Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Women Writers Boxing Clever Part 2: featuring Orna Ross, Carol Cooper, Roz Morris and Jessica Bell

On Monday, I introduced you to seven excellent novelists who've got together to issue a box-set of their works at an amazing price (£7.99/$9.99 for seven novels!) - the link to that post is here. In this and the next post I'll be asking each of the writers about the novel they chose to include in the selection, Outside the Box: Women Writing Women.

I'll start with Orna Ross. I met Orna back in 2012 at the London Book Fair, when she launched the Alliance of Independent Authors. ALLi has gone from strength to strength since then. The Bookseller has named Orna as one of the 100 most influential people in publishing and she is incredibly positive, supportive and inspiring. Her philosophy is summed up in the title of her handbooks and prospective courses: 'Go Creative - It's your Native State'. 
Somehow she finds time to write poetry and novels, while doing all she can to facilitate the creativity and success of others. She's including Blue Mercy in the collection, a complex tale of betrayal, revenge, suspense, murder mystery - and surprise. Here's what she has to say about it: 'Blue Mercy is a high-octane drama in the shape of a mother-and-daughter conflict swirling around a family murder mystery. A tyrannical old father is dead, a suspected mercy killing. The answers as to who might have killed him and why are deeply embedded in male-female relationships but also, crucially for this volume collection, in something core and primal in inter-female relationships too.'

Carol Cooper, whom I've also met at the London Book Fair - such a great place for networking! - and at the Independent Author Fair in Chorleywood last autumn, is a journalist and award-winning non-fiction author who's turned her hand to writing acclaimed contemporary fiction. Oh, and in her spare time, she's a doctor. Here's how she came to write her novel about a group of people searching for love, sex and everything in between: 'One Night at the Jacaranda is the first novel I’ve created that got as far as the hands of readers. There’ve been other efforts: a coming-of-age novel set in Cambridge, a children’s story about a stray dog, a novel about a teenager coping with disability, and the chronicle of a female surgeon in training. She never reached the top as she spent too much time horizontal (like the manuscript, still languishing in a drawer somewhere).
Now I see that I was trying to fit into particular places on bookshelves. By contrast, One Night at the Jacaranda, although it’s contemporary women’s fiction, doesn’t nestle quite as neatly into a genre.
The idea came to me out of the blue. I was on a flight to the USA, on my way to my father’s funeral. As I sat sipping a much-needed gin and tonic, the idea for a story about a group of single Londoners popped into my head. There’d be a struggling journalist, a lonely lawyer, a newly single mother of four daring to date again.
I covered paper napkins with scrawled notes which eventually developed into the novel. Finally I’d embarked on creating the kind of book I’d want to read for pleasure. I wasn’t thinking about marketing angles. I just wrote.
All the characters are made up. I don’t know where ex-con Dan came from, and I’m glad I never had an au pair as manipulative as Dorottya, but some of the influences are obvious. Although the stressed doctor in my story is male, he takes on many of the frustrations I face in my day job. Ditto the single mother, the freelance journalist, and the young man diagnosed with cancer are all people I relate to.
I like to pretend that the story has nothing to do with my father. For one thing, it would have been far too racy for him. He’d have choked on a Harrogate toffee by page four.
Yet things fall into place when a parent dies, so his influence is there. The deeper message of One Night at the Jacaranda is that the characters can’t find happiness with someone else until they confront who they themselves really are.
Over the years I’d authored and co-authored many non-fiction books. The leap to writing fiction required new skills. But it was refreshing to write what I wanted to write, without worrying about word counts or thinking of appropriate illustrations. My experience in journalism shows, I think, in my short scenes, cutting from one character to the next.
Medicine has a huge impact on my fiction. You can’t put your patients in a book, but doctoring teaches you to observe. It’s no surprise that many great writers have been doctors. While I can’t pretend to be in the same league as Somerset Maugham, Michael Crichton, AJ Cronin, Khaled Hosseini or Abraham Varghese, I’m grateful that my work brings me into contact with such a wide range of people and situations.'

I've also met Roz Morris at the London Book Fair and at various ALLi events. She's a vibrant and knowledgeable writer, ghost-writer and writing coach. I highly recommend her blog, The Undercover Soundtrack, where she features writers talking about how music has inspired their stories and writing process. Last year I read the novel she has chosen to include in the collection, My Memories of a Future Life - it's an original and poetic novel, written in a compelling voice and asking questions about creativity and purpose which I found fascinating. It features science fiction and music and sharp social observation, and it veers from comedy to pathos and back again. A really original piece of work. Here's what she has to say:

I was always fascinated by tales of regression to past lives. I thought, what if instead of going to the past, someone went to a future life? Who would do that? Why? What would they find? 

Another longtime interest was the world of the classical musician. Musical scores are exacting and dictatorial - you play a note for perhaps a sixth of a second and not only that, there are instructions for how to feel - expressivo, amoroso. It's as if you don't play a piece of classical music; you channel the spirit of the composer. 

I became fascinated by a character who routinely opened her entire soul to the most emotional communications of classical composers. And I thought, what if she couldn’t do it any more? And then, what if I threw her together with someone who could trap the part of her that responded so completely to music?'

Finally, Jessica Bell, another very active member of ALLi, is an Australian novelist, singer-songwriter, publishing editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal - and a book cover designer to boot. (Where do these people find their energy?). Her latest novel is White Lady, an intense, suspenseful ride rife with mystery. She says: 'Some writers do have a distinct message they want to expose through their books before they begin writing. Those writers would be able to answer the question Why? pretty easily. I am not one of those authors. If there are messages in my books, they develop and grow organically, without my interference. But now that White Lady is complete and on bookshelves, I would say that message is the following: The power of unconditional love can be scarier than having a knife held to your throat.'

Orna, Joni, Jessica, Kathleen, Jane, Carol and Jessica
In my next blogpost, I'll be featuring Joni Rodgers, Kathleen Jones and Jane Davis.

For Part 1 of this feature, go here .

To pre-order Outside the Box: Women Writing Women: visit these links at  and Price £7.99/$9.99. The set will be available for 90 days only from February 20th 2015.

For more information, visit

1 comment:

Jessica Bell said...

Thank you so much for having us!