30 May 2013

Interview with Kristy Chambers, author of Get Well Soon! My (Un) Brilliant Career as a Nurse

Recently I reviewed Get Well Soon! My (Un) Brilliant Career as a Nurse written by Australian Kristy Chambers.  Her memoir was moving and funny and I didn't hesitate giving it 5 stars in my review.  After contacting Kristy to tell her how much I enjoyed her memoir, she was kind enough to agree to an interview.

Australian author Kristy Chambers
Thanks for joining me at Carpe Librum and congratulations on the publication of your memoir last year.  How has Get Well Soon! My (Un) Brilliant Career as a Nurse been received by readers and the medical community?
Well, I think! I've received a lot of lovely emails from people, which really amazes me. I've never written to an author to let them know I liked their book, but I should! Social media is pretty great in that regard. Some have been from nurses saying that they can really identify with the stories and others are from people who have no personal ties to nursing but ended up reading the book and liked it. I'm really touched that readers have made the effort to contact me and let me know how they felt about Get Well Soon! As a first time author, someone who swears a lot and given the nature of the topics covered, I wasn't sure how the book would go down, but the feedback has been really positive. 

What did you think of the cover design the first time you saw it? (At first glance I wasn't sure if the blood spots were real or part of the design and was too scared to check, lol!).
The first version of the cover design was very clean (my scrubs never looked that pristine) so the designer dirtied it up a bit, added some gore, and I think it's much more representative of my nursing experiences now. I really like the cover. Nursing can be a messy business, and the coffee stains are particularly apt. 

How did you decide what to include and what to leave out?
As the book basically follows a chronological order, some events and experiences jumped out at me more than others. The more infamous moments of my nursing career are going to be stuck in my brain forever and there are a lot of patients who made such an impression on me (both good and bad) that I felt compelled to write about them. I think it's just the limitations of my memory that caused me to leave things out, or else I could have written a book about nursing that was a thousand pages long, and I don't think the world is ever going to be ready for that, although I am planning to write a sequel to Get Well Soon! in another year or so. 

What was the hardest part of writing Get Well Soon!?
The hardest part was just fitting writing time in around work and the rest of my life, although writing about nursing while nursing probably helped keep details fresh in my mind and made it easier in some respects. The hardest part about writing in general is just getting started, as I am an excellent procrastinator and there is always the internet to distract me, or cleaning my house, or a million other things. I'm still amazed I managed to write an entire book sometimes. 

What are you doing now?  Are you still nursing?
I am still nursing, working in Drug & Alcohol Detox again, but I am taking a year off shortly and heading overseas to work on my second book (about travel). I'm really looking forward to writing about something besides nursing. I have collected a lot of travel stories over the years and I'm excited to spend a chunk of time turning them into a book. 

What advice would you give readers who find themselves in hospital under the care of nurses?
I would tell people that chocolates are always well received. And also that ward nursing, especially, is very hectic and there is always more work to do than time to do it in so please be patient, patients. Nursing is a difficult job for a lot of reasons. There aren't many occupations where people you come to know well die at regular intervals and you just go back to work the next day and carry on. Shift work is pretty hideous, too. 

When buying books, do you buy them online or from a physical bookshop?
I LOVE bookshops! I only buy books online that aren't available in Australia and I try to avoid e-books if possible. I spend enough time on my computer as it is and love the look and feel of actual books. Bookshops with coffee, like Avid Reader in Brisbane, are the BEST- my two loves together. 
One of Kristy's fav
books: Are You There
God? It's Me Margaret

by Judy Blume

What are some of your favourite books/authors?
There are so many books and authors that I love. I'm a huge fan of David Sedaris, JD Salinger and Judy Blume, but the list is endless. The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll and Paradoxia by Lydia Lunch sit in my bookcase next to Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume and Rob Lowe's autobiography, so my taste is quite eclectic. I have very fond memories of reading as a child. Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree and the Narnia books especially let me escape into vivid fantasy worlds, but I tend to gravitate towards non-fiction writing as an adult. (I remember reading Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume when I was in High School and loving it!)

What's next?  Is it true you're working on a second book? What can you tell us about it?
Yep, I have started writing my second book, but it's very skeletal at the moment! I have a lot of scribbled notes that I've amassed while travelling over the last 15 years, and I'm using them as the basis. It's going to be another non-fiction book, a travel memoir really, but also exploring some underlying themes, such as the fantasy versus reality aspect of travel and how the best stories often come from crappy experiences.  I'm also writing about the depression I've had since I was a teenager and how that has often left me craving escapism and fed the myth that the grass is greener, and happier, elsewhere. 

Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks for the interesting interview questions! :) 

You're more than welcome Kristy and best of luck with your travel book.  If Get Well Soon! is any indication, I'm sure it'll be a quick favourite with readers.  Carpe Librum!
27 May 2013

Two Reviews Published in the Crime Guide of the June 2013 Edition of Good Reading Magazine

June 2013 cover of
Good Reading Magazine
I'm thrilled to announce that Good Reading Magazine has published not one, but two of my book reviews in the Special Crime Guide of their June 2013 edition (pictured left and below right).
My photo and review of Blackwater
, and The Collector published in
the June 2013 edition of
Good Reading Magazine

A number of weeks ago GR staff invited readers to submit a review of their favourite crime novel for the special crime guide, and I decided to submit two.  I wasn't sure what other readers might submit and thought I would increase my chances of being published if I chose to review a contemporary crime novel and a vintage classic.

I love supporting Aussie writers, so I decided the first had to be Australian, and there was no question I would be submitting a review for crime novel Blackwater Moon by B. Michael Radburn.

For balance, the second review I chose to submit was a vintage classic in the form of The Collector by John Fowles (4 stars).

I was both surprised and ecstatic to find out a few weeks later that both reviews would be published, and included in the guide alongside a photo in an article called Caught Reading.  Woohoo!!  Without gloating, I've now had a review published each year since 2011 and I'm so proud of this accomplishment.

The special June crime edition of Good Reading Magazine is out now!

Carpe Librum!

Caught Reading article on page 24 & 25 of June 2013 edition of Good Reading Magazine
24 May 2013

Review: Get Well Soon! My (Un) Brilliant Career as a Nurse by Kristy Chambers

Get Well Soon! My (Un) Brilliant Career as a Nurse by Kristy Chambers book cover
I just finished a brilliant memoir from Australian nurse and first-time writer Kristy Chambers, entitled: Get Well Soon - My (Un) Brilliant Career as a Nurse.
Kristy has a typically down to earth personality and an Aussie sense of humour that shines through in the pages of her memoir.  In Get Well Soon!, Kristy primarily discusses her nursing career, and includes some moving accounts of looking after patients suffering from terminal illnesses or patients from the various departments she has worked in over the years.

However, sprinkled in with these sobering accounts are the funnier moments of nursing which had me snorting and laughing out loud with relish. Her chapter called 'Shit' was quite memorable and the story called 'The Tampon' is also worth a mention.

At a mere 248 pages, I breezed through Get Well Soon! and was incredibly moved by many of the patient stories Kristy shared.  I'm so glad she achieved a healthy balance between humanity and humour and her natural down to earth writing style made her memoir so accessible.

I've been recommending Get Well Soon! widely since I turned the last page, and everyone I've talked to about it seems to want to get their hands on a copy.

My Rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
22 May 2013

Interview with Christopher Kemp, author of Floating Gold - The Search for Ambergris, The Most Elusive Substance in the Natural World

Today, scientist, writer and ambergris hunter Christopher Kemp stops by for a virtual chat about his book Floating Gold - The Search for Ambergris, The Most Elusive Substance in the Natural World, his love for ambergris and some of his favourite authors and books.

Interview Questions
For the benefit of those who haven't read your bookwhat is ambergris?
Author and ambergris hunter Christopher Kemp
Ambergris is a strange and intestinal secretion produced by an estimated one percent of sperm whales. It forms in the hindgut, binding up hard and durable squid beaks that the whale has ingested and cannot digest. Most whales regurgitate this indigestible slurry but, in a few cases, it makes it through the whale's four cavernous stomach chambers and into the small intestine instead. It begins to chafe and irritate the gut lining. In response, the whale's intestine secretes an oily, cholesterol-rich substance that forms a stratified boulder. Once expelled at sea, it drifts on ocean currents for months and years -- and perhaps even decades. As it floats, it ages. Cured by the saltwater and oxidized by sunlight it becomes a white waxy substance. Its odor profile, which was once fecal and fairly aggressive, softens and becomes unique and indescribable. 

What is it used for?
For centuries, it has been used as a principal ingredient in perfume, acting as a fixative -- a stabilizer that makes the scent last longer on the wearer's skin. But it has also been used as a drug, an aphrodisiac, an ingredient in cooking, a commodity, and all sorts of other things too. In many instances, companies have replaced genuine ambergris with synthetic compounds, but it is still used. When it washes ashore, the highest quality ambergris is worth up to $20,000 USD a kilo. Across the world, people still hunt for it, collect it, trade it clandestinely, and dream about it always.

A Molecular Biologist by trade, how did you first become interested in ambergris?
I was working in New Zealand in 2008. One night, I switched on the TV and on the evening news there was a report about a mysterious object that had washed ashore near Wellington, the capital city. Some people claimed it was a meteorite; others thought maybe it was an enormous boulder of Brie cheese. It weighed an estimated half-ton. At some point, someone must have suggested it was ambergris and within hours a crowd of a hundred or so people had descended onto the beach, armed with garden tools. They hacked it to pieces, each trying to claim a piece of it. A group of students used a bed sheet to carry a large piece of it home. I'd never heard of ambergris before. But from that moment on, I was pretty hooked. So the book really tells the story of my educated and infiltration into the ambergris world.
A piece of ambergris
Credit: Christopher Kemp

The pursuit of ambergris has taken you all over the world, even living in New Zealand for a while with your family. Do they share your interest, tolerate your interest or do they think you are obsessed?
My family has always tolerated, and mostly shared, my obsessions. Quite quickly, I began to realize that the possibility of finding ambergris really presented a reason for spending time outside on the coastline with my son, who had just recently been born. It was a portal. I spent so much time outside, exploring the world that, had I not been searching for ambergris, I might never have experienced. The temptation, especially when you have a three-month-old baby who doesn't sleep much, was always to lounge in front of the TV. In search of ambergris, I was always forced, even on rainy, windswept spring days, when the trees are bent over in the wind, to go out after high tide to look for beach cast ambergris instead.

Do you think the value of ambergris will increase or decrease in the future, given many companies use synthetic forms of ambergris now to fix their perfumes?
It's hard to say what will happen. On one hand, one of the larger companies are using synthetic ambergris. On the other hand, more people than ever are becoming artisanal perfumers who make handcrafted fragrances in their home laboratories. Many of them use all-natural products and rely heavily on ambergris.

Can you share some of the more unusual resource material you've consulted or research you've undertaken?
It all seemed to be unusual. The time I spent on remote Stewart Island was very special. The trips to museums like Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology in the US was an amazing opportunity. I was lucky in so many ways to go to the places I did.

What message (if any) would you like readers to take away after reading Floating Gold?
Hmmm. I think I'd like readers to remember that the natural world is an amazing place, which is still filled with mystery. Google and Wikipedia cannot tell us everything. I wrote the book mostly because, after first watching that news segment in 2008, I logged onto my computer and expected to learn everything about ambergris that I needed to know in the next ten minutes. But there was almost no information out there. The few sources that did exist all seemed to contradict one another. I wrote the book simply because no one else had. There are still mysteries out there. And many of them are wonderful.

The ending of Floating Gold was one of the best non-fiction endings I've read in years!  But I've gotta ask, (I have to know) yes, or no?
No.  But I would rather say: not yet. One thing that the book sort of acknowledges is that nothing really ends, or not as neatly as many books would have you believe anyway. (Tracey breathes a sigh of relief.  The suspense was doing my head in.  You'll have to read the book to know what I mean, no spoilers here.)
The Founding Fish
John McPhee
one of Christopher's
fav books

What are some of your favourite books/authors?
I read everything. In the non-fiction category, I loved anything and everything by an American writer called John McPhee. He has a very kind and inquisitive view of the world and writes beautifully. One of my favorite of his books is The Founding Fish. Otherwise, I read a lot of Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut. I like Paul Theroux's travel writing a lot. I'm enjoying David Quammen's new book Spillover. For a long time, I've read everything by the Beats: William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, etc. I also have a secret weakness for war reporting (probably because I'd never by brave enough to do it myself), including my favorites, Michael Herr's Dispatches and John Laurence's The Cat from Hue.

What's next?  Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I'm doing things backward. Most people start small, trying to write for progressively larger magazines that more and more people read and that pay writers better. And then eventually they try to get a book deal. Instead, I wrote a book, and now I'm starting to write for a few magazines. Almost no one ever got rich writing a book. But it's possible to do okay writing magazine articles. You get paid more and they don't swallow up years of your life. It allows you to sort of screen subjects and potentially find another one with the breadth necessary to support a book-length project. Ironically, my book on ambergris was supposed to be a magazine article. I researched it for a few months and pitched it to editors everywhere I could think of pitching it. By the time I realized no one was interested in it, I'd written half the book.

Anything else you'd like to add?
If you think you've found some ambergris, you can let me know at ambergrishotline@gmail.com

Thanks so much Christopher!  I'm certainly more in awe of mother nature having read Floating Gold, so thank you for sharing your expertise and knowledge in an otherwise secretive industry.  It's fascinating stuff!
21 May 2013

Winner Announced: The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

The Carpe Librum competition to win a copy of The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness (pictured below) closed at midnight on Sunday 19th May 2013. I received some brilliant entries, the question being: if you had a choice to be a bird for a day what species of bird would you be?  Here's a few of the highlights:
  • A pelican because they look ungainly on land but are graceful in the water and air;
  • If the range includes mystical birds, I'd be a Roc because they're huge, scary and I could enjoy scaring the code brown out of some people;
  • I'd have to be a magpie. They are clever & fearless & a protected species - bonus!!
  • I would be an Emu because (like me) they don't conform and they are proud to be weird: they can't fly and can't walk backwards; but boy they give the other animals a run for their money.
Owls were popular, and I was very surprised at the variety of suggestions submitted, so thank you to all those that entered, subscribed and Tweeted.

The winner was selected thanks to random.org and Congratulations go to:

Debbie Rodgers

Debbie's answer was: I admire the tenacious little northern chickadee so would pick that. Debbie also Tweeted the competition and follows Carpe Librum via Google Friend Connect, giving her three entries in the competition.

Debbie, please email me your postal address in the next three weeks to claim your prize.  If the prize is unclaimed, a new winner will be drawn. Thanks to everybody who entered and to Allen & Unwin for supplying the book.

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness book cover
18 May 2013

Review: Floating Gold - The Search for Ambergris, The Most Elusive Substance in the Natural World by Christopher Kemp

Floating Gold by Christopher Kemp book coverWhat is ambergris? From the old French ambre gris meaning "grey amber", Ambergris is a grayish waxy substance found only in the intestines of 1% of sperm whales. 

Sperm whales cannot digest the beaks (mouths) of squids, and these accumulate in their stomachs, triggering the slow layering of squid beaks with concrete like faeces to create a hard ball that whale waste can pass.

Once secreted, it can float for years on ocean currents before finally washing ashore.  Ambergris is incredibly valuable and is used as a fixative in the perfume industry although was also used in the recipes of the rich many hundreds of years ago.

I've always been fascinated and intrigued by ambergris, both how it is formed and why it is so highly valued.  After reading Floating Gold by Christopher Kemp, all my questions have been answered, and I have a new-found respect for this substance and the whales that produce it.

Kemp has a natural and engaging writing style, mixing his personal search for ambergris with all manner of information sprinkled in between.  Despite the non-fiction topic, I was never distracted or bored reading Floating Gold.  In fact, the ending made me exclaim out loud, and was probably the BEST ending in a  non-fiction book I've read in years!  (I'm not going to spoil it for anybody wanting to check it out though).

There's also a lot to enjoy for Kiwi readers too, as much takes place in New Zealand and Stewart Island.

Floating Gold is full of interesting tidbits, including that Elizabeth I was more than partial to ambergris, her cooks including it in quail dishes.  I recall one of my favourite segments was when Kemp mentioned:

 "...a French perfumer whose nose was so sensitive that he could smell a vial of jasmine essence and identify not only the country in which the flowers were grown but whether the machines they were processed in were made of aluminium or stainless steel."
                                                                                           -  Page 137

How incredible!  Floating Gold is full of amazing and incredible information, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this secretive and widely unknown world.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
14 May 2013

Book Cover for The Wolves of Midwinter by Anne Rice is Revealed

It's here!! The long awaited cover for the Wolves of Midwinter by legendary author Anne Rice has been revealed, and I'm so excited!

Anne Rice holding her copy of The Wolves of Midwinter
 The Wolves of Midwinter is part of the Wolf Gift Chronicles and is the sequel to The Wolf Gift.  We have a little longer to wait yet though, as The Wolves of Midwinter isn't due to be released until 15th October 2013.

I count down to any new release from Anne Rice, but the question is, will you be joining me?  What do you think of the cover?

Carpe Librum!

Review: Seduction - A Novel of Suspense by M.J. Rose

Seduction - A Novel of Suspense by M.J. Rose book cover
What appealed to me about this novel from M.J. Rose entitled Seduction: A Novel of Suspense was the premise that it was about Victor Hugo (arguably one of France's greatest literary heroes), who began holding seances from his house to communicate with the dead ten years after suffering the loss of his daughter. 

It is true that in 1853 he was introduced to the practice of table tapping, and Hugo claimed to receive communication from many spirits, including some famous ones such as: Shakespeare and Voltaire. I've always been fascinated by periods in history - particularly after WWI - when seances were a popular means to communicate with the dead.

Interwoven between Hugo's story is the modern day tale of Jac, Celtic expert interested in investigating the origin of Celtic ruins and renowned for her sense of smell.

While Seduction can be read as a stand alone gothic historical novel, much reference was made to previous books (I'm assuming to The Book of Lost Fragrances, which was extremely popular) therefore if I had my time again I would probably start earlier in the series.

And now to the final review. All the elements were there for me to fall in love with, but I always seemed to be held back a little. Whether it was because I hadn't read the series from the beginning, or because I wanted more from Hugo's story, or the two elderly sisters set in the present time, I'm unclear.

Nevertheless, Seduction: A Novel of Suspense is doing very well and is certainly a buzz book right now. The highlight for me was when I saw fellow book blogger Amy Bruno mentioned in the Acknowledgements section. I've been following her from a distance on her blog Passages to the Past and more recently her business Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours (HFVBT) for some time now. Her site is published in my list of favourite blogs and her success is an inspiration to all book bloggers. Congratulations Amy!!
Book Four

My rating = ***

For those wanting to embark on the Reincarnationist series by M.J. Rose from the beginning, here are the books in order:

The Reincarnationist - Book One
The Memorist - Book Two
The Hypnotist - Book Three
The Book of Lost Fragrances - Book Four
Seduction - Book Five
09 May 2013

Review: The Complete Book of Stumpwork Embroidery by Jane Nicholas

The Complete Book of Stumpwork Embroidery by Jane Nicholas book cover
As well as reading and all things book-related, I do enjoy a few other hobbies, one of which includes cross stitch. One of the books I want to read is called The Stumpwork Robe by Prue Batten which is about a woman who hides a story in the embroidery of a magnificent robe.

This cross-over of stitching and reading led me on a quest to find out more about stumpwork and what better place to start than with The Complete Book of Stumpwork Embroidery. What I wasn't expecting to find was that the author Jane Nicholas is a fellow Australian, and an Australian with an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) no less, for her services to hand embroidery as an artist, teacher, and author.

Jane has been researching and working in the field for over 20 years and travels all over the world teaching and designing and is a leading expert in the world of embroidery and stumpwork. One of her designs, Homage to the Seventeenth Century is printed in colour in the end papers of The Complete Book of Stumpwork Embroidery, and took her 5 years to finish! Pictured below, it had me spellbound, and staring at her work with my mouth open for minutes on end, then flicking back and forth understanding which stitches she used for which components.

In Jane's words, stumpwork is: a term used to refer to a particular form of domestic raised embroidery practised in England between 1650 and 1700. Given my love of historical fiction, I find this fascinating, many young girls working on their samplers as part of their coming of age.

The Complete Book of Stumpwork Embroidery is an interesting and instructional book with a nod to history and includes the different styles of stitches used, and many designs to choose from. My only wish would have been more colour photographs and drawings.

All in all, an inspiring and hefty hardback reference book, and worthy addition to any crafter's bookshelf.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
Homage to the Seventeenth Century by Jane Nicholas
07 May 2013

Review & Giveaway: The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

When in Sydney in early April, I was lucky enough to attend a bookish event organised by Allen & Unwin in the CBD. I had to go to a memorial in Martin Place, look for a woman in a Kimono and tell her I was there to read The Crane Wife.  I was then given a copy of the book.

The lucky recipients then adjourned for a flash mob reading of the book which was pretty exciting, despite the rain.

I was lucky enough to pick up an additional copy after the event which will be part of a giveaway, details to follow at the end of this review.

George, a divorced and lonely man is woken one night by a keening sound, only to discover a great white crane in his backyard.  The bird is powerful and has a real presence but is painfully injured with an arrow through its wing.  George helps the bird and his life is changed from that moment on.

I hadn't heard of the Japanese folk tale that formed the inspiration for this story, and I think it was better that I hadn't.  It took me a while to settle into the pace of The Crane Wife - it's quite different to what I usually read - but the writing was beautiful and the themes were all about love and forgiveness.  I enjoyed George's flawed character, the mythology aspects throughout the novel and the ending was very touching.

Favourite quote comes from Page 45:
"... let's-carpe-the-unexpectedly-sunny-diem-and-have-an-impromptu-picnic/endurance-session in the park..."
My rating = ***

For your chance to WIN a brand new copy of The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness courtesy of Allen & Unwin, leave a comment below and tell me if you had a choice to be a bird for a day what species of bird would you be?

To increase your chance of winning you can:
  1. Subscribe to follow Carpe Librum by email or Google Friend Connect;
  2. Tweet about the competition on Twitter, using my handle @Carpe_Librum1 and a link to this post. 
Tell me what you shared or followed in your comment to receive an additional competition entry for each method.

Entries close midnight, Sunday 19 May, 2013 and the winner has 3 weeks to claim their prize.  (Open to Aus & NZ residents).

Good luck everybody, Carpe Librum!
03 May 2013

Interview with Bestselling UK Author, Sarah Rayne

I must admit, I was a little star-struck interviewing my next author.  She's an international success, I've read 6 of her novels, and couldn't believe my good fortune when UK based author Sarah Rayne readily agreed to an interview with Carpe Librum.  What a joy!

Interview Questions
Sarah, welcome, and thanks so much for joining us.  You've written and published an astonishing 20 novels, when did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Writing always seemed a natural progression from reading.  Everyone in my family read – going along to the local library every week was part of the routine.  
Bestselling author, Sarah Rayne
At school, I was the one who loved it when we were set essays.  When I was 13 I wrote a play for the Lower Fourth to perform.  That was great fun and it was the era of angry young men, so I had visions of a glittering career alongside Harold Pinter and Peter Shaffer.   By the age of 16, however, I switched to poetry – the role models then were 18th Century aesthetes dying romantically in garrets.  (My apartment is on the upper floor of the building, which is the nearest I’ve got to a garret so far).

I've read six of your novels, and each of them features an old, menacing, often derelict or run down building with a creepy and colourful past.  Is it a love for architecture or a love of history that drives you to create these eerie buildings around which the central plot unfolds?
I think it’s about 75% history, and 25% architecture.  

In your essay Where I Like To Write, you wrote: "I love houses – all houses. I love their memories and their histories and their atmospheres and their quirks."  Do you believe every house has a story?
Yes, certainly.  There’s a marvellous theme running through Benjamin Britten’s opera, Owen Wingrave, which is based on the Henry James’ story.  And it’s – ‘Listen to the house.’ 
And I do just that.  I don’t mean yomping round the Tower of London and thinking you’re seeing Ann Boleyn floating towards you.  I mean ordinary buildings where people have lived and worked.  There’s so much to hear from them – their atmospheres, their histories, their useage, present and past.  (I love the word yomping, must use that!)

In What Lies Beneath, there was a haunting piece of music called The Deserted Village written by an Irish composer in the mid-to-late 1800s that played an important role for several characters in the story.  Was there any particular music that inspired this piece, does it exist, or is it purely fictional?  (I'd love to hear it!)
It’s actually a real piece, which I found by the purest good luck.  What Lies Beneath had an odd genesis.  I originally wanted to make the village a drowned village – quite near to where I live is a beautiful and mostly unspoilt village.  On the outskirts is a massive reservoir, and there’s an elusive but wonderfully eerie legend that says the reservoir’s creation drowned a number of buildings that are still down there.

Drowned buildings…   Even an entire drowned village.  For a long time the concept fascinated me. The trouble was that it had fascinated a number of other writers as well, and it had been used in plots several times.  There’s even a term for the genre – reservoir noir.  
But the idea stayed with me, and I delved a bit deeper into the tradition of lost villages.  The UK has a remarkable number of them – I’m sure most countries have.   Remote pockets that once were thriving communities, but that, for widely different reasons, now lie dead and silent.  In the main, they were lost to natural enemies  such as coastal erosion.  In Europe many were wiped out by disease – the Black Death in particular.   
Then I found a poem by Oliver Goldsmith called The Deserted Village, written in 1770.   One of the lines is –
Could any writer be given a better image?   That was when I came up with the idea of – not a drowned village, but a poisoned village.  An ordinary English village that had been the subject of an experiment during the Cold War.  But an experiment that went wrong, so that the place had to be sealed up for the next fifty years.  What secrets can you hide inside a place closed to everyone for half a century?  At that point, my lost village, with all its long-reaching secrets, suddenly became possible again.  And What Lies Beneath could be written. 

It was during the actual writing of the book that I found the reference to the music of The Deserted Village.  It seemed to echo the poem so beautifully, and to fit with that particular plot-strand, that I seized on it and incorporated it into the narrative.   But I wasn’t able to track down a recording, although like you, I would love to hear it.  So if anyone reading this happens to have a recording or a disc or even the sheet music, I would be hugely grateful to know. 

Do you listen to music yourself when you write or do you prefer silence?
I very often listen to music, usually Classic FM which is a terrific radio station we have in the UK.  I’m a massive fan of Mozart and also Bach – those two gentlemen have helped me through many a difficult patch of writing – in fact through many a difficult patch of life as well.  I also have a particular piece of music by Berlioz – an overture called Rakoczy March, which has never yet failed to kick-start a sluggish writing mood.  I do think music can conjure up so many marvellous images.

Do you plan your novels in advance or does it unfold as you go?
I usually start with an idea, which I scribble down on any odd bits of paper or backs of envelopes or whatever’s to hand at the time.  Then I start to build a story around that.  The ideas can come from anywhere.  

One instance is when, some years ago, I saw a TV documentary about conjoined twins.  Among the case histories presented was one about two teenage boys who had been successfully separated a few years earlier.  But after the surgery they both had identical near-nightmares in which the original ‘Siamese twins’, Chang and Eng Bunker, stood at the foot of their beds and threatened to have them re-joined.
‘We could never be separated,’ said these dream figures.  ‘So why should you?’
The idea of a plot based on two sets of conjoined twins – but a hundred years apart – dropped straight into my mind, and on the premise of that I wrote A Dark Dividing. (Another fabulous book!)

Can you tell us about the research required for your novels?  What is some of the more unusual resource material you've consulted or research you've undertaken?
Research is often a bit fragmented, and I usually do it as I go along.  It’s generally a question of scouring books and storming appropriate libraries and, of course, using the internet – although I’m careful to remember that not everything on the internet can be entirely trusted. 

Field research can be huge fun.  For What Lies Beneath, (by that time firmly based on a poisoned village rather than a drowned one), I needed to know if a church organ could make any kind of sound after it had been abandoned for fifty years.  I managed to track down someone who held the daunting title of Music Director of something-or-other for several counties, and he arranged a meeting at a fourteenth-century church with a firm of organ tuners and restorers.  

It turned into quite a party.  The organ-builders had come in a force of three (grandfather, father and son), the Music Director came along to unlock the church, my partner elected to act as chauffeur on the grounds that I would never find the church by myself, and my brother joined in with the idea of photographing the proceedings.  When we got there, a couple of grave-diggers were leaning on their spades, exchanging epigrammatical wit like the last act of Hamlet.
Sarah Rayne blowing through an
organ pipe in 14th Century Weston Church
I explained the problem in more detail.  The book I was working on had as part of its story a desolate and eerie old church.  So I needed to know if the organ, abandoned for half a century and most likely half-rotting, would be still capable of creating music.  This was greeted with silence, so I said, ‘I don’t mean a Bach fugue needs to be bashed out, just a few chords.  Or,’ I said hopefully, as the silence lengthened, ‘a single note.  Any note would do.’

By this time I was ready to abandon the plot of What Lies Beneath, write a totally different book in the hope that my editor would have forgotten the original synopsis, and beat it out of the Saxon arch door. 

But incredibly, stops were pulled out (literally and metaphorically), and the trio of organ-makers nodded solemnly, and said, yes, it could be done.  A wooden organ-frame would rot, but metal wind pipes were indestructible.  You might drop a set of metal organ pipes in the Atlantic ocean if you were so minded, and leave them there for a hundred years.  They would still be capable of producing sound.  The trio proceeded to dismantle part of the organ there and then – cheerfully calling down to one another as they did so to mind your toe, silly clot, the E-flat’s coming down. 

They spread the metal wind pipes before my feet, and said I could have whatever sound I wanted.  Thin reedy sounds from the small pipes, booming sonerous ones from the large ones.  It was just a question of blowing into each pipe – 2 or 3 together if it could be managed.  It was pretty much the same principle as a flute or a recorder.

They demonstrated.  The smallest pipe gave a happy tootle and at the other end of the scale was a massive giant’s-drainpipe structure, which took all 3 men to lift it.  That sounded like the QE2 coming in to dock.  The grave-diggers came in at this point and helped by trying to play Three Blind Mice.  Try it for yourself,’ said the senior organ tuner, so I did.  I tried them all, in turn, from falsetto to bass. It was more fun than I had anticipated and my brother took a series of photographs, insisting that they might come in handy for publicity on publication or handing round at Christmas parties that needed livening up.

But the sounds were exactly what I wanted.  The musically-knowledgeable hero in the book could very easily prowl through the shadowy desolation of the old church, and try to re-create a fragment of its plainchant history with several of the dispersed pipes. The villain, up to no good in the grounds outside, could be very satisfactorily spooked by the sounds. (Wow! I bet no other author has blown into an organ pipe in a 14th Century Church in the name of research).

Sometimes, though, field research isn’t quite so easy as driving a few miles.  Several years ago I wrote a book – contemporary horror – based on the 17th Century Countess Elizabeth Bathory.  She used to bathe in the blood of virgins to preserve her youth and beauty.  (I should say at this point to readers, don’t try this at home.)

Blood Ritual by
Sarah Rayne
The Countess lived in the Carpathian Mountains, but she also had a town house in Vienna.  At the time I couldn’t afford to travel to either place, but a few years later I did go to Vienna, and I found her house in a place called the Blutgasse – Blood Alley.  I was very glad to discover that the Blutgasse was fully as creepy and ancient as I had described.  One of those really eerie pockets in Old Vienna.  

What I didn’t expect was that a neighbour of Elizabeth Bathory’s was Mozart – about a 150 years later he had lived a few houses along from her.  They could have waved to one another, or discussed the weather when putting out the milk bottles – if it wasn’t for the century and a half that separated them.  They certainly weren’t 2 people I would have associated with each other on any level at all. 

I do wonder if I would have written parts of that book slightly differently if I’d been able to travel to Vienna at the time.  (That book isn’t in print now, but it is available in digital form, and the title is Blood Ritual).

Atmosphere is such a big part of your writing, do you ever like to write outside or in public?  (Sometimes I imagine you with a notebook in an old church for What Lies Beneath, or in a run down boat house in House of the Lost).
I have tried the ruined church/deserted manor house setting, but it always seems beset with difficulties.  Either a party of tourists wanders in and stares at me suspiciously (or reports to the vicar that there’s a peculiar person on the premises, behaving very oddly), or papers get blown away and resist all efforts to recapture them from inaccessible corners or muddy river banks.  Inquisitive spiders crawl across the page, plumbers arrive to clean out drains, or builders start cheerfully hammering at roofs.   Or I’m faced with a black, blank screen, because I’ve forgotten to charge the laptop’s battery.  So I usually just make notes or mutter furtively into a portable tape recorder, and take photographs.  Then I beat it back to the comfort of my study, where I have a view across fields, and a tree just beyond my window which houses an owl who emerges at dusk and glides silently across the sky.
Is her writing
 style gothic?

Would you describe your writing as gothic?
I’m never sure about that.  It’s been described by other people as gothic, and I suppose there are gothic elements in it – particularly in the series of ghost-themed books I’m currently working on.  

Do you have any literary influences?
I think I’ve probably been influenced by some of the great gothic writers – Edgar Allen Poe, Henry James, Wilkie Collins.  The wonderful short stories of M.R. James which delight me every time I read them.  And modern gothicists such as Susan Hill and a writer called Jonathan Aycliffe. I’m also a massive fan of Dorothy L Sayers.  

As well as that, I’ve recently gone back to the classics, and I’ve been working my way through Charles Dickens. While I was writing The Sin Eater I became engrossed in Bleak House.  I do love Dickens’ humour, and I have to say that some of his marvellous descriptions of London in the mid-1800s were extremely useful – The Sin Eater has several sections set in 1890s London, so reading fiction of that era was tremendously helpful.  

Sarah's all-time fav book
Broome Stages by
Clemence Dane
One of my all-time favourite books is a huge tome called Broome Stages by Clemence Dane.  I discovered it about 30 years ago and I think it probably influenced the plot of Ghost Song, which is a book I wrote a few years ago and is still very close to my heart.
I probably read Broome Stages on average about once every 4 years.  The copy, which wasn’t new to begin with, is in severe danger of falling apart these days.  In a very general way the book is a family saga, but it’s like no family saga I’ve ever read, before or since.  It spans 1715 - 1930, and it covers 7 generations of a theatrical family.  The story begins with travelling players in tavern courtyards, and traces the family’s rise – through the Victorian actor managers, those lovely fruity characters who re-wrote Shakespeare to suit themselves – and on into the early years of the 20th century, with the onset of the first movies.  It’s about the changing world of the theatre, but it’s also about the Broomes themselves – their loves and hates, and feuds and plots.  It’s about their fortunes in the theatre world – the buying of theatres, the building of a theatrical dynasty.  The writing is exquisite – polished and lovely, and the characters and their backgrounds are so vivid that the present-day dissolves as you read.

If, one day, I could write a book of that calibre, I think I would believe I had achieved something really great.  But I know it’s not going to happen.

What's next?  What are you working on at the moment?
I’m still immersed in the ghost-themed books, which started with Property of a Lady.  
The third in the series, The Silence, is just out, and I’m two-thirds of the way through the fourth.  (If my editor or my agent happens to be reading this, make that three-quarters of the way through…)  It features the same two central characters each time – Michael Flint, an Oxford don, and Nell West, an antiques dealer.  I’d only written stand-alones before this series, so it’s new territory for me to develop relationships from book to book, and I’m enjoying it very much.
(Brilliant, Property of a Lady is on my to-be-read list). 

What would you like to tell your readers?
I’d thank them for reading my books. 

Anything else you'd like to add?
Only that writing books is probably the best job on the planet.

Thank you so much Sarah, it's been such an honour to host you on Carpe Librum! You've been so gracious, and I've thoroughly enjoyed interviewing one of my favourite authors.

What Lies Beneath - 5 stars*
House of the Lost - 4 stars
A Dark Dividing - 3.5 stars
Spider Light - 4 stars
Tower of Silence - 4 stars
The Death Chamber - 4 stars

*Reverse order of books read