First Night by Tom Weston

About the Book:

Alexandra O'Rourke, aged 16, is not a happy camper. It's New Year's Eve. She should be partying in San Diego with her friends, but instead she is stuck in Boston, with just her younger sister, Jackie, for company. As if that wasn't bad enough, she is being haunted by Sarah, the ghost of a seventeenth century Puritan. Oh, and there is the small matter of the charge of witchcraft to be sorted out.

Armed only with big shiny buttons and a helping of Boston Cream Pie, the sisters set out to restore the Natural Order. Can Alex solve the mystery of the Devil's Book? Can Jackie help Sarah beat the sorcery rap? And can they do it before the fireworks display at midnight? Because this is First Night - and this is an Alex and Jackie Adventure.

About the Author:

Originally from England, Tom now hangs his hat in Boston, Massachusetts; with occasional spells in such faraway places as London and Luxembourg. Tom has a degree in Computer Science, and he claims to speak three languages: English, American, and Visual Basic. Before turning his hand to fiction, Tom had a successful career as the CEO of a systems consulting company, conference speaker, and writer of industry articles and business books.

As well as the novel, First Night, Tom has also written the screenplay, Fission, based on the true story of scientist, Lise Meitner, and the race for the atomic bomb. While Fission has yet to find a home in Hollywood, it garnered enough critical acclaim, including being named as a finalist at the London Independent Film Festival, that Tom was encouraged to keep on writing, resulting in his latest work which is, of course, First Night.

You can find out more about Tom's book at Amazon!

I was lucky enough to get the author to agree to an interview. Here's what he had to say:

Could you please tell us a little about your book?

In a nut shell, First Night is a ghost story, set in Boston on New Years Eve. It concerns two teenage sisters from California, Alex and Jackie, who meet a ghost named Sarah Pemberton, and agree to help her fight the charges of witchcraft that have been bought against her.

Did something specific happen to prompt you to write this book?

I had just written a screenplay called Fission, based on the real-life story of the scientist Lise Meitner, and the race for the nuclear bomb. Now, that story began in 1906 and ended in 1968, and included two world wars and the collapse of an Empire. It was very much in the mold of the epic or mini-series genre: quite serious and dramatic and high-brow.

When that was completed, I thought that it would be fun to go in exactly the opposite direction, and see if I could come up with a story where all the action takes place in just one day, something light and whimsical. And I was in Downtown Boston on New Year’s Eve, at the Granary Burying Ground, when I realized that Boston and the First Night Festival would make a great setting for a ghost story.

Who or what is the inspiration behind this book?

There were a number of factors: The first being the City of Boston itself, and the First Night Festival. I wanted to write a story that paid homage to my adopted city, and I put a great deal of history into the book. Secondly I wanted to create a story for the holidays, much like a Christmas Carol, and so the book serves as an intentional homage to Dickens as well. I was so delighted to have my book compared to that great work.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My wife, Leigh. Not only a supporter but also my benefactor and confidant. I’m lucky to have her. I think of my work as a collaborative effort between the two of us; a lot of her input makes it onto the page.

Your biggest critic?

Same person. I share my ideas with her as I go. She’ll shoot down the more off-the-wall and idiotic ones. I’m the dreamer. She’s the practical one.

What cause are you most passionate about and why?

Nothing in particular. I’m held in check by the Englishman’s fear of causing offense or embarrassment. But I do tend to get fired up by whatever project I’m working on. And I’ll talk people’s heads of with all manner of trivia that I’ve dug up during my research, to which, I’m sure, they would much rather not be subjected.

I have a number of interests and have an intellectual curiosity for all manner of things. If it was possible to be a modern renaissance man, then that’s how I would like to define myself. But as I get older, I am finding that I am becoming more interested in people, in their stories and interests. This is in sharp contract to the younger me, who was a socially inept.

In the last year have you learned or improved on any skills?

What has improved is my confidence. There was a turning point when I stopped trying to imitate the styles of other writers and just trusted myself. Whether or not this is an improvement I can’t say, and I don’t think I’ve fully found my voice yet, but at least it’s me. For example, I play the guitar and appreciate the skills of all the great guitarists, but the ones that I enjoy the most are the ones that have developed their own style of playing, and they are not necessarily the most technically proficient or talented.

Do you have any rituals you follow when finishing a piece of work?

Yes, we crack open a bottle of champagne. Of course, a work is never finished. It is hard to finally let go of it.

Who has influenced you throughout your career as a writer?

I’m a big fan of the works of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, and the American writer, Christopher Moore, who all, in their own ways, write about the absurdities of this thing we call life. Christopher Moore has stated that he is an Adams and Pratchett fan. And Pratchett and Adams have both heaped praise on P.G. Wodehouse, who is the Zen Master.

Not that I would dare compare my style to those guys, but I like their way of looking at the world; what Wodehouse called Blurry Vision. They are called quirky, but the funny thing is, you can go into any pub in the world, whether in Liverpool or in Boston or in Munich, and the room is full of the kind of dialogue that is found on the pages of their books. So to me they are not quirky, but rather astute.

There is humor in my work, I think (and hope), but it is understated, not flat out, fall down laughing funny like the aforementioned. In fact, before I turned to fiction, I was writing business books and articles and my style was to try and lighten the mood with anecdotes and absurdities. I would ask myself, “How would Bertie Wooster say this?” I found out that the business world does not have a sense of humor.

What is the most important thing in your life right now?

Did I mention my wife, Leigh?

What are you currently working on?

The sequel to First Night, which is called the Elf of Luxembourg. I was very lucky to live in Luxembourg for a while, and was just blown away by its charm. In fact, although the Elf of Luxembourg will be the second in the Alex and Jackie series to be published, the idea for the story predates First Night by a couple of years. I’ve replaced the ghosts with vampires, but the ratio of history to mystery is still there.

Do you have any advice for writers or readers?

As Polonius said to his son, Laertes, ‘to thine own self be true’: Write from the heart about what you believe in, because if you’re not passionate about your work, you can’t expect your readers to be either.

Secondly, tell people about your writing: This is not boasting – it’s time management. For example, I’ve told so many people that my next novel will be published by the autumn that I’ll look foolish if I now miss that deadline. So the more people I tell the more incentive I have to keep writing.

What are some of your long term goals?

First Night began as a screenplay, and the purpose of forming my new company, tom weston media, was as much for audio and video production as publishing. So, although I stopped work on the screenplay to concentrate on the novel, and although the Elf of Luxembourg is now taking up much of my time, the long term plan is very much focused on multi-media entertainment. Initially, we are in the planning stage of a podcast production of First Night, and after that – who knows.

What do you feel has been your greatest achievement as an author?

Hopefully, it’s yet to come.

But, I had an email from an elderly lady, an octogenarian, who told me that she had been reading First Night in bed, unable to put it down, and at 2:00AM, when the ending was revealed, she ran around the bedroom, punching the air in jubilation. On reading that, I also ran around the room, punching the air. I wrote the story to please myself and no other. So to find that this little story has that kind of impact on someone else is just incredibly humbling and rewarding.

What do you feel is your biggest strength?

Being an Englishman in America, I think I automatically bring a little thinking-outside-the-box approach to everything I do. In the business world, where success comes from standing out in a crowd, this is as asset that has served me well. But I also think, to a certain degree, it is what differentiates my writing from others.

Biggest weakness?

I think that it’s probably the same as my biggest strength – the flip side of the same coin. Unfortunately, when it comes to selling, the corporate mind-set tends towards the derivative; just take a look at the summer blockbuster movies. The irony is in demanding originality, only to reject it when they find it.

What do you feel sets this book apart from others in the same genre?

From a publisher’s perspective First Night is a difficult book to categorize. It is part ghost story and part history lesson – a History Mystery one reviewer called it. It’s a story with teenagers, but a lot of my feedback has been coming from parents. “Unique - like no other book I’ve read,” said another reviewer. So where to place it on the bookshelf is a problem. They not about to create a new category called tom weston.

You know the scenario – you’re stuck on an island. What book would you bring with you and why?

This is a hard one, because I’m a book-worm and every room in the house has book cases. But, if I ignore the writers I’ve already plugged, and assume that the Complete Works of Shakespeare is already waiting for me in a treasure chest somewhere, I’d take The Code of the Woosters, by P.G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse is one of the greatest writers of all time, but The Code of the Woosters, and the follow-up, Joy in the Morning, are sublime even by his standards. Being marooned on that island, it would guarantee to raise my spirits. I tried to inject some Wodehouse type humor into First Night, but it’s not as easy as it looks. The man was a genius.

If you could go back and change one day, what would it be?

For me, that’s the wrong question, because it implies that by changing the past we will somehow be happier or more successful. I think that it is more important to change the future. Too many people get set in their ways and then look back and say, “If I could have done that differently, I would.” – Only too follow up with, “But, it’s too late now.” It’s far easier to change tomorrow than yesterday.

Are you a different person now than you were 5 years ago? In what way/s?

Yes and no. I think that personality wise, I’m pretty much the same person, but what have changed are my priorities. Before turning to writing, I ran a consulting company. The time I spent in Luxembourg allowed me to leave the proverbial rat-race for a while. I expected the respite to be temporary, but I found that I wasn’t in a hurry to return to the office. The question is: if the money wasn’t a factor, what would I do? The answer is: I’m doing it.

What is the most important lesson you have learned from life so far?

I’ve learned that I am happiest when I let myself be me. It sounds selfish, but my successes have stemmed from doing things my way; and my failures have come from giving in to the demands of others. My business colleagues and clients, I think, realized this before I did, and everyone benefited; but it was a while before I saw the correlation to my own happiness.

What is your favorite past-time?

When I’m not writing, which I also consider a past-time, I like to compose music: songs, symphonies, sound tracks, whatever I’m in the mood for. I have a little studio with guitars and keyboards, not that I have any ability, but editing software hides a lot of flaws.

I also like to cook, but no one is allowed in the kitchen when I do. It’s like writing, in that I’ve finally learned to stop being derivative, and find my own voice. Tonight will be pepper encrusted salmon with an olive sauce, on a bed of spinach and garlic.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Grouch Marx once said, “Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.”

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Anonymous said...

Hello Tracee,

Thanks for the questions.


Tom Weston