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Sealskin by Su Bristow

Having read Sealskin, I can only describe the experience as what I imagine it would be like to be a selkie slipping back into my seal skin – the feeling of coming home, warmth and unbounded joy in a narrative that is perfectly constructed and beautifully written.

From the opening words until the end, Su Bristow engages and enthrals the reader and takes us on a journey of discovery and transformation on so many levels. The protagonist, Donald, has felt himself to be an outsider all of his life. His mother, Bridie, came to the small Scottish community on her marriage and was, at first, distrusted but was able to integrate herself by caring for the sick and being a midwife to the women. She stayed on after her husband was lost at sea and brought her son up on her own.

Donald has remained on the peripheries of this society. Bullied at school and later by workmates he keeps himself to himself until one evening he commits an act, which changes the whole course of his life. His subsequent marriage to Mairhi and the birth of his son help assimilate him into the community in ways he would never have envisaged. Su Bristow charts this transformation with delicacy and insight.

In Sealskin relationships are explored with perceptiveness and the evocation of the small Scottish fishing community with its diverse characters from wise women to drunken men who treat their wives badly while others look on. The children’s personalities are equally well developed. By the end of the book each character is seen in a different light.

Few authors attain these heights of sincerity, artistic authenticity and give readers such a warm glow.

Cannot recommend highly enough.

Published by Orenda Books who gave me a copy of the book, Sealskin is available from Amazon and bookshops.

Follow Su Bristow on Twitter @SuBristow

The Gift Maker by Mark Mayes

Where to begin to review a book that defies categories and genre classification? From the first line of The Gift Maker the reader is absorbed into a world that is both real and unreal, secular and magical. A fantasy and a morality tale. A world in which male students get drunk, spout philosophical polemics and lust after young women who seem to have a lot more self-discipline.

One such student, Thomas Ruder receives a strange package in the middle of the night at his lodgings but refuses to open it. The next day, the young woman he’d love to know better, Liselotte Hauptmann, confides that she too has received an unsolicited gift and she takes him back to her rooms to reveal its contents…

Dauman is the gift maker who has a special present for the third friend Johan called Jo. Each of them makes his or her way independent of each other to the border town of Grenze where a strange impresario, Reynard, pulls the theatrical strings and weaves a tantalising web of subterfuge.

Mark Mayes creates worlds within worlds using smoke and mirrors and provides a challenging and thought-provoking read. Some of the descriptions I found to be almost too detailed in their gruesomeness they and reminded me of Dickens with his visions of the debauchery, poverty and evil of Victorian London. And yet this is counterbalanced by poetic twists of fantasy which will have you enthralled.

References to fairy tales abound, plus nods to the book of Genesis and the Holy Trinity of the New Testament. The final chapters are far more lyrical in tone – and when you get to the metamorphosis/transfiguration you’ll see why.

Mark Mayes is a masterful and original storyteller. His unique narrative style is truly inspired and I found this book totally fascinating and recommend it to anyone who is looking for a book that is far from ordinary.

Published by Urbane Publications on 23 February 2017, The Gift Maker is available from Amazon.

Follow Mark on Twitter @Mark_J_Mayes

A lesson in humility

For most of my life I have led a blessed existence. I come from a loving, supportive family and have had the luxury of working in areas that I love. Just like anyone I’ve had my sad and lonely moments and times when I’ve earned no money and wondered if I’d ever clear my debts. But I have never experienced homelessness. I have never had to rely on sofa surfing or been reduced to sleeping rough.

My second crime thriller, Death’s Silent Judgement, features some homeless people who used to inhabit Cardboard City in the Bullring, Waterloo in the 1990s. This weekend I learned what it is like for the homeless in 2017.

St John The Evangelist in East Dulwich joined the Robes Project, which operates in South London, providing overnight accommodation, food and company for people who would otherwise be on the streets. An unimaginable hardship during the freezing weather we have been experiencing.

I was part of the host team on Saturday. Previously a friend had said that one of the female guests loved reading crime thrillers and he’d told her a “famous” (ha ha) author would be on the team. So I took along a copy of Dancers in the Wind for her.

She thanked me and when I asked if she’d like me to sign it, commented that she’d never had a book dedicated to her before except the Bible. I thought that not many people do get author signed copies unless they’re in the rarified world of book launches and Twitter and duly wrote in the book for her.

She thanked me then looked at the book again. “Oh but you wrote this!” What she had meant by her earlier comment was that nobody had ever given her a book and signed it. No “love from” in a Christmas or birthday gift. I was humbled as I was several times that evening.

The food that people had cooked and brought was fabulous – every taste and dietary requirement was catered for and our guests were appreciative. A five star rating. As someone who has to be dairy free I could only look on longingly at the fabulous chocolate gateau. Everyone had more than enough to eat and had warmed up. The evening took on a party atmosphere with chess, cards and conversation. For others there was a chance to sit back and contemplate or read the newspapers.

I can only admire the good humour of our guests – some of whom actually work full time but still cannot afford somewhere to live, a cruel irony. Some shared a little of their story, some flirted and cracked jokes. I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d react in their situation. I moan enough as it is.

Those people were a joy to be with and gave us a lesson in humility that I think most of the hosts took away with them. It is an indictment of our government that more and more people are homeless through no fault of their own. A situation we should all be calling government to rectify as a priority. And please nudge me when I start moaning about my lot in life.

Quieter Than Killing by Sarah Hilary

I have been a fan of Sarah Hilary’s Marnie Rose crime series since the DI’s first outing in Someone Else’s Skin which won the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year 2015. With each new book Ms Hilary’s writing has become more confident and assured. Quieter Than Killing continues this impressive trend.

This is police procedural crime writing at its best with great, credible characters portrayed in a sensitive and intelligent manner. The private lives of Marnie and her sidekick the wonderful Noah are drip-fed into the narrative keeping readers on their toes as they progress through the series.

A continuing thread throughout all the novels is the brutal murder of Rose’s parents by Stephen, the then fourteen-year-old boy they had been fostering for several years. The teenager is now a young man who has been moved to an adult prison. He is a tangle of thorns in her flesh which she must unravel.

During her current investigation into a series of vicious assaults thought to be carried out by vigilantes, Marnie is drawn into another enquiry when the tenants of the house she inherited from her parents and now lets out, become victims of what seems a random and senseless attack. Except there is nothing random about it at all and Marnie is convinced Stephen is the key which links back to her own investigation.

Quieter than Killing reads well as a standalone novel but why would you deny yourself the pleasure of reading the first three books in the series?

Someone Else’s SkinNo Other Darkness and Tastes Like Fear  are all published by Headline and are available from Amazon.

I received a review copy of this book.

You can pre-order the hardback or kindle version of Quieter Than Killing which will be published on 9 March, 2017.

 

Watch Me by Angela Clarke

The second in the social media murders series, Watch Me grabs the reader’s complete attention from the first words and doesn’t let go until the end when it leaves you reeling and aghast at what can go wrong with social media.

Once again DS Nasreen Cudmoore, now working for the Gremlin e-crime unit run by DCI Jack Burgone, and her old school friend Freddie Venton need to work together to solve a crime but this one links them back to their schooldays when their bullying of a friend led to a suicide attempt.

Journalist Freddie, back at home with her parents while she recovers from the effects of the attempt on her life by the Hashtag Murderer in Follow Me, is out of work, rarely out of her pjs and barely able to function.

Nas appeals for her help. Two girls linked to her had posted a suicide note on Snap Chat. One the sister of their former friend, Gemma, was successful but three hours earlier that day the sister of Nas’s boss went missing. A Snap Chat message told then they had six seconds to read the message; 24 hours to save her life.

Freddie, thin and disheveled, is forced to confront her demons to help Nas who is suffering from a hangover and remorse at having had a one-night stand with her boss. And the clock is ticking. Activating her repaired phone, Freddie discovers she, too, is a recipient of the Lottie messages. It has become personal.

The narrative spans the 24 hours they have to save Lottie’s life and explores the way this police unit functions, the interaction between Nas and Freddie and the police team as well as the world of revenge porn and objectionable internet sites. Ms Clarke creates credible characters who reveal their weaknesses and strengths as the plot develops.

As the story unfolded, I picked up Angela Clarke’s clues – I have not been a fiction editor and crime writer for nothing – but this did not detract from my enjoyment of Watch Me, rather it enhanced my appreciation of the fast-paced plotting and character development the author excels at.

Watch Me is chillingly scary – an object lesson on what not to get involved with on the internet.  Highly recommended.

Follow Angela on Twitter and check out her website.

 

An Honest Man by Simon Michael

Being published by Urbane Publications has introduced me to many new authors. One such is Simon Michael, a former barrister, who uses his past experiences to bring a unique legal perspective to his crime thriller series set in London during the 60s which began with The Brief.

As much as I enjoyed the first in the Charles Holborne series, the second book, An Honest Man really hit all the high spots for me.

Following his escape from the hangman’s noose in The Brief – proving that hewas framed and did not murder his wife  – the criminal barrister is very much down on his luck. Bankruptcy threatens then an unexpected brief lands on his desk – the answer to all his prayers. Or is it?

As a Jewish man from the East End, Holborne has never really fitted in. He is an outsider whom very few in the legal profession trust. But can he have any confidence in the people around him especially when some of them have connections with the notorious Kray brothers?

This is a great legal thriller with lots of twists and turns that keep you guessing right up to the dramatic end but what makes it outstanding is its authenticity and excellent writing.

Follow Simon Michael on Twitter @SimonMichaelUK and check out his website.

Talking Characters

When I was a child, we had living with us “the doctor” and I often had to tell my mother not to sit in a certain seat as the doctor was sitting there. For many writers, the characters in their books are like imaginary friends. We chat away to them, blame then when distracted and hopefully enjoy their company ­– except, of course when they are the bad guys!

One of the (many) unexpected pleasures of having my first crime novel published, is having conversations with readers about characters and plot lines. One told me off in no uncertain terms about exposing Elizabeth, protagonist Hannah Weybridge’s baby, to the violent ending of the book. That’s all I’ll say, as I don’t want to give spoilers in case you haven’t yet read or finished, Dancers in the Wind.

A friend whose only comment on my short fiction had been that she didn’t like short stories, was, as usual, fairly mono-syllabic after reading my novel. As we were talking about the fact I was writing a sequel, she said, “Oh no you’re not going to kill off Tom Jordan are you?  I like him!” She, like me, had fallen a little bit in love with the Detective Inspector. I smiled in what I hoped was an enigmatic way and told her she’d have to wait and see.

It has surprised and delighted me, how some readers have really taken to the prostitute in the story. Hers is a sad and unfortunately common story of abuse and betrayal; I am glad that I have done her justice and managed to make her a believable and sympathetic character. The interplay between her and Hannah has also been commented upon in many of the reviews and the dynamics between them are crucial to the plot.

Mark Mayes’ review on Amazon included this comment: “Hannah, Princess, and Tom, are all vividly drawn characters: nuanced, often wrestling with internal contradictions, as most of us humans tend to. The minor characters of the novel are deftly conveyed, as individuals.”

I found that hugely encouraging as many a TV, film or stage production is judged on how good or bad minor characters perform. An untalented actor can ruin the experience and just so with a minor character in a novel.

As Dancers in the Wind is the first of a trilogy, another unanticipated joy is being able to develop characters in the sequels. A minor character like Sam reappears in Death’s Silent Judgement. Things have changed in his life and maybe there will be further developments – but who knows? He’s competing with other characters who have been patiently waiting in the wings and as I write book three, they are ready to take a more central role.

Dancers in the Wind is on sale in Foyles and other bookshops and can be ordered from Amazon UK or Hive Stores with free delivery.

Death’s Silent Judgement will be published on 11 May 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing Titles

pwtteensCreating a title for a non-fiction book seems comparatively easy. It needs to make a statement about the contents of the book and possibly the author’s stance. When I wrote my first two non-fiction books for Wayland Publishing they were part of a series so the title was agreed in advance. My university books: Applying to University and  Surviving University (Need to Know) were similarly constrained and the books I wrote linked to my family website, Parenting Without Tears (Endeavour) worked well as a series title.

ataleoftwosisters1My short story collections (Endeavour) took their titles from one of the stories: Cheque-Mate and Other Takes of the Unexpected and A Tale of Two Sisters. However the latter did begin life as A Proper Pride!

However there was a sense of freedom that came with selecting titles for my crime novels published by Urbane. I wanted the title to encapsulate the story in a creative and perhaps off-beat way.

Therefore titles of the first two books are linked to favourite poets. Dancers in the Wind is a reference to a verse in Dryden’s poem Fortune:

cropped-dancersinthewind.jpg“I can enjoy her while she’s kind;

But when she dances in the wind,

And shakes her wings, and will not stay,

I puff the prostitute away.”

One of the central characters is a prostitute and several are killed during the narrative, so that verse seemed pertinent to me.

For the sequel, which begins with the murder of Hannah Weybridge’s close friend, I worked on various connotations. I tried out various combinations of words from Death and Dispossession to Ambassadors for the Dead. Some 12 titles competed for the crown.

I was eventually inspired by Andrew Marvell’s poem, In Mourning – in particular the last verse:

“I yet my silent judgment keep,

Disputing not what they believe:

But sure as oft as Women Weep

It is to be suppos’d they grieve.”

So this led to title number 13 – Death’s Silent Judgement which will be published in May 2017.

Before deciding on these I made sure there were no other books with the same title by searching for books on Amazon and other websites. It’s amazing how often authors (or publishers) come up with the same title and confusion can arise sometimes with one author benefiting from the popularity of another.

Now I am writing the third book in the series and am considering titles. There are various facets of the narrative that I’d like to include but they won’t necessarily sit well together.

So again I am jotting down any ideas as they come to mind. Perhaps another poem will be the inspiration I need?

 

Dancers in the Wind – Signing Session

signingsessionFinding new ways of promoting a book is difficult – how to make your book stand out among the thousands which are being published? Answers on a tweet please!

Signing sessions are an age-old standby, but I know from my days as a book publicist these can often be disappointing – unless you are a celebrity, of course. Nothing is more soul destroying than sitting in front of a pile of books and waiting…

However, ever the optimist, when a local hostelry, The Palmerston in East Dulwich, offered to host a signing session, I thought I’d give it a go. The venue is popular and on the main shopping street. Choosing the time between lunching and dining, we hoped to catch some passing trade. So posters displayed and social media alerted, I turned up on Saturday 29 October – the books had been sent on ahead by Urbane Publishers.

teamdancersThe staff were brilliant. We had been allocated a whole corner of the pub which gave the affair a party atmosphere and there was plenty of space for people to mingle and socialise.

My lovely daughter, Olivia, once again provided book cakes and, although in terms of numbers we didn’t break any records, the buzz of the occasion was exhilarating. Some people brought along copies they had already bought and were reading or had read. Others bought an extra copy for a parent or friend.

For me it was an absolute joy to chat about Dancers in the Wind, my characters, the themes and what was going to happen next with people who were interested and enthusiastic. Some people I knew, others I was meeting for the first time. One person surprised me by having checked me out on Goodreads and knew about my other books as well. How flattering is that?

Everyone had one question or another about the sequel. However there were no spoilers… You’ll find out how Hannah’s life progresses in Death’s Silent Judgement to be published in May 2017!

Dancers in the Wind is on sale in Foyles and other bookshops and can be ordered from Amazon UK or Hive Stores with free delivery.