Tag Archives: novel

Guest Post: Louise Mangos on Writing What You Know

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It is my pleasure today to welcome Louise Mangos to the blog to talk about her intimate knowledge of the setting for her debut psychological thriller ‘Strangers on a Bridge‘.

Louise writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, been placed on shortlists, and have also been read on BBC radio. Her debut psychological thriller ‘Strangers on a Bridge‘ is published by HQ Digital (Harper Collins) in ebook, paperback and on audio. You can connect with Louise on Facebook and Twitter or visit her website where there are links to more of her stories. Louise lives in Switzerland with her husband and two sons.

Vic x

Portrait with orange dress

The much-travelled author Mark Twain allegedly said “write what you know. Having spent much of my time in central Switzerland for the past twenty years, the one thing I feel confident in portraying in my novels is the setting. Both my first and second novels are set in and around the Swiss Alps. 

Strangers on a Bridge begins with ex-pat Alice Reed out for a jog one morning when she sees a man – Manfred – about to jump from the Lorzentobelbrücke. As this is rather a mouthful for English readers, it is referred to in the novel as the Tobel Bridge. In reality it is a notorious suicide hotspot that has sadly found its way into many local newspaper articles over the years.

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A quick trip on the bike to re-visit the setting for the first scene on the Tobel Bridges.

The area surrounding the village where my protagonist Alice lives is called the Aegerital, or the Aegeri Valley. It is a cleft of land gouged out of alpine granite with rivers running in and out of the jewel at its centre – the Aegeri Lake. Our family moved there twenty years ago when my first son was six months old. Many of the difficulties Alice faces in Strangers on a Bridge were challenges I also faced when we first moved, speaking no German and pre-occupied with a new baby. 

But that’s where the similarities end. I’m happy to report I never witnessed a person wanting to jump from the Tobel Bridge, and I was certainly never stalked by anybody. I should also point out that we worked hard to integrate into the community we now live in. We made an early effort to learn the language, and have experienced friendliness and acceptance from our neighbours ever since.

During the creative and theoretical modules for my Masters in Crime Writing at UEA, two of my professors, Henry Sutton and Tom Benn, talked about the importance of setting in a novel. They encouraged the students to incorporate the setting to such an extent that it effectively becomes one of the characters. 

No matter where a crime novel is set, this atmosphere must be conveyed to the reader to enhance the tension. This might include how a setting behaves through the seasons, for example, the environmental influences in extreme weather conditions.

Strangers on a Bridge begins in spring, the perfect opening for any novel. The season of births and beginnings. Alice is out for a spring jog when she sees Manfred on the bridge and is convinced he is about to jump. Her shock jars alarmingly with the beautiful alpine spring surroundings.

A great deal of research was still undertaken to make the narrative of this psychological thriller believable. Although I am familiar with many of the rules and traditions in Switzerland, police and legal procedures had to be subsequently verified and checked.

But with the setting clearly cemented as one of the characters in the narrative, it was a pleasure to embellish the plot to match the drama of the Alps.

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The view of the Aegerital from Alice’s running trail in spring.

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Review: ‘Not Thomas’ by Sara Gethin

 

“The lady’s here. The lady with the big bag. She’s knocking on the front door. She’s knocking and knocking. I’m not opening the door. I’m not letting her in. I’m behind the black chair. I’m waiting for her to go away.”

Tomos – not Thomas – lives with his mother but he is desperate to live somewhere else, somewhere he has lived before, with people who loved him. But he’s not allowed to go back, or see those people again.

Tomos is five years old and at school, which he loves. His teacher teaches him about all sorts of things, and she listens to him. Sometimes he’s hungry and Miss gives him her extra sandwiches. She gives him a warm coat from Lost Property, too. There are things Tomos cannot talk about but, just before Easter, the things come to a head. There are bad men outside who want to come in, and Mammy has said not to answer the door. From behind the big chair, Tomos waits. He doesn’t think it’s Santa Claus .

I downloaded ‘Not Thomas‘ on a whim, I think it may have been a 99p Kindle deal and I’m not sure I knew what to expect but this story knocked me off my feet. I’m not sure I’ll ever recover.

Published by Honno Press, a publishing house dedicated to Welsh women’s literature, ‘Not Thomas‘ is a compelling read that deals with child neglect and substance abuse. Sara Gethin has mastered the child’s voice and should be commended for tackling such a difficult topic so sensitively. 

Gethin has managed to capture the five year old’s voice and it remains consistent throughout the novel. Although the subject matter is distressing and disturbing on its own, the fact that it is relayed to the reader through an innocent child’s eyes makes it even more heartbreaking. 

Although there were parts of the story when I questioned whether characters would really behave in a certain way, I realised that in such dramatic and complex situations, there’s no telling how people will react. 

Throughout the story, there are hints of Welsh dialect and slang. Gethin captures the cadences of the language perfectly. With this in mind, I was slightly confused initially about who Tomos was actually missing although I did wonder whether Gethin had employed this technique on purpose. 

I cannot recommend ‘Not Thomas‘ highly enough. This book, although a tough read at times in terms of the content, was completely enthralling. I bawled my eyes out at the end of this book. One of my top books of 2018. 

Vic x

**What Was Lost Blog Tour**

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Today it’s my turn on the blog tour for ‘What Was Lost‘ by Jean Levy. 

Sarah has no memories. She just knows she was found, near death, on a beach miles from her London home. Now she is part of a medical experiment to see whether her past can be retrieved.

But bad things seemed to have happened before she disappeared. The police are interested in her hidden memories too. A nice man she meets in the supermarket appears to have her best interests at heart. He seems to understand her – almost as if he knows her…

As she fights to regain her memories and her sense of self, it becomes clear that people are hiding things from her. Who are they protecting? Does Sarah really want the truth?

We’re lucky to have an extract from this excellent psychological thriller today. Once you’ve read it, I’m sure you’ll be as enthralled as I was. Read on after the extract for my review of this novel. 

Vic x

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Episode Two

As far as I can remember, the day began with waiting. Of course, I had by now come to realise that cats care very little about the passage of time. Only people care about that. So I stood patiently and watched the black and white cat sniff the newspaper around the outside of the plate, lick some invisible scrap of tuna from the newsprint, re-sniff the plate and then, without casting even a glance in my direction to offer some gesture of humble gratitude, pad purposefully towards the cat flap and nose its way through. I had no idea who that cat belonged to. If it had a name I was not aware of it. In fact, my association with this animal depended entirely upon the fact that the door that opened from my dank backyard into my kitchen included this special, cat-sized flap. I had considered resealing it. Parcel tape would probably have been enough to stop the ungrateful animal nudging its way through. But there was always the worry that the parcel tape might turn up at its edges and look a mess and then I’d regret my decision. There was also the possibility that I might miss the cat. Sometimes it purred. I might have missed the purring. 

I watched the flap for a few moments then hurried over to the window to catch a last flash of black tail as it disappeared over into the yard next door. The cat was gone. So I turned my attention to the list on the work surface, took a pencil and added the word TUNA, folded the slip of paper into my jean’s pocket, replaced the pencil and walked over to the back door to confirm that the two bolts were secure. I checked that my wallet, driving licence, notebook with attached pencil, mobile phone and car keys were in my bag, touched the kettle and washing machine plugs three times each, rechecked the back door then hurried out of the kitchen before any doubts might set in. I knew it would be all right once I was in the car. I was always all right in the car. 

*

The supermarket was anywhere between ten and twenty minutes away depending on traffic, and all the way there I played over the morning so far, from the point when I’d been ready to leave and that black and white cat had popped in through the flap and purred. So now it was after nine and the car park was busy. Too busy. But I knew that driving straight back home would not have been the right thing to do. 

*

Inside, the aisles were still sparsely populated. So it would probably be OK. I grabbed a trolley and navigated it straight through the opposing rows of crisps and biscuits towards the central walkway. A sharp left took me into the tea and coffee aisle, which stretched deep into the rear of the supermarket. Then, avoiding the stack of Easter eggs abutting the central aisle, I pushed on to cereals, halted my trolley and observed the choices before me. So many choices. So many rectangular boxes, diminishing off into the distance. An intimidating range of nuts, dried fruits, seeds, wheat / no wheat, oats to absorb cholesterol, low salt, low fat, high fibre, additives / no additives stretched out before me. I threw myself into reading labels, studying carbohydrate contents, pushing my trolley further in past illustrations of happy, healthy other thirty-five year olds, whose lives were perfect because they consumed the correct breakfast cereal. The happy images began to coagulate into one multi-coloured muddle of good advice, manufacturers’ commitments, occasional warnings. I could feel myself diffusing into the options that surrounded me. The familiar stirrings of panic were rising up from just below my diaphragm. I controlled my breathing, observing the oat-coloured floor tiles, the matt surface of a shoe. Its partner shoe hovering slightly off the ground. My eyes traced up the many-deniered tights to a woolly hemline, thick, wintry cloth, grey hair, an outstretched arm, an aged hand reaching hopelessly for a small packet of cornflakes on the top shelf. My own crisis was suddenly dwarfed by the plight of this diminutive shopper. I watched her sag in frustration and help herself to a family-sized box from the shelf below. I had no choice but to intervene. 

‘Shall I try and reach?’ I whispered.

The woman glanced round. ‘Oh, would you, dear?’ She replaced her family-sized box and turned to me, wobbling her head slightly as she watched me ease one of the smaller boxes from the top shelf. I handed it over. She thanked me. I smiled graciously and watched her round the end of the aisle before stretching up, taking an identical box and placing it into my own trolley. I stood for a moment staring back along the aisle of wasted opportunity then, clenching the handle of my trolley so hard that it must have looked as if my knucklebones might burst through my skin, I hurried away from the cereal. Justifying my decision. Cornflakes are good for you.

There was a feeling of openness about the fruit and vegetable terrain. Here the produce was arranged on long, sloping stalls. It was like a huge, sterile homage to those fairy-tale markets, where ragamuffins stole peaches and a boy might trade his cow for a handful of magic beans. I brushed past a tall stands of fresh herbs and the air filled with the lush, calming fragrance of basil. A startling yellow and black promotion demanded: BUY ONE GET ONE FREE. I ignored it, hurried on past strawberries and grapes, grabbed a bunch of green bananas, then wheeled my trolley back and helped myself to a pot of basil, re-read the promotion, selected a second pot, put both pots in my trolley, picked one of the pots up and put it back on the stand. Why would anyone want two pots of basil? One’s enough. Why on earth was I getting myself wound up about a pot of basil?

But it wasn’t really about the basil. Or the cornflakes. I knew that It was about deciding. Not just deciding what to choose. It was all those other decisions about what not to choose. Because every choice involves not merely the possibility of choosing the wrong thing but an endless number of possibilities of not choosing the right thing. Too many decisions about not choosing. Dr Gray always insisted: ‘If there are two many decisions, just take a deep breath and walk away.’ So I had walked away. I’d walked so far away that there were now six mountainous banks of food between me and those unchosen boxes of cereal. I took a deep breath, fumbled in my pocket and pulled out my list:

BANANAS

CEREAL

CAT BISCUITS

TUNA

I read it several times to make sure. Then, just as I was folding it back into my pocket, I glanced up and noticed a perfect read and green apple rolling towards me. Arcing towards my foot. Impact was inevitable. Inevitable. And that’s when it all began. Well, just some of it began. Although, in truth, it really did all begin with an apple. 

****

What Was Lost‘:
Review.

I whipped through ‘What Was Lost‘, a thrilling story of Sarah and the amnesia she endures. I was hooked from the opening ‘episode’.

I found it easy to empathise with Sarah and the predicament she found herself in. The sense of frustration at her loss of control pervaded every page as did an uneasy sense of something being held back. In an age of the unreliable narrator, I was unsure who could be trusted in this novel, giving this story more depth. 

The foreboding felt by Sarah was almost palpable at times and, as the story developed, I enjoyed getting to know certain characters at the same time as Sarah made their acquaintance. Conversely, some of the unlikeable characters proved completely realistic and accurately portrayed. 

Levy’s background in psychology shines through in her knowledge of psychological conditions and the impact of trauma on patients. 

Jean Levy wilfully misdirects the reader on a number of occasions and, despite some fantastical elements, I found ‘What Was Lost‘ utterly compelling. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Rave’ by Nicky Black

It’s 1989, the second Summer of Love, and Tommy Collins is doing what he does best: organising all-night raves on a shoestring, and playing a game of cat and mouse with the police. But his adversary, Detective Chief Inspector Peach, is closing in on him, and his dreams of a better life are beginning to slip through his fingers.

DCI Peach finds it all a waste of his force’s time until his teenage daughter is found unconscious at one of Tommy’s raves. Then the issue becomes personal, and Peach’s need to make Tommy pay becomes an obsession.

Set in Newcastle upon Tyne, during a moral panic, ‘The Rave‘ is a fast-paced, gritty portrayal of life on the edges of society at the end of a decade that changed Britain forever.

As with Nicky Black’s previous novel ‘The Prodigal‘, ‘The Rave‘ is set on the fictional Valley Park estate. Nicky Black captures the essence of the characters that reside within this community perfectly. They’re funny, offensive and complex – and they don’t hold back. Black uses her characters to bring light and shade to her story, showing that even the grimmest of circumstances have a vein of humour. 

Black’s narrative voice is strong, with the reader’s attention grabbed from the prologue. As a native Geordie, I loved the setting and found I could imagine ‘The Rave‘ on TV. Black has captured not only the location but also the era very well with her strong eye for detail. As the end of the book approaches and the stakes increase, so does the pace.

With an original plot and setting, as well as compelling characters, ‘The Rave‘ delivers on all fronts. 

Vic x

Review: ‘No Man’s Land’ by Neil Broadfoot


A mutilated body is found dumped at Cowane’s Hospital in the heart of Stirling.

The brutality of the murder is like nothing DCI Malcolm Ford has ever seen before, and he pledges to catch the murderer before he strikes again. For reporter Donna Blake it’s a shot at the big time, a chance to get her career back on track while proving her doubters wrong. And for close protection specialist Connor Fraser it’s just a grisly distraction from his day job.

But then another corpse is found in the shadow of the Wallace Monument – and with it, a message. One Connor has received before, during his time as a police officer in Belfast.

With Ford facing mounting pressure to make an arrest and quell fears the murders are somehow connected to heightened post-Brexit tensions, Connor is drawn into a race against time to stop another murder. But to do so, he must question old loyalties, confront his past and unravel a mystery that some would sacrifice anything – and anyone – to protect.

No Man’s Land‘, the first in the Connor Fraser series, is a compelling read that keeps readers guessing until the very end. Drawing upon his experience as a journalist, Broadfoot gives the readers a rare insight into how media, police and politics intersect during times of crisis. 

The grisly murders may pull the reader into this crime novel but it’s Broadfoot’s skilled analysis of political policies that gives this the story real depth. ‘No Man’s Land‘ is a confident study in how ordinary people are affected by the decisions made by an elite few. 

Broadfoot has written a novel that grabs the reader by the throat and doesn’t let go. 

Today is the publication day for ‘No Man’s Land‘, I recommend you get your copy now. 

Vic x

**Smart Moves Blog Tour** Extract

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I’ve been chosen to open the blog tour for the lovely Adrian Magson and his new novel ‘Smart Moves‘. Please join me in wishing Adrian, and his publishers Dome Press, a very happy publication day.

International troubleshooter Jake Foreman loses his job, house and wife all in one day. And when an impulsive move lands him in even deeper water – the kind that could lose him his life – he decides it’s time to make some smart decisions.

The trouble is, knowing the right moves and making them is a whole different game. And Jake, who has been happily rubbing along things he always suspected were just a shade away from being dodgy, finds it all too easy to go with the flow.

Now he’s got to start learning new tricks. If he doesn’t, he could end up dead.

It’s my pleasure to present to you a snippet of Adrian’s newest release: ‘Smart Moves‘. I hope this excerpt whets your appetite for more. 

Vic x

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Smart Moves‘ by Adrian Magson:
Extract

I never thought of guys having bad hair days. 

Bad razor days, sure. Relentless stubble and scraped skin is no joke – try kissing my grandmother. Bad head days, too, from much of the wrong kind of booze. But that’s commonplace for anybody with a real life. Some problems, though, can’t be overcome with a slap of skin balm or a handful of pills.

‘You’re laying me off?’ The words dropped into the room like a stun grenade and rolled across the carpet. I stared at my boss, Niall Dunckley, in disbelief.

‘Sign of the times, Jake,’ he replied flatly. ‘Sorry.’ I wondered if that was the beginning of a smile threatening to edge past his bloodless lips. They went well with his fish eyes and the strands of lank hair carefully arranged over his balding head. The overall effect gave him the appearance of an undertaker’s assistant. The kind who stays late at work for all the wrong reasons.

‘Why?’

Pathetic response, I know. But being laid off is having someone say, ‘We don’t need you.’ Or, ‘Get the fuck out of here.’ Or, ‘We found someone we like better.’

Even in this business – what am I saying, especially in this business – it’s akin to a death sentence. A bullet behind the ear. A quiet visit from a bad person on a dark night. I mean, I didn’t know for sure if that had ever happened, but people talk. You hear stuff.

I should explain. I have this oddball kind of job; I work for a side-line operation in a multi-divisional business called HP&P. Nobody knows or cares what the initials stand for, or precisely what the company’s core business is. But I know it has its fingers in a great many pies from civil engineering to shipping to nightclubs – and allegedly, a few things in between. 

It’s the in-betweens which we’re encouraged not to ask about. 

Not that I’m in that sector. I’m a project troubleshooter, and it’s my job to solve problems in faraway places. A gentle talk here, a nudge there, a discreet payment if something gets stuck in the pipeline, that kind of thing. The company operates on a time-sensitive schedule, and delays are unhelpful to the bottom line. As are glitches caused by local officials trying to muscle in and cause problems for their own ends. 

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t use physical pressure – I don’t have to. A sweetener with a local regional governor or a union boss usually does the trick, from Azerbaijan to Zambia. If that doesn’t work, I make a report to Niall Dunckley at HQ in London, and that’s the last I hear of it. Because by then all the talking and offers and mild threats of layoffs will have been exhausted and it’s time to call in the big guns and for me to catch a plane out. I don’t actually know what the big guns are, but that’s where I’m encouraged to turn and look the other way. 

The job pays well and I rarely get to follow up on a previous visit. If I do, it’s usually bad news because the project got canned and there’s a lot of name-calling going in. I’m just there to see that everybody knows whose fault it really is: theirs. 

Over the three years I’ve been doing this I’ve managed to refrain from asking too many questions. It’s one of the main requirements of my job description. Come to think of it, it’s the only requirement. Don’t ask, don’t nose, don’t look. 

And because I find it easier to take the money and not rock the boat, I’ve gone along with it. My bad, as the kids say. Still not sure what that means but it sounds about right. It doesn’t mean I’m dead from the neck up and haven’t occasionally put two and two together and made seven. Being suspicious and doing something about it isn’t always that simple. Or wise. 

Smart Moves‘ is published by Dome Press and is available now. 

**Sky’s the Limit Blog Tour**

Sky's the Limit Blog Tour Poster

Looking for a feel-good summer read this weekend? Check out ‘Sky’s the Limit‘ by Janie Millman. 

I’m delighted to be taking part in Janie’s blog tour today. She’s kindly agreed to answer my questions so that we can get to know her better. My thanks to Janie and Dome Press for allowing me to be involved. 

Vic x

Janie Millman Headshot

Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
We went on holiday to Marrakech and fell in love with the place. We met some amazing characters, stayed in a fabulously quirky riad with a beautiful but eccentric owner and gradually the germ of Sky’s the Limit was born.

I live in South West France in a town called Castillon La Bataille.  We are in the middle of one of the most famous wine regions of the world, so I guess it was only a matter of time before I incorporated that into a book too.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Locations inspire me. I love discovering new places and meeting new people. I guess subconsciously I am always thinking about stories and characters. They just seem to pop into my head – I’ve always had a very vivid imagination – sometimes too vivid for my own good!

I am also co-owner of Chez Castillon – we host writing & painting courses and retreats and when we are not hosting those we take in wedding guests from a nearby chateau – I have enough ammunition from the characters that pass through our door for the next ten novels!

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I don’t really have a favourite character – I really love Elf in Sky’s the Limit and I loved George and Drew – aka Miss Honey Berry – in my first novel Life’s A Drag.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
If by ‘pantster’ you mean flying by the seat of my pants then a bit of both really. 

I do have a rough idea of the plot. I like to know where the story is going, but I also like to be flexible – I like it when things suddenly happen – when new characters suddenly emerge and take me in a different direction.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
Yes, I can read when I am writing but I usually choose something that is a million miles away from what I am working on – unless of course I am reading for research.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given and who was it from?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given is: ‘you cannot edit a blank page.’ I cannot actually remember for certain who told me that, but I think it may have been the lovely author Jane Wenham-Jones.

What can readers expect from your books?
They can certainly expect the unexpected! 

I hope that readers will love my characters, and I hope they find themselves experiencing new locations, new sounds, smells and tastes.  

I hope they lose themselves in the plot, and I very much hope that they don’t want the book to end and that the stories and cast stay with them for a long while.

I want them to laugh and cry and I want them to think.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Just Write. Get words on the page – don’t be frightened – you need to enjoy the whole experience.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love it when the story starts to come together; I love it when the unexpected happens; I also love it when the characters misbehave  – although not too much!

I don’t like the solitude, the doubts that creep in and the frustration when the words don’t flow and the characters appear one-dimensional. But that passes…. usually!

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes I have just finished my third book – well the first draft, so we are still some way from the finishing line. It is another dual location novel, set in Cambridge and Crete.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
When I wrote The End to my fist novel Life’s A Drag. I finished it in Bordeaux station when on our way to Arcachon for a few days holiday.

I remember crying because it was the first book I had ever written and I hadn’t really known if I could do it. My husband bought champagne and I spent the holiday dreaming of bestsellers and films… though, that was before the reality set in!

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Sky’s the Limit:
Review.

Sky is devastated when she finds that her husband is in love with her oldest friend Nick. Believing she has lost the two most important people in her life, she travels to Marrakesh on her own. During the trip, Sky meets up with Gail who’s on a mission to track down the father of her child. 

Sky’s the Limit is a great summer read. It takes readers to Morocco and France with an interesting cast of characters who jump off the page. Throughout the story, the vivid characters experience joys they didn’t expect to find which makes this a heart-warming read. 

The description of the places is evocative and atmospheric, and the Moroccan heat seeps out of every line. Millman’s descriptions are rich and her attention to detail is very strong. 

Sky’s the Limit is a light read that’s perfect for the beach. Even if you don’t have a beach, read this novel and prepare to be transported.