Tag Archives: writing

Review: ‘When They Find Her’ by @liamiddlet0n

Naomi had always wanted to be a mum. But three years ago, her husband left, taking their daughter with him.

Now, her daughter has come to stay, and Naomi knows it's her chance to re-build her family.

But the night ends in a terrible accident. And Naomi has no memory of what happened.

Panicking, desperate, Naomi finds herself telling a lie: 'My daughter is missing.'

From the outset, 'When They Find Her' had me gripped. 

This confidently-written debut grabbed me with its utterly unthinkable opening and kept me emotionally invested until the final page. 

Lia Middleton's writing is so visceral that, at first, I wasn't sure I could continue to read this book as it felt too uncomfortably close to home for me (as someone with a young child). However, I couldn't leave it alone - I HAD to know how it would end. I was completely swept up in Naomi's nightmare and her split second choice with catastrophic consequences. 

'When They Find Her' is perfectly-plotted and intelligently written on a subject which continues to remain taboo: mental health, more specifically the mental health of new mothers. This novel is dark and, at times, uncomfortable to read - this is not, however, a criticism but a testament to Middleton's skill as a writer. She captures the terror of being a new mum and puts it to chilling use. I absolutely identified with Naomi and her fears - and how those fears affected her family. 

An absolutely stellar debut.

Vic x

Review: ‘Founders, Freelancers & Rebels’ by Helen Jane Campbell

In this book Helen Jane Campbell interviewed inspiring, brave and creative experts across the UK and US, tapping into some incredible insights and pulling them together into this friendly guide, to offer that support which we all need from time to time.

This book’s for you if you’ve stopped feeling ‘hungry’ for new client work, you’re starting up for the first (or second or third!) time, or you’ve simply run out of steam. The author's intention is to offer a wealth of ideas and fresh perspectives to inspire you at any stage of your independent creative career.

Whether you're chasing a better quality of life, finding your calling, leaving a legacy or focused on reaching your potential, this book can help you succeed when working on your own feels like an uphill struggle. It also offers a reality check and support for anyone who has the appetite to go solo, but who is nervous about taking the plunge.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. 

I really liked Helen Jane Campbell's writing style, her strong voice comes through in a friendly, chatty style so that even when she's talking about certain aspects of freelancing that some may find uncomfortable (eg finances), it feels completely natural and not at all intimidating. Starting up a business can feel like an insurmountable challenge at times but Campbell's style helps reassure the reader and make everything seem totally possible. 

Campbell covers a number of topics that could be stifling your creativity or putting you off trying to go it alone. She uses case studies alongside her own experience to give practical advice and demonstrating her credentials to be the one giving this advice.

Vic x

Review: #Nighthawking by @thevoiceofRuss

Sheffield’s beautiful Botanical Gardens is an oasis of peace in a world filled with sorrow, confusion and pain. And then, one morning, a body is found in the Gardens. A young woman, dead from a stab wound, buried in a quiet corner. Police quickly determine that the body’s been there for months. It would have gone undiscovered for years – but someone sneaked into the Gardens and dug it up.

Who is the victim? Who killed her and hid her body? Who dug her up? And who left a macabre marker on the body?

In his quest to find her murderer, DS Adam Tyler will find himself drawn into the secretive world of nighthawkers: treasure-hunters who operate under cover of darkness, seeking the lost and valuable . . . and willing to kill to keep what they find.

In 2020, I was introduced to DS Adam Tyler in ‘Firewatching‘ by the wonderful Russ Thomas, check out my review here. I was lucky enough to be treated to an early copy of the second in the series, ‘Nighthawking‘. Big thanks to Simon & Schuster, Jess Barratt and, of course, Russ Thomas for my advanced copy.

Some series struggle after a strong debut but, in my opinion, Russ Thomas’s writing has only improved. ‘Nighthawking‘ is intense, dark and suspenseful and an absolutely compulsive read. It’s perfectly plotted and the pace builds well as we hurtle towards the denouement.

One thing I really love about this series is that Russ Thomas blends the criminal investigation along with the personal lives of his coppers. Tyler is still enigmatic, deep, and even troubled but his softer side shines through in his encounters with Callum. Mina, Tyler’s enthusiastic DC, shows real growth in this sequel. Yes, I am still Mina’s biggest fan – she’s immense! Similarly, there are new characters in this novel that I truly cared about, Thomas has a real skill for making the reader care for the people in the story.

Nighthawking‘ also explores police powerplays and internal politics, adding yet another layer to this stunning narrative.

Thomas has carried over the fantastic characters from ‘Firewatching‘ and adds yet more compelling people, integrating them into a truly original idea and setting.

I’m already looking forward to Book #3!

Vic x

Review: ‘Black Widows’ by Cate Quinn

Blake Nelson moved onto a hidden stretch of land – a raw paradise in the wilds of Utah – where he lived with his three wives: Rachel, the chief wife, obedient and doting to a fault; Tina, the other wife, who is everything Rachel isn’t; And Emily, the youngest wife, who knows little else.
When their husband is found dead under the desert sun, the questions pile up.
But none of the widows know who would want to kill a good man like Blake. Or, at least, that’s what they’ll tell the police…

Set within Utah – Mormon-country – ‘Black Widows‘ delves into the Church of the Latter Day Saints – and an extreme form of Mormonism: polygamous marriage. The idea of reading a book set within this community is intriguing enough but what Cate Quinn has done with ‘Black Widows‘ is create a compelling read featuring characters I could engage with despite wildly different cultural differences. I was utterly invested in the women in this book.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the wives – Rachel, Tina and Emily – and each voice is distinctive in character and tone. I found the three wives completely captivating. They were honest, engaging and utterly believable. Thanks to Quinn’s excellent writing, I could even hear their accents as I read. The character development as the story goes on is exquisite.

I genuinely could not put this book down. I spent several nights reading long after I should have gone to sleep – I just couldn’t stop. ‘Black Widows‘ is one of those books where I couldn’t wait to find out who was responsible but also didn’t want the story to end. I think one thing that really contributed to this were the short, snappy, perfectly crafted chapters that left me wanting more.

My thanks to Orion for supplying me with an ARC of this novel. I cannot recommend ‘Black Widows‘ highly enough.

Vic x

#BlogTour #ABowlofCherries by F.E. Birch

It is an absolute delight to be hosting my very good friend F.E. Birch on the blog today. F.E. is part of a very special group of friends that I’m lucky to have in my life.

I was given the honour of hosting F.E.’s virtual book launch for her short story collection ‘A Bowl of Cherries‘ earlier this year and am delighted to have her on the blog today.

Vic x

Thank you Vic, for hosting me today for A Bowl of Cherries, my short story collection. 

When I first started writing short stories in about 2004 I had no idea where I was going with them. I love writing in the short story form and I when I discovered flash fiction, I thought it was brilliant. I was in the process of changing careers and with three small children it was difficult but I just wanted to write, and write, and write – so I pinched time from everywhere I could and I wrote.

I then started entering competitions and calls for submissions to anthologies. I learned what some markets liked and what others didn’t. I prefer writing in the dark form: crime, psychological, character-centred and devious, and definitely not for everyone. 

Since 2004 I have had a hundred and fifty- five stories published in print or online. I won Pitch Perfect at Bloody Scotland in 2012 along with Joseph Knox. He’s gone on to be a very successful and talented writer. I was then published by Harper Collins for a collection of anecdotal stories under a pseudonym, which although quite successful, I couldn’t openly take any credit. Life events then got in the way and I had a hiatus from 2013, writing only sporadically, but still networking at lots of the writing festivals. Oh, how I miss them!

I have to praise Vic Watson and Simon Bewick for their lockdown VNATB. It was the highlight of my week, every Wednesday for twenty-two weeks. They really inspired me to pick up my pen again and I managed to finish my part-written crime novel, which is now in the editing stages. I also went back to my short stories and thought, actually, some were okay. A hard thing to admit for someone who doesn’t believe in themselves! Whilst  ‘cooking the book’ that I hope to be my first novel, I thought I could pull together a collection of my short stories. If they’d been published before, surely, they might have some merit? Hence, A Bowl of Cherries was born. 

Each story has a dark theme, and they cover most aspects of life, death, murder, abuse, violence, cannibalism, alcohol, domestic violence, ghosts, and much more. There are few markets for this type of genre, especially in the short story form, but I know there are people out there like me that like to read them. I also understand that for some, they may be too much, which is why they are labelled as triple XXX. I draw on my life and professional experiences for nuggets of ideas that I turn into stories and having seen the dark and dastardly things that people do to each other first hand, I have a wealth of ideas in the bank. There are many more stories loitering in files on my laptop, more still waiting to be written. 

None are for the faint of heart, though I do have the idea of writing a rom-com – if only I can resist killing off a character! 

I am very fortunate to have a great peer group of friendly writing folk, and a special circle of friends, and it’s such a wonderful writing community to be amongst. Thank you to all the readers who keep the writers going, all the writers who understand the need to keep going, and everyone else who supports us. 

Order A Bowl of Cherries now.

Review: ‘Firewatching’ by Russ Thomas

A body is found bricked into the walls of a house. From the state of the hands, it’s clear the dead man was buried alive. Soon, the victim is linked to an old missing person’s case and DS Adam Tyler is called.

As the sole representative of South Yorkshire’s Cold Case Review Unit, Tyler recognises his role for what it is – a means of keeping him out of the way following an ‘incident’. When this case falls in his lap, he grabs the opportunity to fix his stagnating career.

And then Tyler discovers he has a connection to the case that hopelessly compromises him. He makes the snap decision not to tell his superiors, certain that he and only he can solve the crime. But now Tyler must move carefully to find out the truth, without destroying the case or himself.

Meanwhile, someone in the city knows exactly what happened to the body. Someone who is watching Adam closely. Someone with an unhealthy affinity with fire. . .

Ok, so if the summary above didn’t entice you (it really should have, by the way), here’s why you should read ‘Firewatching‘ by Russ Thomas:

Firewatching introduces us to a fresh new take on the police procedural, featuring an original protagonist. For me, hinting at Tyler’s backstory while racing to stop more deaths, felt really natural and kept a realistic balance to the story. Thomas’s writing is taut and compulsive, hitting the right balance of plot and visceral descriptions.

The plot is strengthened by the cast of characters, particularly Lily who can’t remember the secret she’s keeping on account of the dementia that’s ravaging her mind. The characterisation in ‘Firewatching‘ is absolutely perfect, with Thomas portraying Lily’s dementia accurately and sensitively.

Thomas pulls the reader in and creates empathy for his protagonist by laying bare the bigotry that Tyler faces regularly. By pairing Adam with PC Rabbani, Thomas is also able to explore institutionalised racism. Again, he does this with a light touch that leaves the reader in no doubt about the difficulties these officers have to deal with – and that’s before you factor in the crimes they’re investigating.

The descriptions of the arsons are terrifyingly real and, while the person responsible taunts the police with cryptic blog posts, readers are presented with the sense of the urgency felt by Tyler and his colleagues.

If you’re looking for original characters, a strong plot and vivid descriptions, ‘Firewatching‘ is the novel for you! I can’t wait to read ‘Nighthawking‘, the next in the DS Adam Tyler series.

Vic x

Review: ‘The Point of No Return’ by Neil Broadfoot

After more than a decade of being in prison for the brutal murder two Stirling University students, Colin Sanderson has been released after his conviction was found to be unsafe.

Returning home to a small village not far from Stirling, Sanderson refuses police protection, even in the face of a death threat. But the PR firm that has scooped him up to sell his story does know of a protection expert in Stirling. They want Connor Fraser.

Connor reluctantly takes the assignment, partly as a favour to DCI Malcolm Ford, who is none too keen to have Sanderson on the loose, particularly as he was involved in the original investigation that saw him imprisoned. 

When a body is found, mutilated in the same way as Sanderson’s victims were, all eyes fall on the released man. But how can he be the killer when Connor’s own security detail gives him an alibi?

As Connor races to uncover the truth, he is forced to confront not only Sanderson’s past but his own, and a secret that could change his life forever.

Having read ‘No Man’s Land‘ and ‘No Place to Die‘, I was really looking forward to reading the next instalment in the Connor Fraser series – and I wasn’t disappointed. ‘The Point of No Return‘ is a tight, pacey thriller that develops recurring characters within the context of another intriguing mystery.

Broadfoot has a knack of writing taut prose, with not one word wasted and that really helps me envisage the action unfolding. The action at times actually left me breathless. I genuinely can see Connor Fraser coming to a screen near you (hopefully soon).

The unflinching violence in this series is not for the faint-hearted but, with characters like Duncan Mackenzie and his henchman Paulie in the mix, it never feels gratuitous or unnecessary. In addition to the menace provided by Mackenzie and Paulie, Colin Sanderson genuinely gave me the creeps.

Setting the series in Stirling gives Broadfoot’s series a fresh feel to it, putting Scotland – and its political conflicts – at the heart of every story. It’s great to see recurring characters being given space to develop and gain depth. As much as I like Connor, I love Donna Blake and the divided loyalties she experiences on a daily basis.

The third in Neil Broadfoot’s Connor Fraser series is his strongest yet. Readers get not only a barnstorming mystery, they’re also treated to a glimpse into Connor’s own backstory which makes it much easier to understand his motivations and behaviour. However, you don’t have to have read the previous two novels in this series in order to enjoy ‘The Point of No Return‘ – but I recommend that you do anyway!

I can’t recommend ‘The Point of No Return‘ highly enough.

Vic x

Review: ‘If I Can’t Have You’ by Charlotte Levin

Samuel, the day we met I knew I’d finally found what I’ve been waiting for.
You.
Happiness, at last.
Then you left me.
And now I am alone.
Everyone I love leaves in the end.
But not this time.
I’m not giving up on us.
I’m not giving up on you.
When you love someone, you never let them go.
That’s why for me, this is just beginning.

Today is publication day for ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ by Charlotte Levin. My advice? Drop everything and read this book immediately.

Constance, a receptionist at a private medical centre in London, fancies Samuel – the new doctor – immediately. When he returns her affections, Constance is thrilled but when he cuts their affair short, Constance’s affections don’t wane, taking her deeper into obsession.

Although I was initially put off by the marketing materials that accompanied this proof, I was hooked from page one. I can’t recommend ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ highly enough. Although some may see comparing ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ to ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine‘ as a positive, I actually think ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ was far superior.

I love the way in which Charlotte Levin balances real drama and dark misdeeds with a dry sense of humour, her writing fizzes on the page and I didn’t want my encounter with Constance to end.

Constance Little is the most compelling, realistic character I think I have ever read. I love that Charlotte Levin has managed to create so much nuance in Constance that reading ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ is literally like spending time listening to a friend. Sometimes you want to step in and say “Constance, you’re being used” or “You’ve totally misread this” or “Maybe you’re going too far” but that doesn’t mean you don’t care about her. In all honesty, to some extent or another, I really think most of us have been in a similar position to Constance at some time in our lives.

If I Can’t Have You‘ is my book of 2020, I genuinely don’t know how any other book will top it.

Vic x

Getting to Know You: M.J. Arlidge

Hope you’re all keeping well. If you’re looking for something new to read, M.J. Arlidge’s eighth Helen Grace novel ‘All Fall Down‘ is due out next week (Thurs, 11th June) .

Matt has joined us today to give us a little insight into his work as a writer and some advice for those of you out there who’d like to give it a go yourselves.

I’m hoping to host Matt at a Virtual Noir at the Bar in the coming weeks so make sure you’re first to find out when he’ll be appearing. Sign up to our newsletter now.

Big thanks to Matt and Orion Books for making this happen.

Vic x

M.J Arlidge

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?

I love the escapism of it. I never get tired of sitting down at my desk and opening up my laptop. There are dozens of different characters and numerous interweaving stories in each of my books, meaning I have a whole host of different people to climb inside and bring to life. I love working out what makes characters tick, what’s important to them, what would drive them to do reckless or desperate things. It’s so enjoyable to escape from my normal life, especially so during lockdown! 

There’s not much I dislike, though there’s no question writing a novel is a hard slog. I’ve just written the first chapters of a new one this morning and the road ahead seems long!!!

What inspires you to write?

Anything and everything. Just life really. I find ideas come to me unbidden and at the strangest times – in the middle of the night, when I’m in the shower, when I’m shopping in the supermarket. And once a really good idea pops into your head, it has you, you have to write it. 

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?

Yes, of course! I love reading and always find time, usually at the end of the day. Generally I read novels, but at the moment I’m making use of lockdown to consume the works of Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens, Homo Deus etc. I find his work absolutely fascinating. 

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?

So many authors to choose from. Thomas Harris, James Patterson, Harlan Coben…but I think I’ll have to plump for Stieg Larsson. When I was writing Eeny Meeny (my debut novel), Lisbeth Salander was very much in my mind. She was the most unusual, most interesting crime fighter I’d ever come across. There are shades of Lisbeth Salander about Helen Grace – I was desperate to make her as unconventional and intriguing as Larsson’s brilliant protagonist. 

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

Wow. Good question. I would have loved to have been a photographer. Or a chef. I still harbour fantasies about the latter, but I’m probably too old…

What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?

That’s probably not for me to say! I’d say I work hard and am very committed to my writing and my readers – to the extent that when I’m writing a novel I find it hard to resist creeping back to my office late at night or as the sun is rising.  

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve literally just started writing Truth or Dare, the ninth novel in the Helen Grace series. Usually the first few chapters are utterly terrifying, but actually I’ve really enjoyed starting this one. 

Where can we find you online?

At my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

To borrow a phrase from Nike, just do it. Don’t spend too long prevaricating – pretending to research stuff, when actually you’re just putting off writing. Just be disciplined and get that first draft done. Only then do you have something you can work with, something you can potentially sell. When I was writing my first novel, I still had a day job, but managed to carve out one hour a day (5pm-6pm) to write. It was slow progress, but I got there in the end, and, boy, was it a good feeling!

What’s been your proudest moment?

The day Eeny Meeny was published by Penguin. To have joined the ranks of authors at such an impressive and important publishing house blew my mind!

What was the best writing advice you received and who was it from? 

When I delivered the first draft of Eeny Meeny to my agent, she declared that it was good, but needed “more emotional cruelty”. It was sage advice and something I bear in mind every time I’m penning a new Helen Grace novel!

ALL FALL DOWN by M.J Arlidge is published by Orion Fiction and out in hardback on 11th June 2020.

**Bones in the River Blog Tour**

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Zoë Sharp’s “Bones in the River“. I’ve known Zoë for many years now but here’s a little bit of background to the enigmatic writer.

Zoë Sharp began her crime thriller series featuring former Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox, after receiving death-threats in the course of her work as a photo-journalist. Zoë opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen.

Zoë’s work has won or been nominated for awards on both sides of the Atlantic, been used in school textbooks, inspired an original song and music video, and been optioned for TV and film.

When not in lockdown in the wilds of Derbyshire, she can be found improvising self-defence weapons out of ordinary household objects, international pet-sitting, or crewing yachts in the Mediterranean. (It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.) Zoë is always happy to hear from readers, reader groups, libraries or bookstores. You can contact her via email.

My thanks to Zoë for having me on her blog tour.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job:
Zoe Sharp

I suppose there was half a chance that writing fiction might have been my day job, right from the start. After all, I penned my first novel at the age of fifteen—and I do mean ‘penned’. I wrote the entire thing, long-hand, in a month, and gave myself the most appalling writers’ cramp in the process.

That early effort did the rounds of all the major publishers, where it received what’s known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’—everybody said they loved it but nobody actually wanted to publish it.

Looking back, I’m rather glad about that.

Because, in order to be a writer, you need different experiences under your belt. At the age of fifteen, I’d had few worth mentioning. Apart from living aboard a catamaran from the age of about seven and leaving school at twelve. But that, as they say, is probably another story.

Having failed at my first attempt to be a novelist, I became side-tracked by a variety of jobs in my teenage years, including crewing boats and learning astro-navigation. I was mad keen on horses, rode competitively, and once even took part in a rodeo. I learned to shoot—did a little competing there, too. Long guns, mostly. I considered myself an average shot with a handgun but, as I discovered on my last visit to a US indoor gun range, most people can manage to miss the target entirely at less than ten feet.

As for jobs, I became a freelance motoring writer at the height of the classic car boom of the late 1980s. That quickly transmuted into being a photojournalist, having taught myself both how to write commercial magazine articles and also how to take images good enough for numerous front covers and centre spreads.

It was hardly surprising, then, that eventually I’d have to start writing a character who was a photographer. Enter Grace McColl, first in Dancing on the Grave and now in Bones in the River. Grace started out as a keen amateur photographer, who became involved in providing evidence for the defence in a court case. She was then approached by the Head CSI at Cumbria police, who asked her if she’d ever thought of joining the side of the angels. Always nice to be able to write any parts of the story concerning photography without having to do lots of research.

My time spent writing about cars also played a part in Bones in the River, which begins with a hit-and-run incident. Understanding how the mechanics of a vehicle work makes writing scenes with them in so much easier and, I hope, more accurate.

Plus, all that time spent with horses came in very useful for a book that takes place during the largest Gypsy and Traveller horse fair in Europe. There were still plenty of times when I had up to a dozen different scientific research books laid on the table at the side of my desk as I wrote, though. Fortunately, forensic science and pathology are such fascinating subjects.

They tell you to write what you know. I disagree. I think you should write what you’re desperate to find out instead.

Bones in the River“, the second book in the Lakes crime thriller series, was published worldwide on May 26 2020 by ZACE Ltd. You can grab a sneak peek of the first three chapters, and is available from all the usual retailers.