Book Review: The Wild Girls by Phoebe Morgan #BookReview

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Four friends. A luxury retreat. It’s going to be murder.

In a luxury lodge on Botswana’s sun-soaked plains, four friends reunite for a birthday celebration…

THE BIRTHDAY GIRL
Has it all, but chose love over her friends…

THE TEACHER
Feels the walls of her flat and classroom closing in…

THE MOTHER
Loves her baby, but desperately needs a break…

THE INTROVERT
Yearns for adventure after suffering for too long…

Arriving at the safari lodge, a feeling of unease settles over them. There’s no sign of the party that was promised. There’s no phone signal. They’re alone, in the wild.

THE HUNT IS ON.

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital copy of this book via NetGalley for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Blimey, what a rollercoaster of a book this is! I sat down and started it one morning and I kept sneaking back to read it throughout that day, resenting the chores that took me away from the story, and by that night I had finished it. This is one of those books that you want to completely immerse yourself in and stay gripped by until you get to the end, it is absolutely blooming fabulous.

I was really excited by the whole premise of the book – four friends holidaying in a luxury lodge in Botswana – as I love a book that takes me armchair travelling and I’ve always wanted to go on a safari holiday. Hmmm, not sure I do any more. Phoebe has managed to imbue the pages with this book with a creeping, suffocating sense of menace and jeopardy that would have anyone running screaming from the situation, if it was possible to escape.

The dynamics of female relationships always make for a fascinating read for me, and the author has constructed a friendship group here that is clearly dysfunctional, for reasons that she very cleverly hints at throughout to keep reader enthralled but doesn’t fully explain until the end, so you spend plenty of time trying to work out what is going on from the sneaky clues she drops in to the story at cunning intervals. All of the girls have secrets, and problems in their private lives which they aren’t sharing with one another, and the whole lot comes together in a beautiful explosion when they meet up. The book is very cleverly plotted and was one of the main things that kept me reading.

The book is told from the perspective of each of the characters, and it jumps around in time from present to past, as the events leading up to the Botswana trip are revealed, but you will barely notice the changes and it is very easy to follow. the author has constructed it in a way that flows easily, with each character having a distinctive voice, and I felt we got to know them all really well. They aren’t all particularly likeable, but that didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book at all.

There are some difficult issues touched upon in this book, which might be triggering for some people, but they all serve the plot and Phoebe has dealt with them delicately. I have to say, the ending gets a bit mad, but I was fully invested in the book by this point so I just went with it and, if I did find the ending a bit far-fetched, I still came away from the book feeling that I had had a really enjoyable and satisfying reading experience. I think you can tell when a writer has had a really good time writing a book, it usually translates to a great time for the reader, and this was certainly true of The Wild Girls. I had been greatly looking forward to reading it, and it completely fulfilled my expectations and then some. A really entertaining, gripping, immersive read.

The Wild Girls is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Phoebe Morgan is a bestselling author and editor. She studied English at Leeds University after growing up in the Suffolk countryside. She has previously worked as a journalist and now edits commercial fiction for a publishing house during the day, and writes her own books in the evenings. She lives in London.

Her books have sold over 150,000 copies and been translated into 10 languages including French, Italian, Norwegian, Polish and Croatian. Her new thriller The Wild Girls will be published by William Morrow in the US. Her books are also on sale in Canada and Australia. Phoebe has also contributed short stories to Afraid of the Light, a 2020 crime writing anthology with proceeds going to the Samaritans, Noir from the Bar, a crime collection with proceeds going to the NHS, and Afraid of the Christmas Lights, with all profits going to domestic abuse charities. Her four thrillers can be read in any order:

The Doll House (2017)
The Girl Next Door (2019)
The Babysitter (2020)
The Wild Girls (2021)

Connect with Phoebe:

Website: https://phoebemorganauthor.com/

Facebook: Phoebe Morgan Author

Twitter: @Phoebe_A_Morgan

Instagram: @phoebeannmorgan

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Book Review: The Dinner Guest by B. P. Walter

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Four people walked into the dining room that night. One would never leave.

Matthew: the perfect husband.

Titus: the perfect son.

Charlie: the perfect illusion.

Rachel: the perfect stranger.

Charlie didn’t want her at the book club. Matthew wouldn’t listen.

And that’s how Charlie finds himself slumped beside his husband’s body, their son sitting silently at the dinner table, while Rachel calls 999, the bloody knife still gripped in her hand.

I am delighted to be posting my review of The Dinner Guest by B. P. Walter today. I received an advance digital copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of review, and I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Have you ever read a book in which none of the characters were likeable? This is one of those books. Honestly, all of the characters are fairly awful, selfish people with a litany of faults and you’ll spend half the book wanting them to get their comeuppance. Especially the main two characters who takes turns in voicing the story, Charlie and Rachel. I didn’t like either of them from the beginning.

You’d think this would be the death knell for a novel, wouldn’t you, but you’d be wrong. The Dinner Guest had me hooked from first page to last in a way that I meant I could not look away and I raced through the pages. To achieve this with characters for whom I had practically no sympathy was nothing short of bare genius by the author.

The book thrusts us into the perfect world of Charlie, a man who has never known a day of hardship in his life and who seems to have everything anyone could wish for. Perfect home, great job, perfect husband, perfect stepson, no financial worries. Then he bumps into Rachel whose life is the exact opposite. For some reason, Charlie’s husband decides to take Rachel under their wing and, from then on, the perfect facade starts to crack and disintegrate, as if Rachel’s appearance has infected it with rot.

The book jumps around in time, beginning with the aftermath of the murder of Charlie’s husband and then going back to the introduction of Rachel into their lives, and exploring all the characters back stories until we understand what has happened and why. The author has been extremely clever with the plotting of this novel, building the tension as facts are revealed piece by piece, but taking us off in different directions, so it is impossible to guess what is the truth and who is responsible for what until the very end. Many times I thought I had worked it out, only to be proven wrong and sent off down another path, so I had to keep reading and reading to construct another theory.

This book is a great psychological thriller, whose very ending completely chilled me and the whole thing left me shaken and excited for what I had just read. This writer is clearly very talented and I will be looking out for more of his work to pick up in the future. A great addition to the genre that I would highly recommend to its fans.

The Dinner Guest is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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B P Walter was born and raised in Essex, England. After spending his childhood and teenage years reading compulsively, he worked in bookshops then went to the University of Southampton to study Film and English followed by an MA in Film & Cultural Management. He is an alumni of the Faber Academy and works in social media coordination. His debut novel, A Version of the Truth, was published in 2019, followed by Hold Your Breath in 2020, and The Dinner Guest, which was chosen as a Waterstones Book of the Month, in April 2021.

Connect with Barnaby:

Twitter: @BarnabyWalter

Instagram: @bpwalterauthor

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Helen Buckley

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Time to chat all things romance and the writing thereof with another RNA member, and this week I am delighted to be quizzing author… Helen Buckley.

Welcome, Helen. Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

I write thrilling, dramatic contemporary romances about people in the public eye. There are lots of twists and turns, shock revelations, slow-burn romance, and of course, happy ever afters! I currently have a three-book contract with ChocLit and my next novel is due out in July.

Why romance?

I daydream in romance, so I am simply writing down the stories that are in my head. I’m an old-fashioned romantic who loves nothing more than two characters who come together after lots of challenges.

What inspires your stories?

All sorts of things! Strictly on Ice, for example, was inspired by the TV show Dancing on Ice. As my current series involves people in the public eye, I get a lot of inspiration from popular culture and news stories.

Who are your favourite romance authors, past and/or present?

I used to love reading Catherine Cookson when I was younger, but now I tend to read contemporary romances, by the likes of Lucy Keeling, Marie Laval, Jojo Moyes, Amanda Prowse, and Dani Atkins, for example.

If you had to pick one romance novel for me to read, which one would you recommend?

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. That book broke me. It is one of the best books I have ever read.

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Will needed Lou as much as she needed him, but will her love be enough to save his life?

Lou Clark
 knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun teashop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

Which romantic hero or heroine would you choose to spend your perfect romantic weekend with? Where would you go and what would you do?

My husband is my real-life romantic hero and I’d choose him above anyone else. We’d go to Rome and eat mountains of gelato.

What is your favourite thing about being a member of the RNA? What do you think you have gained from membership?

I’m a fairly new member but it’s a great way to meet fellow romance authors, find out what they are working on, and there are lots of learning opportunities too which I am looking forward to taking part in!

What one piece of advice or tip would you give to new writers starting out in the romance genre?

I would say read a lot of romance to help you understand the genre, and try to work on a series of books rather than just one – it’s more marketable.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

A former Olympic skating champion takes part in a new TV show to earn some cash, but she gets more than she bargained for when she’s partnered with a love-rat rugby player, and finds that her ex-boyfriend is on the judging panel! Strictly on Ice is a dramatic, romantic, thrilling read about the world of ice skating and reality TV. It’s available in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

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When falling in love comes with the risk of falling flat on your face …

Former Olympic skating champion Katie Saunders is well known for her ‘ice queen’ persona in the press. On the face of it, perhaps Katie should have forgiven her former skating partner and ex-boyfriend, Alex Michaelson, for the accident that shattered both her ankle and their Olympic dreams – but she just can’t seem to let it go.

When Katie reluctantly agrees to take part in a new TV skating show, it’s only because she’s desperate for cash. What she didn’t count on is the drama – not only is she partnered up with infamous love rat rugby player Jamie Welsh, but one of the judges is none other than Alex Michaelson himself.

As the show progresses, will Katie be shown the hard way, once again, that romance on the ice should remain strictly off-limits?

About the Author

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Ever since Helen was little she wanted to be a writer, to turn daydreams into books. She’s fascinated by fame, in love with Happy Ever Afters, and enthralled by slow-burn romances. She squeezes in time to write around looking after her two sons.

Sign up to her newsletter to receive a FREE download of her novella, The Wrong One, a sweet contemporary romance about being true to yourself. https://BookHip.com/RZSDFSW

Connect with Helen:

Website: www.buckleybooks.org

Facebook: Helen Buckley author

Twitter: @HelenCBuckley

Instagram: @helencatherinebuckley

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Guest Post: Viking Voyager by Sverrir Sigurdsson with Veronica Li

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This vivacious personal story captures the heart and soul of modern Iceland.

Born in Reykjavik on the eve of the Second World War, Sverrir Sigurdsson watched Allied troops invade his country and turn it into a bulwark against Hitler’s advance toward North America. The country’s post-war transformation from an obscure, dirt-poor nation to a prosperous one became every Icelander’s success.

Spurred by this favourable wind, Sverrir answered the call of his Viking forefathers, setting off on a voyage that took him around the world. Join him on his roaring adventures!

Today I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by Sverrir Sigurdsson on the process of co-writing his book, Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir with his wife, Veronica Li. Over to Sverrir to share his piece.

Husband-Wife Collaboration by Sverrir Sigurdsson

When I told stories of my travel adventures to friends, their reaction was often, “Why don’t you write your memoir?”  I never thought I was important enough to do that.  At the same time, I did have many fond and exciting memories of growing up in Iceland and later traveling the world for both work and pleasure.  So, I started jotting down memorable recollections and saving them in a folder called Episodes on my hard drive. 

In my retirement, after I’d done everything I ever wanted to do, including designing and building a house with my own hands, I got more serious about writing down my memories.  I now live in the U.S. and am watching my all-American grandson grow up with little knowledge of his heritage.  The desire to leave him a cultural legacy became more urgent.

I showed a few of my “episodes” to my wife for feedback.  Veronica is a former journalist and published author who had taken a “Glad he has something to occupy him in his retirement” attitude toward my project.  But one day, she looked up from reading one of my episodes and said, “Sverrir, you’ve really had an interesting life.”  From then on, my project became hers too.

The first step was to decide on a focus.  This was easy as we both knew what I was about.  The theme would be my life as a modern-day Viking, traveling the world like my forefathers.  The memoir would hark back to my childhood in Iceland, which shaped my outward-looking worldview.

We hit an impasse in chapter one.  Veronica wanted to start with the present and from thereon traverse a flexible timeline between past and present.  I wanted chronological order, beginning from my grandparents and working my way linearly to the present.  After several rounds of verbal fistfights, I threw in my knockout punch.  “This is my life.  I’ll write it the way I want.”  She lay down and surrendered, or more like played dead.

Thus I started my story with the tragedy that befell my maternal grandfather.  I believed this was the root of who I was and felt compelled to get it out on the first page.  I dumped it all out, everything I knew about the incident and the life of Icelandic fishermen.  Veronica and I worked and reworked the chapter several times, and the final product was, to our surprise, everything we both wanted.  In the middle of the distant past, she sneaked in time-traveling to the present and made me introduce myself as an old man writing to leave a legacy to future generations.  This became the blueprint for the rest of the book.  The chapters are chronological in order, but within the chapter, the story flashes backward and forward to other time zones, offering a rather kaleidoscopic dimension.

No two people can be more different than Veronica and I.  She’s a people person and calls me a “thing” person.  Being a passionate carpenter and a professional architect, I’m in tune with wood, brick, and mortar but a moron with regard to human emotions and signals. She, on the other hand, can sniff out emotions like a dog but is blind as a bat to the world of machines and hardware.  Her nagging question, “So how did you feel?” annoyed me to no end.  But as she pushed me to probe into myself, I unearthed emotions I didn’t know I had.  Such as the Christmas my father traveled to a London hospital to undergo life-saving treatment for his kidney disease.  As a ten-year-old, I said goodbye to Dad one bleak, cold morning.  The family doctor had warned my mother to be “prepared.”  I don’t remember feeling anything at that moment, but I do remember the sadness that spilled out when Mother brought out the previous year’s Christmas tree from the attic.  Because of Dad’s illness, my parents pinched every penny, including money for a tree.  The poor tree looked like a mangy animal, with its needles brown and half gone.  Writing about it seventy years later made me realize I had feelings after all!

Veronica’s ignorance in mechanical matters also forced me to a new level—hers.  I’d assumed everyone knew the mechanics of a car engine, a block and tackle pulley system, or a carbon arc lamp.  When I realized she had no clue, I had to draw it out in diagrams for her.  Once she understood, she popularized my techno-jargon into a flowing narrative for every audience.  She was happy for the new knowledge and I was happy to be saved from my geeky self.

Our disparate talents also came in handy in describing scenery.  Veronica drew from her poetic instincts, comparing rock pillars rising from the sea to “spikes on a dragon back,” and well-fed glaciers to “paunches of sleeping giants.”  My contribution was my knowledge of geology, something all Icelanders learn as children.  In a country where glaciers sit like lids on volcanos, the dramatic reaction of fire meeting ice causes fast-cooling lava to turn into a rock formation called tuff or palagonite.  This is the stuff that forms much of the spectacular landscapes Iceland is famous for.

I’d thought the gap between our personalities would cause contention, but it turned out to be our strength.  And when friends ask, we answer yes, we’re still happily married.

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Thank you for sharing that with us Sverrir, it sounds like each of you brought your strengths to the writing of the book and I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir is a prize winner of The Wishing Shelf Book Awards organized by a group of UK authors.
“Not only a well written memoir, but an interesting take on Icelandic history from post-World War Two until present day. A RED RIBBON WINNER and highly recommended.” The Wishing Shelf Book Awards

About the Authors

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Sverrir Sigurdsson grew up in Iceland and graduated as an architect from Finland in 1966. He pursued an international career that took him to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the U.S. His assignments focused on school construction and improving education in developing countries. He has worked for private companies as well as UNESCO and the World Bank. He is now retired and lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and coauthor, Veronica.

Veronica Li emigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong as a teenager. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and her masters degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University. She has worked as a journalist and for the World Bank, and is currently a writer. Her three previously published titles are: Nightfall in Mogadishu, Journey across the Four Seas: A Chinese Woman’s Search for Home, and Confucius Says: A Novel.

Connect with the authors:

Facebook: Sverrir Sigurdsson

Twitter: @Sverrir_Sigurds

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Friday Night Drinks with… Susan Willis

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What a gorgeous sunny day it has been up here in Yorkshire today, what has it been like where you are? The weather is so lovely, I think tonight’s guest and I might take our Friday Night Drinks outside and enjoy the sunset while we chat. What do you think, author… Susan Willis?

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Welcome to the blog, Susan, thank you so much for joining me this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Coffee – I’m a coffee-total, not a tea-total. But I do like to see my friends enjoying their drinks.

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

Probably a nice cocktail bar or restaurant. Indian or Italian food is my favourite.

They are my favourites too! Can’t wait until we can go out for a nice meal with friends again. I like to cook, but I think I’ve done enough now for a while! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Alive, it would be my favourite crime writer, Harlan Coben. I saw him on stage being interviewed by Ian Rankin at The Harrogate Crime Writers Festival in 2019 and he was a great guest. But, I’d love to talk with him in depth about his writing.

Dead, it would be Agatha Christie. I think I’ve read everything she ever wrote and love her stories.

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

Originally, way back in 2013 I had my first novel published by a digital publisher in London. However, now their focus is on different genre’s and not romance which all my early novels and novellas were about. Therefore, I have parted company with the publisher and am re-editing and updating all eight stories to self-publish on amazon. They will have new covers and titles. Which, I’m laughing calling my, ‘Lockdown Project.’

Oh, exciting and a big challenge! What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moments come from reading reviews from people. Sometimes I’m astounded that words I have written and characters I’ve created in my mind have such an effect on them.

My favourite sentence from 2020 is what a reader wrote in a review, ‘Well, to say I read this novel in one day speaks volumes!’ I was and still am, cock-a-hoop.

My biggest challenge is social media and improving my limited IT skills. Although, I have learnt from other authors who have been kind enough to lend a helping hand especially on Facebook. I can now make videos / trailers for my books and know how to make banners on Canva.

I’m really glad to hear that reader reviews can mean so much to authors. What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

Although my stories are all on amazon as Ebooks and paperbacks, I’d love to be well-known enough to see my books on shelves in bookstores, supermarkets, and train stations. Could you imagine seeing someone picking up your book from Smiths or in Tesco? I’d be thrilled.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

For Christmas 2020, I published a novella set in York which received great reviews. I have a plot written for a follow-up novel with my same two characters for 2021. I’m hoping to start writing this in May after I complete my Lockdown Project. I’m excited to see where Clive and Barbara will end up as a couple.

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I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

If I’m going abroad then it’s Italy first followed closely by Germany. I’ve travelled throughout Europe by train and have loved every country I’ve visited. However, there are two places which are still on my bucket list, Turin and Budapest.

I loved Budapest when I was there, although it was many years ago now. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I didn’t start writing until I was fifty-two. Since then I have written romance, psychological suspense, and cosy-crime short reads. I love to write in different genres to test my writing skills.

It’s great to hear you have had success after starting writing late. It gives me hope at almost 49 that it’s not too late for me! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

It depends what genre you like? If it’s crime and psychological stories then, Home by Harlan Coben. He is the master of the twist at the end of a story. I always close his books thinking, boy, I didn’t see that coming!

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For ten long years two boys have been missing.

Now you think you’ve seen one of them.

He’s a young man. And he’s in trouble.

Do you approach him?
Ask him to come home with you?
And how can you be sure it’s really him?

You thought your search for the truth was over.
It’s only just begun.

I’m ashamed to say I have never read any of his books, I will have to rectify that with this one. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

I don’t have one, but I know my friends drink plenty of water before they go to bed. I stopped drinking twenty years ago when the dreaded hot flushes reared their ugly heads!

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

In a nice English town in a lovely boutique hotel with maybe a visit to a stately home and gardens thrown in for good measure. We have many beautiful places in this country that people are just beginning to discover on staycations.    

I agree, the UK is a great place for holidays. Thank you for chatting to me this evening, I have had a really great time.  

Susan’s latest book, which is a republication is NO CHEF, I Won’t!, available both as a paperback and ebook format and you can buy a copy here.

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Can kneading bread be fun with your man? And, would you refuse an invite to your handsome neighbours’ greenhouse to see his wonderful courgettes? These are just two problems Katie must wrestle with in this food lovers romance. Katie’s partner, Tim lands a new job as head chef in a London restaurant. He changes from the sweet-natured, food loving guy she fell for and becomes unbearably arrogant. ‘Yes Chef!’ respond his browbeaten assistants as he barks orders at them across a steamy kitchen. But when he treats Katie this way, she rebels and after a huge row, she walks out. With the help of her two close friends, she rebuilds her single life and starts a successful catering business. Tim realises what he’s lost and wants her back, but Katie is not sure.

Will she say, ‘Yes, Chef.’ Or ‘No, Chef, I Won’t!’ 

Susan Willis is a published author of six novels and five novellas. She lives in Co-Durham surrounded by a big family and dear friends. Susan worked as a food technologist developing new recipes and weaved the different aspects of her job into stories.

Readers who have left reviews on amazon love the books because they are realistic with everyday people in situations that can happen. Her last two novels are psychological suspense.

She has a collection of Fun-Size Tales of Love & Family, and six Cosy Crime Short Reads, incorporating up to date issues of poor mental health in a kidnap scene, the perils of social media, and an intruder on Skype.

Susan is now updating her older novels and self-publishing on Amazon.    

You can discover more about Susan and her books on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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Blog Tour: The Lynmouth Stories by Lucy V Hay #BookReview

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Beautiful places hide dark secrets … 

Devon’s very own crime writer L.V Hay (The Other Twin, Do No Harm) brings forth three new short stories from her dark mind and poison pen:

– For kidnapped Meg and her young son Danny, In Plain Sight, the remote headland above Lynmouth is not a haven, but hell.

– A summer of fun for Catherine in Killing Me Softly becomes a winter of discontent … and death.

– In Hell And High Water, a last minute holiday for Naomi and baby Tommy  becomes a survival situation … But that’s before the village floods.

All taking place out of season when the majority of tourists have gone home, L.V Hay uses her local knowledge to bring forth dark and claustrophic noir she has come to be known for.

Did You Know …?

Known as England’s ‘Little Switzerland’, the Devon village of Lynmouth is famous for its Victorian cliff railway, fish n’ chips and of course, RD Blackmore’s Lorna Doone.

Located on the doorstep of the dramatic Valley of The Rocks and the South West Cliff Path, the twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth have inspired many writers, including 19th Century romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who honeymooned there in 1812.

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Lynmouth Stories, a short story collection by Lucy V Hay. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a very brief book containing just three short stories but it packs a punch that greatly belies its length. Tightly woven with impressively realised characterisation in such a small word count, Lucy V Hay has produced here a masterclass in the art of the short story.

All three stories are set in the tiny, coastal village of Lynmouth, popular with tourists. However, we visit during the low season, when the village shuts down and empties out, giving it a deserted and melancholy air, which provides the perfect backdrop for this collection  of dark and brooding stories. Focusing on the kind of threats that lurk behind closed doors, they remind us that appearances can be deceptive and we never know what dangers are lurking unseen in the most ordinary of settings.

All three stories have female protagonists, who are all very different. Some strong and determined, some finding strength they never knew they had and some crumbling under pressure, the stories explore different reactions under stress and what women can do in protection of themselves and those they love. Probing the darkest aspects of the human psyche, the author manages to convey an awful lot about these women in a very compact word count so you can feel exactly what they are going through in that moment. I really enjoyed the fact that the focus here was entirely on the women and their experiences, with the men largely remaining nameless, shadowy figures whose feelings and motives exist only in relation to the women’s.

This book left me feeling very unsettled. The author has produced an oppressive atmosphere throughout the stories, asking the reader to put themselves in the far from comfortable shoes of the protagonists and walk a little way in them. The stories will shake you out of your complacency and ask you to think about what other women may be dealing with in places we don’t see, even in the cosy seaside towns that the rest of us visit on happy family holidays for reasons of pleasure. It’s easy to sail along, forgetting that our fellow women may be struggling and fighting against enemies we can’t envisage. Maybe we should be more alert for the signs that may be laying in plain sight. The stories are asking us to look and ask, to think about what we are actually seeing. 

A short, uncomfortable but enthralling read.

The Lynmouth Stories is out now as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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Lucy V. Hay is a novelist, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. She is the associate producer of Brit Thrillers Deviation (2012) and Assassin(2015), both starring Danny Dyer. Lucy is also head reader for the London Screenwriters’ Festival and has written two non-fiction books, Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays, plus its follow-up Drama Screenplays. Her critically acclaimed debut thriller The Other Twin was published in 2017.

Connect with Lucy:

Website: https://linktr.ee/lucyvhayauthor

Facebook: Lucy V Hay Author

Twitter: @LucyVHayAuthor

Instagram: Lucy V Hay Author

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Blog Tour: The Dig Street Festival by Chris Walsh #BookReview

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It’s 2006 in the fictional East London borough of Leytonstow. The UK’s pub smoking ban is about to happen, and thirty-eight-and-a-half year old John Torrington, a mopper and trolley collector at his local DIY store, is secretly in love with the stylish, beautiful, and middle-class barmaid Lois. John and his hapless, strange, and down-on-their-luck friends, Gabby Longfeather and Glyn Hopkins, live in Clements Markham House – a semi-derelict Edwardian villa divided into unsanitary bedsits, and (mis)managed by the shrewd, Dickensian business man, Mr Kapoor.

When Mr Kapoor, in a bizarre and criminal fluke, makes him fabulously credit-worthy, John surprises his friends and colleagues alike by announcing he will organise an amazing ‘urban love revolution’, aka the Dig Street Festival. But when he discovers dark secrets at the DIY store, and Mr Kapoor’s ruthless gentrification scheme for Clements Markham House, John’s plans take several unexpected and worrisome turns…

Funny, original, philosophical, and unexpectedly moving, The Dig Street Festival takes a long, hard, satirical look at modern British life, and asks of us all, how can we be better people?

It is my turn on the blog tour today for The Dig Street Festival, the debut novel by Chris Walsh. My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for giving me a place on the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Let’s get this out in the open right from the off. This book is bonkers. Totally off the wall, a crazy ride, bizarre characters and a series of increasingly unlikely and out of control events might make you think this book is not the one for you. Do not be fooled. In the midst of all the mayhem and madness, at the very heart of this book, is a core of charm and delight that runs through it like words through a stick of Blackpool Rock and it makes this book one of the warmest, funniest and sweetest reads I have picked up this year so far.

At the centre of the book is John Torrington, a man who has found himself on the fringes of life, largely ignored by almost everyone and scratching away an existence on the margins of society. By day he collects trolleys and mops floors at his local DIY superstore, at night he lives in a rundown building full of sad bedsits, inhabited by other lonely, forgotten men, mooning after the bright, young barmaid in his local pub, reading secondhand stories about Scott of the Antarctic and scratching away at his poetry (mainly haikus) and his unfinished novel. A less prepossessing character to carry a book it would be hard to imagine, but John has hidden depths, or so he likes to believe. Almost everyone, except his equally strange friends, Gabby and Glyn, disagree.

I absolutely adored every single character in this book. This author had created some of the most memorable people you will every meet in a novel, and then placed them in equally memorable situations and watched what they do. (I say watched, because it is very clear to me from reading this that each of the people in this book have very individual minds of their own and have done their own, quite bizarre things on the page which I am sure the author had little if any control over in the end.) There are some really memorable scenes in the novel – the one involving the journey to the DIY store on Gabby’s first day at work is a particular standout (parts of which made my slightly gyp to be honest) – and many real laugh-out-loud moments. You can’t imagine a group of people who get into so many mad scrapes as this trio, but in the context of this novel you can completely believe they are happening, and it is quite a ride to take with them.

At the same time, there is so much tenderness within this book. The relationship between the three men is oddly touching. They all look out for each other and clearly care for one another in a way that most of us would be lucky to find in this life. This care extends from their small trio to the other hopeless residents of Clements Markham House, despite the fact they are largely unpleasant, ungrateful and undeserving. John Torrington has a big, soft heart, and lavishes his care around, even to his bullying, sadistic boss, OCD-impaired supervisor and any other waif and stray he comes across in life. But his own vulnerability is really thrown into sharp relief in his relationship with Lois, much younger than him and way out of his league both in terms of social status and intellect. Despite this fact, we long for her to see the qualities he has lurking beneath us outwardly awkward facade and give him a chance.

This book is a really different read, but all the more appealing for that. My favourite thing about blogging is coming across these hidden gems of books that are outside the mainstream and outside your reading comfort zone. It is within these novels that we find something new and exciting, that speaks to us of things we may never have considered before and takes us places we have never been. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Funny and moving.

The Dig Street Festival is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you check out the rest of the tour:

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About the Author

Chris Walsh

Chris Walsh grew up in Middlesbrough and now lives in Kent. He writes both fiction and non-fiction, an example of which you can read here in May 2020’s Moxy Magazine.

​Chris’s debut novel The Dig Street Festival will be published by Louise Walters Books in April 2021.

​Chris’s favourite novel is Stoner by John Williams and his favourite novella is The Death of Ivan Illyich by Leo Tolstoy. His top poet is Philip Larkin. He is also a fan of Spike Milligan.

Connect with Chris:

Twitter: @WalshWrites

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Blog Tour: Finding Home by Kate Field #BookReview

Finding Home

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog blitz for the new book by Kate Field, Finding Home, as Kate is one of my favourite authors. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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She might not have much in this world, but it cost nothing to be kind… 

Meet Miranda Brown: you can call her Mim. She’s jobless, homeless and living in her car… but with a history like hers she knows she has a huge amount to be grateful for.

Meet Beatrice and William Howard: Bill and Bea to you. The heads of the Howard family and owners of Venhallow Hall, a sprawling seaside Devonshire estate… stranded in a layby five hours from home the night before their niece’s wedding.

When fate brings the trio together, Mim doesn’t think twice before offering to drive the affable older couple home. It’s not like she has anywhere else to be. But as the car pulls into the picturesque village of Littlemead, Mim has no idea how her life is about to change…

I loved the premise of this book as soon as I read the  blurb and I think I would have picked it up, even if I’d never heard of the author before. I’ve never made any bones about my immense love for the writing of Kate Field so, this coupled with the promise of the story meant I was really looking forward to reading it.

This is a story about how a chance encounter can change the course of your life entirely, about the kindness of strangers, how family can mean more than just those people you are related to by blood, and what it really means to find a home. When we meet the main character, Mim, she is about as down on her luck as it is possible to get. She has lost her home, her job and the only person in the world who cared about her and is sleeping in her car. When she meets Bill and Bea and agrees to do them a favour, she has no idea how completely it will change her life and how her kindness will be repaid a hundredfold.

When I first encountered Min, I thought she was an old lady – I think because of her name which is quite old-fashioned – but it soon becomes clear that she is only in her thirties but has had a very difficult life that has lead to her current circumstances. This has made her quite hard-shelled and suspicious in some ways, but we can see from the beginning a softer underside peeking out, which makes her a much more likeable and relatable character than she might have been otherwise. This is one of Kate’s specialities, and the reason I adore her writing, she is extremely skilled as creating complex, difficult characters who have interesting stories and redeeming features that mean you can’t help falling in love with them and wanting the best for them.

The Howard family are very different. They seem to lead gilded lives and have every advantage that anyone could wish for. What could they possibly have in common with Mim? More than she could expect in the end. The book explores the idea that we are all too quick to judge other people according to superficial information in this life and, if we only just give people a chance and put aside our preconceptions, we might be pleasantly surprised. Although Mim hates to be judged by her past herself, she is particularly prone to make snap judgements about people – a lesson she learns during the course of the novel.

The story here is beautifully crafted and realised. I loved everything about it. Aside from the characters, the setting in Devon is a tempting place to visit. The life that Mim begins to build is heartwarming and uplifting, and the people she meets are all gorgeous. I fell in love with all of it, and I know you will too. But the real genius here is the way that the author tugs at your heartstrings. I’ve yet to come away from one of this author’s novels without having shed a tear at some point, and this was no different. Here is an author who really understands human emotion and relationships and knows exactly how to mine and manipulate them to cause maximum reaction in her reader. I always come away from her books feeling like I’ve made new friends and fallen in love.

If I have one complaint about this book it is about the cover. It doesn’t do the book justice, relate to the story, or really communicate to me what the heart of the book is and is too generic. I would probably skim past this on a shelf and that would be a crying shame. The book deserves better and this publisher normally wows me with its covers, which is probably why I am disappointed. This is definitely one book you should not judge by its cover, it is absolutely wonderful.

Finding Home is out now as an ebook and will be published in paperback on 8 July. You can buy a copy here.

Please check out some of the other blogs taking part in the blitz:

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About the Author

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Kate writes contemporary women’s fiction, mainly set in her favourite county of Lancashire, where she lives with her husband, daughter and mischievous cat.

She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Kate’s debut novel, The Magic of Ramblings, won the RNA’s Joan Hessayon Award for new writers.

Connect with Kate:

Facebook: Kate Field

Twitter: @katehaswords

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Guest Post: Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams #GuestPost #Extract

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“Your problem is you have a Russian soul,” Anna’s mother tells her.

In 1980, Anna is a naïve UConn senior studying abroad in Moscow at the height of the Cold War—and a second-generation Russian Jew raised on a calamitous family history of abandonment, Czarist-era pogroms, and Soviet-style terror. As Anna dodges date rapists, KGB agents, and smooth-talking black marketeers while navigating an alien culture for the first time, she must come to terms with the aspects of the past that haunt her own life.

With its intricate insight into the everyday rhythms of an almost forgotten way of life in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, Forget Russia is a disquieting multi-generational epic about coming of age, forgotten history, and the loss of innocence in all of its forms.  

Today I am delighted to be sharing on the blog, not only a guest post by L. Bordetsky-Williams on the story behind her book, Forget Russia, but also an excerpt from the book as well. Without further ado, I will hand over to Lisa.

A Story of Love, Murder, Betrayal, and Revolution by L. Bordetsky-Williams

Forget Russia tells the story of three generations of Russian Jews, journeying back and forth from America to Russia, during the course of the twentieth century. From before the 1917 Revolution to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, this is a tale of unlikely heroes and the loss of innocence.  A significant portion of the novel focuses on an American Russian-Jewish family that returns to Leningrad in 1931, in a type of reverse migration, to build the Bolshevik Revolution. Forget Russia is a story of revolution, betrayal, murder, and love.

In 1980, at the height of the cold war, and the Iran hostage crisis, I had the opportunity to study Russian language for a semester at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. This experience not only changed my life but it influenced the course of my life. I met many of the religious and dissident-type Jews of the Soviet Union.  Some of them were Refuseniks, people whose exit visas had been denied, and others said they could never leave because one of their parents had a “secret job,” which would prevent them from ever getting an exit visa.  Those Refuseniks had lost their jobs and were having a very difficult time just surviving.  Many of those young Soviet Jews were the grandchildren of the Bolsheviks.  Their ancestors had believed in the ideals of the 1917 Revolution and had flourished until Stalin had them put to death or exiled to labor camps during the height of the purges of 1936-1938. They had inherited a legacy of terror and fear. I have never forgotten them and the time we spent together.

About a year before I went to the Soviet Union, I was having lunch at my grandmother’s apartment, and she told me her mother died on a boat in Russia.  She was a woman who did not speak much, but when she did speak her words always contained great meaning. I probed more into her story with my family and discovered from my uncle that my great-grandmother had been raped and murdered. This information simply stunned me. I didn’t understand why no one had ever told me this. My grandmother had suffered from depression, and I then knew why.  As an old woman, when she was ill, I once heard her cry for her mother and that absolutely broke my heart.

When I studied Russian language, she began to sing me songs of her girlhood—songs of unrequited love that made me feel she must be trying to tell me something about her own life experiences. I wanted to grasp how such a horrific act of violence would affect the subsequent lives of women in a family.  This is a very large question, but it was one of the questions that prompted me to write Forget Russia.

I also was aware that my grandparents, both Russian Jewish immigrants, had returned to the Soviet Union in 1931, during the height of the Depression.  My grandfather was a carpenter, who longed to return and build the revolution.  He sold everything and borrowed money for the ship so his two small children, my mother and aunt, ages five and three, and my grandmother, could take an arduous journey back to Leningrad. They only stayed nine months.  If they had stayed any longer, they would have lost their American citizenship and never could have gotten out. 

On some level, my book looks at the nature of destiny—as I met these young Soviet Jews, I saw what my own life might have been if my ancestors had made other decisions.  I began to see how interdependent our lives were despite our apparent differences. I also wanted to understand how this initial trauma affected the subsequent generations of women in the family.

I did a tremendous amount of research for the novel over a number of years. I read accounts of American Russian Jews, who, just like my grandparents, went to the Soviet Union in the 1930’s. They were heartbreaking accounts of Americans who couldn’t leave the Soviet Union once the purges reached a peak in 1936-38. Many were imprisoned and exiled to labor camps. Many did not survive. I had the opportunity to interview a few American Jews from Russia who went to the Soviet Union with their parents in the 1930’s and managed to return to this country. I also read accounts of other Americans who went to the Soviet Union in hopes of getting work since there was very little work in America at the height of the Depression. I also researched a great deal about the Ukraine during the Civil War following the Russian Revolution.

I was surprised to find out that the Americans were originally very welcome in the Soviet Union.  Ford Motor Company even had a plant in Nizhni Novgorod, which encouraged many unemployed Americans to settle in the Soviet Union.  In the beginning, it sounded like it could have been quite exciting for a young person to be there. There was even a baseball team set up!  However, that all changed drastically when Stalin’s purges swept the country in 1936-38. The dream turned into a nightmare. These stranded Americans got no support from the American government as well. They were truly alone.

I also discovered that the Ukraine was very unstable during the Civil War that occurred after the Revolution.  Anti-Semitic Ukrainian nationalists controlled the Ukraine, and at other times the White army retained controlled, but once the Red army re-established rule, the retreating and defeated armies went into Jewish shtetls and massacred many Jews.  My poor grandmother was just a teenager when her mother was raped and murdered in one of these pogroms. 

In Forget Russia, when Anna, the granddaughter, comes back to the Soviet Union in 1980, she falls in love with a young Soviet Jew, who helps her make sense of her grandparents’ return to the country fifty years earlier.  Both characters must contend with the violence and enduring loss passed down to them from their ancestors. 

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Extract from Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams

A week later, on a day in late October when most leaves had fallen to the ground, Iosif took me to the zagorod. The land rested in brown, golden and yellow colors, and the homes were the way I imagined them to be, with white paint embroidering the outside of delicately carved windows. A short distance from the train station, we found a cement path leading us into a darkening forest.

“These are real Russian woods,” Iosif said and placed his arm through mine as we stepped through thickets of light layered trees; shadows receded and cobwebbed mists opened onto the path leading us to his grandfather’s old apartment.

“Anichka, I have to say your Russian has gotten much better.”

“It’s still pretty bad.” Dried mud clung to my brown leather boots. I gazed up at him, at his thin and lanky body, at his face that seemed young and old simultaneously.

“No, it’s better.” His praise meant more to me than I could say. Iosif was definitely the smartest person I had ever met.

“In Russian class, we’re learning when to raise our voices higher, like at the end of a question. But when else do you do it?”

I didn’t expect Iosif to start laughing. “I don’t know. I never thought about any of this.”

“Depending on what you want to say, you’re supposed to raise your voice a little or a lot.”

“Really?” He stopped for just a moment, wrapped his arm around me. I leaned my head onto his shoulder.

“Now you tell me something. What do Americans talk about when they get together? Is it only about business?”

“No.” I was the one laughing this time.

“Well, then, what is it?”

“I don’t know. Movies, music, TV, maybe a book. The usual stuff, the election, the world.”

“Do you ever tell any jokes?”

“Of course, we do.”

“I see.” We walked in silence for a while. As we got deeper into the forest, Iosif’s mood changed.

“In the countryside, there’s hardly any food. Only bread and grains. Some sausage maybe and cabbage,” he whispered. Iosif pushed away the strands of wind-blown hair from his face. “Tell me, do you know what a propiska is?”

I didn’t have a clue.

“You must understand this if you’re going to know anything about our country,” he said, slightly impatient or impassioned. I wasn’t sure. “Propiska is a pass. We’re actually supposed to carry it around with us at all times, but most don’t. But if I want to go any great distance outside of Moscow, I must report where I’m going and get permission. Понимаешь?

“Yes,” I said, though I didn’t. I only knew there was a humming in my arm linked through his.

“Can you imagine? If I want to go to Leningrad, I can’t just pick up and go. Do you see what I’m saying?”

“I understand,” I said in my limited Russian, then switched to English.

“Well, now I have a question for you.” The rows of trees obscured my view of the sky, the afternoon light slipping away.

“Okay, then. Go ahead.”

“When your parents separated, did they fight a lot about money?”

“Money?” Iosif paused. “Why money? They didn’t have any to fight about. Why do you ask?”

“Because money was all my parents fought about.”

“What can I say. America is a sick place,” he said as he stepped into the moist dirt covered with yellow leaves. The soil smelled of rain from yesterday—the thin boughs of trees opened into a path of green and brown for us to follow. All of my life I had been waiting to be here. I leaned once more into Iosif’s arm, felt his cotton jacket against my face.

He led us out of the woods, away from the scent of pine and nettle everywhere. We found another cement path taking us to a brown brick apartment building that stood all by itself, surrounded only by grass.

“Years ago, my grandfather used to come here a lot—to think, to work. But that was all before he lost his memory.”

“When did that happen?”

“The last ten years, I would say. It was gradual. But it’s probably better he forgets the past as far as I’m concerned.” I remembered the soft and feathery feel of his grandfather’s hand when I saw him at Iosif’s apartment, his thick furry eyebrows, that dreamy, faraway look to his face.

We walked up several flights of dingy stairs until we came out into a dark corridor. I followed alongside Iosif, seeking the evening light. Inside the apartment, volumes and volumes of Tolstoy’s books filled up most of the shelves lining the walls.

“How did your grandfather get all these books? I’ve never seen anything like this”

“I can’t tell you that. But this is everything Tolstoy ever wrote.”

More secrets. I was growing used to it, little by little. So much could not be said or shared.I wanted to know but would not ask again.

Thank you, Lisa, for preparing the guest post for us and allowing me to share the extract. If the above has whetted your appetite for the book, Forget Russia is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

L Bordetsky-Williams

L. BORDETSKY-WILLIAMS is the author of Forget Russia, published by Tailwinds Press, December 2020. She has also published the memoir, Letters to Virginia Woolf (Hamilton Books, 2005, http://www.letterstovirginiawoolf.com); The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf (Greenwood Press, 2000); and three poetry chapbooks (The Eighth Phrase (Porkbelly Press 2014), Sky Studies (Finishing Line Press 2014), and In the Early Morning Calling (Finishing Line Press, 2018)). She was a student in Moscow at the Pushkin Institute in 1980. Presently, she is a Professor of Literature at Ramapo College of New Jersey and lives in New York City.

Connect with Lisa:

Website: https://www.forgetrussia.com/

Facebook: Forget Russia, A Novel

Twitter: @BordetskyL

Instagram: @forgetrussia

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Friday Night Drinks with… Julie Anderson

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Pubs are open again, hurrah! However, it is only outside drinking for now so my guest tonight is joining me indoors in my warm, virtual bar for chat and Friday Night Drinks. Please welcome to the blog, author…. Julie Anderson.

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Hi Julie and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Chilled white wine, so cold the glass is frosted.  A bottle of the wine sits neck deep in ice in a bucket at my elbow for us to share with our guests.

If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

The wine is in an ice bucket because the air is warm, a balmy evening at the end of a hot day and we’re in Delphi, Greece, otherwise known as the ‘navel of the world’. We’ve driven up from Athens, through the traffic choked outskirts, across the farmland and into the mountains around the Gulf of Corinth, a drive of several hours. Now we’re sitting outside as the sun sets, on the terrace of a tiny, family run taverna on the edge of  Delphi which serves amazing fresh local dishes, dolmades, tzatziki and flatbread, wild boar stew and dessert made with Parnassus honey, washed down with the resinous local retsina.  But it’s the view which stuns. Beyond the railings of the terrace the mountain slope, covered in cypress and pine trees, falls away sharply, over 1,600 feet to the river far below.  On the other side of the valley are the peaks of the lesser mountains, ranging away to the horizon and the valley slopes away to our right, down to the plain and sea. We are on the slopes of the highest  mountain, Mount Parnassus. Its name means the mountain of the house of the god.

Delphi is the setting for my novel Oracle, the second in the series featuring Cassandra Fortune, Whitehall detective and, after the end of Plague, the first book, the envoy of the British Prime Minister. Cassie doesn’t eat at this restaurant, she is staying at the European Cultural Centre which lies just outside of Delphi town on the other side of a mountain ridge, but the view is similar there. Just around another ridge on the other side of town is the ancient Temple of Apollo, which is really a precinct of temples and buildings, including an amphitheatre, gymnasium and stadium, all set on the slopes around the massive Temple itself. The site has been a centre of worship since the Early Bronze Age (so about 3,000 BCE) and, when you look at the spectacular view you can see why – of course it must belong to a God.

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If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Given where we are I’m going to have to choose someone from the classical period, so my male invitee is Xenophon of Athens born about 430 BCE. He lived at a fascinating time, he was a pupil of Socrates, a contemporary of Plato and knew Cyrus the Great of Persia, his Hellenica details Greek history from the Golden Age of Athens to the rise of Macedon and Alexander the Great. He knew many of the politicians and generals he wrote about and was well travelled and open minded enough to understand and admire different peoples and cultures. He also wrote the Anabasis, an account of how he lead the Greek ‘Ten Thousand’, mercenaries who were leaderless and thousands of miles from home in Asia Minor, back to Greece.  This has inspired many books and novels and a cult 1979 film, The Warriors directed by Walter Hill. In addition to all this he found time to write many philosophical works and On Horsemanship, a manual on the selection, care and training of horses still in use centuries later. He visited Delphi and consulted the Oracle there. Would I have some questions for him!

My female guest is Agatha Christie, doyen of detective fiction and married to an archeologist, so someone who would feel quite at home in Delphi. I devoured her stories when a child, even if Sherlock Holmes was my favourite, not Hercule Poirot, but Christie is a cultural phenomenon. I’d have lots of questions for her, mostly about plotting ( I confess, I often find her plots contrived ), but also about her time as a pharmacologist during World War Two and how she used places she had visited in her books ( something which I do too ). She also had a civil service detective, in a series of little known stories, called Parker Pyne, though he was retired.

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I am mid-way through the first three books in a series featuring Whitehall investigator, Cassandra Fortune, for publisher Claret Press. The first book, entitled Plague, was published in September 2020 and I wrote an article about it for A Little Book Problem on 18th September. The second book, Oracle, is being published on 5th May, though it’s available for pre-order now. In the absence of book tours and signing sessions I’ve been doing lots of promotion and publicity online for both books.  Though that’ll have to take second place soon as I need to begin writing Opera, the third, which is due out in 2022. That one is set in London, as was Plague, so I’ll be closer to home.

The three books hang together as a trilogy, following the central character, although the plotlines are, mostly, stand alone. They’re all thrillers, but are also about political themes like power and justice, looking at corruption and cronyism (very topical).  That makes them sound boring, but they’re not, at least that’s not what readers say, who tell me that they’re gripping and exciting. I’ve agreed to write three, then I’ll decide whether or not to pursue the series.

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What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

2020 was such a strange year that the obvious candidates for proudest moment, like my first, traditionally published book launch, didn’t happen  there was so much that we were going to do that had to be shelved. I was really proud of my book being reviewed in the Literary Review, however, I didn’t know it was going to be and it was a complete surprise when it was. I was also really pleased when fellow writers, much more experienced than I, liked my book and were prepared to say so.

The biggest challenge is always to get the book out there and noticed. There are so many books on the market, from large publishers with deep pockets who focus on a small group of already famous or celebrity names so newcomers like me from small indie publishers don’t get much of a look in.  But then I’m sure some self-published authors would say that I was fortunate, so it’s all relative and we all face the same pressures.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

Oooh, there’s a question. I’d like to be involved in making a filmed or TV series of the Cassandra Fortune books, but my dream is winning some sort of big prize for writing.  Neither are likely.

What do you have planned that you are really excited about?

The next book – always the next book is the exciting thing. Opera is the culmination of the three books so far, but it might also, I hope, lead on to another.

There’s also this year’s Clapham Book Festival ( I’m a trustee of the charity which runs it ). The 2020 edition was cancelled, like so much else, but the Board have decided to go ahead this year with a mix of events, some physical, in the local theatre which we have used before, some virtual, bringing together authors from all over and some interesting additions, like literary walks led by authors. Clapham has always attracted writers and there are lots of places of literary interest.  It’s a great Festival, run entirely by volunteers and was, until COVID hit, attracting a growing audience.  Clapham Book Festival 2021 is going to be fab! It’s happening on 16th October, please tell everyone about it.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

I love where I live, but it’s an urban environment, so I would choose to visit somewhere rural. I really enjoy the Northumberland coastline, with its miles of beach, castles on promontories and little hidden churches and chapels, also the gently folding Devon countryside or wild Dartmoor.  Delphi is similarly apart from the city, the town itself is only small, though the ancient town must have been quite a size. The Temple site is fabulous, very atmospheric, especially when there’s a mountain mist. It’s tucked into a fold of the mountain so that you don’t see it until you’re on top of it. It must have been a magnificent sight when it all still stood, marble reflecting the sunlight.

There are wonderful mountain walks, on slopes roamed by wild goats and where bees, feasting on pollen from wild flowers and herbs, make the famous Parnassus honey. In ancient times, when Delphi was difficult to get to in winter, it was said that Apollo left to spend the winter months in the land of the Hyperboreans, the land beyond the north wind, which is sometimes identified with Britain. So his cousin and fellow god, Dionysus, ruled at the Temple during the winter. Dionysus was the god of the grape, of theatre, festivity and ecstasy, also known as Bacchus and there is a suitably Dionysian revel in the book.

The top of my bucket list would be to travel the great railway journeys of the world, but taking in music where ever I went. So, London to Istanbul would be on the Orient Express but via Paris (Opera), Vienna ( Musicverein ), Venice ( La Fenice ) Belgrade ( jazz and blues) Sofia (plain chant in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral) to Istanbul. There I would stay at the Pera Palace Hotel, which is where Agatha Christie stayed  – it has a room dedicated to her.  I could even write for a time on the train. Absolutely perfect, but probably impossible.

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

When I was a civil servant I found myself the nominal owner of one of the world’s smallest navies (it’s true). 

One of the areas for which I was responsible was something called ‘Bona Vacantia’ or ownerless goods.  This refers to the goods and effects of individuals who die intestate and without any relatives ( there is something similar for companies and corporations ).  Their property reverts to the Crown. Legally this idea goes back to the sixteenth century when Henry VIII was trying to raise money for his foreign wars. In this instance, however, a company which hoped to create a marine tourist attraction in the, then recently refurbished, Liverpool Docks, had gone bankrupt. It owned a destroyer, a mine sweeper, the ship on which the Falklands War ended and several other smaller craft. These reverted to the Crown, but had to be ‘owned’ by someone on its behalf, at least until the items were sold.

What happened to it, you ask. Well, I tried to get the First Sea Lord to take the destroyer, but he wasn’t game, the Navy having sold the unwanted ship to the defunct company in the first place. In the end most was sold for scrap. I just regret not having got myself a peaked navy hat.

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

Having just written Oracle I am heavily into Greek history, mythology and drama at the moment ( a quote from Aeschylus’ play Agamemnon opens the book ). Modern fiction in English seems to be having a ‘Greek’ moment, with writers like Madeleine Miller ( The Song of Achilles, Circe ) Natalie Haynes ( A Thousand Ships ), Margaret Attwood ( Penelopiad ) and Pat Barker ( The Silence of the Girls ) reinterpreting the ancient Greek stories, often from a female perspective. I can recommend all of the above.

The one book I would recommend right now, however, is the only novel of Harry Thompson called This Thing of Darkness. It follows successive voyages of the Beagle, captained by Robert Fitzroy ( pioneer in weather forecasting) with Charles Darwin as naturalist.  It has an almost perfect blend of history, science and adventure and brings that period and those, real, individuals to life.

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In 1831 Charles Darwin set off in HMS Beagle under the command of Captain Robert Fitzroy on a voyage that would change the world. This is the story of a deep friendship between two men, and the twin obsessions that tear them apart, leading one to triumph, and the other to disaster.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

My plan is to drink lots of water at the same time as drinking the alcohol, especially when in warmer climes. And, given that one of the famous Delphic maxims is ‘Nothing in excess’ often translated as ‘All things in moderation.’ I’ll have to be careful. We don’t want to offend the god.

If I do end up hung over I try and replace the sugars and vitamins lost ( that’s my excuse ), so fresh orange juice, fruit cocktail with yoghurt and Greek pastries ( or croissants ). If I was somewhere cold it would be a bacon butty or a boiled egg with bread and butter soldiers.  In short, comfort food.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

On Saturday morning, hangover permitting, I’d walk up the mountain behind Delphi to the Corycian Cave where people have lived since Neolithic times. I’d trek across, via the stadium used for the Pythian Games (rivalling the Olympic Games in their time) to stand at the top of the Phaedriades, huge cliffs called the ‘shining ones’ which tower above the temple site. It used to be the punishment for blasphemy to be thrown from these cliffs and, in Oracle, a body is found at their foot.

I’d come back down into town and have an early lunch on a terrace at one of the other little tavernas, then spend the heat of the day in the Museum (which is air conditioned) looking at artefacts from and reading the history of the ancient site. That evening it would be to an outdoor concert or drama performance, either at the European Cultural Centre or in the temple site itself.  I would love to see Euripides’ The Bacchae in the amphitheatre, in which Dionysus is a main character. Or Eumenides by Aeschylus, which opens in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and ends at a ‘trial’ in Athens, just like Oracle.

Then on Sunday morning to the Temple itself, walking up the Sacred Way, past the ruins of treasuries built to house the many treasures and gifts which rich patrons dedicated to the God. Cities sent presents, so did whole islands and even Pharoah of Egypt dedicated gold and precious gems. No one wanted to offend Apollo. I’d go to the Castalian Spring at the foot of the Phaedriades, where the Pythia, the female priestess, bathed in ritual purification before she entered the Temple and became the Oracle. I like that this place was dedicated to Gaia the Great Mother before it passed to Apollo and that it was a woman, or women, who spoke with the God’s voice even after Apollo took over. I’m not sure I’d have fancied the ritual outdoor bathing in March ‘though. At that time of year it’s cold this high up.

A long and lazy Greek lunch would follow, probably before a nap and the drive back to the modern world.

Thank you for a really interesting chat, it’s been extremely enjoyable.

Julie’s new book, Oracle, will be published on 5 May and you can buy a copy here.

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High on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, near the ancient Temple of Apollo, a group of young idealists protest against the despoiling of the planet outside a European governmental conference. Inside, corporate business lobbyists mingle with lawmakers, seeking profit and influence. Then the charismatic leader of the protest goes missing.

Oracle is about justice, from the brutal, archaic form of blood vengeance prevalent in early human societies to modern systems of law and jurisprudence, set in the context of a democracy. This is the law and equality under the law which allows democracy to thrive and underpins the freedoms and safeguards for individuals within it. The story is interlinked with Greece’s past, as the ancient cradle of democracy and source of many of western ideas of government, but also to its more recent and violent past of military strongmen and authoritarianism in the twentieth century.

Oracle also considers, in the form of a crime thriller, the politicisation of the police and the justice system and how that will undermine justice, especially following the banning of Golden Dawn, the now criminal organisation which wrapped itself in the mantle of politics. It touches on the new academic discipline of zemiology, the study of ‘crime’ through the prism of the harm it does to people, especially those without power.

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. 

You can find out more about Julie and her books via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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