Kate Furnivall – Q&A

 

Today I’m pleased to welcome Kate Furnivall, whose books include The Russian Concubine. Kate is here to discuss her latest novel; The Italian Wife, published by Sphere on 7 May 2015.

Hi, it’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Tell us a little about THE ITALIAN WIFE.

THE ITALIAN WIFE is about creating something new and strong out of something that has been damaged. The book opens with Isabella Berotti being shot by an unknown marksman in a Milan marketplace in 1932, and dying. Her father, a doctor, resuscitates her and she survives, but at a cost. She is damaged. She limps. She is frightened to trust people. She becomes an architect, as if she can build herself a new and better life.

     At the same time Mussolini is constructing five new towns on the drained Pontine Marshes in order to show Italians a better way to live. But he enforces it with a brutal Fascist regime, and when Isabella is swept into caring for an abandoned child, she comes into conflict with the state’s power and corruption.

     She meets and falls in love with photographer Roberto Falco, but can she trust him? Can she trust anyone? Betrayal, courage and hidden secrets make this a complex and passionate tale.

Where did the inspiration come from for the book?

The inspiration came from Italy itself. I was beguiled by the story of the extraordinary undertaking of Mussolini draining the mosquito-infested swamps of the Pontine Marshes. It was a breathtaking feat and it attracted attention from all over the world in the 1930s. But I couldn’t help wondering what it must have

been like for those hundreds of families who were uprooted from the north and transplanted as farmers on to the black barren land of the Pontine Plain.

     It sparked something in me. The enticing concept of starting afresh with a blank page intrigues us all – and that’s what both Isabella and Mussolini were doing. But it was never going to be easy, was it? It turned out to bring a torrent of problems with it and an outcome that no one expected.

What is the best and worst thing about being a writer?

The best thing? There are lots of ‘best things’ about being a writer. Publication day, the champers, the generous comradeship of other writers, the ability to hang out in my PJs all day, finding a good title, writing The End, and the pleasure of knowing when your words have touched someone’s heart. Just last weekend at my book signing someone said to me, “Your book got me through my operation in hospital”. Wonderful to hear. But best of the best is when I look up from my pad or screen and realise that hours have passed without my being aware of it. The joy when the words flow is right up there with man walking on the moon!

     The worst thing? Deadlines. They are my worst nightmare. I am in a race against the ever-ticking clock. Aaargh!

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?

Oh yes, my aim is to be a plan, plan writer. Notice I say “my aim” is to be one. That’s what I’d love – to have everything worked out beforehand and then just canter through the scenes with everything falling into place with ease. I wish!

     No, I start out with no more than a bare-bones skeleton of a story and a general, though worryingly vague, idea of how it will unfold. I make sure I know the ending before I start, so that at least I know where I’m heading, even if I am flummoxed about how to get there. Characters can become obstinate and back themselves into all sorts of weird situations from which I have to extract them, muttering under my breath. The actual writing of a novel takes me about ten months from start to finish – I begin slowly and only really speed up when I can smell the Deadline flames coming close. That’s when my brain kicks into panic mode and the words start to fly out. Next time, I’ll plan … for sure!

What do you do when you’re not writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I sleep. When I’m writing, my mind insists on spending much of the night wrestling the next scene to the ground, so by the end of a book I could easily be mistaken for a zombie – and often am!  I like to walk. Lonely empty places. On Dartmoor, on deserted beaches and windblown clifftops. While I’m writing I can hardly bear to watch television, but when a book is finished I can laze for hours in front of old black & white films on a rainy afternoon. Or a quick game of tennis and, oh yes, a night out with mates too, that’s good for numbing the pain!

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

I can’t imagine life without LOADS of books. But if you twist my arm really hard, I’ll choose two: Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone With The Wind’ for the pure escapist delight of travelling through life with Scarlett O’Hara at my side. And

secondly the wonderful ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ for its exquisite beauty and its complex layers of thought.

I like to end my Q&As 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?

That’s interesting. I think the question I would like to consider is this :- Does inspiration run out eventually for an author?

     This is a subject little talked about. Too scary. Something authors don’t like to think about – like alzheimers or a brain-freeze in the middle of a speech. Will there come a day when I have nothing to say? Will I burn out?

If I am being strictly honest – which I try to avoid when it comes to this question – I think the answer is yes. Authors do burn out. We all know novelists who have produced a heap of great books and then have petered out. Lost the plot, so to speak. And this is one of the joys in moving my stories from country to country, because every book brings with it an exciting new place and new moment of history for me to explore. A whole different world comes to inspire me. THE ITALIAN WIFE is my first book set in Italy and I hope my love for that country burns bright in it.

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.

About the book

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The breathtaking new historical novel from Kate Furnivall — set in 1930s Italy, before the dawn of the Second World War

Italy, 1932 — Mussolini’s Italy is growing from strength to strength, but at what cost?

One bright autumn morning, architect Isabella Berotti sits at a café in the vibrant centre of Bellina, when a woman she’s never met asks her to watch her ten-year-old daughter, just for a moment. Reluctantly, Isabella agrees — and then watches in horror as the woman climbs to the top of the town’s clock tower and steps over the edge.

This tragic encounter draws vivid memories to the surface, forcing Isabella to probe deeper into the secrets of her own past as she tries to protect the young girl from the authorities. Together with charismatic photographer Roberto Falco, Isabella is about to discover that secrets run deeper, and are more dangerous, than either of them could have possibly imagined . . .

From the glittering marble piazzas to the picturesque hillside villages and winding streets of Rome, Kate Furnivall’s epic new novel will take you on an breathtaking journey of intrigue, romance and betrayal.

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Tammany Hall: the Labor and the Irish in 19th Century America by Lyndsay Faye – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Lyndsay Faye to the blog. Lynsey’s latest book featuring detective Timothy Wilde, The Fatal Flame, published by Headline on 12 May 2015.

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Tammany Hall: the Labor and the Irish in 19th Century America

During the 2012 Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney presidential election, the writers at Saturday Night Live were as usual busily making political candidates look about as sensible as carrying water with a sieve.  Economics play a major part of any campaign in any country, but since the 2008 financial collapse, Americans have been particularly fraught about jobs, whipping up the sort of enthusiasm over employment we once devoted to crispy processed snack products (preferably with something to dip them into, doesn’t matter what) and local baseball teams.  During a sketch I found memorable, actor Jason Sudeikis as Republican candidate Mitt Romney is seen in the shower, soaping up and singing himself a happy morning ditty:

Oh, poor people hate havin’ jobs!

Poor people hate havin’ jobs…

The only thing poor people hate worse than condoms

Is getting up and goin’ to a job!

The reason this made for such scathing satire apart from the obvious is that the rah-rah attitude Americans devote to our country makes it difficult for some to believe you could possibly fail to find a job supposing you want one.  We make cars (used to make cars) and make electronics (used to make electronics) and have the best scientists (used to have great scientists)!  How could you possibly not have a job if you want one, really want one?  (It took my younger brother, who has his master’s degree, years to get a job following grad school that wasn’t personal training in a fluorescent-lit gym).  In reality, jobs and politics have always been closely aligned in American history, and in no case was that truer than for Tammany Hall in the nineteenth century.

The Irish Potato Famine was a tragedy on a massive and heartbreaking scale.  Countless starved to death in their homeland, and countless more were permanently displaced.  One can picture the fields of moldering potatoes, the terrible plight of the destitute, even the teeming ragged harrowed hopeful thousands who poured into New York City seeking salvation in the form of edible food.

But what did they do once they arrived?  And where were the jobs for so many desperate refugees?  Many, of course, chose to travel to the interior of America if they could afford to—but if they remained behind in New York, odds are almost certain that they in some fashion fell in with Tammany Hall.  

Think of American political parties as businesses (you wouldn’t be far off).  They advertise, they pay close attention to public relations, and they hone their products (in this case, their political messages) to try to attract consumers (voters).  They even conduct polls and study demographics to achieve these goals, and religiously.  In order to run a business, you need investors and capital, yes?  For the Democratic Party in the nineteenth century, that’s where Tammany Hall came in—and they recognized, as their political rivals the Whigs did not, that thousands of Irish refuges meant thousands of Irish voters.

Tammany Hall was not synonymous with the Democratic Party, but it may as well have been, in the same way spending your money at Banana Republic and at The Gap benefits the same group of people no matter the exact fit of the polo shirt.  Tammany Hall’s modus operandi was somewhere between a rough and ready club of drunk scrappers and fundraising committee massive enough to attract money like a particularly eager black hole.  It was not the first organized political engine by far, but it was certainly the most effective of its time, and by the mid-nineteenth century, Tammany was beloved by thousands of Irish who could turn to no one else.  Tammany planned it that way—they knew that gratitude would translate into support at the polls.

Though it would be true to say some of Tammany’s methods of enforcing their opinions were outrageous (read: brickbats, brass knuckles, and Daniel Day Lewis’s truly magnificent moustache in Gangs of New York), they would never have become so entrenched if they were not providing their constituents with exactly what they wanted: jobs.  The streets of 1840s and 1850s Manhattan were choked with immigrants, orphans, widows, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations.  People lived in tenements ten to a cellar with sewage oozing through the walls, caught rats to roast, sewed piecework eighteen and twenty hours a day for pennies.  They lived life on the knife’s point, and any setback we might consider irksome but manageable—an illness, a bout with food poisoning, the necessity of finding new lodgings—could have been fatal.  Finding steady employment was the only slender guarantee of survival.

When their voters were in trouble, Tammany stepped up to assist before anyone had ever heard of social services, and before New England Protestant churches had caught on to the notion that you might not be devil-ridden simply because you were Catholic.  In a virulently anti-Catholic world, the Irish often found themselves shut out of New York culture, both socially and economically.  Unlike their rivals, the Whig Party, the Democrats welcomed the Irish—or more specifically, they welcomed their votes.  Tammany was the driving force behind extending the vote to propertyless white males in the 1820s (previously, land ownership was a requirement), and had already gained a reputation for rowdy egalitarianism.  When the Irish flooded into the city, where the “nativist” Whigs saw a problem, the Democrats saw a solution: only help people who need helping, and they will repay you with their undying loyalty.

Tammany was organized into “wards” or turfs, and the bosses of those wards served many purposes for their communities.  They found jobs for new arrivals, helped them locate housing, delivered heaping baskets of food at Christmas, even spoke words in the ear of Tammany-appointed judges when their voters ran into trouble.  It was about as corrupt as Vladimir Putin at a bunga bunga held by a Mexican drug cartel—but it was all the people had to fall back on, and decade after decade, the system kept successfully electing Democratic candidates.

Tammany was ruthless, unafraid of destroying ballot boxes, renting voters from nearby Philadelphia, or releasing convicts for a single day and buying their votes with free liquor (all historically accurate).  They later grew far too opulent for their own good and became forever associated with government skullduggery when William “Boss” Tweed was found by an aldermen’s committee to have stolen somewhere between 25 and 50 million dollars from New York taxpayers (and this was in 1877).  But before the soaring heights of infamy, before Tammany took New York in a stranglehold, they did understand one thing:

 Poor people don’t hate having jobs.

About the book:

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From the author of the highly acclaimed GODS OF GOTHAM and SEVEN FOR A SECRET comes another vivid historical novel featuring Timothy Wilde.

A scarred barman turned copper star, the birth of the NYPD, gangs, murder, brothels  and bedlam in the dark underworld of nineteenth-century New York.

Timothy Wilde – copper star, tough with a warm heart, learning his craft as a detective.

Valentine Wilde – Timothy’s gregarious, glamorous, depraved rogue of a brother.

Mercy Underhill – The intelligent, creative but unstable love of Timothy’s life.

Silkie Marsh – The beautiful brothel owner whose scheming knows no bounds.

Against the gritty backdrop of the notorious Five Points in 1848, Timothy Wilde is drawn yet again into a disturbing mystery, leading him to the heart of the Bowery girls, the original ‘factory girls’ in downtown Manhattan.

Someone is starting fires on the streets of New York and Timothy has to unravel a knot of revenge, murder and blackmail if he’s to find out who is behind it all and stop them before the whole city goes up in flames…

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Disclaimer by Renee Knight – Review

Published by Doubleday

Publication date: 9 April 2015

Source – Net Galley copy

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“What if you realized the book you were reading was all about you?

‘DISCLAIMER stealthily steals your attention and by the end holds you prisoner – a searing story that resonates long after the final page. The best thriller I’ve read this year’
Rosamund Lupton, bestselling author of Sister

When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up in bed and begins to read.

But as she turns the pages she is sickened to realize the story will reveal her darkest secret.

A secret she thought no one else knew…”

3 of 5 stars

Everyone has read the disclaimer, the bit at the front of the book that states the book is a work of fiction and resemblances to people is coincidental. But what happens if a book turns up in your house and this disclaimer is crossed out? What happens if you read it and begin to realise it is about you? This is what happens to Catherine who is horrified to realise someone has written about a secret from her past, one which she has kept for 20 years and one which could ruin her life.

I loved the premise of this story. The idea that a book, something many turn to for entertainment, relief, escapism or guidance is used to the opposite effect, as a malicious tool to ruin someone. The story alternates between Catherine and Stephen. Stephen is a former teacher, still mourning the death of his wife. As the book develops we learn more of the history of Catherine and how she and Stephen are linked.

It is however a story that can easily be given away in a review, as everything is so tightly woven together giving the merest hint of what happens after Catherine begins to read the book could spoil the story. With that said therefore my review will be one of brevity.

As the characters developed I found myself disliking each one more and more, though by the conclusion my thoughts on Catherine had changed somewhat. Some are malevolent, others allow anger to cloud their judgement. I did find it difficult to care about any of them and this at times led me to find my interest wane. In other parts however I found myself eager to read more to find out what had happened.

This is a highly original concept for a psychological thriller and Renee Knight has managed to create a likely best seller with her first published novel. She has created characters you will have strong feelings for and a story that will keep you wanting to read until the end, even me, despite the issues I had with it.

If the premise intrigues you give it a go. And remember to read the disclaimer on the books you read from now on. Just in case.

 

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Death in the Rainy Season by Anna Jaquiery – Review

Published by Mantle

Publication date: 9 April 2015

Source: review copy

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“Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the rainy season. When a French man, Hugo Quercy, is found brutally murdered, Commandant Serge Morel finds his holiday drawn to an abrupt halt. Quercy – dynamic, well-connected – was the magnetic head of a humanitarian organisation which looked after the area’s neglected youth.

Opening his investigation, the Parisian detective soon finds himself buried in one of his most challenging cases yet. Morel must navigate this complex and politically sensitive crime in a country with few forensic resources, and armed with little more than a series of perplexing questions: what was Quercy doing in a hotel room under a false name? What is the significance of his recent investigations into land grabs in the area? And who could have broken into his home the night of the murder?

Becoming increasingly drawn into Quercy’s circle of family and friends – his adoring widow, his devoted friends and bereft colleagues – Commandant Morel will soon discover that in this lush land of great beauty and immense darkness, nothing is quite as it seems . . .

A deeply atmospheric crime novel that bristles with truth and deception, secrets and lies: Death in the Rainy Season is a compelling mystery that unravels an exquisitely wrought human tragedy.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and this is my honest review.

Commandant Serge Morel, usually entrenched in Paris, finds himself torn away from his holiday in Cambodia. Travelling to Phnom Penh on the orders of his boss, Morel finds himself investigating the murder of a French citizen. With pressure from on high and little assistance from the local police, Morel soon finds himself caught up in a mystery he may not be able to solve.

This is the second novel to feature Serge Morel, following on from Anna Jaquiery’s debut The Lying Down Room. This time we see Morel away from his team in Paris, the team who rounded out the story and made it a great ensemble piece. However, don’t think that I enjoyed this book any less because Morel was flying solo on this investigation. In fact there are enough appearances of colleagues to keep them fresh in the reader’s memory I loved this book as much as the first.

I soon found myself transported to Cambodia. I could easily imagine Morel walking round the streets, sweltering in the humidity and hiding away from the monsoon rains.

Anna Jaquiery’s writing draws you in. It has the ability to wrap you up in the story, drowning out the real world. This isn’t an easy task but is carried out with aplomb.

Death in the Rainy Season provides the reader with the opportunity to get to know Morel even more, rounding out his character to a greater degree. We find out more about his family, this time focussing more on his deceased mother, who was from Cambodia. It was good to see more of Morel on his own, developing his character away from home but also somewhere he is linked.

The mystery is engaging. Morel is baffled as to why the dead man was murdered in a hotel room under a different name and has to deal with both suspects and the police holding back information. There were enough red herrings to keep me guessing until very near the dénouement and I enjoyed piecing together the mystery.

Anna Jaquiery has joined the ranks of the authors whose books I eagerly await. Morel is well on his way of becoming a favourite detective and I am impatiently waiting for his next investigation.

 

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Deborah Install – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Deborah Install, who’s debut novel, The Robot in the Garden is out now.

Deborah kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Robot in the Garden.

Stagnant Ben and high-flying Amy are a couple whose relationship is on a downward spiral. When they find a battered and broken robot in their back garden, Ben’s interest in it is the last straw for Amy and she leaves. With no ties to home, Ben decides to find out where the Tang the robot came from and attempt to get him fixed. Through his friendship with Tang, Ben begins to rebuild his life, and Tang begins to find his place in the world.

2. What inspired the idea of Tang and his story?

Hehe, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of answering this question – it always raises eyebrows! Shortly after our son was born (he’s now 2 and a half), my husband was talking one night about the ‘acrid tang’ of newborn nappies. I said that sounded like a robot from East Asia. I have no idea why! Overnight I kept waking up thinking about the robot, and in the morning I knew he’d travelled across the world and ended up in the garden of a chap called Ben, who had a wife called Amy, and whose arch enemy would be a sort of mad scientist character. I started writing. Tang moved from East Asia to the South Pacific, but the premise remained the same.

3. What has surprised you most about the publishing process?

That’s a great question. I think it’s probably my own feelings throughout that have been a surprise. It’s so much more of a rollercoaster than I imagined it would be – I have been lucky and had an awful lot of highs, but the lows that there have been were really horrible. Reading the first bad review, for example. You know it’s coming, but you can never really prepare yourself for it. I guess it’s because it’s been my ambition since I could hold a pen, almost literally, so it couldn’t mean more to me. Fortunately I’ve had incredible support, not least from bloggers like yourself. If you ever wonder whether you’re important to authors then be assured: you are.

4. Do you think your background in copywriting helped in developing your writing style? For example, I used to work as a writer and I learned to edit as I wrote. Did you pick up any tips or systems that helped in writing fiction?

It has helped, yes. Possibly not in style but in terms of practical things like deadlines. I’m used to having to knuckle down and produce something even if I’m not feeling especially creative, because as a copywriter you have no choice. So I’m better with a deadline than without, definitely! It taught me about writing as a business. Another way it’s helped is in understanding the audience, which is absolutely the golden rule of copywriting. Being able to understand the market helps enormously with both the writing process and in marketing a book, I think. And after all, if we’re not doing this to please, challenge and/or entertain readers, why are we doing it?

5. What is your writing process? Do you plan it all before you start or just sit and write? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I like to plan. I have to know the story arc and roughly speaking the character journeys otherwise I just don’t know where I’m going or why. It’s important to be able to be flexible when it comes to editing though – for example the ending of the book changed about five times from the one I’d planned out. I also like to write the section I feel like writing at the time – I don’t write a book from beginning to end, it just doesn’t work for me. So I end up with a collection of sections from throughout the novel, then I string them together.

6. What sort of books do you like to read? Who are the authors you turn to for when you are stuck in a book slump for example?

Ugh I hate a book slump, don’t you? I feel so guilty when I’m not enjoying a book, especially when there’re a few in a row like that. In answer to your question, though, I can always pick up an Alexander McCall Smith and a Nick Hornby and enjoy them, so they are a sort of a slump refuge. Can never go wrong with Jane Austen either – her writing always feels like a safe haven.

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?

One question I’ve not been asked is why, as a woman, do I choose to write with a male protagonist and from a male point of view. I’m told this is pretty unusual, so I’m just surprised no one’s asked it yet. That said, I’ll probably get it asked all the time now I’ve said that! The woolly answer is that it just feels right to me. I have a lot of male friends and some of my hobbies both past and present are perceived as traditionally male (watching rugby, RPG and video gaming, martial arts eg) so I think that’s why – I’m just around men a lot. The technical answer is that I think it helps me detached myself from the character – I worry that if I wrote as a woman then she would just be a version of me. Perhaps I am being too harsh on myself, but that’s the fear. Writing as a man helps me make sure that doesn’t happen.

Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions and for appearing on the blog.

You’re welcome, thanks for having me! Dx

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Setting the Scene – A guest post by Christobel Kent & Giveaway

I’m very excited to welcome Christobel Kent to the blog. Her latest book, The Crooked House is published in paperback today.  I read this late last year and loved it. You can read my review here.

Today I have a triple treat. Christobel talks about setting the scene for The Crooked House, in a departure from the norm, there’s an extract from the book and a chance to win a signed copy. Even I don’t have a signed copy. I may enter myself…

Setting the Scene

Having set all my previous novels in Italy, it was a risk to leave territory I’d camped out on for a long time, a place I love, where I’ve made friends and been happy, a place that has enriched me and taught me all sorts of things.  But, The Crooked House is set somewhere I also know very intimately, somewhere I spent some of the most significant years of my life – the grey edge of the island kingdom, the muddy estuaries north of the Thames, one of the most mysterious and secret parts of a crowded and busy country.  After my mother died and my father remarried – ominously quickly, within the year – we moved from a big house my parents, it turned out, couldn’t afford, to a Thames barge on the coast, a sailing coastal barge with big red sails, more than a hundred feet long.  Two warring adults and eight – count ‘em – children.  There were four of us and my stepmother – the standard issue wicked variety –  had four of her own.  It was a disaster, predictably enough, it was squalid and painful, it descended into a nasty variety of chaos that ended with separation, divorce, homelessness and mental illness: I don’t go back often.  My brother lives there still, after years of living on boats with his family they now have a happy house on the edge of a quiet little Essex village that sits on the edge of marshes. It’s a beautiful place, it’s my idea of the most English part of England because no foreigner knows it, its beauty is subtle and understated, an acquired taste like eels and samphire: it’s Eric Ravilious to Italy’s Titian.

But I don’t go back often, because there’s too much there, somehow.  Too much confused emotion, too much dark magic: it was one of the unhappiest and most marvellous times of my life.  So it has stayed in a little box, very precious, quite dangerous, a little box that if you opened it would release a smell of diesel and mud, tatters of posters from the bands I used to hitchhike to with my big brother, the echoes of the vicious rows of a family in total meltdown, sea-fog and a wide horizon: now seems about the right time to bring it out. A teenage girl, alone in her attic bedroom on the edge of marshes on the Essex coast one midsummer night, listens to sounds from the house below her, trying to make sense of them: the more she listens, the more ominous the sounds become. And when at last the dawn comes and she ventures downstairs, her life has changed forever.  Something terrible has come into the house: her family is destroyed, and she is the sole survivor and only witness to a massacre.

My publishers seem to think I’ve pulled it off, which is a relief.  Sometimes what I feel is better than relief, it’s more like euphoria.  Home is always home, and falling in love all over again with something you’ve spent a lifetime taking for granted – whether it’s your back garden or your husband or a grey forgotten landscape – feels like the essential next stage. 

Christobel Kent

 

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To celebrate the paperback publication, the publishers; Little, Brown, have kindly given me permission to share an extract of the book with you. So sit back and prepare to be drawn in to Esme’s world…

Thirteen Years Ago

When it starts again she is face down on her bed with her hands over her ears and she feels it more than hears it. A vibration through the mattress, through the flowered duvet, through the damp pillow she’s buried her face in. It comes up from below, through the house’s lower three storeys. BOOM. She feels it in her throat.

Wait, listen: one, two, three. BOOM.

Is this how it begins?

Leaning on the shelf over the desk, wooden letters spelling her name jitter against the wall. They were a present on her seventh birthday, jigsawn by Dad, E.S.M.E. The family’d just moved in, unloading their stuff outside this house they called the crooked house, she and Joe, as the sun went down over the dark marsh inland. Creek House to Crooked House, after the tilt to its roofline, its foundations unsteady in the mud, out on its own in the dusk. Mum was gigantic with the twins, a Zeppelin staggering inside with bags in each hand. We need more space now, is how they told her and Joe they were moving. It was seven years ago, seven plus seven. Now she’s fourteen, nearly. Fourteen next week.

Ah, go on, Gina had said. Just down it. Then, changing tack, You can give it me back, then.

Esme’s been back an hour. She isn’t even sure Joe saw her pass the sitting-room door, jammed back on the sofa and frowning under his headphones: since he hit sixteen he’s stopped looking anyone in the eye. The girls, a two-headed caterpillar in an old sleeping bag on the floor, wriggled back from in front of the TV, twisting to see her. Letty’s lolling head, the pirate gap between Mads’s front teeth as she grins up at her, knowing. She mouths something. Boyfriend. Esme turns her face away and stomps past.

Mum opening the kitchen door a crack, leaning back from the counter to see who it is. Frowning like she can’t place her, she gets like that a lot these days. What are you doing back? Esme doesn’t answer: she is taking the stairs three at a time, raging.

Outside the dark presses on the window, the squat power station stands on the horizon, the church out on the spit that looks no bigger than a shed from here, the village lights distant. Make all the noise you like out here, Dad’s always saying, no one can hear.

Hands over your ears and never tell.

On the bed she lies very still, willing it to go, to leave the house. Whatever it is.

Her hands were already over her ears, before it started. Why? The boom expands in her head and she can’t even remember now. All she knows is, she was standing at the window, now she’s on the bed.

She grapples with detail. She heard a car. There were voices below in the yard and, after, noises downstairs. Something scraping across the floor, a low voice muttering and she didn’t want to deal with it, with his questions; she flung herself down on the bed and the tears began to leak into the pillow. She would have put on her music but she didn’t want him to know she was back.

Now. A sound, a human sound, just barely: a wounded shout, a gasp, trying to climb to a scream that just stops, vanishes. And in the silence after it she hears breathing, heavy and ragged; up through three storeys and a closed door, it is as if the house is breathing. And Esme is off the bed, scrabbling for a place to hide.
BOOM.

On the marsh behind the house there are the remains of an old hut with a little rotted jetty. The tide is beginning to come up, gurgling in its channels, trickling across the mud that stretches inland, flooding the clumps of samphire and marsh grass and the buried timbers. Behind her the house stands crooked in the wind freshening off the estuary.

The lights of the police cars come slowly, bumping down the long track, an ambulance, the cab lit. It is three in the morning but the inky dark is already leaching to grey behind the church on the spit. One of the coldest June nights on record, and it takes them a while to find her. She doesn’t make a sound.

Want to read more? The Crooked House is available in bookshops now or can be bought from Amazon here.

* This extract is from a copyrighted work of fiction and has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. It must not be copied without permission

For a chance to win a signed copy simply leave a comment below by 9pm on 30 April 2015. (UK only I’m afraid. Neither I or the publishers take responsibility for the prize getting lost in the post.)

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Anna Jaquiery – Q&A

Today I pleased to welcome to the blog Anna Jaquiery, author of The Lying Down Room and Death in the Rainy Season, both featuring French detective Serge Morel. Death in the Rainy Season was published on 9 April 2015 by Mantle. Keep a look out next week for my review.

1. Tell us a little about Death in the Rainy Season.

The novel is set in present-day Cambodia. My French-Cambodian detective, Commandant Serge Morel, is holidaying there, visiting the temples in Siem Reap, when a Frenchman is found dead in a hotel room in Phnom Penh. Morel’s boss tells him he must get involved in the investigation because the victim was the nephew of a senior French politician, who doesn’t trust the Cambodians to investigate properly. 

2. Is there a sense of freedom to write a series? By this I mean does the story arc flow more freely when you know how your characters will act or can they inversely inhibit the story? 

I don’t know that there is a sense of freedom, or if there is, it comes later, when you have more books in a series. But there is, at least, a sense of growing familiarity. Now I’m writing the third Morel book, I do feel closer to him and to other characters. To me, Morel has a complex personality, and I like the challenge he presents as I try to figure out how he’ll think, feel and react in situations.

3. The first Morel Book, The Lying Down Room, tackles a tragic aspect of recent history, one that has almost vanished from the public consciousness. Where did the idea for Morel and this storyline emerge from? 

When I was 22, studying in Paris, I decided to return to Russia where I had lived for three years as a high school student, to try my luck as a freelance journalist. I settled for a while in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s third largest city. This book’s storyline emerged in part from my reporting experiences in Russia. I didn’t visit an orphanage like the one I describe, but I did meet with aid workers who had. I also interviewed Mormons, evangelists and others who had been sent to post-Soviet Russia to proselytise. This was a subject I always felt I wanted to explore further.

4. In Death in the Rainy Season you set the book in Cambodia. Your family originate from South East Asia. Did you feel any pressure to ensure the country was portrayed in a certain light?

My father originates from Malaysia and my mother from France, so there is no direct link with Cambodia. But I did spend the first ten years of my childhood in Southeast Asian countries, including Cambodia. My familiarity with the region certainly made the story easier to write. The setting is familiar. 

As an adult, I’ve visited Phnom Penh a few times. I went there two years ago specifically to research Death in the Rainy Season. When I was writing the book, I really wanted to bring to life some of the things I’d felt in Phnom Penh, about the people and the landscape. And yes, there is a social and political dimension to the book. First and foremost, though, this is a crime novel and a work of fiction. 

5. Death in the Rainy Season sees Morel ‘on his own’ without the team we came to know in The Lying Down Room. Was this intentionally done so that the reader could discover more about Morel and was there a danger of breaking the reader’s bond with the team that was so eloquently created in the previous book?

A number of people had told me after reading The Lying-Down Room that they looked forward to reading more about Morel and his team. I knew some readers would be disappointed to find him working on a case without his colleagues, in a different country. I didn’t plan it that way. When I was halfway through The Lying-Down Room, I started thinking about another Morel book and something came to me that I felt I really wanted to write. The premise – the death of an aid worker in Phnom Penh – was very vivid in my mind. I knew that I would be bringing Morel’s Parisian team back in the third book, which I’m writing now. Meanwhile, Death in the Rainy Season does reveal more about Morel. 

6. On a lighter note, who do you turn to for reading pleasure? Are there any particular genres or authors you always rely on to entertain you?

My taste is eclectic and I turn to different genres for reading pleasure. Some of my favourite authors are not crime writers. I’m thinking of authors like Ian McEwan, Colm Toíbin, and David Mitchell, whose new releases I always look forward to. I also read lots of crime novels and psychological thrillers. I’m a big fan of Denise Mina’s books. She is perhaps my favourite crime writer. Belinda Bauer is another author whose books I always enjoy. I can spend hours with a good psychological thriller and recently did just that with The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  

7. Authors writing routines are always fascinating. It is sometimes easy to forget that a book isn’t created overnight. What has been the biggest eye-opener for you now you have seen the book process through from creation to publication?

The biggest eye-opener for me was the realisation that a published book truly is a team effort. So many people are involved in turning a manuscript into a publishable book. I’ve learned that there are few things more precious to a writer than a good editor. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with a group of people who are so very experienced, and passionate about what they do. I know authors say these sorts of things all the time, but in my case it’s certainly true.

8. You must have answered a few of these Q&As. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

I guess I’d like to be asked what advice I’d give to writers who still haven’t published their first story or novel. Not because I am in any way an expert on these things. But I know what it means to be passionate about what you do and to put a great deal of effort into the thing you love, over long periods of time. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and have learned a few things along the way. One is that if this is what you love to do, then spend time on it every day. And persevere. Perseverance is everything. 

About the book:

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“Far from home secrets can be deadly . . .

Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the rainy season. When a French man, Hugo Quercy, is found brutally murdered, Commandant Serge Morel finds his holiday drawn to an abrupt halt. Quercy – dynamic, well-connected – was the magnetic head of a humanitarian organisation which looked after the area’s neglected youth.

Opening his investigation, the Parisian detective soon finds himself buried in one of his most challenging cases yet. Morel must navigate this complex and politically sensitive crime in a country with few forensic resources, and armed with little more than a series of perplexing questions: what was Quercy doing in a hotel room under a false name? What is the significance of his recent investigations into land grabs in the area? And who could have broken into his home the night of the murder?

Becoming increasingly drawn into Quercy’s circle of family and friends – his adoring widow, his devoted friends and bereft colleagues – Commandant Morel will soon discover that in this lush land of great beauty and immense darkness, nothing is quite as it seems . . .

A deeply atmospheric crime novel that bristles with truth and deception, secrets and lies: Death in the Rainy Season is a compelling mystery that unravels an exquisitely wrought human tragedy.”

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The inspiration behind Letters to my Husband – Stephanie Butland

Today I’m pleased to welcome Stephanie Butland, author of Letters to my Husband to the blog to discuss the inspiration behind the book.

I came up with the plot of Letters to my Husband by going the long way round, to say the least…. I started with the idea of writing a comic novel about a committee. The committee had been formed to persuade the council to put up a fence at a local beauty spot where someone had drowned. An early reader suggested I lose the ‘civic theme'; it was a brilliant insight, because I was discovering that writing about a committee is at least as hard work as being on one, if not more!

 

As soon as I’d got my head around the idea of writing a more pared-down story, Elizabeth’s letters – which are the only element of that first version which have remained virtually unchanged – stood out, asking that the novel be one about grief and coming to terms with it. 

 

So I set off again, writing about Elizabeth’s journey through grief and betrayal, to a kind of peace. But even then, I was well through the writing – maybe two-thirds – before the plot really fell into place. I’ve tried to learn from that experience and put more thought into plotting, earlier on – it’s less painful that way! But I do think books should stand up and walk off in their own direction at some point. ‘No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader’, as Robert Frost wrote.

About the book:

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“‘An immensely powerful, and ultimately uplifting, debut novel’ Katie Fforde
‘Heartbreaking, insightful, gripping and beautifully crafted’ Jane Wenham Jones

Dear Mike, I can’t believe that it’s true. You wouldn’t do this to me. You promised.
Elizabeth knows that her husband is kind and good and that he loves her unconditionally. She knows she hasn’t been herself lately but that, even so, they are happy.
But Elizabeth’s world is turned upside down when Mike dies in a tragic drowning accident. Suddenly everything Elizabeth knows about her husband is thrown into doubt. Why would he sacrifice his own life, knowing he’d never see his wife again? And what exactly was he doing at the lake that night?
Elizabeth knows that writing to Mike won’t bring him back, but she needs to talk to him now more than ever . . .
How much can you ever know about the people you love?

Originally published in hardback as Surrounded by Water “

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Amanda Jennings – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome to the blog Amanda Jennings, author of Sworn Secrets and The Judas Scar. Amanda has kindly answered a few of my questions.

First things first. Tell us what The Judas Scar is about :-)

The Judas Scar takes a look at the long-reaching effects of childhood trauma on adulthood. It tells the tale of two very close friends at boarding school, Will and Luke, who were involved in an incident when they were fourteen that affected them both deeply. As a result of this event, Luke was expelled, and the two don’t see each other again until twenty-five years later when an apparent chance meeting brings the past and its secrets crashing down on top of them, setting in motion a dark and emotional story of guilt, desire, betrayal and revenge. 

Your novels are standalone. Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere. With Sworn Secret it was the passing comment from a mutual friend of my sister and I. This comment got me thinking about the importance of sibling position when it comes to character development, wondering how, if a sister loses her sibling during her formative years, differently her personality might develop. With The Judas Scar it was the effect a phone call my husband received from a police officer investigating historic abuse at his old school had on him. These are just the starting points for the books, the actual stories are different to the kernel of the idea. My next book, which isn’t finished yet, was inspired by a news story I read about fifteen years ago. But inspiration can come from the strangest of places. I had an idea for a book based on the shopping basket contents of a man standing in front of me in a supermarket queue!

What have you learned about the writing and publishing process that you wish you’d known before you started writing?

I think I’ve learnt that determination is the most helpful of virtues. There is so much rejection that comes before signing a publishing contract. I remember signing with my agent, cracking the Champagne and thinking I’d made it. But there was a long way still to go, with a lot of rejection still to come. In a way, I think it’s no bad thing. Facing rejection, picking yourself up and dusting yourself off, shouting onwards and upwards, and trucking on, is all good, character building stuff, and a great way to prove to yourself you’re serious about writing. Hand in hand with this realisation, is the fact that reading is highly subjective. What one person loves another will hate. What one person thinks is groundbreaking another will think is pretentious. What one person thinks is compelling another will think is dull. You’ve only got to read the Amazon reviews of your favourite book to see that there are loads of people who think it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. With this in mind, face rejection full on. A bit of talent, a lots of hard work and a smidgen of luck and you’ve got every chance of making it.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

Seeing your book in a bookshop, hearing from a reader and being told that your book has affected them in some way, and being part of a vibrant, supportive community of other writers are the good bits. The bad bits? The self-doubt that sometimes feels like it’s going to choke you, the almost constant fight against distraction, and the lack of a Christmas office party.

Can you tell us anything about your next project?

It’s set in Cornwall, where my mother is from and where my grandmother still lives. It tells the story of a woman who discovers the people she grew up with aren’t her real parents, and who struggles to battle the tragic truth of her past, and the difficulties of identifying with her new life. 

You must answer a lot of these questions. What question have you never been asked that you wish had been, and what’s the answer?

Erm…OK. 

So, Amanda, if you had to be a superhero, what would you be called and what would your magic powers be?

Well, Janet, that’s a very unusual question, nobody’s ever asked me that before! I would be called Empathio. I would be able to fly (obvs) and I would have the power to make people feel the pain they are causing in another person or other people. I would just have to look at them with my laser eyes and if they were saying or doing something unkind they would feel the hurt they are causing. After I’ve lasered them they would be left with the gift of empathy. I think empathy is a very underrated human characteristic. I would also be able to turn broccoli into chocolate without it losing any of its valuable nutrients… 

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No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary – Review

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Publication date : 23 April 2015 (Trade Paperback and ebook) 30 July 2015 (Paperback)

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“From the Richard and Judy bestselling author Sarah Hilary. The phenomenal Marnie Rome returns in the outstanding follow up to the critically acclaimed SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN.

Two young boys.

Trapped underground in a bunker.

Unable to understand why they are there.

Desperate for someone to find them.

Slowly realising that no-one will…

Five years later, the boys’ bodies are found and the most difficult case of DI Marnie Rome’s career begins.

Her only focus is the boys. She has to find out who they are and what happened to them.

For Marnie, there is no other darkness than this…”

4.5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the author and this is my honest opinion of the book.Two little boys. Scared. Alone. Trapped in an underground bunker. Aware somehow that no one is coming to help them. Five years later their underground tomb is found and it’s horrors unearthed. Marnie Rome and her team are on the hunt for the truth. Who are the boys? Who put them in the bunker? And why haven’t they been reported as missing?

The first four pages of this book set the tone for the rest of the novel. Dark, emotionally challenging, unnerving, rage inducing and moving. In just a few hundred words Sarah Hilary draws the reader in, willing Rome to find out what happened to those boys all those years ago.

No Other Darkness has all the elements of Someone Else’s Skin that I loved. Rome and her team are fantastic characters, each one has their role in the story, none steal unnecessary page space and it was a joy to see their characters develop. In particular I loved seeing more of the relationship between Rome and Ed and Noah Jake and his brother Sol. Further details of Marne’s past were revealed, rounding out her character and the running story arc Stephen Keele and Marnie’s parents is slowly developing.

It is always hard to write a review that says something without giving the game away. The same goes here, even more so in that this is novel is so original in its content. No Other Darkness deals with a topic that I have not seen in crime fiction before. It is necessarily shocking but never dealt with gratuitously. It will move you, dealing with a little known and difficult topic with care and respect and turning the idea of right and wrong on its head.

Sarah Hilary is fast becoming one of my favourite crime authors. Her books are joining those by Jonathan Kellerman and Donna Leon as ones where the wait for the next seems interminable and is always eagerly anticipated. With Someone Else’s Skin she set out her stall as a rising star in crime fiction. With No Other Darkness she firmly fixes herself in the crime writing firmament.

I absolutely adored Someone Else’s Skin and was worried when I started No Other Darkness that it wouldn’t live up to my high expectations. I needn’t have worried. No Other Darkness is an outstanding novel. If you love crime novels you will love this. If you don’t, try it, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Now comes the hard part. Having to wait for book three….

 

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