Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Meet Another (Death) Author

Today, we have a guest on our blog. Meet Valerie Laws.  Here's her post below:

Valerie Laws: a dark and deathly crime, a dark and rebellious comedy, two ebooks suitable for all ages but also young adult readers 16+.

My life has some strange and deathly stuff in it so it’s great to be here on the Death Author blog! As a novelist, I’ve learned from other areas of my writing which have led me to strange places. I am a Writer in Residence at a Pathology Museum which isn’t open to the public, but I have access there to human specimens of all ages with every kind of wound, disease and condition. I’ve worked with the medical students, and observed their human body dissection classes, helping to put the bodies out and put them away. I led a writing workshop in a dissection session using the cadavers as subjects, helping the medics of the future to have empathy for the people the bodies had once been. It’s incredible how complex and beautiful the human body is when you see it being gradually dissected. How densely everything is packed in there! I have another residency at a Brain Institute at a University, where I’ve been given guided tours round diseased and disordered brains with Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions, shown how to ‘read’ slices of brain and the abnormalities inside them. I love to work with scientists and pathologists, they are so generous with their time, spending hours teaching me about their areas of expertise. And I love to write about what I learn in my ‘CSI: Poetry’ where forms of death mix with poems on dating and sex, sadness, darkness and laughter mingled as they are in life. I love to perform my work and hear people laugh and cry.

As well as this, I have some hobbies which are suitable for a novelist such as myself, I collect skulls. To do this, you find dead birds or animals washed up on the beach (I live by the sea) or even as roadkill. You cut or pull off the head  and take it home. People give you strange looks! Then you leave it in your garden to be rotted and consumed by insects, and when they’ve cleaned out all the brains and flesh you boil the skull in bleach and there you have it, a beautiful natural object to keep as an ornament! I own a human spine which was thrown out by medical students, and I’ve written about that too. I know a lot about pain and human anatomy, I was very badly injured in a car smash some years ago and had lots of interesting fractures!

So when it comes to my fiction, all this feeds into it. I’ve written eleven books, in various genres, 10 of them in paperback, 2 in ebook format. My crime fiction is dark and yet funny. My first crime novel is THE ROTTING SPOT (http://amzn.to/RotSpotUS, $1.55, also on amazon.co.uk) and it has a skull collecting theme. My detective character Erica Bruce is a young homeopath fitness freak with borderline anorexia, not through vanity but through early trauma which left her determined to be in control of her fitness. She collects skulls and so does a mysterious character called The Skull Hunter. The book is about dark and terrible family secrets, when Erica’s friend goes missing. There are some very dark moments in the book but I won’t give away too much! Erica works with and against a Detective Inspector, Will, who is very handsome and fit but despises what she does for a living though he’s very much attracted to her. The book has won awards and five star reviews, and has cover quotes from famous crime novelists Val McDermid and Ann Cleeves (who both have series on TV). It came out in paperback and then the publisher let me put it on kindle myself as an indie version. It was hard work learning how to format the book for kindle! But it’s great learning new stuff about computers and books too. The book is set by the sea in North East England near the Scottish border. Erica is rebellious, young and determined, and goes into battle on behalf of those she thinks need help.

Here’s a sample from the ‘Skull Hunter’s Blog’:

‘Its not easy cutting off a head: sliding the blade between the cervical vertebrae, sly and slick as a credit card springing a lock. It might be a fresh kill, plump and juicy, the sinews stretchy and strong. Or it might be an old, seasoned corpse, the squatters moved in. Maggots. Those fast black spiders. Beetles, wandering through the delicate arches of bone like tourists through a cathedral. The eyes already gone. Sight and thought, first signs of life to go; eyes and brain, first parts cherry-picked by scavengers. Hell, a crow would take your living eyes, if it was sure you couldnt move. You know the way crows look at you? Now you know what theyre thinking. But youre a hunter, you’ve got to have that skull, even with the stench, the flies, and those sinews dried to flat dark ropes still stubbornly holding out. No, its not easy, cutting off a head. But someone was getting away with murder...’
I like strong female characters who are eccentric too. So my eleventh book, my first totally indie ebook, has a strong, daring young female heroine but a very different one. LYDIA BENNET’S BLOG - THE REAL STORY OF PRIDE & PREJUDICE (http://amzn.to/LBBUS, only $1.55, also on amazon.co.uk)  is Jane Austen’s most famous novel but told in the voice of the youngest Bennet sister, Lydia, a teenager who in the book behaves badly and is always being disapproved of by the ‘respectable’ characters like Lizzie Bennet. To me, Lydia Bennet is a very modern teenager although she lives in the early 1800s! Imagine if you had to wear bonnets and gloves and be polite all the time. You can’t get a job, or a decent education. You have to get married or you are scorned by everyone. You can’t marry the person you love if he’s not rich. A very limited and powerless life, but she is rebellious, clever, fashion mad, likes to flirt and have a good time, all things she’s not allowed in her own time and position in society. I’ve changed the whole book to make her the main character, who plots and plans to make sure she gets some fun, some power over her life, and gets her man, the ‘bad boy’ James Dean type character Wickham who she sets her heart on and also fancies like mad, rare in those days. I’ve made it a comedy as the other characters don’t realise what Lydia is doing, behind the scenes, organising the lives of her relatives to improve her family fortunes and achieve freedom for herself. This book I wrote at great speed because Lydia was ‘talking’ for herself as if in my ear, she uses modern teenage slang but I’ve invented 1800s meanings for it. She’s misunderstood and belittled but never gives in until she wins.  

Here’s how she introduces herself: ‘A Helpful Note for any Youth- or Coolness- Challenged Readers.

Well, me and my buddies on the Net are wayyy too cool to read or write those boring ladylike journals! That’s ‘buddies’ from ‘rosebuds’, we being young, sweet, innocent maidens (irony alert!). So we started to write our goss and news in our own style, in our‘buddies’ logs’ or ‘blogs’ for short, and pass them around our Network, or ‘the Net’. Geddit? Well it’s not rocketry science! But my publishers asked me to explain this, now it’s going to be a book. They also say I need a glossary. Excuse me? Like I need advice on hair conditioning from them! Anyway, I’ve written this the way me and my friends talk, so in case some of you readers out there don’t understand some of our like, lingo, I’ve explained some of the words as I go. Not all of them. FGS, it is 1814!
We begin when stuff started happening, way back in 1811, when I was fifteen but fabulous. Enjoy!’
This book found a literary agent who loved it but when he tried the usual publishers, they were shocked because Lydia mocks Darcy, the rich arrogant alpha male slightly older ‘chick lit’ readers and publisher’s editors tend to idolise! It’s a book young readers would identify with, though it’s quite sexy and erotic. So I published it myself as an indie ebook on kindle and also on smashwords so you can get it for all ebook readers. It’s had some great reviews so far on amazon.co.uk, and I’m hoping for the same on amazon.com.
I’ve just completed another crime novel featuring Erica and Will, and a mouthy teenage character who gets her own way among the murders! And I’ll be writing more about Lydia Bennet too, her life after Pride and Prejudice.
You can visit my website on www.valerielaws.co.uk where you’ll see I’m  famous for spray-painting poetry on live sheep, and follow me on Twitter as @ValerieLaws. Also find me on facebook.