SB: Thank you so much, Maggie, for inviting me to your blog!
MS: So tell me about your new book!
SB: The Unkindest Cut of All, which is due for release on 9 June 2015, is my third novel. It originally began life as my NaNoWriMo novel in 2012, and I worked on it further in an online workshop early in 2013. But it took several more months of editing and rewriting before I felt capable of submitting it. A lot of the early text ended up on the cutting-room floor!
The story is set in a theatre, during an am-dram production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
It’s part mystery, part romance. I can’t say too much about it without giving the plot away, but here’s the blurb:
Beware the Ides of March...
Brian Wilmer is God’s gift to amateur dramatics – and he knows it. So when the Castlemarsh Players take the ambitious decision to stage Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, there is only one man who can play the title role – even though Brian’s posturing ‘prima donna’ attitude has, over the years, won him few friends and many foes.
Rehearsals progress apace, and the production draws ever closer. But when another member of the cast has to drop out due to illness, local journalist Sarah Carmichael (a stalwart of the Players’ backstage crew) suddenly finds herself called upon to step into the breach at the eleventh hour.
Not surprisingly, Sarah finds that Brian is in his egotistical element playing the mighty Caesar. The fact that the final performance of the play takes place on the infamous Ides of March – the day when, according to tradition, Caesar was fatally stabbed – only adds to the excitement.
But tragedy is waiting in the wings. And when it strikes, it falls to Sarah – with the help of Brian’s personable, and fascinating, nephew Martin Burns – to uncover the incredible truth about what really happened…
MS: Everyone has their own story to tell. When did you start writing and what got you started?
SB: I’ve always tinkered with writing, ever since I was at school. But it’s only during the past few years, following a life-changing event just over ten years ago, that I’ve been taking it more seriously. My first full-length novel (The Ghostly Father) started out as a response to the challenge: Write the Book You Want to Read.
I’ve always loved the story of Romeo & Juliet, but hated the ending. The book I’ve always wanted to read is the version where the star-crossed lovers don’t fall victim to a maddeningly preventable double-suicide. Why, I asked myself, should there not be such a book? And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed? And if it doesn’t exist, then go ahead and write it.
I wrote the book mainly for myself. The fact that it was subsequently published, and that a lot of people were kind enough to say they enjoyed it, was a bonus. One friend said to me recently, “I will never feel sad in Verona again.”
My second novel, Nice Girls Don’t, is based on a search for family secrets. It’s set in 1982, and holds up a mirror to the attitudes and ideas of the day. It offers a trip down memory lane for anyone old enough to remember Britain in the 1980s, but also shows younger readers how much things have changed, hopefully for the better, over the course of a generation.
As for my own story, that would probably fill another book just on its own. I might write it one day, though very much I doubt that anybody would believe that it isn’t a work of fiction.
MS: How do you find the time to juggle work, family, writing, and/or everything else you do?
SB: If I were better organised I’d probably get a lot more done (on all fronts!), but I try to write at least one thing each day, even if it’s just a sentence or two. But I don’t think my writing brain ever really switches off, even when I’m doing other tasks. I’ve found that inspiration can strike at any time and under any circumstances. I’ve had some of my best ideas when I’ve been mowing the lawn. And on one occasion a whole stanza of a poem arrived, fully-formed, when I was sitting in a traffic jam. I had to keep repeating it to myself until I arrived home and could write it down.
MS: Do you have plans to release more books in the near future? If so, tell us about what you have in the works.
SB: At the moment I’m working (very slowly) on a time-slip novel based on an old French legend. I’ve also had an idea for a possible sequel to Nice Girls Don’t, but so far that hasn’t progressed beyond the concept stage, so don’t stay in specially waiting for it.
MS: What is your all-time favourite book or author?
SB: I wouldn’t say I have a particular favourite, but the novel which I can honestly say changed my whole outlook on life was That Devil Called Love by Lynda Chater. It’s based on the traditional Faust tale, but is brought up to date and told with great perception and humour. In the story, the heroine finds out the hard way that youth, beauty, wealth and fame do not necessarily hold the key to lasting happiness. After I’d read it, I felt much more able to appreciate – and be proud of – what I’ve managed to achieve.
MS: If you weren't a writer, and you could make a living at anything else, what would it be?
SB: I love food and I love travel, so if someone offered me a job as an all-expenses-paid restaurant critic and/or travel writer, I think I’d be very tempted!
MS: Tell me about your secret plan for taking over the world.
SB: If I told you that, it wouldn’t be a secret any more! But this much I will say: it involves books…
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