Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Mark Fine discusses his novel, "The Zebra Affaire"

Thank you, Mark, for agreeing to be ‘interviewed’ via my blog. First things first, time for us to find out about you, via one of your books. I read “The Zebra Affaire” and got sucked in! This was my review…

5 stars – Review on Amazon and Goodreads

“The fictional tale of Elsa, a white native South African, and Stanwell, a black foreigner from Malawi, and their forbidden love story within the harsh Apartheid regime of South Africa in 1976 is beautifully written and I shed a tear at its climax. The addition of non-fiction extracts throughout the story added a depth to the tale that made the situation more real. With the death of Mandela in 2013 it is important to reflect on both the man and the situation in his native South Africa.

I have recently been reading many historical fiction novels based on slavery and colonialism and was extremely glad to stumble across this book. The fact I have Dutch relatives only added to my appreciation of the novel, since I understand the language somewhat.

This is not a typical narrative, but it is definitely a book I would recommend to anyone interested in issues concerning racism and inequality within a tense romantic setting.”

What do you think of my review?

I’m touched my historical fiction novel moved you, emotionally. The fact that you cried tears, rather than was bored to tears, is a wonderful compliment. It meant you became vested in the plight of the principal characters’ struggle at the centre of the story, despite the unkind real-world circumstances they both faced.

I also agree with your supposition that it’s important to consider Nelson Mandela’s legacy. Will his shining example be emulated?  Or will current and future South African leadership follow the tragic norm in Africa—that of abuse of power, corruption and incompetence?  I hope for the former, but frankly I fear the latter will be closer to the truth…

If I must critique your review, there is one change I’d suggest. The third paragraph as written seems to suggest “The Zebra Affaire” was written in Dutch (not English). I know your intention was to say “…the novel feels very authentic because some of the local colloquialisms, a curse here an exclamation there, are written in the Afrikaans language—derived from South Africa’s first Dutch settlers.” [Fair point, Mark…  I am happy to be corrected!]

By the way I appreciate your elegant summary of my book with your phrase “… (it’s about) issues concerning racism and inequality within a tense romantic setting.” Perfect. [So glad you liked this]

What or who inspired you to write this story?

Though they don’t realize it, I would have to credit my two sons. I have this belief that if a people don’t know their history, they are destined to be forever lost. It was important to me that my sons learned about their African roots from their father; but my personal story isn’t that interesting. So I chose to couch the story from the perspective of far more intriguing characters, that of Elsa (who’s white) and Stanwell (who is black). The cruel dynamics of the love-struck couple’s story is all theirs, but the place and time that I inserted them is very much mine. This then provided me with the platform to shine a bright light on the dark underbelly of racism and tribalism. 

I was brought up in Gibraltar and I experienced the opposite. I felt like an alien for being a redhead and so pale, whilst living amongst tanned brunettes! Do you think people are always faced with some form of oppression wherever they are?

Such a complicated topic: and one that inevitably devolves into name-calling, hyper-sensitivity and frustration.  But let’s first focus on two specific words you used, Vanessa: “always” and “oppression”.  No, I don’t believe being different inevitably leads to oppression. As a personal anecdote: I arrived in a frigid, snowbound Minnesota neighbourhood in 1981—and to my surprise I found myself considered “an exotic”—apparently I was the first “white African” that this American Midwest community had met! And as such I was rather revered. I’m sure, unfortunately, that this isn’t everyone’s experience.

Vanessa, drilling deeper to the true intent of your question, you are certainly correct. There is little doubt that generally humans are not tolerant of others unlike themselves. And that this corrosive behaviour is in the end mutually destructive.  I wish the lessons of the past were learned, but that’s not the case. (Hence the need for historical fiction to constantly remind us.) Instead, we compulsively repeat the same disgraceful patterns of individual and institutional torment. Sadly, there is always a chosen victim that predators—like bullies in a schoolyard, gang up against. And invariably the victim is a minority. Except in apartheid South Africa! Here the oppressed were the majority. This shocking fact alone makes “The Zebra Affaire” a story worth telling.

If someone from South Africa in 1976 time-travelled to the present day, what do you think they would say?

A 1976 South African would be devastated by what they’d witness in today’s 2014 South Africa. Despite the fall of apartheid and the wonderful vision of Nelson Mandela’s “Rainbow Nation”—under the corrupt and incompetent leadership of current president Jacob Zuma, the nation is leaderless. Though the cruel laws of apartheid have been removed, they’ve been replaced by rapacious black tribal elites who are lining their own pockets to the detriment of their own people—and are using progressively blunt tools to keep the masses in check.

 And so I know what a time-traveller would say for I personally know such a person. A veteran of the guerrilla war against apartheid that was forced into exile for decades during the long campaign for liberation, and lifetime member of the ANC (African National Congress); this veteran is distraught by the self-inflicted wounds forced on the nation by the current administration. “I cannot believe this is what we fought for,” were the words shared with me, “I guess we have to soldier on.” The sense of betrayal felt by this veteran of the liberation struggle was palpable. Such a shame! [I agree… humans are capable of so much, yet they fail on so many levels when competing against each other for dominance!]

Why do you think no one speaks out when violence is staring them in the face? Is fear the reason people ignore abuse? For example, in hindsight, it is easy to point the finger at Nazi Germany, but The Book Thief recently got me thinking. I imagine most people did not know what was going on. How do you think people who do know live with themselves? Are they just evil?

Without a doubt it is primarily fear. Becoming invisible is a natural survival instinct; akin to an ostrich sticking its head in the ground. Though it may save one’s neck in the near term, it does not guarantee one’s long term survival. Appeasing a bully really doesn’t work, but it takes a special strength to stand up to that bully, alone. Clearly British Prime minister Neville Chamberlain blinked when dealing with Hitler, but to your point: he didn’t really know what was going on. Surely the true villains were the German political and military leadership who were well aware of the illegal military build-up and other secretive behind the scenes preparations. These senior men stood by and did absolutely nothing.  Certainly some were evil, some were ambitious, some were ideologues, but most were cowards.

In South Africa there was a duality that added further confusion—or plausible deniability to this mix. As I wrote in The Zebra Affaire: “Elsa was no racist. She never had to be; her government assumed that responsibility.” What I’m attempting to say is that Elsa never had to face within herself any personal demons of racism, she never had to go there, ever, as the laws scripted the rules of behaviour between the racial groups, and as such relieved her of any personal responsibility.  So add to the above list of sins, indifference.

Do you think love breaks down all barriers? Is not the point of, for example, the classic “Romeo & Juliet” that forbidden love is both a curse and a cure?

Love certainly has the potential to break down all barriers. I’ve always been intrigued by that which triggers the attraction between two distinctly different individuals; and in doing so creates such an immutable bond that very little can destroy it. I even question whether death can destroy it. For example in the “Romeo & Juliet” scenario, though the two lovers die their love ultimately lives on in the reconciliation of their two warring families. Or maybe I’m just a romantic… [nothing wrong with being a romantic!]

How did you find mixing fiction with fact in such an obvious way? At times, this detracted from the story, but I found it helpful and emotional. Especially at the end.

I had three principles guiding me: entertain, inform and to be sincere. If it was solely a work of fiction it would have been easier to write, as I would not have been bound by the inconvenience of facts. But “The Zebra Affaire” is an important story, and quite disturbing considering these events happened not too long ago. So I needed it to be believed, and so I wrote it in a way that it was both authentic and sincere. This realization compelled me to fill the reader’s knowledge gap on South African history. 

To do so I could have used conventional Chicago Manual of Style formats such as footnotes and endnotes to provide the historical or societal constructs of the period. But footnotes are tiny, difficult to read. And endnotes, they are parked somewhere at the back of book. So I introduced something novel—one reviewer called them “anywhere notes”—where I provide italicized expositions within the context of narrative.  Judging by the accolades this technique has received readers have embraced this format and now better understand the motivations of the characters (both good and venal) as the tension in the story builds.

Do you find it hard to write historical fiction? Do you spend hours doing the research?

Research took a year, including wonderful weeks in the field—the South African bush, documenting the behaviour of the animals in their natural environment. The climax of the story needed the suspense of an authentic safari. And it was crucial the animals and the bushveld played their role in supporting the human saga unfolding within their midst. I used both a video- and still camera to record these experiences; and I personally enjoyed reliving these moments when writing the story.

Writing historical fiction is a double-edged sword; there’s the benefit of an existing structure of date-stamped facts, but then there is the deficit when facts refuse to conform to the fictional narrative’s structure. But for me it is well worth the trade-off. I learn so much during the research process.  Believe me, it’s really interesting stuff—quite eye-opening actually. And for me a reward for working in the historical fiction genre is knowing that I’m able to transfer this knowledge to the reader within the context of a compelling, vivid story—set in an exotic location, without any of the pain of formal study. 

But I must emphasise, my objective is to first entertain. I’m focused on creating memorable characters, within a story construct that is filled with suspense, fraught with danger, and filled with passion. It just happens that the reader will learn something new about their world as the story unfolds.

Do you think social media is important? If so, how do you prioritise your time?

Vanessa, I wish I was as capable as you in this social media space. [I can but try…] Yes, it is important and I have found myself engaging with folks from all around the world due to its no-cost ubiquity and reach. I was delighted by the generosity displayed by strangers on social medial when creating the book. For example, I polled their opinion when selecting the best book cover.

Regarding the promotional reach, it has also proven to be helpful. In fact, Vanessa, that’s how we met. But I must admit it consumes too much of my time. This is due to my inability to process it efficiently.  I’d like to think it’s a flaw in the structure of Facebook, Twitter, Google + or whatever, but being honest I’m probably not using these platforms correctly. In short I’m overwhelmed by the volume of data I don’t need, and I’m constantly missing the most important stuff. Time to send out an S…O..S… [Ha, ha... I'll have the lifeboat waiting for you!]

Do you have an author you admire? If so, why?

It is not a coincidence that historical fiction is my genre of choice. It’s by reading Herman Wouk (“Winds of War”), Leon Uris (“Exodus”) and Irving Stone (“The Agony and the Ecstasy”) that I learned so much—without realizing it, because they are masters of weaving wonderful tales that both enthral and inform. These are the best attributes of good historical fiction. Add Ken Follett, Alice Walker, Tom Clancy and South African greats, Wilbur Smith and Andre Brink and I’ve been fortunate to have feasted on a rich, fulfilling diet of magnificent literature. My current favourite is Alan Furst (“The Foreign Correspondent”).

[I have read & enjoyed Leon Uris and Ken Follett… my husband is a fan of most of these!]

Where we can find out more about you and buy your books?

Vanessa you are welcome anytime to visit my site, leave a comment or two, and hopefully write a guest blog.  Your readers are most welcome as well. You will find me at my BLOG 

“The Zebra Affaire” is available to purchase in both paperback and Kindle editions via AMAZON.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

Vanessa, it’s my pleasure. I very much appreciated your interesting questions.

Monday, 24 November 2014

*~*FREE eBooks*~*

I have just set up a new page for my FREE eBooks!

In the current climate, it is getting harder to give books away. There are many reasons for this, but the main one (in my opinion anyway) is that mainstream publishers are doing promos everyday. You can now get a "known" author for under a £1.

This is great news for us readers, but not so great for indie authors. The competition is hot and fierce.

Also, reviews are still hard to comprehend. Are they genuine? Some books have tell-tale signs... the ones with fifty 5 star ratings and five 1 star ratings that say "why does everyone give this book a five?"

At least, my low reviewers have gone to extensive lengths to explain why they didn't like it. This may not be great for me to read, but they see some merit in what I've done... it just wasn't for them! (Well, apart from a few weird ones...)

Anyway, please help me spread the word if you enjoy my work. I appreciate the support & need some encouragement so that I persevere and keep writing! (I always think of NEMO here... keep swimming!)

Have a great day,

p.s. Please check out my reviews on Goodreads & Amazon for recommendations!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

We should never forget...

If you get the time please read my post on Remembrance day on The Evolution Trilogy blog... war shapes the world we live in. We should never forget the lives lost then and now.


Thank you for reading...


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Visiting Relatives

Last week, I spent a few days in my hometown of Gibraltar so that we could see my parents again and have a catch-up!

YES... we are at the very top!
Unfortunately, the weather was not as good as last year, but it was good to see that the cheeky monkeys are still up to trouble...

This one snatched the bottle out of this girl's hand, then was thwarted when he could not open it!

The monkeys (or Barbary apes as I always knew them growing up) lives are very special in Gibraltar.

It's always a treat to see them running free, looking after their young, and sauntering past you out in the open.

HELP! We're trapped!
We also got a chance to see St Michael's Caves, where I had a soup that tasted just like my grandmother used to make it!
St Michael's Caves
It was fantastic to go back home and the weather was beautiful on the first day. I love watching the fish leap out of the water in Camp Bay. My youngest thought they wanted to eat her!

Anyway, I managed to get lots more information for my next novel... with so much to consider, I wonder if I'll ever get it done?

Either way, I am now volunteering at the local library and Foodbank, and have a lunchtime job at my children's school - it's nice to be needed! I am trying to write, but am finding it hard to stay motivated and focused. Perhaps, I am "burnt out" or suffering from writers block! Being an indie author takes its toll eventually...

Thank you for reading, enjoy the pictures, and keep smiling!



I did manage to publish another eBook on the 31st - EMILY is now live!

Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween all!

Today I have been very busy with the kids! I have gone shopping, made cakes & giant cookies, hollowed out a butternut squash (no pumpkins available), made a lovely soup, and (catches breath) made a cottage pie... PHEW!

And over all this, today was the day my novella, EMILY, became available to read via all eReaders!

I know I should be overjoyed & excited about this, but the truth is I am really nervous and can only hope the feedback (if any) is good.

I wrote Emily to fill a gap and to understand my character better when I was writing RETURN. I never knew if I would ever finish to story. In the end, I had fun completing it and when I shared it with a few friends & readers they enjoyed it...

I have to admit that there is a bit of an eighties flashback going on during the plot. A lot of memories that for some will mean nothing, and for others will hopefully raise a smile. I spent HOURS rewinding and fixing cassettes when I was growing up! I thought I was so cool walking around with my Sony Walkman, which was massive compared to today's tiny music devices!

Anyway, for your enjoyment, here is an exclusive extract from EMILY...

The shop was massive inside. Music was playing, but she could not see the speakers. There were plenty of records and little boxes with the same picture neatly organised in alphabetical order. She picked one up, but it was sealed so she could not open it to look inside.

‘That’s a cassette, you know that right,’ Paul asked.

‘No, I’ve never seen one before,’ she snapped. She did not want to be nasty, but this was getting ridiculous. Why didn’t they have cassettes back home? She always thought they were up to date – so much for that.

‘You’re funny. Come with me.’

He grabbed her hand and led her to the counter. ‘Can you pass me a cassette, please? She’s never seen one.’

‘Really?’ The man looked flummoxed, then shrugged his shoulders and handed one over.

‘This is a cassette. The music is recorded onto it and you put it in a cassette player.’

‘It’s small compared to a record.’

‘That’s why it’s better than a record. Saying that, sometimes the tape gets caught and I have to fix it with sellotape. It’s not perfect. Difficult. Records also get scratched. Okay, stop looking at me like that. I know I’ve gone all nerdy. I like my music.’

‘I’m interested – promise.’ Totally interested.

‘Anyway, cassettes and records – until someone comes up with something better. As if, right?’ he laughed aloud.

‘Yes,’ she laughed with him. ‘Nothing could be better than this.’

You can read the rest and find out what happens by clicking on the links!

Thank you for your support, Vanessa

Amazon    Smashwords    Barnes & Noble   iTunes 

Emily has not changed in fifty years. A freak accident made her immortal, or so she thinks. When she is finally allowed to return to her beloved England all is not as she expected. So much has changed. The past she was holding onto does not exist. Since the Second World War, people have embraced a new age. In this era, people have an obsession with gadgets, strange clothes and weird music.

Added to this her blood-lust has become insatiable and her promise to control herself is torn to shreds. That is until she meets Paul. She never expected to find love... and when it happens, can she do what it takes to hold on to it?

Fate has never been kind to Emily, and it gives her everything she wants at a cost. She must pay a price for being a murderer. For within her twisted heart lies a dark soul.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A historic building, wonderful authors, and lovely children!

I have been waiting for something like this to blog... what a brilliant weekend at the IOWLF (or Isle of Wight Literary Festival!)

The beautiful setting of Northwood house and the extra facilities brought in this year created a buzz and yet relaxed environment where people could discuss and buy books at their leisure.

This was my third year as a volunteer at the festival. This time I was lucky enough to be involved as a speaker and attend several talks, so I basically experienced the best of everything.

I hope you enjoy finding out about it...



I booked to see Dr Sam Willis & Horatio Clare mainly to help me with my research into life at sea, both in the past and the present.

I never expected to be entertained by music! Dr Sam Willis is not only a respected historian and excellent speaker. He is also a gifted musician, which proves my point that "us" writers are a truly creative bunch.

To start off, we were treated to a sea shanty played with a banjo and accompanied by melodic lyrics (he is a very brave man). I had no idea that he would then enrich our minds with a wealth of incredible information about the glorious years of British naval history which were bound and preserved in a beautiful edition. Even though this book was presented to the nation and includes original dispatches from the seven major fleet battles, it was kept a secret until he stumbled upon it in 2010! The contents of the book are truly fantastic and they can tell us a lot about the period of time, the mentality of the men writing the letters, and the incredible heritage we should always remember. The talk had us all entranced and the fact he ended with a sea shanty he played with a guitar set off all with a smile.

On a personal note, I find it incredible that there was (and is) so much honour in massacres committed for the protection of the crown and trade routes, but war is something human beings are very good at! I think we have come a long way in understanding the value of mediation and empathy since then, but unfortunately the modern world is still fractured by many who are willing to commit horrific crimes in the name of duty...

You can find out more about this fascinating book HERE

The one thing I can say for Horatio Clare is that he is extremely funny and he made us all imagine vividly his tales of life on board the vessels of Maersk.

The readings from his book captured my imagination and gave me a further insight into life at sea. The fact that my husband works for a shipping company, my father-in-law was a sea captain and I have actually named a vessel, gives me an advantage over most people... I know something of this lifestyle!

Overall, I really enjoyed the talk. For more information, I suggest you read this insightful GUARDIAN REVIEW.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Royal Yacht Squadron  for an author reception. I went along with my husband and we loved looking at the pictures on the walls and soaking in the atmosphere. I spoke to several lovely people and had a few canapes, before my husband and I decided to go for a nice meal on our own... quality time is important too! Ended up in a Chinese restaurant eating dim sum! YUM!


I was posted as a volunteer in the Author Meet & Greet area on Saturday morning. Met a very nice journalist who took my picture... you never know, he might actually use it! Easy job and I served Ann Widdecombe her lunch! My claim to fame...

I was off schedule during the afternoon so I bought last minute tickets to see Simon Callow. I am so glad I did since his talk was amazing! I could have easily listened for another couple of hours. He spoke about his fascination with Charles Dickens and brought to life some of his own experiences in acting out a range of roles. Absolutely FANTASTIC! GUARDIAN REVIEW

In the evening, I was posted at Trinity Theatre - a place which hold fond memories since I acted and sang on the stage a few times! My best role was as Mitzi in A Murder is Announced! Click on the link to read the review! :)

I enjoyed listening to Jay Rayner, but I did think it was a bit too serious for a Saturday night... I did not expect to listen to an intense discussion on the evil nature of supermarkets, the quest for sustainability, and the pending threat of China eating more meat! Oh well...

On a side note, I watched an amazing program the next evening on the BBC about the Yangtse River, which discussed similar issues in a much friendlier way.


In the morning, I ran a children's workshop which was FANTASTIC! I was also told that I was the most organised workshop yet! Love it...

A huge thank you to my friends - Donna, Tamsin, Maria (a fantastic local author who did all the face paints) & my wonderful daughter, Elsa!

I could not have done it without them! These are some pictures and the lovely creations... books, bookmarks & painted faces!

In the afternoon, I gave a talk about my Evolution as a Writer - I have blogged about this HERE!

The Evolution of a Writer...

"What exactly I said is a blur, but I think everyone enjoyed it. 

Ultimately, I could have said so much more, but I focused on the lead up to my writing career and read excerpts from my trilogy that focus on topics such as relationships, war, my upbringing in Gibraltar, and personal conflict."


Dr Sam Willis is one of the world’s leading authorities on maritime and naval history. His writing is infused with his own experience and knowledge of seafaring. Sam is the author of numerous books on maritime and naval history including the bestselling Hearts of Oak Trilogy and the Fighting Ships Series. Sam is a regular broadcaster on both TV and Radio. In 2013 Sam presented a three-part series on Shipwrecks for BBC4 and recreated the first ever voyage down the Grand Canyon for BBC2 in 'Operation Grand Canyon'.

Horatio Clare is the author of two memoirs, the best-selling Running for the Hills and Truant; the travel book A Single Swallow - which follows the birds' migration from South Africa to the UK - and a novella, The Prince's Pen. His new book is the bestselling travelogue Down to the Sea In Ships, based on voyages around the world on cargo vessels. Currently the Miriam Allott Fellow for Creative Writing at the University of Liverpool, he writes regularly in the press on nature and travel and contributes to Radio 4. He was awarded the Somerset Maugham prize by the Society of Authors, and is a Foreign Press Association Travel Writer of the Year.

Simon Callow is an actor, director and writer. He has appeared in many films, including the hugely popular Four Weddings and a Funeral.   His  books include Being An Actor, Shooting The Actor,  an  acclaimed biography of Charles Laughton, a biographical trilogy of Orson Welles (of which the first two parts have been published) and Love Is Where It Falls, an account of his friendship with the great play agent Peggy Ramsay.

My Life In Pieces  - An Alternative Autobiography  won the Sheridan Morley Prize in 2011. Simon's Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World Was published  to coincide with the bicentenary of Dickens' birthday in 2012.

Jay Rayner is the Observer's restaurant critic and a novelist. His latest book is the Oyster House Siege.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Blogging blues...

I have not had much motivation to blog recently... by the time I've caught up on Twitter, Facebook, emails, etc I try to knuckle down to the reason I started all this - WRITING FICTION!

It is very easy in this day and age to get lost in the frenzy of social media and lose focus. I know, I have done it a lot.

Also, after you have a few books out it becomes a bit of an obsession to keep checking your rating and to see how many sales (or lack of) you have made. I find the issue of selling, especially on Amazon, fascinating.

I have recently began to understand the power of "buddy" sales and can see why a book like Fifty Shades went viral after a massive following online spread the word. This is the key to sales for any unknown author who has been published via a small press or self-published! You need readers...

Readers are easy to find if you interact with them on a daily basis. They will rally around you, protect you, and most importantly review.

Help! I'm stuck up here...
However, if, like a lot of writers, you have been focusing on the craft and not engaging with your potential audience then, regardless of how fantastic your book is, the truth is you might not make many sales. This is not important if you are happy with your finished product and you just wanted it out there. If you wanted to be a bestseller... you might be in for some disappointment.

I recently wrote this simple fact.

In order to sell books you have to be visible.

In order to be visible you have to sell books.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

So, my advice is this... if you want to sell books join a book-club on Goodreads and start to make contacts. Do it because you love books - after all, what writer doesn't?

I have met some amazing people online. I have to think of the positives not the negatives! I hope you do too...

All the best,

P.s. I have also finished my novella - click on this link of you want to know more => EMILY