Saturday, 26 January 2019

Guest Author Hazel Manuel of Paris and the Loire Valley of France.

A quote from Hazel’s website:

I write books that explore living life in a way that doesn't make me want to scream."

We are so excited to have this talented writer as our guest this week. Hazel has agreed to a 4Q Interview and is sharing an excerpt from her novel - Undressing Stone.

Hazel Manuel is a UK born novelist whose writing follows a career in education, first as a teacher/lecturer and after as a business leader within the education sector. Having fallen in love with a French man she met in India, Hazel now lives and writes in Paris. Hazel’s route into writing was an unusual one, which draws on her time as CEO and MD of two successful education companies. Having moved from the corporate world into full-time writing, Hazel enjoys exploring those deeper aspects of what it means to be living and striving in our modern world. Through themes of uncertainty, loss, obsession, power, change and fear, and of questioning life and the self, the reader travels with her characters through an archetypical inner journey that is fundamentally satisfying because it could equally be their own. Since becoming a full-time writer, Hazel’s books have received international attention. She travels often, giving talks and running workshops at literary festivals and writing retreats. Hazel has been Writer in Residence for Your Writeful Place in France and the UK and at the Sivananda Ashram in Southern India where she was commissioned to write a book about Ashram life. She runs a writer’s group for aspiring novelists in Paris and one for prisoners at Styal Women’s prison in the UK.

4Q: Undressing Stone sounds like an intriguing story. Can you tell us about it and what inspired it.

HM: I loved writing Undressing Stone. It is an often quoted cliché that when we are old we will regret what we didn’t do more than what we did. I wanted to explore the idea of completely reimagining your life. The main character, Sian is asked by her therapist ‘if you were able, how would you redesign your life?’ I wanted to take a women who people would generally describe as ‘ordinary’ on a journey of transformation – both in terms of her life situation and psychologically – and to see where that would lead her.

Secondly, I wanted to examine the idea that despite the fact that we are taught that work is paramount in terms of our success, that for many people it can be difficult to find fulfillment in the usual 9 – 5 grind. I wanted to explore the notion that what we do to earn money is not necessarily the most fulfilling or defining part of our lives.

And thirdly, I wanted to write an ode to introverts. I believe that the ways in which we measure success are inherently geared towards more extrovert qualities – being ‘go-getting,’ forceful, flamboyant are often synonyms for being ambitious, confident and assertive. Undressing Stone challenges this idea and explores some of the ways that introverts often struggle in a world that ignores or devalues the ways in which they express themselves and engage with the world. 

4Q: Our writing is like our children and asking you to pick your favorite is difficult, but backed into a corner, which novel was the most fun to write and why?

HM: A difficult question indeed! I believe that our first novel is like our first love – it will always hold a special place in the writer’s heart. Kanyakumari is very special for me for so many reasons. It opened the way for me to make a life as a writer. It is set in India which is a country that has called me back time and time again. And it explores themes which remain interesting to me – not least of which, what is ‘home?’

The Geranium Woman was hugely satisfying to write. It explores female leadership, and whether or not business can be a force for good. Both of great interest to me, and so pertinent themes in today’s world. Plus it was fun writing a woman with two lovers  

And of course, a writer should always love their most current book. I felt such a sense of loss when I finished writing Undressing Stone. I felt so at home in Sian’s world. And I loved writing the gothic-mystery element of the story.

4Q: Please share a childhood anecdote or memory with our readers.

HM: I was eight years old when I first became aware of a dream. It wasn’t an actual dream, but rather an image or an idea. A sense of story began to form in my imagination. I don’t know where it came from – perhaps from fairy-tales or from myths and legends. Or maybe it was just an eight-year-old’s expression of the mysteries inherent in growing up. In any case, the story began with a quest - a dark path winding off into some undefined future with something deeply profound – transformational even - at its end. Perhaps the quest was about becoming the adult I’d eventually be; finding wholeness, or finding home. I don’t know. I called it ‘The Search for the Big Orange Poetry Flower.’ I knew that I had to look for this flower and that my search would end in India. I like to think that this strange dream is why I set my first novel there – that Kanyakumari - the first book I wrote – was the flower that lay at the end of my quest. 

4Q: Please tell us about your writing habits. What works best for you?

HM: I always say that the job of a writer involves four things – writing, reading, thinking and marketing. I’m lucky enough to be able to write full-time. I don’t write every day but I do one or more of these four activities every weekday. I’ve always been a daydreamer and If I didn’t take the time to dream, to engage with ideas and themes, to explore, then I wouldn’t have stories to write. I see reading as integral to the job of a writer. To learn about what works and what doesn’t, to be inspired, to be surprised, to learn and grow as a writer. And of course marketing is important because I want people to read my stories, so I spend time networking, developing my social media platform, engaging with my readers.

When I write it is in long blocks of time – full days and often weeks at a time. I start with a theme that I want to explore and the story develops from there. I don’t usually know the ending of my books when I start writing them and this keeps me excited by the story. Often I like to immerse myself in one character – if I am writing a multi-viewpoint book I spend weeks – sometimes more - in just one point of view so that I can fully realize that particular character. And I spend a lot of time editing – I really enjoy that part of the process. 

An Excerpt from Undressing Stone

Prologue - Saint Vey, Rural France

Never let the internet make a decision for you.’ I can’t remember now what Arwel had been talking about, but not wanting to do his bidding, that’s exactly what I did. I, Sian Evans, a fifty-something divorcee moved from Cardiff to Saint Vay - a four-house hamlet tucked away in a forgotten corner of ancient France, perfect for farmers, old people and escapees. I went because the internet told me to. And I loved the fact that Arwel was furious
Good grief Sian, how can you possibly move there?!’ He had been adamant that living alone in rural France I’d immediately overdose or be eaten by French savages. At least there was no chance of the first occurrence, since I’d stopped taking my medication a month before and had no plans to resume. I didn’t tell Arwel that of course. My dear ex-husband, for reasons he would insist are motivated by my own good, would have been unimpressed. My shrink might have been less troubled - after all it’s partly his fault I went.

Where is home?’ That was the title of the on-line quiz that sent me here eleven months, three weeks and two days ago. The answer apparently, was France. “You’re chic and sophisticated,” the quiz proclaimed once I’d answered questions such

as which scene inspires me most (a picture of wine and cheese on a checked table-cloth) and which celebrity I’d date (I didn’t recognise any of them). “You can be introverted, but you enjoy good food and fine wine. You understand that life is short but you know how to savour it.” I wasn’t sure about the chic and sophisticated part, so Paris was out. Rural France it was.

Home. A small word but so cavernous. Home just now is my little cottage, the garden and the field behind. I’m sitting on an old wooden bench sipping a glass of wine as I typically do at sunset, the scent of wet leaves and wood-smoke suffusing the usual tirade of buzzings, twitterings and rustlings. The meadow as ever is a restless sea of live things: Crickets, gendarmes, chaffinches, pigeons, a little cat grey with a bent leg. Two big hares lope past occasionally cocking their long ears at the slightest sound, but I haven’t seen them tonight. And there are bats, small ones that fly out of the shadows at the turn of the day. All this life makes it impossible to be alone. I don’t feel restless though. It’s as though I’m at the still centre of it all. Or something like that.

The sun is setting. That isn’t a metaphor, it actually is setting. It’s that time of the evening when the trees turn black and spikey and the world takes on that melancholic sort of air, like it regrets the futility of the day’s exertions and wants to wallow in self-pity for a while. I like this time of day. Especially here. Strange to think it’s always sunset somewhere. When I first arrived, I used to try to work out when the sun would set in Wales. And in India. I don’t do that anymore. One sunset is all we can have at a time and it makes no sense to go chasing someone else’s. Mine, this evening is rather a dull affair, cold and not very colourful at all. ‘A glorious sunset,’ people say. Since I arrived I’ve been hoping for one worthy of the term, the kind that people who write and sometimes those who don’t, try to be poetic about by using too many adjectives. In any case, my sun has probably sunk behind the horizon now, it’s hard to tell because it’s cloudy. Again, not a metaphor although, being post-menopausal I can see how some might say I protest too much on that front.

Eleven months is more than long enough to acquire habits. I’ve acquired plenty since I arrived. And they’re not a French re-packaging of those I had in Cardiff. Back then, the first thing I’d do each morning was to dredge the night. Depending on how busy I’d been, this could take some time. Dreams, wakefulness, fears, worries, all the night time dwellers of an overactive mind would be excavated and picked over. I’d consider my discoveries, wary, mistrustful – whatever we try to suppress will come out in our dreams. I don’t do that anymore. I don’t need to. These days, either on waking, or on the now rare occasion that sleep has eluded me, on hearing the dawn chorus - the countryside is so noisy - I note my mind’s nocturnal output, and simply acknowledge it.

Photo by Robert Shortall
This morning, I woke with the birds, having left the shutters of my little cottage open. I lay in bed listening to amorous pigeons and twittery little things that were probably martins of some sort, competing with enthusiastic chaffinches whose elaborate warbling ends with the proclamation ‘it’s reeeeeal!’ Truth birds. I stretched languidly enjoying the warmth of my duvet in the early morning chill, and thought about coffee. It’s then that it occurred to me. I don’t think I dreamt it, not that I remember anyhow. It wasn’t a flash of inspiration either. Some residue from the shifting images of my recent sojourn in my head - or wherever we go when we sleep - something made me realize: I was finally naked under my clothes.

To discover more about Hazel and her novels, please follow these links.

Thank you Hazel for being our guest this week. All the best with your writing.

HM: Thank you so much for featuring me and my work, your questions were so interesting – I loved thinking about them and how to answer.

A special thank you to my visitors and readers. Please leave a comment, don't be shy. Click on the comment link below.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Guest Author Stephen Bentley of the Philippines, formerly of the UK.

Who can tell a detective story better than a former policeman, or a trial lawyer? Stephen Bentley has been both. He is kind enough to be our guest this a week, sharing his thoughts in a 4Q Interview and sharing an excerpt from his newest novel - Rivers of Blood.

Stephen Bentley is a former UK police Detective Sergeant and barrister (criminal trial attorney). He is now a freelance writer and an occasional contributor to Huffington Post UK on undercover policing.
His memoir 'Undercover: Operation Julie - The Inside Story' is a frank account of his undercover detective experiences during Operation Julie - an elite group of detectives who successfully investigated one of the world's largest drug rings.
Stephen also writes crime fiction in a fast-paced plot-driven style including the fictional Steve Regan Undercover Cop Series.
When he isn't writing, Stephen follows the (mis)fortunes of Liverpool Football Club from afar and relaxes on the beaches of the Philippines with his family where he now lives. 

He would like you to know that he will donate a portion of all book sales royalties to the James Bulger Memorial Trust, a UK registered charity.

Website and Social Media
You may find him on Twitter as
Connect with him at

4Q: Tell us about Steve Regan, the Undercover Cop.

SB: Before I do, may I just correct one thing. Rivers of Blood is not novel length. All three books in the series are novellas designed to tell a story at its natural length.

Regan? He is not me. You need to read one of my answers below to grasp the meaning of that. He’s British, hails from Liverpool and has that typical humor common in that city. He detests routine, paperwork and bureaucracy.

He was a regular detective before becoming an undercover agent, infiltrating OCG’s – organized crime gangs with a regular police department. His fine undercover skills bring him to the notice of a secret UK government department.

Regan drinks beer, smokes cigarettes and likes the ladies. They also like him. Owing to the nature of his work, he is unafraid to take risks and go out on a limb.

He’s nobody’s fool and recognizes one of the hazards of his work – identity confusion. The somewhat controversial title of Book 1 in the series is a nod to that state of mind but expressed graphically.

4Q:Two of your books are now available in audiobook format. Do you think listening rather than reading adds anything to the enjoyment of a book?

SB: Yes, I do have an opinion on this. My first book in the Steve Regan series was also my first fiction book. I must confess, with the benefit of hindsight, I could have started it in better fashion such as more action. Some early reader reviews justifiably did mention that. Yet, the thing is with the audiobook version, the listener seems not to be bothered by that as they are fascinated with the excellent narration of my story.
It intrigues me as it seems to be the case when we read, we “hear” our voice. Now, that inner voice may not be doing justice to the written word. But put those same words into the mouth of a professional narrator and it holds the listener’s attention.

4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote with us.

I was about six and sports crazy even then. My teacher asked a question of the class: “how many seasons of the year are there?”

I can tell you my hand was first up. The teacher said, “Stephen, what is your answer?” Proudly and confidently, I replied, “Two, Miss.”

Two?” she queried looking puzzled, “and what may they be?”

Football and cricket, Miss.”

The teacher belly laughed. I did not know why or understand until she said, “Good answer, but what about winter, spring, summer, and autumn (fall)?”

The penny dropped. My first real taste of embarrassment. In her wisdom, she related this story to my parents. I was reminded of it for many years at family gatherings.

4Q: Rivers of Blood is the third book in the Undercover Cop series. Tell us about the first two books.

SB: Book 1 Who The F*ck Am I? sees Regan infiltrating a worldwide drug ring. The opening mirrors my own factual experiences on Operation Julie, Britain’s biggest drug bust.

In real life and while undercover, I met a Mafia-connected gangster who involved me, the undercover cop, in a conspiracy to import huge amounts of cocaine into the UK from Bolivia via Miami.

The gangster was reported to have been dealt with by the DEA and sentenced to a 25-year prison sentence. But was he?

Moving from fact to fiction in Book 1, Regan is tempted to cross the line, go rogue as he needs money to help his mother who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

This leads him into infiltrating a South American/Miami-based cartel. Regan gets involved in one deal with a drug lord.

But is everyone who they say they are?

I wrote about my real undercover days in Undercover: Operation Julie – The Inside Story.

Book 2, Dilemma sees Regan back and this time he’s alone and undercover in a seedy area of Thailand on the trail of a Texan expatriate, Les Watkins, the biggest drug smuggler in South East Asia.

Using himself as the bait, Regan attempts to score a $50,000 deal with the Thai mafia in an effort to get closer to his target.

As he finds himself embroiled deeper into the operation, Regan suspects Watkins may be connected to Regan's nemesis, ruthless Mafia boss Carlo Vitale, who has fled the United States following a triple bombing and assassination of three crime family heads.

Besides staying alive, Regan has other problems when he suddenly finds himself facing the worst dilemma an undercover cop can face.

Excerpt from Rivers of Blood, Book 3 Steve Regan Undercover Cop now on pre-order (release date March 1 2019) 

I offered coffee. They got mugs from the kitchen and poured coffee for themselves and topped up mine. They were both relaxed. I liked that. Relaxed in manner and dress. Both wore loud Hawaiian-style shirts and blue jeans. Both sported tans befitting any true-blue Aussie. They didn’t look or act like cops. I was now also relaxed. I knew I was with good guys, professionals.
You got the recording device?” Kenny spoke again.
Yes, and it’s working,” I said.
Just one thing,” said Wally.
What’s that?” I asked.
You think it best if you are tooled up when you meet this guy?” Wally said.
Yeah, I do. For two reasons. One, I’m a hitman. Two, I got insurance if it all goes to shit,” I said.
Wally handed me a 9mm semi-automatic. I checked it out. There was thirteen in the clip and nothing in the chamber. I slipped the safety on and stuck it into the shoulder holster Wally gave me.
Okay.” I said, “I’m as ready as I’m going to be. Let’s do it.”
Wally drove once more with Kenny as front passenger. I sat in the rear. We drove for about twenty minutes to a large sports stadium. He parked on the huge but empty car park.
We waited. I had a sudden thought.
Does this fucking informant know who I am?”
He has no idea. He doesn’t even know we are cops. That’s how we know he’s a top-class reliable informant. He reports back to his handler talking about us two as bad guys.”
Cool!” I said.
A six-foot five-inch giant strode toward the car. “That’s him,” Wally said. I was happy I was tooled-up. This guy could be a handful if it all went down the pan.
The giant rapped on Kenny’s window with knuckles the size of golf balls. I saw the swastika tattoo on the back of his hand. Kenny hit the power button and the window slid down silently.
The giant spoke, “Let’s talk over there.” He pointed towards an old trestle table and some plastic chairs probably left there by someone who had set up a hotdog stall on the car park.
The four of us sat down. Wally spoke first, “Brad, this is the guy I was telling you about. He’s a pro and out-of-town.”
Brad looked at me and said, “Got a name?”
I got one, thanks. All you need to know is I’m Mr. Smith. You can call me John.”
Brad said, “John Smith?”
Yeah. You have a problem with that?”
No, not so far.”
Brad paused before saying, “I got to check you over. Make sure you’re not wearing a wire. Okay?”
Please yourself,” I said. Brad patted me down, checked the small of my back then said, “Drop yer pants.”
I unfastened my belt, unzipped my jeans and dropped them to my knees. “Satisfied? Or maybe you want to see my dick?”
Brad showed no emotion. He said, “Yeah, satisfied. Can’t be too sure these days. Feds everywhere.” It was hard not to smile.
Brad spoke again, “Right, you come with me. I’ll introduce you to the man who’s going to fund the contract. You two can fuck off now. Thanks for bringing him here.”
Kenny and Wally walked over to the car and drove off leaving Brad and me alone on the car park. ‘This is where the fun starts,’ I thought. I was right.
No sooner had Kenny and Wally driven off, a blue pick-up truck drove on to the car park and stopped next to us. Two skinheads jumped out. One pinned my arms back and the other shoved a bag over my head. It was black and made of cloth. It stunk of petrol. I couldn’t see a thing. Both skinheads bundled me into the rear seat of the truck. I could feel my gun removed from the holster I was wearing. I sat and didn’t make a sound. I heard someone say, “Get this fucking ute moving. Let’s go!” I knew a ‘ute’ was Strine for a utility vehicle or pick-up truck.
I reckon it was twenty minutes before we pulled up and the driver turned off the engine. I heard the rear passenger door open and I was pulled out of the truck. I still couldn’t see a thing. I heard a door opened. It sounded like a big door on industrial or retail premises unlike a house door. I heard it close behind me with a clang confirming I wasn’t in someone’s home. I could feel a hand in the small of my back; it pushed me, propelling me a few yards until I felt hands on my shoulders. I was twisted to walk in a new direction. This all reminded me of the game we used to play as kids, blindman’s bluff, but this was no game. I could smell cigarette smoke. I stumbled over something and the hands pushed me down. I was now sat on the chair that I had stumbled on a few seconds earlier. Then I could see. The black cloth bag had been whipped from my head.
I saw him sat behind a large desk. The desk was between the two of us. I guess Brad and the skinheads were stood behind me somewhere. I couldn’t see anyone except the man behind the desk. He spoke.
Do you know who I am?” He asked.
No idea,” I replied.
Good. I’m told you can get rid of someone for us.”
I can get rid of anyone you want if the price is right. That’s what I do.”
You can call me Pat,” said the man behind the desk. He was about forty years old. He was either bald or had shaved off all his hair. It was difficult to tell which. He had a full beard that ran down to his chest but no moustache. He shaved above his upper lip. I noticed more than anything his cold, blue eyes. Pat stubbed out a cigarette into a large metal ashtray perched on top of the desk. It was next to a telephone. ‘That reminds me.’ I thought.
Mind if I smoke?”
Pat nodded. I was relieved. I got out one cigarette from my pack and pulled out ‘Jack’s’ lighter. I pressed the small button on the base and ignited the lighter. I lit my cigarette. 

This is the conversation recorded and later transcribed for evidential purposes:
Pat: “You were saying. So? what’s the right price?”
Me: “Depends.”
Pat: “On what?”
Me: “Is the target high or low profile?”
Pat: ‘He’s high profile. A politician we must eliminate before our country is fucking ruined.”
Me: “I don’t care about politics. It’s just work to me. But it presents more risks if he’s a politician. More risks to me, that is.”
Pat: “How much then?”
Me: “Twenty plus expenses.”
Pat whistles.
Pat: “Thousand?”
Me: “Yes.”
Pat: “That’s three months’ profits from our grow.”
Me: “It’s up to you. You’re hiring. Not me.”
Pat: “You’re a cool dude.”
Me: “It’s what keeps me alive.”
Pat: “How would you do it?”
Me: “I don’t know yet who you want hit.”
Pat: “Paul Carter.”
Me: “And…?”
Pat: “And what?”
Me. Who is he exactly?”
Pat: “A government minister, a high-up.”
Me: “I’ll need to scope him. Get to know his movements, even when he takes a dump. Only then will I know the best way to rub him out. I take it you do want him dead?”
Pat: “Sure do. Him and all the other mother-fuckers too. They are all too soft on abbos, Vietnamese, all the other coloured immigrants. This is a white country and will always be white if we’ve got anything to do with it. White is might. White is right.”
I felt myself shudder but it didn’t show. I said, “Right. We have a deal. Twenty thousand and five expenses.”
Pat: “Five?”
Me: “Yeah five. Business class return, good hotel to lie low, sundry expenses. All paid by wire to my offshore account. Fifty percent down and the rest when the job’s done.”
Pat: “So that’s twenty-five total. Twelve and a half up front?”
Me: “That’s right. Here’s my card with my bank details. Get rid of it after you have paid me in full.”
Pat looked at the business card.
Pat: “John Smith?”
Me: “Yes, that’s me. If we’re finished, which we are, then maybe one of your helpers can drop me off in the city?”
Pat: “No problem. Brad, you heard the man.”
Me: “One more thing. Gun please.”
Pat handed the gun back to me and I slid it back in the shoulder holster

End of Excerpt

Universal Book Links to Rivers of Blood
Amazon Kindle
All other eBook formats at Books2Read

Thank you, Stephen, for being our guest this week. All the best with your writing.

SB It was great and I really enjoyed it, Thank you for the opportunity.