The Author Strikes Back – Carol Branston Interview

imagesN8KPZ1YTA Murder They Wrote Special!

Last month I reviewed “Murder! Hollywood Style” by Carol Branston (published April 2015 by First Edition Publishing). I was very pleased to have a comment from Carol thanking me for the review and after a bit of correspondence between us I am delighted to welcome Carol for my first interview in my Author Strikes Back category. I am especially pleased because the review of Carol’s book has certainly been attracting attention. Just the other day it crept past Michael Rosen’s classic book of children’s poems “Quick, Let’s Get Out Of Here!” to become my most read book review on the site. So, striking while the iron is hot and at the time when people are beginning to consider what books to take with them on holiday here is what Carol had to say about her book.

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What was the inspiration for Murder! Hollywood Style? (In my review I compared it to Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins novels and Carol commented that this was what she had set out to do as she thought it was time to reactivate this genre)

I never know when something is going to inspire me. With this novel it came from seeing an Unsolved Murder show and I immediately knew who had done it, and how it was done. So there I was with an ending. I love old movies especially flash backs and thought all I have to do now is write a story that leads me to my ending. So I did.

How does, in your opinion, the Hollywood you portray in the late 60’s compare to Hollywood today?

During the 1960s and 70s Hollywood totally changed. The big studios lost their clout. They didn’t have stars under contract any more. Financing came from banks whose only interest was the bottom line. Actors started their own production companies, they wanted a piece of the action. Independent films with lower budgets were given a chance. Censorship was still a very strong influence, but Doris Day was finishing her reign as the professional virgin. Carnal Knowledge and Midnight Cowboy were breakthrough movies for general audiences. Then came Blow Up and Clockwork Orange, and younger people suddenly realized they had a lot to say in a fresh new way. Creativity ran rampant. A thrilling time to be involved in any of the art forms. Personally I still love a movie with good dialogue, not just special effects. I seldom go to see these monstrosities filled with graphics. I can appreciate the work that goes into them, but… One English film I loved and still do is Sexy Beast. Every time I watch it, I love it more. The way it’s shot. The acting. Actually I can find no fault with it.

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Doris Day contemplating Sexy Beast!   (I never thought I’d write those words in a blog!)

Why did you choose Joe, the hairdresser, to tell the story?

I am a hairdresser and have worked in film and TV for a number of years doing both makeup and hair. When I was a kid in London I was an apprentice in a very chic salon off Bakers St. Funnily enough the woman who owned the salon worked on movies. At that time I had no idea I’d end up doing the same thing. We had clients that ran the gamut from Lady so and so, to very expensive Mayfair call girls. Quite an education at fifteen. So I know for a fact that clients tend to tell their hairdressers everything. When I started to write my book, Joe was able to connect my characters easily. He didn’t have to be there all the time but eventually he knew all that was going on. Now at this time in his life he finally had to get it off his chest. You see one unwritten law in the hair business is to keep a confidence, and he had certainly done that.

 I have a real soft spot for Karen van Dougall (In my review I referred to her as “superbly trashy super-rich Karen van Dougall who manipulates everyone but is often their only true friend”). How did she come about?

I’m so happy to hear you liked Karen, not many people do. She is a lot of fiction based on a lot of facts, like most of my characters. That era was breakout time for blue bloods too. They didn’t go to country clubs with their parents any more. New York was so diverse. If one was interesting, creative, unique, or beautiful it was easy to break into the supposed In Crowd. The more Far Out you were, the better! Everyone was experimenting with everything. I really believe the country was run by speed freaks. Some faded quickly others became household names, rich and famous in their own right. Karen loved to star, and she did, besides she was always very generous. I like her too. 

What’s next for Carol Branston?

I love the whole process of writing. Over the years I’ve travelled quite extensively for both work and pleasure, and have met incredible people and seen incredible sights. Luckily I wrote journals whilst doing this and have quite an extensive collection to go through. I know there’s a story or a series of short stories among the collection that hopefully will prove to be very entertaining. My other hope is to have Murder! Hollywood Style made into a Netflix Two- Part Movie. The 70s were so visual. I just know it would work. I want Gwyneth Paltrow to play Mrs. Rhodes. What do you think?

I think that’s good casting, Carol. That got me thinking………….Zac Efron for Nicky Venuti (imagine what that would do to the ratings!), Carey Mulligan for Valerie Rhodes and how about thinking right out of the box and offering the part of Karen van Dougall to Rupaul!? I’m subscribing to Netflix right away…………..!

I would like to thank Carol very much for agreeing to be the first in my The Author Strikes Back section. Hopefully, that would have whetted some appetites for “Murder Hollywood Style”. UK readers can buy the paperback or e-book from Amazon.co.uk by following the link here. Of course it is available from Amazon.com and most other book retailers.

Buy Murder! Hollywood Style here

My original review of the book can be found here-

Murder They Wrote Review – Murder Hollywood Style by Carol Branston

 

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Murder! Hollywood Style – Carol Branston (2015) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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Ever since reading Jacqueline Susann’s “The Valley Of The Dolls” at an impressionable age I have had a hankering for tales of Hollywood featuring actors who create an impression, fall in love, find fame hard to cope with, take drugs and begin a downward spiral. Nowadays, these novels are in short supply, the “bonkbuster” style having gone out of fashion. Jackie Collins has written more of a few like this and I always enjoyed sister Joan’s novels which followed along similar themes. Carol Branston has added her name to this list and by setting it in the period of the late 60’s/early 70’s has the opportunity to capture the hedonism of Hollywood at this time.

The novel begins with a murder, Nicky Venuti, who was just a few years before Hollywood’s golden boy, meeting his end by a knife in the street. This is the tale as to how this happened. Nicky’s character is dwarfed by a couple of the others. English rose Valerie Rhodes is catapaulted into fame when she co-stars with Nicky and the pair become high profile lovers.   It is Valerie whose rise and downward spiral is central in this book. She is somewhat unlikeable, passively floats from one situation to another and it is no surprise that she is soon shovelling pills down her throat. Nicky, also not terribly likeable, sees Valerie as a way of covering up his homosexuality. Both are weak and are soon victims of Hollywood. More likeable is the superbly trashy super-rich Karen van Dougall who manipulates everyone but is often their only true friend. This is the end of the swinging 60’s and sexualities are blurred as drugs, sex and booze are readily available.

The story moves along generally well in the build-up to Nicky’s demise. Some scenes are overwritten to the point of triviality and sometimes more significant scenes are just reported. Branston is keen to give us a narrator to relate to, Joe, hairdresser to the stars. I didn’t feel that this was necessary. I don’t feel that Joe adds anything to the story by being its narrator. You rarely get the sense of him and often forget it is him telling the tale. An anonymous third-person omniscient narration would have worked better . Joe’s rare interventions into the story do not really work.

I think Branston has a good go at conveying the feel of New York and Hollywood at this time, and is really quite effective when the story moves to Swinging London. There’s a kind of guilty pleasure when the characters hit upon difficult times and situations but in this kind of book that is to be expected. It does recall the days when Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins and their ilk were churning out novels like this although with boundaries being pushed back since then Branston is able to be more explicit in her depiction of the amoral at work and play.  threestars

Murder! Hollywood Style was published in April 2015 by First Edition Publishing 2015. Amazon has it available as both paperback and Kindle edition.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing this title for me to review.