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.
I’m thrilled today to be reviewing Ashley Audrain’s debut novel ‘The Push‘ which was published yesterday.
Here’s a little snippet of ‘The Push‘ to whet your appetite:
The arrival of baby Violet was meant to be the happiest day of my life. But as soon as I held her in my arms I knew something wasn’t right.
I had always known that the women in my family aren’t meant to be mothers.
My husband Fox says I’m imagining it. He tells me I’m nothing like my own mother, and that Violet is the sweetest child.
But she’s different with me. Something feels very wrong. Is it her? Or is it me? Is she the monster? Or am I?
As most readers of this blog will know, I became a mum for the first time in 2019. ‘The Push‘takes place over a number of years so although I can’t recognise some of the feelings that Blythe, the narrator, feels as her child Violet gets older, I can attest that Ashley Audrain certainly captures the all-encompassing terror felt by some new mothers.
‘The Push‘, although being fiction, taps into the fears that many women experience when they become mothers: am I supposed to feel like this? Am I doing this right? Am I good enough? Is my child … ok? Normal?
This explosive novel explores subjects that still remain taboo: the pain and discomfort around breastfeeding, post-natal depression and how your relationship with your partner changes after the arrival of a baby. Yes, this novel takes those elements to the extreme but there certainly were scenes that had me nodding firmly in recognition.
Audrain has weaved natural fears around motherhood into this perfectly pitched novel, leaving the reader unsure whether they can believe what they’re being told.
Interspersed across three different timelines, this layered story is absorbing, emotional and terrifying, some might say like motherhood itself. Featuring complex, nuanced characters, ‘The Push‘ will leave ice running through your veins long after you have turned the final page.
There were scenes that left me feeling physically sick with fear, my emotions completely in Audrain’s thrall. I also wept repeatedly when reading this book thanks to the powerful nature of the prose combined with an utterly intoxicating plot.
I think ‘The Push‘ is thekind of bookour society needs. It is definitely a great choice for a book club – it will generate conversation and no doubt some controversy but I genuinelythink it will open the minds of those who read it. This novel isn’t just about the relationship a mother has with her child but also those around her – from her partner to strangers – and the expectations that are placed on her as a result.
My thanks to Emily for taking the time to chat to me during these very strange times.
Tell us about your books. My debut, If I Die Before I Wake, is a psychological thriller about a man with locked-in syndrome, who discovers that the accident which put him in hospital was no such thing – someone tried to kill him. My second novel, Keep Him Close, just came out and it’s more of a dark domestic drama than a thriller. It’s about the friendship between a woman whose son has died and the mother of the boy accused of his murder.
What inspired them? If I Diewas inspired by a news item I heard on the radio one day about someone in a coma. It made me wonder about the family around that person, and what they were doing with their lives. Keep Him Closewas inspired by the prison I live near to in Bristol. Some houses back on to the prison wall – it is surrounded on all sides by residential streets. I started thinking about what you’d do if you lived close to it and there was someone inside who had done something terrible to your family. How would you cope with that proximity?
What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)? When people read something I’ve written and get it. Sometimes that’s my editor, or a friend – but often I get the best feeling of connection from a totally unknown reader. With both books I’ve had reviews online, sometimes only a few lines, that have made me feel – yes, you really got what I was trying to do. I love those moments! I dislike the constant self-doubt, but I try not to listen to that voice in my head too much.
Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment? Ha! Yes, I do find some time, but not a lot at the moment with two kids to run around after. I’ve just started Such a Fun Ageby Kiley Reid.
Where do you get your ideas from? All sorts of places! Newspapers, radio news items, things I hear people say out and about, and the usual ‘what if…?’ situations that I think most people have running through their heads. Writers just know how to notice these and harness them. I firmly believe we all have great ideas – it’s knowing how to spot them and develop them that writers do more than most others.
Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written? The ending of my debut is my favourite section I’ve written. It’s hard to talk about without giving the plot away! There’s also a scene in Keep Him Closewhere Alice, the mother of the dead boy Lou, is out in her garden looking at the prison wall with her surviving son, Benny. I loved writing that scene, and what they do in it to deal with their grief and anger at Kane, the young man in the prison accused of murdering Lou.
What are you working on at the moment? Coming up with an idea for my third novel! Or, rather, developing it. I have the basic premise and I’m really excited about it – now it’s just a matter of fleshing it out bit by bit.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)? Just keep turning up at your desk – that’s what my lovely agent Peter Straus told me eighteen months ago when I was exhausted and full of the aforementioned self-doubt, trying to work on a second draft of Keep Him Closewhile running around after a toddler, and in the first trimester of my second pregnancy. He said I just had to keep chipping away at the novel, day after day, and it would come together. It did!
Are you a plotter or a pantster? Plotter. I love a good spreadsheet to plan out my novels. I find the planning part of the process incredibly fun and creative – and I feel confident when I start writing because I know the plot is solid.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Keep reading, keep writing – it’s basic but so true. Get some friends who are writing, too.
What’s been your proudest writing-related moment? When my mum texted me to tell me she’d finished If I Die Before I Wakeand said she’d loved it.
OK, so COVID-19 is a thing and the UK is enforcing social distancing – thank goodness. With that in mind, lots of bloggers are trying to help people get through the partial ‘lockdown’ with book recommendations as well as introducing you to some new authors.
As part of that, I’ve decided to resurrect my ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’ series.
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 it’s the turn of Philippa East to tell us about how her work as a clinical psychologist helped her writer ‘Little White Lies‘. My thanks to Philippa for sharing her experience with us.
Stay safe, everyone.
I first got the idea for Little White Lies when I caught a snippet of a news story on TV – a teenage girl in Spain had disappeared then re-appeared a few weeks later, all under mysterious circumstances. There were many question marks over the case: had she been abducted, or was something else going on? The TV showed the family in a courtroom and I found myself thinking – what on earth are these people feeling now? Do they trust each other at all?
I knew I wanted to write a book about a missing child, I also knew there was a solid precedent of popular books on the shelves exploring this topic. But as a psychologist and therapist, I have always cared most about the pieces of the story that never usually get told. Tragically, children go missing all the time; I was fascinated by what might happen once a missing child came home.
But what did I really know about this topic? Heartbreakingly, cases of children being found alive months or years after their disappearance are incredibly rare. My story started where most other ‘missing person’ books ended. So how on earth was I going to write about that?
The question really quite stumped me until I realised that, while I had never been involved in a real-life case like Abigail’s in Little White Lies, maybe I did have expertise that could help me, via my work with adult survivors of childhood trauma. In Little White Lies, against all odds, Abigail has escaped and survived her abduction. In the same way, the clients who I was seeing in my work had (physically) survived their childhood experiences. For both Abigail and my clients, a whole new journey would now begin.
Little White Lies is about a family trying to heal after the very worst of traumas. The book focuses on the relationship between Abigail and her family – her mother Anne especially – both before and after her abduction. The more I wrote, the more I found myself delving into issues of responsibility and guilt, the instinctive desire to avoid what is most painful, and the healing power of acknowledging what went wrong – all themes I had encountered many times in my therapy work. Little White Lies went through many, many drafts as I wrote it, but it was when these themes came together as the heart of the novel that I was able to shape the story into the book you’ll read today.
These days, I am struck time and again by how much being a writer and being a psychologist have in common. Both therapy and writing are all about words and narratives; these truly are the “tools of our trade”. In both fiction writing and in the process of therapy, we share and absorb stories in order to make sense of the world, and try to understand our own complicated human natures. And both characters in stories and the clients in my practice go on profound journeys of change.
Looking back now, I wonder whether I would ever have had the confidence to write Little White Lies without my background in psychology. To be honest, I am not sure that I would!
Christmas is ruined on Newbury Street, Norwich, following a spate of burglaries. Rumours are swirling that the thief may even live on the street. Instead of festive cheer, the residents are filled with suspicion and dread.
The police have increased their presence on Newbury Street and as Christmas creeps closer, their investigations reveal that everyone has something to hide.
But Christmas is a time for miracles… and if they open up their hearts and look out for each other, they might discover the biggest miracle of all.
Hayley Webster has written a lovely book with believable characters that the reader roots for. I really enjoyed the fact that ‘One Christmas Night‘ combines a mystery with heartwarming subplots.
As the story went on, I got more and more involved in the lives of these characters. I really admire that Webster manages to move the reader without being overly-sentimental.
Although it’s an easy read, ‘One Christmas Night‘ tackles serious subjects like racism, fraud and coercive control. I haven’t read a book with such a compelling cast of characters since ‘The Casual Vacancy‘.
Unemployment and bankruptcy have devastated the globe but in America, online store Cloud offers workers paid opportunities as well as homes in their live-work facilities. Spearheaded by a charismatic CEO, Cloud has branded itself as something of a saviour but underneath the supposed wonder of Cloud, something sinister is lurking.
Entrepreneur Paxton never thought he’d be working for the company that ruined his business but compared to what’s left outside, he figures perhaps Cloud isn’t so bad. When he meets fellow Cloud employee Zinnia, Paxton begins to thank his lucky stars but Zinnia has her eyes on another prize: Paxton’s all-access security pass.
As Paxton and Zinnia’s agendas place them on a collision course, they’re about to learn just how far the Cloud will go to make the world a better place.
It’s fairly clear that Rob Hart has written ‘The Warehouse‘ as a comment on a number of multinational corporations and the abuse they visit on their employees as well as small businesses and entrepreneurs who they regard as competition. ‘The Warehouse‘ might be set in a dystopian future but it’s very easy to see how we could get there.
Hart has created a number of characters who are believable and easy to empathise with. I especially respected his ability to write one particularly abhorrent character who works as the perfect metaphor for Cloud.
Weaving the backstory of Cloud, as told by its charming CEO, alongside Zinnia’s and Paxton’s stories ensures that the reader is kept intrigued throughout this story of corporate espionage in a world where everyone has their own agenda.
Jared Keaton, chef to the stars, is charming, charismatic and a psychopath. He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found but Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.
So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.
Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?
And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.
Regular readers of the blog will know that I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ by M.W. Craven (you can check out my review here) and was dying to read ‘Black Summer‘. Thanks to the generosity of M.W. Craven, who I have been fortunate enough to interview twice this year, I got an advance copy of ‘Black Summer‘.
I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ so much that I thought Craven had given himself a tough job in trying to top it but I shouldn’t have worried: ‘Black Summer‘ is an absolute triumph. As with the first Washington Poe novel, Craven evokes locations perfectly, using the beauty of the Lake District in contrast to the brutality of the crimes Poe is investigating.
The relationship between Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, his brilliant but socially awkward colleague, has progressed since the first book in the series as the pair continue to be an investigative dream team. Craven’s ability to balance drama with humour is testament to his skill as a writer. Bradshaw and Poe’s friendship often provides some light relief when things get really dark.
One of the most impressive elements of ‘Black Summer‘ is the character of Jared Keaton who is one of the most repugnant villains I think I have ever encountered. The back and forth between Poe and Keaton is well-written with their conflict leading to Poe finding himself in a jam that may prove too difficult even for him to get out of .
M.W. Craven’s Washington Poe series continues to get stronger.
I’d heard great things about ‘Help Me!‘ and decided to give it a read on the run-up to the new year – what better time to consider a little self-improvement, right?
Marianne Power wanted to improve her life. Sick of out-of-control debt, Netflix binges, anxiety and hangovers, she turned to the tomes that have lined her bookshelves for years. Marianne wanted a perfect life where she floated around town, full of energy and happiness, on the arm of her dream man. She made vision boards and sent her dreams out to the universe. She did yoga and drank green things. But did any of it really make her happier?
I absolutely adored this book. Marianne writes in such an engaging way that I could not put it down. Although it is non-fiction, ‘Help Me!‘ is written in such a way that it reads like the best kind of chick lit novel.
The concept initially seems like it’s going to provide a lot of laughs – and it does – but the real surprise for me was how honest Power was about the process and its impact on her life. She laid everything bare – even the parts that didn’t paint her in the most positive light. Not only did I chuckle through ‘Help Me!‘ but I wept during some of it, too. This book went way beyond my expectations.
I felt like I had found a new friend in Marianne. I was rooting for Marianne throughout the book despite, sometimes, also being massively frustrated with her. I totally identified with her and a lot of the issues she was experiencing are ones me and my friends have been through too. This book is about the struggle to find happiness and realising that perfection is a myth.
When I went to Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Festival earlier this year, I saw a lot of buzz flying around about a book called ‘She Lies in Wait‘ so I made it my goal that weekend to get my mitts on a copy. I had to Twitter-stalk the author, Gytha Lodge, but I managed it!
I will be reviewing ‘She Lies in Wait‘ in 2019 but I can tell you guys that you will want to read this novel.
My thanks to Gytha, one of my newest chums, for taking the time to review her 2018.
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I’ve had such a strange and wonderful year, the pinnacle of which was probably back in January when I was offered a three-book contract with Michael Joseph of Penguin for the first three instalments in a mystery series. It’s been my very focused ambition for the last twenty years, ever since I first wrote an awful novel when I should have been doing work at school. Other great moments have included the US rights selling shortly afterwards, but it was that initial offer that felt like a dream come true.
And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
There have been lots, so I think I’m pretty lucky just now. My 8-year-old starting a new school and suddenly loving learning again was pretty epic, I have to say. That first day when he came home and said “Loved it” after a year of being miserable was amazing.
Favourite book in 2018?
THIS IS SO DIFFICULT!! I was very lucky to read several that come out next year, and I think two of those may have won out. Those are The Whisper Manby Alex North, a deliciously creepy thriller, and The Glass Womanby Caroline Lea, which is like a 1600s Icelandic Rebecca. Wonderful.
It’s not at all new, but I love A Town Called Malice by The Jam as a pick-me-up. It gets me in such a good writing mood, and having been editing a book set in 1983, it was pretty perfect.
Any downsides for you in 2018?
I had flu for the first time, and just recently managed to spend a full six weeks ill. Both of these sucked, particularly as I missed a lot of rowing coaching and fitness training of my own, and now feel like the least fit person on the planet. Always a blow to the self-esteem… I’ve countered this by spending obscene amounts of money on make-up and trying to work out how to contour. Which generally ends with me looking like I have sideburns. Win!
Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I’m never that great on resolutions. I think I might try to manage my work/down-time balance a bit better to avoid the ills again.
What are you hoping for from 2019?
Lots of book sales, please please!! I’m sure I should say something much more humble or less egocentric, but one of my creative writing tutors always said to aim high, as otherwise, how will you find the energy to keep going when it’s tough? So with that in mind, I’m thinking “An Oscar for the screenplay I adapted from my own book.” Ha! You don’t get much bigger than that!
More realistically, I’m hoping that I’ll have a lot of fun and not worry about anyone giving me a one-star review, or any other stuff that doesn’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things. I’m happy just to live the dream and hopefully get plenty of time around that to play RPG games with my 8-year-old. Bliss.
Nick Quantrill is a regular end of year reviewer and I’ve got to say only good boys and girls get invited back onto this blog! Seriously, though, I’ve known Nick for many years now and he’s an absolute gem. It’s my pleasure to have Nick here to review his year, and what a year it’s been!
Thanks, Nick, for always being a willing participant.
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018? I absolutely do! I started the year working on a novel I wasn’t sure would necessarily have a home, and I was probably struggling with it because of that. Unexpectedly, the rights to my Joe Geraghty trilogy reverted to me in the summer and the ace Fahrenheit Press scooped them up. It’s given me the impetus to revisit Joe and I’m hard at work on the fourth in the trilogy…
And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally? It’s been grim times for my football teams, Hull City and North Ferriby United, but I hugely enjoyed the World Cup. My seven-year-old daughter is football mad, too, so we watched a lot of it together. We also had a family holiday to New York, which was pretty memorable.
Favourite book in 2018? As ever, I’ve read loads of brilliant books this year. If I was picking an absolute favourite, I’d have to go for November Road by Lou Berney. Set against the backdrop of the John F Kennedy assassination, it’s part-noir, part-road trip, part-redemptive tale. I also loved Eva Dolan’s This Is How It Ends and Joseph Knox’s The Smiling Man. Looking to 2019, I was lucky enough to read Blood and Sugar, a fantastic debut due out in January from Laura Shepherd-Robinson.
Favourite film in 2018? I’m not a huge film watcher (does Alvin and the Chipmunks with my daughter count?), but I do love a good boxset. Dysfunctional families seems to be a theme, as I really enjoyed Succession and Trust.
Favourite song of the year? Sticking to being a bit old-fashioned, I love my vinyl, so tend to think about albums rather than individual songs. Like books, the list could go on and on, but I’ll go for Merrie Land by The Good, The Bad and The Queen. It’s Damon Albarn’s Brexit album and it’s all a bit unsettling, weird and discomforting. Whatever vehicle he uses, he’s always interesting.
Any downsides for you in 2018? See above – Brexit. I’m not having it. What a state of affairs…
Are you making resolutions for 2019? Nope. I’ve never liked them, or believe you need to wait for an arbitrary date to start something. That said, the usual… bit more exercise, bit less caffeine etc …
What are you hoping for from 2019? I’m well on with Geraghty 4, so all being well, it’ll see the light of day in 2019. Lots of plots floating around in my head, so looking forward to writing more of them. Away from the writing, but complimenting it, I hope we get to put on Hull Noir again next November. Watch this space re our funding bid.