Category Archives: Blog Tour

#blogtour ‘Blue Running’ by @lorifromtexas @moonflowerbooks @midaspr

It’s my turn to host an extract of ‘Blue Running’ by Lori Ann Stephens.

Huge thanks to Lori, Midas PR and Moonflower Books for having me involved in the blog tour for this brilliant, thought-provoking YA novel.

Vic x

I once had a mother who loved me.

“She just didn’t love you enough,” Daw liked to say. He’d sniff and smirk like a father does when he’s confronted with the mysterious eyes of his fourteen-year-old daughter. Then he’d crush his beer can under his boot. That was the start and the end of any conversation about my mother.

She didn’t love you enough. The crush of aluminum. The smell of warm beer.

She left us before the Wall, so I fashioned a memory of her from other things that were too delicate and expensive for me and Daw to have. Her eyes were flecks of gold, her laugh wind chimes. Then, when I was in third grade, I stumbled on an old photograph in Daw’s drawer and I didn’t have to imagine anymore. Instead of finding a clean pair of socks, I’d dug up a pretty blonde woman in a white robe. I suspected it was my mother right away. She was laughing, and her bare knees peeked out from the robe as she leaned sideways. I wondered if she was naked underneath. I wondered if Daw had taken the snapshot. Had Daw ever been funny enough to make a woman laugh? I traced her cheek with my finger. I’d never laughed that hard or looked that pretty. It seemed impossible that I could be related to her. But on the back of the photo was my mother’s name: Marla. I slid my finger over her smooth hair, then tucked the photograph back into Daw’s dresser. Even at eight I knew she was Daw’s secret, not mine.

I didn’t hate her for leaving us, but I did wish Marla had hung around long enough to tell me how to be. I’d spent my entire life in Blessing, but I never felt like a Blessing girl. My hair was never long-long, never seemed to grow past my shoulders no matter how long I let it grow. I didn’t have sleep-over friends, and I wasn’t good at skeet shooting or cheerleading. I didn’t know how to laugh that way girls did, and make the boys want to inch closer and rub their shoulders. I didn’t want boys to rub me anywhere.

When we were younger, kids who were lucky enough to have birthday parties invited everyone in class. That was the only polite thing to do. I’d been to some of these gatherings, seen the insides of a few houses. Those smells in other houses – clean laundry, warm pecan pies, vanilla candles, musky-sweet cat fur – were secrets I took home with me, all of them a comfort that life could be better. Eventually though, we got old enough to throw politeness to the wind and only invited our real friends to birthdays.

I was short and flat-chested and my dad was a drunk. I hadn’t been to a party in three years.

Then, the year I turned fourteen, Maggie Wisdom moved to Blessing. She wasn’t like the rest of us. Her clothes were too fancy and her heels were too high. She talked too fast and she didn’t wear boots. I was the only one who sat beside her on her first day of school and found out she was from Austin, which explained practically everything. On the bus home, I found out her daddy was rich. They were the ones who’d built the mansion at the top of the hill.

I had her for the whole summer. For three months, people stopped talking about Blue’s drunk daddy and Blue’s ugly clothes because they were talking about Maggie, who’d somehow charmed the whole of Blessing with her money and her camera-flash teeth and her talent for singing like an angel and skeet shooting like the devil. For the first time, I was almost normal.

Then high school started, and the Pretty Ones patted a stool at lunch and Maggie sat down at the far end of the cafeteria. She fit right in with them. Maggie stopped sitting with me and things went back to the way they used to be.

It was almost as if Maggie and I hadn’t ever gone on bike rides that lasted all day, hadn’t freed the squirrel from the mouse trap, hadn’t drawn tattoos on each other’s wrists with permanent marker. Almost as if I’d imagined she was my best friend.

That September, during the first weeks of high school, I found myself hopelessly lost in the wrong wing of the school, in real life and in my nightmares. Everyone was so tall and the halls were so wide. Between classes, I trailed behind strangers who laughed and teased and jostled each other, all of us wading our way to the next class. Swept by a strange desperation, I once laughed with a group of older girls in front of me like I belonged to them, until one of them turned around and smirked, “Why are you laughing, girl?” I shrugged and ducked away, my cheeks hot with shame.

In the cafeteria one day, I opened my lunch bag and stared at the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Wrinkly apple. Broken cookies. I missed Maggie’s lunches. Trading my broken cookies for her Babybel cheese wheels because her mom didn’t buy sugar treats and my Daw didn’t buy fancy cheese. I loved to pull that white tab across the red wax, which opened up like a perfect little present each time. But Maggie was with the Pretty Ones now.

The end of the day was no better. The Armory line was clogged up again because somebody’s cartridge was missing.

“I’ve told y’all before,” the Armory Secretary yelled. “Have your IDs out and get in a straight line. Y’all won’t get home till five if you don’t get lined up right. I swear to God.”

The freshmen weren’t used to the checkout process, so it took us longer than the sophomores to get holstered and out the doors. Most of us carried hand-me-down guns from older brothers and sisters, but I was an only child and Daw was the only deputy, so I got his old police-issue Glock. It was too big for my hands and too damn heavy, but it shot straight.

#blogtour ‘The Family Lie’ by @PLKane1

Thank you to HQ and P L Kane for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Paul’s latest novel: ‘The Family Lie‘. I’m thrilled to be sharing the prologue of the novel with you today.

P L KANE is the pseudonym of a #1 bestselling and award-winning author and editor, who has had over a hundred books published in the fields of SF, YA and Horror/Dark Fantasy. In terms of crime fiction, previous books include the novels ‘Her Last Secret‘ and ‘Her Husband’s Grave‘ (a sell-out on Waterstones online and Amazon), the collection ‘Nailbiters’ and the anthology ‘Exit Wounds‘, which contains stories by the likes of Lee Child, Dean Koontz, Val McDermid and Dennis Lehane.

Kane has been a guest at many events and conventions, and has had work optioned and adapted for film and television (including by Lionsgate/NBC, for primetime US network TV). Several of Kane’s stories have been turned into short movies and Loose Cannon Films/Hydra Films recently adapted ‘Men of the Cloth’ into a feature, ‘Sacrifice‘, starring Barbara Crampton (‘You’re Next) which sold to Epic Pictures/101 Films.

Kane’s audio drama work for places such as Bafflegab and Spiteful Puppet/ITV features the acting talents of people like Tom Meeten (‘The Ghoul‘), Neve McIntosh (‘Doctor Who’ / ‘Shetland’), Alice Lowe (‘Prevenge‘) and Ian Ogilvy (‘Return of the Saint’). Visit Paul’s website for more details. 

Vic x

The Family Lie

Prologue

It was the noises outside that woke them. Woke him

Noises outside the tent they were sharing, camping in the woods, part of the region known as Green Acres. Todd had woken first, sitting bolt upright when he became aware of the sounds – of someone . . .  something out there in the undergrowth. The snapping of twigs on the ground, the swish of leaves and branches being pushed aside. He glanced across at Candice in the dimness, tucked up in the sleeping bag beside him. She was just starting to stir, though whether it was because of his movements or the ones not far away beyond the thin material surrounding them was unclear. 

‘D-Did you hear that?’ Todd asked her, trying and failing to say it without his voice cracking. 

Bleary-eyed, Candice gaped at him. ‘What time is it?’ 

Todd had no idea. Late. Middle of the night. It only felt like he’d been asleep for a few minutes, having taken ages to drop off in the first place. Candice, on the other hand, had been fast asleep as soon as her head hit the inflatable pillow. And, in lieu of any kind of proper rest, he’d simply watched her by the light of the small battery-powered lamp before he’d had to turn it off, as she breathed in and out softly. That beautiful face, skin the colour of caramel, jet-black hair that hung in ringlets, Todd reckoned he was pretty much the luckiest man alive. And not for the first time he wondered just how he’d managed to end up with her. 

They’d met at uni, both studying psychology – a class taught by one Dr Robyn Adams, who worked with the police on certain cases so was a bit of a celebrity on campus. They’d been best friends first, then it had developed into something more. And when they’d finished their course, he’d suggested this holiday because who knew where they’d end up in the future. Something cheap, because they were skint, and he knew Candice loved the outdoors. They could go on walks in the daytime, cook on an open fire and eat under the stars. Didn’t get much more romantic than that.

And at night-time, snuggle up in a sleeping bag and . . . well, you know. 

Hadn’t exactly turned out the way he’d imagined though, had it? First, they’d spotted those creepy-looking folk out and about, when they’d been searching for somewhere to set up camp. Just two or three of them out for a walk in nature probably – but they’d all been wearing the same thing, those weird cream-coloured tunics and trousers. 

‘They look like they’re in a cult or something,’ Candice had joked, fan of horror movies that she was. ‘Probably doing a bit of Devil worshipping!’ But Todd hadn’t found it funny. Hadn’t found it funny at all and was glad when they’d passed by out of sight. 

Then there was getting stung by that wasp which apparently set a precedence. Everything that walked, flew or crawled in those woods seemed to have it in for Todd, it was like they knew he wasn’t used to being out here. He was also absolutely knackered, had barely slept since they got here – and not in the fun way. Todd just found it so hard to drift off with all the strange noises around him, was too much of a city boy he guessed; and this was just such a long way from it all. The sounds of nature were louder in his own skull than the hum of traffic and buzz of people he’d grown used to. More alien to him than anything, though nothing like the noises that particular night. 

‘Listen!’ he whispered to Candice. 

‘What . . . ?’ she answered, looking for her phone so she could find out the time, flicking on the light. ‘I can’t hear anything.’ 

‘There!’ said Todd, who could distinctly hear something stumbling about outside. Maybe it was those people in tunics back again?

‘It’s just the sounds of the woods, babe,’ Candice told him. The same thing she’d been saying for ages. ‘Probably a deer or something.’

‘A deer?’ He was aware he wasn’t really coming off as manly by this point, but the thought of something trampling their tent with them inside it wasn’t exactly relaxing. 

Candice couldn’t keep the grin from her face. ‘Yeah, you know. A deer. Don’t worry about it. Won’t hurt you.’

‘Doesn’t sound like a deer to me,’ he informed her. And it didn’t. It sounded bigger than that kind of animal. What if it was something else, some other kind of wild creature? 

Something more ferocious. 

As if reading his mind, Candice said, ‘Hey, did you ever see that movie with the soldiers and the werewolves? How that started, with one of those things ripping into the tent?’ She was doing this deliberately to wind him up. Candice knew he didn’t care for those kinds of films, that he had a tendency to let his imagination run riot. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.’

Might not be a werewolf – because those didn’t exist, he wasn’t that stupid – but what if it was something else? A nutter or whatever, a crazy cabin person living in the woods with a taste for human flesh? Or a witch, like in that old found footage movie people had thought was real at the time? This place definitely had a history. And hadn’t he read somewhere it was also a UFO hotspot, out in the middle of nowhere? That there had been abductions and such? Those kinds of things he did believe in, Close Encounters and all that. Spoilt for choice with the options . . .

He thought about voicing his concerns, but he was already going down in his girlfriend’s estimation he realized. God, who’d want to be with such a wuss?

Then the noises came again and this time Candice looked up. Looked worried. ‘Now that I did hear.’ 

Thank Christ for that, it was loud enough! Sounded like Godzilla and King Kong wrestling out there. ‘What should—’

‘We should probably take a look,’ she suggested. ‘At least see what we’re dealing with.’

But what if it deals with us first? thought Todd, who’d changed his mind. He was beginning to wish this was a horror flick, because then he could simply switch it off. Or be safe in the knowledge that good triumphed over evil. Usually. 

‘Really?’ he asked. 

Candice nodded and took his hand. ‘We’ll look together.’

‘O-Okay,’ he said, voice cracking again. 

His girlfriend led the way, unzipping the tent and peering out. After a few moments, she turned and said in hushed tones, ‘I can’t see anything. Can you?’

Todd joined her and his eyes searched the space in front of him. It was pitch black out there, and he had a job even making out the shapes of trees, of branches. Maybe they should flash that phone light around, or grab the lamp? Would that attract attention? Would it be worse to see than not? ‘No, I—’

He froze, squeezing her hand. The loud rustling noises were coming again, only this time he could see the source of it. Something was lit up, stumbling through the darkness: a figure. Todd’s mind went to those UFOs again, to glowing aliens. 

More alien to him than anything. 

‘Is that . . . Jesus, Todd – I think that’s a person!’ cried Candice. ‘But what’s . . . Is that a torch they’ve got or—’

No, definitely not a torch. Because the whole figure was shining with the kind of brightness not even the strongest torch would give off. And the light was coming from everywhere at once. 

That was when he smelled it, the unmistakably sweet aroma of cooking flesh – similar to the smell of the meat they’d been cooking themselves on campfires. That they’d cooked earlier on the one outside, before making sure it was totally out. It was also then Todd realized what the figure reminded him of. Not an alien at all, but a certain figure that was thrown onto the bonfire every fifth of November in this country. 

Because the shape, stumbling through the undergrowth and making all that noise – looking for all the world like some kind of stuntman – was, from head to toe, on fire. Ablaze, covered totally in flames. How it was still moving was a mystery to Todd, but moving it was. Crashing on and on towards them, the noise of crackling and popping accompanying the other sounds now. 

Then all of those noises, the ones that had woken them – woken him, Todd – were drowned out by something. The sound of screaming, high-pitched and blood-curdling. 

The sounds of someone who’d finally realized, who understood now that they were being roasted alive. 

Or, more accurately, were burning to death. 

#BlogTour ‘The Idea of You’ by @robinnelee @PenguinUKBooks

To the media, Hayes Campbell is the enigmatic front-man of a record-breaking boyband.

To his fans, he’s the man of their dreams.

To Solène Marchand, he’s just the pretty face that’s plastered over her teenage daughter’s bedroom wall.

Until a chance meeting throws them together . . .

The attraction is instant. The chemistry is electric. The affair is Solène’s secret.

But how long can it stay that way?

OK, how am I going to review this book? Well, I’m going to tell you that this book had such an impact on me that I read it in under 48 hours. I’m married, have a toddler and have plenty of things to keep me busy but, much like Solène Marchand, I willingly let a lot of it fall by the wayside so I could fall into ‘The Idea of You‘.

Prior to reading ‘The Idea of You‘, I’d seen the hype and had friends rave about it and the proof that came through my door exclaimed ‘This will keep you up all night!’. Immediately, I was put off – it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, could it?

For me, ‘The Idea of You‘ far surpassed my expectations although I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.

A young lad, only seven years older than Solène’s daughter, takes a shine to the almost forty year old when they meet backstage at a gig. There were times when I felt uncomfortable with Hayes’s proximity in age to Solènes daughter and some of the comments that were made. However, much like the protagonist herself, I kept returning to his thrall.

In addition to the age difference, there’s also the added complications of a teenage daughter, an ex-husband, millions of adoring fans and the tabloid media. Oh, and social media too. This novel is bang up-to-date with plenty to keep you turning the pages.

In terms of a read that will captivate women of many ages and fulfil a long-held desire that your favourite celebrity might not only look your way but be interested in what he sees, ‘The Idea of You‘ is perfect. There are trips all over the world, yachts, beyond five star hotels, designer clothes as well as deep desire and beautiful people. In addition to the surface stuff, though, there’s something more… there’s a discussion around feminism and sexism as well as the nature of celebrity and the impact it has.

When I wasn’t reading ‘The Idea of You‘, I found myself grinning as though I was Solène! I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I doubt I’ll be able to stop thinking about it any time soon. I’ve been in touch with lots of my female friends to discuss it with those of us who’d read it – and to tell the ones who hadn’t read it yet to rectify that immediately.

The Idea of You‘ is the perfect holiday read. It’s hot, it’s sultry, it’s sexy. There were moments when I was completely caught up in the breathless excitement of what was going on.

Do yourself a favour and read ‘The Idea of You‘. Thank me later 😉

Vic x

PS – I predict a spike in childbirths in the next nine months…

#BlogTour ‘The Counterfeit Candidate’ by Brian Klein

Berlin, 30th April, 1945 

As the Russian Army closes in on the war-torn City, Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun take their own lives. Their bodies are burned and buried in the Reich Chancellery garden, above the Führer’s bunker. 

Buenos Aires, 9th January, 2012 

Three audacious thieves carry out the biggest safe depository heist in Argentine history, escaping with more than one hundred million dollars’ worth of valuables. Within hours, an encrypted phone call to America triggers a blood-soaked manhunt as the thieves are tracked down, systematically tortured, then murdered. 

San Francisco, 18th January, 2012 

Senator John Franklin, hailed as the ‘Great Unifier’, secures the Republican Presidential nomination and seems destined for the Oval Office. Despite the sixty-seven year interval and a span of thirteen thousand miles, these events are indelibly linked. 

Chief Inspector Nicolas Vargas of the Buenos Aires Police Department and Lieutenant Troy Hembury of the LAPD are sucked into a dark political conspiracy concealing an incredible historical truth stretching from the infamous Berlin bunker to Buenos Aires and to Washington, which threatens the very heart and soul of American democracy.

It’s a delight to be able to share with you an excerpt of ‘The Counterfeit Candidate‘ by Brian Klein today. I’m sure the extract will leave you wanting more. If so, ‘The Counterfeit Candidate‘ is available now.

My thanks to the author and Midas PR for my advanced review copy.

Vic x

According to accepted twentieth century history, on 30th April 1945, Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun said their final goodbyes to a small group of close friends and colleagues who were gathered in a sitting room, deep inside the underground bunker in Berlin. The pair retired to the Führer’s personal study where, a few hours later, they took their own lives. Braun bit down on a wafer-thin glass cyanide ampoule and Hitler shot himself in the right temple, using his own Walther PPK pistol. The bodies were then carried above ground, via the bunker’s emergency exit, and buried in the Reich Chancellery Gardens, after being doused in petrol and set alight.

Thirty-six hours earlier, the couple had married in a simple ceremony, where they declared they were of pure Aryan descent and free of hereditary disease. The only witnesses were the Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, Party Secretary, Martin Bormann and the Führer’s personal valet, Heinz Linge. The ceremony was followed by a modest lunch of spaghetti in tomato sauce, one of the Führer’s favourite meals, prepared by his personal chef, Constanze Manziarly.

Hitler was dressed in full Nazi uniform and Braun wore a calf-length black dress, broken up by a print of small white roses around the neckline. The Führer then dictated his last will and testament in which he declared he chose “death over capitulation” and left his vast personal fortune to the Nazi Party.

Three months after the Nazi regime declared unconditional surrender, the victorious political leaders met in the German city of Potsdam, just outside Berlin, for a post-war conference to discuss the new order in Europe. On 17th July 1945, Stalin and Truman sat down for an intimate lunch in one of the small banqueting suites inside the spectacular Cecilienhof Palace.

The only people present were their respective Foreign Secretaries, Molotov and Byrnes, who acted as translators. Truman was astonished when Stalin disclosed that rumours of the discovery of Hitler and Braun’s bodies were fabricated and that a painstaking search, by his Red Army soldiers of the Reich Chancellery grounds, had failed to discover any sign of the Führer’s remains. Stalin was convinced Hitler had escaped his clutches.

#BlogTour #IfIFall @nellbelleandme @arrowpublishing

We were told to meet at a rooftop bar.

Four friends, bound by one terrible secret.

No one knew why we were there.

Then we saw a woman, watched as she fell from the edge and plunged to her death.

The police think it’s suicide, but I know better.

Someone is sending a message.

Now they’re coming for us.

Thank you to Arrow Books and Merilyn Davies for inviting me onto the blog tour, it’s my pleasure to tell you all about If I Fall today.

Well, first off, the prologue had me hooked and then Chapter One drops the reader straight into the action and the inciting incident. Merilyn Davies has a lovely knack of setting the scene without losing pace. She drives the story forward purposefully while giving the reader plenty of information to recreate the scene in their mind.

Fans of Merilyn Davies will be familiar with DS Nell Jackson and Crime Analyst Carla Brown – If I Fall is their second outing (the first being in When I Lost You) but don’t worry if you haven’t read When I Lost You, Davies gives enough information for you to understand and empathise with these characters even if If I Fall is your first introduction to them.

By using Carla Brown’s point of view at the time of the woman’s apparent suicide, the reader feels as if they are not only at the scene of the crime with her but then also part of the subsequent investigation. I thought Carla’s insistence that this might not be suicide, and the battles she has to prove that, was a unique take on the police procedural.

The characters – and potential suspects – introduced are interesting and compelling, with the background story original and disturbing. Without giving too much away, I felt the subject tackled in this novel deserves to be widely recognised and confronted. This layered plot considers a range of themes including homelessness, revenge and sexuality. By combining all of these strands, Merilyn Davies has produced a believable novel with realistic characters.

Vic x

#BlogTour #The Push by @audrain

I’m thrilled today to be reviewing Ashley Audrain’s debut novel ‘The Push‘ which was published yesterday.

Here’s a little snippet of ‘The Push‘ to whet your appetite:

The arrival of baby Violet was meant to be the happiest day of my life. But as soon as I held her in my arms I knew something wasn’t right.

I had always known that the women in my family aren’t meant to be mothers.

My husband Fox says I’m imagining it. He tells me I’m nothing like my own mother, and that Violet is the sweetest child.

But she’s different with me. Something feels very wrong.

Is it her? Or is it me? Is she the monster? Or am I?

As most readers of this blog will know, I became a mum for the first time in 2019. The Push takes place over a number of years so although I can’t recognise some of the feelings that Blythe, the narrator, feels as her child Violet gets older, I can attest that Ashley Audrain certainly captures the all-encompassing terror felt by some new mothers.

The Push‘, although being fiction, taps into the fears that many women experience when they become mothers: am I supposed to feel like this? Am I doing this right? Am I good enough? Is my child … ok? Normal?

This explosive novel explores subjects that still remain taboo: the pain and discomfort around breastfeeding, post-natal depression and how your relationship with your partner changes after the arrival of a baby. Yes, this novel takes those elements to the extreme but there certainly were scenes that had me nodding firmly in recognition.

Audrain has weaved natural fears around motherhood into this perfectly pitched novel, leaving the reader unsure whether they can believe what they’re being told.

Interspersed across three different timelines, this layered story is absorbing, emotional and terrifying, some might say like motherhood itself. Featuring complex, nuanced characters, ‘The Push‘ will leave ice running through your veins long after you have turned the final page.

There were scenes that left me feeling physically sick with fear, my emotions completely in Audrain’s thrall. I also wept repeatedly when reading this book thanks to the powerful nature of the prose combined with an utterly intoxicating plot.

I think ‘The Push‘ is the kind of book our society needs. It is definitely a great choice for a book club – it will generate conversation and no doubt some controversy but I genuinely think it will open the minds of those who read it. This novel isn’t just about the relationship a mother has with her child but also those around her – from her partner to strangers – and the expectations that are placed on her as a result.

Perfect for fans of ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin‘, ‘The Push‘ is beautifully written, perfectly plotted and deserving of the hype it’s been receiving.

Vic x

#BlogTour #ABowlofCherries by F.E. Birch

It is an absolute delight to be hosting my very good friend F.E. Birch on the blog today. F.E. is part of a very special group of friends that I’m lucky to have in my life.

I was given the honour of hosting F.E.’s virtual book launch for her short story collection ‘A Bowl of Cherries‘ earlier this year and am delighted to have her on the blog today.

Vic x

Thank you Vic, for hosting me today for A Bowl of Cherries, my short story collection. 

When I first started writing short stories in about 2004 I had no idea where I was going with them. I love writing in the short story form and I when I discovered flash fiction, I thought it was brilliant. I was in the process of changing careers and with three small children it was difficult but I just wanted to write, and write, and write – so I pinched time from everywhere I could and I wrote.

I then started entering competitions and calls for submissions to anthologies. I learned what some markets liked and what others didn’t. I prefer writing in the dark form: crime, psychological, character-centred and devious, and definitely not for everyone. 

Since 2004 I have had a hundred and fifty- five stories published in print or online. I won Pitch Perfect at Bloody Scotland in 2012 along with Joseph Knox. He’s gone on to be a very successful and talented writer. I was then published by Harper Collins for a collection of anecdotal stories under a pseudonym, which although quite successful, I couldn’t openly take any credit. Life events then got in the way and I had a hiatus from 2013, writing only sporadically, but still networking at lots of the writing festivals. Oh, how I miss them!

I have to praise Vic Watson and Simon Bewick for their lockdown VNATB. It was the highlight of my week, every Wednesday for twenty-two weeks. They really inspired me to pick up my pen again and I managed to finish my part-written crime novel, which is now in the editing stages. I also went back to my short stories and thought, actually, some were okay. A hard thing to admit for someone who doesn’t believe in themselves! Whilst  ‘cooking the book’ that I hope to be my first novel, I thought I could pull together a collection of my short stories. If they’d been published before, surely, they might have some merit? Hence, A Bowl of Cherries was born. 

Each story has a dark theme, and they cover most aspects of life, death, murder, abuse, violence, cannibalism, alcohol, domestic violence, ghosts, and much more. There are few markets for this type of genre, especially in the short story form, but I know there are people out there like me that like to read them. I also understand that for some, they may be too much, which is why they are labelled as triple XXX. I draw on my life and professional experiences for nuggets of ideas that I turn into stories and having seen the dark and dastardly things that people do to each other first hand, I have a wealth of ideas in the bank. There are many more stories loitering in files on my laptop, more still waiting to be written. 

None are for the faint of heart, though I do have the idea of writing a rom-com – if only I can resist killing off a character! 

I am very fortunate to have a great peer group of friendly writing folk, and a special circle of friends, and it’s such a wonderful writing community to be amongst. Thank you to all the readers who keep the writers going, all the writers who understand the need to keep going, and everyone else who supports us. 

Order A Bowl of Cherries now.

#BlogTour #HerHusband’sGrave by @PLKane1

It’s my pleasure today to be taking part in the blog tour for PL Kane’s ‘Her Husband’s Grave‘ by P L Kane.

A hint of gold glistened in the sand. It was a watch, no doubt about it. A watch… attached to a body.

Criminal psychologist Robyn Adams is at breaking point after a previous case resulted in an attempt on her own life. But as she sits in the car about to head home, she receives a phone call from her long lost cousin, Vicky.

Vicky’s voice cracks as she explains to Robyn that her husband, Simon, has been found buried on Golden Sands beach. Desperate to help and determined not to let her last case get the better of her, Robyn returns to the coastal village where she spent summers with Vicky as a child.

Robyn knows that she has let Vicky down in the past and is set on making up for lost time. Throwing herself into the case, she combs through evidence, intent on discovering a lead that will help the local police.

But there is clearly someone who wants Robyn gone. She is convinced someone is watching her and when she begins to receive threatening notes, Robyn knows that she could be risking her life…

But Robyn won’t leave again – she owes it to Vicky to stay.

I’ve been treated to the prologue of this exciting new thriller – and here it is for you all to enjoy!

Vic x

Her Husband’s Grave
Prologue

He’d been looking for something else when he made the shocking discovery. The grisly, stomach-churning discovery that would change everything…

He had been walking along, here on the beach, looking for treasure no less – buried or otherwise – if you can believe such a thing. And he did, had done all his life. Believed the tales his father had told him about this place when he was young, about the smugglers and the pirates. Loved it when his old man had read Treasure Island to him at bedtime when he was little. 

Jeremy Platt had only recently moved back to the area, partly to keep an eye on his ageing dad now that the man’s wife, Jeremy’s mum, had passed away; partly because his own marriage to Alice – who he’d met at college in the nearby town of Mantlethorpe – had fallen apart. Now, here they both were… alone, together. 

They’d joke about it sometimes, over a pint in their local, or a game of dominoes, though their laughter would fade quite quickly. But at least they had each other, the roles reversed from when Jeremy had been little; now he had to read to his father because of his failing eyesight. Something that had put paid to the old bloke’s hobby of amateur writing, and one of the reasons why he liked to stand at the window with those binoculars, looking out over the sea. Or had done, until a couple of days ago. 

Until the heart attack. 

Jeremy had been the one to make the discovery then too, calling round early because he couldn’t reach him on the phone; all the while telling himself it was just lines down because of the storm. Instead, finding him collapsed on the floor, phone off the hook after clearly trying to reach it and ring for help. Jeremy had rung for an ambulance instead, straight away. They’d whisked him off to hospital, and there had followed an anxious few hours, waiting to hear the worst. 

When the doctor came out and told Jeremy his dad had stabilised, he’d almost hugged the fellow. ‘What he needs now, more than anything, is rest,’ the physician had said to Jeremy, ‘time to recover.’ He’d been allowed to sit by the bedside, even though Mr Platt snr was still pretty out of it – wires running in and out of him, like some kind of robot. And Jeremy had cried, watching him, realising just how frail he was for the first time. How he might lose another parent before long. 

To be honest, he’d come here today to give himself a break more than anything. The hospital had promised to call if there was any change and he could be back in no time.

So here he was, on said beach, looking for excitement, looking for treasure. Just like his old man had promised. All part of a hobby he’d taken up, something to occupy his time while he looked for – and had failed so far to find – work in the area. So, with what was left over from the redundancy package and the marital savings, he’d treated himself to a metal detector. 

Jeremy had often spotted people wandering up and down the sands, sweeping those things from left to right, and thought it looked like fun. Well, you never knew what you might find out there. The guy in the shop, that fellow with the beard and cargo trousers – front pockets bulging, so full Jeremy wondered how he walked without falling over – had done nothing to dissuade him. Had been a self-confessed expert on the subject, happy to give him lots of tips… Not to mention sell him the best detector on the market, or so he claimed: the Equinox 800 with the large coil, perfect for places like beaches. 

It had continued to rain off and on since the storm, and that made for perfect conditions as far as detecting was concerned. ‘When everything’s wet,’ the bloke from the shop had told him, ‘it soaks into the ground and helps you spot anything that’s deeper down. Ground’s had a drink, see?’

He’d also advised Jeremy not to be in a rush, to expect lots of trash. ‘95% of what you’ll find,’ cargo guy had said, simultaneously showing him how to swing the machine – not too fast and not in great arcs – ‘it’ll be junk.’ 

He hadn’t been wrong. In the months he’d been doing this, Jeremy had found enough bottle-tops to pebbledash a house, old-fashioned keys, the backs of watches, tin cans, safety pins, bits of shiny metal that looked like mirrors…

However, he’d also found enough to encourage him to carry on: toy cars (a couple of which had actually ended up being collectors’ items); an old whistle once (which he hadn’t dared blow, recalling an old ghost story he’d read in his teens); a few lighters; a couple of rings; and, though they weren’t doubloons as such, quite a few pound coins that must have fallen out of wallets, purses or pockets. The point was, he had fun while he was doing it – and at the moment he needed that, needed to take his mind off things. Off his dad lying there in bed looking like C3-PO. 

He stopped when the beeping in his earphones intensified. Jeremy stared at the screen in front of him: 12… 13… no, 14! A pretty good reading, he thought, pulling the ’phones from his ears to wear them around his neck. Bending and taking out his trowel from his pack, he placed the detector down and began digging in the spot it had indicated. What would it be this time, a gold chain perhaps? Down, down, and further down…

Jeremy stopped when he saw the metal, couldn’t help grinning to himself. The last few bits of sand he dug out with his gloved hands, fingers clawing, eager to see what it was he’d uncovered. 

He stopped when he reached it, plucked the item out and held it up in front of him – where it glinted in the early morning sun. His smiled faded. ‘Just an old ring-pull,’ he said to himself, the kind you wouldn’t get these days because they were fixed to the lid. Sighing, he bagged it anyway, to stop another hunter from making the same mistake – and to keep those beaches clean, of course. They were a far cry from what they’d been when he was a kid, or indeed when his father had been a boy, and Jeremy wasn’t even sure they deserved the name that had been given them now, their colour dull even when it hadn’t been raining. 

But it was as he’d contemplated this that he spotted it. Something in that dull sand, along the beach. Something not that well buried at all, sticking out in fact – just ripe for the taking. He looked around him, the beach deserted – though to be fair you wouldn’t really get many tourists on this stretch of it anyway. They’d stick to the main beach for swimming and so they were closer to the pier and shops. Grabbing his stuff, he clambered to his feet and started over. He couldn’t be sure what it was really, but it was glinting. 

It was metal. It was gold… Golden at any rate. 

Didn’t even need his detector this time, which was real irony for you. All that sweeping, all that beeping. The closer he got the more he saw of it, some kind of strap… a watch strap! Looked like it belonged to an expensive one, too. Just a bit of it sticking out, but there it was. 

Jeremy got down again, started to uncover the find as he had done with the ring-pull. He hadn’t been digging for long, perhaps only a few seconds, when he pulled back sharply. It was a watch strap all right, with a watch attached. But there was also skin there too.

And a wrist. 

Swallowing dryly, he moved forward again. His imagination surely, eyes playing tricks on him. He dug a little more, pulled back again. 

There was a hand attached to that wrist. A human hand. 

Jeremy hadn’t uncovered much of it, but he could tell now – and though it was at an angle, it looked for all the world like a much dryer version of The Lady in the Lake’s hand reaching up for Excalibur. Except there was no sword to catch. And this was no lady’s hand. 

He scrabbled backwards again, felt the bile rising in his mouth. That was a body, no doubt about it – and his mind flashed back to when him and his mum used to bury his dad when they went on the sands (might be burying him for real soon, a little voice whispered and he promptly ignored it). But surely nobody would have done that by accident? Left a relative here, especially in this isolated spot. 

Jeremy frowned, then reached into his pocket for his mobile. Began to dial a number. 

There you go, that same voice had told him, you wanted excitement. An adventure. He shook his head again, shook those thoughts away too. 

‘Yes, hello,’ he said when the ringing at the other end stopped and voice came on the line. Not asking for an ambulance this time, because it was far too late for that. Instead: ‘Yes, could you give me the police please.’ 

Her Husband’s Grave‘ is available now.

#BlogTour #TheCurator #MWCraven

I’m delighted to bring you a sneak peek of the latest in the Washington Poe series, ‘The Curator‘, by M.W. Craven.

As many of you already know, I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ and ‘Black Summer‘ so I’m really excited to get stuck into ‘The Curator’. I know that, after reading this extract, you will be too.

My thanks to Little Brown for including me in the blog tour for this brilliant author. If you missed M.W. Craven at Virtual Noir at the Bar, check out the archives.

Vic x

‘The player who understands the role of the pawn, who really under- stands it, can master the game of chess,’ the man said. ‘They might be the weakest piece on the board but pawns dictate where and when your opponent can attack. They restrict the mobility of the so-called bigger pieces and they determine where the battle squares will be.’

The woman stared at him in confusion. She’d just woken and was feeling groggy.

And sore.

She twisted her head and searched for the source of her pain. It didn’t take long.

‘What have you done?’ she mumbled.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s old-fashioned catgut so the sutures are a bit agricultural, but they’re supposed to be. It’s not used any more but I needed the “wick effect”. That’s when infection enters the wound through the suture. It will ensure the scar stays livid and crude. A permanent reminder of what has happened.’

He picked up a pair of heavy-duty rib shears.

‘Although not for you, of course.’
The woman thrashed and writhed but it was no use. She was bound
tight.
The man admired the exacting lines of the surgical instrument.

Turned it so the precision steel caught the light. Saw his face reflected in the larger blade. He looked serious. This wasn’t something he particu- larly enjoyed.

‘Please,’ the woman begged, fully awake now, ‘let me go. I promise you, I won’t say anything.’

The man walked round and held her left hand. He stroked it affectionately.

‘I’ve had to wait for the anaesthetic to wear off so this is going to hurt, I’m afraid. Believe me when I say I wish it didn’t have to.’

He placed her ring finger between the blades of the rib shears and squeezed the handles together. There was a crunch as the razor-sharp edges sliced through bone and tendon as if they weren’t there.

The woman screamed then passed out. The man stepped away from the spreading pool of blood.

‘Where was I?’ he said to himself. ‘Ah, yes, we were talking about pawns. Beginners think they’re worthless, there to be sacrificed – but that’s because they don’t know when to use them.’

He removed a coil of wire from his pocket. It had toggles at each end. He placed them between the index and middle finger of each hand. In a practised movement he wrapped the wire around the woman’s neck.

‘Because knowing when to sacrifice your pawns is how the game is won.’

He pulled the garrotte taut, grunting as the cruel wire bit into her skin, severing her trachea, crushing her jugular vein and carotid artery. She was dead in seconds.

He waited an hour then took the other finger he needed.

He carefully arranged it in a small plastic tub, keeping it separate from the others. He looked at his macabre collection with satisfaction.

It could begin now.

The other pawns were in position. They just didn’t know it yet . . .

Chapter 1

It was the night before Christmas and all wasn’t well.
It had started like it always did. Someone asking, ‘Are we doing Secret Santa this year?’ and someone else replying, ‘I hope not,’ both making a pact to avoid mentioning it to the office manager, both secretly planning to mention it as soon as possible. And before anyone could protest, the decision had been made and the office was doing it again. The fifteenth year in a row. Same rules as last year. Five-quid limit. Anonymous gifts. Nothing rude or offensive. Gifts that no one wanted. A total waste of everyone’s time.

At least that’s what Craig Hodgkiss thought. He hated Secret Santa.

He hated Christmas too. The yearly reminder that his life was shit. That, while the colleagues he outwardly sneered at were going home to spend Christmas with their families and loved ones, he’d be spending it on his own.

But he really hated Secret Santa.

Three years ago it had been the source of his greatest humili- ation. Setting himself the not unreasonable Christmas target of shagging Hazel, a fellow logistics specialist at John Bull Haulage, he’d wangled it so he was the one who’d bought her Secret Santa gift. He reckoned buying her a pair of lace panties would be the perfect way to let her know he was up for some extracurricular activities while her husband long-hauled across mainland Europe.

His plan worked.
Almost.
It had been the perfect way to let her know.

Unfortunately she was happily married, and instead of rushing into his bed she’d rushed to her husband, who was between jobs and was having a brew in the depot. The six-foot-five lorry driver had walked into the admin office and broken Craig’s nose. He’d told him that if he ever so much as looked at his wife again he’d find himself hogtied in the back of a Russia-bound shipping container. Craig had believed him. So much so that, in front of the whole office, he’d lost control of his bladder.

For two years everyone had called him ‘Swampy’. He couldn’t even complain to Human Resources as he was terrified of getting Hazel into trouble.

For two years he hadn’t made a dent in the girls in the office.

But eventually Hazel and her brute of a husband had moved on. He took a job driving for Eddie Stobart and she went with him. Craig told everyone that Hazel’s husband had left the com- pany because he’d caught up with him and given him a hiding, but no one had believed him.

Actually, one person seemed to.

By Craig’s own standards, Barbara Willoughby was a plain girl. Her hair looked like it had been styled in a nursing home, her teeth were blunt and too widely spaced, and she could have done with dropping a couple of pounds. On a scale of one-to-ten Craig reckoned she was a hard six, maybe a seven in the right lighting, and he only ever shagged eights and above.

But there was one thing he did like about her. She hadn’t been there when he’d pissed himself.

So he’d asked her out. And to his surprise he found they got on really well. She was fun to be with and she was popular. He liked how she made him feel and she was adventurous in bed. He also liked how she only wanted to do things at the weekends. During the week she would stay in and study for some stupid exams she was taking.

Which suited Craig just fine.

Because, after a few weeks of dating Barbara, he’d got his swagger back. And with it he began carving notches again.

To his amazement he discovered it was actually easier pulling the type of woman he went for when he told them he was in a long-term relationship. He reckoned it was the combination of his boyish good looks and the thought of doing over someone they didn’t know. Which gave Craig an idea: if those sort of women enjoyed the thrill of being with someone who cheated, they’d go crazy for someone who had affairs . . .

So Craig Hodgkiss, at the age of twenty-nine, decided he would ask Barbara to marry him. She’d jump at the chance. She was in her early thirties, had some biological clock thing going on (but was unaware he’d had a vasectomy two years earlier) and would almost certainly be left on the shelf if she said no. And then he’d reap the rewards. A faithful doormat keeping his bed warm and a succession of women who’d happily shag a man wearing a wedding band.

And because he wanted everyone in the office to know he was about to become illicit fruit, he’d decided to put past experiences behind him and propose during the office Secret Santa.

Arranging it hadn’t been straightforward. He’d got Barbara’s ring size by stealing her dead grandmother’s eternity ring, the one she only wore on special occasions. While Barbara turned her flat upside down looking for it, he’d been asking a jeweller to make the engagement ring the same size and to recycle the diamonds and gold. The whole thing had only cost him two hundred quid.

The next thing was to think of a cool way of proposing.

Something that would get the office girls talking about how romantic Craig was. A rep like that could only help. He decided on a mug. It was the perfect Secret Santa gift as it met the five- quid limit set by the office manager and, although half the gifts under the cheap fibre optic Christmas tree looked like they were mugs, half the gifts under the tree didn’t have ‘Will You Marry Me?’ printed on the side.

When Barbara read the message and then saw what was inside . . . well, he reckoned she’d burst into tears, shout yes and hug him for all she was worth.

The office floor was strewn with cheap wrapping paper. All reindeer and snowmen and brightly wrapped presents tied with ribbons.

Barbara was next. She picked up her parcel and looked at him strangely.

Did she know?

She couldn’t. No one did. Not even the girl he’d persuaded to swap with him so he was the one buying for Barbara.

Tiffany, Barbara’s best friend, began recording it on her mobile phone for some reason. That was OK, though. Better than OK actually. He’d be able to post it on Twitter and Facebook and keep a copy on his phone. Ready to show girls at the drop of a hat. Look at me. Look how nice I am. Look how sensitive I am. You can have some of this . . . but only for one night.

Craig caught Barbara’s eye. He winked. She didn’t return it. Didn’t even smile. Just held his gaze as she lifted the wrapped box from one of his old gift bags.

Something wasn’t right. The wrapping paper was thick and white with black pictures; he thought his had been cheap and brightly coloured.

Barbara ripped it off without looking at it. The mug was in a polystyrene box. He’d taped the two halves together to increase the suspense. Barbara ran a pair of scissors down the join before separating them.

She pulled out the mug and Craig’s confusion intensified. It wasn’t his. He hadn’t seen this one before. Something was printed on the side but it wasn’t proposing marriage. In inch- high black letters it said: #BSC6

Barbara didn’t know she’d opened the wrong parcel, though. Without looking inside the mug, she glared at him and upended the mug’s contents.

‘Cheating fucking bastard,’ she said.

Craig didn’t protest his innocence. He couldn’t. He was unable to tear his eyes away from the things that had fallen on the floor. They were no engagement ring.

He recoiled and gasped in revulsion.

A familiar and unwelcome warmth began spreading from his groin.

And then the screaming started.

**Bones in the River Blog Tour**

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Zoë Sharp’s “Bones in the River“. I’ve known Zoë for many years now but here’s a little bit of background to the enigmatic writer.

Zoë Sharp began her crime thriller series featuring former Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox, after receiving death-threats in the course of her work as a photo-journalist. Zoë opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen.

Zoë’s work has won or been nominated for awards on both sides of the Atlantic, been used in school textbooks, inspired an original song and music video, and been optioned for TV and film.

When not in lockdown in the wilds of Derbyshire, she can be found improvising self-defence weapons out of ordinary household objects, international pet-sitting, or crewing yachts in the Mediterranean. (It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.) Zoë is always happy to hear from readers, reader groups, libraries or bookstores. You can contact her via email.

My thanks to Zoë for having me on her blog tour.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job:
Zoe Sharp

I suppose there was half a chance that writing fiction might have been my day job, right from the start. After all, I penned my first novel at the age of fifteen—and I do mean ‘penned’. I wrote the entire thing, long-hand, in a month, and gave myself the most appalling writers’ cramp in the process.

That early effort did the rounds of all the major publishers, where it received what’s known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’—everybody said they loved it but nobody actually wanted to publish it.

Looking back, I’m rather glad about that.

Because, in order to be a writer, you need different experiences under your belt. At the age of fifteen, I’d had few worth mentioning. Apart from living aboard a catamaran from the age of about seven and leaving school at twelve. But that, as they say, is probably another story.

Having failed at my first attempt to be a novelist, I became side-tracked by a variety of jobs in my teenage years, including crewing boats and learning astro-navigation. I was mad keen on horses, rode competitively, and once even took part in a rodeo. I learned to shoot—did a little competing there, too. Long guns, mostly. I considered myself an average shot with a handgun but, as I discovered on my last visit to a US indoor gun range, most people can manage to miss the target entirely at less than ten feet.

As for jobs, I became a freelance motoring writer at the height of the classic car boom of the late 1980s. That quickly transmuted into being a photojournalist, having taught myself both how to write commercial magazine articles and also how to take images good enough for numerous front covers and centre spreads.

It was hardly surprising, then, that eventually I’d have to start writing a character who was a photographer. Enter Grace McColl, first in Dancing on the Grave and now in Bones in the River. Grace started out as a keen amateur photographer, who became involved in providing evidence for the defence in a court case. She was then approached by the Head CSI at Cumbria police, who asked her if she’d ever thought of joining the side of the angels. Always nice to be able to write any parts of the story concerning photography without having to do lots of research.

My time spent writing about cars also played a part in Bones in the River, which begins with a hit-and-run incident. Understanding how the mechanics of a vehicle work makes writing scenes with them in so much easier and, I hope, more accurate.

Plus, all that time spent with horses came in very useful for a book that takes place during the largest Gypsy and Traveller horse fair in Europe. There were still plenty of times when I had up to a dozen different scientific research books laid on the table at the side of my desk as I wrote, though. Fortunately, forensic science and pathology are such fascinating subjects.

They tell you to write what you know. I disagree. I think you should write what you’re desperate to find out instead.

Bones in the River“, the second book in the Lakes crime thriller series, was published worldwide on May 26 2020 by ZACE Ltd. You can grab a sneak peek of the first three chapters, and is available from all the usual retailers.