Monthly Archives: April 2015

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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