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2018 Review: Shelley Day

Today, my good friend and fellow Bloody Mary Shelley Day is here to review her year. My thanks to Shelley for taking the time to look back over her 2018. 

As an extra festive treat, check back later for my thoughts on Shelley’s latest short story collection ‘what are you like‘. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
Well, 2018 will certainly stand out for me as the year some projects came to fruition and the year I made some major decisions:

First – I decided to publish my debut collection of short stories, what are you like. I’d been humming and hah-ing for a long while, but finally this year I took the plunge and the stories will soon be out with Red Squirrel Press, a lovely indie press that was based in Northumberland but which has re-located north of the border. As I am half in Scotland anyway, it’s win-win! 

I’m so so so very lucky because AL Kennedy, and Jackie Kay, and Angela Jackson all agreed to say nice things to put on the back cover of my book. If I am looking for a special moment, that that was it. 

I’m very especially happy that my son Nico has designed the cover. If I’m looking for another 2018 moment, that was it – that was a moment like never before when I opened the email and saw Nico’s design … I’m so excited.

The book’s not officially out until next year, but we’re getting a couple of launches in before the current year is out, for very good reason. 

So, the second BIG decision was to go and live in Paris. The intention is to perfect my French, soak up some experience before the Brexit divisions start to bite (they’re already snarling too loud for my little ears), stay there for as long as it takes to finish the novel I’m working on which is set there and which features a character Clara who’s similarly done a bunk from the UK somewhat precipitously, I don’t yet know why. I’ve always wanted to spend extended time in Paris and, between you and me, I’m hoping this sojourn will get that daft idea out of my system and I can come back and get on with whatever here, or wherever. I can’t tell you much more because I’m not a great planner, either in my fiction or in my own life! 

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Favourite moment wasn’t a moment but was a few months in the summer spent in a wooden hut halfway up a mountain in Norway. Off-grid, away from everyone and everything except the smell of pine resin and the birch logs we burned in the stove, the whisper of wind in the trees and the gentle lapping of the lake on the shore … you get the picture. And I went to the Lillehammer Literary Festival which was ace. And so it was, in that kind of Paradise, that I finally put my short story collection together. I also wrote some new things, things that have taken on something of a spiritual-sacred theme, and I’m exploring that further as we speak.  

Favourite book in 2018?
This is always such a hard question! I read a lot of contemporary fiction, and have many writer friends who write it, so it is impossible for me to be truthful and choose just one! So, instead I’ll tell you this year I have gone a bit mad with Patrick Modiano. Seriously, I have fallen in love with his work and am reading one by one through his entire oeuvre and savouring every word. I re-read the whole of Muriel Spark too this year. I love revisiting favourites, because they show you something new every time. 

Favourite film in 2018?
Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. Fun, clever, political, visually amazing, as per!

Favourite song of the year?
I’m a bit mouldy, I’m afraid, and don’t catch up very often with new music. I’ve been impressed by Sigrid I guess, but as I say I don’t keep up. I still love Patti Smith’s Horses from 1975! I have my music on a hard disc and I play it on shuffle, everything all mixed up. In Norway I listened a lot to ancient music, Monteverdi’s Vespers, sacred stuff. 

Any downsides for you in 2018?
I never know what to say about downsides. Yeah, I’ve spent time in the doldrums, never quite sure how you get in there, never mind how to get out, never know how much to ‘reveal’. But yeah, life has had some bad bits in. Plus the whole Brexit fiasco, I have found it supremely supremely depressing, every single thing about it. I detest every bit of it and frankly, am living in dread. I hadn’t realized how fragile our precious democracy is until now I see it so bizzarely and blatantly under threat. As a citizen, I have never felt quite so powerless. 

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
No point in me making resolutions, I never stick to them!

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Primarily hoping my short story collection does ‘well’ (whatever that means!), and that I’ll come back from Paris with a complete first draft of my Clara book (as yet no title), and that I’ll make some progress with the new short story collection provisionally entitled Going Raw Julietta (work that one out!). AND THAT BREXIT WILL DISAPPEAR.

If you want to buy a copy of what are you like it will be available with P&P FREE via the publisher’s website. 

If you want to check out my son Nico’s artwork, best find him on Instagram.

Thank you so much Victoria for letting me ramble on on your page. I enjoyed writing this review, it made me focus. And may I wish you all the very best for 2019!  

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2018 Review: Theresa Talbot

Yesterday’s 2018 reviewer was Harry Gallagher. Today, we welcome Theresa Talbot. Like Harry, Theresa has had a very eventful year.

My thanks to her for sharing her experiences with us. 

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
For me 2018 has been the best year ever – in so many ways. Professionally, I signed with a new publisher Aria, and new agent Nicola Barr which was super. Aria re-released my debut crime novel in April of this year, and gave it a total revamp including new title & new cover. It’s now The Lost Children – it was re-edited too which for me gave it a whole new dimension and helped established the characters for the follow-up novel. Which allows me to seamlessly mention Keep Her Silent, which was released in August. I also do a lot of chairing work for other writers and been lucky enough to chair Marian Keyes,  MC Beaton (the writer of Agatha Raisin), Ashley Jenson (the star of Agatha Raisin) and (drum roll…) Graham Norton who was an absolute dream, they all were. So it’s been a pretty whirlwind year.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Oh crikey, where do I start? Bloke-With-Beard (aka my partner) proposed in May, which came completely out of the blue. We’d been friends twenty-five years ago but lost touch. We reconnected through Facebook and had our first date in Italy of all places. Long story short he lived in Liverpool, I was in Glasgow and it seemed like the best place to meet up – the other choice was the services at Tebay as it was equidistant. Anyhoo, less than a year later he popped the question. I suppose at our age it doesn’t do to hang about! We went back to Italy to get married in September. As I say, no point it dawdling over these things. Anyway, I had a very short window given the dress I’d chosen – another year and I was in danger of looking like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. I think that day we got married truly was the most special moment, not just of the year but of my life. It was magical.

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Favourite book in 2018?
I have to say Douglas Skelton’s The Janus Run. I know Douglas, he’s a pal – a rather grumpy pal – but very lovely none the less. This is a bit of a breakaway for him and deserves to put him in the running as one of Scotland’s best crime writers.

Favourite film in 2018?
I don’t think I’ve actually seen a movie that was released this year. It’s been a bit mental and busy and, now that you’ve mentioned it, I actually don’t think I’ve been to the movies once. I LOVE films, one of my favourites that I watched this year was Kind Hearts & Coronets – a 1949 black comedy starring Dennis Price & Alec Guiness. It’s hilarious. I stuck on the DVD – Bloke-With-Beard had never seen it & I was really excited that he was going to experience this brilliance for the first time. Anyway, I was helpless with laughter and he fell asleep! He wasn’t that impressed as it turned out. This was before the wedding – but the dress was bought and the flights booked so…

 Favourite song of the year?
There are so many I could choose – but I’m going to go with La Vie en Rose – The Louis Armstong version. I walked down the aisle to this (it wasn’t quite an aisle – we got married on a vineyard) and the words are so beautiful: ‘and when you speak angels sing from above, every day words seem to turn into love songs ...give your heart & soul to me, and life will always be, la vie en rose…’  My favourite version is by Edith Piaf whom I actually adore – but it didn’t lend itself as well to the occasion, and Bloke-With-Beard can’t stand Piaf’s voice! But the flights had been booked etc… see above! But TBH Satchmo’s trumpet nailed it for me.

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Any downsides for you in 2018?
It’s been a really whirlwind year with so many happy memories. Politically, I’m heartbroken at what’s happening in our world. The racism, misogyny, poverty…

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I make resolutions every week, every month and every new year. I think this year I’ll endeavour to write every single day – and go back to my Italian classes. I’ve been trying to learn Italian for the best part of three years and all I can say is ‘Per favore, posso avere un prosecco?’ Which means, ‘Please may I have a prosecco.’ I can, of course, expand my repertoire to two, three or four proseccos. I never bothered learning the word for five as after that the waiter usually knows what I’m looking for.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m busy writing the third in the Oonagh O’Neil Trilogy which should be out in April 2019. I’d also like to write a completely different strand – but who knows.

Thanks so much for letting me be part of this Vic, it’s been a pleasure reliving so many lovely memories. I hope you share your favourite moments of 2018 also – and all the love and luck for 2019. 

T.T.

Review: ‘The Case of the Fool’ by E.V. Harte

Returning home from a holiday, Tarot reader Dolly Greene learns that much has changed on her street. Squatters have taken over at 7 Tinderbox Lane, and a mysterious Brazilian woman has moved in next door at Number 3. Dolly also finds a surly Russian girl, Marina, waiting outside the house, insisting on a reading.

Marina’s cards reveal conflict, misery and death and Dolly knows she should be concerned. But the girl is so disagreeable Dolly’s only too relieved when the reading finally ends.

She would have preferred to forget about the whole reading . . . but Marina’s cards come back to haunt Dolly and those around her, until Death once again leaves its calling card on Tinderbox Lane.

The Case of the Fool‘ may have a very pleasant cover but don’t be fooled by it – there’s plenty of dastardly behaviour happening in this book so don’t expect too much of a cosy crime. If you like Agatha Raisin, you’ll love Dolly Greene. 

The cast of characters in this novel are funny and well-drawn. Harte’s descriptions mean that the characters and scenarios are very vivid. I would love to see this series adapted for TV. 

E.V. Harte uses her Tarot Detective series to cover a vast array of social issues including squatting, human trafficking, the economy and politics. ‘The Case of the Fool‘ represents a slice of London life today. 

I can’t wait to read the next Dolly Greene book. 

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Rachel Amphlett

Welcome to the first Don’t Quit the Day Job of 2018! It seems like a long time since Paul Gitsham’s post, doesn’t it? 

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.

Kicking us off for 2018 we have Rachel Amphlett, the bestselling author of the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the new Detective Kay Hunter series, as well as a number of standalone crime thrillers. Rachel’s novels have been compared to Robert Ludlum, Lee Child and Michael Crichton.

You can follow Rachel on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as her website.

Vic x

Prior to becoming a full-time writer, I spent many a year working as a project and contracts administrator supporting engineers in delivering major projects in the gas, infrastructure, and railway industries.

It doesn’t sound as sexy as crime thriller author by a long way, but those years behind the scenes have served me well in my current career as a writer.

For example, I was surrounded by people who had held different roles prior to turning to project management, and often within the armed forces. As an author of espionage fiction for a number of years, it meant that if I kept my ears open while ferreting around making sure sub-contractors were paid on time and monthly reports were delivered to management without a hitch, I could bribe someone with a coffee in return for hearing about their military experiences.

From an ex-Lynx helicopter pilot to a weapons guidance systems engineer who helped me blow up a submarine in Under Fire, I had all sorts of combat and non-combat experience at my fingertips – and I made full use of it.

On top of that, chatting with colleagues in the break-out area, I soon had an offer of being taken pistol shooting so I could find out what it was really like to fire a weapon.

When my writing took off in 2016, I’d already been implementing a lot of project management techniques within my writing business and these enabled me to really focus on what was important.

The best tool in my business is that of a project schedule – I use a simple Excel spreadsheet format for this, which gives me a 12-month look-ahead for the books I want to write and publish (typically a minimum of three), broken down into the steps that need to be taken to publish each book.  These include finishing the first draft, getting the final draft to beta readers, drafting again before handing over to an editor, working with my cover designer, and setting up everything else that is needed to publish a book successfully (and on time).

I can then highlight the really important milestones that I need to hit for those books – this is known as being on the “critical path” in project-speak. That is, if I don’t hit those milestones, there is no book!

Having this project schedule keeps me focused – and, if something changes during the year that means I have to switch a project with another to take advantage of an opportunity, I can. All I have to do is adjust the dates, and off I go again.

Now that I’m a full-time writer, I can use this scheduling tool to make the most of my time – it’s likely going into 2018 that I’ll double my output, but at least using my project background, I’ll be able to keep track of where I am and mitigate any hiccups along the way.

Could I be this productive without a project management background?

I doubt it very much.

**Whiteout Blog Tour** Review

I’m delighted to be reviewing ‘Whiteout‘, the fifth book in the ‘Dark Iceland‘ series by Ragnar Jónasson, as part of his blog tour. 

Two days before Christmas, a young woman is found dead beneath the cliffs of a deserted village. Questions swirl as to whether the woman took her own life or if it was taken from her. As the snow continues to fall unabated, Ari Thór Arason discovers that the victim’s sister and mother also died in exactly the same place over two decades ago. More secrets are revealed and the death toll continues to rise as the Siglufjordur detectives battle to stop a killer before anyone else is harmed. 

Whiteout‘ is the first book by Ragnar Jónasson that I have read and I really enjoyed it. Although I found it a little slow to start, once it got going the tension didn’t let up until the very end! I must also add that Quentin Bates has done a marvellous job with the translation of this compelling story.

Featuring an interesting cast of characters that, in my mind, could have easily come out of an Agatha Christie story, ‘Whiteout‘ makes everyone a suspect. This device ensures that the reader ends up pretty much accusing everyone at some point! 

Through the development of the narrative Ragnar Jónasson manages to set up several mini-mysteries within the overarching question of what happened to the young woman. This is a very clever technique which ensures the reader is frequently satisfied throughout the novel. 

Jónasson uses beautiful descriptions of the setting to drop the reader right into Iceland at Christmas. The weather throughout this novel adds an extra level of peril to everything the characters do: whether it’s driving or chasing someone on foot, the driving snow and black ice make almost every action potentially fatal. The descriptions make the action so vivid that I could see it happening in my head. 

Although ‘Whiteout‘ is the fifth book in the ‘Dark Iceland‘ series by Ragnar Jónasson, I found that this book worked perfectly as a standalone. You definitely do not need to have read the others to follow this plot – it’s a self-contained mystery.

Whiteout‘ is the perfect novel to read from cover to cover while you’re snuggled under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter night. 

Vic x