Monday, 1 July 2013

Debut Spotlight: Isabella Connor

Today's debut spotlight feature is on Isabella Connor the pen name of writing duo Liv Thomas and Val Olteanu.  Their debut novel, Beneath an Irish Sky, is due to be published by Choc-Lit on 7th August.  

The past is never over ...

Jack Stewart thought he'd put the past behind him. On the surface, he has everything - success, money, a big house and he is never short of an attractive woman by his side, but a tragic road accident shatters his world.

Raised as an Irish Traveller, Luke Kiernan hasn't had it easy, and when he wakes in a Dublin hospital to find the man he's hated since childhood at his bedside, he's hungry for revenge.

Two very different worlds collide, bringing new dangers, exposing past deceits, and unearthing dark family secrets buried long ago. But from tragedy springs the promise of a fresh start with two women who are intent on helping Jack and Luke mend their lives.

Can new love heal old wounds, or are some scars there for good?

So let's find out a little more about Liv and Val...

Liv Thomas was born and raised in the South of England.  She always had the dream of becoming a writer, but never had the confidence to pursue it completely.  After positive responses to Lord of the Rings fan-fiction, she decided it was time to make the dream a reality.

Wife and mum, Liv works for the NHS, and is employed at the hospital which first featured in Channel 4's One Born Every Minute.  Liv has travelled extensively, and as far afield as the United States and the Caribbean, without setting foot on an aeroplane as she has a fear of flying.

Find Liv on Twitter or visit her website.

Val Olteanu grew up in Scotland, and her childhood ambitions were to travel and to be a writer.  After studying English and Art History at the University of Glasgow, she moved to London where she worked in the Literature Department of the Arts Council England.

Some years later, she decided to teach English and see the world.  She lived and worked in Croatia, the West Bank, and Mexico, before settling with her husband in Canada.  She is currently an adult educator in Burnaby, British Colombia.

Find Val on Twitter.

Can you tell us a little bit about Beneath an Irish Sky?
Liv – Beneath An Irish Sky is mainly about a young Irish Traveller and his integration into a wealthy English family, and subsequently, twenty years of lies and deceit being uncovered.

Val – Setting, including both place and status, is very important in the novel. One character is Irish, one is English. One is wealthy, one has grown up with very little. There’s a clash of values and culture. Dublin, Ennis, Limerick, and Glendalough, are used for the Irish settings, but we created our own fictional English location, based in Cheshire. There are four traditional villages – Baronsmere, Baronswood, Hadleigh, and Marsham – and we’re planning a series of four novels, each novel set in a different village with mostly different characters.

Where did the inspiration come from for Beneath an Irish Sky?

Liv – I have no idea. It just landed in my brain at a time when I knew little about Travellers and had never even given them much thought. Although the story developed a lot, especially after collaborating with Val, the basic plot, and the names of the characters, came into my mind as instantly as if I were reading about them in a newspaper.

Which comes first, the characters or the plot?
Liv - The character of the Irish Traveller Luke came first. The plot was built around him as an outsider, coming into a small village, and turning everything on its head.

Are you able to give us a hint as to what your next novel is about?
Liv – Revenge...
Val – …something most people have felt a desire for at some point in their lives.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Liv – Yes, but I never thought it would happen – you hear all the time about how hard it is to break into that world, and how many rejections great authors have had.

Val – Yes. As a child, I used to co-write stories with my best friend, Liz, so being published now is a dream come true. 

Have you ever had writer’s block? And how did you overcome it?
Liv – I generally have no problem with plot, only with putting it together. If I’m not functioning well in that department, I just script it like a play, then go back and fill in later.

Val – Having a co-author means there’s very little writer’s block. If I’m stuck with something, Liv usually has a solution, and vice versa. Sometimes, though, if a scene is tricky, I’ll move forward in the plot and write something else. A bit of time and distance works wonders.


If you weren’t a writer, what career path would you have chosen to follow?
Liv – I already chose a path in clerical/secretarial work, which I’ve done since leaving school, quite a few moons ago. If I had my time over, I’d like to do something in medicine. Maybe midwifery. I also had a hankering to do hotel reception at one point.

Val – I have a full-time job, in addition to writing. Many writers have to juggle both, and it can be a challenge. I’m a teacher, and I love my job. However, preparing lessons and marking essays does eat into my writing time. Not to mention draining creativity.


Being a writer appears to be such a solitary lifestyle, especially when you’re in the midst of
writing, so do you consider the influence of social Media, Facebook and Twitter, a blessing or a hindrance?

Liv – I love Twitter, Facebook less so, as it’s harder to keep up, but they are more of a blessing than a hindrance, and I often neglect both because of time constraints. Twitter can be both useful professionally because of contacts and advice on writing, and entertaining socially. At least one of my Twitter followers, I’d class as a very good friend now.

How long did it take you to get your first book published?

Liv – From submission to publication will be 20 months, but writing the book took around six years. Partly because we were on a roll, and churned out 240,000 words, before being told it was way too long, so we had to chop it in half. The first publisher we approached was Choc Lit because they specifically ask for the male character’s point of view in their novels, and Beneath An Irish Sky fitted that doubly well, as we had concentrated on two male POVs.

Do you have a set daily writing routine?

Val – I live in Canada, and Liv is in the UK, so our collaborative writing has to work around the different time zones. We’ll often catch up, plan, and revise via telephone at the weekends when neither of us is working. Email is a godsend, too. We each choose scenes to write and then send it to the other for editing and comment. We have a colour-coded system for comments.

How hard is it to keep coming up with fresh ideas for new books?

Liv – Not hard yet, because it’s all new. It will probably get much harder. I tend to see stories in all sorts of day-to-day events. Last week I found a letter on the ground, which I mailed. Then I wondered what would happen if the sender was actually returning home with it, having changed their mind about sending it because it had been written in anger...

Would you say that any of your characters are like you? If so, which one(s)?
Liv – I think it would be more accurate to say that I’d like to be like them, although they will probably share certain characteristics of mine.

Val – In Beneath an Irish Sky, one of the female characters, Emer, is a counsellor and she’s a woman who seems to have all her ducks in a row. I’d love to be like her, but I’m not. One of the male characters, Jack, carries my uncertainties and desire to please people. I think there’s often a bit of wish fulfilment and personal revelation in characters, but often usually a combination of traits from people encountered in real life.

If you could write another style of genre, what would it be and why?
Liv – Probably fantasy/paranormal – something that would really stretch the imagination, but which would be unconfined by the restraints of realism.

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?

Liv – Believe in yourself, and write what you would like to read.

Val – Never stop learning about the craft of writing. Also, inform yourself about what particular publishers are looking for.

If you could invite any three authors, alive or dead, to a dinner party who would you choose and why?
Liv – As I’m only allowed three, I’m not including any Choc Lit authors. Patricia Scanlan, Tolkien, and Terry Pratchett. I love Ireland, and I love books by Patricia Scanlan, as you can really get your teeth into them; Tolkien created the most amazing world (and it’s thanks to him I’m a writer, as I met Val O on a LOTR forum); and Terry Pratchett just has the most amazing sense of humour.

Val – I’m a big fan of poetry, so Seamus Heaney is a must. A wise, talented, yet still humble man. I’d invite George R R Martin so I could grill him for spoilers on his next instalment of ‘Game of Thrones,’ which I love. And Daphne Du Maurier would have to be there. The magic and mystery and sense of place in her novels have influenced me so much. We’d all have dinner in Menabilly in her honour.

Do you have much spare time to read books? If so, what was the last book you read or what are you currently reading?
Liv – I’m re-reading Ken Follett’s World Without End to compare it to the TV series, and I just finished Jane Lovering’s Please Don’t Stop the Music, which was a great read. I’ve never yet been disappointed in a Choc Lit book.

Val – I believe reading is essential for writers, so it’s something I always fit into my schedule. I’ve just finished Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure by Joanne Harris, and I might just re-read it again immediately. Her main character Vianne Rocher has appeared in 3 novels so far, and she is so intriguing.

Do you prefer to read physical copies of books or e-books?

Liv – I love my Kindle, but you can’t beat a real book.

Val – I don’t have a preference. However, I’m running out of shelf space in my house, so I buy physical books when I know I will read them again or need to refer to them (like ‘how to’ books on writing).

If you could have any of your books made into a film, which one would you choose and why?  Who would you cast in the leading roles?
Liv – Everyone who has read Beneath an Irish Sky in draft form has said they can see it as a TV series. The lead character of Luke would be a cross between a young Joe McFadden and Robert Sheehan. We originally saw Sean Bean as the character of Jack, but Daniel Craig is up for it now. Lucy Brown is physically perfect for Emer Sullivan but may not have the right accent. Jonas Armstrong has always, in both our minds, been the character of Matthew.

If you were going to be stuck on a desert island and could only take 3 books with you, which ones would you choose?
Liv - Pillars of the Earth, Lord of the Rings (can I count that as one?), and the box set of Harry Potter. I would hate to be restricted to three, and it would be very frustrating to only have books I’d already read!

Val – Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Can you describe Beneath an Irish Sky in 20 words or less?
Liv – Different worlds collide when a young Irish Traveller confronts the wealthy family he believes rejected his mother.


  1. I like the sound of this book and look forward to reading it.

  2. Can't wait to read the book and fascinating to find out more about you both and how you make writing together work so well

  3. Great interview and the books sounds intriguing :o)

  4. Many thanks for inviting us to be on your blog, Sharon. And thanks Georgina/Angela/Karen for your nice comments.

    I must admit, having a writing partner is like being one half of a pantomime horse. (I'll let others decide which half).

    Liv x

  5. I read the first two chapters of BAIS the other day and CAN NOT wait to see what happens. Excellent, girls, you should be very proud xx

  6. Hats off to both of you - I don't know how you do it, but I'm glad you have as it sounds so intriguing!

  7. I can't wait to read your novel, Val and Liv; it sounds the sort of book I love :-)

  8. Thank you for posting this. It was really interesting to hear how you work in collaboration. And I love the idea of a quadrilogy!

  9. I don't know how you manage it either! Am in awe. So can't wait to read it! Sx