Friday, 31 March 2017

The Fantastically Minded Shona Kinsella

It was a dark and stormy night...

Actually it was bright and sunny outside, but the power of the darkness within my soul had created a virtual thunderstorm around Holbrook Towers; black rumbling clouds of discontent, frequently assaulted by sharp splits of electric anger.  

This was my mood, and I was taking out on the cat - I say the cat, because I don't know his real name. he stopped by to introduce himself as my new neighbour some weeks ago.  I didn't like the look of him and so decided that I could make use of him. He has been most responsive to my experiments, and no longer seems to want to leave.

(I call him cat because he uses a Kitty Litter and has to lick himself to wash).

Anyway, my mood was black when the scream of a banshee distracted me from my misery. It was the new doorbell.  I opened the door to find a woman with a book in her hand.  

     "I'm not interested!"  I shouted.  "I've already told your lot that I'm a Wicca-Loving/Satanist/Jedi, I have cloven feet and if a bible enters my house it will spontaneously combust!"

     It turned out that she wasn't from the local fellowship however, but was a wandering author, who had travelled all the way from Scotland after hearing of a mythical castle owned by a dark overlord who loved books.

     I invited her in, threw the cat out of the catflap to chase birds outside, and offered her a chair in front of the fire.  Our conversation I recorded as follows...

Let’s start with your name shall we and a little bit of background about what in God’s name made you want to write?

My name is Shona Kinsella and I started writing on a whim. Well, sort of. I loved writing when I was young and wrote short stories and (bad) poetry in notebooks that I carried about with me. When the film Bucket list came out when I was in my teens, Write a Book was number one on my list. Then exams and life got in the way and I stopped writing.

In 2014, I took a career break to care for my children. My husband and I were joking about what I would do with all my spare time and he suggested that I turn my hand to writing a book, like I’d always wanted to. Well, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head and a month or so later, I sat down and tentatively wrote ten pages. That was the start of Ashael Rising.

Have you got a book out at the moment?  Imagine you are stood in front of a panel of potential film directors (Scorsese, Spielberg, Burton, Branagh, Ed Wood etc.) Pitch your book - what’s it called and what’s it about, who’s your leading lady or man?  Would you think about turning it into a musical? If so what would the song that goes into the Oscars shortlist?

My book is called Ashael Rising and it’s a secondary world fantasy. Ashael is an apprentice medicine woman who must somehow protect her people from the Zanthar, soul-sucking invaders from another world, who extend their own lives by stealing the life-force of others. The Zanthar were banished from KalaDene two centuries before but they have returned looking for a being known as The Vessel; someone who will be the key to the soul of KalaDene itself.

 What was the last thing you wrote? Be honest, even if it was a shopping list.

A text message to my husband. Before that, a meal plan for the week. The last creative writing I did was on the novella I’m working on. It’s called The Longest Night and concerns a tribe living in the arctic, when the sun fails to rise after mid-winter.

What’s the book on your shelf that you have read the most and why?  Could you live without reading it again?

This is tough because I re-read books all the time. It’s hard to know which one I’ve read most. It’s probably The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I know I’ve read the entire series three or four times and the early books more times than that. I would be devastated if I had to live without reading it again. It feels a little like coming home when I settle between those pages. I’m not sure I can articulate why I love it so much. It’s something to do with the epic scale with a western feel to it. It’s the strength of King’s writing and characterisation – the characters feel real to me. It’s how the series sits over the rest of King’s work with threads to be found, all leading back to the tower. It’s the warning that I see in the story, despite it never being stated outright. On top of all that, it’s just a great story!

You are stuck in a lift; everyone else in the building has gone home for the night.  Who would you like to keep you company for the next 12 hours, to soothe away the infinite panic, claustrophobia and need for the toilet?

Is it cheating to say my husband? He’s always the first person I want to spend time with. I guess you mean someone famous though. Honestly, if I couldn’t have my husband, I’d rather have my laptop – can you imagine how much writing you could get done in 12 uninterrupted hours? Hmmm, have I given too much away about myself with that?

Oh, I’ve got a good one! The Writing Excuses crew! I’d come out of that lift a much better writer and I’d have had a great laugh as well!

“It is braver to open up your heart through your writing than to get into a ring with a very short tempered Mike Tyson.” Discuss.

I agree with this, absolutely. I can’t speak for other writers, but for me, well there’s a lot of me in my work. Many of my characters have aspects of my personality, I write about issues that are important to me, especially around equality and the way that we live with each other and with our planet. There’s a lot of my heart laid out on the page for people to look at and criticise and reject.

Your partner talks in his/her sleep.  One night, in their sleepy babble, they give you the idea for the greatest story that will ever be written.  Do you take the credit/royalties?

Sort of? I mean, they might have given me the idea but if my track record is anything to go by, the end result will have moved quite far from that original spark. I would acknowledge that’s where the idea came from and since we have shared finances, the royalties would be shared anyway!

What is the worst thing anyone has said about your writing and how did you react?

When I first joined Scribophile, an online writing group, my very first critique of the first story I posted, started out with “Let’s be honest, this was boring.” They proceeded to tear the work to shreds. I cried when I read it and considered taking my piece down in sheer embarrassment. I didn’t though and the story went on to win first place in a competition without any changes being made. I think that was a useful thing to go through early on. It showed me that I shouldn’t put too much stock in any one person’s opinion. We all react to art so differently.

What’s the best thing anyone ever said about your writing? You cannot include a family member, that’s cheating.

I was very moved when a member of my critique group said that he had to read the chapter several times because he kept getting caught up and forgetting that he was meant to be critiquing. From a complete stranger, I think the best thing is that they can’t wait for the next book. Or the reviewer who said she sneaked reading the book at work because she had to know what happened next.

Tell me something nice that you’ve done for someone in the past week?  How have you improved the world through your acts of niceness?

I really struggled to come up with an answer to this – my toddler has been ill and I haven’t left the house much over the last week! I’ve been looking after my sister’s dog while she’s at work – does that count? I brought my neighbour’s bins in after they had been emptied. I feel like my kindness standards are slipping. I need to get on that and start spreading kindness about again.

 I have an uncle with an insatiable desire for great new writers.  Where can he find your work?

Ashael Rising is available on Amazon ( and from all major bookshops. You can even request a copy in your local library or support Unbound and buy direct from them

I also post flash fiction to be my blog on a fairly regular basis –

Is there anything else you wish to tell me or confess to today?

I’m really glad that we ‘met’.

My mood had lightened.  The clouds of misery had parted and a nervous sun poked through to warm my face.  I heard a scratching at the door; the cat was obviously ready for a tin of Sheba.

I waved Shona off and ran to my computer to order myself a copy of her book 'Ashael Rising'.  

You should too.

If you enjoy my blog, please consider supporting my novel on Unbound, Domini Mortum.  You can find it here: 

You won't be disappointed.

(and I may invite you to the castle)

Friday, 24 March 2017

The More Than Quite Interesting Mr Colgan

It was a quite and dull night in Holbrook Towers, a knock came on the large oaken doors.  Annoyingly it was the butler's night off, and so I was forced to come upstairs from the torture chamber to answer the door myself.  Normally an obtuse and miserable man, prone to violent fits of rage, I was pleased to see a familiar face, one that I had run into a few weeks ago in York, where he gave a most enjoyable talk regarding the likelihood of there being intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

Our exchange over drinks was recorded as follows:

Who the devil are you? Why are you here? What is your purpose?

I’m Stevyn Colgan. Author, artist, songwriter, collector of vintage Viewmasters, ex-pat Cornishman and tea fetishist. Oh and I’m one of the ‘elves’ that research and write the TV show QI. My purpose is to be FABULOUS. I am failing dismally.

Written a book have you? What the bloody hell is it all about?

Written several actually (smug face). The latest is a novel called ‘A Murder To Die For’. It’s a murder mystery set at a murder mystery festival. And, I hope, it’s funny. People who’ve read it think so. One person said it read like Tom Sharpe had written a Miss Marple novel. Stephen Fry liked it enough to give me a cover quote. So did Sandi Toksvig. I trust their professional comedy judgment! I’m now trying to persuade someone to turn it into a TV comedy drama.

Can you remember the first thing you ever wrote that you are creatively proud of?  Was it a story? A poem? A toddlers dirty protest, perhaps a forged cheque?

The first thing I remember writing (that I was pleased with) was a story about a small hairy thing called The Offog. I can’t remember the plot – it was around 45 years ago – but I do recall that it involved the Moon being tethered to the Earth with a piece of string. I suspect my Ricicles had been spiked.

There's a door in front of you. Behind the door is a world without imagination, without spurious thought, where no one has ever thought about writing stories and the idea of a novel is seemingly fantastical and impossible.  Take the complete works of another writer with you through the door (Shakespeare and Dickens are banned) who is the lucky woman/man? And would you pretend to be them?

Wow. How can I pin that down to just one author? Part of me says Douglas Adams. Another screams P G Wodehouse. Yet another howls for Tom Sharpe. But I’ll take the complete works of Rev J P Martin, creator of the extraordinarily mad world of Uncle the elephant. Pythonesque humour, inspired names (Beaver Hateman, Butterskin Mute, Isadore Hitmouse etc.) andwonderfully insane and surreal stories all explosively illustrated by Quentin Bake. Tha t should cheer up No Imagination Land. And no, I couldn’t pretend to be the Reverend due to my crushing atheism.

Tomorrow you expire.  The day after you come back. Which animal would you be, and how would you use your new found animality to wreak revenge on the human world that cast you out?

Probably something like a Tyrannosaurus Rex (Hey, if you can have reincarnation, I can have dinosaurs, okay? I bloody love dinosaurs). I’d quickly rise to the top of the food chain and then sort out the political situation on both sides of the Atlantic. Or maybe a cow. Cows are mellow. Cows are worry-free. And who wouldn’t enjoy being milked?

 Invisibility or shape shifting?  Which would you choose to cause the most havoc?

Invisibility every time. And no, of course I wouldn’t spend the summer hiding in some young ladies’ finishing school. The very thought! It would be shut.

Literary heaven and literary hell. What novel is a dream and which disappointed you the most and should be cast into the pit for all eternity?

A novel that was a dream? I don’t read a lot of sci-fi but the first time I read John Wyndham’s ‘The Day of the Triffids’ I was blown away. All of his books are brilliantly written. The sci-fi element hardly intrudes; it’s all about the characters. He throws people into extraordinary situations and then tells their stories brilliantly. Literary hell? Tricky. I’ve read books that I thought were steaming piles of shite but who am I to judge? ‘50 Shades of Grey’ has sold millions. I hated it. Dan Brown is massively successful. I’ve read a few of his books and I thought they were terrible. But maybe that’s just me? The fact is, taste is personal and they have sold many, many more books than I ever will.

Ideas.  Do you pluck them out of the air or do you have to put some work into it?

I am bursting with ideas all of the time. I carry notebooks and voice recorders with me everywhere I go. I’ve never suffered writers’ block. And everyday situations and stories I hear can set me off on a chain of thought that ends as a story - I once wrote an entire novella after seeing a lone glove sitting on some railings. By the time my brain had taken a long ride on the Train of Thought I’d created an entire temporal refuse disposal industry that, in the far future, gets rid of its landfill by dumping it into the past. I then wrote it up as a Doctor Who script and submitted it to the BBC and got as far as discussions with the producer. Ideas are not a problem. Having the time to get them all down is.

“The best comedy is tragedy.” Discuss.

It’s true. The best comic creations are built on tragedy: Reggie Perrin and his deadly dull corporate life; Basil Fawlty’s relationship with Sybil and his intolerance of hoi-paloi guests;  Henry Wilt’s whole life; Tony Hancock’s interactions with idiot Bill Kerr, bullish Hattie Jacques, dodgy Sid James and odd Kenneth Williams; Edmund Blackadder’s lack of recognition and power; poor thick Bertie Wooster’s utter reliance on Jeeves to get him out of every scrape. In ‘A Murder To Die For’, I’ve done the same with my leading characters. They’re all either jealous, avaricious, angry or in some other way discontented. And that leads us to plenty of funny situations.

Where can we find you? (not in a stalky type of way, obvs)

When I’m not hanging out at some young ladies’ finishing school, you can find me on Wikipedia or on my website at, both of which desperately need updating (any Wikipedians out there?).

I’ve been keeping a blog for a decade and the most recent iteration is at: There you can also find links back to my previous blogs and, most importantly, to my books.

My latest book ‘A Murder To Die For’ is out later this year but you can read all about it and pledge for an early special edition by visiting here

On Twitter I’m @stevyncolgan and on Instagram I’m simply StevynColgan

Last, but not least, if you want to email me, send me spam or unsolicited nudity, I’m

Thank you, Stevyn, you have been most illuminating.  I for one have already pre-ordered 'A Murder to Die for' and am very much looking forward to seeing the postman negotiate the moat in order to deliver it.

Please feel free to visit Holbrook Towers whenever you are passing.  I shall make sure there are milkmaids a plenty next time, just in case you return a bovine.