Tag Archives: family secrets

Wednesdays with Writers: Family Secrets, dark mysterious English Forests, Battered Cardigans, ‘The Crown,’ Roman Remains, and so much more in Kate Hamer’s next novel, THE DOLL FUNERAL

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By Leslie Lindsay 

After reading Hamer’s 2016 bestselling debut, THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT, I was eager to get my hands on her forthcoming title, THE DOLL FUNERAL (due out February 16 2017 by Faber & Faber). Ms. Hamer indicates she’s, “Mostly completely happy, but write dark,” and yes, that’s exactly how THE DOLL FUNERAL reads, a little slice of mirth mixed with darkness.

Plus, isn’t that cover (and title!) just deliciously creepy?!

The Doll Funeral.jpg

There’s a lot going on in THE DOLL FUNERAL, and Hamer’s writing is so poetic, so poised, and yet so imaginative; for that reason, I adored reading her words. She’s truly a gifted writer.  Plot-wise the story is quite simple: 13-year old girl learns she’s adopted and goes on search for her ‘real family.’

Alternating between Ruby in present-day (1983) and also her birth year (1970), the two timelines are braided together in a mostly first-person POV. Note: most of the story is told from 13-year old Ruby’s POV, but she is highly imaginative, mature, and the story telling is not at all ‘softened,’ or abbreviated, in fact there are several instances in which another character will observe, ‘that’s quite a grown-up word, Ruby.’

I’m honored to welcome Kate Hamer back to the blog couch for another book chat. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Kate, it’s a joy to have you back. I’m thinking about THE DOLL FUNERAL and how it compares to THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT. There are bound to be similarities, of course, seeing how you’re sort of the ‘wizard’ behind them both. My first thought is that both stories revolve around a young girl cleaving from her family (either on her own accord, or as an abduction). Can you talk about that, please?

Kate Hamer: Yes, the family relationships are central in both books, it’s something that really interests me. THE DOLL FUNERAL begins by Ruby finding out she’s adopted on her thirteenth birthday. When she hears the truth she runs out into the garden and sings for joy because she always hoped beyond hope that there was something more than the brutality of the family she grew up in. But when she sets out to uncover the truth family secrets begin bubbling to the surface – her own and in other families. I wanted to write a tough character and Ruby does have a certain resilience despite everything. That’s something I enjoyed doing. The young girl characters in both books are a bit off kilter, slight outsiders from the beginning and there are other similarities between the two books. THE DOLL FUNERAL is not conventional crime, as THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT wasn’t conventional crime either. Ruby’s journey does eventually lead to a body, though not in the way you might think!

L.L.: So what would you say inspired your falling down the ‘rabbit hole’ of THE DOLL FUNERAL? What was haunting you enough to set pen to paper?

Kate Hamer: It was Ruby really – her energy and her hope of getting through despite everything. She’s tougher than Carmel (The Girl in the Red Coat) in many ways, less dreamy275px-symonds_yat_rock_viewand acts on her gut instinct. I really fell in love with her and felt as if I was by her side, a bit breathless and anxious about how everything was going to turn out for her.

It was also the Forest of Dean. I’d tried to write the story several times in different locations but it wasn’t until I visited the Forest of Dean one day that everything truly slotted into place. It’s such a mystical, ancient place yet people live and work there. The forest is definitely another character in the book.

L.L.: I know you sort of ‘grew up’ on fairy tales and that THE GIRL WITH THE RED COAT has been likened to LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. This new one is very much ALICE IN WONDERLAND meets SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. Was this conscious on your part, or did it sort of evolve organically? 

Kate Hamer: Oooh – I LOVE that description. In fact I think I’m going to adopt it. Yes, if THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is “Little Red Riding Hood” the THE DOLL FUNERAL is definitely “Snow White.” Observant readers might even spot the mirror. Snow White was there from the beginning but Ruby’s beauty is an unconventional kind – she has a large birth mark covering the left side of her face that makes the eye on that side seem extra bright. She is a kind of Snow White mixed in with her hero Siouxsie Sioux. “Alice in Wonderland” came in a bit later. It’s a book I’m a bit obsessed with and my editor very wisely combed a good few of the references out so hopefully the presence is there with a light touch now.

download-52L.L.: Yet you touche on poverty, abuse, adoption, mental illness, and the paranormal. It’s heavy stuff. What do you hope readers take away from THE DOLL FUNERAL?

Kate Hamer:  At its heart I feel that this is a book about how the past and the present intertwine, how the past casts its shadows over everything, and YET if the heart is focused enough, if it’s prepared to go through trials of fire the present moment and the future can always be changed. That’s what I really hope readers  take away with them by the end of the book.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? What’s captured your interest?

Kate Hamer: Many things: ‘The Crown’ on Netflix. Roman remains. Prehistory. Learning French. ‘My Name is Lucy Barton.’  Choosing colours for the living room. Lattice crisps. Walking meditation. L’Occitane creams. Anything by Maggie O’Farrell. Making sauerkraut.

L.L.: What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Kate Hamer:  What do you wear when you’re writing? Answer: an old battered cardi that is nonetheless beautifully warm. One day it’ll disintegrate and I dread that day.

L.L.: Kate, it was a pleasure chatting with you once again. Thanks for taking the time to pop by!

Kate Hamer:  Thank you!

The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)

For more information, to connect with Kate Hamer, or to order your copy of THE DOLL FUNERAL, please visit:

mei-williams-creditABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story was read out on BBC Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. She lives in Cardiff with her husband. The Girl in the Red Coat (March 2015) is her first novel.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, around these parts of the Internet:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Faber&Faber and used with permission. Author image credit: Mei Williams. Forest of Dean image retrieved from Wikipedia, Alice in Wonderland image retrieved from PopSugar, all on 2.2.17

Writers on Wednesday: How characters are like ‘lost souls’ at the airport, ghosts, old farm houses, and more in Elizabeth Brundage’s ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR

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By Leslie Lindsay 

ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR is like a slow boil, starting out  with tender delicate prose  and reaching a gritty climax.all-things-cease-to-appear-1

The story is  harrowing. Spooky, even. The characters are cold and stiff (quite literally, and that’s not just for the ones who are dead). ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR is written almost in a frame style, that is, the book opens with a murder, then becomes filled in with a deliciously creepy and unsettling backstory/character study into the mind of sociopath, finishing off with an end-cap to the murder set in the first few pages.

It’s at first blush, a ghost story, but there’s so much more to it, combining dark noir with gothic in a story about two families, one farmhouse, all of whom are wrapped in their own unhappiness, with a ribbon of art history, like a river running through connecting the gruesome unsolved murder.

I am super-honored to have Elizabeth Brundage sit down and chat with us about her inspiration, her process, and the book. Please, join us.

Leslie Lindsay: I understand there’s a real-life house that inspired you to write ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR. Can you talk about that, mainly because I’m completely intrigued with houses, architecture, and the stories they encompass, but also because I love a little tingle up my spine, too.

Elizabeth Brundage: Who can resist a good ghost story?  We all know that house in town with the dark windows, the rusty swing set in the back – we can’t seem to pull our eyes away from it.  We know that something happened there, something bad.  There are actually two houses that inspired me to write this book.  First, there was the house where the real ax murder occurred, in an upstate New York suburb.  I went to look at houses with a realtor who originally told me the story about a horrific murder that had happened in the neighborhood and was still – and still is – unsolved.  That actual case served as inspiration, the underlying foundation upon which I built this novel, but the characters are all inventions – just about everything in this book is made up except for some of the details of that case and the frustrating reality that the murderer was never brought to justice.  Years passed and three books later I finally decided to download-1write about it.  At one point over all those years we rented a little house in a rural town near where my husband was working.  It was an early nineteenth century cape in an historic country hamlet and it turned out to be haunted.  I had never lived in a house with ghosts before!  I was as skeptical as the next person, but after living there and experiencing some of the weird things that happened (you can read the full story on my website) I became a believer.  I decided these true experiences could come together in one novel that ultimately considers some of the abstract questions so many of us consider when we think about death.

L.L.: You start the story with the murder of Catherine Clare and then go backward in time to an amazing backstory, shaping the lives of all these characters. In that sense, it’s very noir. But it also sort of reads as a frame story. Can you talk about how you decided to structure ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR? Was the murder your ‘hook,’ to use a writerly term, or was it just the most organic way to lay out your story?

Elizabeth Brundage: Organic is the key word in your question, which is to say that I wasn’t conscious of writing a “frame” story although it very much seems to be the definition of one.  And while the murder serves as an essential “hook” to involve the reader, it wasn’t what interested me most; I was much more interested in exploring the relationships of the people whose lives were affected by the murder.  I think when something like this happens in a town, the townspeople never forget and the story is told again and again and the scene of the crime becomes as much a landmark of the place as the church on Main Street or the post office or the bar that fortifies the legendary town drunk.

Brundage’s searing, intricate novel epitomizes the best of the literary thriller, marrying gripping drama with impeccably crafted prose…

~Publishers Weekly [boxed review]

L.L.: And there are a lot of characters. Almost all of them—even the unsettling, creepy ones—I liked. Because they are flawed, because they are real. Do you have an affinity for any one in particular? (I know, I know…kind of like choosing your favorite child.)

Elizabeth Brundage: My favorite character is Cole for his sweetness, kindness, his perceptions about the people around him.  I also have a soft spot for his brother, Eddy, because he reminds me of my husband in his early 20s.  Justine is my favorite female character because I recognize her as a woman I would be friendly with.  I admire her strength and courage and determination to do what’s right and good in life.  She is someone who has become the best or at least the most honest version of herself – I think so many of us strive to be that.

L.L.: There’s a fun, late-1970s, early 1980s vibe about the book, I’m curious what your research (if any!) was like to get things ‘right?’   

Elizabeth Brundage: I did a lot of research, but I grew up in the 70s and a lot of the period details I relied on came from memory.  The Country Squire Station Wagon that Catherine drives, for instance, was the car I was allowed to drive in high school to get to my ballet lessons.  I can still remember rolling down the windows to smoke (sneak) a cigarette on the way home. download-2

L.L.: What was your timeframe for writing this novel? It’s complex and so well done, and spans about twenty years, it’s in a sense, a beast. But a good beast, a darn good one.

Elizabeth Brundage: Thank you, you’re right – it is a beast!  The book is loosely based on a real cold case that I heard about back in the 90s.  It stayed in my mind for over 20 years before I could actually write about it.  I wasn’t really keen on writing a story about an ax murder and years passed, years of thinking and thinking, before I found and understood the other characters, the farm, the boys, the people of the town, and could make them real on the page.  That may sound strange when I use the word “found” but, in the early stages of writing a novel, finding your character(s) is something like trying to find one person in a crowded airport – until you find him, you are just fumbling along like a person with jetlag, disoriented, confused, weighed down with heavy bags.  Once you find your character, the trick is getting him into your car, hearing him speak, smelling him, searching his pockets, trying to get your hands on his passport to see where he’s been and where he’s going.  Writing a novel takes time.  There’s just no way around it, you can’t really do it fast.  This book took me years to write because I kept having characters show up at my door – lost souls.  They’d stand there looking at me, their suitcases at their feet, waiting for me to invite them in.

L.L.: The story is about how guilt shapes the present, how sometimes it’s not just places that are haunted, but people, circumstances. It’s about finding truth, it’s about *being* the truth. At least that was my read. What do you hope readers take away from ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR?

Elizabeth Brundage: I really like your summary, Leslie, and I hope other readers take away what you did.  I think it’s true that as life goes on we all become a little bit haunted by some of the bad things we experience in life.  We can recover and move on, but we never forget. As life happens to us, we change shape – under dramatic circumstances, we can even become a different version of our original selves.  I was interested in the old farmhouse being a kind of monument to hard times, the landmark of a terrible crime.  I suppose I’d like readers to take away whatever strikes them as meaningful.  All readers are certainly not alike.  People read certain books for different reasons.  I am always looking for something new when I read – I want to be gently enlightened by a character’s perspective or insight.  I would hope that readers empathize with Catherine, who is stuck in a bad marriage to an increasingly dangerous man and can’t seem to find her way out. The theme of loss runs through the book and I think we all experience loss in our lives, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a home or the sense of safety, the loss of our childhood selves, the loss of love – but there are also the elements of light and love that guide us forward, the beauty of nature, faith, trust, the relationships that bring us joy and keep us safe. download-3

L.L.: What’s keeping you up at night? What’s inspiring you? And hopefully it’s not ax murderers!

Elizabeth Brundage: To write fiction, you need to be a close observer of life, a keen listener.  You want to try to understand what motivates behavior.  I think it’s important to know the world of your characters, whatever world that is.  You have to know your people.  Like most writers, I am trying to reflect some aspect of the world I see around me.  People are the reason I write.  There is no shortage of interesting people out there – our lives are rich with problems and struggle – conflict – and when you come right down to it we are all just trying to get through the day.

L.L.: What did I forget to ask, but you’d like to answer?

Elizabeth Brundage: Your questions were wonderful, Leslie, and I was so happy to have the opportunity to answer them.  Thank you!!

L.L.: Elizabeth, it was such a pleasure! Thank  you so much for your time and wonderful read.

Elizabeth Brundage: My pleasure – thank you right back.

For more information, or to connect with Elizabeth Brundage on social media, please see:

elizabeth-brundage-author-photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Brundage graduated from Hampshire College, attended the NYU film school, was a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, and received an MFA as well as a James Michener Award from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has taught at a variety of colleges and universities, most recently at Skidmore College, where she was visiting writer-in-residence. She lives near Albany in upstate New York.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these various social media channels:

[Cover and Author images courtesy of H. Tobin at Viking and used with permission. Cape Cod style home and Ford Country Squire station wagon retrieved from Wikipedia; winding road image from all retrieved 9.12.16].

Write On, Wednesday: Heather Gudenkauf talks about her new psych thriller/mystery MISSING PIECES, Family secrets, trying something new (writing-wise), and the beauty of Iowa

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By Leslie Lindsay 

NYT bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf delivers a heart-racing, tightly plotted whodunit mystery which spans the course of about a week with glimpses into the past in her forthcoming MISSING PIECES (Feb 2, 2016).missing-pieces-cover-198x300

Sarah and Jack Quinlan seem to have the perfect life–married twenty years and having just sent their daughters off to college–they are polite and caring toward one another as any couple in a long-term relationship is. When Jack receives a call that his aunt has taken a fall and is seriously injured, Jack and Sarah travel to his hometown of Penny Gate, IA, a place he’s spent very little time in the last twenty years. And with good reason.

I’m thrilled to have Heather join us as we chat about her fifth novel, MISSING PIECES.

Leslie Lindsay: Heather, I am honored to have you pop over. I fell in love with your writing with your debut, THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE. I have to say, there seems to be a theme in your novels involving secrets. Can you speak to that?

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you for your kind words! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed my writing. I’ve long been intrigued by news accounts documenting the shock and surprise loved ones experience when they learn that a loved one wasn’t quite the person they thought they were. I trusted him implicitly, says the woman whose husband has a secret family. She was always a reliable, hardworking employee, says the boss of the woman who embezzled thousands.  While I was writing MISSING PIECES, in my THE WEIGHT OF SILENCEhometown, there was the case of a purportedly normal family man who was accused of shooting a family member over fifteen times.  Police arrived to find him sitting in a chair in his living room, with a bag of ammunition and gun cleaning supplies sitting next to him. How could you be so wrong about the person sleeping next to you, sitting next to you or living next door to you? People keep secrets ~ but how long are they able to keep them hidden and what are the ramifications? That’s what I try to explore in my novels.

L.L.: MISSING PIECES is about lies, betrayal, and how secret-keeping can destroy those we care about. Like your other novels, this one is also set in your home state of Iowa. The scenery is gorgeous, and I could almost feel myself in those corn fields and old farm houses. What ultimately inspired you in this one?

Heather Gudenkauf: For me, Iowa has a beauty all its own. Whenever I’m driving through the countryside and see an old farm house I immediately begin to create a history for it ~I imagine the children who played in the yard, the men and women who worked the fields, the births and deaths that occurred there. I love reading books where the setting is almost a character itself ~ with its own soul, its unique heartbreaks and joys ~ and I attempt this in my own writing as well.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit…I understand you are a very busy writer, Rural Iowawife, mom of three, and title 1 reading coordinator. I’m always amazed at these super-woman heroics of juggling so many balls. How is writing an accessible career choice for women—you—today?

Heather Gudenkauf: I am so fortunate to be able to pursue careers that I am passionate about. I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was a young girl and have spent the last twenty-three years in education. I didn’t seriously consider writing until I had been teaching for several years and my three children were in school. I think the key to be able to juggle multiple roles is to truly love what you do. For me writing is an escape, an opportunity to explore new ideas, new characters, a chance to express myself creatively.

L.L.: Do you have any writing rituals or obsessions?

Heather Gudenkauf: I wouldn’t say I have any particular rituals obsessions except I do like to have music playing while I write. With music playing in the background I’m still able to focus on my writing without being too distracted by the world around me. Otherwise, I can pretty much write anywhere. I write in coffee shops, in bed, in front of the fireplace, in the car, outdoors.

L.L.: What are you currently reading? Does your reading influence your writing?

Heather Gudenkauf: Right now I’m reading The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas. It’s a historical novel about a midwife from a small Colorado mining town and the mystery surrounding the death of a newborn. Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite authors ~ she has a magical way of transporting me into the past and sweeping me up into the intricate lives of the characters she creates.

Every word I’ve ever read has, in some way, influenced my writing. I think we all carry the books we’ve read with us – it becomes the fabric of who we are. I think I may have just mixed my metaphors there ~ but that’s the best way I can explain it.

L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?
Heather Gudenkauf: Right now I am obsessed with working on my newest novel. I am trying something completely new in my writing and developing what I hope is a very unique main character. It’s challenging and exciting ~ I can’t wait to see how it ends!   THE END

L.L.: What should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Heather Gudenkauf: I love chatting with readers and talking books ~  I can be reached at heather@heathergudenkauf.com.  Also, please come see me at heathergudenkauf.com for my most recent blog post, giveaways and other bookish fun!

L.L.: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us and share MISSING PIECES. It was a pleasure, Heather!

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you for thinking of me for your blog ~ it’s been a lot of fun!

heather_bioAuthor bio: Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and One Breath Away. Her newest novel, Missing Pieces, will be available on Feb. 2, 2016. She lives in Iowa with her family.

For more information, or to follow on Social Media: 

[Author and cover image courtesy of Heather Gudenkauf. THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE cover image retrieved from H. Gudenkauf’s website on 1.1.16. Iowa farm house found on Pinterest, original source unavailable. “The end” image from www.giphy.com on 1.1.16]