Monday, 31 October 2016

"The Easy Way Out" Steven Amsterdam

The Easy Way Out

Evan is a nurse, a suicide assistant. His job is legal . . . just. He's the one at the hospital who hands out the last drink to those who ask for it. 

Evan's friends don't know what he does during the day. His mother, Viv, doesn't know what he's up to at night. And his supervisor suspects there may be trouble ahead.

As he helps one patient after another die, Evan pushes against legality, his own morality and the best intentions of those closest to him, discovering that his own path will be neither quick nor painless.

He knows what he has to do.

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Steven Amsterdam challenges readers to face the most taboo and heartbreaking of dilemmas. Would you help someone end their life?

"Death is where life gets really interesting."

Set in Australia, in the near future at a time when assisted suicide is legal, Amsterdam tackles a very emotive subject for his novel. I wanted to read this book as I wondered how the author would handle such a taboo and controversial subject in what appeared to be a more light and entertaining narrative voice than perhaps found in other titles which deal with terminal illness and suicide.

This is a brave novel for a brave reader. I think your reaction to this book could very much depend on where you are in life and what personal and emotional issues you may have surrounding the subject of illness and death. Having said that, although it is not a light read, there is a good balance between humour and seriousness. The writing is not oppressive or sentimental. It is not insensitive or offensive either. There is humour, quirkiness, bluntness and honesty which make it a novel hard to define but actually easier to engage with than one might think.

Whatever the reader feels about the subject matter, there is no denying that Amsterdam can write. I found some of his observations and images profound; understated yet very evocative and effective.

"The cancer ran through him like drain cleaner"

"This is the family picture: three hands and wrists woven together, each with a different purpose - the daughter grooming, the father pulling back in terminal retreat, the mother trying to protect them all."

"There we are, six white people fine tuning a death."

The book opens with us watching Evan carry out his job as a suicide assistant. As this is not something that happens legally in the UK, it was an alien experience for me to read about this in such normalised circumstances. I'm not sure whether the fact that it is not a "real life" relatable scenario for me actually made it easier to read as there was a sense of detachment -almost as if I was reading something set in an imagined future. I found the calm normality of the narrative voice effective in discussing what must be some of the most difficult and imaginable moments in someone's life. Evan's matter of fact, practical voice also helped to remove the potential emotional intensity and sensationalism from the scenes. In fact, he is trained to be emotionally detached, and pulled up on it by his boss Nettie several times. As the novel continues and Evan's role begins to invade his personal life as he watches his beloved mother's health deteriorate, it is this awareness that he's been trained to keep a level of detachment from death and terminal illness that creates dilemma, conflict and confusion.

There are several accounts of Evan's 'assists'. One of the most moving comes towards the end of the book with Leo aged ninety and his girlfriend, Myrna, aged eighty six. It is interesting how the characters who are 'attending' the 'assist' behave each time and what they expect from Evan as he tries to remain invisible and unobtrusive despite sharing possibly the most intimate moments of anyone's life. Amsterdam again shows that he can write with great poignancy.

"Two people watching the tide go out."

And then Myrna's repetition of "So simple and so beautiful. So simple," create an overwhelming sense of peace, resolution and calm. This book undoubtedly challenges the reader's perception of 'assisted suicide', whether it will change your mind at all is probably irrelevant. It's just offering a very different perspective and it's also interesting how Evan reflects and responds to his role as the novel continues. Evan's almost throwaway comments often present the reader with something quite thought provoking. For example, his reflection on how different people respond to death is presented with an emotional detachment not usually seen in stories dealing with final moments. Seeing it from a practical viewpoint of someone whose is helping someone to die, offers a different perspective from usual in which to observe characters and their behaviour.

"Will they sail past the news untouched or will it send them off in a new direction?"

Amsterdam injects a level of humour, modernity and contrast with the sub plot of Evan's personal life. His relationship with his mother is quite fascinating and written with a mixture of compassion and wry humour and then Evan's own romantic relationship with two other men as they operate as a "throuple." This really is a very contemporary novel, bursting with contemporary issues and written in a bold contemporary voice.

Towards the end of the book Evan reflects on his career. The metaphor of the rubbish men is very effective.

"a garbage truck notches its way through the middle of the street. The men run to collect the bins on opposite sides, empty them into the munching maw at the back......There may be easier jobs in this world."

This novel is interesting, quirky, shocking, modern and highly original. It took me a while to get to grips with Evan's voice and although I enjoyed his entertaining responses to friends as he tries to hide the reality of his day job, he is a complex character and perhaps a little of an acquired taste.

I am pleased that I read it but I am not completely sure how I would rate it or indeed feel about it. I think I would suggest you make your own mind up. Although thought provoking, emotive and controversial, Amsterdam's voice is also quirky and humorous. There is plenty of dialogue and it is a well paced novel. The relationships between the main characters is also unusual. It is a relatively short novel too, which is possibly necessary really because of the scenarios and dynamics explored within the book.

"The Easy Way Out" by Steven Amsterdam is published on Nov 3rd 2016.

Thank you to Netgalley for the advanced copy of the novel.

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me onTwitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Children's Fiction: "Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: The Spooky School"

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam : The Spooky School

Here, right in time for Halloween, is a book with three hilarious read-aloud stories from author Tracey Corderoy (Hubble Bubble series) and illustrator Steven Lenton - a perfect treat for any 5-8 year old!

Meet Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam - two brave baker dogs, who solve wacky mysteries too! Halloween at St Spectre's school brings out the cheekiest of ghosts! And who is to blame when the weather goes CRAZY? A power-grabbing red panda maybe? Certainly not the raccoon gang fixing the museum's toilets - they've got dastardly plans of their OWN!

This story is from the successful creators of Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam picture books series. It is their first title for children who want to begin to read more independently and make the leap from picture books to something slightly more substantial. It also works very well as a book that can be read aloud to children as they begin to become more confident about tackling longer and more complex texts.

The orange and black cover and illustrations are appropriately thematic for the season but also fun and add plenty of humour. There are illustrations on each page which ensures the text is broken down into smaller sections and not too overwhelming.

Shifty and Sam are very likeable characters; dogs who bake and solve mysteries at the same time makes for an appealing and winning combination! The first story sees them arriving at St Spectre's Boarding School where they proceed to prepare a delicious banquet of sandwitches, creepy crawly cupcakes and "totally terrifying trifles that bubbled like volcanoes." But within no time at all they are involved in the hunt for the "lightning strike" ghost. The action is fast paced and sprinkled with so many amusing phrases like their motto "All for bun and bun for all!" to their weapons "whisk-a-web". The alliteration and bubbling adjectives make the story entertaining. The writing is full of energy; the words and illustrations seem to almost leap from the page.

The second story, "The Wacky Weather Week" involves the devilish Red Rocket who uses his remote control to change the weather and create havoc. There's a great scene when Shifty and Sam turn baguettes into skis! The imaginative use of food as gadgets to save the world from wacky wrongdoers  is definitely the thing I enjoyed most and in this tale there were croissants disguised as walkie talkies and a cupcake catapult!

This is a very enjoyable, witty and amusing story which will liven up any bedtime and appeal to any child who enjoys a bit of adventure and a world where the main characters are animals. The tasty mix of 'crime fighting' dogs with cooking and baked delights will give the stories a wide appeal, particularly those addicted to 'Paw Patrol', 'Octonauts' and 'The Great British Bake Off'.

I would recommend this book to children between 5-8 either to help straddle children from picture books to 'chapter books' or for children who read ably. They are great fun to read with your children and the presentation and production of the books is very visually pleasing. Three books in one is always a bargain too!

"Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: The Spooky School" by Corderoy and Lenton is published by Nosy Crow on 6th September 2016.

You can find out more about the book and authors at or on Twitter @nosycrow

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

"The Last Days of Leda Grey" Essie Fox

The Last Days of Leda Grey

During the oppressive heat wave of 1976 a young journalist, Ed Peters, finds an Edwardian photograph in a junk shop in the seaside town of Brightland. It shows an alluring, dark-haired girl, an actress whose name was Leda Grey.

Enchanted by the image, Ed learns Leda Grey is still living - now a recluse in a decaying cliff-top house she once shared with a man named Charles Beauvois, a director of early silent film. As Beauvois's muse and lover, Leda often starred in scenes where stage magic and trick photography were used to astonishing effect. 
But, while playing a cursed Egyptian queen, the fantasies captured on celluloid were echoed in reality, leaving Leda abandoned and alone for more than half a century - until the secrets of her past result in a shocking climax, more haunting than any to be in found in the silent films of Charles Beauvois.

The words used by critics and reviewer are "sensuous", "beguiling", "mesmerising" and "surreal". I would have to agree with all of these.

The opening is very factual and indicates that ultimately we can expect some tragedy and misdemeanours by the end of the story, but then we are led into a narrative voice that sounds so very unlike a thriller or mystery and much more like literary fiction.

The protagonist, Ed Peters, reminded me of a more grown up Leo from L P Hartley's "The Go Between" as we meet him when he is "lonely, restless and bored" in the "summer's endless heat". He finds a photo of the actress Leda Grey whilst browsing in a shop and

"when the sunlight dazzled on the glass it gave her the look of a living skull. It was such an odd illusion, and it lasted no more than a moment or so but I felt a prickling jolt of fear, a sense that if I stepped too close that girl might reach out through the frame and try to drag me into it. .....When I looked back up again the natural features were restored, so perfect and alluring......"  

The shop keeper's riddles ("The light of attraction between lost souls. Do you also see between the veils?") made me wonder if I was wandering into a kind of 'Tales of the Unexpected' story or whether there would be a supernatural twist emerging along the way. Then he begins to reveal more about the mysterious life of Leda Grey, the girl in the photo, and explains how she is locked away in a house, tucked away from everyone and everything.

"The way she hides herself away like a doomed princess in a fairy tale. I used to visit, every month, as regular as clockwork. But my health, and these drugs I have to take, mean I can no longer drive. Even if I could, the cliff side road has grown too perilous. They've closed it off. The path's still there, but I'd never manage such a trek."

Now I was beginning to think of Miss Havisham, or someone out of a Susan Hill novel as the man continues by saying:

"My sister keeps many secrets. Many skeletons in her closets.....those ghosts may rise to haunt us all." 

Ed decides to go and meet Leda and find out more about her story and her past. He is intrigued by her and sets off to locate the house, buried deep in the overgrown countryside, mystified at how a woman can survive there for so long without visitors and without needing to leave the house. He description of the inside of the house is even more like something from Miss Havisham or 'The Woman in Black':

"....zigzag cracks riddled through the ceiling, all the corners where large spider's webs were dangling down to reach the floor......stained with years of mould and penetrating damp. The paper fell away in folds." 

And later on, the location reinforces this more ghostly and malicious atmosphere when Ed is warned of riptides; he glances back to see the "silhouette of a woman who stood beneath the wall, as vague as a photo negative." 

But Leda is not frightening or unkind, not malicious or cruel. She openly begins to chat with Ed and appears very normal. She welcomes his company. Her conversation is lively and full of imagery as she her thoughts tumble out without any sense of restriction, only openness.

"Such a tumble of memories in my mind, like the tinkling beads of coloured glass that you find in a child's kaleidoscope. Which patterns are the prettiest? how to know which random arrangement of shapes might be the best with which to start?"

I love her speech. I love Fox's use of language and her beautiful, lyrical prose.

Each chapter begins with a quote from Shakespeare and very cleverly create an ominous sense that something deeply unpleasant lurks in the shadows of the house and of Leda's past. The quotes were very effective in creating suspense and tension to the unraveling story.

Fox then switches to italics and we are privy to Leda's story. Her voice is strong and provides a good contrast to that of Ed's. Again, Leda's passages are exquisitely written. They are engaging and intriguing as well as full of metaphors, connotations and analogies.

"My soul had been stolen. Or was it cursed? I only know, from that day on, my fate would be forever bound to the man who'd filmed the promenade. Who didn't even know my name." 

The story continues with the same compelling and mesmerising pull as it delves into themes of love, control, obsession, power and relationships. It is a very original piece of writing with passages that deserve recognition for their lyrical detail and imaginative choice of adjectives. It was not quite the story or style I was expecting but it was enjoyable and absorbing. I was impressed with the prose (as you can tell from the number of quotes I've used) and thought the characters were well crafted.

I have not read anything else by Essie Fox but I am now tempted!

"The Last Days of Leda Grey" will publish on 3rd November 2016.

I received an advanced copy of this novel through NetGalley.

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

"My Sister's Bones" Nuala Ellwood

My Sister's Bones
Wow, wow and wow. This is one of those books which makes you miss your stop on the train, burn the dinner, forget to put the kids to bed and keeps you reading until way too late into the night. And then, when you finish the last sentence it makes you wake up your husband and say, "Oh my word, that was amazing," because you just have to tell someone how incredible it is!

I literally could not put this book down and towards the end was reading so rapidly my whole body was as tense as the action on the page.


Kate Rafter is a high-flying war reporter. She's the strong one. The one who escaped their father. Her younger sister Sally didn't. Instead, she drinks.

But when their mother dies, Kate is forced to return home. And on her first night she is woken by a terrifying scream.

At first Kate tells herself it's just a nightmare. But then she hears it again. And this time she knows she's not imagining it.

What secret is lurking in the old family home?
And is she strong enough to uncover it...and make it out alive? 

This book gripped me from the beginning. With lots of clues, half suggestions, memories and leading statement, the reader is working hard from the beginning to try and solve the puzzle of Kate's life and her deep secrets. I was immediately intrigued by her character and the sense of tragedy and guilt that seems to overwhelm her. Ellwood doesn't hold back with hooks, cliffhangers and questions:

"Of the two of us, how is it possible that I am the one who survived?"

Further mystery surrounding the relationship between herself and her seemingly estranged family hints at more dysfunction and even the physical description of her mother's house immediately creates tension and atmosphere akin to a gothic horror story.

"Light was not to be trusted. It revealed too much. And so my mother had installed low-wattage bulbs throughout the house and retreated into the shadows."

I loved this sense of anxiety, fear, unhappiness, lack of trust and implication of threat created through the description, observations and detail of setting, Kate and the other characters.

"......watching him as he skitters about the kitchen like a large confused bird....."

"My miserable childhood is embedded in the wood, in the springs of the mattress, in the blue velvet headboard ....."

Kate is clearly disturbed and haunted. She hears voices and I loved the way Ellwood captured this in her description:

"But as I speak they're back, fading in and out like a radio between frequencies."

The first half of the story is told through the narrative of Kate, interjected with memories of the past - from her childhood as well as her professional life, present day and an interview currently taking place at Herne Bay Police Station - an interview which lasts over several days. The increasing number of hours of this interview and the length of time she has been held in custody begin to build up a sense that possibly Kate is an unreliable narrator, that if the police are detaining her for so long she must be of some danger to someone - or herself. Equally she doesn't even seem to trust herself.

"I have to stop letting my mind wander; I have to be alert, careful. Every word I say here can be used against me."

The reader has to keep up with changes in the chronology and the mixing up of the plot line about Kate's childhood, her experiences in Syria and her present day struggles with the loss of her mother and the strange goings on in the house. It sounds confusing, but it really is not difficult to keep up with Ellwood's fluent prose.

I thought Kate was a fantastic character. I thought the combination of a woman who has been working in Syria dealing with traumatic encounters that have affected her so profoundly, a woman mourning the death of her mother and estranged from her sister, a woman whose family suffered grief and pain throughout her childhood, all came together to create a complex psychological profile that made her completely captivating. An ambitious creation, but one that Ellwood pulls off brilliantly. I could not work out whether to trust or rely on Kate, whether she was reimagining her past, filtering the memories she shared with the reader, or whether she was honest and innocent. But I was well and truly invested in her story and as desperate as her to unravel all the threads that were knitting themselves in to a headache of confusion and suspense.

I was also unsure whether this was going to be a complex psychological thriller, a ghost story or a supernatural tale. There were some brilliant images and moments when Kate 'sees' things but we don't know whether it is real, an illusion, a memory or a drug induced hallucination.

"How can a memory lie dormant like that for so many years then spring forth unbidden?"

I loved the reference to her mother's dictaphone, the appearance of a marble and a further few random objects that are connected with her past which helped create this sense something more ethereal taking place.

To exaggerate this sense of something more unnatural or eerie at work, Kate and her sister's husband visit the graveyard. I really liked Ellwood's comments as Kate scanned the headstones as she wandered through them:

"......Past Rita Mathers who has been 'sleeping peacefully since 1987' and Jim Carter who had been 'one more angel in Heaven' for the last thirty years...."

The references to "bones" is used to create an underlying sense of intrigue, suspense and at times terror. There are lost bones, found bones, bones of your body, loving down to the bones, feeling emotions down to the bones, looking at the bones of a person and perhaps most importantly:

"but they loved the bones of each other really."

And the reference to bones also adds to the general metaphor throughout the novel of people being lost, found, disappearing, being buried within themselves and stripped of everything they thought they knew.

The mental health of our characters is further questioned through the character of Sally as we suddenly see the story through her eyes in a stunning midway twist. Sally was a teenage mum, now an alcoholic and her teenage daughter is missing. She is a self destructive, negative person who we have initially been led to distrust and dislike. Now we begin to learn more about her, her past, her secrets and her burdens. Her alcoholism is captured with bleak realism.

"My eyes are bloodshot and it's been days since I last washed. My hair is limp and greasy; my skin a sickly yellow."

"I have no idea what time of day it is or what day, all I can see in front of me is a bottle of cold white wine and all I can feel, as I cross the road that leads to the shops, is the absence of it in my throat."

I can't say anymore without revealing spoilers or giving too much away. But for the last 30% of this novel I was clinging to the edges of my kindle, my shoulders aching with tension and excitement as I literally could not read fast enough. Echoes of "Room", "The Collector" and Susan Hill raced through my mind. Ellwood's use of literary devices, a compelling storyline and the drama of incorporating such an emotive and contemporary political topic such as Syria made this one of the most tense and climatic novels I have read in a while. Her themes of family, love, loss and guilt are explored with such rawness it is impossible not to become completely engrossed in this powerful psychological thriller.

5/5 stars. Without a doubt. Highly recommended. Read it!

My thanks to NetGalley for approving me for an ARC of this novel.

"My Sister's Bones" is available from Penguin from 1st November and in hardback from 9th Feb 2017.

For more reviews and recommendations please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Monday, 24 October 2016

"The Brazilian Husband" by Rebecca Powell

The Brazilian Husband

Determined to honor her late husband’s final request, Judith and her teenage step-daughter, Rosa, set out on a journey from London to Brazil to track down his family and take his ashes home.
But when Judith’s search leads her to Ricardo, a handsome but haunted human rights lawyer, she begins to unravel a web of lies surrounding her husband’s past: a past which is about to come crashing into their present in the form of Rosa’s real mother.
This was a really interesting story. It had so many themes and issues which Powell explores confidently, sensitively and with real conviction. The location of Rio is exotic, full of energy and heat which exaggerates the tension and heightens the complex emotions in the story. It also allows Powell to explore politics, injustice and human rights as well as love, parenting and friendship.

What impressed me most with this novel was how Powell uses contrasts to help tell her story. There are passages of beautiful evocative description, emotional internal dialogue and then the gritty reality of a huge, chaotic and dangerous city. She is able to combine all this and confidently tell a story of love, loss and secrets, while also drawing the reader's attention to political issues and the social problems within Brazil. It is ambitious but it works. The description is at times lyrical and soothing despite the backdrop of Ricardo and Jude's experiences which adds a level of complexity to their emotional journeys.

Essentially the plot revolves around Jude, her late husband Edson and their daughter Rosa. I found Jude an interesting character who was easy to sympathise with. Powell hints at a deeper sadness within her and her unlucky relationships with men. The book introduces us to Jude at a time when she is incredibly vulnerable and I liked that Powell still kept a level of intrigue about her marriage to Edson, using further clues and revelations sparingly to maintain a level of tension as the reader tries to establish the relationships within the story.

"...the anchor of activity had been wrenched from beneath me; the funeral dealt with; the last guest gone; the healthcare equipment returned, the life had simply fallen out of me. I was all alone, jobless and husband-less, breathing in the emptiness of a house that no longer need me. And I missed him, For so long I'd been cursing the constant care he needed from me, that, for all my complaining, it had never dawned on me how much I needed him." 

As a contrast the voice of Rosa, Jude's teenage step daughter, is authentic in its honest, frank, more informal voice. It balances well with that of Jude's narrative and it's down to earth style a welcome break from the emotional intensity of both Jude and Ricardo's narratives. I liked Powell's introductions to Rosa's sections where tourist information was used as a way in to what Rosa was going to reflect on or share with the reader. Again, this also made an effective change of pace and contrast for the reader.

"What the guidebook says:

  • 92% of new cars in Brazil use ethanol (produced from sugar cane) as fuel
  • Brazil's homicide rate is 25 per 100,000 people - 4 times higher than in the US
  • Homosexuality hasn't been illegal in Brazil since 1830"

Ricardo's sections, in italics to signify another narrative voice, are intriguing. There is a level of mystery and suspense surrounding him and this created more tension between the characters and the exploration of friendship and love. He is a good character with admirable motivations (his future wife had explained about the shelter for street children and their desperate need of a lawyer) and one who the reader wants to trust and feel safe with.

"He instinctively wanted to protect both Judith and Rosa. They were so fresh, so full of belief in the world."

The street life of Brazil is well captured and the sense of slight lawlessness and danger felt authentic and convincing. Again, it added further depth to a story that becomes much more than just a domestic drama.

"Ricardo's battered yellow car swerved to avoid a barefoot boy darting out from behind a gaggle of women, before he brought it to an abrupt halt in front of the bus stop. He leant over and opened the passenger door and I jumped in, only just pulling the door shut as he took off again, avoiding a bus by a whisker."

I enjoyed how we share in the emotional healing of Jude as she physically travels to Brazil to say goodbye to Edson, even though she's not fully aware herself that she needs to heal, or that this need for love and a sense of belonging is what she has been missing or searching for:

"How many years had it been since someone last held my hand? It was such a simple thing and yet I felt, in that moment, connected to him in a way I had failed to feel in any of my doomed liaisons per the years..."

"I knew some people would say my 'head down and get on with it' attitude was commendable, brave even, but I knew better: it was the worst kind of cowardice. It was the avoidance of making a real decision, the refusal to take action to change what had become so routine I no longer recognised it as suffering but rather as what my grandmother would refer to as 'my lot'."

As I have said already, I was struck with Powell's prose. It was often surprisingly lyrical and beautiful  which was a stark contrast to the harshness and sometimes distressing events that we are exposed to. Sentences which struck me as particularly powerful come from towards the end of the novel but in quoting them here, I don't think they reveal any spoilers, just reflect Powell's skill at capturing particular moments.

".....I felt the vastness of the landscape echo in my own loneliness..."

"......I took a step towards Rosa as if I could somehow catch the words as they floated towards her and pull them back. But instead I watched as they reached her ears and worked their way down to her heart, which I stood and watched breaking."

I was pleasantly surprised about the breadth, depth and range of emotions, issues, themes and story lines in this book. It wasn't what I was expecting. Although there are several characters with whom we are encouraged to engage closely with and a level of mystery, clues and half hinted at secrets at the beginning of the novel with which to grapple, Powell skilfully weaves an absorbing and memorable tale.

My thanks to Rebecca for a copy of her novel which can be purchased via Amazon from June 2016. For more reviews, information or to purchase the book click on the link below:

Rebecca Powell was born in Bristol.  She has a degree in French and Portuguese from the University of Leeds and in her early twenties she worked for a year at a women's shelter in the northeast of Brazil, before moving to London, where she continued to work for a number of national charities.  She now lives in the South West of France with her husband and three children.  Rebecca is the sister of award-winning novelist Gareth L Powell (Ack-Ack Macaque; The Recollection) and children's author Huw Powell (Spacejackers). 
For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

"The Queen of Blogging" Therese Loreskar

"The secret to maintaining a successful blog is to be personal, but not too private. What's the difference? How should I know since my blog is pure lies?"

Thank you so much Sarah Hardy (@sarahhardy681) from for recommending this book on your blog! Sarah's praise for this light, entertaining and funny read caught my eye. I downloaded it and there and then, pushed aside my amassing TBR pile and started reading it straight away.

Yes, it is very light, yes it is chick lit, yes it is a little clunky or cliched in places, but do you know what? For a few hours it was a very welcome breath of fresh air. It made me smile, it made me want to read bits out to my friends and it was a chance to look at life less seriously for a bit - and who doesn't need that in their week!

Obviously this will appeal to bloggers, but it will also appeal to anyone who uses social media at all. It will also appeal to the new generation of Bridget Jones' out there, any young women making their way in the world as well as mothers and wives - to be honest it will appeal to anyone who enjoys a fast paced, energetic and comic read.

Here's the blurb from Amazon:

Kajsa runs Sweden’s largest Health and Fitness blog. There’s only one small problem; it’s all a big lie. Between her blog entries on healthy nutritious porridge and flashy running shoes, she lies on the sofa watching TV and eating sweets. Her only exercise is using the remote control.
Her life seems perfect: A beautiful house in an attractive suburb of Stockholm, three children, a loving husband and loads of money.
However, things start to crumble when she accidently writes on her blog that she is best friends with a famous Hollywood personal trainer. The problem is he’s never met, let alone heard of her.
An ambitious journalist, who doesn’t believe Kajsa has been honest about her blog or her friendship with the personal trainer, sets out to destroy her.

And here's a snippet from the prologue - which is at which point I knew me and this book were going to get on!

"Blogging. For some people, it's a hobby. For me, Kajsa, it's a way of life. ....I used to think that a little white lie here and there wouldn't hurt anyone, least of all my readers.....that is, until I make the biggest mistake of my life. So, how did it happen? Well, let me start at the beginning."

I did like Kajsa. Her children are frequently "locked into a screen of some sort", she fills her blog with healthy recipes and photos of meals she finds online "which she has apparently made today" to uphold her reputation as a domestic goddess. She breaks into a private gymnasium with a handful of designer sports clothes she has been given to take random shots of her "participating" in gym classes, before she gets kicked out, which she then stores and uses sparingly on her blog posts to give the illusion of a fitness professional.

Her narrative is fast, informal, entertaining and ironically very honest, despite the fact her whole life is a bit of a charade. She's a character you can quickly engage with and the pages hurtle along with enough laughs to make it very readable and enough intrigue to make you want to watch the almost slapstick events spiral into chaos even when you almost want to hide behind a cushion and cringe on her behalf. There were a few moments when the quality of the writing slipped but, on reflection, I wonder if this is deliberate to mimic the style of modern written communication on social media and the often short, snappy style of blog posts, as well as reflect the slightly naive and straight forward character of Kajsa.

There were moments when my sympathy for her was a little tested as she is prone to being a little selfish and often takes advantage of her husband's good will, but as she is a woman essentially 'living a little white lie' I can't expect her to be the most reliable of narrators or perhaps the most dedicated of mothers and wives! Some of her comments I could relate to, like the fact when the husband gets up with the children there is so much noise she can't relax, but at some points her behaviour was a little too exaggerated and perhaps less plausible. But hey, this is a fun novel and half the fun was watching situations unravel with more insight and emotional intelligence than Kajsa; she is fallible, she is flawed and she is essentially a little bit of a caricature. But she is at the same time very likeable.

"The hubby got all angry when he came back into the kitchen and realised I hadn't even started dinner. What was I up to while he got the kids bathed and took the dog for a walk? I don't think he gets how hard it is to keep up with all these videos [posted online]....." 

Actually the relationship with her husband and his over attentiveness becomes a more important part of the sub plot as the novel unfolds - in fact, it's glaring obvious to the reader that something is amiss but Kajsa is just grateful to exploit his enthusiasm to spend time with the children while she can indulge in whatever "research" she is currently obsessing about, so she fails to really see what might be happening until it's too late. Well, even then, it takes a while for her to really put two and two together!

Having said that, Kajsa can be very quick witted and imaginative. She is able to creatively get herself out of many tight situations online - I particularly liked her invention of the "Gothenburg Marathon" and how she was able to redeem herself amongst her followers with her "training". And happy readers means a higher advertising revenue! As a business woman, she is not daft!

Anyone who is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest will enjoy Kajsa's description of her blogging:

"I scoffed some leftover sweets from the kids, followed by a cup of coffee for my breakfast. No way I can show the truth, not when I'm being paid a ridiculous amount of money to blog about my workout trips and healthy recipes. Finally the breakfast entry is complete. I sit back and look at the image I uncovered of super healthy, flaxseed porridge, topped with fresh blueberries, along with a carrot and ginger juice. Everything is immaculately displayed on beautiful china. Thank God for random pictures on the web." 

And for lunch:

"My Googling uncovered a nutritious spinach soup, crowed with half an egg and low fat Quark to grace the lunch entry. Even Weight Watchers would be proud of this lean lunch. Of course, in reality, no one would be full for any prolonged period of time after eating that. They would need to follow it up with a KitKat."

There are a whole string of hilarious and ridiculous scrapes and situations that Kajsa and her friend Rebecca find themselves falling into. Their inventiveness is impressive and entertaining. They are vivid characters and the pages are full of life and energy. There are some more serious aspects to the plot but essentially this is an entertaining and comic read about our current obsession with social media and the personas we can project through them.

I am wavering between a 3.5-4 out of 5 star rating because this book was one of those right-time-right-place-just-what-I-needed-today kind of books (yes, that is an official genre, didn't you know?!!). It was a little breath of fresh air. I read it almost in one sitting. It made me smile. It entertained me. It made some comic observations on our use of social media. It gave me the same pleasure as watching "Bridget Jones' Baby" and "Bad Moms" has at the cinema recently and for this I think it deserves that rating.

This is a Friday-night-film kind of a book. It will undoubtedly be very popular and is guaranteed to bring a bit of a giggle to anyone's day. Recommend!

Thanks Sarah for bringing it to my attention. Please follow her on Twitter for loads more excellent recommendations and see her review of this book here:

 And when I purchased "Queen of Blogging" (Oct 2016) it was only 99p. I mean, who can say no to that? It's cheaper that a bowl of granola or a carrot and ginger juice!

For more reviews and recommendations from me, follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

**KillerWomen** Silver Scream - Book v Film

This was my final event of the day and was a discussion about the issues surrounding adapting a novel for TV or Film and whether people preferred the book or the film!

The panel line up was very impressive with:
 Paula Hawkins (Girl on the Train - Film), Louise Doughty (Appletree Yard - TV),  Alex Marwood (several books optioned for TV), SJ Watson (Before I Go To Sleep - Film) and chaired by Erin Kelly (The Poison Tree - TV and adapted Broadchurch's TV series to a novel)

 The Girl on the TrainApple Tree YardThe Darkest SecretBefore I Go to SleepThe Poison Tree

Do you "fantasy cast"?

  • "No! Couldn't have cast for Girl on the Train because Emily Blunt is so beautiful and yet the character in the book has terrible self image and is drunk. It's a real credit to the skill of Emily that she pulls this off so convincingly." Paula Hawkins
  • "For me it all kind of happened before I realised my manuscript was more than just a word document and I couldn't have cast any more fantastically if I'd tried to! I did have only one small moment of panic as when they mentioned Nicole Kidman all I could think of was Moulin Rouge......!" S J Watson
  • "Emily Watson has been cast for Appletree Yard and this is beyond my fantasy as it is often so hard to tempt actresses who usually work in Film to take on a TV role." Louise Doughty

What are some of the considerations for adapting a novel to film? What makes it different?

  • "You are relying on the director to reveal the character's thoughts as you are no longer reading the narrative or internal thoughts." Erin Kelly
  • "There is an inability to get inside the mind of the main characters so this needs real thought." Erin Kelly
  • "My novel relied on a diary which would have been impossible to leave in for a film version. The only way would have been a lot of voice overs but that would have become boring. Using a video tape suited the structure of the plot. It makes complete sense and is a really good interpretation of the book." SJ Watson
  • "Appletree Yard has used a voice over. I don't really like them as it always feels a bit like cheating but in this case, it really needs it. It's kept light and short so its more as a helpful guide than a crux." Louise Doughty
  • "With good enough direction, most things can be seen or done. Title cards to establish time and place and narrative voice are often necessary though just to keep the viewer on board." Paula Hawkins

Is the violence in books easier to handle and absorb than on screen?

  • "Graphic violence in my books tends to have an edge of comedy and humour in it which is hard to translate to screen." Alex Marwood
  • "My novel has a rape scene and the real challenge is not making this sexy or glamorous in anyway at all and retaining the horror and unpleasantness of the whole experience. We had a largely female team working on the adaptation and I think that really helped convey the emotion and atmosphere that had been established in the book." Louise Doughty

Has seeing your book adapted to film changed the way you write?

  • "I don't write with a view to having the book filmed but I do try to add more drama to a scene now I have seen how the setting of a few scenes was changed for the film to make it more dramatic. I probably think about setting a little bit more." SJ Watson
  • "I've had 7 of my books optioned but none have quite made it to screen yet. It seems like my books look like they will make good films but somehow they don't!" Alex Marwood
  • "I write to write not to write a film. After Appletree Yard I deliberately wrote an 'unfilmable' book as a reaction! For me, each new novel is written to correct the failings of the previous one not with a film adaption in mind." Louise Doughty

What are the differences between adapting your novel to a 3 or 4 part TV series which is watched over a month and a 2 hour film which is watched in one sitting?

  • "My book is written in 3 parts but they adapted it into 4 parts which was surprising. I think it had more to do with the location, setting and premise as it is very much grounded in London and UK law. It wouldn't transfer to an American setting therefore it works better as a UK TV series than a US film. I think it is more about how transferable it is to America rather than the length." Louise Doughty
  • "Things had to be simplified and compressed - in a 2 hour film you really have to get to the knub of the story without taking anything away or detracting from the novel at all." Paula Hawkins
  • "It's best to hand over the novel to the producer and scriptwriter - they are very different jobs from being an author so leave it in the hands of an expert!" SJ Watson
  • "Screenwriting is a very different skill and a good screenwriter will adapt your book successfully as they will make it work for TV." Alex Marwood

Can a film ever capture the intimacy of a book?

  • "A film of a book is like a cover version of a good song. It still exists but just with different aspects. They can be seen as separate entities and enjoyed individually for what they are." S J Watson
  • "You can't ever satisfy readers with a TV or Film adaptation as no reader reads the same and it can never capture how the reader saw it in their head." Paula Hawkins
  • "In a novel there is no budget so you can give the readers at least another hour of detail and characterisation. In a film, every actor has to be paid and every time they speak it costs more money so in film, each character has to really earn their stripes and justify their place on screen. An adaption will often halve the cast and combine the speeches so I guess that affects the intimacy." Erin Kelly

What makes a novel easy to adapt to film?

  • "In the words of Simon Booker:
    • keep time lapses bigger or smaller - either weeks and months or decades, trying to show three or four years is really hard to show on screen
    • if a character has to age, either keep it months or weeks or decades - again it is hard to show a few years of ageing in a character but easier to show decades
    • have as few location changes as possible
    • keep the settings restricted too - one house, one area, one main room will always make it easier
    • its always about budget!
  • But then my new book has ignored all of this advice and has still been optioned......" Erin Kelly

Books that should never be adapted to film?
Donna Tartt "Secret History"
Bronte "Wuthering Heights"

Books that should be adapted to film?
M Atwood "The Handmaid's Tale" - a new version is coming out and SJ Watson is very excited!
Louise is very excited about a new book by Charlotte Wood which is a dystopian novel that has just been adapted for film as she is intrigued to see how they convey the bleakness of the setting ....

Books that make better films?
Stephen King "The Shining" & other short stories like "The Green Mile", "Running Man"
"Don't Look Now"

Can a bad adaption have a negative impact on your writing career?

  • "No! 'Plausible Deniability' - if it's bad, then you tell everyone that the book is much better and they should read it, if it's good then you just bask in the glory!" Louise Doughty 

This was a really interesting panel discussion and great to hear from authors who have worked with TV and film adaptations. Erin Kelly was a fantastic chair with so many interesting questions and comments. I can not wait to see Doughty's "Appletree Yard" and I also want to re-watch "The Poison Tree" having listened to Kelly talk in such detail about her novel / TV series.

Of course I'm desperate to see "The Girl on the Train" and I have added Alex Marwood's books to my TBR pile as I am intrigued about her stories from the comments she made about them!

Thanks Killer Women - another Killer Panel!

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Saturday, 22 October 2016

**KillerWomen** Inside the Killer's Head

Jane Casey, Tammy Cohen, Kate Medina and Emma Kavanagh discuss the psychology of fictional killers in a conversation hosted by Kate Rhodes

After the Fire (Maeve Kerrigan #6)When She Was BadFire Damage (Jessie Flynn, #1)The Missing HoursBlood Symmetry (Alice Quentin)

What was the scariest thing these women said? That all their writing is based on reality!!! 

  • "Real things often get more twisted than anything I could imagine. Most editors would take out the 'real event' from your plot as too far fetched!" Emma Kavanagh 
  • "The news can be unbelievable. People often think that the things in books would never happen in real life but people can be very irrational." Tammy Cohen
  • "My experience in Cambodia taught me that people show extreme behaviour when they need to survive." Kate Medina
  • "You can start with something that is real and grow it into something that intrigues the reader - something that becomes more fictionalised or magical." Jane Casey 

Have you ever created a character who has disturbed you too much?

  • "What's happening inside a person's mind - psychological fear- is much more frightening than physical violence and crime. And characters that are 'real' or 'ordinary' people rather than random psychopaths are much more frightening to me." Kate Medina
  • "Real people scare me more than characters, people like Fred and Rosemary West - people you wouldn't notice in the street as they are so normal. When you create a character they are your own creation and you control them so they are not as frightening to you." Tammy Cohen
  • "When you are embroiled in a character's psychology and their mind, you are so absorbed in their mental workings that you understand their motivations, the evil becomes more banal." Emma Kavanagh 
  • "You spend so much time with your character; you know what they are doing and why, you understand them from the inside out so you end up actually feeling something for them. With short stories you are less involved with your characters and they can be more frightening because you're not going to spend five months living with them." Jane Casey*
  • "Writing about my psychopath in 'Dying for Christmas' was actually quite liberating as I just wanted to see if I could do it. I really enjoyed playing out all the things he could do, pushing him further and further to see what he might do - it was actually good fun!" Tammy Cohen

How much research do you need to do for your novels?

  • "I'm a former police and military psychologist and have provided training throughout the UK and NATO so I don't need much additional research for my books. But I couldn't have written them without understanding what makes a killer. Being involved in a disaster or a crime strips a character right back - it takes away their mental capacity to keep up any front. I like to put my characters in the worse position and see what happens. But my job used to be to get inside the heads of a killer so I guess I'm just interested in the mental place a person goes to when under extreme pressure." Emma Kavanagh

How do you maintain psychological tension throughout a whole novel?

  • "Sometimes it reflects your own psychological state - I was personally very tense writing 'Missing Hours' due to having young children, grabbing time to write under pressure and writing a story about a mother so some of the tension comes because I was very tense!" Emma Kavanagh
  • "The situation and characters create the tension. I like to look at the layers of complexity in people's brains and how much trauma they can sustain." Kate Medina
  • "I use the theme or motif of fire a lot in my novels. Fire destroys evidence, it complicates a crime scene. It can bring a person relief, entertainment, power, fear and cause immense damage. The psychology of how people behave in a fire is fascinating - that moment when the brain can override rational thought so they end up going up an escalator, leaving the building on auto pilot via their normal route rather than following safety procedure or looking for a safe escape. ....Fire can quickly force a situation to get out of control very quickly and then everything will unravel." Jane Casey

What tips have you got for making a character more dynamic or more nuanced?

  • "Give him an obsession! A nervous tick, funny teeth, a lisp -something that makes them scarier....think Hannibal's obsession with moths!" (all the authors chipped in with this one!)  

What's your top tip for devising a believable motivation for a psychopath?

  • "They act in a particular way because they think they have no other choice." Emma Kavanagh
  • "Make sure it is true to that character rather than the plausibility of the action." Tammy Cohen
  • "The motive has to stack up with their behaviour and character - keep it believable." Kate Medina

Added to my TBR pile:

Dying For ChristmasFire Damage (Jessie Flynn, #1)HiddenTrouble Is Our Business: New Stories by Irish Crime Writers

*"Trouble is our Business" includes a short story by Jane Casey which she claims has the scariest character that she's ever created in - I can concur, it is terrifying!!!

For more reviews, recommendations and articles about Killer Women Crime Festival please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Friday, 21 October 2016

**KillerWomen** How to Write a Psychological Thriller

This session was almost standing room only as people crammed into the room - some sitting in the aisle- to hear Amanda Jennings and Tammy Cohen talk about Killer Writing. Here's a brief run down of their top tips!

In Her WakeWhen She Was Bad

A psychological thriller is a story which is focused on the emotional and mental state of a character and this is what is driving the reader's interest in the novel. It's usually in a domestic setting - something immediately relatable to the audience. There is a clear motive, a level of insanity or introspection and a huge amount of twists, turns, tension and suspense. There doesn't have to be a murder, but it does need a mounting sense of threat or dread.


  • You need a one line pitch. 
  • You need one strong line to be the heartbeat of your whole plot. A nugget - a strap line for your front cover. 
"What if at your husband's funeral you came face to face with his wife?"

"A woman is driven mad by an affair and stalks her husband." 

  • This is the true essence of the story and will make sure you stay focussed on the heart of the story with every sentence that you write. Put it somewhere you can see it every time you sit down to write. 


  • Focus on their state of mind. The reader doesn't have to love them but has to become emotionally invested in them. If they care about your character then they will turn the pages. 
  • Give your character some external conflict and exploit it - think about abandonment, social exclusion, vulnerability.... this will inform everything that they do
  • Characters need flaws. They need to be real. Psychological thrillers focus on the WHY - Why did they do it? Why did they act like this? 


  • Characters need goals - then they need obstacles in front of these goals. There has to be a goal for the character to achieve which is hard to obtain and involves an emotional risk.
  • Put your character under pressure. Make them make choices - with consequences. Make them make decisions - with ramifications.
  • Set up obstacles - small and large. Let the goals cross and impact on each other to add complexity.
  • Make sure there is a character arc for the character to follow as they journey towards their goal. WHY have they done it? The WHY is crucial! 
  • Plausibility- Avoid "that just wouldn't happen" feedback at all costs! The characters can do implausible things but it has to be plausible for that character. The reader has to believe this specific character might do whatever it is they do.


  • This about using hooks and cliffhangers. Keep asking questions throughout every chapter. Build tension.
  • There should be a little bit of breathing space - an ebb and flow - a little bit of a sub plot or description - just enough so the reader can take a deep breath and ready themselves for the next drama.....but not too long that they put the book down!
  • Use short chapters, short sentences and short paragraphs. 
  • To Prologue or Not to Prologue? They can be very good at putting questions to the reader but don't kill the tension by revealing too much or deadening the tension with too much back story.
  • A backstory is good as long as it doesn't cut into the action or prevent the story from moving forward.
  • Edit Closely. If it isn't moving the plot and character forward, should it be there?


  • Keep to first person or close third person as it's all about the internal workings of the character's mind.
  • Unreliable narrators are effective for viewing the action as it evolves but without knowing the whole picture so you can constantly wrong footing the reader (think Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train). 
  • A multiple point of view gives you the chance to show the same story from different point of view - it can give you the chance to get inside the head of a killer.
  • Keeping the killer anonymous is effective as you don't know which character they are in the novel and they can manipulate the reader. It can add dread to the everyday and be used to make the reader wonder about what is going to happen next.

  • Can't be contrived or forced. They have got to gel with the rest of the book. 
  • A 'Midway Twist' can turn the readers' assumptions upside down. Reader's remember authors who do it well. 
  • Plan the 'Midway Twist' from the beginning - it has to work from the start and has to make sense. You are not tricking the reader, just surprising them. 
  • Use mini-twists throughout. Make the reader sit up, worry, feel surprised, watch the ripple effect as the ramifications play out.
  • 'Final Twists'  - the 'big reveal' - usually come before the final chapter so the ending can tie up all the loose ends, but don't be afraid not to stick a mini twist in the last few pages. Wake the reader up at the end just when they think it's all over! 
  • When you find you are in a plot hole, (or getting bored) get up and do something else. Walk, run, clean, unstack the dishwasher, cook.......pause! Your subconscious will solve it for you and may even come up with something that will surprise you and shift the whole narrative. 
  • If you are flagging, inject a twist. What if......... 

  • The holy grail of a psychological thriller writer! Use the tips above to ensure your book will warrant this feedback!
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • The Shining by Stephen King
  • I Let You Go by Claire MacIntosh 
  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  • Anything by Tammy Cohen
  • In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings 
  • And I would add The Good Mother by A L Bird which I thought had a brilliant Oh.My.Word. twist....!
*Sigh* they made it sound so straight forward and achievable!! If only! They forgot that you also need a lot of talent, skill and dedication! These women are Killer Women - imaginative, clever, focussed and immensely talented!

Good luck writing your own psychological thriller and hope these very helpful top tips are useful as you plot, plan, draft and write your novel!

CL Taylor also has a great clip with 5 Top Tips for writing a psychological thriller, click here: …

My review of Amanda Jennings "In Her Wake" can be found here:

For more reviews, recommendations and book chat follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

**KillerWomenFestival** History and Mystery: Writing Murder in the Past

Did She Kill Him?: A Victorian Tale of Deception, Adultery, and ArsenicThe Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child MurdererThe Ashes of LondonA History of Women in 100 ObjectsMurder Will Out

This session at the Killer Women Crime Writing Festival on 15th October 2016 was all about the process, challenge and experience of writing historical crime fiction or non fiction. The panel included Kate Colquhoun, D E Meredith, Kate Summerscale, Andrew Taylor and Fern Riddell. It was chaired by Alison Joseph. Here are some highlights from the discussion.

What appeals to you about the genre of Historical Fiction / Non Fiction? 

  • "Historical Fiction is like punching a hole in time and looking allows us to be nosy and look at how people really lived." Kate Colquhoun
  • "I like opening up a house or a family in a particularly extreme moment and seeing in, exploring the banal social detail as well as the drama of the intense events and feelings," Kate Summerscale
  • "Ripper Street (the TV series on which Riddell consults) is not just about the impact of a crime on that criminal or victim, but also about how it impacts on the people and community around them and that is what makes it so fascinating, historically, socially and emotionally. In history we remember the best of times and the worst of times but not always the bits in between and this is often where the really interesting stories and characters can be found." Fern Riddell

Why do you think Historical Crime Fiction endures and appeals to modern day audiences?

  • "It's like time travel. It's a chance to immerse yourself in a different world. To step back into another world." Kate Summerscale 
  • "The Victorian era was full of people fighting for causes in a rapidly changing world. The impact of science, politics, votes for women and the effects of the Industrial Revolution on society are fascinating and actually still very pertinent to today as we are still living in a tumultuous world on the brink of change. There is a huge resonance between today and the Victorian era and this immediately introduces a connection between readers and these people in the past." Denise Meredith
  • "There are echoes of the past everywhere. After the fire of London in 1666, there were the equivalent of 2 million refugees from London. History is all around us still." Andrew Taylor

Why murder? What is the interest in reading about horrific crimes from the past?

  • "It's our worst fear. The thing of nightmares. But also murder cases impose a shape to a narrative." Andrew Taylor
  • "People like truth and justice. Catching a killer. Putting someone away. It's a puzzle that can be solved with a neat conclusion and a sense of completion. Modern life is not like this - neither are some modern criminal investigations!" Denise Meredith
  • "Often crime is popular when actual crime figures are low or it's a period of rapid social change." Kate Colquhoun
  • "People like to see how people deal with adversity. It's better to read about things happening to someone else!" Kate Colquhoun

To Research or Not Research? How long should you spend gathering material?

  • "When writing an historical crime novel, don't get lost in the research. Write the story first, then research what you need to make it authentic- be wary of letting research hinder or distract the reader from your story." Denise Meredith
  • "You can keep delving and delving eternally. Find something that intrigues you and make it into something which has a narrative pattern." Andrew Taylor
  • "No one wants to read a social history when they pick up a fiction book. Don't educate. Use your research for details and authenticity." Kate Colquhoun 
  • "Don't make up anything - except a character -but keep that character based on real people, keep it authentic and believable." Denise Meredith

Can you ever take liberties with the truth?

  • "There are things which are perceived inaccuracies, real inaccuracies and the truth. Often the perceived inaccuracies, and what people believe not to be true, are the best starting places for a story. Look for the surprises. Shock your audience with a that would never have happened moment, when actually, yes it did!" Denise Meredith
  • "You cannot make things up. Always base your characters on real people and your writing has to be authentic for your novel to succeed." All the authors! 

How do you plan a Historical Crime Novel?

  • "Start with one very specific moment in history and find out everything you can. Use a pen and paper and keep notebooks full of lists under hashtags, key names and key dates." Fern Riddell
  • "I'm a messy researcher and follow the internet and wherever my interest takes me. I'm out to have fun not teach history." Andrew Taylor
  • "Excel Spreadsheets are very useful in imposing a structure and organising information." Andrew Taylor
  • "Write your story first then do the research. You have to know what your chasing when you begin your research otherwise you'll get lost in your studying and lose the essence of the story." Denise Meredith
  • "Assemble an enormous timeline that can be tens of thousand words long. Then mess about with the chronology and order in which your going to insert characters, events and information. The research starts once you start writing the story." Kate Summerscale

One of the particular challenges of writing historical fiction must be ensuring the dialogue is authentic. Any tips?

  • "There are very few records available to show us how people really spoke so recreating dialogue is difficult and can sound forced or jarring. The best thing is follow Hilary Mantel's rule and aim for plain, unadorned modern English language, with the odd historical word added to give flavour." Andrew Taylor
  • "Real voices can be found in testimonials from court cases when they have been recorded and these really help to bring the people to life." Kate Summerscale
  • "Stumbling across a real voice in your research can be very emotional." Kate Colquhoun

The Devil's RibbonThe Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child MurdererA History of Women in 100 ObjectsImage result for images tv series ripper street

For more recommendations, reviews and write ups about the Killer Women Festival, follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

**KillerWomenCrimeFest** Fresh Blood: Introducing Debut Authors

This session at the "Killer Women's Crime Festival" on the 15th October 2016, introduced 4 debut crime writers to the audience, giving them each an opportunity to discuss their debut novel as well as their latest writing project.

Paul Burston, Michelle Davies, Agnes Ravatn and Chris Whittaker were interviewed by Sarah Hilary

The Black Path

This was only published in Sept 2016 and is the first in a brand new crime series, although Burston is the critically acclaimed author of four blackly comic novels. Now he turns to the genre of "domestic noir".

How well do you really know those closest to you? Helen has been holding out for a hero all her life. Her father was a hero - but he was murdered when she was ten. Her husband is a hero - but he's thousands of miles away, fighting a war people say will never be won. Sometimes Helen wonders if Owen isn't the only one living in a war zone. She feels the violence all around her. She reads about it in the papers. It feeds her dreams and fills her days with a sense of dread. Try as she might, she can't escape the feeling that something terrible is about to happen. Then one night on the troubled streets of her home town, Helen is rescued from a fight by a woman who will change her life forever. Sian is everything Helen isn't - confident, glamorous, fearless. But there's something else about her - a connection that cements their friendship and makes Helen question everything she's ever known. And when her husband returns home, altered in a way she can't understand, she is forced to draw on an inner strength she never knew she had. As bitter truths are uncovered, Helen must finally face her fears and the one place which has haunted her since childhood - the Black Path. (Blurb from Amazon) 

Paul Burston's journey to writing a crime novel is actually one of something that sounds like it is itself from a psychological thriller. Burston had a very difficult time with an internet troll, which eventually resulted in a court case but left him, understandably, struggling with issues of anxiety and in a very dark place. Writing helped. He'd also been dropped by his publishers so found he was suddenly free of expectation, contract and time pressure which allowed him to read more - and he did read more - more crime!

Burston's novel has a female as the central protagonist but he claims that this was not difficult for him. Having several sisters and lots of close female friends, Burston felt he was able to create a convincing voice for his character. He also explained that the character is trapped, isolated and lonely which, sadly, were all emotions that Burston was able to empathise with and relate to which also ensured a strong narrative voice.

His new book which he is working on is using some of his experiences from when he was stalked on the Internet. There is an unreliable narrator and explores Burston's interest in the lack of support for victims of crime, or what happens when the system can't cope or let's you down.

Can you find him on social media? Yes! Despite everything, social media is essential in the life of an author and the positives far outweigh the negatives. You can follow him @PaulBurston.

Gone Astray

Michelle Davies' book was published in April 2016 and the paperback is available from 20th October 2016.

Lesley and her husband Mack are the sudden winners of a £15 million EuroMillions jackpot. They move with their 15-year-old daughter Rosie to an exclusive gated estate in Buckinghamshire, leaving behind their ordinary lives - and friends - as they are catapulted into wealth beyond their wildest dreams. 

But it soon turns into their darkest nightmare when, one beautiful spring afternoon, Lesley returns to their house to find it empty: their daughter Rosie is gone. 

DC Maggie Neville is assigned to be Family Liaison Officer to Lesley and Mack, supporting them while quietly trying to investigate the family. And she has a crisis threatening her own life - a secret from the past that could shatter everything she's worked so hard to build.

Money can't buy you happiness. The truth could hurt more than a lie. One moment really can change your life forever. (Goodreads blurb) 

Davies' inspiration for her novel came from the idea of putting an ordinary family in an extraordinary situation. She was intrigued by the idea of "false security". The family in "Gone Astray"live in a gated community but actually they are more isolated and less safe than a normal housing estate as on private roads, with houses that have long driveways and high gates, people are less likely to know their neighbours, see people coming and going or maybe even less willing to get to know their neighbours - they tend to hide behind the security they have.

Further inspiration came from her day job as a journalist. Davies had been researching a story relating to Madeline McCann when she came across the story of Kerry Needham, whose son Ben went missing in Cos in 1991. This also got her to thinking about how it would feel to be a mother whose son is still missing over twenty years later. Following an interview with Mrs Needham, Davies learnt how important the role of a Family Liaison Officer can be for a family in this situation. They are the person that although very involved in the investigation of the crime, they are also with the family throughout the entire time the case is open to hold them together, give them a voice and support them.

Davies' experience as a journalist has helped her to research the role of an FLO thoroughly so that her novels are convincing and authentic.

Her new book, due out in February, is called "Wrong Place" and sees FLO DC Maggie Neville investigating the suicide of a husband and wife alongside a historical missing person's case.

You can follow Michelle on Twitter @M_Davieswrites and as she also tweets with her journalist hat on, you'll be treated to updates about X Factor and other entertainment news as well as books!

For my full review of "Gone Astray", click here:

The Bird Tribunal
The paperback of this novel will be out in January 2017. It is available in Hardback and on Kindle.

Two people in exile. Two secrets. As the past tightens its grip, there may be no escape… TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough… Haunting, consuming and powerful, The Bird Tribunal is a taut, exquisitely written psychological thriller that builds to a shocking, dramatic crescendo that will leave you breathless.

Ravatn is from Norway and this is her first book translated into English. Sarah Hilary described it as "Rebecca meets Fjords" which I think makes it sound so intriguing! With the current excitement and love for Scandi Noir, the publication of "The Bird Tribunal" is very timely.

Ravatn explained that although her book is set in the isolated countryside she was actually living in Oslo when she wrote it. However, she thinks this helped her to capture it the landscape and atmosphere more effectively as her description is more fresh and more convincing due to this physical distance. The isolated setting also heightens the tension between the man and woman in the novel as it is all about being vulnerable, trapped and far away from anyone.

A large chunk of the first draft of "The Bird Tribunal" was written in three weeks when Ravatn took herself off to a log cabin in the countryside to enforce some uninterrupted concentration. She has also written a self help book - Operation Self Discipline - where she reflects on the impact of social media.  Ravatn was shocked at the impact social media was having on her life and how damaging it was becoming in her actually completing her writing. She is not active on Twitter! Although she still uses the internet in her daily life, Ravatn has learnt to draw very strict lines between her writing life and her personal life. She never takes her phone into her office and her publisher tweets on her behalf!

Her new book is set in a city but is still in the genre of domestic noir and is a marital drama. The first draft is currently with her editor.

Tall Oaks
Chris Whittaker's debut mixes crime and humour to create a darkly hilarious tale which looks at a small town over the course of 3 months.

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town.
Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect. Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures. Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake.
Photographer Jerry, who's determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.
And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own . . .

In Chris Whitaker's brilliant and original debut novel, missing persons, secret identities and dangerous lies abound in a town as idiosyncratic as its inhabitants. (Goodreads blurb) 

Chris Whittaker had a rather more unusual route into writing than the other authors on this panel. At the age of 19 he was mugged and attacked with a knife. Although physically fully recovered, he was left feeling very low and turned to writing as a kind of therapy to help him work through the dark place in which he found himself. He then trained as a Stockbroker and worked his way up the ladder successfully, until he lost £100,000 in one day. ..... Deciding to write a novel, he began 4 weeks before his second child was born and wrote over 5000 words a day until it was complete! Now that's a story!

He is interested in the idea of "behind closed doors" and his novel explores a town where everything seems idyllic but actually it is riddled with deep secrets.

His new book is once again set in America and is about a missing school girl. A dark cloud arrives over the town on the day that she goes missing and induces a kind of "satanic panic" as people believe the two events are connected. The cloud gets darker every day that the girl is missing.......

You can follow Whittaker on Twitter @WhittyAuthor

To read my Q&A with Chris and my review of "Tall Oaks", please click here:

Sarah Hilary is also a published crime writer with a detective series featuring DI Marnie Rome.

Tastes Like Fear (DI Marnie Rome #3)

This is the third book in the series and was published in April 2016.

The young girl who causes the fatal car crash disappears from the scene.
A runaway who doesn't want to be found, she only wants to go home.
To the one man who understands her.
Gives her shelter.
Just as he gives shelter to the other lost girls who live in his house.
He's the head of her new family.
He's Harm.
And when Harm's family is threatened, Marnie Rome is about to find out that everything tastes like fear...

Sarah Hilary is also on Twitter @sarah_hilary

For more reviews, recommendations and features on Killer Women's Festival please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

"Fresh Air & Empty Streets" Oliver Cable

Fresh Air and Empty Streets

Fifteen years after Alexander left his wife and young child to pursue the life of an artist in Paris, his son Felix is on his doorstep, looking for answers. On a journey through smoky jazz bars, artists’ studios and along the banks of the Seine, Felix meets the father he never knew, and in doing so, comes to question some lifelong assumptions.

This is a novella and at 140 pages long, a very easy quick read. The brevity offered by the form of  a novella is fitting for the style of Cable's writing as the story focuses on a particular event in a short space of time. The prose ebbs and flows in a way that matches the meandering of the Seine as Felix ponders, muses, explores and questions his relationship with his father amongst other things. 

Cable's prose is distinctive and echoes the patterns and conventions of much more established writers who focus on moments in time, delving deeper into a character rather than rushing along with a plot. He clearly has a gift for description and observation. I liked the use of personification with "the clock shuffled along to its arranged meeting time," and then his detail about Felix: "His hair stood up in unruly clumps, shooting off in every which way in a desperate attempt to leave the wasteland that was his body......his skin resembled Arctic snow in the sun."

When Felix meets his father, Cable cleverly captures the similarities between the two men who have had so little contact. 

"In that split second before any of them opened their mouths, Felix saw his shaggy brown hair, his dark eyebrows and his height back in the man in front of him." 

The references to Paris are used not just to place the reader securely in the setting of the action, but also to create atmosphere. The church of Sacre-Coeur is used several times to conjure strong images of the city. In this story the location is as much of a character as Felix and Alexander. 

This is Cable's debut and although it is polished, there were a few sentences that still felt a little clunky and occasionally Cable fell back on a cliche which stood out against the rest of his carefully considered language. However, this is his first book and I'm sure Cable will develop with everything he continues to publish. 

It is easy to read the book in one sitting. There are no chapters and only "pauses" between paragraphs and within the narrative flow. It didn't feel necessary to break away from reading as I think the atmosphere of the novel carries you along in a slightly dreamlike state. 

I don't want to say too much else as it is a short novel and really needs little explanation. If you enjoy a poetic style of writing, overflowing with description and imagery, a coming of age style voice and some interesting observations about the bigger issues and ideas in life, then you will enjoy this book. I would categorise it as literary fiction. 

For more recommendations and reviews please foliow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)