Blog Tour: The High House by Jessie Greengrass

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Perched on a hill above a village by the sea, the high house has a mill, a vegetable garden and a barn full of supplies.

Caro and her younger half-brother, Pauly, arrive there one day to find it cared for by Grandy and his granddaughter, Sally. Not quite a family, they learn to live together, and care for one another.

But there are limits even to what the ailing Grandy knows about how to survive, and, if the storm comes, it might not be enough.

This book has been waiting patiently on my TBR for quite a while now, so I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the paperback release of The High House by Jessie Greengrass which has made me get around to reading it at last! My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for offering me a copy of the book for review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book before I went in to it, as I had deliberately avoided reading any reviews that might slew my opinion. I was expecting a piece of dystopian literature, which is a genre I love, and I got this, and so much more. This book is an absolutely beautiful exploration of the devastation of climate change, preparation for survival, love, responsibility and the motivations we have for keeping ourselves alive.

Caro’s stepmother is a scientist who perceived the dangers of the havoc we are wreaking on the planet and begins to make secret preparations to ensure the safety of her son, Pauly. Caro, unknowing, perceives her behaviour as selfish as she is left to parent Pauly by herself but, when tragedy strikes, she begins to see what Francesca has done to secure their future in the sanctuary she has built for them in the High House. Looked after by caretaker, Grandy, and his granddaughter, Sally, Caro finds a curious kind of family life high up above the East Anglian marshes, as the rest of the world begins to suffer and die when the extremes of weather change the face of our world forever.

This books has so many themes running through it that, although it is only short, there is too much to unpack and ruminate on in one reading. The book has raised so many questions in me, and stirred up so many emotions that it is going to be a very hard book to move on from, and I think I will have to come back to it soon for a second reading to cement my reactions to it more firmly and revisit my feelings at a more leisurely pace, and with some distance from the immediate.

My overriding feeling at present is one of melancholy. The book is imbued with such hopelessness about our future and what we are doing to the planet. From the beginning it is clear that mankind has left it too late to reverse the harm it has caused and all anyone can do now is try and find a way to survive as long as possible. Francesca’s fury at people’s refusal to address the problems and heed her warnings burns from the page and, when we realise what she has been doing to protect her son, it just emphasises the fact she realised there was no turning back. I hope that the author means this as a warning and not a prediction that we have already reached this point, because the future she paints here once we have passed the point of no return is too bleak to contemplate.

In fact, I was staggered by the amount of detail in her portrayal of this future where the planet has turned against the ungrateful human parasites who have elected to destroy the very thing on which their survival depends. She has clearly spent a lot of time contemplated what might happen and how our world might look, should we be fortunate enough to survive drought or flood. Things I had not even given any thought to are described very convincingly here, and the picture is not pretty. In fact, if you read this book and are not terrified by the possibilities of what might wait in our future if we don’t take steps to change things, you are severely lacking in imagination.

However, throughout the book the author also explores the themes of love and family, how deep run the familial bonds, how overriding is the human desire to survive and protect our loved ones at whatever cost to ourselves. This book really screws down into the motivations of humans to ensure their survival at all costs. I spent a good chunk of the book asking myself what I would do in the circumstances that Sally and Caro in particular find themselves. What exactly is it that is keeping them going, what kind of life are they preserving and, at what moral cost do they ensure the future of themselves and their loved ones as  opposed to the rest of society. Anyone who has ever seen any kind of disaster movie will know that these are not new ideas, but this novel considers them with a depth, sincerity and tenderness that I found deeply moving and affecting.

The author’s writing style is poetic and lyrical. The book switched between different voices and time periods which can be difficult to follow until you get used to it, particularly as she does not use speech marks to indicate dialogue but it is easy to get into the flow of her words after the first few pages and then I just lost myself in the images she was painting. Because painting is what this is, painting with words on the canvas of the page which transferred perfectly on to the movie screen in my brain and I watched it like a beautiful film unspooling. This is a stunning, saddening, worrying book to read and I can entirely understand why it was shortlisted for the Costa.

The High House is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for more reviews and other great content:

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About the Author

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Jessie Greengrass spent her childhood in London and Devon. She studied philosophy in Cambridge and London and now lives in Berwick-upon-Tweed with her partner and children.

Her collection of short stories, An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, won the Edge Hill Prize 2016 and a Somerset Maugham Award. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Sight, was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018.

Connect with Jessie:

Twitter: @JessGreengrass

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Book Review: Off Target by Eve Smith

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A longed-for baby
An unthinkable decision
A deadly mistake

In an all-too-possible near future, when genetic engineering has become the norm for humans, not just crops, parents are prepared to take incalculable risks to ensure that their babies are perfect … altering genes that may cause illness, and more…

Susan has been trying for a baby for years, and when an impulsive one-night stand makes her dream come true, she’ll do anything to keep her daughter and ensure her husband doesn’t find out … including the unthinkable. She believes her secret is safe. For now.

But as governments embark on a perilous genetic arms race and children around the globe start experiencing a host of distressing symptoms – even taking their own lives – something truly horrendous is unleashed. Because those children have only one thing in common, and people are starting to ask questions…

My great thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for sending me a proof copy of Off Target by Eve Smith when I enthused about the premise of the book on Twitter. As always, my review is my honest and impartial opinion of the book.

I am a massive fan of speculative fiction so, as soon as I saw Karen Sullivan talking about this book on Twitter, I was excited about it. As someone who has been through reproductive trauma myself, I knew that the story of a woman struggling to have the baby she so desperately wants would resonate deeply with me, and the combination of the two was irresistible.

This book delivered everything I was hoping for and more. It is such a thoughtful and thought-provoking novel which explores complex and controversial ideas in a scenario that is futuristic but plausible enough to make it urgently terrifying. Anyone who walks away from this book with a brain that isn’t mulling over their thoughts on what they would do if faced with these choices, coupled with an underlying sense of unease, wasn’t paying proper attention to the story.

When I was in the third year of my law degree, one of the optional modules I studied was Law and Medical Ethics. Given my advanced age, you can see this is an issue which has fascinated me for many years. Even back then, the ethics of using advances in reproductive technology to help parents have healthy babies was one of the topics under debate and, as new discoveries are made and possibilities expand, the topic becomes only more difficult and contentious. This is the world that Eve Smith is exploring in Off Target and she really cuts to the core of the matter. Just because medicine CAN do something, does that mean that it should? At what point do the rights of the foetus separate from the rights of the parent? What actually makes us the people we are and how much can we change and still be the person we were meant to be? Where is the line to be drawn between treatment that spares children pain and suffering and treatment that edges into eugenics?

These are dilemmas that have troubled society since medicine was first able to intervene to prevent unwanted pregnancies, resolve medical issues in the womb and help infertile couples conceive. You will get many different answers to what is right and wrong in these scenarios, depending on what is important to the individual you are talking to and, bringing up these topics in assured to result in heated debate. It’s an issue people feel strongly about, and reading this book is sure to provoke a visceral response in many. For this reason, it would make an excellent book club read. The fact that these questions are looming on the near horizon will serve only to make any debate more heated. These are scenarios that we may have to deal with in the not-too-distant future and, given some of the reactions we have seen over the past year to the roll out of the Covid vaccine, the extreme responses to genetic modification that Eve explores in this novel are scarily probable.

This book felt prescient to me, as someone who has some small experience and interest in this area, and I found it hugely compelling, deeply unsettling and utterly engrossing. One of the most provocative and stimulating books I have read in a good long while, I can’t rate it highly enough. Orenda continue to have a keen eye for publishing the highest quality and most interesting books and authors in their chosen genres.

Off Target is out now in ebook and paperback formats. You can get it at all good bookshops and online retailers including here.

Having already received a proof copy of Off Target, I am giving away the finished copy of the book I received in my Orenda subscription to one lucky reader. Pop over to my Twitter profile at @book_problem for more details.

About the Author

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Longlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize and described by British bookshop chain Waterstones as: “an exciting new voice in crime fiction”, Eve Smith’s debut novel The Waiting Rooms was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize First Novel Award and was selected as a Book of the Month in The Guardian just after launch.

“Smith combines the excitement of a medical thriller à la Michael Crichton with sensitive characterisation and social insight in a timely debut novel all the more remarkable for being conceived and written before the current pandemic.”

Eve writes speculative fiction, mainly about the things that scare her. In this world of questionable facts, stats and news, she believes storytelling is more important than ever to engage people in real life issues.

She attributes her love of all things dark and dystopian to a childhood watching Tales of the Unexpected and black-and-white Edgar Allen Poe double bills.

Her new thriller, Off Target, is another chilling, prophetic page-turner set in a near future, when genetic engineering has become the norm for humans, not just crops, and parents are prepared to take incalculable risks to ensure their babies are perfect.

Eve’s previous job as COO of an environmental charity took her to research projects across Asia, Africa and the Americas, and she has an ongoing passion for wild creatures, wild science and far-flung places.

When she’s not writing, she’s chasing across fields after her dog, attempting to organise herself and her family or off exploring somewhere new.

Connect with Eve:

Website: https://www.evesmithauthor.com

Facebook: Eve Smith Author

Twitter: @evecsmith

Instagram: @evesmithauthor

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Blog Tour: Blue Running by Lori Ann Stephens

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Fourteen-year-old Bluebonnet Andrews is on the run across the Republic of Texas. An accident with a gun killed her best friend but everyone in the town of Blessing thinks it was murder. Even her father – the town’s drunken deputy – believes she did it. Now, she has no choice but to run. In Texas, murder is punishable by death.

There’s no one to help her. Her father is incapable and her mother left the state on the last flight to America before the secession. Blue doesn’t know where she is but she’s determined to track her down. First she has to get across the lawless Republic and over the wall that keeps everyone in.

On the road she meets Jet, a pregnant young woman of Latin American heritage. Jet is secretive about her past but she’s just as determined as Blue to get out of Texas before she’s caught and arrested. Together, the two form an unlikely kinship as they make their way past marauding motorcycle gangs, the ever watchful Texas Rangers, and armed strangers intent on abducting them – or worse. When Blue and Jet finally reach the wall, will they be able to cross the border, or will they be shot down in cold blood like the thousands who have gone before them?

Some things are worth dying for.

I am delighted to be one of the blogs opening the tour for the first UK-published title by author, Lori Ann Stephens. Blue Running is a book for both adults and young adults, addressing issues of feminism, nationalism, women’s rights, racial injustice, immigration and gun ownership. My thanks to Midas PR for inviting me to take part and to the author and publisher for providing me with a copy of the book for the purposes of review. As always, I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

This is a really compelling and engaging book with a fascinating premise. Set in a slightly dystopian future, the state of Texas has ceded from the United States and now operates as an autonomous Republic, separated from the rest of America by a wall, no one is allowed in or out. The wall is guarded, not only by official Border Guards but also by trigger-happy vigilantes eager to bag illegal immigrants or emigrants. And in this Texas, everyone is required to carry a gun by law. The Republic is very right wing and very religious, and rights are suitably restricted, especially for women. The scariest thing about this book is how entirely plausible the story is.

The protagonist, Blue, comes from a family riven by the cession so, when she suddenly and unfairly finds herself on the wrong side of the law, she feels like she has no option but to go on the run. Over the course of her flight, she is forced to question everything she has been brought up to believe, and learns to stand on her own two feet and discover her own version of right and wrong.

Blue is such a fantastic character to carry this book. At the beginning she is a little naive in the ways of the wider world, but also old beyond her years because of what she has had to deal with due to her absent mother and alcoholic father. She is an endearing mix of toughness and vulnerability and this makes her a person who quickly gets under your skin and makes you want the best for her. The unfairness of the situation she finds herself in, combined with the danger of the outside world that she is thrust into will have you on the edge of your seat throughout and willing her on to get to safety. You will be shouting at her who to trust and who to avoid, wanting to avenge the wrongs done to her and protect the people she cares for. This book is really affecting, and I raced though it to find out what happened.

Blue desperately wants things to be fair, to be able to trust and believe in the people and the ideals that she has been raised to respect, but the world is corrupt and those in charge are the worst of all. Things are not as black and white as she has always thought, and she is struggling to navigate this new world whilst rapidly maturing herself. This is a book of self-discovery, which also explores such important and topical issues of feminism, human rights, gun control, immigration and social injustice. There is so much going on, it will really make you think whilst keeping you entertained from beginning to end. This is a book that will appeal to adults and young adults, and would actually provide a great kicking off point for discussions on some of these topics with teenagers who are just starting to explore these ideas.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the writing, characterisation and the plotting are all excellent and it is a really great read. I highly recommend it, and look forward to seeing what comes next from this author.

Blue Running will be published on 2 December in ebook, audiobook and hardback formats and you can pre-order a copy here.

Please make sure you check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour for alternative reviews:

About the Author

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Lori Ann Stephens is the award-winning author of novels for adults and children, including 2018’s Middle Grade novels NOVALEE AND THE SPIDER SECRET (Dragonfeather Books) and PIERRE FRANÇOIS: 5TH GRADE MISHAPS. SOME ACT OF VISION (ASD Press) was the 2013 YA novel winner of the National Readers’ Choice Award, hosted by the Romance Writers of America, OK. She’s also the author of SONG OF THE ORANGE MOONS (Blooming Tree Press, Nov 2010) and several short stories, poems, and opera libretti. When she’s not writing or teaching writing, she reads, takes on DIY home remodeling adventures, and eats the best gourmet, home-cooked meals. She is usually not the cook. She lives in Texas with her family.

Connect with Lori:

Website: https://www.loriannstephens.com/

Facebook: Lori Ann Stephens Writes

Twitter: @lorifromtexas

Instagram: @jolietexas

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Guest Post: Plague by Julie Anderson

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There are many ways to die. Plague is just one.

Work on a London tube line is halted by the discovery of an ancient plague pit and in it, a very recent corpse. A day later another body is found, also in a plague pit. This victim is linked to the Palace of Westminster, where rumours swirl around the Prime Minister and his rivals.

As the number of deaths climbs, the media stokes fear. Government assurances are disbelieved. Everyone feels threatened. This has to be resolved and fast.

A disgraced civil servant and a policeman must find the answer before Westminster closes for recess. Power, money and love curdle into a deadly brew that could bring down the Mother of Parliaments.

Time is running out. And it’s not clear what – or who – will survive. 

Plague by Julie Anderson is a new title out this week, and I am delighted to be sharing a guest post by Julie on the blog today in celebration of the book’s publication. Given what is currently going on in the world, Julie has written about how it feels when the dystopian fiction you have created collides with real world happenings.

When life and fiction collide… by Julie Anderson

Back in 2018 I began writing a novel, a Westminster murder mystery/thriller entitled ‘Plague‘. I was about to undergo surgery and knew that I’d have a long period of convalescence and recovery in which to plan out and begin writing my book. Without giving away too much of the plot (my publishers would shoot me if I did) the story is about a potential outbreak of a strain of plague in London in 2020. The atmosphere is tense and fearful and there is a general reluctance to accept what the authorities are saying, including medical experts and the police. People believe the real facts are being withheld. Entrenched and aggressive positions don’t help and a predilection for opinions, whatever their source, which reinforce existing prejudices, heightens anxiety. Sound familiar?

None of this was particularly new or controversial when I began writing it.

Populist politicians choosing to deny facts are now commonplace. The current President of the United States springs to mind, but there are European heads of state who do the same, including our own. This is amplified in the echo chamber of social media.  In medicine, Anti-Vaxxer groups illustrate how people make potentially life-changing decisions based on belief rather than on scientific evidence. My villain in the novel chooses to exploit circumstances to increase his own fortune and power, despite knowing the views he encourages are false. He uses social media to help do this. This too has happened in real life, when an individual exploited people’s genuine concerns for their own benefit. Former doctor Andrew Wakefield, now barred from practising in the UK and described as fraudulent, made the spurious link between the MMR vaccine and child autism. This resulted in a reduction in vaccination rates and subsequent suffering and death.

I wanted my book to highlight, in so far as I could within the confines of a commercial thriller, how dangerous disregarding fact and science is and how easily it can be exploited by people for their own ends. And it is, of course, a Westminster based thriller, so politics and democracy are involved. As are the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor, who regularly give press conferences, just as they did during the first months of the COVID-19 lockdown.

It’s genuinely unsettling to find events, so similar to those in my tale, unfolding in real life and seeing the reactions of media, institutions and individuals to the COVID-19 virus.  Some is horribly familiar – and irresponsible. Celebrities or TV ‘personalities’ asked for views on something they are not qualified to comment upon and the media rabble-rousing and setting people against each other.  In the novel the media is used to manipulate opinion to better serve the interests of wealthy owners and investors. As a character in my novel says, ‘It’s dishonest and dangerous!’ something with which I agree.

There have been demonstrators outside Downing Street, to protest the ‘lack of action’ by government, something which occurs in ‘Plague’. My heroine is caught up in just such a demonstration in Chapter 42. Pharmacies have been hiring body guards because of attacks from members of the public attempting to access medicines or other items which were out of stock.  This happens on Page 106 of the novel! 

Now we have multiple real life procurement scandals, all those non-advertised ’emergency’ government contracts worth many millions being given to companies owned by donors or associates of the governing party, while companies which are experts in their field and offering their services are ignored.  At least one of these has already spawned a law suit. In my novel there are contracts worth billions which are given to associates of the villain without going through the correct, legal procedures. It’s part of the corruption of democracy which my villain seeks.  I have to tell you that there’s even a shadowy but powerful Russian character, an international ally of my villain, who encourages his crimes and makes financial investments!

The plague in my book isn’t COVID-19, it’s power and the desire for and love of it. My book isn’t even about a pandemic, but the ‘plague scare’ in it has mirrored real life to an eerie degree. That doesn’t stop the book being a really good read, about a series of macabre murders, with my heroes working against the clock to prevent more deaths and a love story and quite a lot of history thrown in.  Pre-publication reviews describe it as ‘gripping’, ‘page turning’ and ‘gorgeously written’ though another word which keeps cropping up is ‘prescient’.

The number of usually well informed folk who simply don’t believe current government plans are based on science and the over-riding priority to save lives alarms me. Are they right? Is the government putting money before human life? I don’t know.  It’s a new disease strain.  There is much we don’t know.  Like in the book, it’s frightening. I spent eighteen months writing a novel but in life I can’t write the ending. That’s what’s really scary.

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Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Julie, it must have been very odd to see so much of what you envisaged in your work of fiction manifesting in the real world! I look forward to reading the book soon.

Plague is out now in both ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Julie Anderson was a Senior Civil Servant in Westminster and Whitehall for many years, including at the Office for the Deputy Prime Minister, the Inland Revenue and Treasury Solicitors. Earlier publications include historical adventure novels and short stories. She is Chair of Trustees of Clapham Writers, organisers of the Clapham Book Festival, and curates events across London. 

Connect with Julie:

Website: https://julieandersonwriter.com/

Facebook: Julie Anderson Author

Twitter: @jjulieanderson

Instagram: @julieandersonwriter

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Guest Post: 10:59 by N.R. Baker

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A deadly virus. An over-populated world. An impossible decision.

If you held the lives of those around you in your hands, who would you save? And could you live, knowing you had sentenced others to certain death?

Louis Crawford is a boy with a unique ability: to see through the noise to the problems and solutions that others are blind to. When asked to come up with an idea that will change the world, his answer is both shocking and simple. And it is a solution that will change everything, forever.

Louis finds himself thrust into the middle of an organisation that has the power to save the world. But are its motives pure? And can he live with the price that humanity must pay?

The clock is ticking to the end of the world; and we’re already at 10:59.

I am delighted to be featuring 10:59 by N.R. Baker on the blog today to celebrate its publication. Described as “the most important book you’ll read this year. An apocalyptic thriller with a difference, it will have you questioning everything – and everyone – you thought you knew,” it is a book I am really excited about reading. In the meantime, I have a fascinating Q&A that the author did for her publisher to share with you.

Q&A with Niki Baker for Burning Chair Publishing

Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you start writing and why?

I can’t remember starting to write. When my parents moved house and cleared their loft, they discovered some of my early works, written when I was five or six years old. The stories were brief and terrible, but they prove that I’ve always been fascinated with the art of using words to paint pictures.

With no spoilers, tell us a bit about 10:59 and what prompted you to write it.

10:59 is the story of Louis (‘with a wiss, not a wee’): a teenager who has a seemingly unique ability to see things that are invisible to others. When he’s asked to come up with an idea that will change the world, his answer is both shocking and simple. Louis finds himself thrust into the heart of an organisation that has the power to save a planet on the brink of destruction. With time running out, Louis must decide whether his employer’s motives are pure. And he will face an impossible dilemma about the devastating price that humanity must pay for its own salvation.

I was prompted to write 10:59 by what I see happening in the world. I wanted to explore a deliberately controversial scenario based on the facts of our increasingly dystopian existence. I’ve never seen myself as an eco-warrior, nor do I own a soapbox or have a habit of wearing socks with sandals, but I started with the conviction that Louis’s story needed to be told – and told in a way that would be entertaining and accessible for young adults as well as adult readers. In the course of all my research for the book, that conviction has turned into a passionate desire to get people thinking and talking about the greatest taboo of our time.

How did you come up with the inspiration for the story?

Readers will make assumptions about my inspiration for the novel because it features a deadly virus, when in fact I wrote the book two years before the coronavirus pandemic. I had no idea how topical and scary that aspect would turn out to be.

Is Louis-with-a-wiss – the main character in 10:59 – based on anyone you know?

Not directly. Louis wandered into my imagination and introduced himself, and then we got to know each other as I wrote the story. I recognise some of myself in him, and there were a number of scenes where I thought about how my son Connor would react in the same situation, which helped me make sure that Louis’s responses and actions felt real. I think Louis and Connor would get along with each other pretty well.

Tell us about your writing routine and where you tend to write.

What routine? I’m happy to say that my life is a little… unconventional. I’m lucky enough to be able to step outside what most people regard as normal routines, and that means I generally eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired, and write when I’m inspired. I write at my desk, which was situated in Oxfordshire while I wrote the first draft of 10:59. The desk and I have now relocated to France.

How did you find the editing and publication process? (Don’t worry about hurting our feelings – we’ve got thick skins…!)

Very slow, very challenging, and thoroughly rewarding. Writing a full-length novel in the first place is hard, but it’s just the start. Seeing a book all the way through to publication is definitely not for the faint-hearted or the impatient! But at this end of the process I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m proud to be a Burning Chair author. I’m confident that my book is the one I wanted to write and it’s ready to be unleashed on the world. Whether the world is ready for 10:59 remains to be seen, but the feedback from advance readers has been brilliant, so that’s incredibly exciting.

10:59 is a hard-hitting story which includes a number of characters who will stop at nothing to save a world on the brink of irreversible and cataclysmic change. And we’ll be honest it often hits painfully close to home! If you had a magic wand, what one action would you get everyone to take to save the world?

I can’t put it more eloquently than David Attenborough did when he said, “Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, it’s time we controlled the population to allow the survival of the environment.”

What’s next in the pipeline for you?

My pipeline is positively bulging with ideas and half-written stories, which may sound uncomfortable but of course it’s a great affliction for a writer to have. The story I’ve been developing recently starts with the main character falling through the floor of a cave and then… well, you’ll have to wait and see.

QUICK FIRE ROUND (One word answer):

Plotter or pantser?

Pantser.

Pen or keyboard?

Keyboard.

Character or plot?

Plot.

Early bird or night owl?

Owl.

Crossword or Sudoko?

Crossword.

Asking questions or answering questions?

Asking.

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Happy publication day, Niki, I look forward to reading the book for myself soon.

If you would like to get a copy of 10:59 for yourself, it is out today as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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N R Baker loves exploring the world and also the power of words. She spent much of her childhood up a tree in Somerset with her head in a book, either lost in the worlds created by authors like C.S. Lewis, or writing truly awful tales of her own. Since then she has earned recognition for her travel writing, poetry, lyrics, flash fiction and short stories. 10:59 is her first full-length novel. She lives in rural France.

Connect with Niki:

Website: http://nrbakerwriter.com

Facebook: N R Baker Writer

Twitter: @NRBakerWriter

Desert Island Books: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham; Narrated by Graeme Malcolm

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David Strorm’s father doesn’t approve of Angus Morton’s unusually large horses, calling them blasphemies against nature. Little does he realise that his own son, and his son’s cousin Rosalind and their friends, have their own secret abberation which would label them as mutants. But as David and Rosalind grow older it becomes more difficult to conceal their differences from the village elders. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery, or flee to the terrifying and mutable Badlands. . .

The Chrysalids is a post-nuclear apocalypse story of genetic mutation in a devastated world and explores the lengths the intolerant will go to keep themselves pure.

I don’t know whether you are someone who likes to read dystopian fiction, especially in this current time of pandemic, but if you are, then John Wyndham is a writer you should know about and this novel is, in my humble opinion, his best. I have read all of his books and, although he is better know for The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (which was made into a film called The Village of the Damned which did not in any way do the book justice), none of his other books have the emotional impact of The Chrysalids.

I was first introduced to the works of John Wyndham in my early teens by my excellent high school librarian. Along with Dorothy L. Sayers (one of whose novels will be featured as a Desert Island Book later in the year), John Wyndham was an author I would never have picked up without her encouragement, but who has since become a lifelong favourite. The first of his books I read was Chocky, and it (excuse my language) scared the crap out of me, but it was this book that really made me think and which continues to linger in my mind long after I finish reading it, even after multiple re-reads.

The book is set in a post-apocalyptic corner of Canada. The Earth has been blighted by a tragedy that the reader assumes is nuclear war, but this is never confirmed because the people living at this time don’t actually know what happened to make their world the way it is. Their reality is that vast tracts of the planet are uninhabitable, and the earth is so ravaged by radiation fallout that large proportions of everything are deformed and distorted from what they perceive to be the ‘true’ image. For comfort, the population have grasped on to religion with fervour to control their lives and they ruthlessly pursue what they consider to be gospel as regards how man should look and behave, to the extent that they destroy crops and animals they consider deformed or ‘Offences’ against God and inflict unspeakable horrors on humans that do not conform to their belief of the True Image of God, whom they label as Blasphemies.

The story follows the life of David Strorm, the son of one of the most rigid leaders of their  community, and his group of fellow telepaths, who have managed to say hidden from people as they are physically ‘normal’, but who fear persecution because their telepathic ability is not shared by the majority of people (the Norms).

This is basically a book about bigotry. About fear of people who do not look or act exactly the same as the majority, and who are persecuted for their differences, despite the fact they do not hurt anybody. When I listened to this book a few weeks ago to prepare for this piece, I had no idea just how relevant the story was going to feel when I came to post it.

The Audible version of this book is extremely well narrated and very easy to listen to and, as someone who loves and has read the book many times, I can attest that the story loses none of its impact when consumed as an audiobook.

You can buy a copy of The Chrysalids here.

About the Author

Unknown

John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Benyon Harris was born in 1903, the son of a barrister. He tried a number of careers including farming, law, commercial art and advertising, and started writing short stories, intended for sale, in 1925. From 1930 to 1939 he wrote stories of various kinds under different names, almost exclusively for American publications, while also writing detective novels. During the war he was in the Civil Service and then the Army.

In 1946 he went back to writing stories for publication in the USA and decided to try a modified form of science fiction, a form he called ‘logical fantasy’. As John Wyndham he wrote The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes (both widely translated), The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos (filmed as Village of the Damned), The Seeds of Time, Trouble with Lichen, The Outward Urge (with Lucas Parkes) and Chocky. He died in March 1969.