Ragdoll by Daniel Cole – Review

Published by Trapeze

Publication date 23 February 2017

Source – review copy

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“The next big brand in crime fiction, a pulse-pounding police procedural with the pace of a thriller. THE book of London Book Fair and next year’s breakout debut.

The nation is gripped by the infamous ‘Ragdoll Killer’
Your friends, your family and your neighbours are all talking about it.
‘…utterly addictive with brilliant characters and a killer twist you will never see coming – the best debut I’ve ever read.’ Rachel Abbott, No. 1 bestselling author
‘A star is born. Killer plot. Killer pace. Twisted killer and a killer twist. Kill to get a copy.’ Simon Toyne, Sunday Times bestselling author

Believe the hype. Sold in over 32 countries and counting, RAGDOLL is the standout thriller of the year.

A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together like a puppet, nicknamed by the press as the ‘ragdoll’.

Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter.

The ‘Ragdoll Killer’ taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them.

With six people to save, can Fawkes and Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?”

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book.

Let me tell you a story about a man who decides to write a screenplay. That screenplay will take five years to create and hone, will gather an impressive collection of rejection letters but is one which the writer kept returning to, eager to see how the story will finish. And so the writer turns it into a novel. And that novel sells to 32 territories at the latest count. And will no doubt be one the hits of 2017. So television’s loss is the reader’s gain.

William Oliver Layton-Fawkes, or Wolf as he is known to all but his mother, has recently been reinstated to the police stationed at New Scotland Yard. He returns on the back of a violent episode in his life, and some of his colleagues are still wary of him. He is thrust straight into the thick of things when a body is found. This, however, is no ordinary body. It has been created from the body parts of six different victims. That day, the killer contacts the press. There will be more victims, with the dates they are to be killed. Fawkes and his colleagues are in a race against time to stop the killer before he strikes out everyone on the list.

The story starts with a bang. The reader is taken back to 2010, to a high profile murder case, one in which Wolf has a vested interest. Events take a surprising and violent turn and sees Wolf removed from his way of life. The story then sees Wolf reinstated as a detective, returning to work on what looks likely to be a case that will have the world gripped.

The story is peppered with humour, I often found myself chuckling over lines, it is light relief that is welcome to counteract the violence that surrounds the case. And what violence there is. Daniel Cole has managed to conjure up some of the most unusual and original forms of death I’ve read about, each one grisly, each one inventive, and each one drawing the reader further into the story.

The characters are all perfectly drawn. Wolf is the troubled detective with his own sense of justice, one which has had serious consequences in his past. He is the lone wolf, working with others when he must, but believing he must sometime act alone for the greater good. Baxter is taciturn, hiding a secret that controls her and unsure of her relationship with Wolf. The interaction she has with her colleagues is great to read, as is the working relationship that develops between her and Edwards, her trainee. Edwards, keen to do well since his transfer from Fraud, is initially naïve but grows as the story develops. Driven, focussed and impassioned he is a great counter-balance to the others. Finlay and Simmonds, both older officers add comedy to the story and balance out the team.

This is Daniel Cole’s debut novel and he enters the crime writing scene with a bang. I have said before that whether the author is publishing their debut novel or is a seasoned writer in their field should have no bearing on how the book should be received. Deserved praise should be given whatever stage the author is in their career. Great writing is great writing and it this that should be celebrated. And it should be celebrated here. Daniel Cole has written a  compulsive crime novel that one is loath to put down. It is the true definition of gripping fiction.

The fact that this novel was originally a screenplay is evident throughout. And that isn’t a bad thing. The scenes can be easily imagined, there are cliff-hangers at the end of most chapters and the characters  and storyline are ripe for adaptation. I could easily see this wowing viewers as well as readers.

Enthralling, inventive and compelling, Daniel Cole has created a brilliant cast of characters and a truly gripping novel. I can only wait for more from him with baited breath.

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Rachel Dove – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Rachel Dove to the blog. Rachel is the author of Crossing Life Lines, The House of Sugar Blood and Mallow Girl and her latest novel The Chic Boutique on Baker Street was published on 21 April 2016 by Mills and Boon.

Rachel kindly answered some of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Chic Boutique on Baker Street.  

The Chic Boutique is about Amanda, who jumps from an unhappy life gone wrong, to a chance at a life she really wants. She moves to a little village in Yorkshire, and meets a whole band of characters, one of which being a very hunky, but very stroppy vet called Ben.  

2. What inspired the book?  

I love the idea of village life, and I had the idea of a little row of shops, and thought of the owners within them. The story just grew from there. 

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?   

I am useless without a deadline! I do plan, but I like to sit and write and see where the story takes me really. I wrote The Chic Boutique’s first draft in 90 days, but the planning took longer. I am nearly finished writing another book now, and I started it at Christmas, so I am focusing on writing more over the next two years. I would like to finish two books in one year, but that requires a lot of time at my desk, away from my family, so we shall see. 

4. What did you discover about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

How lonely it is! I stopped teaching in January in order to write more and concentrate on my family, but I do miss going to work and seeing people. I have to drag myself outdoors from time to time to interact with humans other than the ones I live with!

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?  

I like to go to the gym, go on trips with my family, spend time at home reading and hanging out with my kids. I am a home bird really, so I like things chilled out. I do like to bake too, and stitch. 

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

First of all, my life would be short, because that would kill me! Secondly, I would chose my favourite book, Wuthering Heights. I read that book every year anyway, but I still take away something new from it each time. 

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer? 

As a romance writer, I get pigeon holed with labels like ‘mum author’ and have to defend my genre from silly articles and comments etc, so I would say that the question should be about women being put down for writing and indeed reading romance. My answer would be that we don’t do this for men. I have never heard James Patterson being pitched as a ‘dad author’ – they concentrate on his craft, and he has written romance, which was well received. I would never compare myself to Patterson of course, but I do think that the media need to shake up their assumptions. Romance is a multi million pound industry, so the people can’t all be wrong!

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About the book:

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“Winner of the Prima Flirty Fiction Competition

The perfect escape to the country…

Recently single and tired of the London rat race Amanda is determined to make her dreams of setting up an idyllic countryside boutique come true, and the picturesque village of West¬field is the perfect place to
make a fresh start.

Local vet Ben is the golden boy of West¬field, especially to resident gossip Agatha Mayweather, who is determined to help Ben get his life back together after his wife left.

When a chance encounter outside the ‘chic boutique’ sets sparks flying between Amanda and Ben, Agatha is itching to set them up. But are Amanda and Ben really ready for romance?

The Chic Boutique on Baker Street is the debut novel from Rachel Dove, winner of The Prima Flirty Fiction Competition. You won’t be able to resist this heart-warming romantic story set in an idyllic Yorkshire village, full of lovable characters and laugh-out-loud moments…as Amanda finds her way to a second chance at life and love. This is the reading escape you’ve been looking for!”

You can buy the book here.

 

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Writing about Strong Women in Exotic Locations by Annika Milisic-Stanley – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Annika Milisic-Stanley to the blog. Annika is the author of The Disobedient Wife, published by Cinnamon Press on 20 February 2016  and today she has written a great guest post discussing strong women in exotic locations.

Writing about ‘Strong Women in Exotic Locations’

The title of this piece sums up my first novel ‘The Disobedient Wife’ in five words.

My debut came out in November 2015, published by an innovative, independent press house (Cinnamon Press) after winning their First Book prize for 2014.  Prior to this I tried more traditional routes to publish, but while I received praise for my writing and plenty of encouragement from agents, my book had no ‘niche’.  It seemed no one wanted to read about strong women in exotic locations (aside from myself).  Judging from the reviews I received since, however, this assumption was clearly incorrect.  Mainstream readers do want to read about places they have not necessarily visited or even heard of before, and they do like reading about inspiring women.

As a writer, I found myself fascinated by Tajikistan, a newly founded Republic formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union (and after a 5-year civil war).  I had lived there for around a year when I began to set down the stories that would become a novel.

Women hold the social fabric of life together in many households, especially with so many men away working as migrant labourers in Russia. At the same time, women are treated as second class citizens, with domestic violence and unofficial ‘second’ marriage so common as to be normal, even though this leaves women without legal rights and social assistance when widowed or forced to flee an abusive marriage. Unlike the U.K, divorced women lose custody of their children, seen as property of the husband’s family (unless his family decide they are too heavy an economic burden). In Tajikistan, the legal framework is only accessed by the elite; those with the money and education to pay lawyers and argue their case in court.

Tajikistan is also interesting because during Soviet times (until 1991, not that long ago), women were educated to secondary level and were not allowed to marry as minors.  Now, as the Tajiks search for their cultural identity and cast off everything associated with the Communism of the colonial occupiers, more and more girls are taken out of school and married off by the age of twelve.  Cultural tradition (led by a conservative interpretation of religion) is starting to dominate and shape women’s lives.

Despite these problems, Tajik women struck me as strong; working to feed, clothe and comfort children as single parents while waiting anxiously for husbands to return home (a third never return and many divorce their wives by phone from Russia).  Inspired, I wrote a fictional tale of an optimistic, resilient woman who manages to overcome all the obstacles thrown in her path.  Nargis was born, an single mother and entrepreneur who works for a foreign family as a nanny and starts her own business. Unbeknownst to her, her ex will return to wreak havoc in her life. I dedicated this novel to Tajik women.

At the same time, expatriate women dig deep into their inner strength to manage the quirks and trials of life overseas. They are also ‘strong women in exotic locations’. In Tajikistan, I stayed at home with a small baby like the British character Harriet in the book, and I spent much of my day with women like her friends, though this is where our similarities end. Previously, I had worked and so I found this new lifestyle an eye-opener. Some foreigners sat about complaining, wasting their agency to do something meaningful, but others managed to force change, assisting individuals or organisations. At the start of the novel, Harriet is quietly desperate, feeling that she makes no difference to anyone and that her skills are worthless and unwanted. Inspired by Nargis, Harriet blossoms and grows, refusing to accept her lousy marriage. It is true that expatriate partners must be strong, especially those who are holding families together in order to move to new, lonely, culturally different countries with partners. I would include military families here, and families where the men travel full time, leaving women in charge (and more rarely, house husbands).

I have just completed my next novel, ‘The Girl With the White Suitcase’, a story set in Rwanda, Kenya, Italy, France and the UK. Again, it is about a resilient woman. She comes of age, starting the story as an arrogant, sheltered teenager. Forced to escape her country, she becomes an unaccompanied minor refugee in Kenya, prevailing against the odds with only her education, intelligence and instinct for survival. Like Nargis, she is a feisty character and one that I hope will grab the reader’s hearts right to the last page.

Many of my favourite authors carved this path, including Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (the strong sisters in One Half of a Yellow Sun), as well as many others.  I still believe that readers want to read about Strong Women in Exotic Locations and hope to prove it with another well received book.

Thanks for reading!

Annika Milisic-Stanley

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About the book:

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“This book is the first modern-day novel in English describing Tajikistan as it is today. It is a beautiful country, rich with agriculture and tourism potential, but has also become an increasingly harsh place for women with the degradation of their rights and an increase in dogmatism, chauvinism and orthodoxy in poor households, justified in the name of culture. It has a regime run by despotic warlords and is marred by the drugs trade, a murky underworld that co-exists with ordinary life. In 2008, there were a series of small explosions in Dushanbe. No one claimed responsibility. There are ten banned opposition parties in Tajikistan. Many of them are multi-national and would like to see Central Asia become an Islamic ‘superstate’. Religious minorities are not allowed to register new places of worship and all mosques and churches are required to be registered. Proselytising and missionary activity was officially banned in 2008. Dedicated to the women of Tajikistan, The Disobedient Wife intertwines the narratives of Harriet Simenon, whose journal portrays a darker interior world than that of the rich wife of the powerful Henri Simenon, and Nargis, her local nanny and maid, struggling with poverty, yet with a strength that Harriet comes to admire as her own life unravels. Rich with sense of place and deeply humane, Milisic-Stanley brings the acute observation of an artist and social anthropologist to bear on this moving and compelling story of how two women survive and thrive in difficult circumstances.” (synopsis from Amazon)

 

facebook: www.facebook.com/MilisicStanley

amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Disobedient-Wife-Annika-Milisic-Stanley/dp/1909077828/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472833315&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Disobedient+Wife

goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26256488-the-disobedient-wife?ac=1&from_search=true

twitter: @MilisicStanley

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The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn – review

Published by Orenda Books

Publication date – 30 September 2016

Source – review copy

Translated by Rosie Hedger

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Two people in exile. Two secrets. As the past tightens its grip, there may be no escape…

TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough…

Haunting, consuming and powerful, The Bird Tribunal is a taut, exquisitely written psychological thriller that builds to a shocking, dramatic crescendo that will leave you breathless.”

My thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book.

Orenda Books have the knack of publishing challenging, diverse literature from authors dotted around the world. Their latest offering, The Bird Tribunal by Norwegian author Agnes Ravatn, is a perfect example of Orenda’s diverse portfolio.

Allis Hagtorn has accepted a job as housekeeper and gardener for Sigurd Bagge. Surprised to find Bagge isn’t the old man she had expected, but a taciturn man only a few years her senior. Allis spends her days tidying the garden, keeping out of Bagge’s way, and trying to forget the humiliating events that led to her self-imposed exile. But slowly things begin to change and as Allis and Bagge’s relationship alters and develops it becomes apparent that Allis may not be the only one with something to hide…

I have to admit I initially struggled with this novel. I couldn’t engage with Allis. She had a self-centred attitude that meant I could feel little sympathy for her situation. She tackled events in a manner that seemed to invite worry and stress, inventing problems that perhaps weren’t there. This impression continued throughout the book but I became used to her complex and unconventional persona. Bagge on the other hand was a character that was easier to understand. His initial demeanour was a rude standoffishness that was what was probably expected from someone living alone. His actions as the book progressed didn’t appear to me as threatening or potentially violent, it was more that they began to seem that way as projected by Allis’ fears and neuroses. This perhaps was Agnes Ravatn’s aim, having an unreliable narrator such as Allis allows the reader to feel unsure as to exactly what is happening, uneasy at dismissing Allis’s fears but also on edge, just in case they are true.

There is a claustrophobic feel to this story, ironically perhaps given that the tale centres on two characters sharing a house surrounded by an expanse of forest and fjord. This atmosphere is lent by the fact there are so few characters, Allis and Bagge are the main protagonists, with the only other two people that Allis interacts with barely appearing on the page. The disconcerting air is also propounded by the fact that speech is not differentiated with other descriptive narrative. There are no speech marks used throughout the novel. This gives the story a surreal quality, the reader is often unsure if something is said or thought, or indeed if some of the tale is not a figment of Allis’ imagination.

The second half of the novel develops at a faster pace, the story that unfolds is one that I had predicted but which is told with skill, with Agnes Ravatn showing a knack for creating a tense, chilling tale with often sparse prose, reflecting the isolation of the setting and the protagonists. There is an almost Hitchcock like suspense to the tale and I could easily imagine it as a black and white film, stark to highlight the beauty of the surroundings with the tense tale that unfolds.

A note on the translation. As is always the case with a good translation, the words read as if they were written directly by the author and not via the translator.

This is a short novel, less than 200 pages but it fits a lot into its small form. This is a tale of obsession, of madness and of the way the past has of coming back to haunt us. A challenging book but one I am pleased I read.

 

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Cath Staincliffe Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Cath Staincliffe to the blog. Cath is the author of the Scott and Bailey novels Dead to Me, Bleed Like Me and Ruthless, and the novels featuring DCI Janine Lewis including Blue Murder and Hit and Run and the Sal Kilkenny mysteries including Looking for Trouble and Bitter Blue. Her latest novel, The Silence Between Breaths was published by Constable on 22 September 2016.

Cath kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Silence Between Breaths.

It’s the story of a group of people taking the train from Manchester to London who are caught up in an extraordinary and terrifying event.

2. What inspired the story?

Like many of my books it’s a response to something that that frightens me. I wanted to look at the impact of terrorism. I’d also been thinking about setting a story in a closed environment – a boat or plane or train – and the two notions came together. 

3. In addition to writing novels you are also a radio playwright and created Blue Murder, the ITV series featuring Caroline Quentin. Do you approach each media in a different manner? What are the similarities to working on written, radio and TV works? 

The difference is that with TV every episode has to be outlined or storylined before you can begin writing a script, also it is very collaborative so lots of people have an input into shaping the story. And with both TV and radio you don’t have any inner monologues or passages of description in the writing, it’s all dialogue and action. 

The similarities between the different media is that in every case you need a coherent story with a satisfying structure and distinctive characters who each have their own voice.

4. Is there more pressure when writing novels featuring established characters, such as when you are writing a Scott and Bailey or DCI Janine Lewis story given they are already formed characters in many readers minds and did it alter how you wrote stories featuring them?

When I began work on the Scott and Bailey prequel (as a big fan of the series) I felt great pressure to do justice to the characters that were already so well loved onscreen. But once I’d shown the material to creator/writer Sally Wainwright and she gave me her blessing then I could relax and enjoy writing them. Sally and Di Taylor had done the hard work of creating the characters in the first place and Suranne Jones, Lesley Sharp (and Amelia Bullmore) had brought them to life so vividly, that it was a gift really, they were so clear in my head.

With Blue Murder, I’d created Janine on paper and then Caroline Quentin made the character her own. I loved what she did with it and that was who I imagined as I wrote new stories. So I wouldn’t say there was any more pressure.

5. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel? 

It takes about nine months until the manuscript goes off to my agent and editor for comments. My natural way of working is not to plan much, though I probably do more now than when I started out. I find I can only plan so far and then I have to write and see what fresh ideas emerge in the process. 

6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?  

I love to read, to garden, to go walking in the hills. And holidays when I can manage them – in hot, sunny, seaside places.

7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

That prospect fills me with despair. It would be awful. I rarely ever re-read books, I’m too busy reading all the new ones. How can I answer this? I suppose I’d pick something I’m not very familiar with, and something very, very long, maybe Shakespeare’s Collected Works?

8. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you have done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Q. What reactions from readers have pleased you the most?

A. When people say they’ve been moved to tears.

About the author:

Cath Staincliffe is an award winning novelist, radio playwright and creator of ITV’s hit series Blue Murder. Her books have been shortlisted for the CWA’s Best First Novel award and for the Dagger in the Library and she won the Short Story Dagger in 2012. In 2014 her novel Letters To My Daughter’s Killer was shortlisted for the ITV3 Crime Thriller Book Club. Cath is also the author of the Scott and Bailey novels based on the popular ITV series. She lives in Manchester with her family and is available for interview. For more see: http://www.cathstaincliffe.co.uk or follow on Twitter @CathStaincliffe

About the book:

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“‘It’s always exciting to see a writer get better and better’ – Val McDermid

‘Staincliffe brilliantly juxtaposes domestic detail with an increasingly desperate investigation into dreadful crime’ – Sunday Times

Passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston are bound for work, assignations, reunions, holidays or new starts, with no idea that their journey is about to be brutally curtailed.

Holly has just landed her dream job, which should make life a lot easier than it has been, and Jeff is heading for his first ever work interview after months of unemployment. They end up sitting next to each other. Onboard customer service assistant, Naz, dreams of better things as he collects rubbish from the passengers. And among the others travelling are Nick with his young family who are driving him crazy; pensioner Meg and her partner setting off on a walking holiday and facing an uncertain future; Caroline, run ragged by the competing demands of her stroppy teenage children and her demented mother; and Rhona, unhappy at work and desperate to get home to her small daughter. And in the middle of the carriage sits Saheel, carrying a deadly rucksack . . .”

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Tara Lyons Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Tara Lyons to the blog. Tara is the author of In the Shadows, which was published on 1 March 2016 and has co-authored Web of Deceit and The Caller with M.A. Comley.

Tara kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about In the Shadows.

It isn’t a strict police procedural book, but is full of criminal acts. It looks at the effect crime, death and grief can have on a collection of people. It introduces a murder investigation team working for the London Metropolitan Police who feature heavily in the next book. 

2. What inspired the book? 

After my grandfather passed away last year I was feeling quite low. I lost myself in a range of books – most of them crime and thrillers. Then my own characters started speaking to me and I decided to combine those two things together, and In the Shadows was born. 

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?  How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel? 

While writing In the Shadows it was more of a sit down and just let it flow, but I think that had a lot to do with the story being cooped up in my mind for so long, it was dying to get out. I began writing in the August of last year and it was sent to my editor in January 2016. However, when I co-authored Web of Deceit and The Caller with M.A. Comley, it was important that we planned, planned and planned some more. 

4. What did you discover about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

Just how long the writing process can take. In the past I’d written assignments and dissertations and articles for the magazine I worked on, so the writing and editing part I’m used to. However, these pieces of work were minuet in comparison and so took hardly any time at all to edit. The idea of releasing your work to the world is an exciting and nervous experience, but the latter feeling could have you re-writing and editing for a lifetime if you let it. 

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all? 

When I’m not writing I’m raising my energetic three-year-old son. As I type this it’s the summer holidays and I’m riddled with guilt for not writing enough, but our various days out are making me sleep at night. To relax, I read. I enjoy a variety of genres so always have something to enjoy with a cuppa and packet of chocolate peanuts. 

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

This is a really difficult question… But, as it’s a book I’ve read numerous times – and once got in trouble from a P.E teacher for reading it in my free time at school – I’ll have to say Romeo and Juliet. It has crime and romance, so it can’t be bad. 

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer? 

I’m sure I’ve been asked all the questions possible, but if I really think about it… I have never been asked: why do you write (not the certain genre you do, but in general)? And the answer would be because I love sharing stories. I don’t necessary mean the make-belief, sitting around a bonfire kind of stories – though those are fun and I’ve certainly done more of that in the last three years with my son. But because I love to find out what’s happening in ordinary people’s lives and share my experiences with them – be it an awful journey on the tube, an unexpected encounter with a stranger or something that was so funny your stomach hurt. The great thing about creating a novel is that you can make the characters come alive in different ways. You can take it one step further by making it dangerous and exciting and thrilling. That’s why I write. 

You can find out more about Tara here:

www.taralyonsauthor.blogspot.co.uk
About the book:
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“In the ShadowsDetective Inspector Denis Hamilton is tasked with apprehending a brutal murderer stalking the streets of London – and leaving not a shred of DNA evidence. As the suspect list mounts, his frustration and pressure from his superiors intensify.Grace Murphy, who is dealing with the recent loss of her beloved grandfather, falls deeper into despair when her friends’ bodies are discovered. Fearing she may be the killer’s next target, she begins to question if her horrifying nightmares are the key to unravelling the murderer’s identity.

How far would you go to uncover the truth? Would you venture into the shadows to unmask a killer?”

 

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F. J. Curlew – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome F.J.Curlow to the blog. Her novel, To Retribution was published on 10 September 2015.

She kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about To Retribution.

Thank you so much for inviting me on to your fabulous blog!

To Retribution is a thriller set in a potentially not too distant Britain. There has been a surge to the far right across Europe resulting in financial insecurity and political unrest. In Britain this has led to riots culminating in a military coup. The military is now in control. Tight control. Media is censored, movement restricted. There are re-education camps for trouble makers, repatriation camps for non-nationals. Jake, Brian and Suze, three idealistic young journalists, are used to hiding as they try to keep their online news channel open. They publish the truth about the repatriations, the corruption and the deceit. 

New Dawn, the feared security force, is closing in yet again. The trio run, yet again. This time, however, they are pursued with a relentlessness, a brutality which seems far too extreme for their ‘crimes.’ 

A trail of death is left in their wake as they try to escape New Dawn and find out what is really behind this hunt. They are drawn into a web of human trafficking, child abuse and murder. Only it’s closer than they think. Much closer. 

2.  What inspired the story?

It had its roots in a short story I wrote based around a character I had met many moons ago when hitch-hiking as a teenager. I was given a lift by a fascinating man who had turned his back on a life of privilege, packed some belongings into a Land Rover, some goats into a trailer and headed off to the wilds of the Scottish Highlands. I played about with him and placed him in an intimidating, slightly futuristic setting.  The resultant story (Catharticism) was well received and I decided to expand the idea into a novel. New characters appeared alongside a story which was inspired by current events, dodgy politicians, abuse of people and power, corruption et al! Whilst the setting is political the story is more about the strength of the individual, what we can achieve when we think all is lost, standing up for our rights and those of others, being true to ourselves.

3. You self-published To Retribution. What do you wish you had known about the self-publishing process before you published To Retribution?

Oh, goodness me…so much! If I could do it all over again I would research the ins and outs, publicity, blogging, but probably most importantly take my time. I was in a hurry due to serious health issues. There was a time when I didn’t know if I would be here long enough to see the book’s completion and I was desperate to leave something for my family. Of course, it was going to be picked up, made into a blockbuster and all would be well with the world. 

I didn’t know anything other than Amazon so I did it all through them. Neilsons, Ingram Spark, how to get my own ISBNs were all sitting in the dark recesses of the Internet completely unbeknown to me. 

I made some horrible mistakes in the formatting of the first edition, the cover was nasty, the page size wrong. It’s all good now, as am I🙂 When my second novel is ready it’ll be a very different process. I’ll do pre-release orders, book blog tours, cover reveals etc. 

4. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel? 

Planning just doesn’t work for me at all. I find it stifles my creativity. For me it is so much more fun to be on a journey with my characters, to be surprised by them and their actions. The story and the characters definitely lead me as opposed to me them. I can remember when I was a primary school teacher regularly arguing against the boxes of ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’ which the powers that be demanded the students use. Why? I appreciate it works for some but not others. I wouldn’t force it. It was an option but not a necessity in my class. Creativity? Little boxes? Really! Sorry. I’m going off on a rant here…

To Retribution took eighteen months and it looks like my second novel may well take longer.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all? 

I am fortunate enough to live in a very beautiful part of Scotland. Sitting on my doorstep are miles of coastal walks where I spend at least two hours a day with my dogs. Sadly they are both getting old and stiff and aren’t as keen as me any more! I’m the one who wants to do the walking. They prefer to potter around the beach sniffing, munching dead crabs and other such delicacies.

It is also where I do my best thinking. If a storyline isn’t working the answer usually pops up during my coastal musings, the spray of a wave, the screech of a flock of birds, the blue of the sea fading into the blue of the sky…okay, I live in Scotland so, granted, these times may be rare but when they do happen they are simply stunning! Even gray into gray can be breathtaking. I find the sea to be very uplifting for both soul and mind. I was chatting to a fellow dog walker about the sound of the waves crashing and clawing at the pebbles. ‘Aye,’ she said, ‘it’s like it cleans your mind, eh? Washes you.’ Indeed it is!

Other than that, I love football and going to concerts – the rockier the better. Yes, I’m that granny jumping around with the young things! And, of course, I read. I can pass it off as research🙂 How cool is that?

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

That is so very hard as my ‘favourite’ changes on a regular basis however, the one which has stood the test of time would be Ken Kessey’s, ‘Sometimes a Great Notion.’ It was responsible for the awakening of my love of literature and therefore holds a very special place.

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?  

Probably ‘What do you enjoy most about being a writer?’

Writing literally saved my life. Cancer had snatched at me. I had been left unable to do much at all due to the side effects of the treatment I had been given. It cured my cancer but left me a total wreck. I felt useless, redundant. I didn’t want to leave myself dwelling on what had happened to me. International school teacher traveling the world, learning so much, loving life. Bang! Stuck. No apparent way out. I really didn’t want that to be me. 

I am a strong believer in mind over matter, positivity over negativity. I had to do something. Writing was it. I studied at the Open University for two years and found a new way of life which I was good at. I became immersed in it, and still am. Every minute is filled with stories, characters, scenarios, refining snippets of dialogue. There is very little space for anything negative to sneak in and if it does I dismiss it, throw it away, submerge myself in my stories, my imaginings. It’s brilliant and I love it!

About the author:

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Fiona dropped out of school aged 15, because being the consummate rebel, she hated it! After becoming a single parent she decided to return to education, graduating in 1996 with an honours degree in primary education. Ah, the irony! As soon as she graduated she packed everything she owned into her Renault 11, including her daughter, two dogs and a cat, and headed off to Estonia to become an international school teacher. After fifteen years of teaching, predominantly in Eastern Europe, she returned to the UK to focus on her writing. She now lives on the east coast of Scotland with a rescued Ukrainian street mutt, a Scottish black lab and a Portuguese cat who doesn’t like the weather!

http://www.fjcurlew.com

https://www.facebook.com/FJCurlew

@fjcurlew

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/619821

http://amzn.to/1YlMDqy

About the book:

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“The military is in control. Tight control. Media is censored, movement restricted. There are re-education camps for trouble makers, repatriation camps for non-nationals. Jake, Brian and Suze, three idealistic young journalists, are used to hiding as they try to keep their online news channel open. They publish the truth about the repatriations, the corruption and the deceit.

New Dawn, the feared security force, is closing in yet again. The trio run, yet again. This time, however, they are pursued with a relentlessness, a brutality which seems far too extreme for their ‘crimes.’

A trail of death is left in their wake as they try to escape New Dawn and find out what is really behind this hunt. They are drawn into a web of human trafficking, child abuse and murder. Only it’s closer than they think. Much closer.

Who would you trust when there’s no going back?”

 

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How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry – Review

Published by Orion

Publication date – 22 September 2016

Source – review copy

isbn9781409161608-detail

“Nightingale Books, nestled on the high street in the idyllic Cotswold town of Peasebrook, is a dream come true for booklovers.

But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open. The temptation to sell up is proving enormous – but what about the promise she made to her father? Not to mention the loyalty she owes to her customers.
Sarah Basildon, owner of stately pile Peasebrook Manor, has used the book shop as an escape from all her problems in the past few years. But is there more to her visits than meets the eye?

Since messing up his marriage, Jackson asks Emilia for advice on books to read to the son he misses so much. But Jackson has a secret, and is not all he seems…

And there’s Thomasina, painfully shy, who runs a pop-up restaurant from her tiny cottage. She has a huge crush on a man she met and then lost in the cookery section, somewhere between Auguste Escoffier and Marco Pierre White. Can she find the courage to admit her true feelings?

How to Find Love in a Book Shop is the delightful story of Emilia’s fight to keep her book shop alive, the customers whose lives she has touched – and the books they all love.”

My thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book.

When her beloved father dies, Emilia Nightingale inherits Nightingale Books, a much loved bookshop, nestled in the Cotswold town of Peasebrook. There she makes new friends, unwittingly helping them with more than book choices. But when a situation arises that threatens the bookshop, can Emilia keep her promise to her dying father, and keep Nightingale Books open?

The thing I find about bookshops is how inviting they are. There is the anticipation of finding a new book to fall in love with, of new worlds to explore and often times the shop seems to radiate the comfort and warmth the books themselves can bring. Nightingale Books sounds like the ideal place to lose a few hours, wandering the shops and browsing the shelves, chatting to like-minded book lovers. Lots of people dream of owning their own book shop, I’m one of them, and to my minds eye, Nightingale Books is how I’d picture my bookshop.

The story itself is warm and comforting, easy to get wrapped up in. It’s the kind of book to curl up with on a rainy winter evening, or to read whilst lying in the sun. It is filled with a cast of characters that all add layers to the story. Emilia is a lovely character, depicted as kind, considerate and understandably conflicted by her desire to keep the bookshop and the struggle she finds herself in. Julius, Emilia’s father is also a wonderful character, depicted as he is in a few explanatory chapters and through the memory of the other characters. The bookshop itself is a character, and rightly so. It is the linchpin, where the inhabitants of Peasebrook meet, chat and discover new books, and perhaps new people, to fall in love with. There are some characters I would have liked to find out more about as there felt the potential to find out more about them for example Thomasina, the excruciatingly shy chef and Marlowe, the violinist, friend of Julius whose appearances seemed to just scratch the surface of his character.

There were parts of the story that could be considered predictable, the trial and tribulation that would lead to the conclusion but I found comfort in those, enjoying the journey the story took me on. The story was told with the right pace, with a variety of different characters to provide entertainment and lots of separate story strands that were brought together by the bookshop.

This book exudes the sentiments of a good bookshop I mentioned above, it is warm, inviting and fun. It is a story about love, literature and the celebration of stories and what’s not to love about that?

This is the first book by Veronica Henry I have read but I shall certainly be reading more from her in the future.

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Bluemoose Books – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Bluemoose Books to the blog. Bluemoose are an independent publishing company based in Yorkshire. September sees the 10th anniversary of the start of the company so I invited Kevin Duffy, the head of Bluemoose onto the blog to answer a few questions.

1. Tell us a little about Bluemoose Books. Where did the name of the company come from?

Bluemoose Books is an independent publisher based in Hebden Bridge – We started publishing in September 2006 so, it’s our 10th birthday. We publish literary fiction and our authors have won national literary prizes, been short listed for national and international literary prizes. Bluemoose books have been translated into Russian, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Turkish and sold in 52 countries. We’ve sold TV and Film rights to Hollywood and our books regularly get reviewed in the national press.

 I won a national writing competition and was whisked down to London by a Sunday newspaper to be wined and dined at The Ivy with the editorial director of Macmillan and an agent from Curtis Brown. It didn’t go well. 

A year later I read in THE BOOKSELLER that all the big money advances were going to Irish writers so I changed my name to Colm O’Driscoll and sent the first three chapters off to Darley Anderson, Lee Child and Martina Cole’s agent. He tried to get hold of me by phone but of course I didn’t exist, so he wrote a letter. I contacted him but I had to be Irish for a year. I even had to tell my boys that if a posh man from London rings and asks for Colm, that’s me. The things you’ll do to get published. He loved my book and so I signed up to Darley Andersons but they couldn’t sell ANTHILLS and STARS. Nobody was buying comedic fiction. After 12 months I got the book back and moped and moped some more. Hetha, my wife told me to do something about it, so we re-mortgaged the house, started Bluemoose Books, published my novel and a book by a Canadian writer,  Nathan Vanek, called The Bridge Between. We made enough money from these two books to continue and here we are, 10 years later still publishing.

There is a pub called The Blue Pig in Hardcastle Craggs that I go past whilst walking our dog, Eric.  I was reading a book about the history of soul music called Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick and there was a great Sax player called Bull Moose Johnson, and whilst walking past the pub, the name Bluemoose fell out of my head, so Bluemoose Books came into being.

2. Bluemoose is based in Yorkshire. Do you find that there are any benefits or downsides to working outside of London?

I love the fact that I don’t have to be a part of the champagne and peanut trail and lurk in the corners at literary salons in Highgate whilst pretending to read the latest poetry collection from some wunderkind from Madagascar.  I remember being at a swanky literary doo in Holland Park. A lady sidled up to me. She was festooned in pearls and silks and wore a turban. ‘What do you do?’ She said. ‘I’m the sales representative for central London.’ I replied. She took a step back, raised her nose and said.’ You mean you’re not creative!’ And walked off. I followed her and said. ‘If it wasn’t for people like me selling your author’s books, you wouldn’t be able to afford that turban on your head.’ I left shortly afterwards. 

The benefits are that I don’t have to meet these folk anymore and we’re not worried about following trends and what ‘they’ think will work. We can concentrate on what we love, finding great new writers and stories without worrying about all the flummery and white noise that can be a distraction. There are downsides regarding the national press, who are all in London. They still say ridiculous things like, ‘But Kevin you’re not a London publisher.’ Which, I think says more about them. Geography and post codes should not dictate if a story is good or not.

3. How hard is it establishing a foothold in the publishing market as an independent publisher?

It was very difficult in the beginning  to get any traction or coverage. Without the brilliant library services we had 10 years ago and wonderful bookshops, we wouldn’t have survived but since we have won some major literary awards, keep getting short listed for literary prizes and selling books abroad, they have had to take notice. 

At one time you could see the manager of your local Waterstones and sell books that way but now it is all done from head office in London, and that can have its difficulties. But if you produce great new stories that engage and inspire, readers find your books and especially now through social media, traditional media is playing catch up and asking to review books we’ve published months ago.  

4. Do you find that your books sell mainly in the UK or do you get enquires from further afield?

Our books are now sold in 52 countries. The latest being Kazakhstan, Iceland and Greenland. Our digital books are sold via Faber and Faber, and they do a brilliant job. It also means we can sign up to online promotions through Amazon, Kobo, and Apple.

5. One of your latest titles, The Less than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote by Dan Micklethwaite has been shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. What affect has this had on interest in the book and what does it mean to be short-listed?

It gives Dan’s story a national platform and people can also see what other titles we have. Dan’s sales have been absolutely brilliant since the short listing and we have had 3 French publishers and 1 Italian publisher asking to read with a view to buying the translation rights for their territories.

6. How many new titles do you publish a year and what do you look for when selecting a title to publish?

We publish 3 to 4 books a year. This year has been an exception and we’ve published 6. For me publishing is very simple. You simple fall in love with a story, the characters in that story and how they react to situations that are thrown at them. They have to be beautifully written too. We are very democratic, so if all four of us think there is something in a book, we publish and as we all have varying reading tastes it means, hopefully,  that readers will to.

7. Many of your books have a strong connection to the North, and Yorkshire in particular. Do you think that geography has an influence on creativity?

I think we are all shaped by our landscapes. With me it is the landscape of the industrial revolution and what that has meant since the demise of the mills. It engenders a sense of survival and self-reliance on yourself and community with a disregard for those in the metropolis who wrongly think they dictate both culturally and creatively what happens. We just get on and do what we want to do and London and the rest of the country usually catch up in the end.

8. People may be curious to find out more about your submissions criteria. What would be the best way for someone to submit their manuscripts?

If they send the first 3 chapters and synopsis to kevin@bluemoosebooks.com I’ll have a look at their work. We usually say it will be 12 weeks before we get back to them but it can take longer.

9. Do you have any tips for those wanting to be published?

Write every day, even if it’s only for ten minutes and read, read, read.

10. What are the best things about publishing, and the worst?

The best thing is seeing a manuscript you read a couple of years back finally sitting on a bookshelf as a proper book and receiving great comments from readers who’ve loved it. The worst – trying to convince bank managers that numbers, Venn diagrams and graphs don’t create great stories.

bluemoose-books

You can find out more about Bluemoose Books and their titles on their website.

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The Constant Soldier by William Ryan – review

Published by Mantle

Publication date – 25 August 2016

Source – Netgalley review copy

9781447255017the%20constant%20soldier

 

The pain woke him up. He was grateful for it. The train had stopped and somewhere, up above them, the drone of aircraft engines filled the night sky. He could almost remember her smile . . . It must be the morphine . . . He had managed not to think about her for months now.

1944. Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army, returns wounded and ashamed from the bloody chaos of the Eastern front to find his village home much changed and existing in the dark shadow of an SS rest hut – a luxurious retreat for those who manage the concentration camps, run with the help of a small group of female prisoners who – against all odds – have so far survived the war.

When, by chance, Brandt glimpses one of these prisoners, he realizes that he must find a way to access the hut. For inside is the woman to whom his fate has been tied since their arrest five years before, and now he must do all he can to protect her.

But as the Russian offensive moves ever closer, the days of this rest hut and its SS inhabitants are numbered. And while hope – for Brandt and the female prisoners – grows tantalizingly close, the danger too is now greater than ever.

And, in a forest to the east, a young female Soviet tank driver awaits her orders to advance . . .”

My thanks to the publisher for my review copy of this book.

Paul Brandt is returning to his home town, horribly injured whilst fighting the Allies on the front in the East. As he returns home, passing the SS Rest Hut he sees one of the women prisoners. Shocked he realises it is the woman he fell in love with, whilst part of a political resistance movement years earlier. Already haunted by his role in her arrest, and by the guilt of his actions whilst in combat, Paul vows to find a way to help the woman prisoner.

We read war novels with the benefit of hindsight. Although the horrors are known, and the outcome, it adds tension to the narrative, rather than detract from it. The reader knows how the war ends, they know of the atrocities inflicted and its this knowledge that makes the story all the more moving and impacting. I rarely read war novels yet I had heard numerous reviews declaring this book a wonderful read so I had to find out for myself.

It was fascinating to read a novel portraying the war from the German point of view. It is obvious when thought is given that not all of those fighting for Germany would have done so willingly, or would have agreed with the Nazi propaganda. There would have been civilians who were against the war, who were unaware for a long time of the atrocities that were occurring, and that who would have felt powerless to do anything once the extent of the terrible actions that Hitler was inflicting were revealed.  This novel delves into that, exploring the feelings and actions of those living in the shadows of the concentration camps, in a land that was annexed by Germany. William Ryan sensitively and beautifully portrays a country on the brink, coming to terms with the fact that everyone will be impacted by the punishment due to be inflicted by the Allies.

Paul Brandt is the constant soldier in many ways. His injuries are a constant reminder of his time served on the front. His memories constantly haunt him of those he killed whilst under orders. On his return home he finds that he is still fighting, though this time the enemy is different and his fight is a hidden one.

William Ryan has the magical ability to make the reader feel something close to sympathy for some of those characters who deserve none. Nuemann, haunted by his actions in the war, is one such character. His actions at the SS Hut are not enough to garner sympathy, but there is something that moves the reader to hear of his actions, and regrets. There are others whom the reader will feel deserve any punishment that should come their way, disconcertingly so as it is uncomfortable to realise you are wishing for violence to be meted out on someone, albeit a fictional character. Characterisation is strong throughout this novel, from the Partisans who are fleeting, to Commandants of the SS. Paul himself is a complex character. Instinctively he is likeable, driven as he is by his need to atone. His guilt haunts him, yet it is the guilt of a man who was fighting a war he didn’t believe in. It is a guilt by association. It is also what drives him, gives him hope in someway. The rescue of the women prisoners is Paul’s way to seeking forgiveness, from them and from himself.

I rarely read war novels yet I had heard numerous reviews declaring this book a wonderful read so I had to find out for myself. All the plaudits are well deserved. If you miss out on reading this you’ll miss an absorbing, powerful, poetic and emotive novel.

Beautifully written, emotive and moving, this is a wonderfully told story of war, love and redemption. I will be seeking out the other novels by William Ryan, and soon.

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