Monday, July 16, 2018

The War in the Dark by Nick Setchfield Q&A

Nick Setchfield's debut novel is available now from Titan books. It is a page turning blend of fantasy and espionage. Set in various locations across Europe in the early 1960s as British agent Christopher Winter flees London only to find himself caught up in a race to discover an occult secret which will give the nation that uses it unimaginable power. 

Nick, your book has been called a blend of James Bond and M.R. James. What inspired you to mix these genres together?

I love both – and I especially love Live And Let Die, the Bond book that edges closest to the supernatural. It has such a heady flavour. Spy stories and dark fantasy seemed like such a wonderfully combustible combination and I thought smashing them together on the page would be immense fun. But here’s the thing: they actually fit together beautifully. The realms of espionage and the occult have so many parallels. Both of them operate in the shadows, in the margins. And spies have a sense of tradecraft, of ritual, just like magicians. Codes are spells, right? A collection of runes that can unlock the truth… The more I explored the history of the two worlds the more in common they seemed to have and the more excited I became at the possibilities. When I discovered that the motto of the British Intelligence service was semper occultus – all is secret – it felt like a sign that I was on the right track. The next day I saw the first of the silent men, standing in my street, but I’m not entirely comfortable talking about that, so let’s move on.

Who are the writers that inspire you?

So many! I’ve always loved Ray Bradbury: god, the magic he performs with words, it’s dazzling. Big heart and big imagination, too, whether he’s writing about Mars or Green Town, Illinois. Joan Aiken was an early favourite. Another absolute sorcerer with words and just a name I associate with the spines of Puffin paperbacks on the school bookshelf, and all the escape that they promised (even the name Aiken had something marvellously witchy and cryptic about it – I’ve never met anyone called Aiken. Have you?). Ian Fleming and MR James, of course. I love the sweep of Fleming’s writing and the understated but tangible dread of James’ stuff (“His mouth was full of sand and stones, and his teeth and jaws were broken to bits. I only glanced once at his face.” – A Warning To The Curious). And I have to mention Neil Gaiman, too, not just for his craft but face-to-face inspiration. I interviewed him when American Gods came out, way back in 2001, and that conversation lit something inside me. I knew I had to try writing a book of my own. It’s taken a while, but here we are.

What are your top tips for writers of speculative fiction?

Well, I’ve only written the one book so far, so I expect Imposter Syndrome to strike me down at any moment if I try and sound too wise about this. But here’s the essential thing I learned: stay in touch with the things that thrill you, and use the things that thrill you to power your own work. I wear my influences on my sleeve in The War in the Dark: James Bond, Indiana Jones, Hitchcock, the British school of occult writers. And in each case I remembered why I adored that stuff in the first place. Even when I was using a bloodied teaspoon to scrape words from my screaming skull – usually at ten o’clock each evening – what kept me going was the thought that I was writing what I loved. So embrace your inspirations. But don’t just Xerox them. Turn them into triggers. Work out ways to twist them or collide them or otherwise put your own, distinct stamp on them, because people are waiting for your voice. Synthesise your influences and make something new from them.

Can we look forward to more adventures for Christopher Winter?

I can’t even promise he’ll survive this adventure… I mean, he’s good, but the forces ranged against him are so powerful that I fear for his chances. But if he does make it to the end of this book then yes,  there’ll be a whole new world of magic and terror waiting for him in the next one.

Thanks so much Nick for answering my questions and Lydia and Titan books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. See the banner for more details.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Story Keeper

The Story Keeper is the second novel from Anna Mazzola; following the extremely successful The Unseeing. The Story Keeper is a haunting and Gothic tale set on the isle of Skye in the mid nineteenth century. The book opens with Audrey Hart traveling to take up her new position as assistant to Miss Buchanan a local folklorist who wants to collect the tales of fairies, selkies and other beliefs and superstitions as the local area is devastated by the highland clearances. Audrey had grown up hearing the tales her mother had collected before her death. We soon learn that Audrey has run away from a harsh home life and that her mother's death remains shrouded in mystery. She has come to Skye to understand her own and her mother's past as much as to escape her present.
However almost from the beginning Audrey is thwarted by suspicious locals who refuse to tell their tales, strange noises and lights and then girls on the island begin to disappear. This is a top notch thriller full of Gothic twists and with wonderful insight into the Highland customs which were beginning to be lost in this period. Anna Mazzola has clearly done some fantastic research and I love how the thriller elements and the traditional folklore tie together. Audrey is a fantastic character and only one of a handful of strong women characters in this book trying to find their place in a restrictive society. I recommend this if like me the phrases Scottish island or Victorian mystery is enough to get you running to the bookshop. Perfect for fans of Lisa Tuttle or Diana Bretherick

The Story Keeper is published by Tinder Press in hardback in July. Thanks so much to the author and Jenni Leech at Tinder for sending me an early proof copy.

Wrecker by Noel O'Reilly

I am delighted to be opening the Blog Tour for Noel O'Reilly's brilliant debut novel Wrecker. This is an atmospheric and enchanting historical tale set in early Nineteenth Century Cornwall where shipwrecks are a common occurrence. The people of the tiny coastal village of Porthmorvoren have always gathered up whatever the sea washes to shore whether that's liquor or jewels or perhaps a fine pair of boots. Mary Blight has grown up here, with no father and an ill mother she and her sister have long since fended for themselves. When Mary rescues a man from the sea and brings him to her home to help him recover, tongues begin to wag. The stranger is a Methodist minister shocked by the poverty and superstition he finds in the village. As he determines to bring the villagers into the light of salvation he and Mary grow close and jealousy and suspicion grow because even in a village as poor as Porthmorvoren there is always a hierarchy and those who consider themselves Mary's betters are angry at the favour shown to her by a man of God and of learning. A mysterious and dark tale of a world on the cusp of change and a strikingly beautiful but harsh landscape. Noel O'Reilly's characters are utterly believable and the jealousy and rivalry of the women and the aggression and treachery of the men is brilliantly conveyed. If you are a fan of Poldark, The Essex Serpent or the novels of Daphne du Maurier you will enjoy Wrecker.

Thanks to Joe at HQ for a copy. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Beloveds by Maureen Lindley

The Beloveds is a gripping Gothic tale of the Stash sisters who grew up in a stunning country pile; Pipits in Somerset. Betty is the eldest and ever since she was supplanted in her Mother's affections by younger sister Gloria, she has been steeped in a dangerous jealous brew. Betty believes that Gloria is a 'Beloved' one of those lucky people blessed with good looks, a sunny disposition and good fortune in life. Betty's one time best friend becomes Gloria's constant companion, Betty's boyfriend meets Gloria and is smitten. So when their mother leaves Pipits to Gloria and Henry, Betty is outraged. Pipits has been Betty's obsession since childhood, she believes her inheritance has been taken from her and she will do anything to get it back. Maureen Lindley's debut is a stunning, page turning study in a character's descent into madness. Every step in Betty's deranged and dangerous scheme seems absolutely logical and fair to Betty while the reader is compelled to read on and ask just how far will she go? This is a psychological thriller that will have you gripped. Perfect for fans of Gilliann Flynn or Liz Nugent. 

Thanks so much to Philippa at Titan for sending me a copy. The Beloveds is out now in paperback.