This is something writers are often asked and I find I am no exception to that. The answer will vary from author to author and also varies within genres. For example, in my short stories I often find the idea for a story arrives well before any of the characters. In my novels it is a completely different kettle of fish. In the case of The Cougar , Berenice actually appeared to me in a dream and said “Tell my story.” She had such a commanding presence that I had little choice in the matter and the following day I sat down and began to write The Cougar from scratch. This novel was my first and I was not writing to any standard genre or pattern. The Cougar is a love it or hate it novel for that reason. It doesn’t conform and is not written with anyone’s sensitivities or preferences in mind. I could have bent the story or characters to a particular style or genre but I wouldn’t really want to. Berenice wanted the story told and it was Berenice who dictated the telling of it. The Cougar was an easy book to write and seemed quite effortless at the time; its setting was a familiar one – a place I love in reality – research was serious because I like to get things right historically but it presented no problems. The hard part was the editing but the hardest of course was learning to live with all sorts of criticism, some of it harsh, much of it probably justified based on what is expected of writers when it comes to “how to write commercially”. Were there things I could have done differently? Very likely, but it is a question of weighing up what could be gained against what would be lost.

When I wrote my second novel (which at the time probably looked like being my third) it was again character driven. I had a few thoughts which gave birth to an initial storyline but, once begun, I found that the character of Midge took over as narrator for much of the time and her feelings took front seat throughout. The Wings to Fly is an historical novel and certainly required a lot of reading and research, taking nearly a whole year to write the first draft as opposed to The Cougar’s six weeks, in both cases this was followed by careful editing. The Cougar was therefore an easier project than The Wings to Fly but I am happy overall with the result. It is a longer and more complex tale and I took on board many examples of the historical fiction genre that I have enjoyed over the years. It is a more intimate telling, there are fewer factual asides, where reality creeps in it is made part of the action. Characters are, I hope, well developed and believable. There are aspects of the main character in both of these novels that I would like to elaborate on further because I am sure some readers are going to have questions about their complex personalities and lives but those are questions that will have to wait for another day.

Both The Cougar and The Wings to Fly are available in paperback and ebook format and may be read for free on Kindle Unlimited.

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The election of a new President shouldn’t be divisive nor does it normally throw the whole world into a state of panic. There is something terrible going on. Comments from friends on Facebook have me convinced that if we aren’t exactly going to Hell in a hand basket there must be something hallucinogenic in the water at the very least.

From his position as President Elect Donald Trump must be wondering why everyone except the party faithful is against him. Perhaps he thought of all those blockbuster movies in which deep voiced heroes say “Mr President” and he is offered universal love and acclaim – except for a few terrorists who always come to a sticky end. Not so, he is compared to the worst dictator of all time, a position not corrected by his appointment of a white supremacist to his cabinet.

Meanwhile the world inside and outside the USA is divided it seems into two camps who will never be reconciled. Those two camps being those who fear the democratic process itself must have been undermined and those who believe the entire world except Breitbart and Wikileaks (ironically enough) is on the side of communism. I find myself increasingly confused at this attitude. Sensible older people who I had previously regarded as rational are screaming conspiracy at every turn. Hillary Clinton, an experienced politician and public servant who is loved and highly respected on this side of the pond, is continually berated as a criminal at best and a satanist at worst.

The language of the pro-Trump lobby gets more and more hysterical by the day, there is a lot of foul language from people wrapping themselves up in the flag or, even more more bizarrely, the altar cloth. This is puzzling to British Christians I know who don’t think Trump is that nice a guy and that somehow this ruthless businessman, perhaps by virtue of his appearance on reality television and the popularity of the billionaire romance genre, has become almost a martyr in their eyes. Shrieks of “lock her up” grow again by the day as Jill Stein tries to unravel the mess created by rumour and an apparently lax electoral system. Anything about Trump that is not good is denounced as communist propaganda when, bizarrely, the communists helped him get elected. He is almost holy in his supporters’ eyes and can do no wrong it seems.

Personally I find this all very confusing and ultimately frightening. I like Americans, I have many American friends of all political persuasions, I have always thought of it as the country of the free but now it seems some of them want the clock turned back – and turned back all the way past Franklin D. Roosevelt I fear. What are we to do as the deluded children of Europe who can’t forget the lessons of the past? The only answer is to wait and see. If the recounts do show electoral fraud, the Trumpers and Trumpettes will never accept that is actually true. If on the other hand they don’t it should give him legitimacy as President but I don’t see the Republicans tolerating him for long unless he reins it in and starts to play by the rules.

There is one thing certain, we simply can’t go back to the 1930s. The jobs in industries that are not environmentally friendly either no longer exist or will poison the world for generations to come, perhaps cause our extinction. As one elected popularist found in the 1930s, millions of new jobs can be created – but only in the army… All I can do is pray that the desire for peace wins in the end and, if it doesn’t , just “Duck and Cover”.

Last night I watched Scars of Dracula for probably the seventh or eighth time. These old horror films pull me in each time. From wondering at the incredibly young and boyish Dennis Waterman and the iconic Patrick Troughton to enjoying the sultry female vampire and the ultimate Prince of Darkness himself, the late lamented Christopher Lee, it was a classic Hammer Horror delight. It got me wondering how these old movies cling on and why we continually watch over and over again only to switch channel when the new ones come on.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of horror as a genre and include Stephen King, Anne Rice and James Herbert among my favourite writers, but I am not such a fan of modern horror. I could easily be hooked by The Walking Dead as a movie rather than a series but I am not fond of series because I miss an episode and lose the plot. I loved Interview with the Vampire which I thought was a modern film classic as well as the modern versions of Frankenstein with Kenneth Brannagh and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) with Gary Oldman, which I still think is superb. The problem for me is modern horror. Teen slasher movies are a particular turn off, not because of the horror but because the link up between gratuitous human violence and teenage self importance is simply boring. If a film ever has “teen” or “slasher” in the description, I switch over to watch crime or history. These films are not commercially targeted towards me of course, but to kids who probably shouldn’t be watching things that violent, and on the occasions I have tried to watch one I have usually fallen asleep on the sofa – literally.

I think, when it comes down to it, I would far rather watch something with a story than rapidly changing violent images that are hard to understand. I enjoyed the Twilight series, which to me was the redemption of modern horror films – despite teen characters it has a story even adults can relate to. I haven’t read the book yet because I don’t want it to impact on the vampire novels I write but I suppose that when I have done with vampires – sparkly or otherwise – I might dip into some Stephenie Meyer. I also enjoyed The Mummy films. I would rather hear dialogue than an endless stream of sound effects, musical groans, bad language and screams. I have been scarred forever by Dracula and his story with all its stereotypical paranoid peasants, beautiful, wicked women, evil seducers and the ultimate sticky end. When offered a choice between a modern horror and an old classic I will take the old classics like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein any day – I am just a sucker for a good vampire yarn.

Sharon Stevenson describes herself as a “supernatural storyspinner” and “the twisted mind behind The Gallows Novels and the After Death Series”. An accomplished writer of horror and fantasy, this Scotland based author is addicted to reading and to writing and is a new and interesting talent in the horror and fantasy genre. I asked her if I could interview her about her writing following her week as a featured author on Goodreads recently and she was kind enough to give me the following interview.

1. When did you first discover you had a talent for writing?

It was more a case of realising how boring and ordinary real-life was and how much fun it was to make stuff up to relieve the boredom. I was about five years-old when I started making up stories so I wouldn’t call it discovering a talent, I was just a weird kid with an overactive imagination discovering a cool new way to have fun and express my creative side.

2. Of all your novels, which is your favourite and why?

I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite but I’ll tell you how I feel about the first book I published. ‘Blood Bound’ was a real accomplishment for me because it was the first full length novel I properly plotted from start to finish and it’s my debut novel. I thought it turned out pretty well but had no idea what readers would make of it, so when the first stranger who read it thought it was good enough to be traditionally published I was ecstatic.

3. Which writers do you enjoy most reading?

Simon Green and Kim Harrison are two of my favourite writers. I find Simon Green endlessly inventive and insanely entertaining. Kim Harrison’s Hollows series is full of brilliant characters and her world building is phenomenal. I also read a lot of indie books and have come across a lot of new favourites. I could write a list of authors I like and it would be as long as a novel.

4. Who are the main influences on your writing?

Anything that captures my imagination has an influence on my writing. A lot of different things influence me. I watch a lot of TV and movies and read a lot of books in the fantasy, sci-fi and horror genres. My family have always been supportive of my writing but I wouldn’t say any person or writer in particular influences me.

5. Do you believe that books should entertain or educate – or is a bit of both?

I’m an escapist so I think fiction should be entertaining. There’s a time and a place for educational books but when I pick up a book to read for pleasure I really don’t want my escape to be interrupted by the appearance of factual information.

6. If you could choose 10 books to take away to a desert island, what would they be?

That is truly an impossible question for a book addict like me. I don’t re-read a lot of books; I prefer to read new ones as often as possible. If I could instead have a perpetually-charging Kindle stuffed with hundreds of new fantasy, sci-fi and horror books that would be heaven!

7. Do your characters speak to you when you write?

No. I see scenes in my head and it’s kind of like watching a movie.

8. Why do you think people enjoy reading your novels?

I aim to be entertaining so hopefully it’s because they’re being entertained!

9. What projects are you currently busy with?

I’m currently writing the fifth Gallows novel, the second part of ‘Raised’ and a novella that is a Gallows spin off. I’ve got half a dozen other projects on the go but I’m concentrating on these three at the moment.

10. In short, can you tell us a little about your background and your aims as a writer.

I’m pretty much addicted to reading and writing and have been from a young age. I aim to keep entertaining myself and hopefully others with my stories for as long as I possibly can.

As a writer of fantasy novels myself, I really like Sharon’s attitude to fiction. The world needs more writers like Sharon who seek to entertain their loyal readers with imagination, action and escapism rather than bore them with dull soap opera type non-stories that are so widespread these days…