Snow Falcon Reviews

Pulls all the right levers Residually poetic. Canberra Sunday Times

Riveting narrative. Adelaide Times

A slam-bang read, artfully crafted and engagingly written. Ft Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

A special story. Women’s Weekly 

Entertaining…Engrossing. Booklist

Harrison writes superbly. San Antonio Express News

Smart…Absorbing. UK Daily Mail

As tough as it is tender… an exceptionally well woven tapestry of romance and danger. Nelson DeMille International bestselling author.

It is a rare work of fiction so fascinating that a reader comes to the last sentence and immediately wants to begin the story again … a talented novelist. Des Moines Sunday Register

A very good book… Harrison is set to become a literary star. UK Daily Mirror

This novel has great elements – action, adventure, romance, drama and a teaspoon of sadness and regret. Highly recommended. Library Journal USA

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald’s memoir

the goshawkEnglish naturalist and now author, Helen Macdonald, just won the Costa prize for non-fiction for a book that describes how she trained a hawk, apparently to help her cope with the death of her father. I haven’t read the book yet, but the author states in an interview that she was partly inspired by a book she read as a child, by T.H. White, an English author who in the thirties wrote a book called The Goshawk.

The parallels with my novel, The Snow Falcon, struck me at once. My novel, originally published in 2000, and republished on-line in 2013 as a revised version, is about a man who trains an injured falcon (an Arctic Gyr Falcon) so that he can return it to the wild. At the same time, training the falcon turns out to be his way back to the world after a troubled life coping with mental illness in his family, though the Pacific Northwest town where he grew up, and where the story takes place, is hostile to his presence. In the story, he is given a book which plays a part in the narrative. It is The Goshawk, by T.H. White, a book that I read when I was at school.

As I write, I’m looking at a photograph taken from a newspaper, of Helen Macdonald holding an Arctic Gyr Falcon on her fist.

Anyway, congratulations to Helen Macdonald.

And the rights to my novel are available!





Third Book In The Pistford Trilogy

Don’t get too excited because it’s not finished yet. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that it will be worth the wait. I hope.

Writing novels can be a perplexing process. Sometimes, everything just flows and the write a bookstory appears like film off a movie reel. Other times it feels that way, until you go to view the unedited finished product, and discover to your horror that something is wrong. Badly wrong. The scenes all move from one to the other in a logical kind of order and the characters speak their lines and make their marks, but somehow the whole thing seems oddly flat. It’s as if the actors keep looking towards the director as if to say, am I doing this right, because it feels like something is missing? And the director, that’s me, tells the actors to do it again, only this time try it this way, say that line with more feeling, more emotion. Okay, the actors say, but I know they’re not feeling it because the lines on the page are dead. They have expired and the words lie there like the corpses of small birds battered by a storm. I try to breathe life into them, but Frankenstein tried that and all he got for his troubles was a monster, right?

Okay, movie metaphors aside, what happened with my first draft was that I knew it wasn’t right, but I thought I could fix it. Halfway through the second draft I realised my fix wasn’t working, so I stopped writing and started trying to figure out what the problem was. After a few days I had achieved nothing, so I took a break from the novel, which is often a good way to clear my thinking, and I spent a couple of weeks doing other things that I’d been neglecting, like approaching some agents about representation. I would really like to see The Flyer and the rest of the trilogy published in paperback and made available in bookstores. Publishing them as e-books doesn’t really work for this type of book, in my opinion, simply because a large proportion of the people who read non-genre type fiction don’t use e-readers.

Anyway, back to the novel in progress. When I came back to it, it was immediately clear that my earlier feeling that it wasn’t working was bang on the nail. I had sort of hoped I’d be wrong, but I wasn’t. I still couldn’t see exactly why it wasn’t working. Without going into too much detail, I had written a story set during WW2 that was part espionage drama and is mostly told from the point of view of Rose, William and Elizabeth’s daughter from We Should Dance, though at the beginning Rose is unaware that William is her real father. There was actually nothing really wrong with the story. The plot was good. I liked the characters and I felt that the novel had the right blend of pace and depth. It took me another week to work out why it didn’t feel right. The problem was that it didn’t really feel like a continuation of the other two books. Duh!

Sometimes it is the really obvious things that are the hardest to see. When I first set out to write The Flyer, I had a clear idea of what it would be about. I wanted to write the story of William, who grows up feeling lonely and isolated because he has no place in the world. He wants acceptance and love, but the people who can give him those things reject him and this makes him bitter. It was that internal conflict that I wanted to write about and I chose the setting of WW1 flying because being a pilot in those days was a very solitary and individual role and it seemed to fit William’s persona. I also wrote the story in a very subdued style because I wanted the writing to reflect William’s sense of removal from the mainstream of the world he lives in. I’m proud of the end result. The Flyer is the book I always wanted to write.

The sequel, We Should Dance, follows William’s life after the war. He is still battling with the same internal issues, which partly explains his almost obsessive love for Elizabeth. He and the other characters begin to leave their youth and the war behind in this book, but at the heart of the story is William’s determination to make his way in the world, to find his place. At the end of it he is in his mid-forties.

The problem with the third book in the series, I came to realize, was that it wasn’t about William. I had decided that I was finished with William’s story, and that the unresolved issues that remained between him and the other characters would be played out with the next generation. William only appeared at the sidelines. There is a scene in the book where Rose as an adult meets William for the first time and discovers that he is her real father. I wrote it over and over, trying to make it work, but it just sat there like cold pudding. It was because I was writing it from Rose’s point of view. There was nothing wrong with the way I described her feelings and reactions, but it was William’s feelings I should have been writing about.

William had always felt excluded from society, rejected by the class that Elizabeth and Christopher belonged to by birth, and rejected personally by Christopher’s betrayals. Even when William and Elizabeth had a child together, Christopher conspired to make sure that William could never know her. When Rose learns the truth at last, her reaction isn’t to throw her arms around William and cry Daddy, but rather she sees him as somebody her mother has conducted a secret affair with for years. She is hurt and confused and she rejects him. How does William feel, especially as his own son despises him?

So, I have to start my story again. I thought I had finished with William, but it was always William I was writing about. I think this third book will be the end. A trilogy rather than a series. I want to be as proud of this one as I am of The Flyer, so I won’t rush it. In the meantime, I thank you for your patience.

Let’s Talk Sex

Catchy title, right? It got your attention after all, which is the point of the exercise and also says something about the subject of this essay, which concerns sex in fiction.

Catchy title, right? It got your attention after all, which is the point of the exercise and sexy womanalso says something about the subject of this essay, which concerns sex in fiction.

As a novelist you have to learn to grow a thick skin, especially in this internet age when readers can review a novel on Amazon or Goodreads for the whole world to see. I’ve been doing this for long enough now to accept that you can’t please all of the people of all the time, and happily, I don’t get too many poor reviews, but recently a reviewer expressed moral outrage over the sex scenes in my novel We Should Dance. I have to say that it came as a bit of a surprise to me. It was only one review, but we writers are a pretty insecure bunch so I began to wonder if other readers felt the same way. I asked people who I knew had read the book if the sex had bothered them. It didn’t, as it happens, but everyone had an opinion and they were willing to talk about it. In fact they had a lot to say. Some liked the sex scenes. Some didn’t. Some thought they were too many sex scenes, while others thought there weren’t nearly enough. Some were surprised at the sexual content because it hasn’t featured much in my others novels, and some wanted to know when the next book in the series would be available because they couldn’t wait to read it.

The really surprising aspect to me of all this was how much debate a few sex scenes had stirred up. There was a definite kind of polarization of views between those who not only liked the sex, but hoped that future books would have more of it, and those that were a lot less enthusiastic. I got the feeling that the second camp, which was a decided minority, sort of turned the pages quickly when things got steamy. Generally they didn’t mind the sex, but they didn’t especially enjoy reading about it either and I’m guessing they thought the story would have been fine without it.

This bit of not very scientific research made me think about sex in mainstream fiction,  by which I mean all fiction except the specifically erotic stuff, such as the now famous Fifty Shades and its multitudes of spin-offs. I read a lot, which is no surprise given that I’m a novelist myself, and I read a wide variety of books from detective novels to Booker nominees and everything in between. Out of curiosity I took a look back through my Kindle library at the novels I’d read over the past year, and then cast an eye over my library of paperbacks, trying to find one that I recalled as having a sex scene that went beyond the slowly closing bedroom door and the gradual fadeout like the old movies of my parents’ generation. If there was such a scene within any of those books, I couldn’t remember it. Why was that, I wondered? Was it because I’d simply forgotten, which might mean that the sex hadn’t made an impression on me? Or was it because the sex simply wasn’t there?

The answer to my question, I’ve decided, is the latter. Very few mainstream novels feature sex scenes, at least not the ones I’ve read, and not the kind of sex scenes that I’d written into We Should Dance, where nothing much is left out and it’s not all veiled in metaphor, and neither is it all romantic. Some of it is simply sexy, which is to say the characters are having a good time and thinking the kinds of things that people think when they’re getting laid. The paucity of sex in mainstream novels is sort of curious when you think about it. Fiction is almost quaintly old-fashioned in comparison to other popular forms of story-telling in Western culture, like TV shows and movies, where nudity and quite graphic sex scenes are so run-of-the-mill these days that nobody really comments on them much. When I was growing up in the seventies, some of the stuff you see on Game Of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire or virtually any popular show today would have been banned as pornography. Clearly audiences approve of the change, otherwise that kind of content wouldn’t be there. So why isn’t there more sex in books?

Sex sells, as the adage goes. It’s long been said that modern culture, particularly in the decadent West, is saturated with sexual imagery. We see it on magazine covers, in newspapers (if anybody reads those anymore) on TV ads and billboards, shop windows and in fact just about anywhere where products of almost any description are sold. It’s all about appealing to a fundamental human drive, which is to engage in sexual activity in order to reproduce. We are designed by nature to like sex. If we didn’t, nobody would do it and that would be the end of the human race.

The appeal of sex hasn’t changed one bit in all of human history. Sexuality has always been depicted in art. In all ancient cultures there are countless examples of frescoes, writing and sculpture with powerful sexual themes. The only real difference between then and now is that in the modern world we have technology that allows us to spread our obsession with all things sexual so that it permeates every nook and cranny of our society. Sex is an intrinsic part of being human, as is the desire to express ourselves in all the ways that we do, including music, art and stories.

When people tell stories, whether they choose the medium of books, TV shows, movies, You Tube or whatever, they are describing what happens in society. We humans like to turn the spotlight on ourselves. We like stories that tell us something about ourselves. We want to see characters struggle because we struggle and it’s nice to know we’re not alone. We want to see them eventually succeed because it would also be nice to think we too might succeed one day. We also like to see characters with flawed marriages and difficult teenagers, because we identify with those things, and we also want to see people who are nothing like us at all, because we’re curious. We want to experience the full range of human experience, from the awfulness of war or crime and murder, to the humorous and romantic. Usually we want to see good prevail and evil punished because that’s how we would like to think the world works, and we want to see our own personal ethics and values – our worldview – represented.

Given that stories reflect life in all its permutations, it’s only natural that sex should be a part of those stories. In my own novel, a character called Mona, who we first meet as a young farm-girl in Illinois, dreams of escaping her life and one day becoming an actress in moving pictures, like her heroine Mary Pickford. Mona is a small-town girl who is unaware that she possesses some quality beyond her looks that attracts men like moths to a flame. She is a young woman awakening to her sexuality in a changing world. When a biplane lands in the field outside Mona’s home while her family is at church, and a young pilot climbs down, it is the beginning of a new life for Mona, one that eventually will take her to New Mexico and California and to the film colony at Hollywood.

Most of the sex scenes in We Should Dance revolve around Mona, because sex and the effect Mona has on the men in her life form a substantial part of the novel. I never thought about whether the sex ought to be there, or whether I ought to depict it in a more discreet fashion. I was only concerned with creating characters I cared about, and with putting them in situations that seemed right for them and for the story as a whole. Those things are all I ever care about. It seems I’ve ended up writing a mainstream novel that is also pretty sexy, though I didn’t really intend to. Maybe it’s time sex in mainstream fiction caught up with the TV and movies.

On a completely unrelated note, for those of you out there who are waiting for the third book in the Pitsford Series (and so were not put off by the sex in We Should Dance), I am still working hard on the second draft of The Girl Who Listened. Shouldn’t be too long, and I want to make sure it’s worth the wait. And yes, there are sex scenes.

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