"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!" (Mary Quallo, St Louis)

"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!"  (Mary Quallo, St Louis)
The Night Porter - In The Vatican (Photo: Justin Scholes)

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Author and blogger Carol Hedges is...around The Cauldron!

Inhabitants of the Twitterverse, at least this little segment of it, will have noticed the effervescent wit of Carol Hedges - author and keen, active blogger - around the place. 

Rumoured to be extremely helpful and supportive of other Indies and active in her local community, I had always wanted to invite her around the Cauldron and was introduced to her quite recently. 

Her books are popular and, as you will see, she enjoys a good laugh and a joke. I caught up with her as she bedded in the roses somewhere in the south of England and we spoke via the Wizphone. 

Here's what she had to say.

Tell us a bit about yourself, Carol. Including something you have never so far revealed in an author interview on Indie!

Well, Mark, I’m a nearly 65 year old grandmother with amazingly dyed red hair and all my own teeth....checks...OK, 2 crowns. I’m a lot taller than I look on Twitter and I sound like a seven year old on helium. None of this ( apart from the hair) is observable on any social media site but can be attested to by friends who’ve met me. And  I’m fairly sure there is some new revelation in there somewhere....

Whereabouts in Britain are you from? I hear you are very much a creature of the South?

I was born in Welwyn Garden City, which was one of the ‘’new’’ garden cities built after World War 2. I went to London University (Degree in English & Archaeology..very useful when planting potatoes .. I can do superb trenches). I worked in London for many years (Librarian), moved to Watford, where my daughter was born and now live in Harpenden. Just south of Luton. Or North of London.

In what genre do you write?

Currently I’m writing a series of Victorian Crime fiction novels, set in London in the 1860s. They feature the same two detectives, the odd running characters ( some of them walk ) and lots and lots of new ones.

What’s your latest?

The latest published one is Honour & Obey ... the second in the series. It looks at the marriage market at the time (and it was a market!)

Can we have an extract please?
Opening extract from Honour & Obey (publ. Crooked Cat Books, Nov 2014)

London, 1861. An evening in early spring, and it is raining. But
this is not the sweet spring rain beloved of romantic writers.
This is rain on a mission. Relentless rain that falls with a steady
patience as if it has got all night. Rain with the volume turned

Rain corrugates windows. Rain drums off roof tiles, the
water falling in torrents from leaky gutters. Rain whips the
surface of the muck-encrusted streets into thick brown soup.
Rain coats ancient brick buildings in a slimy sheen of wet. Rain
glugs and gurgles into drains and culverts.
Stand awhile in the shelter of this doorway and listen. The
noise of the pelting rain is almost drowned out by the great
cacophonous cauldron of sound swirling around you. Horsedrawn
omnibuses clip and clop, and slide on their steel wheels.
Arguments break out amongst the shapeless huddled crowds
hurrying to and fro. At the corner, a ragged soaked drunk raises
his voice in discordant song. Church bells ring the quarter-hour
in disunited chimes. A dog howls. It is an evening not to
venture abroad, you might think. But you would be wrong.
In the building opposite, a door suddenly opens and a young
woman appears. The building is old, brick-banded, and rundown
in appearance. The paint is peeling and several of the
lower windowpanes are cracked, and streaky with rain. It bears
the hallmarks of a lodging house, where rooms can be rented
cheaply and the landlord lives elsewhere.
The young woman wears a neat but shabby dress, a shawl
and an uninteresting bonnet. She carries a wrapped bundle
under one arm. Her complexion is pale and pinched,
bespeaking a lack of regular nourishing meals. She glances up at
the sky, grimaces, then sets off determinedly. Her name is Violet
Manning and she is a dressmaker.
You will meet her again, very soon. But not as you see her
And the rain keeps on falling. It falls upon a semi-detached
villa on the outskirts of New Camden Town. The villa is owned
by Mrs Lucinda Whitlow, widow of the late Nathaniel
Whitlow, owner of a piano factory. In its time the house has
known the laughter of children, the bustle of family life. Now it
is a boarding house for professional gentlemen, overseen by Mrs
Whitlow (widow), who has a false front of black curls, a false set
of yellow teeth and a false smile.
At Mrs Whitlow’s, for a moderate outlay of cash, the
professional gentleman can avail himself of a bed, use of
ablution facilities and privy, together with breakfast and an
evening meal. Mrs Whitlow’s cooking is in a class of its own.
Her cabbage is always boiled for exactly one hour. She makes
pastry you could tile roofs with, and her gravy possesses a thick,
glutinous quality rarely seen outwith the river embankment at
low tide.
Mrs Whitlow’s lodgers have just finished their evening meal
of scrag-end of unidentified animal served with soggy potatoes.
Now she is busy clearing away the plates, helped by the
undersized maid of all work.
“Knives and forks in the basket, girl,” she snaps. “Then
scrape them plates into the pig bucket.”
The maid comes from the local Foundling Hospital. She has
a name, but Mrs Whitlow prefers to call her “girl.” It saves time.
She drops the cutlery into the basket and eyes the plates
hungrily. Several of the lodgers have left unappetising scraps of
“Hurry up, girl,” Mrs Whitlow commands. “I ‘aven’t got all
e Foundling scrapes the plates into the rusty iron bucket.
Her stomach rumbles. Footsteps sound in the hallway. Mrs
Whitlow darts to the door. One of the lodgers, the new young
man who only arrived recently, has just descended the stairs and
is heading for the front door.
“Going out, are you, Mr Err...?”
Mr Err is indeed going out. He has on a long dark overcoat
and his hat is pulled low over his face. He makes no reply,
merely opens the front door and disappears into the pouring
“Manners!” mutters Mrs Whitlow.
She goes back to clearing the plates, and persecuting the
Evening lengthens. Lamplighters begin their rounds. Shop
windows are also lit, displaying their rich contents to the rainsoaked
passers-by. The magic light of a millions gas-lamps draw
the flâneurs – both men and women – like moths to its
flickering flame. For there are particular pleasures to be had at
night, when the streets become a glittering gallery of images and
Sometime later Mrs Whitlow’s lodger will return, will let
himself in with his key and will quietly climb the stairs to his
room. Sometime later the brightly lit shops will shutter-up, and
the streets will empty out. Sometime later, Violet Manning will
be brutally murdered, and her body will be dumped in an

You have more than one book.  For marketing purposes on the Twitterverse, do you think it is better for sales and brand awareness to hammer ONE book ad infinitum?

I hope I never hammer anything, other than the odd nail, crookedly. It’s actually easier to have more than one book on the go and best to have a series, especially if you are a crime writer. People who read crime fiction like to read everything by a writer they enjoy. 

And as for my technique, if I have one, I think it can be divided into: 1. Sell everybody else first. 2. Sell YOURSELF as a brand next. 

People buy from writers they engage with and find interesting. Nothing is more likely to detract from sales than a writer endlessly and robotically putting out promo after promo. If you visit my Twitter site, you’ll find funnies, pics (frequently of cake), other people’s stuff, amusing posters etc etc. 

And I chat. Lots.

Follow Carol on Twitter HERE: 


You are very active on Twitter? Can we follow Carol Hedges anywhere else?

I am also on Facebook ... though I’m more selective as to whom I ‘’friend’ as I had a nasty incident recently where someone claiming to know several of my friends was actually posting malaware. FB shut down my site and I had to clean it. So now, you have to be a friend of a friend to be my friend. If you see what I mean.

I like your covers. What advice have you got for Indies who don’t invest in a cover designer?

Thank you. I really am proud of them. They are designed by David Baird, a local graphic artist, and the husband of one of my friends. So that makes them extra special. 

There are a few ‘’secret’’ things in the covers...you have to look carefully and compare each one. Not saying any more. I’m not an artist, so I don’t know what advice I can give. 

I DO remember going to a talk at the RNA where a cover designer showed us several covers (different genres) all featuring the SAME bloke! 

It is worth paying out for a good cover artist: it doesn’t cost the earth, and they do know what looks good on the various sites. NEVER try to draw your own!

If you knew how like an endless Moroccan bazaar this marketplace was going to become, would you have done something else instead of write novels? Or are you compelled?

I always wanted to write, and I have been lucky enough to enter the Moroccan Bazaar when it was more like a corner shop. 

So I have grown up with it. I am also lucky that I find it fun. I love being on social media, I love blogging and meeting other writers and people from all over the world. It is far more immediate than it was when my first novel was published. So I’d be here, whatever. And I hope I’ll be here for a few years more, until the braincell gives out.

What else do you do apart from scribble?

I have several jobs, as I’m still waiting for my books to reach blockbuster status. I tutor GCSE and A level students. I invigilate public exams at a local secondary school. 

L-Plate Gran - Carol's Ever-Popular Blog HERE

And, as those of you who follow my ‘Adventures of L-Plate Gran’  blogs know, I look after my little granddaughter two full days a week. World save-age may come later... if I can fit it in between jobs.

Three favourite books, two favourite CDs and favourite film?

Anything by Dickens, or Tobias Hill (cheating). 

The Best Dickens Novel?

Anything by Blondie or Paul Simon ( more cheating). 

And Steel Magnolias. OK, psychoanalyze that!!

Invite your big hero to lunch. Where and what would you eat?

Now then, I’m going to go off piste again. My big hero is a heroine .. a real one, and it is my lovely daughter. She spent 3 years in Afghanistan working for SOCA, enduring some hair-raising exploits, most of which she can’t share as she has signed the Official Secrets Act, and ending up with her name on a local Taliban list. 

After returning to the UK, she not only worked but joined the Territorial Army, which involved full Boot Camp training.

Now she manages to hold down a high powered job in government security as well as being a wife and the best mother I know to Little G. I’d take her to The Ritz for afternoon tea. 

We’d have little crustless salmon and egg and cream cheese sandwiches, tiny warm scones with clotted cream and jam and plates and plates of lovely cakes and fruit tarts.

And finally, what do fans of Carol Hedges have to look forward to in 2015 and beyond.

November 2015 is when Death & Dominion, the third Victorian crime novel will be available. And I’m currently writing the fourth: Murder & Mayhem. After that.........who knows?

Carol, it's been an absolute pleasure to talk to you today and I, and the Wizardwatchers, wish you every success in the coming years.

Thank you, Wiz. And the same to you.


Carol has her first tattoo - featured on the BBC

Carol is also the author of the popular
Spy Girl series - which I didn't know
when I picked up the Wizphone! 

Carol's Cauldron Spoon

Sunday, 29 March 2015

An American In Britain - fun YA novelist and reviewer, Barb Taub, is...Around The Cauldron!

Today, in the ominous, awe inspiring shadow of the Burj Khalifa, here in downtown Dubai, I meet Barb Taub. YA writer, reviewer, commentator and classic American wit in the Mary Tyler Moore mould. 

Barb now lives and writes in the Green and Pleasant. I met her through the brilliant Rosie Amber’s review site, where she reviewed my novel The Night Porter.  
Whatever grade Barb gave TNP was less important than the stunning quality of the review itself, like a newspaper article, and I swiftly sent the Goblins out to research her.
I discovered she’s a writer (as you will see of Mature YA novels) and very popular in this little corner of our vast and sprawling Indie world. I also discovered she’s a superhero buff, which etches her name in indelible ink in my personal cool book.  Picking up the Wizphone, I tracked her down as she walked the dogs on a freezing  spring day somewhere up North. Here’s what she had to say. 

As an American lady, how did you come to live over here? What are the key differences and what was the hardest thing you had to leave behind?

I used to say that when I retired, I'd move to an island and open a coffee shop. It would, of course, not be a particularly good coffee shop. (I was picturing a cheap automatic drip pot with some generic grind right out of a can.) That way I would have plenty of time to write trashy novels without constant interruptions er… customers. It just happened a bit earlier and not quite the same way as I planned when my company was sold and my husband was offered early retirement. 

We decided to go for the adventure—he took a job with a university in England and we ended up living in one tower of a medieval castle owned by some friends. So the island was a bit bigger than I expected, and there wasn't a coffee shop in our little village. But I did serve at coffee-mornings once a month. And I did start turning out those novels.

The key differences? I had to learn to speak British, of course. Mostly, this meant not talking about my pants (here men wear them under their trousers) and not saying I was pissed (here it means drunk instead of angry). I do miss a few things about the US though—good Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurants, celebrating the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving (for some reason, holidays commemorating successful decoupling from England just haven't really caught on here...), and people who know how to pronounce “aluminum”. But oh, what I get in return—fabulous cheese, even better chocolate, and cheap flights to France.

We recently moved to Glasgow, going from a 200+room castle to our tiny Hobbit House, so my current goal is to understand Weegie-speak.

Scottish icon and tourist ambassador Francis Begbie
enjoying a quiet night out

Tell us about your work. What’s the latest?
My daughter Hannah and I have this tiny little life-altering addiction to superhero movies. Okay, we’d probably starve to death with chocolate only a room away if a Marvel hero was in front of us. (Except Hulk, of course, because that would be just wrong in so many ways, starting with the costume.) But in general, give some guy a spandex outfit and a mask and he owns us.

One night we started talking about superheroes with awkward powers. Let’s say you are the Man of Steel, but you don’t dare have sex with Lois Lane because your LittleMan of Steel could quite probably split her in two. (And we’re not even going to discuss the havoc your Swimmers of Steel could wreck on Woman of Pasta…)

The point is that when you think about it, most people with special powers would be lining up to get their normal lives back. That’s where Null City comes in. It takes our fantasy worlds and turns them into everyday life. After one day there, those with extra gifts turn into their closest human counterparts. Imps, for example, become baristas. 

(Of course, they’re now ex-PhD candidates in literature or classics who claim to be experts on third-world coffee blends and obscure world music groups. But hey – there is only so close to human that hellspawn can get…)

And then what? What if you’re one of the superheroes going about regular human lives as plumbers and realtors and smartphone app developers, and someone pulls the plug on your city? The dogs you’re walking turn back into third-generation hellhound/toy poodle mixes. 

(Hoodles?) The kids you’re babysitting turn out to be part witch, part dragon, and part Minnesota Lutheran and start conjuring golden hotdish casseroles and flying jello molds. And after several generations of backyard barbecues and poker nights, nobody’s spandex fits anymore.#

My daughter and I talked about Null City for her last year of highschool. The one thing we couldn’t figure out was who the villain would be, when everyone is a hero. The problem with heroes, though, is that they don’t all have the same goals. What if each group – angels, superheroes, and just plain humans – is willing to do whatever it takes to make their right thing happen? 

So Hannah headed off to University in Scotland and I headed to my computer. One year and many hours of video chats later, the first Null City book, One Way Fare, was published by Taliesin (now Hartwood). Its backstory is the founding of Null City. 

In the second book, Don’t Touch, the backstory is the Metro train, Null City’s connection with the outside world. Book three, Round Trip Fare, explores what happens when saving Null City might mean destroying the world. Along the way, I also published Tales From Null City as a fundraiser for the no-kill shelter movement.

Can we have an extract, Barb?

ROUND TRIP FARE by Barb TaubMarch 2011: Seattle
“Wait here.”She had, Carey reminded herself, served ARC warrants on some of the most dangerous and violent runners the Agency had ever seen. She’d been shot at, stabbed, and hit upside the head with a surprisingly lethal Prada handbag. Just today, she’d brought in her prisoner, and she had all the proper approvals signed-off for the check she’d requested. So was she really supposed to cower out in the hallway because some Accords Agency accountant was glaring at her?
When the accountant in question was a were-badger whose eyes were squinting, nose quivering, and top lip even now raising over her teeth?
Carey dove for the gray plastic chair by the doorway. “You got it.”The clock on the wall outside of Accounting must have been left from the days when the Agency’s offices belonged to the previous tenant, a now-bankrupt software company, because it showed the time in binary code. Near as Carey could figure, she’d been looking at featureless gray walls and floors accented only by the red lights on the binary clock for 38 minutes. Or three days. She never quite got the hang of those flashing dots. Either way, her shot at making it to her class was history. Even as she mentally winced at that pun, Carey heard her name.“Warden Parker. You haven’t brought me any work lately. Where’s the love?”“Hey, Frankie. Believe me, I was tempted today.” She grinned at the petite figure in the lab coat. The Agency’s resident pathologist had autopsied more than one of Carey’s search targets. “So, resurrected anyone lately?”
“As I explained at the time…”  The scientist’s tone was severe, but the eyes behind the rimless glasses crinkled with amusement. “He was only mostly dead.”“If you want to hang onto your geek creds, Frankie, you need to quote something more badass—or at least more recent—than Princess Bride.”
Carey’s former Academy roommate, Claire Danielsen, had once explained patiently that the three of them—Claire, Frankie, and her partner Warden Laurel Franklin—were Carey’s friends. Carey wasn’t sure about that whole friends concept, but when Claire translated that as good people to get drunk with, she decided she could live with the definition.
Carey moved her chin slightly toward the accountant glaring at them.
Frankie’s freckles stood out against cheeks gone suddenly pale. Short, frizzy brown hair fluttered as she held up both hands, palms out. “Uh, right. Well, I’m… going somewhere. Tell Marley that Laurel and I are off to Portland for the weekend but we’re on for Beer Tuesday.” As she backed carefully toward the door, Frankie didn’t take her eyes from the quivering accountant.
Carey didn’t blame her in the least. After all—badgers. “Hang on. I’ll come with.”

Does your work have a genre?
It's the urban fantasy/sort-of-steampunk/the odd time travel/romance/humor genre. (It's kind of a niche genre.) My publisher calls it “mature young adult” but I think that's just because condoms are involved.

In your review of The Night Porter, you said you don’t go for Literary Fiction. Why is that? I hear it is making a BIG comeback after years on the genre-enforced sidelines.
I was once in a bookclub that fancied itself literary if they read anything that made the Booker shortlist. [still shuddering] The thing is that nobody actually liked any of those books, but I was the only one with the nerve to say so. Why did I keep going? Well, since the books were so awful, they had to pad the meeting with incredible food and much (very good) wine. I'd still be going if we hadn't moved away.

The latest craze in New York. Nude book groups

Of course, if the books were all like The Night Porter, I might start going for the discussion too. (Who am I kidding? It would probably still be the wine...)

You are a noted – and brilliant – reviewer. A blogger too. How do you describe what you do when you meet someone for the first time?
Okay, I'm having trouble getting past the “noted and brilliant” bit. I have to read that about another—oh, say, million times—before I can focus. So (Noted! Brilliant!!) right... the question. If you're asking about how I do reviews, it's simple. I give every book five stars. Then as I'm reading, I make notes and take stars away for painful, stupid, awkward bits. 

For edit fails (I read a lot of self-pubs, which somehow often seems to mean self-edited) I give them three fails within the first few pages. If it goes over that without being cancelled out by great writing, I tell the author I can't give them a good review. In a few cases, stars that are taken away get returned for excellent writing and overall entertainment value. 

In very rare cases (The Night Porter!!!) I wish I had more than five stars to give.

If you're asking what I do when I meet human people in the real world? They pretty much get three strikes too. Most of them take those right away.

Paperbacks or e-reader?
E-reader please. (I travel a lot.) I will say that the daughter of a good friend came to visit recently. When she saw our little Hobbit House here in Glasgow, she commented that in the old days you could learn so much about people by looking at the books on their shelves. But now everyone has those on their Kindles.

How do we get kids off the X-Box and back in their bedrooms with a book?
First of all, I like the X-Box. Second, I must see a different group of kids, because I'm not sure how big a problem this is. Online, in social media, and by email I'm constantly meeting kids and young adults who are completely addicted to reading, and to writing as well. 

Frankly, my big worry is who will read all the volumes they are generating. That's a good problem for the world to have, if you ask me.

Three favourite books, two favourite CDs and favourite film
Books? Good Omens by Neil Gailman & Terry Pratchett is my go-to desert island fare. 

After that, I'd probably take Cien años de soledad by Gabriel García Márquez because I've always wanted to read it in the original Spanish but never really had time to focus. And finally, I'd take the biggest blank book I could find because I pretty much like my own stories best.

CDs? I love Beethoven's Piano Concerto #5, by Alfred Brendel with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Levine. Okay, I know people say there are better versions, but for sentimental reasons (I heard them in amazing concert performance!), this is the one. 

The other CD (this week anyway) is Trio, with Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, And Emmylou Harris.

Favorite film? Could I have the first (and only) season of Firefly? If not, how about Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth version of course).

You are invited for a walk with an inspirational figure. Where would you choose to go walking and who would you like to walk with?
I like to be around smart people. And the smartest person I ever worked for or met—arguably one of the smartest people on the planet—is Stephen Wolfram, physicist and youngest winner of the MacArthur “genius” award. 

When he needed a framework for his discoveries, he invented Mathematica, which calls itself (and is) “the world's definitive system of modern technical computing”. But the thing that never ceases to amaze me is just how interested Stephen is in pretty much everything. Hands down, that makes him the most fascinating person I've ever known, and I'd pretty much walk anywhere because I wouldn't be looking around anyway.

What does 2015 have in store for readers and supporters of Barb Taub?
Hopefully, with Round Trip Fare finished, I should be able to get a good start on the final book of the series. I've also been having fun blogging about travel, and that should continue. And of course, I have to focus on learning to at least understand Weegies.

Barb,  it’s been an absolute pleasure to meet you round the Cauldron, and I hope you have a terrific 2015 with your books - and also with the learning Glaswegian project.
Thanks Wiz, the pleasure was all mine.

Contact Barb

Buy Links:

Contact Barb Taub

BIO: In halcyon days BC (before children), Barb Taub wrote a humor column for several Midwest newspapers. With the arrival of Child #4, she veered toward the dark side and an HR career. Following a daring daytime escape to England, she's lived in a medieval castle and a hobbit house with her prince-of-a-guy and the World’s Most Spoiled AussieDog. Now all her days are Saturdays, and she spends  them consulting with her daughter on Marvel heroes, Null City, and translating from British to American.