Monthly Archives: October 2015

Peirene Press week – Looking forward, 2016 releases

This week the blog has been dedicated to all thing Peirene Press. Having concentrated on the here and now and the history behind the publishing house I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to see what treats Peirene have in store for us next year.

New for 2016 is Peirene Now! This new project sees Peirene specially commission stories in response to political topics of the day. The first Peirene Now! title is breach by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes and will be published in August 2016.


“A Peirene Commission

Displacement is as old as our need for home.

In the port of Calais, an illusion is being disrupted: that of a neatly ordered world, with those deserving safety and comfort separated from those who need to be kept out.

breach tells the story of the refugee crisis through six voices based on interviews with refugees in Calais. These stories uncover realities of fleeing one’s country by any means necessary. They demand to be seen, to be heard, to be let in. But can we ignore the fears of the ones who want to close their borders?”

Here’s what Meike Ziervogel has to say on the Peirene site as to why she commissioned the piece.

‘I have commissioned Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes to go to the Calais refugee camps to distil stories into a work of fiction about escape, hope and aspiration. On another level, however, this work will also take seriously the fears of people in this country who want to close their borders. It’s that dialogue that isn’t happening in real life. A work of art can help to bridge the gap.’ Meike Ziervogel

(Peirene Now! titles are not part of the subscription service and can be bought directly from their site.)

Out in February 2016 the first in the Fairy Tale series is title number 19 The Man I Became by Peter Verhelst, translated by David Colmer. This is followed in June 2016 by title number 20, Her Father’s Daughter by Marie Sizun, translated by Adriana Hunter. The final title in the Fairy Tale series, title number 21, The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift, translated by Jamie Bulloch which is published in September 2016.


“Huxley’s Brave New World meets Orwell’s Animal Farm.

The impressively entertaining tale about the frailty of human civilisation by the leading Flemish writer Peter Verhelst, now for the first time in English.

Warning: This story is narrated by a gorilla. He is plucked from the jungle. He learns to chat and passes the ultimate test: a cocktail party. Eventually he is moved to an amusement park, where he acts in a play about the history of civilisation. But as the gorilla becomes increasingly aware of human frailties, he must choose between his instincts and his training, between principles and self-preservation.”


“A taut and subtle family drama from France.

A little girl lives happily with her mother in war-torn Paris. She has never met her father, a prisoner of war in Germany. But then he returns and her mother switches her devotion to her husband. The girl realizes that she must win over her father to recover her position in the family. She confides a secret that will change their lives. “


“Madness lurks behind the pretty façade of everyday life.

An elderly lady offers a young woman a piece of cake. She accepts. The lady resembles the Austrian Empress Elisabeth and lives with her servant in an apartment full of bizarre souvenirs. More invitations follow. A seemingly harmless visit to the museum turns into a meticulously planned raid to steal a royal cocaine syringe. Without realizing, the young woman has become the lady’s accomplice. Does she realize she is losing control?”

I have to say all of these sound intriguing to me, and though I’m not sure which appeals the most, I’m looking forward to publication. Which ones appeal to you?

If you like the sound of these you can always take up a subscription with Peirene. Find out more here.

Also Poppy Peacock happens to have a fantastic competition running at the moment, the prize being a year’s subscription to Peirene. Find out more here.


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Peirene Press week – White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen – Review

Published by Peirene Press

Publication date 1  March 2015

Translated by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah

Source – review copy


“What does it take to survive? This is the question posed by the extraordinary Finnish novella that has taken the Nordic literary scene by storm.

1867: a year of devastating famine in Finland. Marja, a farmer’s wife from the north, sets off on foot through the snow with her two young children. Their goal: St Petersburg, where people say there is bread. Others are also heading south, just as desperate to survive. Ruuni, a boy she meets, seems trustworthy. But can anyone really help?”

Marja has made the difficult decision to leave her dying husband behind as she sets off with her children. Her aim, to get to St Petersburg, where she believes there will be food. She must do something other than wait for what seems like inevitable death from the famine that has ravaged Finland.

As I read this book I was again left marvelling at the skill of a writer such as Aki Ollikainen to create such a world, and such a moving story in so few words. Words are in short supply in the novella and so are not wasted, each sentence carefully constructed to add a layer to the tale.

It plays as a film in your head as you read it. Colour is stripped bare, the white of the winter snow sapping colour from the surroundings and the people who inhabit it. I envisaged the bleak landscape and treacherous journey of Marja and her children in shades of black, white and grey.

This is not a novel to read if you are looking for warmth, fun, a happy ending. it left me with a lingering sense of sadness. It is bleak, harsh and moving, much like the winter described in its pages. Marja, driven by the need to protect her children, goes through terrible hardship and grief and a reader must be made of stone not to feel for her.

The title is apt. It represents the hunger that drives a woman, and others, to take their families and leave their homes, trudging through dangerous weather, and dangerous times, in the hope of finding little to eat. It also represents the harsh winter of 1867, of the insatiable appetite of the snow to destroy crops and food, and to swallow up unsuspecting travellers when given the chance.

This book is Peirene title no.16 and is part of the Chance Encounter trio of books. The theme of encounters moves throughout this novella, how chance encounters can change the course of a life. I’m keen to read the other books in the Chance Encounters theme and will do so soon.



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Peirene Press week – Off the Shelf Translation talk

Rather fortuitously I found out that Peirene Press were taking part in the Off the Shelf festival of words in Sheffield. There Meike Zeivogel, founder of Peirene Press, was in discussion with Hamid Ismailov, author of The Dead Lake and host, Rachel Genn.

It seemed too good an opportunity to miss so I headed off, battling through match day traffic and managing to find the outside that had disappeared in a blanket of fog.

The talk was held at Coffee Revolution in the University of Sheffield’s Student Union. There an intimate group had gathered in a sprawling setting. This seemed apt as it was the reflection of Peirene books themselves, which hold sprawling worlds in small settings.

We gathered round to listen to what turned out to be a fascinating talk regarding Peirene Press, the inspiration behind The Dead Lake and translated fiction.

Meike began by explaining where the name Peirene came from. Flicking through a book on Greek mythology she came across the nymph Peirene. The tale is that when Aretemis, Goddess of Hunting, killed Peirene’s son she wept so much she turned to water. Poets would come and drink from the spring she had become and be inspired after. It was this metamorphosis that rang a chord with Meike and she realised that name was perfect for the publishing house she envisaged.

When she looks for submissions Meike tries to read the text in the original language or if not in a German or French translation. This way she can get a feel for the story as each as its own rhythm which changes as it is translated. It allows for the flow or shape of the original to be felt.

Only three Peirene books are released each year, under their own theme. This theme does not set the tone for the books that will be published, it is in fact the books that dictate. Meike will read submissions, rejecting those that don’t appeal to her as a reader. Those that are good but don’t fire her interest will be put to one side. Once she finds a book that strikes a chord she will then go back through the pile of possible books and see what there is that could link three together. What I found refreshing is that Meike looks for books as a reader, trying to read by her feelings. As a reader this is something I do every time I pick up a book and I think this perspective shines through in the titles Peirene print.

Meike and her colleagues clearly have a love for what they do and are passionate about the books they publish and this is echoed by readers of their titles.

Hamid Ismailov went on to discuss the writing of The Dead Lake. He said he couldn’t remember why he suddenly started writing the novel but that it had sat inside him for 20 years, ever since he met a man in the 80’s who had remained a boy. The story had shocked him but he hadn’t known how to apply it. Suddenly however he knew he should write the book and The Dead Lake was born. Although his book sits under the ‘Coming of Age’ title he does not see the book as a coming of age tale, something Meike and host Rachel Genn both disagreed with!

The translation process was discussed. It was interesting to note how the vagrancies of the English language effects the translation process. For example Russian text has lots of long sentences and as with many languages has the verb at the end of a sentence. That being the case the tense of the sentence has to be hinted at in another way. This is not necessary in English. Meike had to chop down lengthy sentences in The Dead Lake to give the sense of moving on and re-wrote the book four times after it was translated. The best translation, she felt was using the original as a jumping off point but to not re-write totally.

Hamid himself has spent 20 years as a translator but still doesn’t consider himself a success at it, describing it as an ‘impossible art’. He discussed how the translator of his previous book, The Railway, emailed him over 2,000 times to discuss certain phrases and words. He was initially horrified but found that the translator put flesh on a book that started out as an ‘x-ray’. He hopes now that the same translator will translate all of his work and stated that he was brilliant at bringing his books into the English context.

What was commented on, and which struck a chord with me is that every book is a process. The original of any book is not what the reader views, it has gone through changes with an editor, proof-reader and author. In translated fiction another layer of the point of view of the translator is added. But the change doesn’t stop there. The translation continues with every reader. This is of course true, no one reads the same book the same way, we all take something different from it.

My thanks go to Hamid, Meike and Rachel for a lovely way to spend a foggy Tuesday evening.

Also present was Forgotten Fiction who were operating the pop-up bookshop. Sadly the title I had my eye on, The Mussel Feast, wasn’t there but you can check out the shop on their Facebook page.


You can read my review of The Dead Lake here.

Find out more about The Dead Lake and all of Peirene Press’ titles on their website.


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Peirene Press week – Q&A

Today is the first post this week focussing on Peirene Press, an independent publishing company who publish beautiful novellas of translated fiction. First of all I asked Peirene some questions so we could find out more about them.

1. Tell us a little about Peirene Press. What is the ethos behind the company?

Peirene was set up in 2008 by Meike Ziervogel, who was deeply aware of the very low percentage of outstanding international works of fiction that get translated into English and make it into the extremely Anglocentric UK book market. She also knew that she wanted to focus on the novella form, which allows for a much more creative reading experience and which, again, is underrepresented on the current publishing market. Each year Peirene publishes a new series of three beautifully designed and produced novellas that belong together in terms of style or content and which, in spite of being bestsellers or award-winners in their countries, had never been translated into English before.

2. Peirene only publish translated fiction and release only 3 new titles a year. How do you choose which novels to publish? 

Publishing only three books a year means that we necessarily have to be extremely selective. The novella-length requirement severely limits the number of books that we consider for publication, but Meike will still look at lots and lots of submissions (from literary agents, foreign publishers, translators, etc) before deciding on the three books in a series. She looks for engaging, original stories that are strong on plot, but which also have a distinctive voice, and are told in a language and with a rhythm that fits the story. They also tend to be books that, by not telling too much, invite the reader to use their own imagination and engage in an act of creative reading.

3. Readers can subscribe to your books. Can you tell us a little more about this wonderful sounding service?

I often hear from readers who tell me that they’re interested in reading more foreign fiction but who don’t know exactly where to look for it or how to choose. Translated fiction doesn’t get much coverage in the mainstream media, is not often prominently displayed in bookshops and can easily escape the attention of many UK readers. A Peirene subscription is a way for readers to receive three yearly doses of the best contemporary European literature without having to do the hard work of looking for it! For £35 a year, a subscriber receives three world-class novellas, delivered directly to their door and weeks before they are available in bookshops or online. The idea behind this model is partly one of trust – trust in Peirene as a brand, in our ability to select high-quality novels from the international book market, turn them into enjoyable English reads and present them in beautifully designed volumes that readers will want to collect. We currently have subscribers until the end of 2018 and we haven’t even announced the books that we will be publishing after 2016, so we are delighted that readers are placing their trust in Peirene.

4. Your books have been described by the Times Literary Supplement as ‘Two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting…’ what do you think makes the novella so appealing? 

For me, there’s something deeply satisfying in reading a book in one sitting. I recently heard David Mitchell say that the novella form allows the writer to keep everything under control. He said that, when writing a novella, his ‘limited brain’ (ha!) can know where everything is, what all 15, 16, 17 scenes in a 130-page book are doing and how they’re doing it, what the ‘electronics’ of the book are. I think that, to a certain extent, this can be applied to the experience of reading novellas too. As a reader, when I engage with a book in a single sitting I get to feel more in control. My limited brain is less worried about having forgotten some important detail that I read a week ago or missing some connection between two events 300 pages apart. Maybe I’m also less concerned about things like whether my view of a character might have changed because of something that’s happened in my life since I was last reading the book rather than because of something that is actually in the text. I also like the idea of immersing myself in the world of a book and not leaving it until I’ve reached the end of the story, rather than constantly having life interrupting and getting in the way. It is altogether a more complete and unadulterated reading experience. And last but not least, by not providing too many details and not offering a complete world-view, as many long novels tend to do, what a novella offers is an invitation to the reader to use their imagination and creativity to fill gaps and draw their own conclusions, which I find empowering and exciting.

5. Peirene not only publish books but make reading a more sociable affair by holding regular literary salons and book events. Can you tell us more about these? What can someone expect if they attend a literary salon? 

For us at Peirene, literature is all about sharing enthusiasm for great books. Reading can be a lonely affair and we see ourselves not simply as publishers, but as community-builders. We would like Peirene to help create a cohesive community of readers, subscribers and book-lovers who can share their passion for great literature. Of course social media is a great way to connect with readers across the globe and we absolutely love using Twitter and Facebook for this, but there’s also something unique and irreplaceable in spending an evening, in person, with a group of fellow book-lovers who share a common passion with you. This is where the Peirene Salon comes in. It takes place four times a year at the publisher’s home in North London and is inspired by the 19th-century Parisian literary salons, which would always take place in a woman’s house. What can you expect if you attend one of our salons? You’ll be wined and dined, you’ll listen to a bilingual reading and hear one of our authors talk about their book and describe their creative process, and you’ll get to meet an interesting bunch of like-minded people in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

6. If a reader is new to Peirene books which book should they start with?

I haven’t yet met a reader who hasn’t enjoyed The Mussel Feast, Birgit Vanderbeke’s German modern classic. It’s a brilliant portrait of family relationships and of life under the rule of a tyrannical father, but also a clever allegory of the fall of the Berlin Wall and an exploration of how revolutions start and how historical change happens. It’s full of surprises and brilliantly paced, and once you start reading it you won’t be able to stop until you get to the last page. 

7. Peirene also support the Maya Centre, donating 50p from every book sold to the charity and from 2016 you will be donating 50p from each book to Counterpoints Arts.  Can you tell us more about the charities and why Peirene have chosen to support them? 

We believe that a publisher, like any other organization, has a social obligation, and that just publishing books, when you can do other things to help support some of the most vulnerable members of society, is simply not enough.

For over three years we have been supporting the Maya Centre, which provides free psychodynamic counselling and group psychotherapy for women on low and no income in London. The counselling is offered to women in their native languages, which links beautifully with Peirene’s focus on translated literature.

From next year we will be supporting and collaborating with Counterpoints Arts, a fantastic charity that promotes the creative arts by and about refugees and migrants in the UK. They run projects with individual artists and also with big organizations to inspire social change and enhance the cultural integration of refugees. Peirene is all about foreign books travelling to the UK and becoming an integral part of the English-language literary scene, so again, this links perfectly with the work done by Counterpoints Arts in such an important (and sadly topical) field as is the integration of migrants and refugees. 

Thanks for answering my questions and appearing on the blog.

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

Or : Peirene on facebook
Peirene on Twitter
Peirene on YouTube


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Jason Starr – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome author Jason Starr to the blog. Jason’s latest novel, Savage Lane, was published by No Exit Press on 22 October 2015. Jason kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Savage Lane. 

It’s a dark domestic thriller/satire about a group of suburbanites in a community north of New York City. The main character is a recently divorced woman who is the subject of delusional fantasies of the married man down the road. She also becomes a murder suspect and the target of a twisted psychopath, so there are lots of fun twists and turns. It’s the type of novel that has appeal for women and men.

2.  You are also well known for your work which has appeared in Marvel Comics and your novel Ant-man: Natural Enemy has just been made into a film starring Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas. There is obviously a lot of variety in your writing. Do you find it easy to switch between the genres and are there any similarities you’ve noticed as you write?

Actually my Ant-Man novel is loosely based on the film, though it does tie in. It was a blast to write Ant-Man, as well as write Wolverine, Punisher and Batman comics, working with such iconic characters. I also love the collaboration in comics, with the artists, editors etc. It’s so different from novel writing, which is very solitary. So I love going back and forth. While comics is an image driven medium, it still comes down to plotting and storytelling so there are similarities for sure. That said, writing for comics is probably more similar to screenwriting.

3. After having a prolific writing career is there anything that still surprises you about the writing and publishing process?

Every publishing experience I’ve had has been different so there are always surprises. Also the industry has gone through so many changes, what with the proliferation of ebooks, that a lot of publishers themselves are in uncharted territory. I was pleasantly surprised recently when my German publisher announced they were printing 10,000 advance copies of SAVAGE LANE. It’s nice when the surprises work in your favour!

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? 

I always plan. I would fear I would get stuck if I didn’t know where a story’s going. But I have an evolving outline; I change it as I go along.

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

Ulysses, because it would take me forever to finish it.

6. 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? 

How do you feel about social media?

I’m one of those writers who love it. I’m very active on Twitter @jasonstarrbooks and enjoy interacting with readers. I began my writing career as a playwright, and in theater you always get to see the audience response–social media provides this experience for authors. So if you check out SAVAGE LANE follow me online and I would love to hear what you think!

Thanks for answering my questions and appearing on the blog.

About the book

Savage Lane_Outer3b

“Life is sublime in the idyllic suburb of New York City. Recent divorcee, Karen Daily and her two kids have for the first time in years found joy as they settle into the close-knit community of Savage Lane. Neighbours, Mark and Deb Berman, have been so supportive as she moves on in life: teaching at the local school and even dating again.

But behind pristine houses and perfect smiles lie dark motives far more sinister than Karen could have ever imagined. Unknown to her, Mark, trapped in his own unhappy marriage, has developed a rich fantasy life for the two of them. And as rumours start to spread, it seems that he isn’t the only one targeting Karen…”


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Stephanie Butland – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Stephanie Butland to the blog. Stephanie is the author of Letters to My Husband and her latest novel The Other Half of My Heart was published by Black Swan on 22 October 2015. Stephanie kindly answered some of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Other Half of my Heart.

Bettina May runs the bakery in Throckton. She makes beautiful bread, and works hard, and cares for her ageing mother. She has a tentative relationship with someone readers of ‘Letters to My Husband’ will recognise. She’s settled into a gentle anonymity and she’s hoping that her life will continue calmly. But then someone who recognises her from her teenage years comes to Throckton, and everything has to change. 

2. What inspired the book?

I liked the idea of creating a heroine who was none of the things a heroine is supposed to be. Bettina is quiet and solemn, restrained and reflective. She might even be a little bit dull. She’s not very confident. I wanted to write a story about someone like that; I was (am) interested in the everyday people who have startling stories when you get to know them a little. 

3. Your first novel was Letters to My Husband. What surprised you the most about the publishing process and what lessons did you learn from writing and publishing Letters to My Husband that helped when writing The Other Half of my Heart?

Having had some non-fiction (How I Said Bah! to cancer’ and ‘Thrive: the Bah! guide to wellness after cancer’) published, the first surprise was how fiction is treated as a much bigger deal. I’m still not sure how I feel about that! 

When I wrote The Other Half Of My Heart, Letters To My Husband had been edited, though not published, so I think what I took into the second novel was that I had no-where to hide – anywhere my writing got a bit lazy or I didn’t properly explain a process would be picked up on! So I think the second manuscript benefitted from that. I tried harder, earlier. 

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?

I don’t really have a plan but I do have a character, a situation and a direction. So typically I’ll write maybe 20,000 words, think about what I’ve written, research the story that i suspect I’m going to write, then enter a more structured period of writing a thousand words a day until I’ve got somewhere close to the end. Then quite often I find the novel has evolved again from what I thought it would be, so I might do some more research, and go back to the beginning with what I’ve learned, rewriting with the now-known end in mind. 

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? Which authors do you turn to when you have time to read for pleasure?

For fun I knit, crochet, sew and bake – including baking my own bread (thanks to the research for this novel). I live in Northumberland, which is a beautiful place, and I love to walk on the beaches and in the countryside. Full disclosure, though: I’m a serious shopper too! And i love the theatre and cinema. 

As far as reading for pleasure goes, well, my favourites big names are (in no special order) John Updike, Jane Austen, Sarah Waters, Margaret Atwood. Novels I’ve enjoyed lately are ‘Bitter Greens’ by Kate Forsyth, ‘Longbourn’ by Jo Baker, ‘Vigilante’ by Shelley Harris and ‘The Table Of Less Valued Knights’ by Marie Phillips. I’ll read anything (except horror). But I’ll also give up on it after 50 pages if it hasn’t got me interested! 

6. Having been through the creative process of writing and publishing a novel what have you learnt that you wish you’d known before you started?

That the best thing about writing is writing. Being published is brilliant, and seeing your own books made real is absurdly thrilling – but the thing i really cherish about the whole process is sitting down and finding the words to precisely express what I want to say. And i had that from the start. Everyone who writes, published or unpublished, has it. We should all remember to treasure it. 

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?

Well, no-one has asked me about my favourite bread yet, which I thought they would have done. When I was researching The Other Half Of My Heart I discovered that any bread that comes out of a French boulangerie oven not looking the way it ought to is called Pain Batard. I didn’t manage to work that into the plot but I thought it was hilarious! 

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

About the book


““It smelled bittersweetly of sourdough, and there was the trace of hot, fresh bread in the air. She took a deep breath and unlocked the door”

Fifteen years ago Bettina May’s life’s veered off course in one disastrous night. Still reeling from the shock of losing everything she thought was hers, Bettina opens a bakery in a village and throws herself into the comfort of bread-making.

She spends her days kneading dough and measuring ingredients. She meets someone. She begins to heal.

Until someone who knows what happens that night walks into Bettina’s bakery. In the pause of a heartbeat, fifteen years disappear and Bettina remembers a time she thought was lost for ever . . .

Can she ever go back?”

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One to Watch S D Sykes – Q&A

Today I’m very pleased to welcome author S D Sykes to the blog and she has kindly answered a few of my questions. Her first book Plague Land was published in paperback on 21 May 2015 and her latest novel to feature Oswald De Lacy, The Butcher Bird was published by Hodder and Stoughton on 22nd October 2015. I can’t wait to read The Butcher Bird and you can read my review of Plague Land here.

1. Tell us a little about The Butcher Bird.

Set in 1351, The Butcher Bird is the story of a young lord, Oswald de Lacy, as he tries to solve the murder of newborn children on his Kent estate. The childrens’ bodies are found in the hedgerows, just as the Red-backed Shrike (or Butcher Bird) impales its victims upon thorns. It is a time when England is still recovering from the Black Death – but instead of the initial chaos, society is slowly finding its feet. Oswald is still the naïve and inexperienced boy of ‘Plague Land’, but he has learnt to stand up for himself against the mob. When the villagers try to hang a local mad man for the murders, Oswald steps in to give this man sanctuary. But is Oswald’s judgment clouded by his experience the previous year, when these same villagers set upon a young boy whose only crime was to be disfigured?  Should he pay more attention to the evidence, and listen to advice? His investigation leads him into the dark heart of medieval London, and then back to Kent, where he finally unravels the mystery and discovers the identity of the true murderer.

2.  The Butcher Bird is the second novel to feature Oswald de Lacy, the first being Plague Land. Did you always intend for Oswald to feature in a series of books? What was the appeal of that time in history?

I did always envisage a series for Oswald, following his progress from callow youth to a more experienced, battle-scarred detective. In the first two books, Oswald is still a teenager – but in the book I’m currently writing, he is twenty-six. I hope to follow him into old age!

The middle years of the 14th century fascinate me, particularly as this was a time of great social change. The Black Death killed so many people that it gave the poorest in society some long-deserved power. Now that the work force in the fields was halved, those who remained wanted paying more for their labour. They found a new confidence. They called for an end to feudalism and the imposition of unfair taxes. There were even the beginnings of religious reforms, with calls for a bible in English. I would say there was a direct cause and effect between the Black Death in 1348-50 and the Peasants Revolt of 1381.

3. Plague Land was your first novel. What did you learn from going through the publishing process with Plague Land that you’d wished you’d known before you started writing? Did anything surprise you along the way?

The part of the process that has most surprised me, is the lead time to publication. Publishers can be thinking of slots for their novels up to two years in advance.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can afford to slack, if you are given a publication date for the year after next. The book may need to be copy-edited and proof read up to a year before publication. So, what I’ve really learnt is to write my first draft as quickly as possible, and then to build enough time into my schedule for rewrites and edits.

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? 

After beginning a number of novels with no idea where they were going, and then failing to finish these same novels, I am now a compulsive planner! The first part, for me, of writing a book, is to spend at least a month planning the underlying plot of the novel. I hope to use this time to fill in any massive plot-holes. To make sure that the novel hits the right notes, with complex story-lines, character arcs, red herrings and then a satisfying conclusion. But, I should also say that I don’t stick to this plan slavishly. In the writing of the novel, I often find that better ideas occur to me. In this case, I don’t hesitate to use them – even if it messes up my plan. In terms of how long it takes me – the last two novels have been about a year from start to finish.

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

I have two dogs who take up a lot of my spare time. I sometimes look upon them as my personal trainers – forcing me to go out, even in the driving rain. I should say, that I mostly love these walks in a local forest. The sense of being somewhere ancient and wild. But I also love getting on a train and going up to London. I like being part of this massive, humming heart of humanity in central London. I like people-watching. Going to look at art galleries. Watching films. I’m also an avid gardener, and something of a rose-a-holic. 

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

I read your interview with Fleur Smithwick last week, and I see that she has also chosen this novel. It would have to be Vanity Fair by Thackeray. It’s long. It’s very well written and it’s very, very entertaining.

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?  

It’s quite a specific question really and concerns an aspect of Oswald’s character. I describe him in ‘Plague Land’ as having the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Every time he gets nervous or stressed, he has to rush to the nearest garderobe. Nobody has asked me why I chose to do this – so, either I’ve been too subtle in my descriptions; or they have noticed, but the topic is just too embarrassing! Anyway. The answer is this. It’s something that I’ve suffered with, on and off, over the years. I’ve never seen it written about in a novel – so I wanted to change that. 

Thanks for answering my questions and appearing on the blog.

About the Author


SD Sykes lives in Kent with her family and various animals. She has done everything from professional dog-walking to co-founding her own successful business. She is a graduate from Manchester University and has an MA in Writing from Sheffield Hallam. She attended the novel writing course at literary agents Curtis Brown where she was inspired to finish her first novel. She has also written for radio and has developed screenplays with Arts Council funding.

About the book


“A gripping medieval historical crime thriller, from a brilliant new voice.

Oswald de Lacy is growing up fast in his new position as Lord of Somershill Manor. The Black Death changed many things, and just as it took away his father and elder brothers, leaving Oswald to be recalled from the monastery where he expected to spend his life, so it has taken many of his villagers and servants. However, there is still the same amount of work to be done in the farms and fields, and the few people left to do it think they should be paid more – something the King himself has forbidden.

Just as anger begins to spread, the story of the Butcher Bird takes flight. People claim to have witnessed a huge creature in the skies. A new-born baby is found impaled on a thorn bush. And then more children disappear.

Convinced the bird is just a superstitious rumour, Oswald must discover what is really happening. He can expect no help from his snobbish mother and his scheming sister Clemence, who is determined to protect her own child, but happy to neglect her step-daughters.

From the plague-ruined villages of Kent to the thief-infested streets of London and the luxurious bedchamber of a bewitching lady, Oswald’s journey is full of danger, dark intrigue and shocking revelations.”


Filed under One to Watch, Spotlight on Authors

The Five Horsemen: The Influences That Led Me Towards The (Wildermoor) Apocalypse by Chris Tetreault-Blay

Today I’m pleased to welcome Chris Tetreault-Blay to the blog. Chris’ new novel Acolyte, the first instalment in The Wildermoor Apocalypse trilogy was published on 26 July 2015. Chris has written a fantastic guest post on what influenced the series.

The Five Horsemen: The Influences That Led Me Towards The (Wildermoor) Apocalypse

If you were to ask an author where they got their inspiration for their latest book from, you would probably expect them to reference one book, one author or one event in particular.  You may find, however – at least in my case – that you’d be wrong.  When faced with this question, I have always been quick at replying ‘the idea just came to me’, but in truth I only said this as I could not put my finger on one particular reason why ‘Acolyte’ was written the way it was, or even written at all.

That is until I started thinking about writing this post.  The more I thought about it, I started to understand more about what has driven to write this novel.  What you will find is not a simple answer to this question, and my reasons may err more on the side of random, but the fact is that my book – and what will eventually be the entire Wildermoor Apocalypse trilogy – is the product of my varied past, heavily influenced by the popular (and, in some cases, unpopular) culture in which I spent most of my child, teen and adulthood immersed.

I have also realised that the answer to this question may be different for every single author who is asked it.  There is no right or wrong. After all, the characters that make up our stories are merely extensions of our own selves in some way, no matter how much you have to dissect or squint at them to see it

Ed Kowalczyk

Anyone that has known me over the last fifteen or twenty years or so will know how important music has always been for me.  I would very often spend my days or nights losing myself in music, escaping from the world around me.  Within this world, one person has been more inspiring and influential to me than any other.

Ed Kowalczyk was the lead singer of my favourite band ‘Live’, until they split in 2009 and he pursued a solo career.  I was given my first Live album (‘V’) by my sister the night before I left for university in 2002.  Upon hearing the first few songs, my fears of leaving home quickly disappeared, almost as if Kowalczyk’s vocals had calmed me somehow.  From that moment on, I was hooked on Live’s music and soon acquired their back catalogue and found that I wasn’t just listening to the music but the lyrics too. They not only told a story but also purveyed a feeling of hope.  After surrounding myself with bands whose songs consisted of messages like ‘I hate the world, the world hates me, I want to die’, I was listening to a guy singing his heart out about stuff that I had never even heard of before.  Many of Ed’s lyrics were inspired by eastern religion and were so refreshing; I found that I couldn’t get the songs out of my head.  I was actively seeking out the meanings behind a lot of the songs, listening to interviews with Ed to find out more about his inspirations.  

For the first time in my life, I felt inspired.  I wanted to make something happen for myself. In December 2002, admittedly after a pretty kick-ass Nickelback gig in Manchester, I decided that I was going to buy a guitar and teach myself to play.  Once I had my own instrument, the first songs that I managed to (sort of) master were Live’s. 

After Live’s break-up, I continued to follow Kowalczyk’s solo work and his second album ‘The Flood and The Mercy’ was the album I was listening to when I found out I was going to be a dad. This album still remains one of the most important in my collection and return to it whenever I feel that I need guidance, inspiration or just to be reminded of the feeling that I felt on that day.

Wilbur Smith

I credit Wilbur Smith as being the author that changed my opinion of fiction reading, and thank my now-parents-in-law for introducing me to his work.  It was either my seventeenth or eighteenth birthday, I think, that I was given ‘When The Lion Feeds’.  I was quite hesitant to begin reading it as, up until this point, the only reading that I indulged in for pleasure consisted of anything from my vast collection of wrestling magazines.  I had a VERY short attention span and – I don’t mind admitting now – a limited imagination when it came to reading fiction, and until only fairly recently actually felt intimidated by the size of some books (anything over 300 pages was considered a challenge).

Somehow, though, with this book Wilbur Smith had a way of very subtly drawing me in and holding my attention, until soon enough I was actually struggling to put the book down.  I had finally learnt what it was like to lose myself in a whole new world, and feeling a sense of loss when I finally came to the end.  I became an instant fan of Smith’s ‘South African Courtney’ series and, in the main character Sean Courtney, had found someone that I wanted to follow with great curiosity.

In going from only wanting to belong to a world of colourful costumes and staged athleticism to becoming immersed in 19th Century South Africa, tales of goldmining and the ivory trade, surprised yet invigorated me.  It was from discovering this author that I discovered my love for reading. 

Despite still being years away from coming into full bloom, my newfound interest would then lead me into the Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter series and then the natural progression into the darker world of horror, where I would finally meet the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and, ultimately, my hero James Herbert.

Guillermo Del Toro

Just as Wilbur Smith did for awakening my imagination, Del Toro helped shape the visual aspects of a lot of the ideas I have had for my own stories.  My earliest discovery of his work, like many others, was Pan’s Labyrinth.  The first time around, I had little idea of what was going on but found that I could not avert my gaze from the images that Del Toro had created on the screen.  

His characters – many of them considered monsters in their own right – looked and even moved differently to others that I had seen before.  It was almost as if you could feel their pain through the way they walked, talked or even just stared at the camera.  The worlds he created, as abstract as they seemed, were totally believable. And terrifying at the same time.  It is almost like sunlight and optimism are foreigners in every place that he paints on screen, but you love him for that.  Del Toro takes you away from reality with the snap of a finger.

During the process of creating Wildermoor, I saw it as if it existed in one of Del Toro’s films; dreary, cold and punishing. But with an unmistakeable charm – as if it was a place that was split in two and showed different faces depending on whether it was night or day.

When thinking about who would play certain characters from Acolyte if it made it to the big screen, I sometimes struggle to pick just one or two names.  But for me, Guillermo Del Toro is the only filmmaker who I think could genuinely recreate Wildermoor itself in the same vision that I have.

Prison Break

Okay, so not technically an individual but this series has played a big part in the creation of certain aspects of The Wildermoor Apocalypse so far.  I could even try and pin down one character and say that they are more responsible than others, but I would be lying; I have drawn from parts of most of the cast list.

Firstly, I would have to say that Prison Break was the first TV drama series that struck a real chord with me and the only one that I can happily watch repeatedly.  The drama and suspense gripped me from the first few episodes and is one of the only series that, in my opinion, got better with each one.  Up until recently, I was

most proud of the fact that they told the story and knew when to end it, and seemed happy to leave it alone.  I am still undecided as to whether I will support the new series or not, but guess at some point curiosity will get the better of me.

The twist and turns in the plot throughout Acolyte – and even more so in the Sowing Season – were inspired by Prison Break.  One thing that had me glued to each episode was the amount of times you were kept guessing as to what would happen next, sometimes as much as several times in the same episode.  This is especially evident in the original final series (Season 4) as the pace never seemed to let up, making you feel like you were running through the tasks and dangers that jumped out at every turn.  I wanted the readers of Acolyte to experience the same feelings; to believe that they were peering over the shoulders of the characters as they followed the story, always having to look behind them or around blind corners.  I wanted the pace too; I didn’t want any aspect of the book to feel stale and tired, but rather keep the reader’s nerves standing on end.

Although I have already mentioned that I drew on a large variety of the characters, there were a few in particular that I connected with more than others, and hence helped influence the direction in which I decided to take a few of my own.  Theodore ‘T-Bag’ Bagwell, for example, provided the cold, calculating and creepy nature of the darker characters, in particular Dr. Mason Stamford.  Similar to the way that Jake Roberts did, Robert Knepper’s dialogue and delivery was what made his portrayal of Bagwell so intense, so real.  I want people to look at the evil guys in The Wildermoor Apocalypse and hate them for what they do, but admire them for the way they do it.

Of course, everyone loves a hero.  But what I love more than that is an anti-hero; someone who is called upon to save the day but are not trying to, or are actively trying not to; they have their own reasons for what they do.  In Prison Break, I think you see this two-fold with the central characters of Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows.  They break more laws trying to escape prison and the government than it took to put them in the clink in the first place!  But we are always rooting for them, despite the fact that they are acting purely out of brotherly love for each other and their desire for freedom, not because they want to be seen as the good guys.  I see Truman Darke as a similar character; he is thrust into the front line of the battle to prevent the end of Wildermoor, but he didn’t ask for that responsibility and, at times, he may even give the impression that he does not want it.

Finally, Alex Mahone has got to be my favourite member of the Prison Break team.  Not to say too much at this point, but he is the man I envisaged when creating Thomas Laing.  Laing’s own story unfolds further in The Sowing Season. 

Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts

 “A victim of your own greed, wallowing in the much of avarice.”

A line worthy of being in a movie rather than being uttered by a professional wrestler before a match.  But let me introduce you to a true master on the microphone, a guy who has in fact provided the basis for some of my more sinister characters – Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts.

Okay, let me get this out of the way to begin with…yes, I was a massive (some would say ‘obsessive’) wrestling fan when I was growing up.  And no, I didn’t still think it was real after the age of ten.  But what can I say, it was my thing.  My entire world until I was sixteen revolved around wrestling, back when – oddly enough – the sport still resembled a sport, the storylines were not so unbelievable and the top stars were real heroes to kids like me.  

I wasn’t just glued to the ‘sport’ for the matches alone; I was more interested in the characters themselves.  I loved listening to the wrestlers talk, building up their matches to be the biggest show on earth, letting their words mould the character that we all got to see at home.  For me, during the 80’s and early-90’s, Jake Roberts was a cut above the rest in this department.  

His delivery was so deliberate that everyone who heard him speak would hang on every word.  At times he would talk in only a whisper but could make you think that he was one of the cruellest and most dangerous men around.  When playing the ‘face’ (good guy), his demeanour would make you think that he was just cunning.  When playing the ‘heel’ (bad guy), it made him look twisted and sadistic but the beautiful part of it all is that the man himself never changed.  It was just down to the role he was playing – which he could do either as well as the other – and how it made you perceive his actions and motives.

When I have written characters in Acolyte such as Mason Stamford and William & Julius Archibald, especially when tackling their dialogue, I imagine them talking and acting in the same style.  It is my opinion that having a character that talks calmly and quietly about any harm they want to cause or the pleasure they will get from it, whilst showing no emotion or remorse, provides the most chilling aspect of a story.  How can you take down an enemy that doesn’t care – or is not aware – of their own evil?

I leave you with some of my favourite of Jake’s promo’s, one of which even inspired the ‘End is beginning…’ tagline that I have given to The Wildermoor Apocalypse:

“I’m like a window too hard to break and too dark to look into.”  

“When I first came into this world I could not rob, I could not lie, I could not steal, I couldn’t even cheat.  But, boy, did I have some help learning. You’ve taught me well.”  (‘WWF Tuesday In Texas’, 3rd December 1991)

 “I’ll cultivate her into something even I would want.”  (‘WWF Tuesday In Texas’, 3rd December 1991)

“This isn’t the beginning.  This isn’t the end.  This isn’t even the beginning of the end…but the end of the beginning.”  (‘WWF Survivor Series’, November 27th 1991)

About the book:


“A gripping horror that will keep you on the edge of your seat” Wildermoor 2011 Meet Colin Dexter a man plagued by visions of a monster. He turns to a priest for help but the priest is not who he seems. Wildermoor 1684 An old man hunts for his daughter Evelyn, who was abducted in the middle of the night. Wildermoor 2002 Detective Truman’s life is turned upside down when Dexler makes a fatal decision. What connects these people over hundreds of years? Who will unlock the secret? Something is coming. Something big. And light must face darkness. The end is just the beginning… Acolyte is the first book in the terrifying Wildermoor Apocalypse trilogy.” (Synopsis from Amazon)

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Dave by Sue Hendra, illustrated by Liz Pichon – Review

Published by – Hodder Children

Publication date – 7 February 2013

Source – borrowed copy


“By a bestselling team, this hilarious picture book will appeal to all those young children who love toilet humour!

A reissue of this hilarious picture book with a stunning glittery cover. Written by Sue Hendra, the creator of the bestselling Barry the Fish with Fingers (88,000 copies sold in the UK alone) and Norman the Slug with a Silly Shell (83,000 copies sold in the UK alone), and illustrated by Liz Pichon, the creator of The Brilliant World of Tom Gates.

Dave is a great big ol’ greedy guts. He loves his dinners. One unfortunate day, after eating a bit too much, he gets stuck in his cat flap. How will he escape? The answer will have you rolling around the floor with laughter.

‘A simple story brilliantly told, with a hilarious conclusion.’ The Bookbag

‘I laughed so much I farted!’ Edward, aged 6″

5 0f 5 stars

“Dave is big and quite fantastic”. So goes the opening lines of this delightful children’s book that charts the tale of Dave the ginger cat and an unfortunate predicament he finds himself in.

Not only is Dave fantastic, so is the whole book. The lines are perfectly paced for little readers to be to join in, gleefully shouting what has happened to Dave. I am always on the look out for books to encourage speech development and this is one such book.

It is the sign of a good children’s book when it entertains adults and children alike. It is the sign of a great children’s book when the reader doesn’t mind the tenth straight reading of it. And this is such a book. I was more than happy to turn to the first page on each gleeful plea of ‘Again’. This book is great for bed time reading, and was a boon for soothing during a fitful night’s sleep.

The illustrations are perfect, matching the lines of the story extremely well. They are an integral part of the story, as they should be and are a delight to see.

The copy we have is borrowed from nursery so I will have to get a copy for our house soon. Double Dave is due for release in January 2016 so I will have to snap up a copy of that on release. I will be seeing what other treats Sue Hendra and Liz Pichon have published while I wait.

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Margaret Skea – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Margaret Skea to the blog. Margaret is the author of Turn of the Tide and the sequel, A House Divided, was published on 15 October 2015. Margaret has kindly answered a few of my questions

1. Tell us a little about A House Divided. 

A House Divided continues the story of a fictional family trapped within an historic clan feud in 16th centry Scotland. Perhaps the best description is the cover blurb: 

 Eleven years on from the Massacre of Annock, the Cunninghame / Montgomerie truce is fragile.
For the Munro family, living in hiding n Ayrshire under assumed names, these are dangerous times.
While Munro risks his life daily in the service of the French King, the spectre of discovery by William Cunninghame haunts his wife Kate. Her fears for their children and her absent husband realized as William’s desire for revenge tears their world apart.

A sweeping tale of compassion and cruelty, treachery and sacrifice, set against the backdrop of feuding clans, the French Wars of Religion, and the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597.

Although it is a sequel, it can equally be read as a stand-alone novel and will appeal to fans of Winston Graham’s Poldark, or CJ Sansom’s Shardlake series.

2. A House Divided is the sequel to Turn of the Tide. Did you always intend for Turn of the Tide to be followed by another book?

 I intended Turn of the Tide to be the start of a series, though I didn’t have a fixed idea of how many books that might include. But there is so much interesting history of the period in both Scotland and Ireland, that it provides plenty of scope for exciting plots.

3. Turn of the Tide won the Beryl Bainbridge Best First Time Author Award. What is this award and what did it mean to you to win?

It’s awarded annually as part of The People’s Book Prize. Books are nominated by the publisher and then voted on by the public. The best part of it for me was to read the comments that voters left on the site, which were moving and humbling in equal measure. Here’s the link for anyone who might like to see what I mean. (Now if only some of these folk would copy and paste their comments onto Amazon…)

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? 

I’ve never been a planner. For Turn of the Tide I did know what the opening and the final scenes were to be (2nd time round that is – I discarded 70,000 words of a first draft when I changed the main character from an historic one to the fictional Munro.) For  A House Divided I didn’t even have that security – at the outset all I had was a couple of incidents that I intended to form part of the plot at some stage. 

Turn of the Tide was about 4 years in the making, 2 ½ of those writing the first draft. A House Divided was quicker – about 1 ½ years for the first draft, so I am improving! 

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

I don’t normally do a lot of relaxing, as I’m kept busy with lots of church-based activities – Kids’ Clubs, Bible Studies and so on. My ideal use of spare time is to sit in the garden and read a book. (And yes we do get some sunshine in Scotland – occasionally!)

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

The Bible. It has an endless variety of styles and types of writing – poetry, prose, journalistic and mystical; history books, inspirational writings, love stories, and cautionary tales; all related in some way to each other, and with the life of Christ at its core. I wouldn’t ever get bored.

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? 

What do I need to have beside me when I’m writing? The answer has to be crisps and chocolate – my current addiction is dark chocolate, generously laced with  pieces of crystalised ginger. 

Thanks for answering my questions and appearing on the blog.

About the author:



About the book:


“Eleven years on from the Massacre of Annock, the Cunninghame / Montgomerie truce is fragile. For the Munro family, living in hiding under assumed names, these are dangerous times.

While Munro risks his life daily in the service of the French King, the spectre of discovery by William Cunninghame haunts his wife, Kate. Her fears for their children and her absent husband realised as William’s desire for revenge tears their world apart.

A sweeping tale of compassion and cruelty, treachery and sacrifice, set against the backdrop of feuding clans, the French Wars of Religion, and the Great Scottish Witch hunt of 1597.”


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