Mittwoch, 28. September 2016

Interview with Terry Shaffer

Good morning, folks!
Dystopian novels have been fascinating the audience ever since Thomas More's Utopia was published in 1516. More's ideas were controversal, and his satirical tone, and the doublemeanings he incorporated in his work, got him into trouble. Utopia set the first milestone for a popular genre in which authors criticise the standards of society, give warnings, and sometimes give alternative ideas of a better world. Nowadays, we live in a particularly troubled world that gives room for more questions and thoughts like, "Who are we?", "Where do we belong?", "What is wrong?", "What do we want?", and "How can we change to lead a good life together?". But what if a dystopian novel actually scrutinized our mainstream superstitions?

Author Terry Shaffer explores the world in the 2050s. What about Aliens? What if they truly existed? Today, we have the chance to talk to the author  about his influences, his works and his ideas. Please say hi to Terry Shaffer! 

Howdy Terry! Nice to meet you! Please, introduce yourself to the readers.

Very nice to meet you, Key.  My name is Terry Shaffer.  I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with my wife, Kimberly, and our cat, Rosie.  I wrote my first unpublished and unpublishable novels during the Reagan Administration – back in the days when “doing a re-write” meant sticking a blank sheet of paper in the typewriter and starting over…which is why we didn’t have nearly as  many writers in those days.  Beginning in 1992, I went to work for a Pennsylvania Assemblyman who had been a close friend since our youth.  After fifteen years of wallowing in the muck that is Pennsylvania politics, recognizing I’d lost all traces of my personal integrity through my loyalty to criminals, I voluntarily provided evidence to the PA Attorney General which led to his arrest and the subsequent indicted of much of the House Democratic Caucus Leadership.  Through that horrible-yet-cathartic process, I lost nearly all the possessions I’d managed to accumulate during that period and emerged relatively unscathed; free from the weight of my “wagon loaded with clay” (to quote the Grateful Dead) in the “lighter” version you see today.  And I discovered I could actually write, again!  (My personal mantra is James Thurber’s quote, “I never wrote a thing worth a shit until I was fifty.”)

What is the main genre in which you prefer to write?

While I have no doubt it is not a popular approach these days, I don’t set out attempting to write in any particular genre…at least, not a single one.  I try to write the kind of things I like to read.  And that usually involves crossing the lines between satire, politics and science fiction.  I personally believe pigeon-holing oneself and one’s work into a neat, easily defined compartment only serves to retard the process of self-discovery, which should be the fundamental element of any creative work.  If your goal is to write to make money, you can probably accomplish it with a modicum of talent and a great deal of perseverance.  But if your goal is to write something lasting and significant, you can’t do it without examining the “fuzzy edges” of reality that don’t fit neatly into a specific genre.

What is your fist novel, Random Notes From a Specific Deadhead, about?

Random Notes From a Specific Deadhead began as a fictionalized account of my experiences in politics and somehow morphed into a de facto tribute to the music of the Grateful Dead and, in particular, the lyrics of Robert Hunter.  The metamorphosis began when what had once been a minor character named Mo slowly took over the story.  I came to recognize the protagonist of the novel was really the person I had been.  Mo was more like the person I was becoming.  And the one undeniable characteristic of reality is that nothing is anything and everything is becoming something else. Like everything I’ve written since my youth, it seems, the fundamental message is that each of us must find our own way and, as Mo says in the conclusion, “As soon as someone says, ‘Follow me!  I know the way!’ he’s just as lost as you are.”

Your second novel, The Democracy Dramaturgy: Modern American Politics in Two Acts, is just hitting the electronic shelves. What made you think of its dystopian setting?

The setting for The Democracy Dramaturgy was actually chosen by the mysterious forces of the universe we mistake for coincidence and happenstance.  It began with the not-all-that-original idea that Jimmy Hoffa had been accidentally abducted by aliens when his television image was caught in a transporter beam.  I checked the date he disappeared to see if I could find another TV personality who might have been caught in the transporter at the same time and discovered Mayberry’s Goober Pyle, George Lindsay, was a guest on the Merv Griffin show the same day.  I checked when George Lindsay died and it was thirty-seven years after the appearance.  What star is thirty-seven light years from ours?  Muphrid.  The additional thirty-seven years it would take someone to return from Muphrid established the year of the second act as approximately 2050.  

If you could travel in time, what time would you choose and why?

I imagine many people would answer by identifying a particular moment in the past they find interesting.  I would have no desire to time-travel to the past.  I know how that turned out.  But I’d love to take a glimpse into the not-too-distant future to see if our species made it over the self-destructive hump before which it presently sits. (I wouldn’t want to actually go there.  Just look down on it from above like Bush during Katrina.) In order to thrive and flourish as the dominant species on our planet we’ve had to develop levels of intelligence through which we could also destroy ourselves.  We have been inn a constant state of war, attempting to dominate each other as we have the other animals, since Abraham took charge six thousand years ago and God became a man.  I still see great potential in our species.  But I can also see we will never be able to tap into it as long as we permit ourselves and our children to be brainwashed with things like religion, patriotism and cartoons.

Are there any writers who influenced your style? What do you usually read, and what is your favourite novel?

I hope a reader will see the clear influence of Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams when they read my work.  Vonnegut in particular.  What is markedly different, however, is the sense of optimism I present which was very rare during the Cold War.  I never read fiction when I’m writing it because I tend to subconsciously write like the author I’m reading.  But when I do I tend to stick with the classics, with David Copperfield and War and Peace topping my list of personal favorites. 

What, in your opinion, are the most bothering flaws of society, and what would you like to change?

The most flawed and dangerous aspect of modern society – more than the nukes or the vaccine-resistant bugs or the rising oceans – is the control of power through the manipulation of information.  There is a very good reason why Americans go to the polls to cast their votes for someone who openly supports the agenda of people other than them.  It’s because they’ve been taught that’s what good Americans do.  And it’s because they’ve been misled by emotional issues only designed to distract them.  I understand the anger of the Trump voters because I saw it each and every day when I worked for a politician.  People are fed up with what their government has become.  But since they don’t understand what needs to be done to improve it they hitch their wagons to those of some numbskull who promises to take them to the Promised Land.  The simple fact is that they have been deceived by both Parties for so long they can no longer identify deception.  They have been force-fed bad information for so long they have become perfectly comfortable with dishonesty.  As long as politics is a major “for-profit” enterprise, the system cannot be improved.  But if we were to properly regulate our elections and their funding as we did before conservatives forced the idea “less regulation is always better” down our throats, I believe it would be remarkable how quickly the system would return to a state of relative health.  As long as we have a system designed by crooks to support the work or crooks, we can’t expect anything to change no matter who we elect.  If we have the ability to elect good people who are more concerned with effectively leading their nation and their world, rather than lining their pockets, the problems with nukes and the bugs and the oceans will be much easier to address.

What is your next project?

I would love to tell you what my next project is about and, in consideration of the fact I have about fifty pages of the first draft competed, one would think I should be able to do that.  But it is at present being taken over by a mad scientist who lives in the mythical underwater city of Philadelphia and in the process of forcibly evolving himself into a marine creature. 

Do you have a special message for your readers?

My special message would be this…We live in a wonderful reality we are only beginning to understand and appreciate.  Don’t let yourself miss out of the wonders of life because you’re bogged down by human issues.  We just aren’t that significant.

Thanks a lot, Terry, and best of luck with your projects. If you want to find out more about the author and his novels, please visit:

Montag, 26. September 2016

Interview with Tim Rees

Good evening, my friends. Did you ever watch a movie and just realize that you like it even better because it is based on real events? I sometimes feel like that's the case with books. Sometimes, we need to read about things that really happened to somebody else. People are curious by nature. Besides, the experiences of others can have an educational or emotional impact on us. That's why, from time to time, I also like to read a good memoir. 
My next guest writes fiction, and has recently written and published his own story. Please say hello to Tim Rees!

Hi Tim. It’s so cool to have you here. Thanks for dropping by. Will you introduce yourself to the readers?
Hello, I'm Tim Rees. My background is BBC drama. But before that I was in the army, the First Battalion Welsh Guards to be exact, where I experienced active service in Northern Ireland and the Falklands war. It was after military service I got a job in BBC drama and made a Play For Today about the Falklands war. 'Mimosa Boys' was broadcast on BBC1. I went on to make many more BBC dramas and films. I left the BBC to focus on my own material. My first novel was a thriller titled Raw Nerve about the first black president of the USA - I'm Welsh and live in the UK, by the way. My experience with Raw Nerve and traditional publishing is too long to go into now, so to cut a long story short, one vice president of one of the biggest publishers in New York personally accused me of stretching credulity to breaking point and beyond by suggesting America would ever have a black president. I had actually flown to New York to sign a deal with HarperCollins, but it's part of the long story I mentioned earlier; suffice to say that the novel was hailed by pretty much every editor in the big publishing houses my agent at the time sent it to, but the presidents of those publishers felt it too controversial. "We cannot be associated with riots in the streets," was one reason I remember being told. In the end I self published Raw Nerve, but that was in the very early days of self-publishing before Amazon. I unpublished Raw Nerve when Barack Obama was elected as it sort of rendered Raw Nerve redundant, although I have had requests to republish as, I'm told, a good book is always a good book.

Anyway, after Raw Nerve I fell in love with a woman who had two children and spent years in the literary wilderness, metaphorically speaking. But I had to return to writing and knew the industry had changed radically with the advent of Amazon. So I decided to write a memoir to get my foot in the traditional publishing door and subsequently, In Sights: The Story Of A Welsh Guardsman, was published by The History Press.
The 'foot in the door' didn't work as the novel I wrote to follow up my entry into traditional publishing, a story titled Delphian, came in at 170,000 words, that equates to around five hundred pages, and, according to my agent, traditional publishing don't take risks on big print runs now to get the price point right and printing costs over two-hundred and fifty pages escalates, so I found myself back at self-publishing again and exclusively electronic publishing as I learned my agent is right. If I were to make some money from a self-published paperback version of Delphian I'd have to charge around twenty dollars per book.

Yes, tell me more about Delphian. It is a thriller focused on British intelligence. Where did you get the idea from?
That's easy to answer: I wanted to expose the hypocrisy that is vivisection, yet I accept the argument that if I had a child dying of cancer I would be desperate for a cure. Thus the story begins with someone's child being used as a vivisection subject.
And I was intrigued by the challenge of creating a Jason Bourne type character who's also a master of disguise, like Forsythe's The Jackal. For a long time I have played with the idea of a character who can re-invent himself almost daily. How difficult would he be to catch?
I also wanted the story to have a strong female lead and the young lady that walked into that role has exceeded all my expectations.

What is special about your novel’s protagonist and his struggle as an agent?
Vincent's job as an intelligence agent was to cover up potential political banana skins. For example when it was discovered there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the scientist David Kelly was very outspoken about our political leaders knowing that. David Kelly died supposedly of a heart attack. As a writer that scenario sparks my imagination. So, in short, Vincent was a government assassin. However, when he's confronted with a young girl being used as a vivisection subject in medical research funded by the British government, he goes rogue. He's determined people are going to pay, thus his struggle is now with his own conscience.

Your other novel, WTF: An Untypical Love Story, “is a story told through the eyes of a 21 year-old SAS-type soldier as his life crashes from one life changing drama into the next against a background of national news headlines” (book description quoted here). What is the main difficulty that the main character has to cope with?
James has so many problems in WTF that I don't know where to start. And, actually, to lay it all out will be a spoiler for anyone wishing to read the novel. Suffice to say, as you mentioned, he's twenty-one and he falls in love very easily - too easily. I think it's okay to say that being headline news doesn't help an SAS-type soldier whose job requires his identity to be secret.

The style of WTF is quite unique. What inspired your style, and what makes it as special as it is?
Everything about WTF is different about how I normally approach a story. First of all my mother died and I began the novel the very next day as a means to focus my mind on something else. I finished the first draft in six weeks, which is alarmingly fast for me. It's quite a linear storyline written in first person, but I see and feel so many layers to it. As for style, the book begins in short, punchy sentences that hopefully convey the breathlessness James is experiencing. But I could talk about WTF all day, but it's for the reader to decide whether I've succeeded in writing a story that is first and foremost entertaining, whilst offering thought provoking perspectives. It's certainly a unique novel for me to have written and I personally haven't read anything quite like it, by that I mean, as challenging of so many commonly held views.

What was the most memorable event of your life?
I wrote about a very memorable event of my life in In Sights: The Story Of A Welsh Guardsman. The Falklands war was a huge life and character changing event. You don't go through an experience like that without changing your perspective on every aspect of life.  But my time in Kenya, also recounted in In Sights, had a profound effect on me.  But discovering my creativity is my most memorable period because only then was I able to fully love me. If there is one thing I could change, that would be to have started writing a lot sooner and have said to hell with every thing else.

What is the best thing about being a writer?
Oh, that one's easy too. As a novelist I can create the change I wish to see, at least on the pages of a book, but that's a start isn't it? If I offer readers a new or alternative perspective that cause them pause to think, so much the better. But first and foremost a novel needs to be entertaining. I believe it is by wrapping difficult subject matter in entertainment we make it so much more digestible.

If you had the opportunity and all the means necessary to change the world, what would you do?
I would say to humankind that all life forms add their own colour to the world and that it is important for us to embrace all the colours regardless of personal taste.

What is your next project?
I am currently writing a stand-alone thriller that again features Vincent.

What is your greatest ambition in life?
My ambition is to write that next novel and to make all my novels into films so the stories can reach a wider audience. I have already adapted both Delphian and WTF for the screen.

What inspires you the most?
Planet Earth and the myriad stories written in each leaf of every tree. Human and animal rights and the parity that needs to exist between the two.

Do you watch TV? Do you have a favourite TV show or movie?
I do watch a lot of TV and films. I don't have a favourite as there is so much brilliantly creative dramas I see all the time.

What kinds of books do you usually read?
Thrillers mainly now, but my favourite book has to be James A. Michener's Centennial. I especially loved the story about Little Beaver. Also, as a teenager I loved the Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I would encourage all young men to read Tarzan Of The Apes as, for me, it is a profound study of one man's evolution in harmony with our planet Earth. It is through those pages I learned to appreciate all life we share this planet with.

Thank you very much for dropping by, Tim!
If you are interested in Tim's books and in more infos about the author, please visit:

Interview with James Hartley

Good dawning to thee, friend and eager reader! :)
If there is one influential dramatist and writer that never gets out of fashion, then it is nobody less than William Shakespeare! 

Who has not read or heard about at least one of his works. I remember well when we first read Much Ado about Nothing at school. The first words already confused everybody in class. But once I started out and learned to decipher Willy's expressions and the meanings he wanted to convey, I really enjoyed it. But it wasn't until I entered college to study English that I truly learned to appreciate and love the poet of the Elizabethan era; cause, let's be honest, what teenager enjoys the classical stuff read at school? But Shakespeare can be made attractive for teens -- if presented through the lense of fiction! I know what you think: Shakespeare in fiction?-- How?
Well, today we have an expert here to tell us more about it. Please welcome YA author James Hartley!

Hi James. It’s so great to have you here. Please, tell us about yourself.

Hi Key. Well, I was born in a town near Liverpool, England, about forty-three years ago. I grew up there but when I was about seven we moved as a family to Singapore. We lived there for about five years and it was a fantastic experience. After that we moved to Scotland, which was a bit of a culture shock. After a few years there we moved to Muscat, in Oman – all this was because of my dad´s job – and around the time of my GCSE exams I went to a boarding school in England. I stayed there and did my exams and the school in The Invisible Hand is basically based on that place. After school I went to university in London and studied journalism but by the time I´d finished studying I´d had enough of the city and jobs and the impending rat race. I ran away to Galway in Ireland then drifted about the world, passing through France, Spain, Germany, central Europe and later further afield, to Thailand. I did any old jobs, sat about, listened to music, read books and enjoyed life. I came back to Spain about ten years ago and have settled down now. I live in a lovely place about eighteen kilometres outside Madrid with my wife and two children. Now I write and teach English here.

When did you decide to become a writer?

I´m one of those people who´s always written, right from as far back as I remember. At school people liked my stories. I always did well in English and it just seemed like something I would do. Making money out of writing – fiction writing – is tough, as everyone knows, and although I´ve made a bit of money, sold books or won prizes here and there, I´ve never really done it full time. I´ve always worked and done other things and I don´t think that´s necessarily a bad thing. But the writing has always been there in some shape or form. It´s just what I do. A hobby. A compulsion. It´s never really been a chore, it´s just there.

From what I read about you, you got to travel a lot. In how far did that influence your writing?

Well, of course the places and people you´ve met along the way crop up. The school in the book is very definitely the boarding school I went to. Some of the people in the story are similar to people I´ve known. More than influence my writing, travelling about and meeting different people has tended more to influence my view on humanity and the world in general. It´s amazing how similar people are all over the world, for example, but also amazing how there are so many obstacles in place to divide people, usually for nefarious reasons: politics, self-gain, exploitation. On other levels, it´s such a shame that there isn´t really a world culture, that our media tend to work on nationalistic lines, or US-dominated agendas. It´s a shame, that, for me, and I think that feeling of misrepresentation comes into what I write more. Our similarities are so much greater than our differences. I´m not an idealist but I really do think hate and fear are used as tools to influence and motivate people because it´s so easy.

You reside in Spain. What do you like most about the county?

My wife and my children. They´re the reason I´m here, otherwise I´d probably go drifting on. But I love the country too – always have done. I´d been to Spain before, on holiday, but it was when I came to Madrid in the early 2000´s that I fell in love with the place. It was perfect, really, because it was exotic and different – I spoke no Spanish, then – but it was close to home, only a two-hour flight from Liverpool. The weather, of course, was amazing. Beer and football and generally enjoying life were high priorities, nicely keeping in line with my own, and I genuinely loved the city. After I met my wife, things fell even more into place: her family is from Cordoba and so I got to discover a whole new fantastic side of the country down there in Andalucía. Spain has always been good to me for work, too, and I live well here. I´m happy.

Your YA novel The Invisible Hand, which will be published by Lodestar Books on 24th February, 2017, is about a boy who is able to travel back in time. The story takes place at a boarding school and in medieval Scotland. The Invisible Hand is the first book of a series called Shakespeare’s Moon. How many books will you write for this series?

I don´t know. A lot depends on the reaction to the first book. I know that the second, which will be about Romeo and Juliet, is more or less ready. After that I have some ideas for King Lear and Hamlet but not so sure after that. Perhaps something set in Rome. This could all change with the weather, so the honest answer is – no idea.

The Invisible Hand is based around Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Are you a Shakespeare fan? What made you choose Macbeth and not, let’s say, for instance, Hamlet?

I´m a big Shakespeare fan but I´m no scholar. I need my pass notes and help to decipher and enjoy his plays and poems, but there´s just some richness, some way of describing the world which is masterly and impressive. A good play, well explained (or taught) is a joy.
I chose Macbeth as it´s probably my favourite Shakespeare play. It has been since I was taught it well in school and it´s followed me around. I like all the mythology about it, the story, the legends, the play itself, the subject matter, the darkness. Hamlet, too, I love, but Hamlet is a different beast. I wanted to concentrate on Macbeth this time as I could see the story and I wanted something lithe and linear. I also liked the idea of meeting Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in my mind, as the characters in the book do. That was exciting. Most of all, though, I wanted to communicate a bit of my passion for the play. The idea that some people, especially people who had to study the book for GCSE for example, were rejecting it because they thought it was irrelevant or too hard to understand kills me. I wanted to give people a way in.

You write for Young Adults. What was your favourite book when you were in your teens?

I think reading in your teens is a weird experience, or at least it was when I was a teenager. It´s when a lot of people lose their way with books, where a lot of people just give up. I think now, with the whole Young Adult market, there is so much more choice, and with indie books, even more, as you can basically read what you want. Publishers and writers are much more savvy as to what people want to read whereas I always felt caught between two posts. As a child there were great books and then suddenly you were expected to read either schoolly books with “a message” or some of the easier classic books. I remember enjoying To Kill a Mockingbird, and actually being surprised I could understand it and liked it, but I felt like some of the other books were a chore. Message books, then and now, are a turn off for me. It wasn´t until The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, which I found when I was about 17 or 18, that I got a thrill out of books again as a teenager. I hung in there but I understood why many didn´t. That gulf was bridged by Harry Potter, I think: that woke publishers up to the fact that they´d left many, many readers behind who they could cater for. Not so sure schools have learned, though.

When I visited your website (, I noted that you like to support young writers. You also run a short story competition. Tell us more about it.

I want to give young writers a space to publish their work. I want to encourage people who feel like I did, that they have these words pouring out of them, which other people respond positively to, to get their stuff out there. I´m not quite sure how to do it but in my mind I envisage trying to publish some kind of anthology. Although I have given a theme to the competition, really I´m open to anything by young writers. I like imagination and stories more than showing off. If you write, if you want to see what people think of it, if you can´t help writing and people have told you what you write is good – send it to me.

Thank you so much for the interview, James. We can’t wait to read The Invisible Hand!
If you want to get more infos about James and his work, please visit the following websites:

(Intro of Interview by H. El-Tahwagi)

Sonntag, 25. September 2016

Hi! This is Key Jeffreys!
I and author H. El-Tahwagi are the host of this blog, and will give you weekly updates on the books and writers we come across. As interested readers, we are open to every kind of literature. No matter the genre: here, you will get introduced to different writers and different works ;).
The posts will vary between interviews, reviews, previews etc...
From time to time, there'll also be some fun posts. So, keep visiting, and follow ;)

Key and H.