Friday Night Drinks with… Joan Schweighardt

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Welcome to November! It’s Friday again and I’m away at the moment, so I am fully relaxed and in a sociable mood. the perfect time to have Friday Night Drinks with another fabulous author. Tonight I am delighted to welcome to the blog… Joan Schweighardt.

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Welcome, Joan. Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Caipirinha! It’s a Brazilian drink, consisting of Cachaça (a spirit made from sugarcane juice), lots of fresh lime, and sugar. I generally stay away from sugar, but this is a special occasion.

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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?

Since I’m starting off with a Brazilian drink and hoping you’ll join me and try one too, let’s go to Brazil. I know a great river/rainforest guide down there. He calls himself Carlos the Jaguar: He has a small boat and he takes tourists up and down the river, or he did, in the days I want to remember (pre COVID and pre all the mining and drilling that’s been going on forever but has really picked up in the last few years). Anyway, it’s a lovely night and the river will be as smooth as glass and the banks will be alive with the songs of insects and frogs, and, every now and then, curious screeches we can’t identify. 

Our river boat

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?

How about two Scots? I’m thinking Anne Donovan and Thomas Lipton. I’ve only read one of Anne Donovan’s novels, and but it was wonderful and I intend to read more. The one I read, Buddha Da, begins with this line: is “My da’s a nutter.” It’s a coming of age about a girl (the narrator) whose happy-go-lucky but none-too-spiritual father comes home one night and announces he’s going to take up meditation at the local Buddhist center. 

As for Thomas Lipton, he was actually born in Ireland but moved to Scotland very shortly thereafter. Here in the U.S., we really know him these days for his tea, but he was a very famous man back in the 1920s, here as well as in the UK, a large-hearted man who quit school at the age of 13 to help his parents run their Glasgow grocery shop and whose marketing genius made all of them fabulously wealthy. He didn’t sit on his money either; Lipton was a renowned philanthropist, always giving to the poor, and he made sure his employees at the various businesses he came to start (some in the U.S.) were fairly paid. (One of my fictional characters in my recent trilogy worked for him, so I have this firsthand.) He loved the sea, Lipton did, and he participated in the American Cup year after year—and never won. But he won the hearts of sea lovers everywhere with his personality and generous nature. 

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’m writing; I’m always writing. I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. I’ve always worked on my own projects, but I also made a career writing for other people. I’ve written for newspapers, PR companies, corporate clients and several private clients who had stories to tell but neither the time nor inclination to do so themselves. I’ve recently finished the trilogy I referred to above, and now I’m putting together an anthology with several other writers and completing a non-fiction about my younger sister, who died almost four years ago.

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

By 2000 I had three novels published, and I had a friend who had written a brilliant novel, better than anything I’d ever written, but hadn’t been able to find a publisher for it, even with an agent. It bothered me so much that I decided that I would start a small publishing company and publish not only her novel but books for other people who were being passed over too. I told my friend I was going to publish her, and she was thrilled. And then I woke up a few mornings later and thought, What have I got myself into? What do I know about publishing, other than that I’ve had stuff published myself and I’ve done a bit of freelance for publishers? And how could I have forgotten that I’m really shy and suffer from imposter syndrome and seldom step out of my comfort zone?

Long story short, I did it, because I’d made a commitment. I’m proud of that, and I’m proud that I actually became a pretty good small publisher. The authors I published got interviews and book reviews and won awards. At some point the distributor I was working with went bankrupt (this is the challenging part), owing me and several other client publishers a lot of money. I found another distributor, but I could never get back on my feet, and so I shut down my little publishing company five years after I’d started it. Publishing was a roller coaster of an experience, especially since I freelanced for clients the whole time I was publishing. I learned so much—about myself, about the industry, even about unique ways to recover from a relatively big financial loss. I never regret doing it.

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!

I’d like to see my recently completed trilogy become a Netflix or Amazon Prime or whatever series. I wrote a story bible based on the three books and offering my vision of how they would work in a series, and I sent it to the one person in the film world that I have indirect access to. He liked it enough to ask me (indirectly) to send the three books, which I did. I’ve got my fingers crossed, though I know my chances are slim to non-existent.

What have you planned that you are really excited about?

I’m excited to see what my next big fiction project will be. I’m always happiest when I’m writing fiction. I’m waiting for the universe to point me toward it, so I don’t have much to say about it at this moment in time… which is fine, since, as mentioned above, I’ve got some nonfiction projects to keep myself busy.

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?

My favorite place is the South American rainforest. That’s why we’re sitting here, with Carlos the Jaguar making our caipirinhas and Thomas Lipton and Anne Donovan chatting away about the highlands. Another favorite place is Ocracoke Island, which is one of the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, and the only one that isn’t connected to the others by road. You have to take a ferry to get there. I’ve been to Ocracoke many times, in many seasons, with many different people. On my bucket list is the chance to stay there for a full month, in a big rental house from which friends and family can come and go, during the off season when it’s not so crowded.

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

When I was a kid we were poor and my father could never make ends meet with his machinist job alone. So he did work on weekends for the supermarket we lived near, retrieving grocery carts people walked off with and picking up trash in the supermarket parking lot with a long stick that had a nail at the end of it. Oh was I embarrassed to see him out there, in his big army coat when it was cold, picking up other people’s trash and shoving it into a cloth bag he carried on his shoulder. I didn’t want anyone to know I was related to him. 

We live near an arroyo that has a bike path on one side and a dirt trail on the other. We walk our dog on the dirt trail, and it is always filthy, everything from candy wrappers to burger bags and soda cups to the tiny liquor bottles the night hawks leave behind. Once a week I take my trash grabber and a paper bag and pick up all the trash. My father is no longer among the living, but I always imagine he’s watching me, amused because I tried so hard not to be like him. And I always say something corny like, “Turns out I’m my father’s daughter after all,” in case he’s listening from the great wherever, to let him know I miss him and I don’t mind being like him one bit. 

That’s such a lovely sentiment! 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’?

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst is a wonderful story about a linguistics professor who tries to teach his dog to talk because the dog was the only witness to his wife’s death. Parkhurst never tells the reader what the poor professor is feeling; she only tells us what he is doing—and that has more power to make us feel his emotion than if she had spelled it out.

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A poignant and beautiful debut novel explores a man’s quest to unravel the mystery of his wife’s death with the help of the only witness — their Rhodesian ridgeback, Lorelei.

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 can drink as much as the next woman, so I don’t anticipate a hangover. But if I get one, I’ll take an aspirin and spend the day on the sofa with a book.

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

Maybe a nice hike in the mornings, and then back to the sofa with a good book, whether I’m hung over or not, in the afternoons. 

Sounds perfect. Joan, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to me this evening, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The latest books by Joan Schweighardt, The Rivers Trilogy includes the novels Before We Died, Gifts for the Dead and River Aria. You can buy the book as a Kindle boxset here. All three books work as standalone novels, but to sum them up collectively:

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In 1908, two Irish American brothers leave their jobs on the Hudson River docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, to seek their fortunes tapping rubber trees in the Brazilian rainforest. They expect to encounter floods, snakes, and unfriendly competitors, but nothing prepares them for the fact that the Amazonian jungle will take most of their crew and that saving the life of one brother will require leaving the other behind.

The trilogy follows Henry Ford’s plot to desecrate the rainforests and own the rubber trade, the impacts of World War I and prohibition on daily American life, and, finally, the journey of a talented young soprano who travels in the latter part of the 1920s from her birthplace in Brazil to New York City, where she struggles to make peace with her Irish American father, while establishing herself in the world of metropolitan opera.

Joan Schweighardt is the author of nine novels, two memoirs, two children’s books and various magazine articles, including work in Parabola Magazine. She is a regular contributor to Occhi Magazine, for which she interviews writers, artists and filmmakers. In addition to her own projects, she has worked as an editor and ghostwriter for private and corporate clients for more than 25 years. She also had her own independent publishing company from 1999 to 2005. Several of her titles won awards, including a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers,” a ForeWord Magazine “Best Fiction of the Year,” and a Borders “Top Ten Read to Me.” And she has agented books for other writers, with sales to St. Martin’s, Red Hen, Wesleyan University Press and more.

Her most recent work is the Rivers Trilogy—Before We Died, Gifts for the Dead and River Aria—which moves back and forth between the New York metro area and the South American rainforests from the years 1908 through 1929.

You can connect further with Joan via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Extract and Q&A: Not In My Name by Michael Coolwood

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In an alternate 2003 where the UK voted to go to war with Iraq in a split referendum, an anti-war activist is murdered. Her friend and another activist, Phoebe, fixates on finding the truth as the only way to cope with her grief and anxiety.

Phoebe and her ex-boyfriend Sefu aren’t able to investigate for long before another of their activist friends is murdered. They find evidence that the murderer might be one of their own. Phoebe’s anxiety nearly cripples her ability to cope, and her attraction to her ex isn’t helping any.​

Firebrand Xia is determined to shut the investigation down. Matriarch Paula had no alibi, but also no motive. Young punk Liam is lying to protect someone. Ex-soldier Gus struggles with his PTSD.

Phoebe needs to deal constructively with her anxiety, and quickly, before the police find out what has happened, and every one of their friends winds up in prison. Or dead.

Today is publication day for Not In My Name by Michael Coolwood, a cosy mystery about the murder of an activist in an alternate 2003 where the UK held a referendum to go to war with Iraq that was split 52% to 48%.

In order to celebrate the release of this interesting-sounding book, I am delighted to be able to share with you a Q&A with the author, and an extract from Chapter 1 of the book. If you are interested in buying a copy of the book, having had your appetite whetted by these goodies, it is available here.

Question and Answers on Not In My Name by Michael Coolwood

Here’s the most obvious question Michael. You’ve chosen to set your book in an alternate reality where the Labour government asked the people in a referendum if we should go to war against Iraq because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Like, wow! That’s a lot of explaining. What prompted that? Why not just write the story as is.

Because the story isn’t about Iraq, it’s using Iraq to talk about Brexit.

Brexit is a monolith. It is eternal. It is both means and ends. Brexit means Brexit. This means that trying to convince someone who passionately believes in Brexit, you’re not going to make much headway if you approach the topic head on.

My solution to this problem was to take something near everyone agrees was a disaster – the Iraq War – and apply the logic that has been applied to Brexit to that. If you take all the key statements by those leading the ‘leave’ side of the referendum, and transpose them onto another subject, it’s suddenly dreadfully clear just how empty and meaningless they are.

It also helps that Iraq happened under Labour’s watch, so right-wing voters are less likely to be immediately put off by the analogy. They might enjoy the chance to put the boot into the Labour Party a little more, which might lead to them opening up to the ideas explored in the book a little more. 

You call yourself a male feminist writer and certainly your lead character of Phoebe is pretty amazing. Is that all that a male writer has to do to be considered a feminist writer, make his main character a young woman?

I think feminism is a journey. I started off on this journey a long time ago when I noticed that a good half of the books I was reading featured precisely one named female character, and they were usually… not treated well.

Since then I’ve read a lot and learned a lot. I’m still learning. That’s what I mean by feminism being a journey. I don’t think I’ll ever be done learning. This is why I’m dancing around the question a little. I don’t think there’s a true way to be a male feminist writer, all I can do is educate myself, try my best and then listen when I inevitably mess up.

So, to try to actually answer the question: No, if your aim is to write feminist fiction, you can’t just write a female protag and call it a day. The more subtle things to consider include, but are not limited to: Are the male characters active whilst the female characters are passive? Are the men strong and stoic whilst the women are soft and emotional? Is the attractiveness of the women commented on repeatedly whilst the men’s attractiveness is ignored? Are there a decent number of interesting female characters or is there just one, whilst the rest are all male?

Ultimately, my goal was to create a collection of interesting, rounded characters that reflect life as I see it, which is full of awesome women, and awesome men.

You deal with some serious issues in this book and I don’t want to give anything away but since it’s in the first chapter I can say that Phoebe is highly anxious. She has, what she calls, a terror python that paralyzes her. Is mental health an important issue to you?

I’ve struggled with mental health for all my adult life. I’ve had panic attacks since my early teens and have only recently been cured of my anxiety disorder thanks to a medical trial at King’s College Hospital. Depression, Anxiety and Chronic Fatigue have seeped into every area of my life. Some things they only affect subtly, but they do affect literally everything I do. That being said, I also deal with some mental health issues in this book which I don’t have direct experience of, and for those I was privileged to work with an excellent sensitivity reader, who pointed out areas where I’d gone wrong.

This is book is overtly political without endorsing any political party. It almost seems to want to be outside Westminster politics while deepening democracy to include everyone. Aren’t you out of step with your contemporaries because young people don’t usually get involved in politics.

My generation, millennials, are the first generation since records began to not be better off than their parents [citation: https://www.ft.com/content/81343d9e-187b-11e8-9e9c-25c814761640]. It’s likely to be even worse for the Zoomers coming up behind us. Wealth is pooling into fewer and fewer hands. Countless people feel left behind by politics, but I don’t think it follows that young people don’t get involved in politics. My MP is a truly wonderful human being, and she’s a millennial too. Over the last decade my friends have gone from trying to ignore politics entirely to making jokes about eating the rich.

There’s a growing sense in the UK that our current political system doesn’t work. If you look at the results of the 2019 general election, the Conservative party won 14 million votes, whilst the UK had an adult population of 50 million. So roughly 28% of the UK population actually voted for the current government, and it was considered a huge landslide.

There are many things we could do to fix this, one of which is moving to a proper voting system like Single Transferable Vote or Mixed Member Representation (explanations here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8XOZJkozfI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT0I-sdoSXU&) but it’s best to stop there because I could go on about this all day.

Not In My Name doesn’t endorse a political party because democracy in the UK is completely broken and has been for a long time. The Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems have no plans to fix it, they just want to keep a lid on things and enact small changes. We’ve had decades of small, incremental changes, and they haven’t helped enough. We need wholesale change of our political system.

You set this book in a commune outside Birmingham. It seems like you know the place well?

I actually only lived in Birmingham for about fifteen months, but one thing I knew when I set out to write this book is I didn’t want to set it in London. I’ve lived in London for most of my life and it’s obvious to anyone with a pulse that the way the UK is run is London first whilst everyone else follows behind.

I didn’t think it would be right to write a book about trying to change politics from the outside whilst living in London. A lot of big political demonstrations happen in London – 200,000 people marched against the Iraq War and there have been multiple marches against Brexit boasting over a hundred thousand people.

The thing is, we still went to war with Iraq, despite that massive march. In my opinion, the five people who broke into RAF Fairford to damage the bombers who were due to fly to Iraq that day did more tangible good than the massive London march.

Regional politics might not have the cache of Westminster, but its far easier to creative measurable change when not trying to engage with the House of Commons.

There’s a lot of humour in this book. Like, it’s laugh aloud funny. Are you worried that you will mixing too many things together: a murder mystery and a political satire? That’s kind of a weird mix.

Life is funny and life is deeply sad. If there is a contradiction there, it’s one we all live with every day.

What’s that? You want a less philosophical answer? Oh, go on then:

Murder Mysteries as a genre are a bit weird. There are many, many different types but I, personally, can’t stand the ones where everything is grim and ugly, where every character is a monster and if anything good happens to the protagonist, you know it’s only so that it can be used to twist the knife later.

I like cosy mysteries, where the characters are nuanced and evil is rare.  It’s a fundamentally optimistic genre. It’s also frequently a funny genre. There is tension between optimism, humour and politics, because we live in a hellscape of a political system that serves to enrich the friends of those in power whilst it starves everyone on the periphery – but, you can’t avoid politics. To misquote Skunk Anansie: ‘Yes it’s forking political, everything’s political’.

You can’t escape politics. Politics affects everything we do – the lack of a Universal Basic Income means you can’t quit the job you hate and pursue your passion. Cuts to the NHS meant people you know have had vital treatment delayed, or rendered inaccessible completely. This is compounded beyond measure if you’re disabled, not Caucasian, not heterosexual or not obviously male. 

There is a strong movement that demands we keep politics out of media. People were furious when Rufus Hound, on Dancing on Ice, dared to remind people that our government are choosing to let poor children starve. These people don’t want to be reminded that people are suffering, but their ignorance doesn’t lessen the suffering. Increasingly, people are saying: Enough. We will not repeat the crises of previous decades. You may want to pretend everything is fine, but things haven’t been fine for a long time.

So, to answer your question, every book is political. Every book makes choices about the world it presents. Those choices are political. My book is just a little more obviously political than most.

What’s your favourite murder mystery writer? Who inspired this and why?

My favourite murder mystery writer is Agatha Christie, because she’s still the queen of the Cosy Mystery. That being said, my favourite murder mystery book is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – it’s a wonderful mystery that twists the mind and asks all sorts of interesting questions about prisoner rehabilitation.

The inspirations for Not in My Name are a weird mish-mash of cosy mysteries from Christie, the political stand up of Mark Thomas, Rob Newman and Jeremy Hardy, the music of Rage Against the Machine, Brass Against, Phat Bollard and Ed Jollyboat, and the political videos of Iain Danskin, Philosiphy Tube, SeanSkull and Three Arrows.

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Now for our extract from Chapter One of Not In My Name:

Terror coiled around me as I lay next to my friends on the steps of Birmingham’s Victoria Square. It was crushing my chest, making my breathing swift and shallow. The angry white men on the other side of the line of police had been yelling at us for well over an hour, and had just started spitting.

The youngest member of our little group, Cassie, lay next to me. She was eighteen, and habitually wore swirls of black makeup under her eyes. I could only see half of her – she was splayed out, her limbs appearing broken and twisted. An A4 sheet of paper was taped to her chest. On the paper was a printed picture of a casualty of war. A similar picture was attached to my chest.

On my other side was Sefu, a tall man with a kind face and short, clipped hair. If my memory served, his Marilyn Manson t-shirt was currently being masked by a picture of an Iraqi hospital that one of our bombs had flattened.

Just beyond Sefu were Liam and Gus, who were the closest to the police line separating us from the angry white men. My friends’ proximity to a mob of people who hated us was only amplifying my terror.

In a die-in, protestors lie down in a public place and pretend to be dead. The idea is the general public don’t really understand how devastating wars are so we show them. Extra points are awarded if a die-in takes place in a major intersection so we cause traffic to grind to a halt. But we weren’t doing that today. We’d chosen Victoria Square because Birmingham’s town hall and council house looked out over it.

“Traitors!” cried the angry white men. “Saboteurs!”

The cops were playing games with us, hoping we’d give up and go home. Every once in a while, they would come up to one of us and carry us away from the square. They’d say they were arresting us, move us past the line of police separating us from the general public and then release us back into the wild. They called this ‘de-arresting’, which I hadn’t known was a thing the police could do. They kept dragging us away from our protest and we kept finding ways to break back through the cop line, back to the steps of Victoria Square.

“Saboteurs!” the angry men yelled again, before someone in their midst with a megaphone managed to organise them into a more complex chant.

“You lost! Get over it!” they screamed. “You lost! Get over it!”

This seemed to energise the zealots at the front of the line who increased their efforts to get at us. The cops were pushed back a few metres, nearly treading on Gus in the process. This seemed to give a couple of men an idea, and they concentrated on spitting on my friends. The spittle rained down on Gus, and some splashed onto Liam. Gus opened his eyes and locked his gaze on to Liam.

I didn’t see exactly what happened. All I saw was a furious man in a St George’s flag shirt spit at Liam. With a roar, Gus leaped to his feet and swung a punch at the flag-wearer. The flag-wearer went down, but two identical men took his place. Gus dropped another, but his mate struck back. Gus took the blow and didn’t seem to notice. The angry men surged forward, furious at Gus’s audacity. The cops suddenly didn’t know what to do. They were supposed to arrest Gus, but if they broke their line, the mob would attack the rest of us.

Liam scrambled to his feet and tried to pull Gus back, but his scrawny tattooed arms couldn’t do the job. Gus swung and swung at the line of identical furious men. He swung until Vince appeared from nowhere. Vince was smaller than Gus, but he placed himself in between Gus and the mob. I couldn’t hear anything over the shouts but I saw Vince’s mouth move in quick, precise movements.

I knew I should be up on my feet supporting Vince, talking Gus down, but the terror had wrapped itself around my legs and arms. I couldn’t move. I heard charging feet from the direction I wasn’t looking, and suddenly cops had launched themselves on Gus, Vince and Liam. Gus was seething, Liam was shouting “No blood for oil!” and Vince was holding his head high. He had just stopped a terrible situation from getting even worse.

“Do we make a last stand?” Sefu asked. “Or do we stay put?” “What kind of question is that?” demanded Xia from just past where Cassie was lying. Xia was a tall woman with greying hair who had been arranging actions like this since the ‘70s. “The longer we stay here, the more people have to look at us and the more they have to think about what our country is doing. If we get ourselves arrested trying to free our friends, the authorities win and we lose.”

I’d been waiting for Xia to say that, all the while hoping she wouldn’t. My hands clenched and unclenched as I saw the cops dragging my three friends off with them. I wish actions like this were as effortless for me as they were for Xia.

“Phoebe!” My sister Mel called down to me. She was just up the steps from where I was lying, her voice calm and warm. The muscles in my jaw loosened. “Think about what they’d want. They’d want us to carry on.”

Mel was right, as always. Our parents had always insisted I defer to Melissa, but it was when she’d discovered her softer side and started calling herself ‘Mel’ that I found someone actually worth listening to.

I relaxed my hands. The stone beneath my back felt less cold. “Cassie,” I said, trying not to move my lips. “How are you doing?”

“I’m alright,” Cassie said, “but the last cop who arrested me told me that he was going to nick me properly if I tried this again.”

They’d told me the same thing. “You okay with that?”

Cassie rolled her eyes to look at me, although her face still stared serenely towards the sky. “Duh. Can anyone see Paula?”

“I made her promise she’d go home after the third time she got hauled out,” Sefu said, “so she climbed onto the statue of the Floozie in the Jacuzzi and started hanging a banner. You didn’t see that?”

A battle-hardened grin flashed onto Cassie’s face. “I think I was trying to break back through the cop line then.”

“You didn’t see it, Phoebe?” Sefu asked me.

I grunted a sort of ‘no’ noise. I was trying not to think about the cops or the mob of men who’d beat us to within an inch of our lives if they could get at us. As part of not thinking, I had been steadily working through an Evian bottle I’d filled with vodka and lemonade. I’d initially been using it to settle my nerves, and since it seemed to be working, I’d carried on.

“So there’s five of us left?” Sefu asked.

Xia grunted. “Five of us, along with three from Justice for Iraq, two from Stop the War, seventeen from Campaign Against the Arms Trade – well done them – and one unaligned.”

Cassie laughed. “That’s the nice lady from Games Workshop who I talked into coming yesterday when I went to pick up my orks.”

I saw Sefu blink. “You did what?”

“I know, I was surprised as well. But I put the action in her terms, right? I said, imagine the Space Marines wanted to go to war, but instead of going up against Chaos or someone, they decided to just bomb a load of Gretchin villages and destroy their squig farms.”

“And that persuaded her?” Sefu sounded confused.

“Hey, that’s the power of orks.”

Red Bus

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About the Author

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Michael Coolwood writes feminist cosy mysteries. His work is deeply political and his characters are driven by a desire to make the world a better place. This is partly due to a respect for passionate, caring people, and partly because cuts to the health service in the UK have ensured he can barely leave the house due to his swamp of health problems. His cosy mystery series is called Democracy and Dissent and grapples with issues of the day.

Connect with Michael:

Website: https://coolwoodbooks.com/

Facebook: Michael Coolwood

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Spotlight: The Primary Objective by Martin Venning

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For some, the primary objective is to stop a conflict, for others, the primary objective is to exercise power, but for most, the primary objective is to make money.

Peace International is a New York based global reconciliation and mediation charity that seeks to prevent wars, regional disputes and rebuild civil societies. When a tip comes in thatIran is building a chemical and biological weapons research and production centre, it soon becomes clear that where they’re considering building – close to the border with Azerbaijan- could destabilise the Gulf region and beyond.

Selecting a small team of volunteers, they form a task force to collect evidence, entering through a dangerous semi-lawless area in southern Azerbaijan. What they discover is a farmore complicated web of challenges than a weapons facility. For PI Operations Director, Edwin Wilson, the mission is his most perilous yet, threatening the lives of his team and theinternational reputation of his organisation. But for two Iranian men, Fawaz and Jamshid, the stakes are even higher.

Driven by contrasting personal circumstances and life chances, they face difficult choices as they seek different paths to prosperity in a controlling, repressive society that takes noprisoners…alive.
 
One of my objectives on the blog is to highlight new books coming out that might slip under the radar and help promote authors that don’t get the attention of the mainstream press. So, over the next week, I am going to be shining the blog spotlight on a few of the new titles from Matador that have been published recently.
 
First up we have The Primary Objective by Martin Venning, which is a geo-political thriller featuring a detailed and rewarding plot for those who enjoy a complex and well-researched story.
 
The Primary Objective is out now in ebook and paperback formats, and you can buy a copy here.
 
About the Author
 
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Martin Venning is a project communications and strategic investment adviser working in the property and construction sector with 20 years’ experience engaging with businesses in the UK, continental Europe and Asia. He trained as a journalist as part of his undergraduate studies and writes for pleasure.

Connect with Martin:

Website: https://www.mvenning.net/

Twitter: @MartinVenning_

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Book Review: Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister

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Could the courts really order the death of your innocent baby? Was there an illegal immigrant who couldn’t be deported because he had a pet cat? Are unelected judges truly enemies of the people?

Most of us think the law is only relevant to criminals, if we even think of it at all. But the law touches every area of our lives: from intimate family matters to the biggest issues in our society.

Our unfamiliarity is dangerous because it makes us vulnerable to media spin, political lies and the kind of misinformation that frequently comes from loud-mouthed amateurs and those with vested interests. This ‘fake law’ allows the powerful and the ignorant to corrupt justice without our knowledge – worse, we risk letting them make us complicit.

Thankfully, the Secret Barrister is back to reveal the stupidity, malice and incompetence behind many of the biggest legal stories of recent years. In Fake Law, the Secret Barrister debunks the lies and builds a defence against the abuse of our law, our rights and our democracy that is as entertaining as it is vital.

I vividly remember an evening in 2016 when I went out to dinner with a group of around eight of my closest friends. Earlier that day, the retrial of a footballer previously convicted of rape had resulted in an acquittal, and conversation inevitably touched on this current hot topic. To my dismay, there were lot of harsh words directed at the victim in the case, with assertions that she was clearly a ‘liar,’ that the law needed to do something about the problem of ‘fake claims’ of rape and the subsequent destruction of the lives of ‘obviously innocent’ men. I refer to dismay, because this is what I felt upon realising that my group of well-educated, largely liberal, tolerant, engaged and generous friends were so ill-informed as to what the acquittal of this footballer really meant with regards to the honesty of the woman involved and the appropriateness his behaviour. None of them had actually read any detail as to the facts of the case or the grounds on which he had been acquitted, they had simply accepted at face value the many sensational and inaccurate news reports on the case. It was eye-opening. I tried my best to explain why these assumptions were untrue, but was not entirely successful as a lone voice crying against a storm of popular misinformation.

I mention this story, because it is one of the cases referred to by The Secret Barrister in their new book, Fake Law, in which they try to counteract some of the inaccurate stories we are constantly being fed by various sections of society, including the media, vested interest groups and, sadly, to an increasing degree, our own government, why this misinformation is so damaging to the very fabric of our society and why each of us on a personal level should care. Reading this book, for me, is like reliving most of the Twitter arguments I have had over the past five or so years, much more clearly articulated. In fact, I first stumbled across the Secret Barrister on Twitter in 2018 on a thread regarding the hot topic of that particular moment, the arrest of pensioner Richard Osborn-Brooks for the ‘crime of defending his own home,’ a story that is discussed in the opening chapter of this book, and I have been an ardent fan ever since.

The book sets out many of the most contentious legal firestorms of the past few decades, recaps on what the general public have been lead to believe about these issues by certain factions, explains very clearly why much of the information we have been fed is misleading at best and downright dishonest in some cases, and then asks why it may be the interests of certain parties for us not to be given the whole truth about these matters, and what negative consequences for each of us arise when we nod along with this misinformation. For anyone taking the time and trouble to read the book and really think about what the author is saying, it is a deeply disturbing read.

Coming as I do from a background in law myself, I am familiar with the majority of the legal issues and concepts that The Secret Barrister puts forward in the book, hence why many of the cases they highlight here are ones that have had me personally raging on Twitter. However, the writing is set out clearly with the lay reader, not the legally educated, in mind and all of the principles are set out in a basic fashion using simple language and illustrated with easy to digest examples and comparators. Anyone can pick up this book and understand the points being made. In addition, The Secret Barrister has a delicious turn of phrase, and an absolutely wicked tongue which is truly pleasurable to read. I know if we met we would get along famously. I raise as particularly delightful examples their glorious descriptions of potential pleasures lost due injurious cases of negligence on page 83, their sly references to ‘neo-Dickensian sportswear retailers’ and their accurately unflattering assessment of the mental capabilities of a former Justice Secretary at the bottom of page 93. This is no dry, dusty tome to be waded through as if studying a textbook, this is an entertaining, informative and, ultimately, important text that is accessible to everyone who has an interest in understanding more about their legal rights and why it is important that we do not allow them to be undermined by factions with any agenda other than the best interests of us as individuals, and society at large, at their heart.

Because this stuff matters to all of us, whether we realise it or not. The law and the legal justice system underpins the very fabric of our society, ensures the smooth running of our lives and even our safety and liberty. You may think, as we are encouraged to do, that, if you are a law-abiding citizen, being kind to your fellow man and minding your own business, the law has little to offer you. You would be wrong. The law, and your ability to turn to it for redress when you are wronged, is what is preventing you from being irreversibly mangled by an intoxicated surgeon in a botched operation and then uncompensated; from a manufacturer selling you a faulty dishwasher without liability when it subsequently burns down your house ; from an ex-partner maliciously being able to keep you from seeing your children because you doinked the babysitter; from your boss capriciously firing you because he doesn’t like the fact you wear brown shoes with a black suit to work; from you being wrongfully identified as an armed robber by the short-sighted bank teller who came to work without her contact lenses that day and banged up for a ten stretch; or from a government deciding that the freedom of religion is no longer a human right exercisable by the denizens of our country and forcing you into trying to find an affordable house with a priest-hole in which to hide the unfortunate administrator of your future clandestine religious services. Extreme examples? Maybe but I think they illustrate the main point being made through the book. The law is for everyone, and we all need to protect its integrity and our access to it. My favourite quote from the book, which neatly sums this up with a comparison to a ‘giant game of Jenga,’ falls at the end of Chapter 8. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

I made pages and pages of notes on this book in preparation for writing this review, and there are so many more things I could say, but I run the risk of getting on my personal hobby horse, rather than writing a book review, and The Secret Barrister rides this hobby horse with much more elan than I ever could, so you should just read the book for yourself. I love the law, I have since I was 13 and first became entranced by the idea of pursuing it as a profession. Even though I no longer practice, it still fascinates me intellectually, and I am horrified at the way it is being eroded, and with the presumed consent of large swathes of the population. It genuinely scares me, if I’m being honest. The fact that this consent is being gained by the dissemination of lies and distortions of fact is abhorrent. This is why you need to read this book. Understand what you are being fed and why, so you can make informed decisions about what to believe and what to support. Don’t allow yourselves to be conned. Knowledge is power.

I have read this book twice this year, it is so good and, since this book was published in September, there have been so many more examples of misinformation arousing misdirected public outrage on legal matters. The government have passed a statute which breaches international law, whilst telling us they haven’t. Only this week there were false claims that the approval of the first vaccine against COVID by the UK regulator was a Brexit benefit. These falsehoods are being perpetuated by Government ministers, people we elected to act in our best interests, including the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor, who are supposed to protect the integrity of the law. As I recently completed the second read through, I had visions of the poor Secret Barrister sitting despairingly in their writing garret, self-medicating with gin as they frantically scribble daily addendums to this book, emailing increasingly harried messages to their beleaguered publisher, trying to keep up to date with the latest chipping away of the legal framework on which we all depend. Their desk is covered with dozens of sodden post-its, used to mop up their tears of frustration as they fight the rising tide of misinformation that threatens to engulf us. They have my deepest sympathies.

The fact this happens is outrageous. Be outraged. Refuse to accept it. But how can we reject these actions when many of us don’t even know we are being lied to? The media are complicit in the deceit. We deserve better and we should demand it. We need a basic legal education for all, and a media that reports on these things honestly. We currently have neither. What we do have are individuals such as The Secret Barrister, and a wealth of other lawyers and legal commentators who are trying to shine a light on these fabrications and why the law matters to all of us and deserves protection.

Seek them out, arm yourselves with information and decide for yourselves what it important. Start here, with this book, it’s a great read, and an important one. It’s my book of the year for 2020. Sadly, I fear the people who most need to read it are the very ones who won’t.

Fake Law: The Truth About justice in an Age of Lies is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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The Secret Barrister is a junior barrister specialising in criminal law.

The law can often feel to the public like an alien and impenetrable world, linked to everyday life only by selective news reportage and artistically-licensed tv dramatisation. The Secret Barrister aims to bridge that gap by providing a candid, and hopefully accessible, explanation of our criminal justice system, of how it works, and of how, all too often, it doesn’t.

The Secret Barrister has written for the The Times, The Guardian, New Statesman, iNews, Esquire, Counsel Magazine and Solicitors Journal, and has appeared in The Sun, The Mirror and Huffington Post.

In 2016 and 2017, the Secret Barrister was named Independent Blogger of the Year at the Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards. In 2018, they were named Legal Personality of The Year at the Law Society Awards.

The Secret Barrister is a patron of FRU (Free Representation Unit) and the Aberdeen Law Project.

Their debut book, Stories of The Law and How It’s Broken, was a Sunday Times bestseller for 24 consecutive weeks, and was named the Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2018 at the Books Are My Bag Awards.

Connect with The Secret Barrister:

Website: https://thesecretbarrister.com/

Facebook: The Secret Barrister

Twitter: @BarristerSecret

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Book Review: The Britain Potential by Jim Cowan

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Reading this is going to change how you see Britain, especially its politics. The way we are used to hearing about Britain’s politics is through the filter of our media. This book, however, delves below the surface to the underlying realities and from there, a very different politics emerges. This is a politics which starts and ends with people realising their potential.

From Britain’s shifting political centre of gravity The Britain Potential pieces together a politics that is neither left nor right, is not of division and polarisation but is about integration, balance, and unity. It offers an entirely fresh, genuinely humanistic vision grounded in actual developments both historical and contemporary. This is a politics viewed as something at work in daily life which is not being reported in the media and that no political party has yet spelt out. 

Told through stories, The Britain Potential helps readers take the pulse of the country and understand for themselves what ‘remedies’ will be effective. It offers ways forward, and hope, for people newly interested in politics, the politically homeless, people dissatisfied with life in Britain, leaders and activists of all kinds, public servants, business people, and people in communities. People around the world, who look to Britain, should find much of interest.

Britain has enormous potential, but is it realising it? For too many the answer is no. This is a book about what it takes to realise that potential, as individuals, families, communities, organisations and as a country. The Britain Potential is in our hands.

Today, I am pleased to be sharing my thoughts on The Britain Potential by Jim Cowan. I would like to thank the author for inviting me to review the book and for providing me with a paperback copy for that purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Ever since the Brexit referendum in 2016, I have been feeling increasingly disenfranchised by the British political system. There is currently no viable political party on offer that seems to align with my ideals of the government that this country needs. What we currently have is clearly not working, the situation in this country is getting worse and worse. We are becoming more polarised as a society, people are angry, scared and isolated, they don’t feel served by society as it currently stands. And from what I see daily on social media, I know I am not alone in my frustration and disillusionment.

So, it was with interest that I picked up this book by Jim Cowan, which promised to give me a new vision of politics for Britain, one which sounded much more like the perfect vision I would have for how our country should work. Where we all feel more connected and involved in the running of the country, invested and active, rather than having things imposed upon us by a ruling class over which we, as individuals, feel we can have very little influence.

This book contains a lot of interesting ideas about a new way of moving forward in the UK, by passing more power and decision-making to the people at a local level, so that everyone can feel invested and engaged in making their own society better in a way that works for their particular circumstances. An ability of local organisations and authorities to tailor services to what is needed in their specific area, rather than a homogenised approach from central government that does not address specific regional needs, with the role of central government being to support and encourage these local initiatives. Where the focus is on listening and responding to the articulated needs of the end users of services, ie US, rather than on controlling and managing us and forcing us to mould ourselves into a centrally-mandated stereotype. This would allow people autonomy, and an ability to invest and believe in themselves, to live a truly individual and authentic life. For each one of us, and consequently the country as a whole, to realise our full potential.

I’m going to be honest, this is not an easy book to read. Despite being only around two hundred pages, it is dense with information, packed with some complicated jargon and utilising concepts that were totally alien to me and took some time to absorb and understand. Bits of it took me a couple of read throughs to totally grasp, it is not a relaxing book to take to bed with you at night (although I did.) However, once I got into it, I was totally absorbed and really fascinated by the ideas being mooted. I found the examples of places and organisations already operating along these lines truly inspiring and the picture that Jim paints of what Britain could be like, tempting and aspirational. If you are at all interested in politics and the way that our society could be improved for the benefit of everyone, it is truly an hopeful read.

I have to tell you, I came away from this book feeling quite emotional, which was entirely unexpected. I was left thinking ‘if only.’ If only this could be how we lived, everyone working to the best of their abilities for the betterment of society for everyone. I can see how this works at a micro level, both in Jim’s examples and when looking at my own small rural community, which is filled with village initiatives, community support and just individual acts of kindness and care. But can this be amplified to a national level? Looking around at how things currently operate at the macro level, it actually looks less and less likely. I see our society moving in the opposite direction, with a Government intent on taking more and more power to itself, rather relinquishing it, with our society become more selfish, small-minded and inward-looking, rather than exploring ways of working with others to the benefit of all. The over-riding national sentiment seems to be that helping and caring for others means losing something ourselves, rather than enhancing our lives. All movements for equality are met with resistance by people who see it as them having to give something up, rather than pulling everyone up to the same level. It makes me despair.

I loved the ideas in this book, but when Jim concludes that we are currently a long way from achieving this utopian version of our society, and the only way to get there is by a slow, incremental change rather than radical reform, I believe he is right. This vision is but a speck on the horizon, and I don’t currently see the path ahead from here to there.

The Britain Potential is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

I have focused on political and social change in Britain for over 40 years.

This has been reflected in all areas of my life.

Community development, encompassing many different roles, has been at the heart of my work from the early 70s until 2012.

Between 1968 and 2005 I acquired five social science degrees, including a PhD.

I was also an honorary visiting research fellow for 10 years up until 2016.

In my personal life, I’ve practiced a socially engaged form of Buddhism for over 40 years which has enabled me to develop my consciousness more fully and realise more of my potential.

Since 2012 I have been meticulously researching what has been, and is, happening across Britain.

All these aspects, work, personal and social, academic study and research come together in this book.

It is four voices of doing, thinking, being, and researching that you will hear as you read The Britain Potential.

Connect with Jim:

Website: https://www.thebritainpotential.co.uk/

Twitter: @thebpotential

Instagram: @thebritainpotential

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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

Blog Tour: You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr #BookReview

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A beautiful and heart-breaking story set in South Africa where two mothers – a century apart – must fight for their sons, unaware their fates are inextricably linked.

Orange Free State, 1901. At the height of the Boer War, Sarah van der Watt and her six-year-old son Fred can only watch as the British burn their farm. The polite invaders cart them off to Bloemfontein Concentration Camp promising you will be safe here.

Johannesburg, 2010. Sixteen-year-old Willem is an outsider who just wants to be left alone with his Harry Potter books and Britney, his beloved pug. Worried he’s turning out soft, his Ma and her new boyfriend send him to New Dawn Safari Camp, where they ‘make men out of boys.’ Guaranteed.

The red earth of the veldt keeps countless secrets whether beaten by the blistering sun or stretching out beneath starlit stillness. But no secret can stay buried forever.

This is a book I have had on my TBR for a long time so I am delighted to finally have read it and be reviewing it for the blog tour today. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This book is incredibly intense, moving, powerful, eye-opening and heartbreaking. It is a book set across multiple timelines and told by multiple voices, and at first it seems like the threads are unconnected, but at the end, all becomes clear and it is a fascinating, if difficult exploration of the history of a troubled country.

The book opens with the arrival of a teenage boy at a ‘safari camp’ in the veldt near Blomfontein, then immediately circles back to the experiences of a Boer farmer’s wife at the height of the second Boer War in 1901, as told through her diary entries. This historical part of the book is eye-opening and disturbing. This is a part of history that I did not know much about and, having read this, I am not remotely surprised that this is a part of British history that is not taught in our schools. It is a shameful thing to have to read about, and the writing here describes the suffering of the Boer women and children so vividly that it is extremely upsetting, but important and necessary, and you will come away from the experience with your perception altered.

The rest of the book follows the lives of one family from the 70s through to modern day as their history is told to the birth of Willem, the main protagonist of the modern part of the book, and the reasons he ends up in the ‘safari camp,’ where the writer draws disturbing parallels between the concentration camps used by the British in the Boer War and the way these misfit boys are treated in the modern day. You would believe this is an exaggerated story save for the fact that the book was inspired by the death of a real boy. The fact that these camps exist in modern South Africa is troubling.

Reading this book is extremely poignant in the modern era. The book explores the ongoing racial tensions in South Africa and the attitude of a section of the white population that believe a reckoning is coming for the historical wrongs done to them. This harking back to the past and a time that was perceived to be better than the modern day, is a scourge on our society and a flimsy camouflage for ingrained racism, intolerance and bigotry that fuels so much that is wrong in the modern world. This book is so powerful in the way it makes the reader think about these issues and will shake and complacencies you may have about how pure our history is as a country.

This is not an easy or comfortable read, but it is an important and thought-provoking book that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in history and social politics.

You Will Be Safe Here is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure you check out the rest of the fabulous blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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 Damian Barr is an award-winning writer and columnist. Maggie & Me, his memoir about coming of age and coming out in Thatcher’s Britain, was a BBC Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’, Sunday Times ‘Memoir of the Year’ and won the Paddy Power Political Books ‘Satire’ Award and Stonewall Writer of the Year Award.

Damian writes columns for the Big Issue and High Life and often appears on BBC Radio 4. He is creator and host of his own Literary Salon that premieres work from established and emerging writers. You Will Be Safe Here is his debut novel.

Damian Barr lives in Brighton.

Connect with Damian:

Website: https://www.damianbarr.com

Facebook: Mr Damian Barr

Twitter: @Damian_Barr

Instagram: @damianbarrliterarysalon

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Tempted by….Books From Dusk Till Dawn: Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie @susanhampson57 @StuartMaconie @EburyPublishing #LongRoadFromJarrow #bookbloggers #amreading #readingrecommendations

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Three and half weeks. Three hundred miles. I saw roaring arterial highway and silent lanes, candlelit cathedrals and angry men in bad pubs. The Britain of 1936 was a land of beef paste sandwiches and drill halls. Now we are nation of vaping and nail salons, pulled pork and salted caramel.

In the autumn of 1936, some 200 men from the Tyneside town of Jarrow marched 300 miles to London in protest against the destruction of their towns and industries. Precisely 80 years on, Stuart Maconie, walks from north to south retracing the route of the emblematic Jarrow Crusade.

Travelling down the country’s spine, Maconie moves through a land that is, in some ways, very much the same as the England of the 30s with its political turbulence, austerity, north/south divide, food banks and of course, football mania. Yet in other ways, it is completely unrecognisable.

Maconie visits the great cities as well as the sleepy hamlets, quiet lanes and roaring motorways. He meets those with stories to tell and whose voices build a funny, complex and entertaining tale of Britain, then and now.

So, it’s back, the feature where I highlight the persuasive power of book bloggers to drive book sales by showcasing books that my fellow bloggers have cajoling me into buying with their honeyed reviews. At the same time, I get to draw your attention to some of the magnificent blogs I follow and tell you what I love about them and why I trust their judgement in recommending books.

A word of warning, this feature stalled a couple of times last year for a variety of reasons, so some of these recommendations go back while. However, I believe that book recommendations age well, like a fine wine, rather than go off like fruit, so their enticing power still remains.

So, for the new year, I am telling you how I was Tempted by…. Books From Dusk Till Dawn to buy this copy of Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie. You can find the review that persuaded me to buy the book here, written by the lovely Susan Hampson who runs this blog.

Why was I drawn to this book? Well, I do like to read some non-fiction in amongst all the fiction I read, and I am particularly drawn to books of social commentary, which this is. I like the sound of a comparison between how the country and the places have changed in the 80 years between the original Jarrow march and Maconie’s recreation, and I think the book is particularly relevant given the recent upheavals and seismic changes taking place in this country over the past few years. I have read several of Stuart’s other books and I like his narrative style. I was particularly drawn by the personal connection than Susan said she felt with the book.

If you like the sound of Long Road From Jarrow, it is available in all formats by following this link. I also highly recommend that you pay a visit to Susan’s blog which you can find at Books From Dusk Till Dawn. The reason I love Susan’s blog so much is that she has a really interesting mix of books on there, not just the mainstream titles, and her reviews are always detailed, personal and mature.

This feature will be moving back to Mondays from next week, so do check out the next one.

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder #BookReview (@TimothyDSnyder) @TheBodleyHead @MMFlint #politics #nonfiction #brexit #OnTyranny #Fahrenheit11/9

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History does not repeat, but it does instruct.

In the twentieth century, European democracies collapsed into fascism, Nazism and communism. These were movements in which a leader or a party claimed to give voice to the people, promised to protect them from global existential threats, and rejected reason in favour of myth. European history shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary people can find themselves in unimaginable circumstances.

History can familiarise, and it can warn. Today, we are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to totalitarianism in the twentieth century. But when the political order seems imperilled, our advantage is that we can learn from their experience to resist the advance of tyranny.

Now is a good time to do so.

Over the weekend, the Irishman and I watched Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9, charting the 2016 US Presidential election campaign and how the presidency of Donald Trump came about (I know what you are thinking, what wild party animals we are!) The documentary featured a gentleman named Timothy Snyder as one of the commentators, who was identified as ‘the author of On Tyranny.’ Since I found his comments in the documentary interesting, I decided to buy a copy of the book.

It arrived on Monday and I dove in immediately and read it in one sitting. At only 126 pages long, it only took me an hour to get through but, aside from its length, the things that compelled me to read it cover to cover in one sitting, and then read it straight through again the following morning, were the frightening historical lessons contained within the pages which are now scarily relevant to what is going on in the political world today, and which we need to remember and heed in order to avoid ending up in horrifying places we swore we would never go to again. Although this book is primarily drawing parallels between the European political history of the last century and the current situation in America, unfortunately our country is now facing a lot of the same issues.

The basic premise of the book is that, although history does not repeat itself exactly, in times of crisis it can flag up the warning signs that alert us to the fact we are heading down a dangerous path, and provide us with the knowledge and tools to avoid repeating historical mistakes. The book is in a very easy to digest format, with twenty lessons we can learn from twentieth century European political history, followed by a brief explanation of the context and how it may be currently manifesting in our society. Some of these ideas were not new to me, I have seen them mooted in other places during my reading and research over the past four years, but some were and, reading all of them brought together in one place and explained so clearly and concisely, was a hard slap to the face which will make any reader sit up and think, on whichever side of the political divide you find yourself. In the current unsettled and unsettling climate, this can only be a good thing.

I have seen a lot of extremes in political discourse recently, particularly on Twitter, with one side talking about the rise of fascism and the other saying this is arrant nonsense. Whatever stance you take, this book is a valuable read which might make you take a step back and consider the truth of what is actually happening. In this book, the author seeks not to say ‘this is definitely where we are heading,’ but ‘look, THINK, remember, be aware, decide where you stand and take action.’ Prevention is far, far better than the cure that proved necessary in the past. There is a famous quote, ‘eternal vigilance is the price of freedom’ which the author uses in this book. This is true today and, in contrast, apathy and inaction are surely its end.

Given the events of the last week in Parliament, some of the chapters rang with particularly resounding alarm bells. ‘Defend institutions,’ was the first, as we have seen our Parliament battling with the Executive for sovereignty over the Brexit issue and, in the last 24 hours, the independence of the judiciary being attacked. ‘Remember professional ethics’ is another topic that I particularly, as an ex-lawyer who follows a lot of legal accounts on Twitter, have seen being strenuously debated in relation to the Government’s suggestion that they may challenge or disregard the Benn Law passed this week and how members of the legal profession sitting in Government should position themselves if it takes such a step. The pieces of advice regarding critical thinking, being willing to say what you believe rather than following the herd and about using language wisely, gave me pause. The book will make you question who you want to be in the current climate and what you are prepared to stand for. Only by standing out and breaking the status quo can change be effected. How brave are we prepared to be as individuals in defence of our values?

There were a couple of quotes that really stood out to me. “The odd [American] idea that giving money to political campaigns is free speech means that the very rich have far more speech, and so in effect far more voting power, than other citizens” and ‘The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.” Two similar ideas that, given the controversy that surrounds the electoral spending and social media influencing during the referendum campaign, must make each of us question just how freely our votes are given and how much we are being influenced by people with their own agendas on both sides of the divide.

Is this too dramatic? I don’t know. I, for one, am certainly finding the current situation alarming. It is tempting to hide from the turmoil, assume it will all sort itself out eventually and we can just hide under the covers (literal, metaphorical or book, take your pick) until it does. The message behind this volume is history has shown us repeatedly that this strategy does not work. We have to pay attention and take action or accept that we have stood by while our values are eroded. This book is a wake up call. It really should be mandatory reading, particularly for those in positions of authority. Maybe we should crowdfund a copy being sent to each of our 650 MPs. After all, they have little else to do for the next five weeks.

On Tyranny is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Michael Moore’s new film, Fahrenheit 11/9, featuring Timothy Snyder is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

About the Author

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Timothy Snyder is one of the world’s leading historians of the twentieth century. An expert on eastern Europe and on the Second World War, he has written and edited a number of acclaimed and prize-winning books about twentieth-century European history.

His internationally bestselling Bloodlands won the Hannah Arendt Prize, the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding, and has been translated into thirty-three languages.Black Earth was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the annual prize of the Dutch Auschwitz Committee.

He is Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a frequent contributor to newspapers and journals on both sides of the Atlantic.

Connect with Timothy:

Website: http://timothysnyder.org

Twitter: @TimothyDSnyder