Cocktails with Scott Cairns ABNA Semi-finalist Author of Silver

Martini à la Colette: Very dry and a little dirty
Good evening, dear readers! 
Thank you for joining me for my new feature, Cocktails with Colette, which I will have on Thursday evenings now and then to introduce you to my friends who write in genres other than romance.

(If you are looking for the Doggone Blog Hop to Vote for "Amadeus" as Top Dog for charity, click here.)

Tonight I am thrilled to introduce you to an author who joins us for Happy Hour from "across the pond" (and if you've been reading my blog long enough, you know what a complete Anglophile I am and how I cannot wait to get back there!). Scott Cairns and I became acquainted because we were both selected 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semi-finalists - the final 25 out of 10,000 entries! If that tells you anything, you should know that his novel Silver should jump to the top of your TBR list! So shake yourself a martini (gently - you don't want to water it down) and hear what Scott has to tell us this evening...

I met Colette through the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards where we both managed to advance to the last 25. Being a writer can be an isolating experience at times and it was really important for me to be able to reach out and share the amazing experience with people like Colette. She then invited me for cocktails and not being one to shy away from a friendly beverage or two, I heartily agreed.

‘Silver’ is my first full length novel and, whilst it was nominated in the General Fiction category of the recent ABNA awards, it is an historical novel with romance very much at the heart. I will warn you in advance that there is also some erotic content which I should put some context to. ‘Silver’ is the story of Avery (Alice) Silver, a man born in a woman’s body in 19th century London. The story is very much one of identity and follows both his personal journey to becoming a man but also the dual narrative of his daughter in the early 20th century who makes the shocking discovery of her father’s secret past after his death. Avery’s journey to becoming the man he knows that he is, centres on time on issues of gender and sexuality and there are some explicit but important scenes. These were difficult to write at times, as getting the balance between gratuitous sex and assisting the narrative can be hard to judge. I was also very aware of those classic fails from the annual Bad Sex in Fiction, examples of which can be found here.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter One of ‘Silver,' where Avery’s daughter is identifying her father’s body:

        “Imogen?” John’s voice was gentle and the questioning tone enquired only if I was sure of what I was about to do. His hand was upon my shoulder and I leant my cheek against it, my eyes closed. At once, I was both grateful for him being behind me but I also needed to do this alone, and after a moment, I kissed his hand and stepped forward into the room. The gaslights cast my shadow across the bed and the sheet that had been pulled up over the body was beyond the reach of the gloomy light. My father, usually a forward thinking and modern man, refused to be connected to an electricity supply and so, with a surprisingly steady hand, I took up a lamp from the dresser and lit my father’s bedside oil lamp. The light jumped up
the glass chimney and I turned down the wick to settle the flame. I glanced towards John who was still standing in the door frame, his jaw set in defiance at the lie we were about to prove false. 
        I tried to smile at him but my mouth and lips were too dry and they would not form into any cheery expression; instead, I looked grimly down at the white sheet and lay a hand upon its cover. I held my breath and turned back the sheet enough to see the face beneath it. The flesh was drained and ashen, giving the skin a blue glow, as if Jack Frost himself lay upon my father’s bed. There was no doubting though that the face was my father’s and a great choking sob rose from deep within me. The sheet fell from my hand and covered the face again. John stepped forward and was beside me in three great strides but I was like stone. Whilst a great surge of sorrow shook me, I was not yet done; for now, there was no escaping the terrible lies that had been spoken, excepting human error, a farcical mistake, unkind lies. John tried to steer me from the bed and one foot followed under the weight of his guiding hands, but I shook him off. 
         “Imogen, really, you don’t need to do this.”
         “On the contrary, John, I absolutely must do this,” I retorted.
        My tone was glacial, a shield of distance for the grim task ahead. With renewed courage, I gripped the corner of the sheet and gently pulled it back revealing his nightshirt, unbuttoned and pulled back across his shoulders. Familiar and strong, they were diminished little in death from those that had carried me as a tiny child fast down the stairs of this very house, taking my breath away and making me squeal with delight. I inched the sheet towards his chest, feeling vindicated by the contours of the linen. 
         As I raised the sheet, his chest appeared flat beneath his nightshirt and I felt somewhat calmer, as I leant forward to pull aside his nightshirt. As I did so, a fresh band of crêpe bandages were revealed and my first thought was what injury had caused him to be dressed so. The shock to my heart was for his manner of death; perhaps he had not died peacefully but been murdered in his bed and dressed by his killer. Without thinking, I pulled at the loosened bandages to see his wound, ready to call out to the dunderhead of an Inspector who, instead of searching for my father’s killer, was spreading lies about him. 
         As the bandages came away from my father’s chest, it took me a while to focus on what I was seeing. Flat and small, bound under the crêpe bandages, were two lumps on my father’s chest. I drew in breath sharply and peered hard. More than answer any questions, the ambiguity of their slight feminine form only made their positive identification more difficult. Whatever error had been made, it could not be corrected by this evidence. I closed my eyes and threw the sheet to the end of the bed. 
         My father’s nightshirt was covering his groin, but his legs had been drawn wide apart at the hips and his knees were bent. He resembled a frog pinned for dissection and the comparison with my own close inspection made me feel suddenly intrusive. Aware at last of my husband stood behind me, the fact that strangers had picked over my father so, had arranged his body thus and had inspected him like a specimen, made me feel sick. Struggling with the urge to run from the room and the desire to know the truth, I lifted my father’s nightshirt and both wished to see and not to see his manhood. The light only made it harder to make out, but what wasn’t there could not be forced into being by better light. There was nothing there. In the thick, dark triangle of my father’s pubic hair there was not one small protruding piece of flesh that could be mistaken for anything else. I stared at the place where my father’s member should have been and I felt my skin drain of all its colour. My eyes prickled with the effort of not blinking, but closing my eyes to do so might break the spell and I didn’t know if I could stand to face the revelation yet.
     “My God! It’s true!” John’s voice was loud behind me and I jumped, my eyes darting around, looking for any truth I could fix on to keep me standing; I did not dare trust the walls in case they weren’t solid or the light, in case it burnt my eyes. My ears were ringing with John’s words. It was true. It was true. I felt light-headed and sick, and I staggered past John, pushing aside his entreating arms. I crashed into the door, struggling to remain upright, and ran to my old bedroom down the corridor. My heart was pounding in my throat and my stomach was knotted in my shoes. I felt upside down as I threw open the door, slammed it and locked it behind me. The door shook with John’s knocking and he tried the handle, calling all the while to me.
         “Imogen. Let me in. Imogen.”
        And so he went on; all the while I shut out the sounds of the truth and, instead, turned my head back to the lies. In the gloom of my childhood room, I could see my mother’s face in the mirror on my wedding day, the look in her eyes as she had chewed on the words of how she had felt on the morn of her own wedding. I knew now why she had been so evasive. The lie of it and the truth of it had been that there had been no wedding. The truth of it was that my father was a woman.

Although I didn’t advance to the finals (and, yes, I was gutted) I have been really pleased with the reception of the first book and have vowed to finish all those various manuscripts and ideas which I have started but turned my back upon during spells of self-doubt. It might sound like a crazy idea but I am embarking on an ambitious and, possibly, ludicrous plan to finish 12 manuscripts in the space of a year. The project will kick off with the full on writing stage on 1 August 2013 and at the moment I am busily drafting outline plans, sketching characters and getting into practice with a fiery word count of 2000-4000 words per day. I am usually quite prolific with my word count so this doesn’t bother me. What I am struggling with is the editing phase. The period when the creativity slows down and the meticulous crafting goes on. I am expecting that this will be the part of the process which slows me down. However, if I fail to produce all 12 novels within the space of a year and I only end up with three or four then I will not deem that a failure. Am I mad? A fantasist? A masochist? Not at all. I do believe that challenging yourself like this can only be a good thing and I am looking forward to the process as much as the results. If you would like to follow me then I will be blogging (as much as time allows) on – check in on me and give me some words of encouragement.

At the moment, I have four really nicely planned novels with a cast of characters who are inside my head on a daily basis pestering to be written. They are eager to have life breathed into them and that feels good. When you get to this stage with a book, you know you won’t have any problems with writing it. A well thought out protagonist surrounded by a fleshed out cast is going to take the writer on a very rewarding journey. I have a further four novels which are at the design stages and I am currently working on getting these up to running speed. The last four are simply titles with some broad themes and ideas and I am doing my best to ignore these at the moment. I think they need to fester a while.

On top of the planning stage, I am keeping up with a regular word count of between 1500 and 3000 words per day. These are mainly scenes, vignettes and interactions with possible characters. I am finding the routine of this very useful and if I have had a slow day then I don’t sleep well. I seem to wake earlier than usual as if the part of my mind which is occupied by writing needs to siphon more material. It’s a habit, like anything else, and the more a part of your routine you can make it the better chance you stand of being able to produce the material. So what about the quality?

It’s a good question and one I ask myself regularly. I am a firm believer in the assertion that good readers make good writers and I try to read as widely as possible. It’s always hard to read in your own genre when you are writing material as there is a real risk of replicating the tone, style or plagiarising (unknowingly) some of what you take it. I don’t believe that’s always the case but I do believe you can learn a lot from good writers. I’m fortunate enough to have a wide circle of friends who are always willing to chuck me a great read. They don’t usually disappoint and I have recently read and LOVED ‘What a Carve Up’ by Jonathan Coe, ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt and ‘The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay’ by Michael Chabon. They are all such skilled pieces of work that they made my skin ripple with the power of the written word. They share some of the same attributes –masterful structure, heart stopping use of language, captivating narratives, powerful characters and the ability to sustain all of it over a dense novel. All three books are very long yet you become so absorbed in them that you feel bereft when they are finished. Just wonderful.

So that’s me. A debut novelist who, on the back of a modicum of success, is about to launch on a very ambitious project to replicate what took me several years in just the one. Wish me luck.

Silver is Now Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US


The Novels of Colette L. Saucier

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