Back in May of this year I read a fantastic novel called Chance (you can read my review here) and author Peter Dudgeon told me there was a sequel in progress . After months of waiting patiently I finally received my review copy of Circle - The Diary of Stella Moore so I settled down on the sofa and before I knew it I'd reached those dreaded words THE END.
Circle picks up the story of Cassie Janus seven years later and she is living with Laura. The house has bad memories for Laura as it's where she almost died but she naively thinks that by de-cluttering and a lick of paint, her demons will disappear.
Cassie still has her 'visions' and after an altercation at school and one involving a social worker colleague of Laura's, Detective Sargeant Frank Simmons, who has stayed in contact with both Cassie and Laura, pays a visit to discuss her future. The decision is made and Cassie and Laura move to Newark for a fresh start for both of them.
The story is interspersed with entries from Stella's diary, which gives an insight into her life, but just who is the mysterious Stella?
Circle is a much darker read than Chance, taking the reader into the shadowy world of domestic abuse and sado masochism but it's done in a subtle way, leaving you to imagine for yourself exactly what went on. Once again Peter's writing is superb and the story will pull you in and have you frantically reading to get answers. I was slightly disappointed that Laura only made a brief appearance at the beginning of the novel and Cassie's friend, Aaron was totally absent, as I was looking forward to finding out more about them but I appreciate that there really wasn't a place for them within this story.
I would strongly recommend that you read Chance first as without the background of the characters you won't fully appreciate this story and it's not intended to be a stand-alone novel.
Circle - The Diary of Stella Moore is available to buy now here.
I am delighted that Peter is joining me on my blog today to answer some questions.
Hello Peter and welcome to my blog. It’s a pleasure to have you stop by.
Firstly can you tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I was born into a fairly typical houseful in Newcastle: two parents, two dogs, one brother. Nothing remarkable. My father worked for the civil service all his life, and I guess you could say we were never flush. I remember driving to Scotland for a holiday (we didn’t go abroad) and singing along to the cassette of Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ album at the top of my lungs as I wedged myself between the front seats of my Dad’s Austin (no seatbelts back then.)
I was the first in my family to go to University, although my Dad pipped me to the post to become the first with a degree: he studied at night for what, when I was growing up, felt like many years. I spent my early teens reading, writing and playing on a ZX Spectrum – for those who remember Clive Sinclair – and my late teens teaching myself guitar and playing in bands.
I’m only happy when I’m learning. It’s as true now as it was back then. I studied English, overdosing on the classics. When I left University and got my first job, I found I had a talent for improving the way things work and spent the next twenty years doing just that. When I’m not writing, I’m consulting to organisations, mainly in the UK. Not surprisingly, my first book was about a business consultant; it helped to start out by writing about something I’d had first hand experience of.
I live in the rural depths of North Lincolnshire. I’ve been married for seventeen years, have two daughters and the obligatory black Labrador. Life is good.
How do you schedule your writing while working?
To be honest, with difficulty. And it’s changed for each book. For my first novel, Ticket, I wrote the first draft in nine months, mostly whilst on the train to Edinburgh (early on Monday mornings and late on Thursday evenings). During the week I was at a hotel, getting up at five thirty a.m. to do fifteen minutes of yoga, then forty-five minutes of writing before going to work, saving the evenings for reading and a little re-drafting, if I had the energy.
Now my work is really varied. I’m freelance, which means that some months are full on and some are quiet. That makes it really hard in one way; I like to keep going when I’m on a writing-roll. I was lucky with ‘Chance’, no pun intended, as I wrote the first draft on an extended Christmas break: the entire draft in five weeks, writing six thousand words a day.
‘Circle’ was much harder. The first draft was broken by work assignments and – as a consequence – I think I re-wrote about 80% of it. I’m hoping for a six-week stretch of free time to finish the first draft of my next book. In my line of work, fate decides.
Can you describe how your novels take shape?
Fortunately, I’ve never been short of ideas (he says looking round the room for wood to touch). I’ve got around ten central ideas, which keep floating to the surface. It’s difficult to say where these come from, some are sparked by news stories, some by flipping existing ideas on their heads and others just come out of the blue.
Once I have the idea I close my eyes and a world appears to me. Action unfolds and in the first draft I write what I see, which means that back-story and emotional narration happens mainly in the second draft. I don’t plot – which is a pretty blunt statement, I do have an idea of a general direction sometimes, but more often than not, that initial view turns out to be wrong.
I leave the first draft for a few weeks, and then I start re-drafting. I used to make notes on what needs to change, but now I make most changes (other than large, structural adjustments) as I’m reading the second draft. I then draft a further three times, before seeking feedback. The rest is the usual boring stuff: editing, proof reading.
Writing the first draft is the best part, closely followed by picking it up for first reading. I love it.
I’ve read your bio on your website and see that you started writing short stories at the age of fourteen inspired by Stephen King’s early work. What genre were they and when did you first decide you would write a full-length novel?
My early stories were all horror, some monster and a few psychological thrillers. No surprises there, given what I was reading. After that, I gave up my ambition of writing until two thousand and eleven. It was the usual trap of prioritising the need to put food on the table and clothes on the kids. All the while hearing that nagging voice: ‘You could write a full length novel, you know, if only you were brave enough.’
Then my father contracted Motor Neurone Disease. After his death, my mum gave me the materials from a creative writing course he’d taken with the Writer’s Guild. Inside the first page was an assignment called, ‘Why I write,’ written by Dad. It was a truly personal and moving insight into his inner feelings, insecurities and aspirations. I felt the volume being turned up on that persistent voice and was now shouting: “You have one life, live it!” I started working through the course materials - loving the learning process. Studying Language and Literature had given me a head start. Armed with this and the course materials, I started to write again. A year later, I’d written ‘Ticket.’
I know that you’re a big fan of Stephen King but what others authors do you enjoy reading?
I enjoy authentic, well-written books, ideally with a reasonable pace to them. If I’m being totally blunt, those are in short supply. And that’s not because there aren’t a lot of talented writers out there, it’s just that I’m infuriatingly picky about things that other readers often don’t care about, which makes me feel like I’m no writer’s ideal reader – with a few exceptions.
To illustrate, ‘The Girl on the Train’ is one recent book that I really liked. Now many will say that the characters are not likeable – true. Others would say that the perpetrator stood out like a beetle on a white rug – also true. Those things don't concern me. I like to be transported from my couch to a world of the author’s making. That, for me, requires: perfect pacing, authentic character voice, skillful description (not too detailed), a sparing use of figurative language and zero superfluous words. When I find a book like that, it’s simply magic. If it has a good plot, that’s just a bonus for me.
What all that means is that I read a lot of samples, of both published and unpublished authors. In 95% of cases, I get no further. Sad, I know. And don't get me wrong, I’m not saying my best work ticks all those boxes I mentioned. I work hard and keep learning so that one day it just might.
There are other authors I like for certain aspects of their writing – I like the purity of Dan Brown’s chapter flow, he creates great suspense. I also like some of Grisham’s work; I thought ‘The Partner’ was great. Other than those authors, I like George Orwell, Robertson Davies and a few others. I’d like to tell you that I love the Brontes, Shakespeare and Dickens, but I don’t. I appreciate their work, but I read so much of it at University, I almost drowned in it.
So on a Sunday afternoon I’m most likely to be picking up a Stephen King. When he’s on form (Misery, Shawshank etc.) he’s great.
How easy is it to write a novel with a young girl as the protagonist?
I found it surprisingly easy. The best part of writing ‘Circle …’ was writing Stella Moore’s diary. Hannah Arbuthnott, a friend and fellow writer, gave me early feedback and asked how I managed to write Stella so convincingly. I blushed at the complement, and took it. I’m not sure why I find it easy and so much fun. Maybe it’s because I have two daughters; Cassie in Chance was largely based on my youngest daughter. Or maybe it’s because, growing up, I was surrounded by strong women.
I also think that the differences between men and women are often grossly over-cooked. Women vary greatly from each other, men vary greatly. What you can say about the difference between the two sexes pales into insignificance when compared to the difference between individuals.
Circle is much darker than your previous novels, was that always your intention?
[Spoilers in this section for those who have not read Chance.]
No. When writing the end of ‘Chance’ I had my eyes closed – as ever – and saw this policeman open the car door and shoot Malcolm. I wrote what I saw, opened my eyes and thought, “What the hell was that all about?” When I worked it out that Hilary’s boyfriend, like Malcolm, had pictures and that there was a file encryption, realised that there was something dark happening, some kind of conspiracy. I know that sounds stupid, but I don’t plot. I hadn’t even intended there to be a sequel until that point.
So what was happening was dark and I can only tell what I see as truthfully as I can, without being gratuitous. In about five books time, I’m going to write a Rom-Com and I’m looking forward to it, even if it’s never published. It will be a nice to write something light-hearted!
It centres on domestic abuse and sadomasochistic activities. How did you do your research?
I started with the world health organisation’s definition of domestic violence, and then read all the victim’s stories I could. There’s a powerful TED talk by Leslie Morgan Steiner, in which she describes a pattern of abuse of which she was a victim. This pattern was common to all the victim’s stories and has permeated the book.
In terms of sadomasochism, it took a different path, sparked initially by a news story about a woman from Peterborough who killed three men. Her story is chilling. She was reported to have killed "to see if I was as cold as I thought I was. Then it got moreish and I got a taste for it."
She was also reportedly diagnosed as suffering from paraphilia sadomasochism, a condition in which “sexual excitement is derived from pain and humiliation. She did not hide her tendencies, often wearing a pair of handcuffs attached to her trousers. She was a consumer of violent pornography.” From that I became interested in a question, “How do you tell the difference between someone who has a fetish or lifestyle preference they want to explore with you and someone who might end up stabbing you?” And another question, “How scared should you be, if you find out your partner gets excited by people being abused?” I’m still not sure of the answers, but I began extensive Internet research (not using Google – you don’t know what might end up in your Facebook feed!) into the question. That’s when I discovered the different classifications of Sadism and Masochism, which are referred to in the book.
It’s multi-faceted and too detailed to fully illuminate here – or to completely explore within the book - but a key concept in determining what classification you’re talking about is consent, the definition of which in both practical and legal terms is often (unfortunately) misunderstood.
In the novel it seems that sadomasochism and domestic abuse have almost become the norm, do you think this is the way that society is heading?
Good question and I will answer it, but firstly allow me to lay out the territory. There is a term used in the book, which describes a ‘growing minority’ so not ‘almost the norm’ but it’s clearly planted a seed of a thought, a potential consequence that the reader’s mind will play with. My interest is in these scary ‘What if?’ scenarios.
Did Orwell really think Britain would become America’s landing strip when he wrote 1984? Did King really think there would be a reality TV show in which people are hunted to the death for the amusement of others when he wrote ‘The Running Man?’ The answer is probably ‘no’ to both. But did King and Orwell see seeds, which could grow into those scenarios? I suspect strongly that they did. I see seeds.
The government having to run a ‘this is abuse’ campaign. The BBC reporting a startlingly high percentage of teenagers who don’t recognise a scenario as rape when one is placed in front of them. Having to put a law on the statute (just passed) that recognises ‘Coercive Control’ as abuse, with a stiff sentence for those convicted. Then there’s what you hear on the street, the “but what was she doing in his hotel drunk anyway …” type comments. The continuing low levels of abuse being reported and effectively dealt with. The government having to ban strangulation in porn films (but clearly having no control over other publishing streams).
Yep, there are plenty of seeds. Will they grow into what I’ve depicted? Probably (hopefully) not, and certainly not as quickly as described in ‘Circle’.
The character of Maria Shine is very dominant and vitriolic in her fight against domestic abuse and abusers. Was she based on anyone?
She was based on the opposite of someone. I saw a woman on Newsnight, who was debating the portrayal of coercive control and emotional abuse in a book she had on her lap. It was a brief discussion and she wasn’t given much time to speak, but she was calm and softly spoken and the concern in her words was not matched by her tone. I wondered what that interview would have been like if she’d been an extreme composite of many of the women I know (Senior Leaders, Chief Execs etc.). With that scenario in mind, I created Maria and let her speak freely. I have to say, Maria was great fun to write.
Will we be seeing Cassie and Frank again?
Well, never say never. I’ve just got so many other books I want to write, so many other characters who want to live. I also feel there’s only so many critical scenarios a hero or heroine can be involved in and still maintain a feeling of credibility. That’s part of the reason I set ‘Circle’ in the future. Nobody’s life is massively eventful, year in year out – even someone with psychic tendencies. But perhaps, in a few years time, when Cassie and I have matured some, she might make a re-appearance.
I believe that you’ll be starting novel number four soon, are you able to give us any hints on what we can expect?
Mmmmmmm I want to say so much without giving too much away. When I’ve run its premise past friends and family I receive raised eyebrows and, ‘When can we read that one?’ type comments so I’m really excited about this one.
I enjoy writing a story that has a moral, potentially unanswerable, question at its heart. This story has two: Can you ever have too much money? and which are we more a product of, our genes or our experiences? The two questions are very much connected in, what I’m hoping, will be a page-turning thriller. I’m halfway through the first draft, and I’m enjoying watching the characters run off with the story - hopefully in the right direction! The working title is: ‘Nurture.’
Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers?
Thank you, thank you so much.
With millions of books to choose from, it can feel almost impossible, at times, to reach readers. A big part of breaking through is having people read and review your book. I’ve had so many people posting such complementary reviews it’s been overwhelming. It’s thanks to them, and others who have recommended the book to friends, that ‘Chance’ has been such a success. I’m eternally grateful.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat and good luck with the new novel.
It’s been a pleasure.
His debut novel 'Ticket' is available via Amazon Kindle. 'Chance' is available on Kindle and in paperback in Amazon's store.
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