Tag Archives: psychological

Review: ‘Give Me the Child’ by Mel McGrath

The doorbell rings in the middle of the night and when Cat’s husband opens it, the police are there – with his eleven-year-old love child, Ruby: a daughter Cat didn’t know he had. The couple take Ruby into their home and Cat’s life begins to unravel. 

Give Me the Child‘ is a perfect example of domestic noir: terror in your home.

The tension between Cat and her husband – as well as Cat and her new-found step-daughter – spills off every page. The idea of a cuckoo in the nest is a very interesting one, particularly when it complicates the existing familial relationships. 

I found it easy to empathise and identify with Cat. Her situation, although slightly unusual, felt utterly realistic to me.

McGrath handles the subjects of paranoia and psychosis sensitively while allowing them to play into the narrative of the story. McGrath reveals just enough information at pertinent points in the story, to wrong foot the reader and make them question who to believe. The characters are interesting, particularly in relation to Cat’s job in child psychiatry. 

Give Me the Child‘ has everything you could want from a psychological thriller: an intriguing storyline, pace and tension from page one. An absolute tour de force. 

Vic x

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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

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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.

**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 Tall Man’ by Phoebe Locke

Almost thirty years ago, three young girls devote themselves to a shadowy figure in the woods. Ten years later, a young mother disappears, leaving her husband and baby behind. In 2018, a teenager captures the world’s imagination when she is charged with murder. These three terrifying events are all connected by one shadow that looms large. 

Where do I start?! Well, if you enjoy novels like ‘Gone Girl‘ and ‘The Girls‘, then you’ll love The Tall Man‘. I whipped through this novel – it’s achingly on point and I found it totally compelling. The characterisation in this novel is so skilled, I found myself utterly taken in by the key players in this story.  

The Tall Man‘ examines the blurring of the lines between criminal and superstar. You can see that Phoebe Locke has been inspired by real events – I was reminded of the media’s obsession with Amanda Knox and the Slender Man mythology – but the culmination of this is an absolute corker of a novel.

Phoebe Locke’s debut novel plays with the grey area between reality and psychosis. What is it that links these characters through the years? Is it something paranormal or is it something psychological? Locke builds up a relentless atmosphere of unease throughout the story and it left me questioning what was real. 

Standing alongside novels like ‘Hydra‘ and ‘The Bone Keeper‘, ‘The Tall Man‘ promises that once he’s with you, he won’t leave you alone. 

The plotting in this novel is masterful and it all comes together to leave the reader afraid to turn out the light. 

I implore you to read this book – but only in daylight. 

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Harrison

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.

It’s my privilege to welcome Paul Harrison to the blog today to talk about how his work in the criminal justice system has influenced his writing. If Paul’s post catches your interest, drop him a tweet or look him up on Facebook

Vic x

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Thanks for inviting me to speak on the blog. For me, bloggers are one of the most influential part of being a writer these days, so I’m well chuffed to be here talking about my previous life. I’ve been called Britain’s Mindhunter by the world’s media, because of my work with serial killers. However, I much prefer to be Paul Harrison, not some media invention.

When I joined the police service back in the late 1970’s, never, did I anticipate that my working life would be so exciting and filled with mainly positives, there have been a few negatives, but I’ve learned from those. Anyone who believes the British police force is behind its global counterparts, is wrong. I have over a century of policing within the family tree, my grandfather, father, myself and currently my son have been so employed. Even my great grandfather was so employed. Back in Victorian times he was probably the first criminal profiler in history. He’d hang about with criminals and felons and draw up social profiles on the in an attempt to understand who likely victims were likely to be, then he’d sell that intelligence on to the police. He was a big writer and storyteller, so his genes have definitely been passed down to me.

My own police career lasted over three decades and I was fortunate to serve in just about all the specialised fields I aimed for: Dog Handler, Firearms Officer on Special Escort Duties, Promotion, Intelligence Officer and of course, much later, my association with the FBI and profiling. I worked hard to get where I wanted to be, and advise everyone, no matter what they are doing to follow their dreams.

I began writing during my police career, mainly true crime books but the odd football book also crept into print too. These were the days before e-books so it was traditional publishing only, it was difficult trying to sell manuscripts to publishers and hold down a regular job.  I was lucky, I guess, and managed to get seven books published during my time in the police.

When I retired from the job I went to work with the Judiciary at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. What an eye-opener that was! Seeing the criminal justice system from the other side, was shocking. Needless to say, I often questioned judgments and tariffs handed down to serious (vile) offenders. I didn’t last long, and I moved on after a couple of years. I took up work in the voluntary sector, helping child victims and survivors of sexual harm. The scale of the matter was shocking and I set up my own service, called SAM (Systematic Abuse of Males) as a signposting agency directing victims to services in their area. As a result of this I was awarded the Outstanding Individual of the Year Award for my voluntary work in this arena.

All the time I was writing, more true crime and finally I went full time, and have moved onto novels. I’m so proud to be part of the Urbane Books team and have just signed a contract with them that I hope will last several years. Of all the publishers I’ve worked with in my time as a writer, covering thirty four books, Urbane Books stand out head and shoulders above the rest for their care and attention to detail. They like great writers, but are focused on producing quality books for the reader. 

Over the years, I’ve met some of the world’s worst killers, looked evil in the eye and confronted it. Nerve wracking stuff, however, let me tell you, there’s nothing more worrying than waiting for a publisher’s response to a book submission.

Writing has been incredibly cathartic for me, as is the sense of support that runs throughout most of the crime writing community. There’s a lot more books in me yet, and my fictional detective, Will Scott (named after my grandfather) will go on to endure many more adventures.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Linda Huber

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.

Our next writer to be influenced by her day job is Linda Huber. My thanks to Linda for so willingly sharing her experiences with us. It’s so interesting to hear how everyone’s professional lives have prepared them for a life of writing. 

Vic x

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I’ve had two significant day jobs in my life, and both have hugely influenced my writing. As a starry-eyed youngster in Glasgow, I began training to become a physiotherapist, which was the best job ever for many years. I worked in hospitals at first, gaining practical knowledge of wards and intensive care units, as well as departments like X-Ray and Outpatients, and I came across a vast and colourful collection of different healthcare professionals. A few years later, I moved to Switzerland, where I worked in clinics and schools for disabled babies and children. Little did I know back then that I’d become a published writer, and put large chunks of my work experience into firstly my psychological suspense novels, and now my feel-good novellas.

Medical ‘stuff’ so often comes up in crime fiction. A murder? Enter the police doctor. A mysterious illness? Call the GP. An attack? The characters find themselves in hospital. In two of my novels – Ward Zero and Death Wish – medical staff and conditions are directly involved in the plot, and I was able to put my hospital know-how to good use.

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After over a decade of physiotherapy, I turned my attention to having babies, and took time out from the day job. It was during these years that I began writing seriously, magazine stories first, and then novels. Unfortunately, a back injury meant that physiotherapy was no longer an option when the time came to return to the working life. An English speaker in lovely Switzerland, I retrained as a language teacher – and realised how little I knew about the grammar of my native language. Speaking a language perfectly doesn’t help when you have to teach people about defining and non-defining relative clauses, or conditional structures. But when you do know all the grammar stuff that makes people’s eyes glaze over when you talk about it, it’s enormously helpful to your writing career. My proofreader complained once I didn’t leave her enough to correct. Mind you, I still make mistakes. There was once a stationary shop that should have been a stationery shop. A typo, of course…

Today, I teach one day a week, and the rest of the time is for writing. With my Lakeside Hotel novellas (written under my pen name Melinda Huber), I can use all my various work experiences. The main character Stacy is a reluctant nurse from England who ends up working in a Swiss spa, helping guests with minor illnesses and injuries, as well as coping with life in a foreign country and learning a new language. She faces the same frustration I once did at her lack of ability to communicate swiftly. In all, my books wouldn’t be what they are if I hadn’t had my day jobs. Even some of the drama I went through in my ‘third’ job – being a mother – comes in useful to Stacy, when head lice appear in the hotel!

Melinda Huber is the feel-good pen name of psychological suspense writer Linda Huber – she’s hiding in plain sight! You can find Linda on Facebook, Twitter (as Linda Huber and Melinda Huber) and on her website. Download ‘A Lake in Switzerland’ here.

 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: J.A. Baker

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’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today, J.A. Baker talks about how working full-time as a teaching assistant has inspired her work. 

You can find Judith on Facebook and Twitter. Given how busy she is, I’d like to say a massive thank you to Judith for finding the time to share her experiences with us. 

Vic x

I am the first to admit I find holding down a full time job and writing, a difficult juggling act. Time is always against me and I struggle to fit everything in – writing, making sure I don’t neglect my family and friends and, of course, housework. That said, I don’t think I could give up the day job. Writing is a solitary business and I enjoy the routine of getting up every day and going out there and meeting people.  The contact I have with people helps feed my imagination, keeping my mind ticking over. Without it, I fear my writing would become dry and stilted resulting in 2D characters and poor dialogue.

I am a Teaching Assistant in a primary school so my days are usually pretty full on with no time for taking notes should an idea pop into my head. I write psychological thriller/domestic noir novels which are absolutely nothing to do with my day job … or so many would think. My qualifications are in education and psychology and I channel an awful lot of that into my stories, using my experience and knowledge of how people think to create most of my characters.

A lot of the staff at work have bought and read my books and are constantly asking when the next one is due out. The most bizarre experience was finding out from a group of pupils that their parents had bought and read my debut novel. Another weird encounter was finding out that one of the classes had used my author page to learn about writers and what sort of people dedicate their time to producing books. I happened to be passing through the room and spotted my profile picture up on the interactive whiteboard. That was a fairly surreal moment. Every now and again, a small child will run up to me in the playground or in the classroom shouting at me that I’m famous. I think I often help challenge their idea of what constitutes famous!

Are any of my books ever set in a school? My most recent novel, The Other Mother (due out later this year), centres around a school setting and my second book, Her Dark Retreat, had a character that was a deputy head, so the answer is yes. The old adage ‘write what you know’ comes into play. Why have all that information to hand and not use it?

Of course the big bonus of working in a school is the holidays. That’s when I do the bulk of my writing. Without them I’m pretty sure none of my books would be out there. I have author friends who also hold down other full time jobs that don’t have such generous holidays and I take my hat off to them. I have no idea how they do it, writing two to three books a years with only four weeks holiday. So as much as I like to moan about how difficult it all is, juggling the workload involved with writing and being a TA, I actually have very little to complain about. I love my job and I love writing and the buzz that accompanies finishing the first edit of my next book. All authors dream of being the next Stephen King or Paula Hawkins but the truth is, I enjoy the challenge of working two jobs. However, I hear you asking, would I quit the day job if I wrote a bestseller and sold millions of copies? Well, all I can say to that is, I’m a positive person and I enjoy being busy, but I’m not an idiot.