Spotlight

Stephen Dearsley’s Summer of Love by Colin Bell

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It’s 1967 and the start of the Summer of love. Life will never be the same again for the young as they celebrate liberation and nonconformity, but also protest against prejudice, repression and war. In Brighton, Stephen Dearsley is tempted and intimidated by the way his generation is casting off traditional ways of dress along with the old ways of thinking. His hippy housemate Dys provides an open door into his own possible summer of love, but will autumn still find him in tweeds, or will he be in colourful loons and tie-dye? His ambition to become a biographer is fulfilled when he’s commissioned to research the life story of Austin Randolph, and the revelations of hypocrisy, class prejudice and homophobia lead him to make his decision. Summarize your story in one sentence: Stephen Dearsley, in 1967, is the original young fogey who wants to be a biographer but the Summer Of Love puts some tempting obstacles in his path. What are the main themes? The book is about 1967, an extraordinary moment in cultural history but it is also about how we have to balance our knowledge of history with the necesssity to live in our own times. It is also about how, hopefully, a little person like Stephen can be more powerful than the charismatic super hero, his biographical subject, the dastardly Austin Randolph. Stephen Dearsley has to find himself and come to terms with his develooping sense of self while the world is changing around him. Oh yes, I suppose the book is also about love. Who or what inspired your story? I read that the brilliant biographer Michael Holroyd, a hero of mine, studied in a public library and not university. I thought this held interesting seeds for a book about the relationship between a would-be biographer and the man he would have to write about. Also, I was inspired by the wonderful use of bathos in the last paragraph in Graham Greene’s novel Our Man In Havana. My novel’s ending was always going to be a reflection on that – but enough said! I was also determined to draw on my obession for a certain song by The Rolling Stones which I’m not going to reveal for fear of doing a spoiler! Finally, yes music again, I guess the book wouldn’t have happened without The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper and All You Need Is Love. What do you like best about your main characters? I am very fond of poor Stephen – maybe I’m a softy for the underdog but I love Stephen’s earnest attempts to fit in and find himself and even to challenge the things that he’d always thought were important to him. Many of the other characters too, I think, are redeemed even if they are damaged by their search for love. Emilia Jefferies and Philip Irving have a tremendous capacity for love and a hidden strength that impresses me even if it does llittle to make them happy. Dys is a...

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A Story Waiting to Happen: StoryBrooke Gardens

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Literary inspiration from Lizzie Gudkov and the virtual world This month we’ll visit the wonderful StoryBrooke Gardens, a small plot created by Lauren Bentham above Baja Norte’s beach. I must admit I’m not sure I’m the right person to write this month’s column. I have never written children’s stories and I know them only as a reader. Yet, being absolutely mesmerized by this gem, I couldn’t resist. The fact that Lauren has done an impressive job will definitely make my task easier. Upon arrival, the visitor is greeted by two friendly bunnies. Now, which way should we go? The warm welcome makes it difficult to decide. Ok, southbound. A child jumps merrily, followed by his dog. Is he going on a trip? He looks happy, but he’s carrying a bindle. Is he running away from home? Or is he simply embarking on an adventure? Within spitting distance, a fairy talks to a giant bee. Her small little feet splash playfully in the water of an old fountain. Nearby, a magical bicycle waits. It’s propelled by colorful balloons and if a dreamer sits on it, it will take him on a magical journey. A track of colorful stars leads the way into a big tree trunk. It’s hard to resist, so here we go. On the other end of the trunk, we turn left and almost trip on a gardener tortoise who insists that we must read the Book of the Butterfly. “The best is yet to come.” A few flowers grow from one of the pages. It must be magical too. The tortoise then urges us to talk to the magician. The initial plan was to find ideas for a story with lots of fairies and bunnies and… Oh, well, let’s go talk to the magician. Tea is brewing and, at the tempting offer of a cup, we spot a caldron filled to the brim with incantation books and a skull on a stack of novellas guarded by a doll plagued with a mysterious pestilence. Umm… Caution is of the essence. In the meantime, the magician foretells a rather eerie and enigmatic future at the sound of a haunted music box and the cawing of crows in the distance. He sends us off to search something. He means characters and stories, most likely. In doubt, we hurry away. Back on the main track, let’s follow the flying ladder. White balloons are always a good omen. Right around the corner, a white fox and a family of mice seem to be extremely busy – happy mouse, mommy mouse, two mice in love, a few sleepy ones and Excalibur. Excalibur likes to fly, something his family and friends find totally preposterous. A mouse was not made to go around flying, especially not holding on to such a fragile leaf. After witnessing an endless family argument that follows with Excalibur throwing a tantrum and defiantly flying away, we move on. Oh, gosh, Humpty, what happened to you? He doesn’t reply. He wiggles his...

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Reflecting Jane by Sue Tame

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Reflecting Jane is a story of one woman’s struggle to hold onto the past whilst living in the present. Telling the tale of her childhood, her life and her three, very different, husbands (Vash, Kenny and David) this is a touching tale – and poignantly funny at times. Narrated by herself, Jane shows us what it is like to look into a mirror and see an unrecognisable face staring back, trying hard to remember what her life once was – and having to sit and watch an unrecognisable world go by from a window. Jane is a woman who does not suffer fools gladly, and despite the increasing loss of her memories, her acerbic take on life will make you laugh, and then make you cry for her. It is a story of a woman who reminds us all to live our lives to the full – and to make as many memories as we can, whilst we can… Summarize your story in one sentence. Jane (lively, aloof, but with a wicked sense of humour) lives in a Home for the Elderly – for whom she has little time for, and has problems relating to suffering as she does from ‘vagueness’ (Dementia) – and so she retreats into relating her life story to her ‘companion’ – her own reflection. What are the main themes? The theme of the story is one of loss – loss of liberty and privacy, and ultimately Self. Jane is affected very deeply by this, and being in the place she bewilderingly now finds herself. Particularly her inability to practice her pagan beliefs – which she is aware would be inappropriate somehow – and her mental drift between the worlds of her past and present add to her confusion and the feeling, somehow, that she is losing herself in this house of strangers. Who or what inspired your story? The inspiration for Jane came from my time working as an Elderly Care Nurse in a rather exclusive Residential Home. I went in with the usual raft of opinions, but quickly began to see the residents with different eyes and found their characters, viewpoints and life stories to be absolutely fascinating – gold dust to a writer! Jane is a mixture of two of the ladies I became especially fond of. What do you like best about your main character, Jane? I have to say, I really enjoy Jane’s wicked sense of humour, coupled with her inability to see the blindingly obvious – especially when it’s not what she wants to see! She would gaily announce black was white if it suited her, then pointedly ignore all the open mouths around her. If you can’t do that when you’re in your eighties, when can you?! How is she flawed? It’s difficult to determine Jane’s flaws (though probably the above!) because so much relates to her condition and her feelings of vulnerability at finding herself so lost. She can be insensitive, boorish even, and often has an utter disregard...

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A Story Waiting to Happen: Hestium

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Literary inspiration from Lizzie Gudkov and the virtual world It seems only fitting that Hestium should be my choice for the launch of Virtual Writers’ new blog, as it is one of the richest locations for the creation of stories and characters I have ever visited. I first read about Hestium at Honour McMillan’s blog in her post Hestium, Another Tiny Gem in Second Life. Advised that it was a quarter of a sim, I dropped by to do a bit of research and see if there was enough material to use for this monthly column. I immediately realized that Hestium takes the same approach as I do with stories. Start with a question. “Who lives here? That is for you to discover. There are clues to be found”. Who can resist such a challenge? The whole place took me by surprise. Except for a small plot that is marked private, this rather small area feels like a whole sim. The space is cleverly utilised, and – as we walk around and discover hidden secrets – many ideas for stories come to mind. In preparing for this column I usually spend quite a bit of time on location. I try to understand the sim from the point of view of its creator. “Wander around and find the stories – they are yours to make and to keep”. A story is made of many different elements; however, when the characters are powerful, alive, compelling, endearing, obnoxious, or absolutely hateful, magic happens – and Hestium is very particular in the way it offers ideas for characters. We are encouraged to explore every little detail to create the “who” in our story. While enthusiastically living and breathing Hestium – imagining the life of the explorer with her travel trophies, the apothecary and the artist, even the vendor by the archway – I totally missed the opportunity to write a column about them. As so often happens in Second Life®, the sim began to change to welcome new imaginary residents. So, without further ado, join me on this journey. Let’s find those new residents who recently decided to make Hestium their home. I’m sure that, when you visit the sim yourself, you’ll find these and many more. “Welcome to Hestium. Please explore – open doors, enter the village houses, look under the beds and open chests.” No writer would be able to resist permission to go anywhere and discover clues! Writers are inquisitive by nature. And if you add the question “Who lives here?”, the scenario is set. I rarely give you a long transcript of the notecards provided by the creators of the sims we visit, however, Boudicca Amat’s words are the best presentation and I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything better! “What is Hestium?  It’s a place of refuge for its inhabitants. (…) Who are these people? That is for you to discover. Their homes hold clues to who they might be – sometimes in plain view, sometimes hidden away. Why are they in Hestium? That too is for you...

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Lily by Kewalnam Christ

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LILYRED is a metaphysical, metaphorical puzzle, a diverting reverie and a primal nightmare. Devoted to constructing a simulacrum of reality, intended on seducing and enlightening its readers. It’s an extravagantly abrasive novel full of grinding electro, pummeling minimalist hip-hop poetics, and industrial gear-grind. Intentionally off-putting, ranging in syntax and exploring ranges of literary, biblical, and political allusions that are major concerns in our current century. What are the main themes of your book? Love, Joy, pain, reality, dreams, theology, there are many themes, this book serves as a catalyst for our conscious evolution.  Who or what inspired your story? I was sitting home, watching this documentary for one of my favorite albums of all time, “Watch the throne”, and the energy I felt watching it, I desperately wanted to give to another. So I started restudying various religions, and ancient texts, understanding where we are as a people, and opening myself subconsciously to the mysteries of the universe around us. It was almost as if these pages were writing themselves; as I began writing, life began imitating art, situations that I wrote in fiction would play out in real life, and I knew that this was bigger than words on a page, this was 3 dimensional art. What do you like best about your primary characters? Their mystery, and authenticity. The book is a character driven novel, and I create these broken but functional characters that mirror the minds of many of us, it’s raw, and nude. What are their worst peculiarities? What are our worst peculiarities? We all seek love and acceptance, sometimes willing to hurt whomever, or even ourselves to get it, that is the answer for the characters as well, it’s real fiction.  How does your main character evolve? Don’t want to say too much without giving the ending away, but the character evolves as fast as the reader and vice versa. The main character Lily is this ethereal woman who appears at the beginning tracking in darkness and mystery behind her. Man, saying anything else will give the story away. What’s the principal message you want to send to your audience? It’s time for freedom, this book gives the codes to our freedom, the codes to our liberty. Not just physically but more importantly mentally, we have shackled ourselves to old tired ideals that have rendered us impenitent and weak. It’s time for a revolution and it starts here. What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about your book? “I would highly recommend this. The writing is rich and lyrical, the characterizations full and complete with each person known and mysterious at the same time. We follow each of them through joys, sorrows and growing moments.” Deb Carlin – read more on Amazon. Where can we purchase it? Amazon About Kewalnam Christ The world is at a weird point socially, where a lot of dominoes are being set into place, and what happens over the next couple of years may very well determine the course of the next ten. Enter Kewalnam...

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The Luck of the Weissensteiners by Christoph Fischer

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“In the sleepy town of Bratislava in 1933 a romantic girl falls for a bookseller from Berlin. Greta Weissensteiner, daughter of a Jewish weaver, slowly settles into life with the Winkelmeier clan. The political climate and slow disintegration of the multi-cultural society in Czechoslovakia becomes more complex and affects relations between the couple and their families. The story follows their lot through the war with its torment, destruction and its unpredictability – and the equally hard times after. From the moment that Greta Weissensteiner enters the bookstore where Wilhelm Winkelmeier works, and entrances him with her good looks and serious ways, I was hooked. But this is no ordinary romance; in fact it is not a romance at all, but a powerful, often sad, Holocaust story. What makes The Luck of the Weissensteiners so extraordinary is the chance Christoph Fischer gives his readers to consider the many different people who were never in concentration camps, never in the military, yet who nonetheless had their own indelible Holocaust experiences. Set in the fascinating area of Bratislava, this is a wide-ranging, historically accurate exploration of the connections between social location, personal integrity and, as the title says, luck. I cared about every one of this novel’s characters and continued to think about them long after I’d finished reading.” — Andrea Steiner, University of California Santa Cruz The Luck of the Weissensteiners is an epic saga set in wartime Eastern Europe. It follows the lives of two families – one Jewish, one Catholic – and their entwined survival amidst the backdrop of the Second World War; first the fascist then the communist invasion and occupation of Slovakia, and the horror of the consequences of war. The reader is transported to a world of deception, fear, distrust and betrayal, alongside enduring love and family drama. Weissensteiners is a magnificent tale of human survival. Author Interview What are the main themes of your book? “The Luck of the Weissensteiners” is about a Jewish family in Slovakia before, during and after World War II. They are mainly assimilated and not very noticeable at first in the multi-cultural society of post-Habsburg Czechoslovakia until Slovakia becomes independent and a fascist Axis power. The book is about the ties between us and what binds us together, be that family, religion, national boundaries, friendship or ideology. It is also about what manifold misfortunes there were during that time – not just the obvious victims. The book is the first in The Three Nations Trilogy, but not a Trilogy of the Twilight kind. It is a series of three books with similar themes, trying to shine a light on the same themes at different times in different Nations. Who or what inspired your story? My grandmother was from Sudeten Germany and forced to leave Czechoslovakia after the war. She never spoke much about it and after my father died I became very interested in the family roots and the history of that nation. During my ‘research’ I read many touching...

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