Tell us about yourself:
I was born and brought up in the UK, which is where I met my husband who’s Portuguese. We came to Portugal and since then I’ve been teaching English as a Foreign Language, first of all for the British Council and latterly for the Portuguese Civil Service.
What inspired you to write Perfect Score? Why did you choose to set your story in the 1960s?
LOL, this is longer than my biography! I never set out to write Perfect Score – it wrote itself. I went on a holiday to Upstate New York and fell in love with the Catskills, and particularly with a small village not far from Woodstock. I adored the aged hippies who floated around, selling their wares in small incense (incense? ahem) scented gift-shops. Even the long-haired local golf-pro was into levitation. I adored it. So I first set Perfect Score in Woodstock (which explains the 1960s) and Alex was a singer at the Festival. Sam was a woman – yes a woman! But this character became so flawed that I just had to make him a man (sorry, gentlemen, I don’t mean that as it sounds – but a woman would never have survived in the same way Sam did). So, without an operation, Sam changed sex. And he had to work – but at what? Outdoor work was the only choice, so I had him on a farm and relocated him to the other side of the country which is famous for agriculture. There. Does that answer your question? Probably not…
I think you answered the question perfectly. Funny, how our characters take on a life of their own and dictate who they want to be :)
Tell us about Alex Finch. What does he look like? What kind of man is he? What are his strengths? His weaknesses?
Oh Alex. I loved writing his voice. He is such a ditz to start out with, wearing his sexy leather pants and white Egyptian cotton shirts, but he’s had a hard time of it too even though he lives at the other end of the economic spectrum to Sam. Alex is tall, but tends to hunch due to his insecurities. That’s why he’s got long, flowing raven black locks which he can use to cover his face. Apart from being a talented singer, song-writer, he’s also very good looking and attractive to women. However, he’s too scared, thanks to his controlling uncle, to realize his ambition and dreams. At the start he’s selfish, spoilt and inward-looking. But that’s because he’s constructed this sphere around himself where he’s safe and doesn’t have to view the real world which has dealt him a few thumps. Sam’s seemingly lack of interest in him is the last straw of disappointment that sends him spiraling towards alcoholism. Later you’ll see he’s really very observant, kind and generous but these traits only become apparent when he’s around Sam who he never gives up on and who he’s prepared to fight his worst enemy for.
Tell us about Sam Barowdale. What does he look like? What kind of man is he? What are his strengths? His weaknesses?
I had to write Sam’s part of the book in third person because no-one, not even Sam, can get into his head which is, at the best of times, in chaos. He’s shorter than Alex, probably only about five foot seven, skinny, he cuts his thick brown hair himself so that it resembles a mop. He’s wiry, though, and has true strength both of body and mind. Alex’s mother says that Sam has amber eyes and Alex says Sam’s eyes can see right into the core of a person. He’s so perceptive. He plays down his awful upbringing so it’s only touched upon in the book but we do know he ended up at twelve years old on the streets. This has led to his toughness because, although he’s small, he can take on the biggest ruffian and win. He’s such a sweetie, though. He just lives and works to keep his disabled sister in good accommodation without relying on the State. And he has a wicked sense of humor – he is extremely bright and can memorize information that he’s heard and spout it verbatim to the utter amazement of the listener who, until that moment, considered him to be a “retard”.
You touch basis about dyslexia and stuttering. How much research went into learning about both disabilities?
As I mentioned, I trained as a teacher and I saw dyslexia in its mild form. A colleague, though, did specialize in it and she gave me some pointers. It’s not certain that Sam does suffer from dyslexia because, if he does, his is a very severe form of it. If you have dyslexia, you don’t necessarily stutter. I think Sam’s stutter stems more from his caution about being with other people because he doesn’t stutter with those he loves.
Do you have a favorite reference book?
The one that really struck me was written in something like 1932! It’s “Becoming a Writer” by Dorothea Brande. It’s more an inspirational guide and some of her advice is spot on today. I especially loved her suggestion to be two people: “let the unconscious run wild and the conscious weed out what is right and wrong”.
Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers?
Susan's blog: http://lauracea.blogspot.com
To buy link: http://www.awe-struck.net/books/perfect_score.html
Chapter One: Sam
The wind blew straight off the frozen prairie and rattled the ill-fitting window panes in his hut. Sam opened one eye. Five am. Don't ask him how he knew. It wasn't the owl hoot, or the coyote yip, or the creek ice splitting, or even the cattle coughing that gave it away because these noises were constant throughout the night. He just knew it was time to get up.
He rolled out from under the warmth of an old moth-eaten wolf pelt and, without bothering to light his paraffin lamp, pulled on jeans and a stiff-with-wear plaid work-shirt. He laced up scruffy, ancient leather boots before finishing it all off with a green wool jacket.
I'll block those holes with creek mud, he thought as the wind whistled through the gaps in the raw-wood plank walls. He put his shoulder to the door. Oil for that too--maybe Josh Pike had some in the barn.
He'd hardly put his left foot outside when snow seeped through a hole in the boot sole. Standing on one leg, he broke the ice in his ceramic sink, splashed the small amount of water pooled there on his face and drank a handful.
Six hours of shoveling hay and muck, he thought as his boots rang on the iced-up alkali path leading to the main yard. A Canadian goose hooted a teasing honk. Laugh all you want, birdie, Sam stuffed his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders. At least I'm not up to my butt in freezing water. Just my left foot. His hair blown horizontal, he bent into the biting wind and squinted through stinging hail as three yellow cow dogs rushed up the path, their tails whirling, breath white and freezing on their whiskers.
"Can't find a darn cow dog when I want one," he'd heard Josh Pike complain the previous day.
"That's because they're always with the boy," Mrs. Pike responded. "Sam."
"But I feed 'em."
"Animals love Sam because he has such a kind face, and everyone knows amber eyes make the animals feel lucky."
"Never heard such a load of horse poop in all my life," Josh Pike muttered, his eyes skimming his land.
The Pike place had pretensions to be a ranch, but Sam didn't think it quite made it. Divided into three sections: a creek, steep terrain and some disordered pastures lying in a flood plain, the property bordered the much larger Raw Pines ranch next door. Josh Pike told Sam he'd worked the land for twenty years but, as far as Sam could see, with little to show for it except the old man's love for the place which was as rigid as the winter weather: driving stinging snowstorms that stank of rusty nails. And a wind that could blow a calf over.
Three hours later, the range in the distance just visible across the frozen prairie, Sam removed his jacket, hung it on a gate post and pondered his next task.
He took a closer look at the steer lying on its side, kicking its legs and bellowing as if Sam was about to knife it. Can't have been easy forcing your darned head through the rails in the fence, he thought. He rolled his sleeves up, picked up an axe and got to work on the fence rail with several powerful swings, taking care not to jolt the animal's head.
"Cain't you smell that good air?" Josh Pike had clambered onto a section of the fence, unaware or uncaring that he was tossed up a few inches every time the axe hit the rail. He raised his weathered face to the watery sun with all the pleasure and leisure of a sunbather on a distant beach. "Have to punch the bastard to get him in the chute." He nodded at the struggling steer, his words jarring with each blow of the axe. "Yet he done put his head through the fence happy as a flea. Takes some beatin' huh?"
Sam had no breath for words, but Pike continued undeterred. "Betcha we could show them folks you worked with in Silver Creek a thing or two, eh boy? On how to run a cattle ranch. Betcha learned more up here in this month than you did in the three years you were down there. Eh?" He leaned closer to Sam, his face alight as he waited for Sam's affirmative. "Eh?"
"Near...nearly," Sam gasped, referring to the fence.
With one final massive blow, the axe-head wobbled as it finally split the fence rail. Sam kicked at the steer's rump to encourage it up and watched it skitter back to the herd, still bellowing its woes.
"You reckon you could slaughter beef?"
"If...if I have to."
The old man nodded as if satisfied with the answer. "Make some people weep. So pretty."
Sam rubbed his hand over his face. Like so many conversations in his life, this one made no sense at all. Why was the old man leaping from subject to subject like a demented grasshopper? And what was pretty? The back end of the rapidly retreating steer or a slaughtered cow?
"The view," Josh Pike explained although Sam hadn't voiced his question. The old man nodded at the distant range where the peaks were shining pink like his bald pate. "And you know little guys like us can."
Sam raised his eyes to the gun-metal grey sky above them. Can what? Sam was the first to admit that even on a good day his own mind was at best in total disarray, but it wasn't in the chaos Josh Pike's evidently was.
"Cry. Cry at the view." Josh spoke as if explaining to a first grader. "Little guys get away with it. Betcha bawled when you left your family in Silver Creek. Eh?"
Bawled? Cry? Sam stared at the farm owner in disbelief. Sure he'd been sorry to leave-Silver Creek held all he loved. But cry? Sam couldn't remember the last time he'd cried. When did he last cry? He wracked his brains.
Two PDF copies of Perfect Score will be given away to two lucky winners. Two people who give the best reasons why they want to read the the Perfect Score will win be the winners.
Thanks Karen for letting me guest-blog with you – you’re a star.
It's been a pleasure having you here.