Monday, February 27, 2017

The Killing Bay By Chris Ould Blog Tour

Chris Ould's latest novel continues his Faroes Series which began with The Blood Strand. I'm new to this series so diving straight in to book two I was aware that there was a continuing narrative from book one but it wasn't too difficult to catch up. The book has two main protaganists local detective Hjalti Hentze and English policeman Jan Reyna. Jan is visiting the islands for his father's funeral and to try to learn more about his mother who died when he was a child and to try to reconnect with his birthplace. Jan and Hjalti have already been through an ordeal in the first book and now Jan is spending his time walking the hills and learning more about the islands and his family. Hjalti meanwhile is dealing with a murder. In the wake of a protest against the traditional Faroese whale hunt or grind, a female photographer working with the protest group is found dead, while the initial  signs seem to indicate a sexually motivated attack, Hjalti is not so sure and as he digs deeper it seems perhaps the killer may be dangerously close to home. I found Chris Ould's characters incredibly likeable and interesting and this book is a genuine page turner set in a stunning part of the world. There is a clash of cultures between the whale hunters and the protesters and within many of the characters Jan and Erla particularly. If you enjoy Anne Cleeves Shetland series or the Scandi Noir of Anne Holt then add Chris Ould and the Faroes series to your must read list.

The Killing Bay is out now from Titan Books. Thanks to Philippa at Titan for a review copy of the book.

I asked Chris to tell me about his typical writing day. Here's what he said.

How I Write - Chris Ould

Asking a writer how they write is like asking a juggler how they keep six oranges in the air at the same time. The juggler could probably break it down into the size, texture and aerodynamic properties of the oranges, but I'm still not sure he'd really be able to describe how he does it.

That said, I think the biggest challenge in writing is to just show up, by which I mean to sit down at the desk ready to work. Generally I'm in the office – read shed – at just after 7:30 when my son goes off to catch the school bus. I'm always more productive during school term time because I can't sleep late. That's something I don't like to do these days, anyway.

My shed/office was a toilet and shower block for a caravan site on the fields next to our house in the 1960s. The name "Steve" is neatly carved into the plaster near my right elbow and I rather like the notion that I'm carrying on Steve's labours in the same place. I refurbished the shed myself when we first moved here so it's custom built for diversion. I like having stuff to look at and fiddle with if I get stuck on a line, so the desk is littered with knick-knacks, toys, puzzles, marbles... basically anything that I find interesting. I share the shed with a few mice who find their way in under the floor or behind the cladding on the walls. By and large we get on all right, although I do have to use a stick to bang on the walls when they're really noisy. The cat kills a few of them when he can be bothered. Most of the time he keeps me company by sleeping.

My rule is to write at least a thousand words a day, every day. If I get to a thousand by mid morning I sometimes give myself the rest of the day off, but usually if it's going that well I just want to keep writing until I run out of steam. On a very good day I'll more than double the word target and then I'm rewarded with gin. I worked for a long time as a TV scriptwriter and doing that was a good way of learning to be disciplined and professional. With a shooting schedule to keep to there's no time to have writer's block or wait for the muse to strike. If you can't deliver a good script and on time you don't get another commission, it's as simple as that.

The only time I relax the thousand-words-a-day rule is when I'm working on the plot of a book, which is probably harder work than the actual writing. Because I write crime novels, which are basically exercises in deception, the plot is essential. Getting motives and means all figured out before I start writing is absolutely key. It also helps to know where you want to end up, so often I'll have a good idea of the ending before I even know exactly who, what and why.

Plotting can take a couple of months to get right. A simple idea like, "he could be killed with a flick knife and it's revealed by the post mortem" can mean days of research, either online, talking to an expert, or going to look at something myself. The browsing history on my Mac would be distinctly suspicious if I was ever a suspect for murder, but really the best way to get information (and great story details) is to talk to coppers, doctors and lawyers. I'm very lucky in knowing great people in those fields and by now they're pretty used to weird questions, followed by days of silence while I try and work their advice into the plot, and then a load more supplementary questions. I do like to get things right if I possibly can.

The plotting stage is also where characters start to take shape. What a character does in the story should be governed by what type of person they are. So if I know I need someone to steal a child from a nursery, say, I work out what sort of person would do that and why, and then I write them accordingly from the start. It might sound obvious to do it that way round, but I think one of the most common mistakes writers make is to have a character do something that is out of character for the person they've created, just because that's what the plot calls for. I suspect that the main reason that happens is poor planning, whether it's in a crime novel or not. I don't believe a good novel is ever really written as a product of pure stream of consciousness without the author knowing where it's going.

By the end of the research/plotting period I usually have a 20-30 page document – a storyline – which is a road map of the entire book. It's usually full of shorthand notes to myself and reminders of logic and character, and that's what I follow to the end. Occasionally, once I get some way into a book, I realise something's not working or is pulling the plot off course. If so I stop writing and reassess and then change the plot, or go back and find out where I took a wrong turn and delete stuff.

The worst advice I've ever come across about writing was to "just carry on to the end, even if you think you've got a problem." That's utter rubbish, to put it politely. If you've got a problem it's not going to go away by ignoring it: things will only get worse. You have to diagnose what's causing the problem and put it right, otherwise you'll just end up with a badly flawed story which will have to be substantially rewritten to make it decent. That's just a waste of time and energy. The best advice I ever heard was "be prepared to kill your babies". In other words, no matter how well written something is, no matter how much you love it, if it doesn't help the story, press delete.

I usually write well until lunch time, but afterwards getting back into it can be hard so I tend to potter around and do admin and other things for a while. Anything physical or that uses a different part of the brain is good. I keep a few sheep so they have to be checked and looked after, and I can usually find wood to cut or something else to do outside for an hour or so, and then by mid afternoon I'm ready to go again. If I'm really on a roll I'll sometimes work after dinner as well, but generally I've had enough by then so I'll watch something on TV, although it often ends up being a documentary that might have interesting (ie useful) information in it for a book idea.

I'm not sure that writers ever really switch off. If the work's going well you're thinking about the next page, and if it's not you're thinking about the section you wrote and how to fix it. I don't remember my dreams, so I don't know if I dream about writing, but I often wake up thinking about it in the morning.

 Thanks so much Chris. Some great writing tips there.

The first novel in Chris Ould's Faroes trilogy, The Blood Strand, was published last year by Titan Books. The second book in the series, The Killing Bay, is published on 21 February 2017.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ambulance Girls Blog Tour

I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows. Deborah Burrows is a bestselling Australian author of fiction set during the Second World War. Although her previous books were set in wartime Australia, Ambulance Girls is the first in a new trilogy set during the London Blitz. Lily Brennan is an Australian girl who came to Europe looking for adventure. She was working as a nanny in Prague when the German occupation of Czechoslovakia began. Having witnessed brutal attacks on the streets particularly of Jewish citizens Lily makes her way to London and before long she is working as an ambulance driver. The work was not without risk and at times Lily puts her own life in danger to help others. Lily becomes close friends with her colleague; Jewish ambulance attendant David Levy and feels aggrieved when some of her other colleagues make racist and anti-semitic remarks. When David disappears Lily is worried and asks his old school friend the dashing RAF pilot Jim for help to find out what happened to their friend. Ambulance Girls is a fantastic book, it's a mystery, a romance and a wonderful insight into war time life with excellent detail about how difficult it was dealing with food shortages and the genuine dangers faced by those who searched for bodies and survivors in the rubble of bombed out buildings. The casual racism and the snobbery and class division are also brilliantly highlighted. I am particularly intrigued by Lily's story because my great-aunt May was an ambulance girl during the Second World War who married her own dashing RAF man, so for me this book held extra special charm. I am delighted that it's the first of a series and I can't wait to read more. Ambulance Girls will make ideal reading for fans of Call the Midwife and the books of Donna Douglas and Nancy Revell or anyone with an interest in women's history and life on the home front during WW2. The blog tour continues tomorrow. Check the poster below for more details. Ambulance Girls is published in paperback by Ebury on 23rd February. Thanks to Josie Turner at Penguin Random House.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Arrowood by Mick Finlay

Arrowood is the debut novel from Mick Finlay. It's set in South London in 1895 and it features a consulting detective, but this is not Sherlock Holmes. The tagline for this story is "London Society takes their problems to Sherlock Holmes everyone else goes to Arrowood." Arrowood is fat, balding, often drunk. He's a terrible brother an even worse employer and friend and he hates Sherlock Holmes with a burning passion. The police generally aren't interested in his help so he has to use unconventional or even illegal methods to find information but somehow he and his partner Barnett seem to get the job done. When a young French woman seeks their help in locating her missing brother Barnett and Arrowood soon find themselves embroiled in a mystery that includes a dangerous criminal gang, Irish American revolutionaries and corruption at the highest levels of power. The writing is furious and fast paced Finlay knows his way around Victorian London and like Arrowood he knows people; from the drunks at the bar to the kind hearted women like Arrowood's sister who nurse the sick and the destitute, to the servants quarters and flop houses this is a Victorian London that's richly peopled and beautifully drawn. If you a fan of Sarah Pinborough's Mayhem or if love the camaraderie of Frey and McGray in Oscar de Muriel's books then Arrowood is for you. If you are fan of Sherlock Holmes you will probably love it all the more. All the familiar Sherlockian tropes are there but they are subtle and carefully used and the whole story is also shaded with political ideas and a darker and grittier tone than Conan Doyle ever used. This is a fantastic start to what I hope will be a longer series.
Thanks very much to the team at LoveReading and to the publishers HQ (Harper Collins) for the chance to read and review this novel before release.
Arrowood will be out on 23rd March 2017 in hardcover

The Moonstone's Curse by Sam Siciliano

The Moonstone's Curse is the latest title in Titan Books Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series. I am always happy to read anything set in the Sherlock universe and this book was a fine addition to that world neatly blending plot and characters from Wilkie Collins The Moonstone with Sherlock's London society. Well to do aristocrat Charles Bromley seeks the help of Holmes and his cousin Dr Henry Vernier because he believes his wife is in imminent danger. His wife Alice has inherited the priceless diamond known as the Moonstone from her father Neville who inherited it from his mother Rachel Verinder the original recipient of the diamond in Wilkie Collins novel of 1868. Bromley goes on to explain the diamond's bloody history and the belief that Alice's ancestor had stolen the diamond during the siege of Srirangaptana and murdered the man tasked with guarding it. Alice is convinced that because of this bloody history the Moonstone is cursed. She believes that it killed her parents and she wants to get rid of it. However Alice is prevented from selling the diamond by a clause in her inheritance which means the diamond must pass intact to her surviving kin. Alice has recently begun to see faces at the window and is convinced that someone has come from India to take the diamond back. Sherlock Holmes is of course intrigued and the game is indeed afoot. Following on the trail of a murdered jeweller Holmes and Vernier are soon entangled in the mystery of The Moonstone and under its sinister spell. Tying Sherlock Holmes to what most would consider the first detective or mystery novel is a smart move on the part of the author and one that Siciliano has pulled off before; his previous Sherlock Holmes novels include The White Worm inspired by one of Bram Stoker's less successful outings. The Moonstone's Curse is however a twisty mystery full of intriguing characters especially Vernier and his wife Michelle Doudet-Vernier  also a doctor. The contrast between the frightened and laudanum addicted Alice and the redoubtable Michelle offers a marked commentary on Victorian feminity.
I really enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more of the adventures of Holmes and the Verniers.

The Moonstone's Curse is published today 14th February and is available in paperback and ebook from Titan Books. Thanks so much to Phillipa Ward for sending me a copy.

What you Don't Know Blog tour

Joann Chaney's debut novel is a dark and addictive literary thriller which looks at the aftermath of a serial killer and the impact on those who survived. Three people are forever linked by their connection to Jacky Seever a notorious serial killer who was arrested and sentenced to death 7 years earlier after 33 bodies were found buried under his house. There's Paul Hoskins one of the officers who arrested Seever and exposed him as a killer but Hoskins has never been able to get Seever out of his head and it's impacted every part of his life, his marriage is over, his father is loosing his memory and he's been kicked out of the homicide unit to work in the basement on the cold cases. Sammie Peterson reported on the case when Seever was arrested, her name was splashed all over the papers alongside his, but seven years later she can't get a story accepted and she's working at a make up counter at the mall wondering where it all went wrong. Gloria Seever should have known her husband better than anyone. People are still convinced that she knew and she has to deal with being shouted at in the grocery store and washing graffiti off her house but still she tells herself she knew nothing. And then people connected to Seever start to turn up dead; brutally murdered in a strikingly similar way to Seever's original victims. Is the killer a copycat? a partner? or one of those closest to him?

There are shades of Gillian Flynn in this scalpel sharp tale of the dark underbelly of Midwesten life and in the lies the characters tell themselves. Chaney looks deep into the heart of each character and poses the question are there really such things as good and evil or do we carry the possibility of both inside us? This is a disturbing and unsettling book. If you are ready for a psychological thriller than offers real and chilling psychological insight this is it.

For an interview with the author and some insight into her inspiration and her writing days Follow the link below to JaffaReadsToo which was yesterday's stop on the blog tour. I am excited to see what Joann does next.

Romance in Fiction

As it is Valentine's Day I felt I should write a little about romance especially as I will be writing about serial killers later. Generally I'm in favour of romance in novels but I'm not a fan of novels which are just 'will they won't they' stories and I can't stand romance that feels unconvincing. I prefer when the romance seems to happen amongst the chaos of everything else in the story. Obviously the writer knows what they are doing but it's much more enjoyable for the me if the romance is part of the story not the purpose of the story. A good example of this is one of my favourite book series Outlander in which 20th Century nurse Claire Randall accidently travels back to the 18th Century and is forced to seek protection from an English Army Captain by allying herself with a Scottish highlander James Fraser and she finds herself falling in love with him.
However I specifically wanted to talk about Romance in Young Adult fiction. Firstly because it's especially important that Young Adult fiction is more than just romance and because it's important for readers to see romance portrayed realistically and sensitively.
I was asked my thoughts on this very topic by Irish writer Claire Hennessy for an article which appears in today's Irish Times online. You can check it out HERE

I mentioned Eleanor and Park as a good example of Young Adult romance and My good friend Maera Black of mentioned Graceling and the relationship between Katsa and Po, which is a real favourite of mine. I would also like to mention Resonance by Celine Kiernan as there are a number of beautifully portrayed relationships but Tina and Joe are particularly well done as they are tested to their absolute limits and not found wanting.

"The title characters in Rowell’s Eleanor and Park similarly work well for readers. Children’s bookseller Lisa Redmond describes them as “a wonderful couple: awkward and embarrassed at first but you really root for them. Their shared interest in music gives them a connection and a way of communicating without words.”

Monday, February 13, 2017

Madwomen in the Attic #4 Elizabeth Griffith

Elizabeth Griffith was born in Wales in 1727 to Thomas Griffith a well known Dublin actor-manager and his Yorkshire wife Jane Foxcroft, however she was raised in Ireland and educated by her father. She read both English and French and her father encouraged her to recite verse, no doubt anticipating a life on the stage. Her father died in 1744 and by 1749 Elizabeth is listed as an actress in Thomas Sheridan's company (husband of Frances Sheridan) Sometime in the early 1750s Elizabeth secretly married Richard Griffith and in 1753 they moved to London and she began performing at Covent Garden. When her husband's business failed Elizabeth turned to writing; publishing her courtship letters and following those with poetry and drama. She also translated a number of works from French. She achieved enough success that she could seek employment with the famed David Garrick for whom she wrote The School for Rakes in 1769 and though other plays followed they were less successful. Elizabeth soon turned to novel writing and the fashionable epistolary novel. She toned down her characters in her novels as she received criticism for her forthright female characters in her plays and conscious of the need to provide for her family she tailored her work to the market. She published her first novel in the same year as her husband The Delicate Distress (1769) was followed by The History of Lady Barton (1771) and The Story of Lady Juliana Harley (1776) These novels feature characters who are preyed upon by violent men conforming to the trend for sentimental novels at the time, the tone is quite moralistic and as a consequence her books dated very quickly and rapidly went out of fashion. Griffith however continued what she saw as her more serious work editing works by women dramatists such as Aphra Behn and Eliza Haywood and translating French work such as Voltaire and the Princess of Cleeves by Marie-Madeleine, Comtesse de La Fayette. She also wrote Literary Criticism and her The Morality of Shakespeare's Drama Illustrated (1775) is especially significant as she was one of the first scholars to discuss Shakespeare's legacy and importance.

Although she often received a harsh critical reception Elizabeth Griffith was widely respected in the literary circles of her day, her admirers included Fanny Burney, Joshua Reynolds, James Boswell and Edmund Burke. Griffith has often been dismissed as a sentimental novelist but she made a sizeable contribution to the literary world of her day. She was a member of the Blue Stocking Society; an intellectual salon consisting of mostly female members and organised by Elizabeth Montagu.

Elizabeth Griffith is pictured here (seated right) with other Bluestockings in this 1778 painting by Richard Samuel. Elizabeth Griffith's son joined the East India Company and became a wealthy man,  in 1786 Elizabeth and her husband settled at Millicent House at Clane in County Kildare with their son and Elizabeth died there in 1793.