Tag Archives: Books

Review: ‘The Rumour’ by Lesley Kara

When Joanna, a single mum, hears a rumour at the school gates, she doesn’t intend to share it with anyone. But, when she mentions it in passing at her book club, word starts to spread. Apparently, there’s an infamous child killer living in their midst under an assumed identity and now the residents of Flintstead-on-Sea want to know who Sally McGowan, who killed young Robbie Harris almost fifty years ago, is now. 

Lesley Kara has come up with a truly original premise. The idea of how dangerous one throw-away comment can be is a really interesting one in this time of social media. Not only is ‘The Rumour‘ a study of society but it is, at heart, an intriguing mystery. 

This novel is a compelling story which features an important message regarding the impact that the past can have on the present. 

The characters in ‘The Rumour‘ are well-drawn and Kara manages to make the reader question everyone’s motives. Kara’s characters are really believable and, despite everyone potentially being a suspect, they are still empathetic. I could absolutely sympathise with Joanna’s suspicion of everyone and her inability to trust anyone. 

Kara’s debut novel has plenty of twists and turns. It’s fast-paced which mirrors the panic felt by Joanna. 

The Rumour‘ is one of the best books I have had the privilege of reading this year. I couldn’t put it down. It’s available for download now. 

Vic x

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2018 Review: Rob Walton

Rob Walton is a true gent. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him when he joined Elementary Writers a couple of years ago to give a reading. He’s a warm, funny chap and a brilliant writer.

I’m delighted to welcome him to the blog today. Here’s to a positive 2019, Rob!

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
There were various acceptances and publications of short fictions and poems, and some lovely dealings with several fantastic/hard-working/unheralded editors.  Hats off to all of them.  

Performance-wise, there was a gig in praise and support of Cullercoats Library at the Salthouse, which was great fun – with bonus swearing.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Much trickier because it really wasn’t the best of years.  Probably pride at our daughters for getting through their GCSEs and SATs, and still being decent human beings in spite of the crap that school and society feeds them.  I was also pleased my creaking body allowed me to do my 50th Parkrun.  Then there was a strange pleasure in shedding a few tears at Durham Miners’ Gala, the day after being honoured to read at the launch of Paul Summers’s Arise!  Luckily, I managed to replace the lost liquid with pale ale.

Favourite book in 2018?
The absolutely wonderful Love by Hanne ørstavik (Archipelago Books), translated from the Norwegian by my very talented mate Martin Aitken. 

Patti Smith’s Just Kids.  This had been waiting on my bedside table for years so I took it to New York in the summer, but didn’t manage to read it there.  Instead, I read it in North Shields on my return.  Probably just as well, otherwise I’d have been dragging my daughters to empty spaces/vacant lots in Greenwich Village, saying “Look!  This is where she had a bowl of soup with Allen Ginsberg!”

Favourite film in 2018?
I didn’t go as often as I would have liked.  I shared some laughs at the Jam Jar in Whitley Bay with my younger daughter, and got moderately freaked with both daughters by The Little Stranger at the Tyneside.  I was probably most impressed by Wildlife and the brilliant but unrelentingly bleak Dark River.  I was also lucky enough to have a sneak preview of the fantastic Pond Life at Leeds Film Festival.  Look out for this next year.  

Favourite gig.
Richard Dawson at the Pitmen’s Parliament, supported by Onsind.  Or maybe Laura Veirs at the Cluny – the best I’ve seen her in years, although she’s always been very good.  I’d also been looking forward to Misty in Roots at Cluny 2, but someone swapped my Dr Marten shoes for some very wobbly boots just before the gig started.

Favourite TV.
Hip-Hop Evolution or Godless or Brooklyn 99 or Killing Eve or, or…

Favourite song of the year?
Ooh, got to be Russ Abbot’s Atmosphere.  I return to it every year and always discover something new. 

Any downsides for you in 2018?
Just bits of my life and the death of the Free World as we know it and all that Great Exhibition of the North nonsense.  

With the far right on the move and the knowledge things are going to get much worse.  I’ve been thinking about the best and most useful way for an inarticulate coward like me to respond.  I’m going to make some cheese scones.  I might put some chives in them.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I won’t actually be writing them down but there are lifestyle changes I want to make.

With my move away from North Shields, I need to get to know the dirty bits of Whitley Bay.  I know all about the shiny Spanish City promenade bits, so it’s the underbelly I need to discover: the illicit ice cream dens of Monkseaton and the Briardene stolen conker warehouses.
What are you hoping for from 2019?
Even keel.  Light.  Warmth.  Pale ale with friends.  Possibly fewer submissions to magazines and anthologies and more getting my own stuff together.  The world to come to its cheese scone senses.

**The Silk Road Blog Tour** #LoveBooksGroupTours @Mark_Leggatt @FledglingPress

silk-road.jpgI’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Mark Leggatt’s latest release: ‘The Silk Road‘, the third book in the Connor Montrose series. I’ve known Mark for a couple of years and it’s a pleasure to have him on the blog to chat about how his day job has influenced his writing. 

Mark Leggatt was born in Lochee, Dundee and lives in Edinburgh. A former specialist in Disaster Recovery for oil companies and global banks, his career has taken him around Europe, especially Paris, where he lived for a number of years. History and modern global conspiracy lie at the heart of his work, and are the backdrop for the adventures of CIA technician Connor Montrose. Leggatt is a member of the Crime Writers Association in the UK, and the International Thriller Writers in the USA. 

Before that, though, allow me to whet your appetite with a little bit about ‘The Silk Road’:

Ex-CIA technician Connor Montrose tracks two suspected terrorists to a deserted mountain village in Tuscany, where he witnesses an attack on a US Air Force troop plane, using a ground-breaking portable Surface to Air (SAM) missile. Unaware that the CIA were also monitoring the suspects, Montrose is blamed for the attack and narrowly escapes. The CIA receive orders from Washington to shoot him on sight, and a shadowy organisation begins to track his every move.

Then a spate of terror attacks threatens the fabric of NATO and the entire Western alliance. Civilian airlines are the new target, and the overwhelming evidence points to a CIA false flag plan to bring down aircraft and blame it on Moscow-backed terrorists. Montrose’s investigations lead him to underground arms sales on The Silk Road, the secret marketplace of the internet, hidden deep in the Dark Web. Montrose must assimilate himself into the society of the European aristocracy and the ultra-rich fascists, assisted by Kirsty Rhys, to pose as a middleman for the purchase of arms on The Silk Road and find the remaining cache of missiles. Montrose uncovers the layers of duplicity between governments and arms dealers, leading first to the CIA in Rome, and eventually to the palaces of the last Russia Tsar and the new oligarchs. Montrose must discover the remaining cache of missiles before the CIA catch up with him, and before carnage is unleashed over the skies of Europe.

My thanks to Mark for taking the time to chat to us, and to the lovely Kelly Lacey at Love Books Group for allowing me to be part of the tour. 

Vic x

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I am, at heart, a very disorganised person. If I had to describe my normal thought process, it would be me on a unicycle, going down a steep hill, while juggling cats, while the cats are on fire, and heading for a fireworks factory at the bottom of the hill. Next to the orphanage.

I need order in my life, and in my previous role as a Project Manager, that’s exactly what I got. It’s a bit ironic that the kind of person, who when asked to describe his job as a Consultant Project Manager in Technology for global banks and oil companies would instantly reply “Spanner, cheese and monkey wibble”. But if I am prepared, and planned, I can answer in a much more professional manner, which prevents people screaming and running from the room.

I am not short of imagination. But I am short of organisation, and I know it. Therefore, all the planning and delivery skills I learned as a project manager, become very useful when it comes to writing a book. It’s all very well to start a story where a man is outside a bank with a gun, but if that chapters ends up with fourteen clowns from Fife naked from the waist down on the back of a lorry in New Orleans singing ‘Delilah’ then the story may have deviated slightly from what you had originally had in mind.

This is my dilemma. This is how my day job helps me to rein in the excesses of my imagination, and stick to the bloody story. It’s a man outside a bank with a gun. He doesn’t have a space hopper. He’s there to rob the bank, and not rub himself against the windows while reciting his own, dreadful haikus. 

So, I’ll never give up the day job. I’ll be a project manager to myself, or chaos will ensue. And I’ll never get any bloody books written.

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2018 Review: Dave Sivers

Today’s writer is Dave Sivers. I had the pleasure of spending more time with Dave this year at Harrogate. Dave has been very kind to me and I’m delighted he’s here to share his 2018 with us. 
Vic x
Noir at the bar reading
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018? 
So many, but I’d have to choose reading at Noir in the Bar, Harrogate. To play a little part in the festival scene, having been going for so many years, and in such fabulous company, gave me the greatest buzz!
And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
We’ve been lucky enough too do some great traveling this year, and it’s not easy to choose one – but I fell in love with Shanghai, and seeing it by night on a river cruise was just amazing.
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Favourite book in 2018? 
I’d have to go for White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht. It’s about the ‘comfort women’ forced into brothels by the Japanese in WW2, and isn’t an easy read. But it’s a brilliant, very important novel on a shocking subject that’s been swept under the carpet of history.
Mary Lynn Bracht White Chrysanthemum
Favourite film in 2018? 
Not a new one, but I saw Brooklyn, starring  Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, and Julie Walters on TV this year. An Irish girl gets a chance to start a new life in America, but then gets torn between two countries and two loves. It’s a small story beautifully told.
 
Favourite song of the year?
I’m choosing Irene by Courtney Marie Andrews. Not new, but since I discovered her on the music selection on a plane, she’s become a firm favourite, and I finally managed to see her live this year.
Any downsides for you in 2018?
I’m disappointed that for a whole lot of reasons (some more my fault than others) my next book hasn’t emerged this year.
Are you making resolutions for 2019?
To be more disciplned and focused with my writing and try to be a bit more plotter than pantser. And to get my guitars out at least once a week and play them!
What are you hoping for from 2019?
Good health and happiness for me and the ones I love. It’s what really counts.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jan Fortune

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jan Fortune to the blog to talk about how she managed to write a trilogy in the last four years while holding down a day job. My thanks to Jan for taking the time to share her insights with us.

Vic x

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Over the last four years I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels. A Remedy For All Things follows Catherine, who is in Hungary in 1993 to research on the poet Attila József, when she begins dreaming the life of another woman from a different time period (imprisoned after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956). Even more disturbing, she’s aware that the other woman, Selene, is dreaming her life. 

It’s a complex book that has taken a great deal of research as well as several edits, but like most contemporary writers, I don’t write full-time. How do we do it? Juggle work, homes to run and still write? And are there any benefits to writing in this way, without the luxury of all the time in the world, or at least all the time that would otherwise go into holding body and soul together?

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Many of my favourite writers combined work of all sorts with writing. William Faulkner is reputed to have written As I Lay Dying in six weeks. He claimed that while working 12 hours days as a manual labourer he wrote this phenomenal novel in his ‘spare time’. Most of us need a lot longer, but it’s certainly the case that many writers don’t only write.

Anthony Burgess taught and composed music; Joseph Conrad was a sea captain; T.S. Eliot worked in a bank and Arthur Conan Doyle was a doctor, as was the poet William Carlos Williams. Wallace Stevens turned down a Harvard professorship rather than give up his 40-year career in insurance.

Women who write may not only do the lion’s share of domestic work while writing, but also hold down demanding jobs. Agatha Christie worked as an apothecary’s assistant, a great place to learn about poisons. Toni Morrison worked as an editor and for many years Octavia Butler had to write in the early hours so that she could work low-paid jobs like telemarketing or cleaning.

If working the day job is a necessity, it can also be one with benefits. Working as an editor and publisher, I get a lot of time to see how form works, how language can constantly be honed and how handing our precious book to someone with skill and objectivity and then listening carefully can make all the difference. One of my authors recently took a PR role that is giving her masses of people-watching time, none of it wasted. Writers are people who walk about the world with all their senses open and work is an endlessly rich environment for observation of the human condition.

Of course, we still need time to find that trance state in which to write and to go into deep flow. If your day job does nothing but hollow you out, it may be time to reconsider. But if your work sustains you and leaves the time and energy to write whilst being a source of experiences and characters, then writing around the day job is an honourable tradition. 

Review: ‘My Name is Anna’ by Lizzy Barber

On Anna’s eighteenth birthday she defies her Mamma’s rules to visit Astroland, Florida’s biggest theme park, despite her mother’s ban on the place. When she arrives, though, Astroland seems familiar. On the same day, Anna receives a mysterious letter she receives and she starts to question her whole life.

In London, Rosie has grown up in the shadow of the missing sister she barely remembers.  With the fifteenth anniversary of her sister’s disappearance looming, the media circus starts up again, and Rosie uncovers some information that threatens to tear her family apart. Will Rosie uncover the truth before her family implodes?

I enjoyed ‘My Name is Anna‘ from the outset, my attention was grabbed by the intriguing prologue and beautiful prose. Lizzy Barber manages to balance a compelling narrative with excellent attention to detail and exquisite descriptions.

Told from two points of view, ‘My Name is Anna‘ is an interesting study of self-discovery. By having eighteen year old Anna and Rosie, who is sixteen, Barber evokes a time every reader can understand: adolescence. Combining typical coming-of-age drama with a serious crime is an effective tactic, I thought this was particularly inventive. 

The characters are well-drawn and, thanks to Barber’s descriptions, I could see them in my mind’s eye. Anna’s mamma, in particular, was brilliantly evoked.

My Name is Anna‘ is such an intelligently-written book. It covers all sorts of issues including religion, coercion and the repercussions of past mistakes. It’s fast-paced yet sensitive, with several layers. 

If I had to compare ‘My Name is Anna‘ with other books, I’d say ‘Carrie‘ meets ‘Sharp Objects‘ with a sprinkling of ‘The Couple Next Door‘. 

My Name is Anna‘ is Lizzy Barber’s debut novel and is available to download now. The paperback is released in January 2019. 

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Adam Peacock

Drum roll please! May I introduce you to Adam Peacock, a member of Elementary Writers and author of ‘Open Grave‘.

Because Adam is a debut author, I wanted to introduce him to you as I suspect you will be reading Adam’s novels for many years to come.

My thanks to Adam for taking the time to answer my questions.

Vic x

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Tell us about your book(s).
My novel Open Grave is a crime thriller set in the North East of England. The protagonist, DCI Jack Lambert, is different to most other detectives within the genre in that he is gay. On a personal level, this is something he is struggling with, having only recently made this admission at the beginning of the book.

The main ‘crime’ within the story is that of a serial killer who is murdering people in pairs, burying them and then digging them up so that they can be found. Alongside this, gang warfare is about to break out between rival criminal groups and a well-known local celebrity reports that she is being stalked. I wanted to create a sprawling world within my book with multiple threads, the idea being that nothing ever resolves neatly, with certain storylines and characters crossing over into future novels.

What inspired your novel?
I read a lot of crime and so it felt natural to write something within that genre. The inspiration for Open Grave came about from an image I had in my head of a crime scene in which a member of the public stumbles across two bodies in an open grave (strange, I know). The story unfolded from there.

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I quite enjoy editing, which is a good thing as there’s always plenty to do when you don’t intricately plot your book before beginning! Knowing that I am whipping something up into shape is a great feeling.

The thing I dislike most about writing is just how easy it is to fall out of your routine when it comes to putting words onto the page. Like most things in life, a few days away from the computer can easily stretch into weeks and this can lead to unnecessary procrastination.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I do find the time to read. As I prefer to write in the mornings, I dedicate time to read most evenings. I’m currently reading Martina Cole’s Dangerous Lady.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
As a writer, I would have to say Stephen King and Jo Nesbo. I would also include Lee Child in that list. With regards to Stephen King, I read his book On Writing before I penned so much as a character profile and I use the template he gives in terms of how to go about writing. I also enjoy reading his books!

As for Jo Nesbo, I find the protagonist Harry Hole to be a wonderfully complex character. He has many of the traits that we see in crime fiction from such detectives but I find myself invested in Harry in a way that I rarely find in other books. I also like that Nesbo leaves certain threads open between books, which always leaves me wanting to read more. With Lee Child, it has to be his pacing. I find myself flying through his books and every page carries a tension with it. This is something I am hoping to refine in my own work moving forward.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Usually they just pop into my head either as an image – like happened with Open Grave –  or as a question. I like the idea of concocting a problem, in the form of a question, which seemingly makes no sense initially. Within my own writing, I basically keep asking a number of questions until an answer presents itself. This helps create misdirection.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
I enjoy the opening scene from Open Grave, mainly because it is the opening chapter of my first published novel. In terms of a character, it would have to be gangland boss Dorian McGuinness, my protagonist’s former employer. I feel like his character has a lot of room to grow and that there are all manner of skeletons in his closet which may or may not be revealed in future…

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing the second novel in the DCI Jack Lambert series and I’m excited to see where it will go. This novel is a little more focused around one event and, with characters having already been established in the first novel, I am keen to see how they react to the hurdles put before them.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
In a non-direct sense, Stephen King’s ‘just get an idea and go with it’ has had the biggest impact on me. Whilst this can lead to a lot of editing, it minimises the scope for procrastination and I find myself able to get on with things. I also try to stick to his mantra of completing 1,000 words a day with varying degrees of success.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m definitely not a plotter! Get the idea and run with it. Of course, as I work through a novel, ideas spring into my head in terms of where I want things to go, but you won’t find any colour-coded charts or timelines pinned to my wall. I should point out, that’s not a judgement on writers that do spend time plotting, I’m merely saying that it doesn’t work for me.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes! Read Stephen King’s On Writing, get yourself along to a writing group and don’t fret about giving it a go. Most writers I meet begin by being somewhat self-conscious about their work, often talking down their ability and/or experience. I’d say just get stuck in and see what happens. If you can get into some kind of writing routine, you’ll soon see huge improvements in your work.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Until recent times it would have been winning the Writers’ Forum monthly magazine short story competition. However, opening the email from Bloodhound Books to find that they believed in my work and wanted to publish Open Grave has definitely topped all other writing-related moments!

You can order/download Open Grave‘ now. You can also follow Adam on Twitter and on Facebook