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An interview with the author of Eyes of the Blind

It’s always a delight to meet writers who understand their craft in order to produce beautiful prose in addition to writing a compelling and unusual story. It’s my real pleasure to introduce you to Alex Tresillian, author of Eyes of the Blind, published by Urbane Publications. Alex lives in rural Worcestershire which I guess makes us neighbours.

Alex kindly agreed to talk about his writing life for my blog.

Alex, what would you like your readers to know about your writing background?

 Been writing creatively since I first knew how to hold a pen. Remember my father typing up two poems I wrote when very small. Have a lot of unfinished novels from my teens. Wrote mostly plays thereafter (my parents worked in the theatre), and was able to stage some myself when working as a teacher, which I did for more than twenty years. Working for an education company in Lebanon, I authored two series of text books, one on grammar (something I greatly enjoy!) and one on writing.

What inspired you to write Eyes of the Blind?

 I worked for eleven years in a school for visually impaired students. It was something that nothing could prepare you for. Having had that window into the blind world, it was something that I thought would be interesting to share, and a believable blind protagonist would be an unusual twist in the crowded thriller genre.

I understand you write in long hand. How long does it take to write a first draft?  Why do you choose this method over a computer/laptop? Is it a labour of love?

I don't see it as a labour of love: it is just how I work. I am anything but a technophobe, and actually type pretty fast. However, I find it very difficult to create when typing, whether it is because words are broken down into their individual letters as you type them (or, even worse, auto-suggested) I don't know. When I am writing I often write two or sometimes three options of verbs/prepositions one above the other and select when re-reading later.  I don't even know how I would begin to do it on a laptop. It is almost as though writing, for me, is a physical process, like sculpting. I literally 'work' on sentences even though the medium is just ink and paper. I was given my first typewriter (a cast-off of my father's) when I was about ten - a manual with the line spacer partially broken - and I have always loved the process of transferring my manuscript to typescript. For me it is a major part of the drafting/editing process. Mentally it would never suit me to write complete draft after complete draft. I would find that soul-destroying. The drafting and redrafting takes place on the pages of my notebook. I will still make changes after printing out a complete draft (in pen!), but would be unlikely to start again from scratch unless someone had given me a large advance!

 

What is your daily writing schedule? Do you have any quirky routines to keep you going?

 

I write in the morning. I have always been a morning person. If I can't get any done in the morning, then I don't do any that day. It doesn't matter what time I get up, whether it is six or nine, I will write for about an hour after breakfast. Sometimes, if it is really flowing, I might stretch to an hour and a half, although I am suspicious when it is flowing too easily. I reckon to write about 500 words of a book like Eyes of the Blind in that time. I might only manage 300 of something more 'literary'. However, for me the slow pace suits the creative process. If I write too much too quickly, the writing may be fine but the level of ideas goes down. Because I only have the most basic outline of where a book is going, I need plenty of time for the ideas to gel and grow while the writing is going on. So I will never write for more than that hour, although I may spend the rest of the day thinking about what might come next. I used to go for 'writing walks' in which I would think out the next phase of whatever I was writing, but parenthood and life in general taught me to do my thinking alongside regular daily activities.

I don't have any quirky activities to keep me going. I never mind missing a day or days because I know that it will all add to the creative melting pot when I do get back to work. The working session always begins with re-reading the previous day's or days' work, and changes often get made then.

 

You are traditionally published. What are your views on self-publishing? 

I have always taken the view that it was vanity. Yes, the publishing world is flooded with books and you almost certainly need luck to get your head above the parapet, but I am not convinced I would get much satisfaction from a self-published book.

 What advice would you give to writers working on their debut novel?

 Get to the end. It's a great feeling. Don't try to write like anyone else, write like you. Write it because you need/want to write it, not because you dream of being a best-seller. Whatever happens afterwards, don't give up. We are writers because that is what we do, not necessarily because the rest of the world recognises us as such.

 

Finally the moment those of us who have read Eyes of the Blind are waiting for; - The Sequel! What can you tell us about that without spoiling the anticipation?

Blind Justice takes us back into the world of the two main characters, Niall and Miranda, nearly a year after the events of Eyes of the Blind. Niall investigates a charity that is helping to empower disabled people through sport, and finds himself in the murky world of state-sponsored doping in athletics. Miranda returns to the British Association for the Blind, where much has changed but all is still not well. Before long, both find themselves at risk in more ways than one...

 

Eyes of the Blind is available on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eyes-Blind-truth-sometimes-plain-ebook/dp/B01NAAWBCR

This is a fantastic debut novel that will have you gripped from beginning to end. I read it in a few days and highly recommend it. I have some knowledge of children and young adults who are VI and Alex captures their struggles and strengths brilliantly. I do hope there is a second book coming soon.

 

Blind Justice is published by Urbane Publications and is published on July 5th 2018

 

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Mothers and Daughters - friend or foe?

I’m getting tired of listening to people talk about the relationship with their mother being “toxic.”  I’ve come across enough cases and watched the dynamics between the two to understand that this is a real phenomenon but we need to stop pinning random descriptions on people or situations spewed out by the press. It’s like calling someone schizophrenic who is in two minds about something or who is behaving in a way we consider to be out of the normal range. These labels are heavy duty and damaging. No wonder the American psychiatrists are reminded of the Goldwater rule when they diagnose the 45th President from afar.

  Most mothers drive their daughters crazy at time and vice versa because the relationship is one of the most fraught there is. According to Deborah Tannen in her book “You’re Not Wearing That”, interactive patterns of communication between the two are riddled with misunderstandings. We can all relate to that. Mum says something she considers to be caring i.e., ‘A dress would look better on you,’ and daughter hears, ‘You’re putting on weight.’

  In fact any comment about a daughter’s appearance even if said in the spirit of love can be heard as painful criticism. The relationship swings between boiling anger through to adoration much like a love affair.

  Daughters will say no matter how hard they try to please they end up feeling like a failure because of some small, albeit well intended remark yet mothers see it as trying to be helpful. After all, they only want the best for their daughters. Women talk a lot about everything so there is more opportunity to say and hear things that are going to be taken in a wrong way. Although most sons love their mothers, their communication and behaviours are less emotionally driven and of course there is no competition. Mothers see their daughters as a reflection on them although most would not admit it. In turn, daughters desperately want their mother’s approval which is why the relationship balances on a pin a lot of the time.

  So where does the toxic label come in? Experts have many things to say on this. Mothers who dismiss or undermine their daughters by not understanding their insecurities and feelings can trigger deep seated problems with self-esteem from an early age. It’s hard enough being female in this age of body consciousness. I’ve no time for the Kardashian types but Kim has done women a favour by baring cellulite on her curvaceous bottom and look at the outpouring of negativity she received.

  Being micro-managed by mothers, especially these days is an issue raised by daughters who say they feel helpless to manage their own lives. The maternal response is, “I’m just trying to help darling.”  I’ve been guilty of this with my own daughters until each in turn responded by cutting me out of the family picture. If I go too far I get “Sent to Coventry.”

  Emotional disconnection is another reason cited for the development of a toxic relationship. We all need hugs and validation but when the primary caregiver, and here I want to remind readers that I am including adoptive mothers, foster mothers, grandmothers and guardians, withholds that affection either because they are incapable of showing it or use it as a form of punishment then this really is damaging. Mothers who suffer periods of depression may well find themselves unable to bond with their child, post natally or later but they need medical help rather than be subject to a rant on somebody’s blog.

 My daughters talk about their need for boundaries, especially now they are late twenties and early thirties. Boundaries need to be respected the moment a daughter rushes to her room to write Dear Diary and locks it away under the floorboards. Surely that’s saying something that maybe at fourteen she doesn’t fully understand. When mothers experience boundaries being erected to keep them out, they feel rejected and this can trigger an angry response. ‘But I thought we were friends?’

 Well, even friends don’t share everything and as I was told many years ago, ‘Your children are not your friends. You are the parent and you have a job to do. Guidance, support and as they get older, being there but never, ever interfering.’

 For someone who has spent a life time helping others I found this difficult. Surely a caring mother isn’t going to see her daughter get together with an unsuitable partner? Surely her role is to point out his flaws and get her away from him even if it does mean going to Mongolia to achieve it? No. She, the daughter, has to work things out for herself because only that way will she learn and unless such a relationship is a deliberate protest to your values then so be it. I can say all of this comfortably because I was guilty of all these behaviours. It gets down to a matter of trust. Do you trust your daughter to do the right thing? Helicoptering shows you don’t.  

  In 1978, Christina Crawford exposed her mother, Joan Crawford as a cruel, manipulative, unloving and I guess toxic, mother in her memoir, “Mommy Dearest.” Some didn’t believe it was possible she was talking about The Joan Crawford they loved and admired because they never saw that side of her. As more women begin to understand the wounds caused by controlling and critical mothers, the more they will be able to correct the mistakes in parenting their own daughters. The only caveat to that is history and behaviour can repeat itself unless there is a greater self -awareness.

  Many of the women I counsel have low self-esteem and when we delve further we find there has been a difficult relationship with their mother. For those who were not brought up by birth mothers, it is the unending pain caused by abandonment that poisons the unhealed wound.

  As mothers we are a target for all sorts of attacks from the psychobabble world. Some we must accept and take on board but please remember we are human too. We may well have had issues with our own mothers and fervently vow never to be like them then are shocked when some of the criticisms levelled at us include, “You’re just like your mother.”

 I’ll be writing more posts on this fascinating and at times exasperating relationship.

 My new book, The Future Can’t Wait, tracks the breakdown of a relationship between a mother who believes she’s doing all the right things and a daughter who thinks otherwise. The result is extreme.

Published by Urbane Publications, September 2017

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The Cruelty of Lambs video promo

  • Published in Writing

Here's my first attempt at making a video promo for my book at no cost. Apologies if there is a lip synch problem for some viewers. It was to do with the transfer of data.  Always room for improvements!

Thank you for watching, 

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A day in the life of a writer

  • Published in Writing

I am at my most productive and creative between 8am and 2pm. After that my eyes are sore at staring at the screen and my neck and shoulders feel they’ve been put through a mangle.

My day starts with a cup of strong tea with soya milk and one home-made ginger biscuit. Gluten and fat free. As somebody who suffers with gastric problems I find the ginger helps to settle my stomach. The Today programme helps me keep in touch with what’s going on in the world but if John Humphries slips into bullying and talking over people I press the off button. I guess my tolerance levels have dipped since I’ve got older.

Today I am working in my spacious dining kitchen where it is warm. I am usually a tidy worker but today I'm in a bit of a creative tailspin. That’s because I am editing my second book and need to spread out my notes and ideas across the table.

The thought of restructuring parts of a novel is daunting but once I am into it I find it therapeutic. Like pruning or mowing the lawn. It’s got to be done if you want the best results.

Editing gets confused with proof reading. It isn’t as easy as casting a careful eye looking for typos or punctuation errors. It’s about ripping sections out that slow down the pace of novel, condensing dialogue from a ramble to something more snappy. Anything that on a second, third or fourth reading sounds clumsy needs to be rewritten to help with the flow. You might need to shuffle paragraphs around to a different part of the book or get rid of them all together.

Today I’ve gorged a hole in  two chapters that now need to be rewritten and introduced a new concept to replace the old. It’s hard slog  tiring but ultimately satisfying when you see the improvements.

By 1pm I’m word blind so it’s time for my daily adventure into the outside world. Living in Malvern gives me quick access to all sorts of walks where I can exchange pleasantries with early morning dog walkers on the common or engage in some serious hiking on North Hill which lies behind my house. I’ve just returned from a trip into Great Malvern where I get to people- watch in one of the many coffee houses. The town attracts a lot of writers and people who work from home so there is usually somebody to natter with.

Lunch is usually vegetable soup and a lie down for an hour. I don’t know how President Trump keeps up his schedule! 

I’ve recently taken up painting so this afternoon I shall make a start on a scene I photographed in the Peak District at the weekend. Churchill said that painting was a perfect way to relax an overworked brain. I failed art at school but having  attended an art therapy class in town I was encouraged to keep trying.  Sometimes that’s all you need.  I love daubing landscapes in acrylics using the techniques and the approach of the impressionists. If I think it looks like a tree then it is a tree!

My friend will be calling in around 4pm for a gossip and to tell me her thoughts on The Cruelty of Lambs. I do know that she had to keep putting it down for a breather as she found it very intense.

Tonight I am singing with a local choir that meets in Malvern every two weeks. I squeeze in an hour of reading during the day as writers do need to read across a range of books. At the moment I am enjoying Lost in Static by Christina Phillipou published by Urbane Publications. Being an early riser (6am) I find myself flagging around eight o’clock. I’m a radio addict so it’s always a treat to listen to Radio 4 extra for some of the old comedies or a play.

Before I drift off, I shall exchange my daily email with my friend in Chicago. She’s a democrat and has her regular rants about Trump and the state of the nation. I’ve learned more about American politics in the last year than I ever needed to know.

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The Book on The Train!

  • Published in Writing

On my train journey home I sat next to a young man who had a real book in his hand. We got chatting about books and I happened to show him mine, which I carry everywhere with me as you never know when you might have a chance to do a bit of on the hoof marketing. Enthused, he photographed it and asked where he could get it, promising to tell his social media followers he’d met the author. It reminded me of my business training days.

An encounter later that day, also on the train, I got chatting to a lady who was telling me a story about her daughter coming to live with her because of a broken marriage. I said I understood exactly what she was talking about and empathised with her worry, saying I’d written a novel based on a similar theme. Now this sounds as if I was taking advantage of her situation but I can assure you that’s not the sort of thing I would do. Again I showed her the book and she took down the details as she wanted to understand what makes a couple turn on each other. She herself had been fortunate to be in a happy marriage for 40 years. When she got off the train she said, and I quote, ‘I think I was meant to meet you today.’  I suggested she got in touch with me if she felt I could help in my role as a counsellor. This morning I received an email and I am meeting her for coffee after Christmas.

Here are two examples of how forming a relationship, albeit fleeting, with a stranger can not only lead to a possible sale of your book but more importantly, can build a loyal following, one by one. People buy from people. You can give something of yourself as well as your book and it’s remembered. I’m not talking about building a fan club of adoring followers but one to one encounters that give both parties a warm feeling of connection.

Soft selling is about finding the right opportunity to introduce your book or product naturally into a conversation. Nobody wants to be trapped in a window seat on a train or plane frantically looking for a way to escape your sales onslaught. Read the body language and the eyes especially to find out whether it’s appropriate or time to shut up. Let the potential customer lead the conversation and avoid boasting or pushing. Find out what sort of books they enjoy reading and why. You can learn so much.

I have a background in business training so for me being able to engage strangers in conversation and know when not to is second nature. Authors are seen as retiring creatures, not exactly starving in their garrets these days, but we do need to connect with readers in some way. I’ve started to receive emails from people who have read The Cruelty of Lambs asking if I have written anything else. I always thank them for their kind comments as I know it would make my day if a writer replied to me. People remember people too.

My new book, The Future Can’t Wait, another psychological drama, is published by Urbane Publications Autumn 2017.

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