Wednesday, February 6, 2013


It's my pleasure to welcome Irish author, Sheena Lambert, to Books by Banister today. She recently released her first novel, Alberta Clipper, which she calls "Chick-Lit-for-Women-with-a-Brain" (Love that!), and she's here to tell us more about the story and the characters (Her heroine has a very unusual profession!) She's been kind enough to share an excerpt from her book with us, so look for that at the end of the post. 

1) Can you give us a brief overview of Alberta Clipper?

Insider trading, rambunctious Christmas parties, overnight conferences, the modern office environment has it all.  But it can also be the stage for a simple, modern love story.

ALBERTA CLIPPER is that story. 

Christine Grogan is a successful meteorologist with a loving family, great friends and an exciting career working for an international investment bank.  So why does she spend every January 20th crying like her heart might break?  As everyone around her appears to be moving on with their lives, Christine wears her past like a pair of concrete shoes.  Can nothing, or nobody help her shake them?

Mark Harrington thought he had all he ever wanted.  Head of the bank's Irish operations, he has the career, the house and the relationship any man would wish for.  But when his seemingly perfectly planned life suddenly strays totally off course, Mark is confronted with the fact that he isn't actually in control at all…

…and that he is crazy in love with Christine.

A pacy, witty read, Alberta Clipper is a story of old-fashioned love in a contemporary world.  A story of guilt and forgiveness, trust and betrayal, and absolute, unconditional love.

The story of two people, each floundering in their own lives, who might just be able to save one another.

2) What's your favorite quality about your heroine/hero?

I love that Christine recognizes that she has a serious problem, but that she does her best not to bring everyone around her down with it.  Although at the beginning of the book she has no idea how she will ever get past what happened to her, she really tries to live her life as normally as possible, and when she feels depressed, she does her best to cope.  I think this shows enormous strength and selflessness. 

3) What made you want to write Alberta Clipper?

I love easy-read fiction that also teaches me something new.  Chick-lit-for-Women-with-a-Brain, I like to call it!  And having worked as an engineer in a very male-oriented environment, I wanted to write about a character in a similar situation.  So when I saw a job advertised for a meteorologist in an investment bank, I knew I had my main character!  And that’s where the idea for Alberta Clipper began.

4) How long did it take you to write Alberta Clipper? What is your writing process like?

I started writing Alberta Clipper as a TV script for a writing class I was attending.  I had the whole series plotted out, down to a drawing of the office floor-plan!  When I realized that it might make a good novel, I began writing it as such.  That part of the process took approximately six months. 

I write with a pen and paper for 2-3 hours each mornings when my kids are in school (usually 1,000 – 1,500 words).  Then after they have gone to bed, I type up what I wrote, editing as I go.  The next morning, I read over what I typed (editing again) and start writing longhand again.  I like this way of writing, because I can keep scribbling as the story comes to me, and not get too bogged down in the perfect choice of word.  I get two chances to improve the writing where necessary when I type it and read it through, and the few hours in between each stage offer a little perspective also.

When I finished Alberta Clipper, I gave it to six beta readers (honest friends) and tried to forget about it for a month.  I made my readers each fill out a form, with questions like “what was the most boring part of the book” and “who was your favorite character and why,” so they HAD to tell me the bad points as well as the good points.  It was a really worthwhile  exercise.  Then I spent two months editing, taking into account what my readers had said where relevant.

5) If Hollywood comes calling and asks you to sign over the movie rights for Alberta Clipper, who would you like to see play Christine and Mark on the big screen? 

Emma Stone and Michael Fassbender!  (How cool would that be…)

6) How do you think of titles?

My working title for Alberta Clipper was “Weather Girl” right up until the time I was editing the completed manuscript.  I still think that would be a good name for the TV series (think a more gentle House of Lies).  It didn’t convey enough depth for the novel in my opinion however, and I chose Alberta Clipper, which is a weather phenomenon that has particular meaning to Mark and Christine’s story.  I liked that people might go “I wonder what that is?” on hearing the name.

7) Tell us about your cover art design. How did you come up with the concept? Did you execute it yourself or have a professional do it?

From early on, I had the idea of including a barometer on the cover.  Obviously it had meteorological connotations, but that specific barometer is mentioned in the story too.  I liked that a barometer is all about pressure, and being under pressure is certainly a strong theme of the book.

I was sure that I wanted professional input in the cover design (I am NOT artistic!) and having seen other covers I liked by Andrew Brown at Design for Writers I decided to go with him. He is a really easy guy to work with, and I would highly recommend him.

8) The fiction market is so competitive now. How did you find an audience for your work? What do you think are the most effective ways an author can promote herself?

I believed that there was a market for the book, because I myself enjoyed reading the book (even after spending a year writing it!), and I know my taste is fairly mainstream when it comes to women’s literature.  Getting other people to know about it has been the most difficult part, and a lot of work!  I followed the advice of Catherine Ryan Howard whose book Self-Printed – The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing has some great advice for new authors who are trying to get a name for themselves (advice that is useful for both self-published authors AND traditionally published authors, in my opinion) especially in terms of raising an online profile.  I have also been promoting Alberta Clipper locally here in Ireland, with the result that it has been talked about on radio, written about in the national press AND stocked on (and re-ordered for) the shelves of an Irish bookstore chain.  I achieved these things through sheer hard work, but having a quality book to promote is the most important thing an author can do.

The one goal I haven’t attained yet is for Alberta Clipper to be successful on Kindle.  As a Kindle-lover myself, I really believe this would be my greatest achievement. 

9) What are your thoughts on love scenes in books? Do you prefer to read/write sweet/romantic encounters between your hero and heroine or spicy ones?

As with every other emotion, I don’t want love scenes spelled out in minute detail to me, I want to be able to colour a scene in my head when I read a book.  When it comes to mainstream fiction, I like to suggest a lot, but leave the reader to fill in the details themselves.  There is an art to doing it right – for example the Rhett/Scarlett staircase scene in Gone with the Wind.  If I were writing soft-porn, I would be far more inclined to give a blow-by-blow description of what was going on. But for a story like Alberta Clipper, well-worded suggestion is far sexier than naked facts.

10) What are you working on now?

I am writing my second novel A Village Drowned which is set over a weekend in 1975 in the Irish midlands.  Here’s the short pitch!

After a very hot, dry summer, a shallow grave is discovered under the receding waters of a manmade lake in the Irish midlands. It soon becomes clear that for the Casey family who run the Anglers’ Rest, more than a body will be uncovered that weekend. But will the secrets buried for years in the sand break their already brittle family apart, or will the truth be what binds them forever?

11) Who are the authors who inspire you?

Jane Austen and (even though she’s only written one book) Kathryn Stockett.

12) What genres do you like to read? Do you stick to one or are you eclectic in your reading tastes?

I enjoy quality women’s fiction or Chick-lit-for-women-with-a-brain as I called it earlier!  I love a new Marian Keyes or Jojo Moyes book, but I especially love discovering a book that deals with some serious scientific or theme while still telling a lovely story, for example The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt or A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

13) What was the last book you read that really WOWed you?

The Help by Kathryn Stockett was perhaps my favourite book of the past two years.

The City of Bohane by Kevin Barry was mind-blowingly original.

14) If you could be plopped down in the middle of any book, which one would it be?

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  As long as I was Elizabeth, of course.

15) If you could invite any five people (living or dead) over for a dinner party, who would they be and why?

Elizabeth Bennet (ok, I know she’s not real, but still, she’d be great fun, and she would love how women have prospered in the 21st century)

Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (because they look like they are good fun and as normal as a Hollywood couple could be expected to be)

Bono from U2 (he just lives a mile away, so he could walk home)

Jamie Oliver the chef (although I would have him in the kitchen, not at the table).

Fast and Flirty 

Favorite scent?  Any baby’s head, doesn’t have to even be one of my own.
Favorite color?  Blue.
Favorite food?  Buffalo wings.
Favorite word?  Buffalo wings.
Favorite article of clothing?  Jeans.
Dream vacation spot? 
Bora Bora.
Favorite time period in history?  Jane Austen time. Favorite girl's night out drink?  Champers.
Favorite date night activity?  Eating buffalo wings.
Favorite song?  Love Me (Elvis)
Celebrity hottie on your laminated list?  John Krasinski (sorry Emily)
Novel hero crush?  Mark Harrington, of course!

Excerpt (Alberta Clipper):

     Mark was spending the morning following Jennifer around a garden centre.  Sometime over the past few weeks, they had agreed to tackle their garden, which had become increasingly inhospitable over the past few years.  It was a nice garden.  Not huge, but big enough to have fun in.  When they had first bought the house, they’d had many a gathering there.  Family barbecues when Jennifer’s nieces had run around on the grass and made daisy chains.  Parties for their friends which might have started indoors, but had always ended up with a few drunken ciggies in the garden, huddled around a tall gas heater which had met its demise on a windy night two years ago now.  He had fond memories of sitting out on the patio with Jennifer late on summer evenings, drinking wine, a blanket over their shoulders to ward off the inevitable Irish breeze.  Neither of them had been much use as gardeners, but he had managed to keep the lawn cut and the hedges and trees that surrounded it trimmed.
     But in the last few years, the garden had become somewhat neglected.  He couldn’t remember the last time they’d had a party.  It made him sad to think of it.  It was partly, he supposed, because he was away a lot with work.  And if they’d had kids, of course, they would have made more of an effort.  If they’d had kids, the garden might have swings in it by now, or a little Wendy house, or whatever you called those clunky plastic houses his friends’ kids had.  Or maybe even mini goal posts.
     “Ow!  Mark.  My ankle.”
     “Are you even looking at these?  Have you any preference at all?”
     Mark tried to focus.  It appeared he was surrounded by long, straggly looking plants.  Climbers?  They must be in the cover-the-wall-between-us-and-the-neighbours section.  He regarded the rows of pots which seemed to all be in desperate need of some water.  One of the tags caught his eye.
     “My Mum used to have clematis.” 
     He hoped this remark would suggest that he had been paying attention.  It seemed to work. 
     “Okay.”  She started picking up plastic tags, reading them, dropping them.  One plant, whose tag must have said something more promising than the rest, warranted lifting up and a more thorough examination.  Mark watched her turning the pot, examining it from all angles, looking under the leaves for God knows what ailment. 
     “This one looks nice.  Clematis - The President.  It will have big purple flowers.  What do you think?”
     “Do you ever regret not having children?”
     To be fair to her, she didn’t flinch.  But she didn’t look at him.  She just put The President carefully into the trolley that filled the space between them, and sighed.
     “No Mark.  I don’t.  Do you?”
     Fuck.  Why had he asked her that?  Where had it come from?  They stared at each other.  He could just say no, and wrap it up.  Leave it at that.  She might not take it any further.  But as the seconds passed, Mark recognised that his question had brought them somewhere new.  That they were in this new place now, and that there was a door forward and a door back.  And that the door back just returned them to where they were, shopping for sticking plasters and temporary fixes in the shape of horticultural supplies.  They had to move forward.  They had to take themselves out of the gaping pothole they had fallen into in the journey of their lives. 
     “I’m not sure,” he said.  “Maybe.  I don’t know.  Sometimes...”  It looked to him like Jennifer might silently implode.  “Sometimes, it feels -”  He took a breath.  “It feels like there’s something missing.”
     The colour on Jennifer’s cheeks changed, and she nodded and turned her back to him.  She continued along the climbers aisle, pulling the trolley gently along with her.  They were walking so slowly, it felt somehow like a funeral march.  They were the pallbearers, pushing the bier with the coffin on down the aisle.  The thought struck him that the coffin was empty but for The President, and an irrational urge to laugh aloud overcame him.  He emitted a loud stifled snort which made Jennifer look up.  She stopped walking and turned to him, holding onto the end of the trolley with both hands.
     “I’m not sure what to say to you, Mark.”  Her voice was steady, although he could tell it was taking a lot of effort for it to remain so.  “I could say that I understand what you are feeling.  That it's inevitable that you would feel like this at some point in your life.  Most people of our age have children.  You were bound to feel pressurised at some stage.”
     “I don’t feel pressurised,” he began. 
     “Or -” 
     He shut up. 
     “I could say that you are a bastard to throw this at me now.  At this stage in our life.  When you know how I feel about it.  When I never left you under any illusion that I would have children with you.  When we’d made our choices.  Or at least I thought we had.”
     “I’m sorry, Jen.”  He began to feel alarmed.  She had spoken calmly, but he could see her knuckles had turned white on the trolley.  “Just forget it.  Can we just forget I opened my mouth?  I don’t know what I was thinking.  I don’t want kids.  The words just came out of my mouth.  Please.  Forget it.  I don’t want kids.”
     She looked at him.  Into him.  Then she turned, and they resumed their procession down the aisle, around the corner, past the display of potted herbs. 
     “Maybe you don’t.”  She spoke over her shoulder so he could hear her.  “But maybe you’re right.  Maybe there is something missing.”
     Mark felt like the ground had become unstable beneath his feet.  His heart raced in his chest, and he stopped walking, making her stop too as the trolley jerked her arm.  She turned to him.  There seemed to be nothing to say.  After a moment, he just went to her, and held her to him.  They stayed like that for a time, his arms around her, hers limp by her sides.  And then she sniffed loudly, and pushed him gently away, before turning and walking on towards a huge display of purple lavender. 

Author Bio:

It took ten years working as an engineer on a landfill site, five years running a fashion boutique and one year lecturing in waste management and recycling before 38 year old Sheena Lambert from Dublin, Ireland, realised she was supposed to have been a writer all along.

Her first novel, ALBERTA CLIPPER, was published in November 2012.

Now, in addition to raising two boys and making the dinner every day, she writes articles for a living, and is working on her second novel. 

Sheena lives in Dublin, Ireland for the moment, but if she wins the lottery, you will find her in a little village somewhere in the south of France, making red wine.

Buy Alberta Clipper:


Connect with Sheena Lambert:

Check out this hilarious book promo short Sheena made. It's called "You Can't Press Flowers with a Kindle."



  1. This is an amazing interview, and I loved so much about it. Sheena, Chick Lit With a Brain is perfect, and I might quote you on that. I love Christine's profession, "The Help" is such a well-written book and a baby's head? There's nothing like it! But I also learned something fantastic from you. A form for beta readers is an excellent idea! Thank you!

  2. I always enjoy the interviews on Tracie's blog, and am a big fan. I hadn't heard of Sheena before, so great way to find a new author. BUT, there are so many great points in this interview. I could actually write an essay's worth of questions for her, which came out of the interview. And yes, chick lit for intelligent women! This is definitely going on my TBR AND who knew that investment banks needed meteorologists! Sooz

  3. Great interview, ladies. Love the form idea for beta readers!

    Intrigued by the meteorologist at the IB concept!

  4. Great interview! I also love the form idea for beta readers.

  5. This is a stellar interview (among a bunch of already fabulous ones, Tracie)on so many levels! I learned lots about Sheena and her work, always good. And, Sheena, please share your beta reader form with us in a blog, maybe. Great idea! You are new to me, Sheena, but I'm about to change that with one click shopping on Amazon! (Helping you with your goal, too!)