Tag Archives: writes

**The Kindness of Strangers Blog Tour**

kindness strangers.jpgOooh, hello there, readers. Allow me to share with you an excerpt from ‘The Kindness of Strangers‘ by Julie Newman. 

When Helen’s chance at happiness is threatened, what lengths will she go to in order to hide the truth? Deceived by her husband and desperate for a ‘perfect’ family life, Helen will do everything she can to get the life she wants.

Following the gripping and controversial ‘Beware the Cuckoo‘, Julie Newman’s new novel lifts the lid on family secrets, and the dark past that haunts a seemingly happy household…

Vic x

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The Kindness of Strangers

EACH NEW SUNRISE does not just herald a new day, it is a new beginning offering new possibilities and the opportunity to be better than before. That’s what I always used to believe. It was the mantra of my boss when I first started working in the city. But now, well now it sounds like a pretentious soundbite that has no validity in the real world, certainly not in my world. Every day is the same for me. There is a brief moment when I first wake when I’ve forgotten he’s gone, then boom, it hits me and the darkness descends once more. Today is no different. Perhaps if I still worked my focus would be on what I have to do rather than what I can no longer do. Maybe that’s the answer, to go back to work; but where? Marilyn has replaced me and I couldn’t go back at a lower level than before. There are other firms, but would they be interested in a 56 year-old woman who’s been out of the game for almost eighteen months? I know I wouldn’t employ me and I know how good I am. Even if I considered a junior position I’d be competing with a new crop of graduates and interns. And besides, there is still more to do here; papers, accounts, and all the interests we pursued together. I must cancel our golf club subscription for a start; I won’t be going there alone and I never liked playing much anyway.

The study is incredibly stuffy. I’ve opened the window but that hasn’t made a great deal of difference. I think I’m going to take  some of these files and sit in the garden and sort through them. I make a pot of tea and go outside. It’s surprising how many things we signed up for over the years and more surprising is the fact that I’d forgotten we had them. Our joint account has already been dealt with, as have a couple of accounts that Robert had. But what I’m looking at now is an old account of mine that I haven’t paid attention to for a long time. I transfer money into it each month to cover the direct debits, but I don’t use half the things I’m paying for. This is the downside of not receiving paper statements anymore, I’m rather remiss at checking my accounts online. This is the account that the golf membership comes out of; I write down the account and membership numbers so I can cancel it. There are also a couple of magazine subscriptions, a consumer group subscription and insurances for appliances which I don’t even know if I still have. I write down the relevant information so I can cancel them all. When I’m done I pour another cup of tea – well half a cup as the pot is almost empty – sit back in my chair and look around the garden. Somebody comes to cut the lawn every couple of weeks, everything else in the garden Robert and I do, or did. Well Robert mainly. I suppose I’ll have to get on with it myself now, not that it takes much, it is quite a low maintenance garden. We had a designer revamp it many years ago, and her brief was simple; it had to be full of colour and easy to maintain. It certainly is that, although parts of it are looking a little neglected. The roses catch my eye, they need dead-heading. I go back into the kitchen for a pair of scissors. As I take them out of the drawer I picture Robert standing in the garden waving a pair of secateurs at me and saying, ‘the right tool for the job, Helen’. I smile to myself; a nice memory.

It takes me a little while to locate the shed key. For some reason it’s in a small pot at the rear of one of the dresser drawers, instead  of hanging with the garage and summer-house keys in the kitchen. I unlock the shed hoping the secateurs will be easier to find. I never go in the shed, it was Robert’s domain. He liked to sit in there and read; he complained the summer house was too hot, something that never bothered me. I’m pretty sure he used to have a bottle of whisky hidden away in there too. The door creaks a little as it opens and warm air is emitted from within. It smells stale and fusty. It’s clearly in need of ventilating. I pull the door wide, putting a large terracotta pot in front of it to keep it open. I peek in before actually venturing inside; Robert’s old chair sits proudly in the centre, there is a work bench to the right on which sits several pots of various sizes, a couple of gardening books – maybe he did read them after all – and the secateurs. I pick them up and look around the rest of the shed; there is a lot of stuff in here, another thing to sort through in time. As I turn to go back out something catches my eye. It’s the old picnic blanket we used many years ago, I thought it had long since been thrown out. We enjoyed going for picnics, although to be honest they weren’t really picnics. We would head out somewhere for the day, weather permitting of course, and find a nice spot and put the blanket down. We would lay and read for a while; I always took a flask of tea, something for Robert to drink and a few snacks. On the way back we would look for a nice country pub and have a meal before heading home. I pull at the blanket which is draped over something, as it comes off it reveals an old, battered filing cabinet. It’s made of metal, grey in colour and mottled with rust spots. I pull open the top drawer; inside are two glasses and an almost empty bottle of whisky, an unopened bottle of whisky, a box of matches and a half-smoked cigar, and various bits and pieces that include garden ties and string and plant labels. I try the next one but that won’t open. There is a lock at the top of this drawer, and I look around for a  key. I can’t see one, but I’m puzzled as to why the drawer is locked and I want to get it open. The roses will have to wait.

After spending almost an hour in the shed looking for a key -to no avail – I’ve come back inside. Where might the key be? I go through the dresser drawers again and the kitchen drawers and I search the utility room. It’s a mystery. There might not even be anything in the drawer, but I won’t be satisfied until I know. I go back out to the shed, pulling the drawer a few more times, but it won’t budge. I look around to see if there is anything I can use to force it open. Bashing it with a hammer doesn’t work, neither does poking around the lock with a penknife. I’m frustrated now, but I won’t be beaten. Maybe, I could ask the gardener when he comes to do the lawn if he could get it open, that’s not for over a week though. Anthony would do it, but after the other day, I don’t think I want to ask him. I’ll have to go and buy something so I can do it myself. The lock can’t be that strong, I’m sure if I had the right tool I could prise it open.

***

About the Author:

Julie Newman was born in East London but now lives a rural life in North Essex. She is married with two children. Her working life has seen her have a variety of jobs, including running her own publishing company. She is the author of the children’s book Poppy and the Garden Monster. Julie writes endlessly and when not writing she is reading. Other interests include theatre, music and running. Besides her family, the only thing she loves more than books is Bruce Springsteen.

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Review: ‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae’ by Stephanie Butland

For many people, including me, a stand-out read of 2017 was ‘Lost For Words‘ by Stephanie Butland so it was with excitable trepidation that I began reading ‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae‘.

I needn’t have worried. Stephanie’s latest novel surpassed my expectations – I did not want to stop reading this heart-warming tale of Ailsa Rae, a young woman who, following a lifetime of illness, has to learn a new way of navigating her way through the world while struggling with grief and survivor’s guilt.

Once again, Stephanie Butland has created inimitable characters that I’d happily be friends with. One of Butland’s skills is to make her characters rounded, creating light and shade in both the narrative and within the characters.

Ailsa, in particular, seems completely real to me. After suffering from a heart condition since birth, Ailsa finally undergoes a heart transplant and afterwards feels somewhat lost – her identity no longer revolves around being ill, but she’s not sure what it should revolved around. Despite her apparently hard exterior, it was lovely to peel back Ailsa’s layers and see a more vulnerable side to her. Stephanie Butland really seems to have a talent for creating seemingly tough characters with soft centres.

It was easy for me to fall into this story, I was totally invested in the characters – Seb was particularly appealing to me. The once-close relationship between Ailsa and her mum is portrayed sensitively and realistically as both mother and daughter struggle to come to terms with their new roles.

I felt that having a novel revolving around organ donation was a bold move and it absolutely works. The amount of research undertaken by Butland shows but it’s the human element of this story that makes it utterly compelling.

Although it’s an enjoyable read, ‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae‘ has a very important message behind it – the incredible difference organ donation can make to someone when your organs are no longer of use to you.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jane Risdon

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 my longtime online friend, Jane Risdon is here to share her interesting experiences with us. Thanks Jane, I’ve really enjoyed having you on the blog again.  

Vic x

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We don’t know what we know, until we sit and think
By Jane Risdon

Write what you know. That’s what we writers are advised. But, you have to wonder where that leaves crime writers – commit a murder, a robbery, a sting and then you know what you are writing about perhaps? Who is going to admit to having a day job involving murder? Yet our lives and experiences do influence our writing, it has to.

How has my ‘day job’ influenced my writing?

I no longer have a ‘day job’ unless you count writing, but I have had two careers both of which greatly influenced my writing. Firstly I worked for government departments and that gave me some insight into the workings of the world of foreign embassies and how our government operates overseas. It spiked my interest in all things espionage in that I worked for a department whose staff were employed in embassies and were not always what they appeared to be, given their job titles. Great fodder for a fertile imagination.

A great deal of my writing, about crime and organised crime, has been influenced by my time working in that environment. It sparked an interest which I continue to feed by reading all I can about the murky world of the secret security services, organised crime and all it entails. Many of my crime stories have elements of covert operations and possible Mafia connections running through them, including my series – Ms Birdsong Investigates. Although I can’t be specific about anything I knew from back then, I can play with the facts and indulge in a great deal of poetic licence.

My second and longest career has been in the international music business, working mainly in Hollywood, Europe and in S. E. Asia. There is nothing like power and money to bring out the worst in people – as we are discovering now with all the sex scandals detailed in the press. Many of my stories have musical elements and are also mixed with organised crime or espionage as I mentioned. I suggest some research and reading if anyone is interested in how the music business and movie business might possibly have anything to do with organised crime. Mixing with the ‘movers and shakers’ in this business has been an amazing experience and, I must admit, it all came as a bit of a shock to me when first working at that level in Hollywood. Nothing in your face of course, all hinted at; I was directed to ‘gen-up’ on who I was working with and was recommended some well-known books to read. All filed away for future reference and as background for my growing interest in being a crime writer. Which I now delve into when necessary.

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Yet, crime is not all I’ve found myself writing. My latest co-authored novel with Christina Jones, Only One Woman, is anything but crime. It is a love triangle set in the late 1960’s UK music scene, and my experiences married to a musician and being involved in music all my life, has been a fabulous resource for writing this book. My day jobs back then have given me access to experiences and memories so vivid it has been like writing about something that happened yesterday at times. Total recall provides me with so much to be thankful for as a writer.

Writing what you know. It’s great advice. Sometimes we don’t know what we know, until we sit down and think.

You can find Jane on Facebook, GoodreadsTwitter and her blog. ‘Only One Woman‘ also has its own Facebook page and blog. There is also a playlist to listen to while you listen to ‘Only One Woman‘.  

Review: ‘I Am, I Am, I Am’ by Maggie O’Farrell

I Am, I Am, I Am‘ is a memoir told through near-death experiences. 

Maggie O’Farrell is a beautiful writer, she frames every incident with emotional sophistication. The drama inherent in every chapter is balanced with O’Farrell’s exacting attention to detail. I have cried numerous times while listening to this audiobook as well as marvelling at the insightful and intelligent storytelling. 

Separating each chapter with the part of the body that was responsible for her almost-demise, O’Farrell bucks the trend of the chronological autobiography. This is possibly one of the most inspirational books I have ever read. In the dictionary, beside the word ‘resilient’, there should be a picture of Maggie O’Farrell.

From the first chapter, I was absolutely enthralled. Even when I wasn’t listening to it, I was thinking about it. I’m not sure I will ever stop thinking about it.

As someone who rarely revisits books, this is the biggest compliment I can give: I will read ‘I Am, I Am, I Am‘ again.

Vic x

Review of 2017: Louise Beech

To me, Louise Beech – another of Orenda Books’ wonderful authors – is a person I really admire. She’s funny, kind and writes thought-provoking stories. 

It would appear that Orenda’s Karen Sullivan not only considers the quality of the work but also the people themselves when adding to her list. How else could you explain the fact that her authors are not only brilliant writers but lovely people? 

My thanks to Louise for sharing her eventful year with us.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
2017 was definitely up there for me professionally – I did the Crimefest, Newcastle Noir, and AyeWrite festivals. Did the Orenda Roadshow. But the moment I saw that Maria in the Moon had been picked as a Must Read in the Sunday Express was a true peak. When I was a chambermaid ten years ago, I used to sneakily eat biscuits and read the Sunday Express magazine on the hotel bed, and dream of having a book reviewed in there. So I think you can imagine how it felt to see that.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Visiting Paris with my 17-year-old daughter Katy. She has declared she’ll no longer be coming on holiday with us, so I cherished every moment with her.

Favourite book in 2017?
Obviously, all of the Orenda ones I read. Outside of that, I absolutely loved Cassandra Parkin’s The Winter’s Child. A haunting, gripping, poetic thrill of a novel.

Favourite film in 2017?
I finally watched Interstellar and was absolutely blown away. Made me think, made me cry, made me question. What more could you want from a film? Beautiful soundtrack too, which I listen to while writing.

Favourite song of the year?
Maria in the Moon
 by Carrie Martin.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Some personal sadness in 2017. Personal tragedy. But these things just make us grow.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Always. But if I tell you it won’t come true…

What are you hoping for from 2018?
Complete world domination. And a new washing machine.

Guest Post: Nic Parker on Hull Noir 2017

The dedicated Nic Parker, author of ‘Descent to Hell‘ travelled all the way from Germany to attend the inaugural Hull Noir. 

I was gutted not to be there myself but I know Nic is the perfect person to tell us all about the weekend. Thanks to Nic for sharing her weekend with us! 

Vic x

Hull Noir 
By Nic Parker

Hull Noir was brought to life as part of Hull being City of Culture 2017. Reykjavik is Hull’s twin city. The Iceland Noir festival takes part in Reykjavik every other year and the following year moves to another city so this was a brilliant move for Hull.

My weekend at Hull Noir kicked off on Friday night with the Getting Carter event at the Kardomah94. Nick Triplow talked to Cathi Unsworth, introducing Ted Lewis to the audience, speaking about the life and work of the Hull-born Lewis with some of Lewis’s old friends present. Triplow said that even after researching Lewis for over ten years, he still learns new facts about him. Ted Lewis created Brit Noir but was way ahead of his time and never got acknowledged for it – until now. Nick Triplow has done Ted Lewis proud in bringing this literary hero of Hull back into the spotlight.

Saturday marked Hull Noir’s official start with the Sleeping with the Fishes – Hull vs. Iceland panel. As Hull and Reykjavik are twin cities both known for their fishing industries, Nick Quantrill chaired David Mark, Lilja Sigurdadottir and Quentin Bates, who discussed the different types of crime in both cities. It was intriguing to hear that while Hull has left its worst behind, crime is on the rise in Reykjavik due to the huge amount of tourists visiting each year. Transgressions in Reykjavik are higher than before and a lot of the crimes are drug-related, an issue Sigurdadottir picked up for her book Snare.

Craphouse to Powerhouse was the title of the second panel where Danielle Ramsay, Jay Stringer, Luca Veste and Paul Finch discussed post-industrial crime fiction in the North, particularly on the northern part of the M62. For me, as a foreigner, it is always fascinating to hear how that North/South way of thinking is still very much present in today’s Britain. Despite talk of gruesome murder, the authors pulled the audience right in and there was also a lot of laughter, thanks to Stringer and Veste.

The panel Into the Darkness delivered what its title promised. Jake Arnott, Emma Flint, Joseph Knox and Cathi Unsworth talked about murder set in different time periods and how protagonists don’t always have to be only good characters. Joseph Knox takes his readers to modern day parties in drug-ridden Manchester locations. Emma Flint talked about how the perception of a person based on her looks can lead us to condemn someone we don’t know and how it was even worse in 1965. Jake Arnott evokes ‘Romeville’, the underworld of 1720s London, rife with crime and even using criminal slang. When Cathi Unsworth mentioned her next book would be about a mysterious murder involving dark magic there was a murmur of anticipation in the audience.

Martina Cole celebrating her twenty-five year silver jubilee as a crime writer on stage with Barry Forshaw was a definite highlight of the festival. Cole is a wonderful person, sharp and funny – she should have her own television show. She talked about how her career started, how she wrote stories to entertain herself and how she got her first agent, with whom she has stayed all this time. Martina mentioned how many of the men and women in prison she met are not villains but often people who made one stupid decision in their life that ended up with them behind bars. She has encountered men who can’t even properly write their own names, stating that a gorgeous face is not enough in life and how very important education is. She also spoke out against the snobbery in the publishing industry that doesn’t seem to have changed much since she started out. She remains not only the bestselling author in the UK, whose books are the most stolen – ‘I might’ve nicked a few myself’, she grinned – but also an inspiration for authors. It was the perfect event to end the first day of Hull Noir.

Sunday saw Getting Away With Murder at ten o’clock and despite the early time the audience was in for a treat. Ayo Onatade did a brilliant job chairing Abir Mukherjee, Rachel Rhys and Matt Wesolowski. Who would have predicted Mukherjee and Wesolowski would be such a great act on stage, bouncing gags off each other within the minute. Rhys and Mukherjee said they needed a lot more research due to the time their stories are set in. Rhys had found and talked to a woman who had actually done the trip from the UK to Australia in 1939 on a cruise ship so she got first hand information. Mukherjee watched old Pathé films on Youtube to get a feel for 1919s Calcutta but, finally, visited India to get a real taste of the country his story was set in. Matt Wesolowski, deemed the baby of the group at thirty-six, used the ultra modern structure of a podcast in his first novel, listing his influences as podcasts like Serial and Someone Knows Something. While they are all glad about new technology, Wesolowski said he didn’t want his young son growing up only valuing himself if he received enough likes on Instagram or Facebook. Rhys is still reluctant to welcome all aspects of modern technology into her life. All three authors mentioned how fond they still are of notebooks, enjoying scribbling down whatever comes to their minds.

William Ryan chaired the Freedom, Opression and Control panel with Eva Dolan, Stav Sherez and Kati Hiekkapelto and the sombre atmosphere of this issue was almost tangible. Oppression of people is not only a thing of the past, like in Ryan’s book set in the UK under the SS-regime, it also concerns people who are regarded differently, like a transgender woman in Dolan’s story. Stav Sherez explored the often ignored danger that lures in the depths of the internet while Hiekkapelto deals with an ongoing issue for which there seems no current solution: the refugee crisis and how badly these people are often treated. Hiekkapelto stunned the audience by asking them what it means to have freedom and if anyone feels like they are really free, a question many might have thought about long after the panel had ended.

Off The Beaten Track saw the wonderful Jacky Collins asking Sarah Ward, David Young, Antti Tuomainen and Daniel Pembrey about the different settings of their books. Pembrey has lived in Amsterdam and Luxembourg and used these places as settings whereas Young set his books in Eastern Germany in 1975. Young toured with his band in the eastern part of Germany a few years ago, eager to learn about what life was like there before the wall came down. Tuomainen, who has a wonderful dry humour, wondered how a reader could buy his yarn about setting up a fictitious mushroom factory yet his mistake of naming a wrong street in an existing town upset said reader.

A Year In The Crime Writing Life of John Connolly and Mark Billingham ended the festival on Sunday with Jake Kerridge as ringmaster, often having trouble keeping the  other two in line. I’ve seen Connolly and Billingham on stage a few times before and it’s always a treat. Their stories and humour had the audience laughing with tears rolling down their faces.

When asked about their highs and lows of the past year Billingham said his lowest was when he got massively hacked. Connolly was moved telling about his highlight of the year, how he had felt honoured to be on stage at the Panopticon in Glasgow where Stan Laurel had made his stage debut. I urge everyone who is a fan of Laurel & Hardy to read he by Connolly. It’s not crime fiction but a very moving and loving tale about Laurel & Hardy, evoking the golden era of old Hollywood. Speaking of comedians, Billingham and Connolly are always a brilliant act, exchanging puns and jokes and spinning many an entertaining yarn. Putting these two great authors on as the last panel was a genius move as the festival ended on a total high.

 

I had an absolute blast at Hull Noir and somehow it ended all too fast. I had time to chat with old friends and met lots of wonderful new people. The small and not overcrowded venue gave you enough time, as well as the opportunity, to chat to the authors after the panels and not spend your entire time between events standing in line to get your book signed/hunting for a coffee/going to the loo.

The festival surpassed all of my expectations. The panels were very clever and it was pure entertainment getting to hear from new talents and seasoned authors alike.

I can’t thank Nick Triplow, Nick Quantrill and Nikki East enough for putting together such a brilliant programme and for creating an awesome event everyone will be talking about for a long time. Hull Noir was a great success and here’s hoping this wonderful event will be repeated.

Review: ‘The Break’ by Marian Keyes

It’s been many years since I last read a Marian Keyes book and now I can’t stop asking myself why I left it so long. I bought ‘The Break‘ after going to see Marian Keyes in Newcastle. I found her funny and engaging and her explanation of the premise of ‘The Break‘ had me intrigued.

Amy’s husband Hugh wants to take a break. Not the romantic, coupley kind but a break from their marriage. Hugh wants six months away from Amy, their family and their commitment to one another in order to ‘find himself’ and promises that, after those six months are up, he’ll come back and they’ll be together again. OK, so he’s not saying he wants to break up but his departure leaves Amy reeling. Will Hugh come back? And if he does, will he still be the man she married? And will she still be the woman he left behind?

Marian Keyes writes prose the way she talks – she intertwines serious subjects with humour and humanity. ‘The Break‘ doesn’t just dissect a marriage; it also questions what it’s like to parent in the 21st Century, what it means to be a modern working woman, how to navigate the minefield of female friendships as well as exploring a larger social issue of abortion laws in Ireland.

Marian Keyes manages to do what the second series of TV show ‘Doctor Foster’ failed to do: make the characters sympathetic. Even when they’re doing things that you might disagree with, you cannot help but be on their side. In several interviews I’ve heard, Marian Keyes has said she hopes to show that these characters – and the situations they find themselves in (whether through choice or by chance) – are nuanced and I think she does that admirably.

The cast of characters is large and varied and I can’t help but think that many of the family scenes are influenced in part by Keyes’s own extended family. I loved Locmof (read the book and you’ll understand) and Amy was fantastically real to me. I also adored the delicate Sofie and the sage Kiara.

Although there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in ‘The Break‘, they are tempered with sadness and anger. It may be a bit of a cliche but I genuinely laughed and cried while reading this novel and I think the reason for that is not just Keyes’s accessible writing style but because she creates characters that are as real as the people we share lives with.

The Break‘ is an absolute triumph of a book and I can’t help but hope we see these lovely, warm, realistic characters again.

Vic x

Just going to leave this here…