It is always with some trepidation that I open a book by someone I know and like. More usually with a début (but not always) I’m terrified that I won’t enjoy it, worried that it’s mediocre or I won’t be interested by the plot or feeling murderous that it is so good!
Standstill fits into the last category. The narrative grabs you from the opening paragraph and doesn’t let you go until its – literally – explosive dénouement.
I always try to avoid synopses in reviews and hate spoilers so suffice it to say that if you enjoy action-packed, hard-hitting crime fiction, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with Standstill.
Set in London the action revolves around Flying Squad officer Chance who is grappling with the heartbreaking situation of watching her young daughter dying of cancer; Harkness one of the nastiest characters you’d never want to cross; and Danny the engaging and accomplished thief who finds himself caught up in a scam that will take every ounce of his ingenuity to escape. Other characters are well drawn and complement the action.
Standstill is perfectly plotted throughout the narrative aided by dialogue, which is realistic and never superfluous. There is no spare fat in this novel.
J.A. Marley has produced an excellent opener for what I hope with be the first in a long series.
Today is a very special day for me as it is the first time I have heard my début crime novel, Dancers in the Wind, and the sequel, Death’s Silent Judgement, read aloud by someone else – namely Joan Walker on Audible.
Joan has a long track record as an actress and voice artist on radio TV and audiobooks and you can learn more about her here.
I was thrilled when I heard from Matthew Smith, Publishing Director of Urbane Publications, that Audible was going to publish my Hannah Weybridge crime novels and to have them available now as I am in the throes of writing the third in the series is an enormous boost.
If you have already bought the ebooks you can buy the Audible version for a few pounds more. Alternatively you can enjoy Dancers in the Wind and Death’s Silent Judgement as part of the free month’s Audible trial.
However to celebrate the launch today, I am offering two sets of voucher codes to buy both audiobooks.
All you have to do to enter the competition is follow this website and send me your email address via the contact form. The winners will be selected at random after 2pm on Thursday 5 October, 2017.
In a recent interview with bestselling author Jane Davis (pictured left) for her Virtual Book Club series, one of the questions was about how I choose names for characters and I mentioned checking out the popular names for the year the character was born.
For Death’s Silent Judgement I went to a website that gave Somali names as well. A friend also wanted to be a character in the book and he fit the bill for one of them but sadly hasn’t made it to book three. That’s the trouble with crime novels – characters die.
In the third Hannah Weybridge thriller to be published by Urbane Publications next year, I have some Asian characters and am name-checking with my Asian friends as well as websites.
Currently I am completing the first draft which is basically a wobbly skeleton of the novel but have got to the point when I can’t keep putting XX or a question mark for the name of a character. Even I am getting confused!
So today’s job is to go through the manuscript naming names. Some characters have made it through from Dancers in the Wind and Death’s Silent Judgement so their names are set in stone. Others I can think about what suits them, their culture and age.
The novel opens with the discovery of a body in Peckham Rye lake – the Pond – by two young boys and I had their names early on: Jace and Ollie. These two local boys from a nearby estate are up to no good and I loved writing their (possibly only) scene!
So now I am off to read through the manuscript to find all those XXs and question marks to insert some names and add them to the little blue book that I keep for name checks, physical characteristics, ages, roles …
As I write crime thrillers, it’s good to step outside the genre and read something rather different. Here are some of the books I’ve recently read and enjoyed that focus on relationships (and maybe a few crimes!).
I was fascinated by Exquisite (Orenda Books) by Sarah Stovell. The novel centres on the affair which develops between Bo Luxton, a best selling author who is married with two children living in the Lake District and Alice Dark a young aspiring writer in a dead end job and relationship in Brighton. They meet at a workshop run by Bo and their friendship develops via emails and then Alice’s visits to the author. The story is brilliantly told from both viewpoints and both characters are unreliable in their narration. Totally absorbing .
In The Cruelty of Lambs (Urbane Publications) Angelena Boden tackles the complicated issue of domestic abuse. Her main characters – Ian and Una – are well drawn and the plot moves along at a cracking pace. The narrative switches from Ian, a cellist who lost his teaching job when wrongly accused of inappropriate behaviour, to Una, a high-flyer who stands to lose the business she built up. Financial ruin faces them but their reactions couldn’t be more different. The supporting characters – friends of the couple who become entangled in the situation – are realistic and their concerns are credible. A thought-provoking and often disturbing read which challenges your preconceptions.
If you like a sexy and mature romantic read, you’ll love Seeking Eden by Beverley Harvey (Urbane Publications). Kate and Neil decide to move out of London after they are burgled and settle into a new, up-market housing estate. But Neil’s job is still in the capital and he spends some of the week staying over at a friend’s flat leaving Kate to her own devices and her new neighbours and Ben – the boyfriend who had walked out on her years ago and now wants to rekindle their relationship… A good contemporary read with well-drawn characters.
One of my favourite recent reads is My Name is Lucy Barton (Penguin), my first foray into Elizabeth Strout’s fiction. I love a first person narrative when it’s told well, and this one is perfection told by Lucy Barton, from her hospital bed, reminiscing about her family and their poverty, which isolated them from the community where they lived. Lucy moved up in the world and became estranged from her parents but it is her mother’s unexpected vigil in the hospital room that helps Lucy reassess her past and move towards a different future. A short but totally absorbing read.
Currently reading and would recommend Jackie Buxton’s Glass Houses and Beware the Cuckoo by Julia Newman, both published by Urbane Publications.
This time last week I was on the train to Bristol and my second CrimeFest courtesy of my publishers Urbane Publications.
What a difference a year makes! Last year I was looking forward to the publication of Dancers in the Wind in October. This year I had just celebrated the launch of the second Hannah Weybridge thriller, Death’s Silent Judgement. And I was booked to take part in a panel!
There are often three panels taking place at the same time so it’s wise to study the programme beforehand and make decisions. Friday was a busy day for me as I went to four panels and then appeared on one of the last ones of the day “Journalists: Characters who tell stories for a living” moderated by Rod Reynolds. Once I’d got over my nerves, this was great fun and the other three panelists, Walter Lucius, Antti Tuomainen and Matt Wesolowski were a hoot.
On the Friday evening there were two drinks receptions – the first being the Crime Writers’ Association’s Dagger Announcement always fun with a thrill of expectation. Not mine I hasten to add, but one day…
One of the wonderful things about CrimeFest is meeting up with other writers, book bloggers and readers, publishers and agents. Some of whom I know well, others I’ve enjoyed getting to know better. There was a wonderful woman from Melbourne who had a great idea for circumventing having to take numerous signed copies back with her. She asked authors on the panels to sign her programme and then bought the books in her home city.
Last year I had to leave on the Saturday morning to attend a wedding, so this year I booked for the Gala Dinner which was great fun – especially sitting with and near other Urbane authors. The only disappointment was that Matthew Smith, CEO of Urbane Publications, was unable to join us.
Listening to other authors discussing their work is fascinating and instructive. My favourite panel was the last one I went to before leaving: Short Stories – Motives for Murder moderated by Martin Edwards and joined by fellow CWA grandees Ann Cleeves, Janet Laurence, Peter Lovesy and LC Tayor. The rapport between these five was brilliant and as writers they are inspirational.
So dates in the diary for CrimeFest 2018!
Panel photo courtesy of Joy Kluver.
What better place to launch a book than at the scene of the first murder? In Death’s Silent Judgement, the first body is discovered in the crypt at St John the Evangelist Church at Waterloo. So in November 2016, I tried to reserve the crypt, only to discover that publication day – 11 May, 2017 – was already taken! Only slightly disappointed, I booked Tuesday 16 May two days before CrimeFest in Bristol.
The crypt proved to be the perfect venue for my launch although we did have to supply the glasses for the wine we brought with us. However the bar was soon set up and the room began to fill with familiar faces.
It was lovely to be supported by fellow Urbane authors: Lloyd Otis, Andrew Smith, Julie Newman, Simon Michael and Hugh Fraser (unfortunately Pete Adams’ train was held up so he isn’t in the photo). Sadly the CEO of Urbane Publications, Matthew Smith, was ill and couldn’t attend.
By happy coincidence, I know the vicar at St John’s and was delighted that Revd Canon Giles Goddard managed to pop down to wish me luck with the book.
At occasions like these it’s important to thank all the people who helped bring a book to fruition. Ian Patrick who was in the Met during the 1990s when the book is set and checked some facts for me, now lives too far away for London parties but Dr Geoff Lockwood (pictured) arrived in time for the speech!
Numerous friends have helped me in so many varied ways – some of them aren’t even aware that I used one of their traits for a character. However a special thanks must go to my amazing daughter, Olivia who is always such a fabulous support and is ready to roll her sleeves up to run the bar and keep smiling!
I had a brilliant time and everyone spoke of the wonderful atmosphere – and at least there were no dead bodies to haunt us!
You can see more launch photos in an album on my Facebook page.
Death’s Silent Judgement is available in bookshops, Hive (free P&P) and Amazon.
10 May – If In Doubt Read Review
11 May – Damp Pebbles – Review
11 May – Linda’s Book Bag – The Challenges of Writing a Sequel
12 May – Off The Shelf Books – Best of Crime
13 May – The Quiet Knitter – My Inspiration for Death’s Silent Judgement
14 May – Liz Loves Books – 20 Questions
15 May – Anne Bonny Book Reviews – Review and Q&A
16 May – Crime Book Junkie – Guest Post on Minor Characters
17 May – Have Books Will Read – Review
18 May – Grab This Book – Q&A
19 May – By The letter Book Reviews – My Writing Day
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