Gretel is alive and well! Spotlight on P.J. Brackston

Hi all! Long time no see!

Today I have a special treat–a full-on spotlight of an author who is outstanding, in my personal opinion. We have an interview AND a book review–a twofer!

I would like to introduce you to P.J. Brackston, a prolific and talented author, who has granted me some time today to let you get to know more about her. So, without further ado, let’s get down to the interview, shall we?

~~INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR~~

I am so glad to have you here with us today. I don’t often have writers stop by my lair on their own…please excuse the spiders…

Oh, don’t sit there–that’s Fluffy’s chair. You wouldn’t want to make him mad. I’ll just move these dusty old tomes off the settee…

So…first question:  What motivates you to write?

I long ago discovered that it is the writing itself that compels me. Years ago, when I was what I like to think of as pre-published and after yet another rejection letter (yes, they were actual letters in those days) I seriously wondered if I would ever get my books into print. That’s when it struck me; I would always write. Of course it mattered to me that my books be published – not least because I needed to earn a living – but either way, I couldn’t stop.

I think that is quite a liberating moment for a writer, discovering that it is the act of thinking up the story and setting it down, that creative act, that is the real motivation. I honestly think if you haven’t got that, if writing is a means to an end, you will be disappointed.

I could not agree more. Writing is an art, more than a business. Compulsion–definitely. That being said, what was the biggest challenge in creating your books?

I used to say it was time. Managing time. I’m a working mum, I have a partner, a home, pets, family, friends – I am a lucky girl. But of course what that means is writing has to be fitted in around everything else. Of course, if and when your work begins to pay some bills it gets moved higher up the priority list, but still, working from home, being responsible for other little humans, well, there are times when you have to shut that laptop and walk away. And rightly so.

Lately, however, I’ve come to see the finite resource is not time but energy. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older! Somehow, I think, you can always find the time. When my babies were small I would write while they were out for a walk with their dad, while I was breastfeeding, while we were playing together in the garden. And no, they didn’t even notice such inattentiveness, I’ve asked them! Then later, when I had deadlines to meet and the family were a little older, I’d write during school hours, try to be a mum when they came home, have family dinners, put them to bed, and then start a late shift that would go past midnight.

So, I had/have systems, but I realise now that all this fitting in and snatching time requires huge amounts of energy – mental, physical and emotional. That is what you have to be careful with.

I can’t even imagine trying to write when my kids were small. Funny how, as they grow older, other things take up the time they once used. Making time for writing is a challenge!

OK–getting more specific: Do you have a favorite character or theme?

In the Gretel books of course I strongly identify with the woman herself. That is, with all her flaws – she is slothful, vain, greedy, and an intellectual snob. Luckily for her she is also tremendously clever, brave, resourceful, and loyal. You’d have to ask someone else if I’ve got these traits too!

I like to explore different themes in each book, though I hope I manage to do so subtly. I think that the recurring theme for me in all my books is identity. What makes us what we are? What happens when we are not perceived by others in the way we think of ourselves? What happens when the ‘me’ I need to be is not the person you need me to be? And so on.

Wow–that’s quite philosophical. When I think about it, I can see that in the Gretel books, most definitely.

Do you have any other books in progress, or that you plan to write?

We are just putting the finishing touches to the edits of the next Gretel adventure – The Case of the Fickle Mermaid. This one is due out in January, and sees Gretel and Hans go on a cruise in order to solve the case. I’m also beginning work on the next title in the series, but I don’t want to tell you too much about that one before I’ve written it.

Oh wow–I can hardly wait! Actually, I still need to read the first book in the series too. Well, good–that gives me something to read while waiting.

You have two very different book series, the Brothers Grimm Mysteries and the Witches books. Which came first?

I wrote my first witch book in 2008, several years before Gretel showed up in my imagination. The Witchs Daughter was my take on a historical novel, with a fantasy element, of course. It is quite a dark book in many ways, and the main character lives through tumultuous and tragic events. I then wrote The Winter Witch which is (I hope!) one that pulls at the heartstrings quite a bit.

I shall have to take a look at those.

After that I really felt the need for a change of tone to recharge my creative batteries. I wanted to write something with a strongly comic element. The idea of having a grown up Gretel as a detective just came to me out of nowhere and I wrote the first book in four months flat.

That was fast!

Do you have to be in a particular mood to write for either series? What is the best physical and mental environment for you for each one?

I don’t believe most writers have the time to hang around for a muse who may or may not show up. We can’t mess about getting our pencils in alignment, listening to ambient music, chasing the right mood. I find that the story I am working on is constantly on my mind, whatever I’m doing (there’s that inattentive mother/friend again), so that the second I sit down to write it’s there, at my fingertips. I don’t care if I’m on a train, in the car at the school gate, in a cafe, at home with builders taking the roof off – the only distraction I can’t work through is my children arguing.

Of course, having said that, I would like a quiet little study lined with bookshelves, a beautiful daybed (Gretel has one, why can’t I?), birds singing softly outside the window, and some sort of room service available. I’m sure it would improve my word count no end. Actually no, it wouldn’t, I’d probably just sleep a lot and eat a lot. Good grief, I’d actually miss the interruptions!

I’ve often fantasized about that little study too–and I would have the same result. 

“Taking the roof off”? Okay, there’s a story in that. Perhaps another day.

How did you become an author for Pegasus Books? Do you have any advice for those who would like to follow in your footsteps?

I have a wonderful agent, Kate Hordern, who approached them with my work. They are such a good home for my Gretel books, as they have a brave and creative attitude to taking on writing that does not necessarily fit the norm. It is so important to have an editor who really gets what you’re trying to do, particularly if that is a character as far from the standard heroine of literature as Gretel!

Some publishing houses will accept submissions direct from the author, some won’t. If you don’t have an agent (and I didn’t for my witch books) you need to check the publisher’s policy of looking at manuscripts. Try to identify publishers you genuinely feel would suit you and your work.

Good advice. Such a lot to do when one is trying to get one’s work out there. Give us an idea of what we should both do and avoid in order to become successful.

Do keep going, and avoid giving up! Seriously, you have to have staying power. It took me nine years of writing before I had a novel accepted for publication. That was nine years of selling short stories, submitting work to publishers and agents, entering competitions, applying for grants, completing an MA in Creative Writing, getting pieces of non-fiction included in anthologies, and withstanding the relentless and seemingly endless rejections.

I had a policy (still have, in fact) of allowing myself to wail and moan and stamp my foot when my work was rejected for 24 hours. After that I wasn’t allowed to mention it or think about it again, but had to move on, look hard at the writing, rewrite if necessary, and send it out again. It’s brutal. I still get knocked back on projects, and it still hurts. All I can say is, success is definitely the best revenge. Good luck!

Exactly! Ask any successful author. No one ever got it done the first time. Or usually the second.

I love your website (www.pjbrackston.com). There are so many ways to explore all the offerings. Who was the mastermind behind it?

I had an idea of how I wanted the thing to work, particularly with the Gretel section, but I can’t take all the credit, sadly. I have a very able web team at a company called Orphans, who exhibit saintly amounts of patience with me. I also have a hugely talented illustrator in Adam Fisher, who creates all the fabulous images for the site and for the trailer I put together. I love making book trailers! I’m a frustrated screenwriter really, so they are an indulgence. Maybe one day I’ll get to put Gretel on the silver screen – that would be something.

I could see that! Speaking of which–Gretel has her own twitter handle, @DetectiveGretel. What does she have to say to the world through this definitely un-18th-century Bavarian technology?

Gretel is a woefully fickle tweeter, and I mean to have severe words with her about it. She needs to up her game, but in her defence, she has been very busy with cases lately. When she does tweet, she gives her opinion on current affairs (a constant source of astonishment to her), food, fashion, Hans, Bavaria, fairytales, crime, and anything else that is sufficiently disturbing her to goad her into speaking out. She will also alert anyone who might be interested to reviews, promotions, giveaways, and so on.

Sounds like a very techno-savvy fraulein! I’m not surprised–she is about as modern as someone in her Timmy Chew shoes can be.

So how do ones such as us, your reading audience, catch up with one such as yourself?

I’ve got an author’s Facebook page, which is more active than my website, and I’m developing an interest in Pinterest! Gretel has her own board @paulabrackston. And I have a Goodreads page.

Website:  www.pjbrackston.com

Amazon (P.J. Brackston’s Brothers Grimm Mystery series): http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=P.+J.+Brackston&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=P.+J.+Brackston&sort=relevancerank (they’re in German too!)

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Amazon (Paula Brackston’s witch series):  http://www.amazon.com/Paula-Brackston/e/B004AN2ZVU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1439954454&sr=1-1

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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/worldofpaulabrackston?fref=ts

~~~Author Bio~~~

(taken from her Author page on Amazon)

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Paula Brackston lives in a wild, mountainous part of Wales. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and is a Visiting Lecturer for the University of Wales, Newport. Before becoming a writer, Paula tried her hand at various career paths, with mixed success. These included working as a groom on a racing yard, a travel agent, a secretary, an English teacher, and a goat herd. Everyone involved (particularly the goats) is very relieved that she has now found a job she is actually able to do properly.
When not hunched over her keyboard in her tiny office under the stairs, Paula is dragged outside by her children to play Swedish tennis on the vertiginous slopes which surround them. She also enjoys being walked by the dog, hacking through weeds in the vegetable patch, or sitting by the pond with a glass of wine. Most of the inspiration for her writing comes from stomping about on the mountains being serenaded by skylarks and buzzards.
In 2007 Paula was shortlisted in the Creme de la Crime search for new writers. In 2010 her book ‘Nutters’ (writing as PJ Davy) was shortlisted for the Mind Book Award. Last year she was selected by the BBC under their New Welsh Writers scheme.

See, I told you she was terrific! And to close today, I would like to give you my opinion, posted on all significant booksites, of the book I decided to review:

~~~Review of “Once Upon a Crime”~~~

(Tah-dah!!)

Remember Gretel? Yes, THAT Gretel. She of the woods-walk-and-bread-crumb-trail. The girl who survived nearly being eaten by a witch. That one. Did you ever wonder what happened to her? After all, psychotherapy isn’t a big deal in 18th-century Bavaria. You got a smack upside the head and a “well, it’s over now so quit crying about it”.

Did she? Get over it, that is. Well, you be the judge. In this story, Gretel is all grown up and working as a detective. Well, she would if she could get the work. Seems the town’s police force and King’s Guard get all the juicy stuff.

She is left with…cats. More specifically, missing cats. If she had her way, the cats would remain missing, but their owner has more money than sense (to Gretel’s way of thinking). The money for all of Gretel’s fine (undersized) fashions, including her Timmy Chew shoes, has to come from somewhere. Not to mention having to pay the enormous tavern tab and the cigar bills for her brother Hans.

Gretel has no idea what she is getting into when she happily and hastily removes the client’s money from her hand. What follows takes her into and out of prison, endangers her life at the hands of a skanky and amorous troll, and puts her into embarrassing positions – usually in front of one of the dreamiest men she has ever seen.

 

Ms. Brackston’s second book in her “A Brothers Grimm Mystery” series is certainly a tribute to the genre. Very much like Jasper Fforde’s “Nursery Crimes” series, but with a twist all her own—in hers, the Grimm brothers’ characters come to life and come of age—and not in any fairy-tale way either. I love how Hansel and Gretel have evolved, and how their own particular hang-ups have shaped their lives.

The author’s writing is so much fun! I love how she has put this book together. In one scene, Gretel is hanging from a gargoyle, and she looks down to see handsome Ferdinand. She fervently believes that he has come racing to save her. But as the conversation continues, she is crestfallen at his words. Then “her crest (was) fallen further”. Later, her “crest (was) now completely fallen.” Writing like that—laugh-out-loud humor—really made this book worth every word.

If you’re looking for a fun mystery, this is definitely it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And there you have it. I hope you have enjoyed this Author Spotlight, and I hope you will join me again when I post, well, other things. If I could only find my day planner, I could tell you more…

Oops, Fluffy needs to be fed. Gotta go find something so he doesn’t get any ideas…

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