Paul Butler – update on a new novel

Thanks for this, Susan!

Reading Recommendations

Paul Butler was previously promoted on Reading Recommendations in Sept. 2014 and Jan. 2015. He’s back now to tell us about a new novel that’s been published.

The Widow’s Fire
by Paul F. Butler
Published by Inanna Publication

The Widow’s Fire explores the shadow side of Jane Austen’s final novel Persuasion, disrupting its happy ending and throwing moral certainties off balance. We join the action close to the moment when Austen draws away for the last time and discretely gives an overview of the oncoming marriage between heroine Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. This, it transpires in The Widow’s Fire, is merely the beginning of a journey. Soon dark undercurrents disturb the order and symmetry of Austen’s world. The gothic flavor of the period, usually satirized by Austen, begins to assert itself. Characters far below the notice of Anne, a baronet’s daughter, have agendas of their own…

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The Widow’s Fire Update

Dear HB Creativity Clients and Friends,

In the coming months, I will be traveling to promote The Widow’s Fire, a novel exploring the shadow side of Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion. I hope to see some of you at the events listed below!

The Widow's Fire


Toronto: Inanna Publication’s spring book launch at Glad Day Bookshop, Church Street, Toronto, between 6:00-8:30pm, May 24. Full line-up: Sky Curtis, author of Flush; Lucy E.M. Black, author of The Marzipan Fruit Basket, Ursula Pflug, author of Mountain, Paul Butler, author of The Widow’s Fire, and Sonia Saikaley, author of A Pink Samurai’s House. With special guest jazz pianist Patrick Hewan.

New Brunswick

Fredericton: Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs annual conference, University of New Brunswick, presentation, Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation in Historical Fiction, June 10

Reading (with Mary Corkery and Sky Curtis) at Westminster Books, Fredericton, 4:00-5:30pm., June 12


Edmonton: Reading at Audrey’s Books, June 27, 7.00 pm.

Lethbridge: Reading at Word on the Street, September 23, time TBA

British Columbia

Vancouver: Spoken Ink Reading (with Susan McCaslin) at Deer Lake Gallery, Burnaby, June 20, 8 – 9:30 pm

California, USA

Presenter, Jane Austen Society of North America, annual conference, Huntington Beach, October 5 – October 8. Presentation title: Updating Jane Austen’s Morality in 21st Century Fiction (time TBA).

I am continuing to accept very small numbers of clients for the online course, but places will be limited.

The Widow’s Fire update


Upcoming Events for The Widow’s Fire (2017)

  • May 24, Glad Day Books, 499 Church Street, Toronto, Inanna Spring Book Launch, 6 – 8.30 pm
  • Race, Gender & Sexual Orientation in Historical Fiction presentation at the Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs CCWWP Conference, Fredericton, June 9 -11 (time TBA)
  • June 12, Westminster Books, Fredericton, reading, 4 – 5:30. pm.
  • June 27, Audrey’s Books, Edmonton, reading, 7.00. pm.
  • September 23, Word on the Street, Lethbridge, Alberta, reading, time TBA.
  • 2017 JASNA AGM, Huntington Beach, California, Jane Austen in Paradise: Intimations of Immortality, presentation: Updating Jane’s Morality in 21st Century Fiction October 5 – 8.

More events will be added as they are arranged.

Instant Hook Writing Contest Results

I’m delighted to announce the winners and runners up of the 2016-17 Instant Hook Writing Contest. It was a very strong year indeed with over a hundred entries. A sincere thank you to all entrants for taking part and sharing their works-in-progress.

Winner: Bianca Lakoseljac (Ontario) Where the Sidewalk Ends

This entry grips the reader immediately as a romantically-involved couple encounter a street artist at sunset and the reader senses a gulf opening up between them. The story promises to reveal a great deal about the all the characters, and a touch of mysticism is very persuasively suggested through a heightened sensory awareness. Subtle, compelling, and economical, this is a thoroughly accomplished piece of writing.

Two runners-up (in alphabetical order):

Lea Storry (Alberta)  Me, You and Here

This very assured opening places the reader inside a relationship between a woman and man who must wait out a storm while on a canoeing expedition. The strength of the writer’s voice is particularly impressive as the protagonist claims reader intimacy to great effect. We feel a complex, layered past and well-delineated lines of conflict deep in the fabric of the prose.

Shawna Troke-Leukert (Newfoundland and Labrador) Forgive

This opening reveals a highly impressive mastery of plot as a woman entrusted with the care of a minor sees catastrophe unfold. The author effectively brings many crucial story elements —  very high stakes, dread of the future, just enough backstory — into play in the opening 300 words. There is a great deal going on but we experience it all properly without feeling that we’ve been told.

NOTE: There were many very worthy pieces of work which did not make the final shortlist. A short adjudication was written for each of the entries. Feel free to ask for this should you wish to receive this feedback.


Upcoming Events

The Widow's Fire

Events for The Widow’s Fire (2017)

  • June 12, Westminster Books, Fredericton, reading, 4 – 5:30. pm.
  • June 27, Audrey’s Books, Edmonton, reading, 7.00. pm.
  • September 23rd, Word on the Street, Lethbridge, Alberta, reading, time TBA.
  • 2017 JASNA AGM, Huntington Beach, California, Jane Austen in Paradise: Intimations of Immortality, presentation: Updating Jane’s Morality in 21st Century Fiction October 5 – 8.

More events will be added as they are arranged. See “About” page.

Quick update for the Instant Hook Writing Contest: large numbers of entries have slowed the adjudication process, but I will have notified a winner and runners up before the end of March. Many thanks for your patience!



Placed-Based Crime: Q & A with Susan M. Toy

Setting is often one of the most fascinating aspects of a crime novel. Sherlock Holmes would not have been the same without London, its hansom cabs, its street gangs, and its sharp division between the capital’s east and west ends. More recently, Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels shoulder the history of Edinburgh, with its pubs, its narrow streets, and its seedy antiquity living on into the 21st century.

Anne Cleeves’s Jimmy Perez novels exemplify another kind of place-based crime fiction. Most of us in the English-speaking world have heard of Shetland, but very few people have set foot on the northern Scottish Isle. Placing a story in a location that is real yet quite remote has both advantages and challenges for the author.

This issue is the natural starting point for a Q & A with Canadian-born author Susan M. Toy, whose racy and compelling novel, Island in the Clouds, I’ve recently had the immense pleasure to read.

Island in the Clouds is part of Susan’s Bequia Perspectives series. A second novel, One Woman’s Island, is also set in the not-so-well-known Caribbean island where Susan has  resided for much of her life.


Question: I find it intriguing the way that you set up Bequia in the prologue as an island where the ex-pat populations of various countries converge and create a society of mysterious characters with shady pasts, “bogus German barons” etc. Is this, the ability to create a landscape half fictional, half real, one of the advantages of writing about a place you know well but not so many others do?

Susan’s Answer. Interesting question. Structurally, that Prologue began life as Chapter 2 in the novel. An editor suggested that placement brought the story to a halt and I should cut it completely, but I felt readers needed some backstory and information about a place they likely would not have heard about before, and I didn’t think I could weave all that seamlessly into the story. My decision to make this the prologue went against the advice of a couple of other writers and editors I consulted, but my main editor agreed with this decision so I went ahead and beefed up the information even more. Only one reviewer has taken me to task so far for including what she considered to be too long a prologue. As for your question … since moving to Bequia in 1996 I’ve always been a big booster of the place, although my love for it is now more bitter-sweet with the passing of time, and as more of the reality of life in “paradise” reveals itself. There is a great deal that’s fictional in my writing, but so much has gone on here over the years and we’ve met so many real-life “characters” that it’s difficult, and often not necessary, to make up stories. (In fact, I often say when I hear about something unbelievable that’s happened, “I just can’t make that up!”) So I guess I walk a fine line between revealing too much that’s factual, thereby angering people involved, and making up too much, and having those who know Bequia claim, “That’s not how it is!” Aritha van Herk once said in a workshop that “the best writers are translators rather than inventors,” so while I do need to “imagine” a Bequia that in many ways doesn’t completely exist, I still feel it’s my duty to use the backdrop I have here, to “translate” Bequia, and make my story as realistic as possible, for the sake of my readers.

Question: I was impressed by many lines describing Bequia, particularly touches like, “The sky was already eye-piercing, clear blue”..You capture the beauty of the place and those things you find irresistible. You describe Bequia in your prologue as “late bloomer” in the competitive Caribbean tourist industry and this gives a retro feel to the place. But despite your explanation of the phrase, “Island in the Clouds,” you are careful not to romanticize. There is light and shade, good and bad. I think I read somewhere that you like the island to be a character in the novel, and this comes across. Can you expand on that?

Susan’s Answer. Before this first novel was published, I was working with an established author who mentored me while I wrote the third book in this series. At the time, I suggested my idea to him that the island itself was a character, and he said, “Impossible! The setting can never be a character.” I didn’t disagree with him at the time, but then thought of many books I had read in which setting WAS very important, to the point of becoming a character. I’ve taken this idea a little further by writing my series of “Bequia Perspectives novels” in a way that Bequia has become the thread, or character, if you will, that ties the series together. Each novel is told from a different perspective (and the third novel will be told from several different perspectives). While Bequia is the same island in each book, the place means something different to all the characters – as it does indeed in real life to the various people who live here and visit.

There are people we’ve met during our years on the island who still believe this is the most wonderful place in the world. There are others who, due to various experiences, have had their blinders lifted and see Bequia in a very different light. I’ve tried to represent the island with “warts and all” in an effort to be realistic rather than romantic. For the most part, readers and reviewers have responded positively about the way I’ve depicted the place and its people. Those who have complained I was inaccurate have actually had far different experiences with this place, so they can’t or won’t accept my depiction of Bequia. I heard from a friend that one ex-pat woman said she felt my treatment of the police in the book was all wrong and very unfair … until she was robbed and had to deal with those same police. Suddenly, she was claiming I was extremely accurate. What I write about the police in Island in the Clouds is all based on personal experience, right down to the constable, supposedly investigating a robbery at our house, asking whether I had any John Grisham novels on my shelves. As if! I wanted to say to him!

Question: Your plot grips the reader straightaway as your protagonist, Geoff, finds the dead body of Sarah, an acquaintance, in a swimming pool, and then becomes the chief suspect. Even while we’re propelled forward by the story, you manage to create a rich sense of place and a layered backstory. Did you find this difficult to achieve?

Susan’s Answer: Beginning to write this first novel was a total surprise to me. I’d had a run-in with someone on the island and was fuming, so to burn off that steam, I took a pad of paper and pen to our neighbour’s house, sat next to their pool and “saw” a body floating in the water. I began writing and the story flowed out of me. That first draft was easy to write, but I went through many more drafts after that first, and the MS was beta-read by friends on Bequia as well as others I still knew in the book business. The layering of details and story line development, even new characters added to the plot, were all slowly incorporated as part of the process of editing and rewriting the novel – this took me ten years to complete. In the meantime, I was also writing the next three novels in the quartet, so not only could I see how to best tell the story of this first novel, I had a good idea of where I was going with all four stories, and how to tie it together as a series.

Question: Geoff is very real, along with a shady past of his own and believable desires and feelings. How did you find writing from the point of view of a man?

Susan’s Answer: It was never intentional! When I began writing by the pool, a man’s voice was narrating the story in my head, and I went with that. My partner is a property manager in real life, so while he is NOT Geoff, many of Geoff’s experiences in the novel are stories Dennis has told me about his job and those crazy encounters and situations that happen all the time. We’ve come to call them ‘A Bequia Moment’. Dennis will now often come home from working around the island and say, “Wait until you hear what happened today! You could put this in your next book.” So I never lack material. My second novel, One Woman’s Island, is narrated by a woman; this novel is very much my own story and experience of living on Bequia. I don’t think I ever consciously decided though to write from a man’s POV in the first novel. It’s just what came out of my head and onto the paper that seemed most suitable for my purposes at the time.

For more information about Susan, her novels, and her blog, visit:

Instant Hook Contest Update

Just another quick update on the adjudication timeline for the Instant Hook contest:

A winner and two runners up will be chosen by the end of March 2017. Rather a lot of entries this year! Once they have been informed of the decision, the author names and entry titles will be posted.

Those who wish for a short adjudication — usually a paragraph of 100 words or so — will have an opportunity to request this once the contest is over.

Good luck to all the entries!