by Russell Blake, because he writes as fast as I can read.
Don't forget to visit Russell's website, Twitter or Goodreads, and grab the a sample of his work from Amazon.
I’d like to welcome the lovely Leesa Bow and her shiny new book, ‘Winning the Player’, which will be released by Penguin’s Destiny Romance imprint on 14th April. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!
Leesa writes contemporary New Ault and is going to explain what this increasingly popular genre is all about, but of course the book can be enjoyed at any age. She is going to tell us what sort of adventure we can expect and how the story came to life.
Thanks for inviting me to your blog Sandra. I am extremely excited about the release of my new novel ‘Winning the Player’, and the release date is ideal for a fun read treat over the Easter break.
So what’s story about Leesa?
When injury destroyed her dream of playing college basketball, Aubree Taylor fled overseas. Now she's finally home again and ready to move on with her life. Until she runs into Hunter Stone on her first night out, the only guy who's ever meant anything to her – and the last person she wants to see.
Since she ran out on him two years ago, Hunter hasn't been able to get Aubree off his mind. The sexy football star has
had girls all over him for years, but Aubree is the only one to have ever seen behind the cocky persona he puts on for the
Despite her attempts to keep her distance, Aubree is unable to resist the strong attraction between them and it isn't long
before they fall into a passionate relationship. She has never been afraid of a challenge, but Hunter's arrogance and inability to trust are testing her to her limits. Aubree must decide whether to follow her heart and lower her guard…or
risk losing the best thing that's ever happened to her.
New Adult is a relatively new category that is becoming increasingly popular, especially in the States. It is not young adult as the characters age is generally between 18 and 25 years. New adult centres on people and the problems they encounter after leaving high school through to their mid-twenties. It is often a sensitive time with many changes happening in the individual’s life and the struggle of becoming an adult is generally central to the story.
Most of us have fond memories of leaving school and attending university, or finding employment. It is a time when we spread our wings and embrace independence. It is also an emotional time experiencing highs and lows on leaving the family home, splurging on holidays and or travelling the world, and finding new friends while
But it is the finding love — and sometimes losing it just as quick — that is a focus for me. So my stories are about the characters finding their way as they enter adulthood, adding the emotion and adventure of romance. And along the way they discover who they are and what really matters to them, and fighting for it. Something we can all relate to regardless of our age. Although I write contemporary new adult with a sport theme, other sub genres are becoming just as popular like fantasy or sci-fi, paranormal, and suspense.
Now a little about the lady herself.
Leesa Bow grew up in Broken Hill and sport played a major role in her life. After moving to Adelaide in her early twenties
she married a football player, and inevitably her four daughters were also sporty. Leesa began writing seriously when her second daughter became sick with cancer. Initially writing was therapeutic, but when her daughter got the all
clear, she decided to continue writing seriously. Stories about sport, romance, and characters aged eighteen plus seemed logical since her daughters were of a similar age, and often surrounded by athletes. It was her involvement in these sports and the injuries her family suffered inspired her to write ‘Winning the Player’.
Don't forget you can ask Leesa questions, or just let her know what you're reading at the moment. Enjoy.
Visit Destiny Romance for a sneak peek at the first chapter of ‘Winning the Player’, and don’t forget to grab a copy on the 14th! Take a look at this hot cover - yowser!
I'd like to welomce Michael B Fletcher, author of 'Kings of Undercastle'.
Sandy - So, tell me about you writing journey.
Michael - When one becomes a writer one doesn’t realise what a frustrating, all-consuming yet rewarding path you’ve undertaken. Who will put up with one of the longest apprenticeships in the world, that never really finishes? Who would put up with the long lonely viduals in a cramped room attempting to put out some awe-inspiring work that you then
seek to receive glowing feedback for, meanwhile fighting the needs of family, pets and procrastination, and ‘real’ work?
No-one but a writer.
I’m part way along that journey. My family have left home, my ‘computer’ cat and patient dog have gone to their ‘happy hunting’ grounds, I’m on the final year of having to have a ‘real’ job and I’ve finally become an author, with my first book out. Wow!
Sandy - Congratulations on the release of 'Kings of Under-Castle'. How did the idea come to you?
Michael - I was writing the second book in my ‘masterpiece’ adult fantasy trilogy, 'Masters of Scent', when I woke up one morning with two characters in my head, by the names of Pickel and Weasle. They were clamouring to be heard and they demanded that I interrupt my novels and tell their tales.
So 'Kings of Under-Castle' was born. Pickel and Weasle are two rogues who live in the drains under the King’s castle and get up to all sort of mischief, including purloining valuables, using all sorts of people, including two urchins who live in a town nearby, and never being too fussy about what they eat.
Sandy - Did you have fun bringing these cheeky characters to life?
Michael - Who would have thought that the ‘toffee-nosed’ King’s courtier would be their worst enemy? Why would the voluptuous Helena von Gosporin venture down into the drains? Why was Drossum, the jailer so cheery or Dr Strichnin so macabre? Why did Ben, the royal surveyor Brickenmort’s nephew only say “Yeah”?Why did the keeper of the royal bloodhounds want to keep his dogs out of ‘them
Yes I have had some fun with the tales of Pickel and Weasle- a significant form of procrastination when one is writing their ‘serious’ book.
But that’s what writing is all about – fun.
'Kings of Undercastle' is also available on Amazon.
Leave a comment for Michael here, or check out IFWG Publishing Australia or his Facebook page.