I’m excited and honoured to welcome Lorraine Mace, talented author of both crime fiction for adults and children’s books. You might also know her as Frances di Plino. I’ll let Lorraine explain things in her own wonderful way. I’m also delighted to add that there is an extract from Vlad the Inhaler after the interview. Please see the links below for more information and click on the covers to purchase the books.
What are the main ideas or themes in your book?
Writing as Lorraine Mace, I am a children’s author and my debut novel, Vlad the Inhaler deals with some of the issues that many children face on a daily basis. My main character is different and of mixed blood – being half human and half vampire. He doesn’t fit into either species because he is a hupyre (pronounced hew-pire). To add to his woes, he is asthmatic, vegetarian, can’t turn into a bat and is scared of the dark. He is viciously bullied by his bigger full vampire cousins and is an unlikely hero. However, it is down to him to save everyone else from a reign of terror.
As Frances di Plino, I write crime and in my novels I try to get into the heads of those committing crimes, as well as those trying to put them behind bars. I firmly believe no one is all good or all bad, so want my characters to show that complexity. In every villain there is a nugget of humanity and in every ‘good guy’ there are aspects of the villain. We all have things in our lives we wish we hadn’t done, for whatever reason, and hope no one will find out about. I want my characters to have multi-layered personalities – good and bad.
Tell us more about the main characters and their dilemmas.
I’ve explained Vlad above, so will concentrate here on the main character in my crime novels. Paolo Storey’s father was Scottish and his mother Italian. He is fiercely on the side of the underdog and believes in justice above all things. He lost one of his daughters in a hit and run attack meant for him and cannot forgive himself for it. He is very close to his remaining daughter and on (just about) speaking terms with his ex-wife. He’s intelligent, kind-hearted, and I’m more than a little in love with him.
Why did you write Vlad the Inhaler? Any other issues or ‘big ideas’ behind it.
I was bullied very badly at school and know how it feels to be the outsider who doesn’t really fit in. I wanted to take that feeling and make the child in me deal with those problems in a way I couldn’t at the time. I decided to use a fantasy character because I wanted my young readers to enjoy the story and not feel they were being instructed in any way. The children who have read Vlad seem to love the story. When I did a reading recently, before I began, I explained all Vlad’s problems and I was delighted when one of the children put up her hand and said: he’s just like us!
How do you go about writing a novel? Is it a simple or complex process?
It’s a simple process in that I set word count targets for each day, week and month until the first draft is complete. The complex part is convincing myself to knuckle down and write the words I can hear so clearly in my head. I generally start out with the full plot already formed and have to break it down into manageable scenes so that it makes sense. I tend to come up with the main idea fully formed: knowing who does what, why they do it and how the book will end. That’s the easy part. Fleshing out the characters, adding in subplots and layers is the complex part.
I’ve now had three crime novels and one children’s book published, so I must be doing something right!
What advice do you have for less experienced writers?
Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite until you cannot bear to look at the manuscript – and then rewrite again.
What are you working on next?
I’ve just had the second in my children’s trilogy accepted by my USA publisher, so it’s time to switch back to the slightly scarier Frances di Plino persona and finish the fourth in the D.I. Paolo Storey series, Looking for a Reason.
If you could leave a message to the world, what would it be?
We need to invent a troll decontaminator. Trolls infect so much of our online lives, looking for victims to attack for no other purpose than to make someone’s life miserable. I’d love scientists to come up with an electronic zapper that turned trolls into decent human beings.
What would your perfect day be?
An entire day reading at the side of the pool, diving in for refreshing swims when the sun gets too hot. Meals and drinks brought to me by an otherwise invisible attendant. No work, no phone, no distractions, just a full day of me time. I’ve never had one, so if you could wave a wand and arrange for it to take place, I would be forever in your debt.
Name a book or a film that means a lot to you.
Cinema Paradiso – I first saw it twenty-odd years ago, but even after all this time, the theme and storyline still move me to tears.
Thanks Lorraine. I can thoroughly recommend the DI Paolo Storey series to anyone who loves crime fiction with a dark edge, and I’m looking forward to reading the brilliantly titled Vlad the Inhaler. Good luck with all future writing projects, Lorraine.
Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer’s ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.
Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, was published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.
Writing as Frances di Plino,she is the author of the crime/thriller series featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending.
Writing Critique Service
Frances di Plino
For anyone interested, here is the opening scene from Vlad the Inhaler, aimed at 8-12 year olds.
Vlad had never known such hunger. Weak with longing, he was driven insane by the smell of the ripe flesh he held in his shaking hands. He let his fangs pierce the soft downy skin and sank to his knees. Nothing had ever tasted as wonderful as this; knowing it was forbidden added to the sensation. He closed his eyes and bit deeper, filling his mouth with the sweet fluid.
The bedroom door flew open, hitting the stone wall with such force windows rattled, spiders scuttled back to their cobwebs and half the candles blew out.
Aunt Valentyna towered above him, red eyes glaring, jet black hair standing on end, and ruby lips curled into a snarl.
“I knew it!” she thundered. “I knew you were doing something disgusting. What exactly are you eating, you repulsive excuse for a child?”
Vlad choked and dropped his feast, splattering flesh on the flagstone floor.
“Well, I’m waiting. What is that?” his aunt demanded, touching the half-eaten peach with the pointed toe of her shoe before reaching down to pick it up.
Vlad could feel the juice dripping from his chin and wished he’d eaten faster. His stomach ached. In the last four days he’d only had an apple and a banana. The peach was the last of his human food. He flinched as she grabbed him by the collar. Although he kicked and wriggled, she lifted him with one hand as if he weighed no more than a bat’s wing.
“Can’t fly, can’t drink blood, and can’t even breathe half the time. No wonder your parents hid you away. Imagine the disgrace of bringing a hupyre into the family. What a pathetic specimen you are. I’d have had you put down at birth.” She threw the remains of the peach out of the window. “Well, you disgusting half-breed, what was that revolting object?”
Vlad tried to answer, but it felt as though someone had stuffed cotton wool down his throat. He couldn’t drag his eyes from the points of her fangs. Tears of frustration slid down his face. Gasping, he tried again.
“P … p … p …”
“What? What did you say?”
“P … p … peach.”
“Disgusting,” she said, and flung him across the room.
Thudding against his bed, he scrambled round to face her. Looking up at his furious aunt, he tried to control his wheezing. Desperately, he struggled to breathe out. His mouth opened and closed, but he couldn’t drag any air into his swollen lungs. The more he panicked, the harder it was to breathe.
“Stop making that pathetic noise, right now! How many times do I have to tell you that vampires don’t get asthma? Where did you get that … that thing?” she demanded. “If it was one of the servants …”
Valentyna left the sentence unfinished, but Vlad knew what she meant and shivered. The last servant who’d tried to help him had joined the family for a feast. As the main course.
“C … c … cupboard. Hid … fruit … there.”
She yanked open the wardrobe door and dragged everything out. Clothes flew across the room and landed in a heap on the floor.
“If I find so much as a mouldy grape, out the window it goes, and you’ll go with it. A disgrace to the vampire heritage, that’s what you are. What’s wrong with normal food?” she scolded, snatching up the glass of congealed blood from his bedside table.
As she waved it under his nose the thick sludge broke through the skin that had formed on top and Vlad’s stomach heaved.
“You’ve let this get cold. What a waste of fine food. I’m going to bring some fresh blood and stand over you until every drop has gone.”
She raised her hand and leant forward, sneering. Her long, curved incisors gleamed in the candlelight. Vlad shrank back, hands over his head waiting for the slap. But it didn’t come. Valentyna laughed and slammed the door as she left.