Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Historical Crime Fiction, Murder Mystery, Mystery, New Books, Suspense

The Distant Dead Lesley Thomson 5*#Review @LesleyJmThomson @HoZ_Books #TheDetectivesDaughter @Aria_Fiction #BlogTour #BookReview #TheDistantDead #MurderMystery #Mystery #Blitz1940 Q&A

A woman lies dead in a bombed-out house. A tragic casualty of the Blitz? Or something more sinister?

Cleaner-turned-detective Stella Darnell connects a murder in Tewkesbury Abbey to a decades-old mystery in wartime London. From the number 1 bestselling author of The Detective’s Daughter.

LONDON, 1940

Several neighbours heard the scream of the woman in the bombed-out house. One told the detective she thought the lady had seen a mouse. Another said it wasn’t his business what went on behind closed doors. None of them imagined that a trusting young woman was being strangled by her lover.

TEWKESBURY, 2020

Beneath the vast stone arches of Tewkesbury Abbey, a man lies bleeding, close to death. He is the creator of a true-crime podcast which now will never air. He was investigating the murder of a 1940s police pathologist – had he come closer to the truth than he realised?

Stella Darnell has moved to Tewkesbury to escape from death, not to court it. But when this man dies in her arms, Stella, impelled to root out evil when she finds it, becomes determined to hunt down his killer and to bring the secrets he was searching for into the light…

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I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

The Detective Daughter series delivers an original twist on the classic murder mystery genre. Stella, the detective’s daughter, has a cleaning business and a detective agency with an eclectic mix of employees. The main protagonists are believably eccentric and flawed. This story reads well as a standalone, but the series is addictive and engaging and worth reading in its entirety.

This dual timeline story explores a wartime murder during the London blitz and murder in Tewkesbury in 2019. The connections between the two stories are revealed in a suspenseful way and involve Stella, Jack and the other team members across London and Tewkesbury.

The recent murders are catalysed by The Death Cafe, a group that discusses death that Stella is drawn to. The story has important character development for the main protagonists in addition to the well-plotted murder mystery.

Evocative with vivid sensory imagery, the reader is drawn into a world of deceit and murder that is chilling and disturbing. The historical and contemporary are interwoven convincingly and give the story its classic murder mystery ethos.

This story’s atmospheric settings and vibrant characters elevate the simple murder mystery into something that resonates.

Q&A : Lesley Thomson

What inspired you to write about a blitz murder?

I spent first part of 2020 clearing and sorting stuff in the attic in preparation of moving. I unearthed a photocopy of a message that Jose Wahlberg, a convicted Nazi spy, wrote to my grandfather – who I never knew – the night before Wahlberg was hanged Pentonville Prison in 1940. My mum had showed me the cigarette packet on the back of which Jose Wahlberg had thanked my grandfather for his kindness. Mum would reflect on how hard it must have been for her dad ,  prison officer, to comfort the young man hours before his death. On the  internet I found newspaper articles about Wahlberg’s capture and how the British were treating spies and, as often happens point of inspiration takes me somewhere else.

In The Distant Dead, I mention the incident in passing, I was inspired to explore 1940 London in which my mum and her family had lived. Blackouts, the deafening roar of planes, the massive thuds as bombs fell and the constant smell of burning. The murder rate went up and, with a depleted police force, fewer were solved. You could pass off a murder victim as a bombing casualty. Stuck in Lockdown, I found key similarities between 1940 and our own restricted lives.  Even the slogan – We’re all in it together – was the same.  This was enough for me to find a bridge to the past.

Did you undertake any research with this novel?

I read books on the Home-front including a doorstop-sized biography of Churchill by Andrew Roberts, I devoured published diaries by women living through the Blitz. Newspapers of the time were fascinating as were the propaganda films made by British Government agencies such as Fires Were Started and Britain Can Take it.’ Tewkesbury Abbey was my other inspiration and long before I started The Distant Dead, I had spent many hours there. I was sorry not to be able to visit in 2020.

Out of the entire Detective Daughter’s series, which one was your favourite to write and why?

For me, I think it’s up to the reader to have a favourite novel.  Were you to have asked me this question each year, starting when Ghost Girl came out, I’d tell you the same. This novel. I relish steeping myself in the world of my story, honing my writing ability and creating new characters and ideas. I want each novel to be my best yet. Therefore, The Distant Dead is my current favourite and I loved every minute of working on it right to proof stage.  

If you could have any job in the world (other than an author), what would it be and why?

I’d want something that involves long drives in a nice car, preferably a Jeep, with music playing. I used imagine being a taxi driver, but these days I’d rather be alone in the car to think or sing raucously and out of tune to, for instance Robbie Williams’s Angels or say, True along with Spandau Ballet. So if there were a job, which involves delivering Jeeps to far-flung corners of the country and back, I would apply.

What are you currently working on at the moment?

I’m writing The Companion, a standalone set in Sussex, featuring a disparate bunch of oddballs who live in a stately home converted into luxury apartments. There’s a serial killer at large – dubbed the media, The Family Man  – due to the victim profile. This means that an ever watchful fear and suspicion pervades the mood of the community. Is it him, is it her? Who can you trust? As ever with my novels, I hope The Companion will offer the reader frissons of dread and unease laced with laugh out loud moments.

What can we expect to see from Stella next?

In 2023, I hope. She’s already knocking at my door with another mystery…

Lesley Thomson

Lesley Thomson is the author of the Detective’s Daughter series of West London-set mysteries featuring private investigators Stella, a cleaner, and Jack, a tube driver. The first novel, The Detective’s Daughter, became an ebook phenomenon in 2013, staying at number 1 in the digital charts for 3 months. Since then, the series has gone on to sell 800,000 copies worldwide. Lesley is an active member of the UK crimewriting community, and appeared at several crime festivals in 2019, including CrimeFest, Harrogate, Morecambe & Vice and Capital Crime. She lives in Lewes with her partner and her dog

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Posted in Adventure Fiction, Author Guest Post, Author Interview, Fantasy, Guest post, New Books, Release Day Spotlight

The Wolf Mile C.F.Barrington #GuestPost #Author #interview @barrington_cf @HoZ_Books @AriesFiction #Adventure #Fiction #Fantasy #publicationday #TheWolfMile

Today is publication day for The Wolf Mile by C.F.Barrington by Aries Fiction, the adventure fiction imprint of Head of Zeus Books. The first in a series of five books this promises something different for the adventure fiction market.

A forbidden contest. An international game.

Bankrolled by the world’s wealthy elite and followed by thousands online, two teams of warriors vie for dominance … and the streets of Edinburgh run with blood.

Into this secret struggle steps Tyler Maitland, seeking his lost sister, and Lana Cameron, grieving her dead child. When they are accosted by figures in black hoodies and each handed a silver amulet, they recognise the Triple Horn of Odin – the talisman of the Valhalla Horde.

They are being recruited into the great game known as The Pantheon. And one day they will change everything.

Now they must risk their lives and join the ranks of seven ancient warrior teams which inhabit this illicit world. Their journey will be more wondrous and horrifying than anything they could have dreamed, taking each of them to the depths of their souls … and testing them to breaking point as they search for loved ones and for the meaning in their lives.

Let the Season begin.

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An Interview with C.F.Barrington

Which of your books are we discussing and why?

I thought your readers might like to hear about my debut novel – The Wolf Mile – which is being launched by Head of Zeus adventure imprint, Aries Fiction, on 6 May (digital) and 8 August (paperback). It is the first in a five-book saga about The Pantheon, with Book 2 (The Blood Isles) launching in October 2021 and Book 3 (The Hastening Storm) coming in spring 2022.

I’ve chosen it because the story – and indeed the genre – has sparked much discussion amongst my early readers, because it is hard to pin into a single category and defies my many attempts to condense it into a snappy teaser. The most concise description came from one of my advance readers, who said it was ‘Fight Club with swords’. I’ll take that! And my agent (Laura Macdougall at United Agents) said it had ‘elements of The Hunger Games’ when she first read it.

What inspired you to write The Wolf Mile?

Photo Credit C.F.Barrington

It is a story which is first and foremost inspired by a sense of place. Apart from a sojourn into the forests of the Highlands, the book’s action all takes place in the closes, tunnels and rooftops which flow from the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Indeed, it was Edinburgh’s Old Town which really allowed the story to manifest. The dark, malevolent history of the Old Town and its stunning architecture and rumours of tunnels and secret passages, set my mind ticking. I am sure that the whole concept of The Pantheon could not have come together if it had not been for my life in and around Edinburgh.

The story was also prompted by two other factors: Firstly, I had always wanted to take my love of historical fiction and coax it into a modern thriller – without going down the well-trodden route of some sort of time-travel. Secondly, after a career spent in major gift fundraising for charities and universities, I had communicated with many very wealthy individuals and I got to wondering what makes someone excited when they can buy everything? As the book asks….. Imagine riches beyond your wildest dreams. What would you do with them? Travel the world? Buy a yacht? Now times it by ten.  A hundred. We’re talking mega-wealth – the kind that buys governments, shapes economies, enervates security forces and makes a mockery of justice systems. NOW what would you do with it? Less certain?

In ancient times, the wealthy of Rome spent their money and energies on forsaking human life in the gladiatorial stadia – and that’s where the concept of The Pantheon grew from in my head.

The Wolf Mile charts the rise of Tyler Maitland and Lana Cameron as they are plucked from their normal lives to become players in The Pantheon, a secret game bankrolled by the world’s wealthy elite and watched online by thousands. Warriors from seven ancient civilisations are trained, sworn to allegiance, then pitted against each other in battles amongst the claustrophobic alleys which flow from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and filmed in real-time.

Set in today’s city, this is very much a modern thriller, but it mixes elements of historical fiction, as well as a sweeping romance over the five-book series, which takes the protagonists from friends, to sworn enemies and finally to lovers. So when Aries came along and declared it was, above all, adventure fiction, it was perfect – because this is exactly what the saga is: A twisting, turning, relentless adventure with a big cast of characters, which propels the protagonists on a journey more horrifying and wondrous than they could ever have dreamed, into a world which perhaps we all secretly wish we experience.  

Photo Credit C.F.Barrington

Comments so far include:

‘The Wolf Mile is a thrilling ride and a heck of a debut. C F Barrington knocks it out the park.’

‘Featuring two compelling yet flawed lead characters, an intriguing mystery and unrelenting action, I can’t wait to see where Mr Barrington takes us in the future.’

‘It is a very cool idea and I think if done right will become one of my favourite secret societies.’

‘Get ready for a rip-roaring adventure through the streets of Edinburgh – The Wolf Mile is the perfect escapist read!’

Photo Credit C.F.Barrington

I’ve included some photos of the Old Town which have helped inspire me. One evening before the pandemic, a friend and I toured the Old Town cameras in hand. We ended up climbing onto buildings and lying in the middle of roads, getting carried away discovering the dark, brooding essence of The Pantheon. It was great fun and hopefully the images provide a taste of what to expect in The Wolf Mile.

C.F. Barrington

C F Barrington spent twenty years intending to write a novel, but found life kept getting in the way. Instead, his career took him into major gift fundraising, leading teams in organisations as varied as the RSPB, Oxford University and the National Trust.

When his role as Head of Communications at Edinburgh Zoo meant a third year of fielding endless media enquiries about the possible birth of a baby panda, he finally retreated to a quiet desk beside the sea and discovered the inspiration for the Pantheon saga.

Raised in Hertfordshire and educated at Oxford, he now divides his time between running over the hills of the Lake District and dog walking on the beaches of Fife.

My website is www.cfbarrington.com –  and provides lots of visuals and backstory about Edinburgh’s Old Town.

I can also be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BarringtonCFAuthor ; Twitter at https://twitter.com/barrington_cf ; and Instagram (which shows lots of my hill-running adventures with my spaniel, Albie) at https://www.instagram.com/cfbarrington_notwriting

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Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Family Drama, Travel

Villa of Sun and Secrets Jennifer Bohnet 5* #Review @jenniewriter @BoldwoodBooks #boldwoodblogtour #multigenerational #familydrama #SouthofFrance #audiobook #VillaofSunandSecrets @rararesources

It’s never too late to live the dream…

Carla Sullivan’s 50th birthday is fast approaching when her whole world is turned upside down. Discovering her feckless husband is having yet another affair and following her mother’s death, she is in need of an escape. Finding an envelope addressed to her mother’s estranged sister Josette in the South of France gives Carla the perfect plan.

Seizing the moment, she packs her bags and heads to Antibes to seek out the enigma known as Tante Josette. But as the two women begin to forge a tentative relationship, family secrets start to unravel, forcing Carla to question her life as she has always known it.

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I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

I read the digital book in 2019. The audiobook edition brings the characters to life in an engaging way. Carla’s character is easy to empathise, as she comes to terms with her family’s secrets. The narrator differentiates between the different characters and genres believably. This story is easy to listen to and perfect to escape with.

The author’s knowledge and love of France come through clearly in this story. The setting is vivid, beautiful, and sometimes in sharp contrast to the revelations at the villa.

This is a multi-generational family drama. Carla’s life isn’t easy, an unfaithful husband, looking after her sick mother, and an empty nest, something needs to change. Uncharacteristically she takes an opportunity to visit Antibes and her estranged aunt.

Forgiveness, love, relationships and secrets, are interwoven into this engaging story. It’s a chance to see an ending as a new beginning. The issues explored are emotionally draining, but the outcome is hopeful and makes the angst worthwhile.

The characters are flawed, sometimes they lack the courage to take the first step to something better, but they are easy to empathise and believable. The setting is a lovely contrast to the drama and emotions, and the story’s ending is heartwarming.

Jennifer Bohnet is the bestselling author of over 14 women’s fiction titles, including Villa of Sun and Secrets and A Riviera Retreat. She is originally from the West Country but now lives in the wilds of rural Brittany, France.

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Posted in Author Interview, Historical Fiction

Fortress of Fury Matthew Harffy #Q&A #author #interview @MatthewHarffy @AriesFiction @HoZ_Books #histfic #FortressofFury #TheBerniciaChronicles #AngloSaxonHistorical

The Bernicia Chronicles Book 7

Beobrand is besieged in the action-packed instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles set in AD 647 Anglo-Saxon Britain.

War hangs heavy in the hot summer air as Penda of Mercia and his allies march into the north. Caught unawares, the Bernician forces are besieged within the great fortress of Bebbanburg.

It falls to Beobrand to mount the defence of the stronghold, but even while the battle rages, old and powerful enemies have mobilised against him, seeking vengeance for past events.

As the Mercian forces tighten their grip and unknown killers close in, Beobrand finds himself in a struggle with conflicting oaths and the dreadful pull of a forbidden love that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.

With the future of Northumbria in jeopardy, will Beobrand be able to withstand the powers that beset him and find a path to victory against all the odds?

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Q&A with Matthew Harffy- Fortress of Fury

What inspired you to write The Bernicia Chronicles and Fortress of Fury?

As with all of the Bernicia Chronicles, Fortress of Fury is inspired by real historical events that are documented in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and Bede’s History of the English Church and People. I find an interested event around which I can entwine Beobrand’s (the protagonist) story. In the case of Fortress of Fury, it is the attack on Bebbanburg by Penda of Mercia.

Why does this period in history appeal to you?

Seventh century Britain is a time of great turmoil and the island is like a continent in microcosm with all of its small kingdoms. The Germanic people have settled in the east and are pushing westward, displacing the native Britons. The Angles and Saxons also vie for power with each other, with frequent battles between the warring kingdoms. On top of all of that, two strands of Christianity (the Irish and the Roman) are also seeking to conquer the hearts and minds of the population, and defeat the old gods and superstitious ways of the people.

Conflict is needed to tell good stories, and the seventh century has it in spades.

Northumbria is the setting for Fortress of Fury, why is it the perfect location for the book?

It is the location of the real-life events, of course. But more than that, it has become Beobrand’s adopted home and all of his loved ones now live there. Despite his differences with his king, Northumbria is now Beobrand’s land and he will fight for it and for its people till his dying breath.

How did you research the historical period for this book?

I have done a lot of reading since starting the first book in the series, The Serpent Sword, nearly twenty years ago. So I have a clear feeling of the time and the place of the novels now. As mentioned, I glean what I can from the primary sources and then, as I come across specifics I am not sure on while writing the first draft (like types of tree, food, clothing, names of lesser characters, etc.), I make a note, and then research those details while editing and polishing the draft.

What type of books do you like to read? Why is this?

I like historical fiction, westerns and fantasy and really any good book. Increasingly, I enjoy reading non-fiction, often autobiographies. I think this is because I am drawn to stories of strong characters and by definition, autobiographies give an interesting window into memorable people.

What is the best thing about being a writer? Is there anything you do not like?

I love being able to tell the stories I would like to read, and also hearing from people that my stories have resonated with in some way. This is the ultimate thrill for any writer, I think; to know that your writing has connected and impacted someone.

I dislike how long it takes to finish a novel, then edit it and get it published! And I really hate the feeling of always having pressure to write the next book and to make it better than the last! The struggle is real!

Can you tell us a little about The Bernicia Chronicles series so far? Is there going to be another book in this series?

The first in the series is The Serpent Sword and it takes place in AD633. Beobrand begins as a young man with nothing but a desire to find a place in the world and a strong sword arm. He starts the series searching for his brother and fleeing a dark past. He soon finds himself embroiled in the struggles for the kingdoms of Bernicia and Northumbria.

Over the course of the novels he faces many foes and aligns himself with several lords and kings. He finds and loses love, and is never far from the action. His life is fraught with danger.

By the seventh book, Fortress of Fury, Beobrand is a lord in his own right with land and a warband. And the dangers he faces are more fearsome than ever!

I am currently writing book eight (currently untitled) in the series and I think there will be at least three or four more after that if people keep reading them!

Matthew Harffy

Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters

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Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Noir, Psychological Thriller, Suspense

No Smoke Without Fire Claire S. Lewis 4*#Review @CSLewisWrites @Aria_Fiction #Psychological #suspense #Noir #Crime #CrimeFiction #BlogTour #BookReview Q&A

You can’t run forever…

Celeste has been running from her past for seven years. But now her past has found her.

For seven years, Celeste has battled her guilt and shame over the tragic events that led to her little brother’s death. But when her high-school boyfriend comes back into her life just as she gains a stalker, she wonders if there’s more to the story than she realized.

Celeste is determined to discover the truth – but she’s about to find out that when you play with fire, you get burned…

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I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus – Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

This dark and twisty psychological thriller explores the effect of domestic crimes on the victim. Celeste’s past emotional trauma defines her. Cleverly written with a noir ethos and menacing undercurrents it is compelling reading.

The complex plot has many characters and differing timelines. The psychological detail is well- researched and adds to the story’s unpredictability. Its focus is on crimes that are difficult to read about it, but this element is vital to the plot and the action and motivations of the main character.

The story is rich in visual imagery that enhances the characters and events. It resonates and keeps you guessing right to the end.

Q&A with Claire S. Lewis- No Smoke Without Fire.

Thank you so much Jane, for inviting me to Q&A on your wonderful website and for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts in response to your fascinating and perceptive questions. 

No Smoke Without Fire explores humanity’s darker side, how do achieve balance in your plot between noir and lighter moments?

You are so right that No Smoke Without Fire explores the darker side of humanity. At the core of the plot there’s a family tragedy and a rape that together propel the damaged protagonist, Celeste, on a journey that will not have a happy ending nor bring redemption to any of the characters. The novel touches on bleak themes of patriarchy and female oppression and explores ideas of victim shaming and the ways in which false, repressed and recovered memories can alter perceptions of morality and the truth. So, there are undoubtedly dark elements to the novel. But as you suggest in your question, I have tried to create a balance between noir and lighter moments. For example, death is ever-present, not least in the sense that Celeste’s online business venture (CelestialHeadstones.com) involves delivering memorial flowers to headstones in graveyards. On the other hand, she is a florist and the scenes in the florist shop, Seventh Heaven, provide opportunities for vivid colour and brightness which contrast with the mournful descriptions of cemeteries. Even on Celeste’s visits to graveyards, I have tried to give a contrast of shade and sunlight. Some of these take place at night, when ghostly shadows of the statues of black angels seem to trip her up. Others take place in glorious spring sunshine when her heart is lifted by the sights and sounds of nature bursting into bloom and teeming with new life. The relationships between the characters also provide a balance in the plot between noir and lighter moments – the opening scenes at a Cuban nightclub and scenes at Celeste’s flat where she enjoys flirtation and fun and light banter with her friends, contrasting with the darkness of oppressive and abusive encounters between Celeste and her father and teenage boyfriend in the flashback sections, for example, or the sinister scenes involving Celeste’s stalker. I have quite a visual imagination, and I find the use of colour very effective in creating this balance. In the opening nightclub scene and the florist scenes, I focus on the colour red – Celeste’s red dress, the red mood lighting on the dance floor, the vivid red of the Valentine roses – whereas black and grey tones help to create an atmosphere of melancholia or menace in other scenes. Settings can also be used to create light in the narrative, and I hope that the descriptions of the beautiful city of Cambridge and picturesque towns in the Surrey hills, have this effect in No Smoke Without Fire.

This story, falls into the noir crime genre, what are the positives of writing this type of literature? Are there any negatives?

Characteristics such as the presence of violence; complex characters, plotlines and timelines; mystery; moral ambiguity and ambivalence – these all come into play in the noir crime genre and can be found in No Smoke Without Fire.  The positives of writing this kind of literature include the fact that characters are generally drawn in a way that is more nuanced, not two-dimensional, reflecting the real complexity of human relations in situations of conflict. The writer sets out the interplay between the characters without dictating moral judgements on their behaviour.  Readers are left to ponder and come to their own conclusions – or not. Like crime in real life situations, in this genre there is no simple black and white clear-cut line between right and wrong or between the goodies and the baddies. Again, in the real world, many crimes are never fully solved or only become solved after many years of investigation. There may always be a lingering doubt about the justice of a conviction or an acquittal. Even where the jury reaches a conclusion on innocence or guilt, the ‘standard of proof’ for such a ruling is not 100 percent certainty – the prosecution must prove its case ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. So fiction in the genre of crime noir which has the characteristic of moral ambiguity and allows the reader to ruminate on the rights and wrongs of the situations and the ‘truth’ or ‘integrity’ of the characters, is perhaps more interesting and a more authentic reflection of real life than stories which leave no room for doubt as to which character is the hero and which is the villain. I like the ‘smoke and mirrors’ aspect of the noir crime thriller in part because it feels truer to real life than the type of ‘whodunnit’ thriller in which all the loose ends are tied up neatly at the end. As for the negatives of writing in this style of fiction, one down-side may be that because the protagonists of noir fiction are a mix of good and bad, and a mix of selfish and altruistic motives etc, none of them are particularly likeable? Perhaps there are no heroes or champions or characters to engage or fall in love with? On the other hand, because the characters are nuanced and flawed this makes them in one sense more true-to-life and relatable.

You use flashbacks to give clues about the protagonist’s past, why do think this style of plotting works so well for psychological suspense?

I think the use of flashbacks is well suited to psychological suspense because it allows for the character to be gradually pieced together in a way which mirrors the way in which criminal trials gradually build up a picture of a defendant or of a crime scene by delving back into the past to gather evidence about a suspect and interviewing a number of witnesses. In the case of Celeste, I have portrayed her as a person who is very private about the tragedy in her past life when she was teenager and the sexual abuse that she suffered in the boathouse on the night that her little brother died. Seven years on, she has buried these traumas deep within her soul and she is trying to live a normal life as a single working young woman of twenty-four. If I had only the present timeline to tell the story it would be difficult to understand the reasons for which Celeste seeks revenge and for which CelestialHeadstones.com is so dear to her heart. The glimpses of Celeste’s backstory moving through her past allow me to gradually build up a picture of her troubled home life as a child (alcoholic mother, dysfunctional and aggressive father) and her sexually submissive relationship with Ben as a teenager, which helps the reader to understand the complexity of her character and perhaps to empathise with her behaviour and motivations in the main plot. The flashbacks also help to create the moral ambivalence that is characteristic of noir crime.

The plot has different timelines and an unreliable protagonist, do you plan your story in detail before writing? Can you give us an insight into your writing process?

I am not very good at planning which I find rather boring. I tend to launch straight in rather than plotting and mapping out scenes in detail before embarking on the writing. My starting point is a story idea – some situation or news item that sparks my interest and which I feel could be the basis of a good plot or the opening scene of a story but without really knowing how it will all play out. For No Smoke Without Fire (or ‘In Loving Memory’ as it was – in part ironically – called when I first thought up the idea and throughout the writing process) I did write a synopsis with an outline of the plot and an ending. As I write, I imagine the story spooling out like a film in my head and I think about what scene should be revealed next. My lack of planning does usually result in me having to do quite a bit of rearranging of chapters once I have more or less completed a first draft. In the case of No Smoke Without Fire for example, I did not write my backstory flashbacks in time order the first-time round. Instead I started with a date rape scene which was very central to the character development of Celeste. However, my editor advised that it was better to drop these backstory chunks into the main narrative in a chronological order as I already had a number of viewpoints and the lack of chronology in the flashbacks could be rather confusing for the reader.

Do you know how your story will end when you start to write? How easy is it to create an unexpected outcome for your characters? Have you any insights into the best way of creating a shock ending?

The ending I had in mind when I started to write the story is not the ending that made it to the final cut. The ending in my synopsis was inspired by my favourite Audrey Tatou French film ‘He Loves Me, He loves Me Not’, but I realised that in the novel form my planned ending would not work structurally and, moreover, I realised that the character of Celeste that I had written in the first half of the book was too sympathetic to allow for her transformation into an all-out psychopath as I had originally intended! When rethinking my ending, I wanted something that brought together all the characters in the novel as well as to some extent coming full circle to the opening page, whilst also being an unexpected outcome. I hope that the ending I have created is both a shock ending and one that will give pause for some reflection and pathos – but that’s for the readers and not for me to judge! As for insights into the best way of creating a shock ending – that is an interesting and difficult question. Obviously, the ending needs to follow naturally from what has gone before rather than being tacked on. Clues should be planted earlier in the story which once the shock ending has been delivered make the reader feel that there was a certain inevitability about it, so that on reflection the ending becomes believable as well as unexpected.

What surprises do you have instore for your next story?

My next story is also in the genre of psychological suspense and is set in post-pandemic north London and Tuscany. I am playing around with the idea of a ‘book-within-a-book’ along the lines of ‘Nocturnal Animals’. So, in addition to the uncertainty as to who did what, there will be an added uncertainty as to whether the secondary line of narration is intended to be true or imagined or a mixture of both.

Thank you again, Jane, for this lovely opportunity to take part in your Q&A!

Claire S. Lewis

Claire Simone Lewis studied philosophy, French literature and international relations at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge before starting her career in aviation law with a City law firm and later as an in-house lawyer at Virgin Atlantic Airways.  More recently, she turned to writing psychological suspense, taking courses at the Faber Academy. She’s Mine is her first novel. Born in Paris, she’s bilingual and lives in Surrey with her family. 

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Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Domestic Thriller, Family Drama, Mystery, Noir, Suspense

For Better, For Worse, Jane Isaac 4* #Review @Aria_Fiction @JaneIsaacAuthor #DCBethChamberlain #CrimeFiction #PsychologicalThriller #FamilyDrama #Domestic #noir #FamilyLiaisonOfficer #Author #Interview #BlogTour #BookReview #PoliceProcedural

Stuart Ingram was once a respected local councillor…

The first time the police knocked on Gina’s door, they arrested her husband.

The second time, they accused him of child abuse.

But he died a guilty man.

This time, the police are here for Gina – to tell her that her husband is dead. Murdered, just two weeks before his trial.

Gina always stood by her husband. Even when everyone else walked away. She believed the trial would clear his name. But now Stuart is dead.

And his wife is the suspect.

It’s a race against time for DC Beth Chamberlain to uncover the truth – especially when a second man turns up dead.

Domestic noir meets police procedural in this pacy thriller.

Previously published as Presumed Guilty.

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I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

Beth Chamberlain is a likeable, realistic character. Dedicated to her career, despite the problems in her personal life. As a family liaison officer, she needs great people skills and well-disguised investigative talent. She is uniquely placed to discover family tensions, and gain the trust of the victims’ relatives and find out the true story.

A historical suicide, a deliberate hit and run, which results in a man’s death. Emotions and suspense build, as the investigation proceeds. Further crimes, throw up more questions, than answers. The relentless investigation, finally finds the answers, leading to a devastating conclusion.

The story explores the concept of trial by social media, and the consequences, both personal and establishment, of this contemporary trend. The wife of the murdered man, who has stood by him, shows her strength of character in the face of public antagonism, against her late husband and her family.

The connection between the various crimes is cleverly interwoven. The police investigation is authentically portrayed. The domestic noir and suspense build gradually, giving the plot added depth and adding the ending’s impact.

Dark crime, complex characters and relatable police investigation team, make this addictive reading. Looking forward to the next one.

Author Interview – Jane Issacs – ‘For Better For Worst’ Blog Tour

Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog, Jane. I’m thrilled to be here!

Is there a particular event or person who inspired ‘For Better, For Worse’?

Ooh, I can’t say there was a particular event or person that inspired this story, more a combination of things I’ve read and watched in crime news and documentaries over the years. I was particularly struck with someone wrongly accused – or were they? Also, the challenge of being married to someone who holds a dark secret and when that secret is uncovered, the fallout of how they deal with it and ultimately how it affects the family unit.

The idea of a wife standing by her husband and the whole debate of did he/didn’t he seemed such an enticing project to work with.

 What comes first in your story creation process, character, plot or setting? Why do think this is?

I think it’s a combination of things that come in stages, like building blocks, and form the foundation of the story. Often one element influences another. For Better, For Worse is the second title in the DC Beth Chamberlain, Family Liaison Officer, series. Beth’s detective character and the setting of Northamptonshire were already established for the series, although I did have to research particular locations and site the new family. As the plot unravelled in my mind, I realised we needed another point of view in Gina Ingram (the councillor’s wife) and built her character into the story.

 Do you find dialogue easy to write? How do you create authentic-sounding dialogue in your novels?

I think dialogue can be very tricky to get right. I often imagine speaking it as I write and draft it without speech marks initially to avoid slowing myself down, then tidy it up later.

How do make you protagonists’ responses to a traumatic event believable?

Ooh, good question! Lots of research, talking to people who have been in the situation and reading in and around a similar event in the news or in books. Plus, I like to imagine myself in their shoes, if possible and see how I would react. Even after I’ve drafted a scene, I’ll come back to it and rewrite it several times before I’m completely happy.

Do you enjoy, or have time to read? What are your favourite genres?

Yes, I love to read and do so as much as I can. Crime fiction will always be my first love – I revel in the twists and turns of a good mystery, and love a page-turning psychological thriller. I recently read The Lying Room by Nicci French and couldn’t put it down!

That said, I do like to intersect my thrillers with other books. I’m currently reading The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd which is a beautifully written and uplifting literary novel.

Are there any other genres you would like to write in? If so, what are they, and why do they interest you?

I think the idea of creating your own fantasy world would be really interesting. I loved the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, though I’ve no plans to move at present!

Jane Isaac

Jane Isaac is married to a serving detective and they live in rural Northamptonshire UK with their daughter, and dog, Bollo. Jane loves to hear from readers and writers.

Sign up to her book club at http://eepurl.com/1a2uT for book recommendations and details of new releases, events and giveaways.

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Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Gangland Crime, ganglit, Thriller

Risking It All Stephanie Hart 4* #Review @Aria_Fiction @HoZ_Books @StephanieHarte3 #ganglit #crimefiction #thriller #London #BlogTour #Author #Interview #BookReview #PublicationDay

Gemma is about to risk it all for the man she loves. Will she survive entering into a life of crime?

Gemma has always been there for Nathan. He’s the love of her life and she made a commitment to him, one she’d never consider breaking… until smooth-talking gangster Alfie Watson comes into their lives and changes everything.

Alfie doesn’t care about true love – he wants Gemma, and the gangster always gets what he wants. When Nathan ends up owing him money, Alfie gets payback by recruiting Gemma to carry out a jewellery heist. To everyone’s surprise, she’s a natural. Until Alfie forgives Nathan’s debt, she has no choice but to accompany the gangster on more and more daring heists – even though one slip-up could cost her everything.

Nathan might have fallen under Alfie’s spell, but it doesn’t take long for him to realise that he needs to save Gemma from his own mistakes if their marriage is to have any chance of surviving. But when that means taking on the East End’s most notorious gangster at his own game, will he find himself up to the challenge?

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I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

Fast-paced and detailed, this ganglit novel follows Gemma and Nathan’s fall into crime. Is it because of Nathan’s mistake? Or does, gangland boss Alfie have a sinister agenda?

The violence is mostly implied, rather than implicit in this book, which is unusual for this genre. The underlying menace is always there, as the couple’s enforced stealing spree, takes in Europe’s most glamorous cities. Told, from the three main characters points of view, you gain insight into each characters’ motivations.

Gemma follows her heart, she gave up a lot for Nathan and continues to do so. She’s intelligent and you may wonder why she sticks with such a selfish man. Love makes fools of all of us, and Nathan is Gemma’s weakness.

Nathan is irritating. He says, he loves Gemma, but he continues to drag her down and lacks the insight, to see what he is doing. Seeing the events unfold from his point of view, you do understand why he behaves as he does, but he is weak, and hard to empathise.

Alfie is the archetypical hard guy. His agenda is the reason Gemma’s life is in turmoil, but she proves to be a challenge, which leads to some unexpected outcomes for him.

An interesting read, which opens the door for more stories of Gemma, Nathan and Alfie.

Author Interview: Stephanie Harte – Risking It All

What inspired you to write ‘Risking It All?

My inspiration for the novel came from an article I’d read about a man who lost everything, including his wife and children, when his gambling addiction took over his life. I love to travel and have a huge interest in gangland crime, so I wanted to create a story that incorporated those elements as well.

When you begin a new story, what is the first thing you develop; characters, plot or setting? Why is this?

I develop a rough plot first. I like to know where the story is going before I create my characters. But when I start to write, the plot occasionally changes course along the way as the characters sometimes take it on a path I hadn’t originally planned.

What is the unique selling point of your story? What do you hope will make it stand out in the gang-lit genre?

In Risking It All, my heroine is forced to become a jewel thief to clear her husband’s debt. I hope the fact that I’ve written the story from the viewpoint of the three main characters will make it stand out in the gang-lit genre.

Do you find it easy or difficult to write dialogue? How do you make it sound natural and believable?

I like writing dialogue. I try to give each character their own distinct voice, to match their personality, to make the dialogue sound natural and believable.

What is the best thing about being a writer? Are there any negatives?

I like being able to work from home. It’s a big bonus as I get to spend all day with my dog while I’m doing something that I love. I haven’t encountered any negatives so far. In my experience, the writing community have been very supportive.

Do you enjoy reading? What are you reading at the moment?

I love reading. I’m currently reading Queenie by Kimberley Chambers.

What are currently writing?

I’m currently writing the third book in the series.

Stephanie Harte

Stephanie Hart is a debut author writing in the ganglit genre. She lives in London with her family. Twitter

Read my review of Tangled Lives here

Posted in Author Interview, Family Drama, Friendship, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, New Books, Romance

Lorna Gray Author Interview Mrs Ps Book of Secrets/The Book Ghost #AuthorInterview @MsLornaGray @0neMoreChapter_ #30DaysofBookBlogs #PublicationDay #LiteraryFiction #HistoricalFiction #Romance #Mystery

#LornaGray #AuthorInteview

December 14 2019 is publication day for Mrs Ps Book of Secrets (UK) and The Book Ghost (US). I reviewed this original literary fiction novel on Wednesday, as the first stop on the #30DaysofBookBlogs Tour. Read my review here

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Today I have an author interview with Lorna Gray to share…

Author interview with Lorna Gray

Mrs P’s Book of Secrets (UK) / The Book Ghost (US)

What are the inspirations behind your latest story?

Mrs P’s Book of Secrets explores several themes, such as loss, returning home, belonging and family. But as you probably don’t want an essay from me, I’ll just describe the first idea I had for this book – where it all began.

The opening lines in the book speak about Lucy’s mother and grandmother performing a rather unusual war service. They were spiritualists and throughout WWII they regularly held séances in an attempt to guide the wandering souls of poor lost soldiers out of the filthy quagmire of war into the peace of the hereafter.

Those few lines in the book are autobiographical. Only in my case, it was my grandmother and great-grandmother. They acted on the principle that some of the war dead might be so shocked by their sudden end that their souls wouldn’t quite know how to move on. My great-grandmother believed she was playing a vital role in reaching out a kindly hand to them through the medium of a séance. She certainly gave comfort to their families at home who had received awful news.

Mrs P’s Book of Secrets grew from that little piece of history. It is in part a ghost story, although this definitely isn’t a novel about wartime spiritualism. What those women did was done in the spirit of giving. I didn’t want to turn the dead into a speaking part for Lucy, my heroine, where she might simply move a marker around a table to instantly demand answers to her questions.

Instead, her story is more about being sensitive to the echoes that are left behind when someone has passed. Have you ever gone into the library of an old house or a quiet garden and felt a sense of the people who have gone before? Do you ever go somewhere and find that your mind can strip away the modern layer from the scene to leave you with an idea of its history?

This is what Lucy experiences as she is pushed by the secrets of her uncle’s publishing business into exploring the boundaries between her memories and an old mystery that ought to have nothing to do with her at all.

I wanted her to walk that very fine line between reaching out and letting go.

And while she experiences all of that, I particularly wanted her to find a new friendship with Robert, her uncle’s second editor at the Kershaw and Kathay Book Press. He is the key to the other elements of the story, which involve books, and being valued, and about putting down roots in a new place and discovering whether or not they will hold firm.

Ampney St Mary near Fairford and Cirencester helped to inspire the mystery
Image Credit Lorna Gray

Mrs P’s Book of Secrets / The Book Ghost is set in the immediate post-war era, 1946. What made you choose this particular time?

I knew I wanted to bring Lucy home to a small old fashioned publishing business. I nearly set it in the present day. But then I uncovered a small piece of research about paper rationing in the war and post-war period.

Paper rationing had a massive impact on books and publishing in the 40s and early 50s. Did you know that during the war, one of the big London publishers – Penguin, I think – managed to get a large order to supply paperbacks to the Canadian army? They didn’t take payment in the form of money. They arranged for the Canadian government to send them a shipload of paper across the Atlantic because they were so desperate for supplies.

After discovering all that, I couldn’t wait to delve into the world of a small publishing business and its secrets in the era of paper rationing.

Moreton in Marsh was a wonderfully atmospheric location for a 1940s publishing business
Image Credit Lorna Gray

What is it about the post-war period that interests you?

Mrs P’s Book of Secrets is my fourth historical novel. You may not be aware that before writing this mystery, each of my previous novels has been inspired by oral history. I have always been passionate about understanding the past. The post-war period is long enough ago that for me it satisfies my urge to write about history, and yet it is modern enough that when I want to know more, I can simply ask someone to share their memories.

It makes writing and researching the period endlessly fascinating.

Do you enjoy writing stories that cross the genre boundaries? Why is this?

The way my writing seems to cross genre boundaries must come from my own reading. I don’t think I’m ever constrained by genre. I read anything from classics to modern romance and literary masterpieces and memoir.

How do you research your stories? 

Everything is researched, even down to the details of the weather. Luckily, the internet is an extraordinary resource. And then I ask people to share their memories too.

When you aren’t writing, what other interests do you have?

I keep far too many animals! Some years ago, I had the idea that I might breed goats, but when it came to finding good homes for the kids (young goats), it turned out to be very hard indeed. People weren’t terribly honest about what they intended to do with them. So now my husband and I have a large and ageing herd of pets, and they give me endless hours of happiness.

When reading to relax, what kind of books do you choose? Why do they appeal to you?

I treasure any book that has many layers. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who finds it impossible to judge a book by its cover. So I always read based on recommendations by a few trusted people. I also love to return to favourite books, discovering new details each time.

An obvious example is that I’ve read Pride and Prejudice many times. I first read it when I was a teenager and I vividly remember that initially, I could only see the characters through Elizabeth’s eyes. But then I read the book again some years later, and it turned out that the evidence had been there all along that characters such as Mr Darcy really weren’t as Elizabeth believed them to be. I love that depth of detail.

 Can you give us a brief insight into Mrs P’s Book of Secrets /The Book Ghost?

Look out for the accidental misspellings of Ashbrook. There are a few deliberate typos for the purpose of the plot, but the more I explored the concept of ‘an influence’, on Lucy’s search for the secret of a little girl’s abandonment, the more these errors crept in. For all my wise words about there being no tangible apparition in this book, the ghost certainly wanted to have his or her say. I asked the proofreader to leave them untouched.

There are no white shrouded spectres here, no wailing ghouls. Just the echoes of those who have passed, whispering that history is set to repeat itself.

The Cotswolds, Christmastime 1946: A young widow leaves behind the tragedy of her wartime life, and returns home to her ageing aunt and uncle. For Lucy – known as Mrs P – and the people who raised her, the books that line the walls of the family publishing business bring comfort and the promise of new beginnings.

But the kind and reserved new editor at the Kershaw and Kathay Book Press is a former prisoner of war, and he has his own shadows to bear. And when the old secrets of a little girl’s abandonment are uncovered within the pages of Robert Underhills’s latest project, Lucy must work quickly if she is to understand the truth behind his frequent trips away.

For a ghost dwells in the record of an orphan girl’s last days. And even as Lucy dares to risk her heart, the grief of her own past seems to be whispering a warning of fresh loss…

Posted in Author Interview, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Noir

The Orange Grove Kate Murdoch #Author #Interview @KateMurdoch3 @RegalHouse1 #Lies #Secrets, #historicalfiction #18Century #France #historicalromance

#The Orange Grove

Blois, 1705. The chateau of Duc Hugo d’Amboise simmers with rivalry and intrigue. 

Henriette d’Augustin, one of five mistresses of the duc, lives at the chateau with her daughter. When the duc’s wife, Duchesse Charlotte, maliciously undermines a new mistress, Letitia, Henriette is forced to choose between position and morality. She fights to maintain her status whilst targeted by the Duchesse who will do anything to harm her enemies.

The arrival of charismatic tarot reader, Romain de Villiers, further escalates tensions as rivals in domestic politics and love strive for supremacy.

In a society where status is a matter of life and death, Henriette must stay true to herself, her daughter, and her heart, all the while hiding a painful secret of her own.

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Read my 5* Review of The Orange Grove

Author Interview – Kate Murdoch – The Orange Grove

What inspired you to write ‘The Orange Grove’?

Since my teens I’ve loved everything about French culture—I’ve studied the language and travelled to France numerous times. So, the idea of writing a French book felt like a natural step. I’m also fascinated by the period of Louis XIV’s rule, the extreme decadence of life at court and for nobles in general before the Revolution. This made researching the book a joy because I discovered many details about how people lived, their outlooks, and what their motivations were at different levels of society. 

When you begin a new story, what is the first thing you develop; characters, plot or setting? Why is this?

The setting, because I can’t have an understanding of what might happen in the story and who my characters might be if I don’t know the context of their immediate environment and the historical background.

What is the unique selling point of your story? What do you hope will make it stand out in the historical fiction genre?

A lot of historical fiction focuses on a key event and/or a particular historical figure. In The Orange Grove, I was interested in exploring how a fixation on status and position, prevalent in France in the early 18th century, might have impacted peoples’ behaviour and their relationships. How self-preservation can erode integrity and morality.

Do you find it easy or difficult to write dialogue? How do you make historical dialogue sound natural and believable?

I find it relatively easy once I work out who my characters are. It’s one of my techniques for understanding my characters—I figure out who they are as I write dialogue and watch them speak to one another. Perhaps that’s why I write a lot of dialogue! I would say I’m the most immersed in the act of writing during these ‘conversations.’

What is the best thing about being a writer? Are there any negatives?

The sense of community and understanding shared with other writers. I really enjoy the friendships and connections I’ve made since becoming a writer. I also feel so much joy when a reader understands and enjoys my words, is immersed in my stories. That’s very satisfying. A negative would be being so consumed that it’s sometimes hard to find a balance with other aspects of my life.

Do you enjoy reading? What are you reading at the moment?

I adore reading. At the moment I’m devouring The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt alongside research books for a new project.

What are you currently writing?

I’m writing a dual-timeline story set in World War Two Croatia and 1960’s Melbourne, through the perspectives of three generations of women.

Kate Murdoch is the author of Stone CircleShe exhibited widely as a painter both in Australia and internationally before turning her hand to writing.

Her short-form fiction has been published in various literary journals in Australia, UK, US and Canada.

Stone Circle is a historical fantasy novel set in Renaissance Italy. It was released by Fireship Press, December 1st 2017. Stone Circle was a First in Category winner in the Chaucer Awards 2018 for pre-1750’s historical fiction.

Kate was awarded a KSP Fellowship at the KSP Writers’ Centre in 2019 to develop her third novel,
The Glasshouse.

Her novel, The Orange Grove, about the passions and intrigues of court mistresses in 18th century France, will be published by Regal House Publishing in 2019.

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Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Family Drama, Friendship, Romance, Saga

Good Girls Amanda Brookfield 5*#Review @BoldwoodBooks @ABrookfield1 #BlogTour #Author #Interview #Extract #FamilyDrama #ComingofAge #Sisters #Secrets #Romance #Saga

GOOD GIRLS NEVER TELL TALES…

Everyone that meets Kat Keating is mesmerised. Beautiful, smart and charming, she is everything a good girl should be.

Her sister Eleanor, on the other hand, knows she can’t compete with Kat. On the awkward side of tall, clever enough to be bullied, and full of the responsibilities only an older sibling can understand, Eleanor grows up knowing she’s not a good girl.

This is the story of the Keating sisters – through a childhood fraught with secrets, adolescent rivalries, and on into adulthood with all its complexities and misunderstandings.  Until a terrible truth brings the sisters crashing together and finally, Eleanor begins to uncover just how good Kat really was.

Good Girls is a love story, a coming-of-age story, a mystery and a tear-jerker. But most of all it’s a reminder of who to keep close and who to trust with your darkest secrets. 

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#boldwoodblogtours

I received a copy of this book from Boldwood Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

Two sisters, once close, but who have become estranged as they grew older. Eleanor, the older has her own reasons, but she’s never understood her sister Kat’s. Drawn together again, by a cruel stroke of fate, is it too late to reconnect?

This is an excellent family drama, with dark family secrets that devastate the once close sisterly bond. The story begins with Eleanor rushing to be with her sister, and them drifts back in time to the mid-1980s when they were young girls, and then the early 1990s, when Eleanor left for university.

The historical events slowly illuminate the present discord and misunderstanding, but all is not revealed until it is in some ways, too late to make amends. Serendipity plays a part in this story, as it often does in reality, and Eleanor gradually comes to terms with her past and the possibility of a hopeful future.

The cast of characters resonate, they all play a part in Eleanor’s life but have their own motivations and flaws, which makes them real. The story is realistically peppered with laughter, sadness, anger and despair. It is a poignant reminder that you cannot sometimes trust those closest to you, and of the rollercoaster nature of life.

An emotional family drama, with a realistic plot and memorable characters.

Author Interview – Amanda Brookfield – Good Girls

What inspired you to write ‘Good Girls’?

My original idea was to write about two sisters who are driven apart and then re-connected by the same man, deciding to get in touch by email after twenty years.  But then the story took off in a hundred other directions, as stories do!

What interests you about family drama? Why are stories about sisters so absorbing?

We all come from families of one kind or another – our upbringings forge us, whether we like it or not – and I love looking at the myriad ways we try to deal with that.  Sisters are a prime and rich example (I have two of my own!), being a relationship that is full of rivalries and ups and downs.  But there are also, always, the ties of love and loyalty that continue to bind us as siblings, long after we have gone our separate ways in the adult world.  This is a fascinating seam to explore as a novelist.

Dialogue is very important in a family drama story.  How do you make your dialogue realistic?

You can have the most gripping plot, but if the voices of the characters do no ring true then it will fall flat.  The way I work is to hear my characters speak inside my head.  In fact, often snatches of dialogue – of how my characters would communicate – arrive at unexpected moments when I am away from my desk, driving the car say, or walking the dog.  I have learnt to trust these snatches and write them down – it is my imagination working overtime, and 9 times out of 10 it is absolutely right.  I guess it is like being an actor, trying to get inside the psyche of a protagonist.

How do you create your characters?  What makes them believable and real?

Constructing a character is a bit like doing a jigsaw.  You decide what they look like, and where they live; what age they are and what they do for a living.  You give them hopes, hobbies and fears.  Then you throw events at them and see what they do!  If there is enough substance to your creations, enough humanity, the the way they behave under pressure will feel real and credible for the reader.

What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?

I read as widely as possible – mostly fiction, but also memoir, travel and some history.  I love being surprised by what I find on the page and always have my antennae up to learn new things, both creatively and factually.  If someone recommends a book to me passionately enough, then I will always give it a go!  I also try to avoid reading books that I think might be similar to whatever I am working on – I hate the idea of being influenced or feeling that someone has already gone where I am trying to go.

What are you currently writing?

I am halfway through a novel about a woman plucking the courage to leave her abusive husband – one of those subtle monsters that no one else knows about.  I am writing the story from my heroine’s point of view, so it has an intensity that feels new and exciting.  It is important for me to feel that each new writing project is stretching the boundaries of what I have done before.

Extract from ‘Good Girls’ – Amanda Brookfield
CHAPTER ONE
January 2013

Eleanor decided to take a taxi from the station, even though she knew it would cost ten precious pounds and mean a wait. Being so rural, only a handful of cars served the area, but she didn’t want to be a bother to Howard, her brother-in-law. She texted both him and Kat to say she would be there within the hour and stayed as warm as she could in the small arched station entrance. It was a cold, dank morning, not raining for once but with air like icy metal against her skin.

The taxi driver who pulled up some twenty minutes later exuded an attitude of reluctance that made Eleanor disinclined to make conversation. When they hit a tail-back, thanks to a loop round the old Roman bridge, still not fixed from the heavy flooding over the New Year, he thumped his steering wheel. ‘A bloody joke. We can land men on the moon and still it takes three weeks to fix a few old stones.’ Eleanor murmured agreement but found that she didn’t mind much. The fields on either side of the road were still visibly waterlogged. After the grimy mêlée of south London, it was a visual feast – ethereal, shimmering silver bands engraved with the black reflections of leafless trees and smudgy January clouds.

The usual criss-cross of feelings was stirring at being back in such proximity to the landscape of her childhood. Just twenty miles away, her father was a resident in a small care home called The Bressingham, which he had once included in his rounds as a parish priest, days long since lost to him through the fog of dementia. Howard and Kat’s substantial Georgian house was ten miles in the opposite direction, on the fringes of a town called Fairfield. They had moved from Holland Park seven years before, a year after the birth of their third child, Evie. At the time, Eleanor had been surprised to get the change of address card. She had always regarded her little sister and husband as life-long townies, Kat with her posh quirky dress-making commissions to private clients and Howard with his big-banker job. It was because they saw the house in a magazine and fell in love with it, Kat had explained at one of their rare subsequent encounters, in the manner of one long used to plucking things she wanted out of life, like fruits off a tree.

But recently life had not been so cooperative. A small tumour had been removed from Kat’s bowel and she was in bed recovering. Howard had reported the event earlier in the week, by email, and when Eleanor had got on the phone, as he must have known she would, he had said that the operation had gone well and that Kat was adamant that she didn’t need sisterly visits. No further treatment was required. She would be up and about in a matter of days. Their regular babysitter, Hannah, was increasing her hours to plug gaps with the children and he was taking a week off from his daily commute into the City. ‘But I am her sister,’ Eleanor had insisted, hurt, in spite of knowing better. ‘I’d just like to see her. Surely she can understand that.’ Howard had said he would get back to her, but then Kat had phoned back herself, saying why didn’t Eleanor pop down on Saturday afternoon.

‘Nice,’ said the driver, following Eleanor’s instructions to turn between the laburnums that masked the handsome red-brick walls and gleaming white sash windows and pulling up behind the two family cars, both black, one a tank-sized station wagon, the other an estate. He fiddled with his satnav while Eleanor dug into her purse for the right money. I am not the rich one, she wanted to cry, seeing the visible sag of disappointment on his sheeny unshaven face at the sight of her twenty-pence tip; I am merely the visiting elder sister who rents a flat by a Clapham railway line, who tutors slow or lazy kids to pay her bills and who has recently agreed to write an old actor’s memoirs for a sum that will barely see off her overdraft.

Howard answered the door, taking long enough to compound Eleanor’s apprehensions about having pushed for the visit. He was in a Barbour and carrying three brightly coloured backpacks, clearly on the way out of the house. ‘Good of you to come.’ Brandishing the backpacks, he kissed her perfunctorily on both cheeks. ‘Brownies, go-carting and a riding lesson – pick-ups in that order. Then two birthday parties and a bowling alley. God help me. See you later maybe. She’s upstairs,’ he added, somewhat unnecessarily. ‘

‘The Big Sister arrives,’ Kat called out before Eleanor had even crossed the landing. ‘Could you tug that curtain wider?’ she added as Eleanor entered the bedroom. ‘I want as much light as possible.’

‘So, how are you?’ Eleanor asked, adjusting the offending drape en route to kissing Kat’s cheek, knowing it was no moment to take offence at the Big Sister thing, in spite of the reflex of deep, instinctive certainty that Kat had said it to annoy. At thirty-eight she was the big sister, by three years. She was also almost six-foot, with the heavy-limbed, dark-haired, brown-eyed features that were such echoes of their father, while Kat, as had been pointed out as far back as either of them could remember, had inherited an uncanny replication of their mother’s striking looks, from the lithe elfin frame and flinty-blue feline eyes to the extraordinary eye-catching tumble of white-blonde curls. ‘You look so well,’ Eleanor exclaimed, happiness at the truth of this observation making her voice bounce, while inwardly she marvelled at her sibling’s insouciant beauty, utterly undiminished by the recent surgery. Her skin was like porcelain, faintly freckled; her hair in flames across the pillow.

‘Well, thank you, and thank goodness, because I feel extremely well,’ Kat retorted. ‘So please don’t start telling me off again for not having kept you better informed. As I said on the phone, the fucking thing was small and isolated. They have removed it – snip-snip,’ she merrily scissored two fingers in the air. ‘So I am not going to need any further treatment, which is a relief frankly since I would hate to lose this lot.’ She yanked at one of the flames. ‘Shallow, I know, but there it is.’

‘It’s not shallow,’ Eleanor assured her quietly, experiencing one of the sharp twists of longing for the distant days when they had been little enough and innocent enough to take each other’s affections for granted. They had been like strangers for years now in comparison, shouting across an invisible abyss.

#AmandaBrookfield

Amanda Brookfield is the bestselling author of 15 novels including Relative Love and Before I Knew You, and a memoir, For the Love of a Dog starring her Golden Doodle Mabel.  She lives in London and is currently a Visiting Fellow at Univ College Oxford. Her first book with Boldwood, Good Girls, will be published on 8th October 2019.

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