Author Influences with Catherine Kullmann

Welcome to another edition of Author Influences. This week my guest is the lovely Catherine Kullman, author of Perception and Illusion and The Murmur of Masks.

Which authors/books did you like to read as a child?
I read voraciously as a child. I had tickets for two libraries and went to both at least twice a week. Authors I remember include Susan Coolidge (What Katy Did and sequels), Louisa M Alcott (Little Women and sequels) Enid Blyton (Everything, but my favourites were the Adventure series), Rex Dixon (Pocomoto series—about an orphan boy brought up two old prospectors in the ‘wild west’), Elinor M Brent-Dyer (Chalet School series). I also read a lot of non-fiction, in particular biography. In my teens, I moved on to Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Dickens, Trollope, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers, and Irish authors such as Frank O’Connor. I also read a lot of poetry and essays. I loved the romantic poets and the metaphysical ones such as John Donne and essayists such as Charles Lamb and Joseph Addison. Looking back, it is easy to see that I was laying the foundations for writing historical fiction set in the early nineteenth century.

Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?
I loved it and was very good at it. We had anthologies of prose and poetry at school and each year would study a different selection but I read them cover to cover. I also loved writing essays, whether relating to the texts we studied or on more general themes.

What genres do you like to read?
I love reading historical fiction but when reading for pleasure tend to look for eras and/or locations outside my own. I also like historical crime, especially set pre WWII. I would read more contemporary crime but find a lot of what is written today bleak and very violent. Favourite authors still writing include Sara Donati (historical), Susanna Kearsley (historical– dual timeline) Barbara Cleverly (Historical mystery) Margaret Maron, Wendy Hornsby ( both contemporary mystery). I also love Patricia Briggs, Eileen Wilks, and Nalini Singh, all of whom write urban fantasy/paranormal romance.

Have they had an impact on the genre you write?
All of the above writers are excellent story-tellers and I am sure that I have learnt a lot from them.

I also read a lot of nineteenth century writing – novels, poetry, memoirs, autobiography, journals, magazines, children’s books etc. etc. Reading works that are contemporary to my period gives me an excellent insight into it and inspires me in so many ways.

If you were to write a different genre what would it be and why?
I am very happy where I am at present. If anything, I might experiment with a different form, such as a short story, or even poetry.

Did any author’s work encourage you to pick up your pen and write and if so who, what and why?
Every author who has gripped me and taken me into their world has encouraged me. Specifically, Jane Austen who transformed the English novel, bringing a deceptive lightness and ironic comedy to what previously had been overly sensational, moralistic or both, and Georgette Heyer who was the creator of the Regency novel as historical fiction.

Are there any authors who, as soon as they publish a new book, you have to get it?
All the ones mentioned in No. 3 above.

Which books have you read that have made you think ’Wow, I wish I had written that’ and what was it about the book?
Susanna Kearsley’s A Desperate Fortune. The two stories, those of Jacobite Mary who keeps a secret journal in the eighteenth century and modern-day Sara who is trying to decode it, are gripping, thrilling and touching. Mary and Sara are so different and so real, the characterization is wonderful and the treatment of Sara, in particular, very moving.

Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people? (Be careful, I don’t want you getting sued!)
Not consciously, but as they all emerge from my subconscious, I am sure they have.

Thank you for taking part, Catherine. I really enjoyed reading your responses to my questions.

 

Catherine’s latest book, Perception and Illusion, is out now. Here is what it’s about:

Does a fairy-tale ending always guarantee Happy Ever After?

England 1814: Brought up by her late grandparents after the death of her mother, Lallie Grey is unaware that she is their heiress. When her father realises that he will soon lose control of his daughter’s income, he conspires to marry her off to his crony, Frederick Malvin in exchange for a share of her capital. But Lallie has fallen in love with Hugo Tamrisk, heir to one of the oldest titles in England. When Hugo not only comes to her aid as she flees the arranged marriage, but later proposes to her, all Lallie’s dreams have come true. She readily agrees to marry him at once.

But past events casts long shadows. Hugo resents the interest his three elder sisters take in his new wife and thinks they have turned her against him. And then there is his former mistress, Sabina, Lady Albright. As Lallie finds her feet in the ton, the newly-weds are caught up in a comedy of errors that threatens their future happiness. She begins to wonder if he has regrets and he cannot understand her new reserve. A perfect storm of confusion and misunderstanding leads to a final rupture when Lallie feels she has no choice but to leave. Can Hugo win her back? Will there be a second, real happy end for them?

You can get your copy HERE.

About Catherine

Catherine Kullmann was born and educated in Dublin. Following a three-year courtship conducted mostly by letter, she moved to Germany where she lived for twenty-five years before returning to Ireland. She has worked in the Irish and New Zealand public services and in the private sector. She is married and has three adult sons and two grandchildren.

Catherine has always been interested in the extended Regency period, a time when the foundations of our modern world were laid. She loves writing and is particularly interested in what happens after the first happy end—how life goes on for the protagonists and sometimes catches up with them. She is the author of The Murmur of Masks and Perception & Illusion. Both books are set against a background of the offstage, Napoleonic wars and consider in particular the situation of women trapped in a patriarchal society.

You can find out more about Catherine and her books at her website www.catherinekullmann.com where she also blogs about historical facts and trivia in her Scrap Album. Her Facebook author page is fb.me/catherinekullmannauthor

 

Review – Last Goodbye by Arlene Hunt

The Blurb

Every couple has their secrets …

‘The woman’s body lay on the bed, hair fanned out in a golden halo, blue eyes open. On the table stood an unmistakable sign: a bouquet of bright yellow roses…’

On a freezing January morning, a young couple is found dead in their cottage in the quiet Dublin suburbs. When Detective Eli Quinn arrives at the scene his stomach drops. It’s the second double homicide in as many months where the killer has left a bunch of yellow roses.

Tucked between the thorns is a little card, with an image of a broken heart. There’s no doubt the killer is trying to send a message, but what do the flowers mean? And can Eli figure out the killer’s motive, before they strike again?

Utterly gripping, fast-paced and nail-bitingly tense, this serial killer thriller will keep you up reading all night. If you love Angela Marsons, Rachel Abbott and Patricia Gibney, you won’t be able to put this down.

My Thoughts

Last Goodbye is the first in a new detective series by Arlene Hunt. I thoroughly enjoyed Last To Die and waited eagerly for her latest novel.

Somebody is killing couples in Dublin and at each murder scene there is a bunch of yellow roses left and the female is laid out in a certain way. Quinn and Malloy find themselves on a desperate hunt to catch the killer before he/she strikes again.

Last Goodbye is set in Dublin and it introduces us to DI Eli Quinn and DS Roxy Malloy. Quinn is the experienced murder detective compared to Malloy who is a week into her probationary period as a DS. In this first book we get more of a sense of Roxy’s character and it is clear that there is a lot more to come as the series progresses. I did wonder while reading if Roxy has Asperger’s as she is not comfortable in the presence of people and lacks social niceties. Although she comes across as quite cold, I really warmed to her and found some of her observations funny and accurate. Her obvious discomfort around Garda Officer Cora Simmons who is chatty, outgoing and the direct opposite to Roxy’s introverted personality was well portrayed and I really liked Hunt’s characterisations.

The antagonist in Last Goodbye is incredibly unnerving. We are treated to chapters that are devoted to him and his thought processes and motivations. One thing I loved about Last To Die was Hunt’s portrayal of the killer and she doesn’t disappoint in Last Goodbye. Her ability to get beneath his skin makes the book all the more compelling as, let’s face it, we all want to understand the motivations behind killings. It’s the care that is taking into the insight of the killer’s mind that makes Last Goodbye a great read rather than a good read. It is incredibly chilling and becomes even more so when you read Hunt’s note at the end of the book.

The pacing is perfect as Last Goodbye steams ahead and the interspersing chapters from the perspective of the killer enhances the pace rather than detracts from it. I raced through this book and each twist had me holding my breath.

A great start to a new series, I am looking forward to meeting Quinn and Malloy in the next book. If you like police procedurals, being totally unnerved by a chillingly realistic serial killer and a fast-paced plot you will love Last Goodbye.

Last Goodbye is published on 22 May 2018 by Bookouture and you can get a copy HERE.

Thanks to Arlene Hunt, Bookouture and Netgalley for the copy in exchange for my review.

Read my review of Last To Die here.

Guest Post with Melvyn Small -‘Write It And They Will Come?’

I am delighted to welcome Melvyn Small to Bloomin’ Brilliant Books today with a great guest post. Melvyn is the author of The Darlington Substitute and the founder of Indiepenned.

Write It And They Will Come?

Over the years I have had numerous ideas for novels. I thought the only things that stood in my way were my ability to eke seventy or eighty thousand words from those ideas and having no experience whatsoever as writer of fiction. If I could circumnavigate those minor hurdles, then I would have a bestseller on my hands. Following that, the likelihood was that scores of Hollywood producers would be ringing my phone off the hook. Easy!

A few years ago, yet another idea struck. As I lay slumped on my settee with the familiar companion of a glass of Hardy’s Crest (other Australian red wines are available) I had a thought. My televisual delectation that particular evening was the CBS show Elementary starring Jonny Lee Millar as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Doctor Joan Watson. I liked it. At least, I liked the idea of it. They’d taken the original work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and moved it somewhere else. My overriding thought was that they could have gone further with it.

As it transpired, this idea for a literary masterpiece was different from all those that proceeded it. It was peculiar in that I actually got on with it and wrote the book. Actually, two books. Given I was uncertain if I could turn an idea into seventy thousand words, there is a little irony in that I managed to find one hundred and sixty thousand across the two volumes. In the interests of full disclosure, I should point that I cheated a little by writing a series of short stories. That said, I’m told the books read very much like a novel, as there is a story arc running across the piece. One reviewer described the books as an “episodic novel”. Which, in hindsight, makes sense.

If I park the reserve of my Englishness for a moment, I can tell you that these books are actually bloody good. I’m not aware of anyone who has read it and said differently. Apart from my brother who read the first page and objected to my prose. Hey-ho.

The tale that tells the story from red wine-lipped idea to paperback is a little longer than that. The story of conversations in pubs and bizarre synchronicity is well documented elsewhere, and I will therefore spare you. Suffice to say, I hooked up with an independent publishing company who helped me turn my manuscripts into very professional-looking ebooks and paperbacks.

The independently published route was very good. It got a paperback with my name on into my hand pretty rapidly. It also gave me complete freedom with respect to what I did with my books. I had a copy of the ebook to send to reviewers and a box full of paperbacks to tout around the local bookshops and send off to movers and shakers in the world of film and television. The success of the latter is still a bit of a TBC. What this freedom and independence also means is you are on your own. It means you don’t have the backing of a marketing department and the advantages of the connections of a large publishing company. The world is awash with books, some good, some not so. Therefore, it is very difficult to get the word out about a new book. It would be nice to think that if a book was good enough then the rest would be easy. I’m pretty sure that isn’t the case.

The question therefore is: Should I have explored a more traditional route to publishing? The answer is: I don’t think so. I’m quite confident that I would have spent a lot of time sending out manuscripts and received a disproportionately small number of rejection letters. The Holmes books are a cult thing. People really like them. Whether the marketing machine of a large publishing company could scale that popularity is debateable. Although the books have received good feedback from around the world, the popularity they have achieved does tend to focus around the North East of England. This is from where I originate and is where the stories are set.

Personally, my honest assessment is that they could gain popularity across a wider audience. I’ve seen the reviews… several times. Whether I could convince a London-based publishing company that, I will probably never know. I somehow imagine a working-class Sherlock Holmes from Middlesbrough might not be their thing.

Let’s be realistic. A publishing company isn’t going to publish a book that they don’t think will sell in large numbers. Why would they? They are a business and in they are in the business of selling books. The problem is what they think might sell is largely down to their experience of what they have already sold. They work within the world as the perceive it. You can’t blame them. We all have bills to pay. No one wants to hang their hat on a flop. However, literature is an art and art is about taking chances and stressing the boundaries of what’s gone before.

The traditional publishing route is harder than that for someone with an original idea. Many publishing companies, large and small, have stopped taking submissions from new authors. Consequently, to get your masterpiece onto the desk of a publishing company you must first convince a literary agent, with bills to pay, to see outside the established norm. This shift in how things work has resulted in literary agents facing a deluge of manuscripts to wade through. As a result of this, the agents have found a new way of working and are now looking for new authors from within the ranks of those enrolled on creative writing courses. The point here is that there are a few hurdles to cross and those involved in this process don’t appear to have an interest in expanding the art form.

This may all seem very anti the traditional publishing route. It’s not meant to be. They fulfil a need. There’s as much a place for fast food as there is gourmet restaurants. Things can happily coexist. I’ll leave it to you to decide which part of that analogy is working with the big five and which is independent publishing. If somebody starts their writing career as an indie author before getting snapped up by one of the big boys, then good on them. Let’s just hope they don’t forget us indie renegades when they do. Personally, I’d be more than happy to kick around the idea of a six-figure advance. I’m also not too adverse to moving a few things around to talk about a TV or film deal.

Failing that, I think there is a massive opportunity for both indie authors and book lovers to band together and extol the virtues of some of the great literature being created outside the mainstream. To that ends, I created Indipenned, a corner of the internet exclusive to independent literature. At the core of this is that thought the most effective form of promotion is word of mouth. If we can get enough authors, poets, small presses, book reviewers and independent bookshops to start extolling the virtues of independently-written literature, we can give indie authors a real chance. The plan is to make books more about merit and less about marketing budgets. We want to lend a hand to those working outside the world of the big corporations.

Indipenned is still in its first year. This initial period has been all about getting some of the great indie authors that are out there to join us. We’re really happy with how this has gone. Although we are still looking for authors, the focus has now shifted to letting book lovers to know about us. One of the ways in which we are doing this is by publishing a brand-new Holmes novella in the short stories section of the Indipenned website. This story has just completed a blog tour, which included some of the web’s leading book reviewers. The reviews have been brilliant.

“An interesting and enjoyable take on one of my favourite classics.”
“I giggled from start to finish with the dry humour that rolled off of each page.”
“The best novella I have ever read.”

The Darlington Substitution by Melvyn Small is published by Indipenned. It can be read for free now on the Indipenned website or via the Indipenned Facebook page.

A huge thank you Mel for this insightful and interesting guest post. I really enjoyed reading it.

Author Influences with Iain Rowan

Today I give a huge welcome to Iain Rowan as he joins me for this week’s Author Influences. Iain is a local-to-me author, so I’m thrilled to have him ‘visiting’ the blog.

Which authors/books did you like to read as a child?
Everything I could lay my hands on. Children’s fiction, adult fiction, you name it. I can still remain the day I got my adult tickets for the library, when I was 13. Was like the keys to the kingdom. I loved Alan Garner, still do as an adult, and his books made me see the world as a haunted, mythic place. Not fiction, but when my dad died and my mum asked me to take anything of his I wanted, the first thing was a book I loved more than anything as a child: Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, a massive reader’s digest thing crammed full of potent and strange legends from all around the country, alternately fascinating and terrifying.

Although I don’t write sf or read much of it now, I crammed in as much as I could as a child, people like Andre Norton, and Jack Vance. Fantasy by people like Tolkien, Moorcock and Lieber because as that kind of bookish kid you do, don’t you. And the Moomin books because they were just much weirdness.

Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?
I have mixed views on English education. There was more emphasis in primary school on creativity, and in particular one teacher encouraged me to write (a long series of interlinked spy stories, if I remember right) and I loved it to bits. Then came secondary school, and: read Mayor of Casterbridge and Sons and Lovers. Now read it again. And again. And let’s discuss some really laboured points about imagery. To death. I did well enough, especially at A Level, but I can’t help thinking it’s like taking Art and finding out it’s all just theory and art history. There should be room in the syllabus for creativity, and creatively responding to what you have read via your own fiction, poetry, whatever. Maybe it’s changed since the 80s and there is now, but given the onslaught on creativity across the rest of the curriculum, I doubt it.

What genres do you like to read? Have they had an impact on the genre you write?
I’ll read most things – I tend to look out for reviews or descriptions of a book that for some reason push a particular button in me, and then read that, rather than pick by genre. I read a fair amount of crime fiction, because that’s what I write and I need to soak up what’s out there, but tend to steer clear of it when I’m really in the thick of writing my own. Am a sucker for a classic ghost story, and novels that make me feel like Alan Garner’s did – Michael Hurley’s The Loney and Devil’s Day are two great examples of that, as is the novel I’m in the middle of reading: Folk by Zoe Gilbert. Also, if your novel’s set in a run-down out of season coastal town, that’s me sold in an instant.

If you were to write a different genre what would it be and why?
As my answers to the previous questions probably show, I’d love to write a classic spooky, weird, mythic YA novel – a haunting folk fantasy that makes the reader shiver at the thought that there are huge and important and ancient things happening just out of sight, but that sometimes we catch an unsettling glimpse of them creeping out from around the edges of the real world.

Did any author’s work encourage you to pick up your pen and write and if so who, what and why?
A couple of writers in particular made me determined to write, while also putting me off writing because they were so good, what’s the point. Rupert Thomson is an amazing writer, who writes better prose than anyone else around. I thought: if I could be one tenth of the prose stylist he is, I’d be a good writer. The other is Michael Marshall Smith, for a long time a successful novelist, but I discovered him early on through his short stories which were weird sometimes-horror sometimes fabulist things, and they made me feel: I want to try and do this.

Are there any authors who, as soon as they publish a new book, you have to get it?
Donna Tartt, Rupert Thomson, Emily St. John Mandel and now Mick Herron.

Which books have you read that have made you think ’Wow, I wish I had written that’ and what was it about the book?
Hmmm. I think I’ve probably answered bits of this one already. Every one of Thomson’s novels for the sheer brilliance of style. The Secret History (my favourite novel) for making me think: I never ever want to leave these people. It’s my definition of a brilliant novel that when you finish it, you feel an almost visceral sense of loss. John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meaney for the way that all the plot he’s set up starts rolling out at the end like a machine. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News for the compassion and warmth and the way it made me want to live there. Emily St. John Mandel’s Last Night In Montreal for being exactly the kind of novel I’d like to have written, in every way.

Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people? (Be careful, I don’t want you getting sued!)
People who die in my books are generally thinly disguised versions of people who stood in front of me on an escalator and then got off and STOPPED right at the top. Also people who talk on their mobiles while someone in a shop is serving them. You’re all in there.

The novel I’m working on now is influenced by the undercover policing scandal which saw police going undercover for years – often in largely harmless parts of the environmental protest movement – forming relationships, fathering children, and then one day disappearing as if they never existed.

Years ago I kicked around a few ideas for a novel which I never really took forward. Was set amongst a (then) fictional group of people who were working hacking phones and reading bins for tabloid newspapers. I didn’t follow it through, and then a couple of years later…dear reader, if you are a writer and have a really interesting idea: write it now. Don’t be like Iain.

Thanks for taking part, Iain. I really enjoyed reading your answers and I’m pleased to have found another Finn Family Moomintroll fan. And The Secret History is one of my all time favourite books too.

Iain’s latest book, Sea Change, is out now. Here’s what it’s about:

“You owe it to yourself to discover Rowan’s fiction if you haven’t already had the pleasure.” (Jeff Vandermeer, two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award)

When John is sent to stay with his sister in a small fishing village on the North Yorkshire coast, his parents thought that it would give him a chance to get over the tragedy that happened at school.

But when John arrives in Saltcliff, he is threatened by a strange old man who has waited years for him to appear, he is followed by a mysterious black dog, and he learns that he has a part to play in an ancient legend that is older than the village itself.

Can John leave the tragedies of his past behind and find the courage to save the village? And most important of all, can he stay out of the mist…

Sea Change is a Young Adult novel.

Check out Iain’s Amazon author page for details of his other books HERE.

About Iain Rowan

Iain Rowan is author of the Bath Novel Award and CWA Debut Dagger shortlisted novel One of Us, as well as over thirty published short stories, and is represented by the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency. He is Creative Director for the Sunderland Festival of Creative Writing, and runs Sunderland writers’ group Holmeside Writers. Like a bad 80s metal band, he found himself unexpectedly big in Mexico.

website: iainrowan.com
twitter: @iainrowan

Review – Safe With Me by K.L. Slater

The Blurb

Thirteen years ago someone did something very bad to Anna. Now it’s her turn to get even.

Anna lives a solitary existence, taking solace in order and routine. Her only friend is the lonely old lady next door. She doesn’t like to let people to get too close – she knows how much damage they can do.

Then one ordinary day Anna witnesses a devastating road accident and recognises the driver as Carla, the woman who ruined her life all those years ago. Now it’s Anna’s chance to set things straight but her revenge needs to be executed carefully…

First she needs to get to know Liam, the man injured in the accident. She needs to follow the police investigation. She needs to watch Carla from the shadows…

But as Anna’s obsession with Carla escalates, her own secrets start to unravel. Is Carla really dangerous or does Anna need to worry about someone far closer to home?

My Thoughts

I have to admit to having had K.L. Slater’s debut novel, Safe With Me, sitting on my Kindle for far too long. Having finally read it, I wish I hadn’t left it so long and I will be reading her follow up novels. I’m on a bit of a roll with psychological thrillers at the moment after having gone through a bit of a rough patch with them.

Safe With Me focuses on main character, Anna, after she witnesses a traffic accident and stays and takes care of the injured party, Liam. She recognises the driver of the car involved as Carla, a woman who ruined her life thirteen years ago. As Anna slowly plans to get her revenge on Carla, we see her behaviour begin to turn into an obsession that gradually takes over her life.

The narrative switches between present day and thirteen years earlier which works effectively in building up the reader’s understanding of Anna’s behaviour. With the present-day chapters told in first person narrative via Anna, Slater slowly drops hints throughout the book about Anna, her life and her current situation which keeps you turning the pages and has you guessing as to what will become of her and those she is involved with. Will she be successful in getting her revenge on Carla?

Slater’s characterisation of Anna is fantastic and it is hard to tell that this is a debut novel. As we become aware of Anna’s mental health difficulties while we watch her unravel, this initially unlikeable character becomes one that I felt a great deal of sympathy for. Yes, she is unreliable but she also has a vulnerability that made me want to look after her. I found myself worrying about her. Slater has developed a well-rounded, multi-faceted character with all the layers that human beings have. Her portrayal of mental health difficulties is incredibly well done.

The tone throughout is oppressive and heavy as we get into Anna’s head. I really liked the way Safe With Me is written and Slater is clearly a talented writer.

In relation to its impact as a psychological thriller, Safe With Me works brilliantly. It has a compelling main character who is unreliable and you never know what she is going to do next, especially as her thought pattern becomes more erratic. Slater had me guessing to the very end and kept me on my toes in my quest to figure out what would happen.

Safe With Me is a great debut. Well written, brilliantly characterised and a total page-turner, if you like psychological thrillers definitely check it out. I’m off to go and read Slater’s other books!

Safe With Me was published on 3 November 2016 by Bookouture. You can get your copy HERE.

My thanks to K.L. Slater, Bookouture and Netgalley for the copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

Blog Tour – The Retreat by Mark Edwards *Review*

Being a huge fan of Mark Edwards’ books I am beyond excited to be hosting one of the stops on the blog tour for his latest book, The Retreat

The Blurb

Julia Marsh has spent the last two years grieving the tragic accident that lead to her husband drowning before her eyes in a local river. Her eight-year-old daughter Lily is still missing, presumed dead. Now living alone, Julia finds herself unable to move on, convinced that Lily is still alive. But as money runs out, Julia needs to find a way to keep hold of their beautiful and secluded family home. She decides to open a writer’s retreat.

Lucas is a successful novelist suffering from writer’s block and one of the first guests. He’s no stranger to personal tragedy and forms an instant bond with his host, Julia. The longer he stays, the more a local legend of the Red Widow, a fabled witch who kidnaps young girls, captures his imagination. But as Lucas delves into details of these disappearances, and as locals take more than a passing interest in his investigations, Lucas finds himself at the centre of a very real horror story. The retreat is harbouring secrets: all Lucas must do is separate the facts from the fiction before the ghosts of this small town.

My Thoughts

I am always excited when a new Mark Edwards’ book comes out and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Retreat. Once again Edwards delivers an outstanding thriller.

What I really like about Edwards’ books is that you know you are going to get something different with each one and The Retreat is no exception. Following the death of her husband and presumed death of her daughter, Julia turns her home in the Welsh countryside into a writers’ retreat. When horror author Lucas goes to stay at the retreat he discovers that the retreat, the town and the woods are harbouring deep and terrifying secrets.

Edwards switches between perspective and time throughout The Retreat and kicks off with a prologue that describes the events of the day that Lily, Julia’s daughter, went missing. Edwards immediately draws you into the book, and you just have to keep reading to find out what actually happened to Lily. The subtle hints that are dropped during the chapters that focus on Lily and the time leading up to her disappearance/death add to the mystery and intrigue and, as usual, Edwards does a great job of ensuring the reader is always caught on the back foot.

The Retreat is a spooky read as Edwards keeps us guessing as to whether something supernatural is going on in the small town of Beddmawr, or if it’s the work of a dangerous local. The retreat is an eerie old building in which the residents hear mysterious noises. Drawing on ‘what goes bump in the night’ Edwards turns up the atmosphere for maximum impact causing you to regularly glance over your shoulder as you read.

I loved the way that Edwards draws on folklore and urban legend throughout the book. The use of a mysterious and creepy picture that hangs in many of the inhabitant’s homes and businesses reminded me of the ‘curse of the crying boy’ painting that did the rounds in the eighties. He portrays how stories can be used to influence people’s thoughts and be used as a way of controlling people through fear. Deep held beliefs in otherworldly forces can result in irrational behaviour and decisions that an otherwise rational person would not normally do.

The Retreat creeps and twists like the ivy that climbs up an old building and it gets under your skin. Combining old-school style ghost story elements with modern day thriller, Edwards has created a spine-tingling story that it is enthralling and irresistible.

The Retreat is published on 10 May 2018 by Thomas & Mercer. You can get your copy HERE.

About the Author

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers in which terrifying things happen to ordinary people. Mark’s first solo novel, The Magpies (2013), reached the No.1 spot on the Amazon UK Kindle bestseller list, as did his third novel Because She Loves Me (2014), and Follow Me Home (2015). His previous novels, The Devil’s Work (2016) and The Lucky Ones (2017) were also published to great critical acclaim and commercial success. He has also co-written various crime novels with Louise Voss such as Killing Cupid (2011) and The Blissfully Dead (2015). His titles with Amazon Publishing have reached over a million readers.

Mark grew up on the south coast of England and started writing in his twenties while working in a number of dead-end jobs. He lived in Tokyo for a year, and is a great admirer of Japanese writers and horror films. Mark lives near Wolverhampton, England, with his wife, their three children and a ginger cat. The Retreat was strongly inspired by local folklore and urban myths from Mark’s childhood and by his daughter Poppy. When walking their dog in the woods, Poppy told Mark a story about her friends arguing about whether a local legend was true or not. Poppy and Mark would brainstorm ideas for the book on their daily walks, and Mark now credits her as his co-writer and a budding author herself. www.markedwardsauthor.com

A huge thank you to Mark Edwards and Gaby Drinkald at Midas PR for my advance copy of The Retreat and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. Follow the rest of the tour:

Author Influences with Beatrice Fishback

Welcome to this week’s Author Influences. Joining me for today’s bookish chatter is Beatrice Fishback, author of Bethel Manor and Bethel Manor Reborn among others.

Which authors/books did you like to read as a child?
I loved to read Victoria Holt and her gothic romance novels set in England. It was at that precise time that I fell in love with all things English.

Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?
No. I was dreadful with sentence structure and nearly failed my junior high class. Which makes the fact that I am now an author quite humorous.

What genres do you like to read? Have they had an impact on the genre you write?
I love to read cozy mysteries and have always been a fan of Agatha Christie. However, I generally prefer male authors such as James Patterson and Lee Child. With preference to crime novels and cozies, I guess it’s no wonder that I am drawn to writing that type of story. Dying to Eat at the Pub, a cozy that takes place in Great Britain was my first attempt at a full-length novel.

If you were to write a different genre what would it be and why?
Hmm. That’s a good question. I was challenged by an agent to write an inspirational, historic romance. I wasn’t particularly fond of that type of novel but I took up the dare and wrote two books: Bethel Manor and Bethel Manor Reborn. Through that experience I learned to enjoy historic romances and a totally different genre.

Did any author’s work encourage you to pick up your pen and write and if so who, what and why?
I’m very fond of Max Lucado who writes non-fiction and children’s books. He has an amazing way with words and has always inspired my own creativity. I also enjoy Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series. Once again, his magic with a story stirs my own desire to try and write something as imaginative and original.

Are there any authors who, as soon as they publish a new book, you have to get it?
I certainly keep my eyes open for anything by Alan Bradley.

Which books have you read that have made you think ’Wow, I wish I had written that’ and what was it about the book?
Mr. Bradley’s books always leave me with that impression. His stories flow with humor, a bit of suspense, a murder that his young sleuth must solve, and a great amount of detail about her interest in science and chemistry. It’s the rolling together of all these things that make such a great tale. Although they are probably intended for a younger audience, I appreciate the descriptions, sentence structure and his main character—Flavia de Luce comes alive and the reader is caught up in the every day drama she goes through.

Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people? (Be careful, I don’t want you getting sued!).
Dying to Eat at the Pub was influenced by my husband and our relationship; the challenges and great fun we have as a mature couple who have had the privilege of living in Great Britain a total of twenty years. The basis of this book is about an American couple who retire to a small village in East Anglia, U.K., and the cultural and marital challenges that can create humor and misunderstandings.

Thank you, Beatrice, for taking part. I really enjoyed reading your answers. 

Beatrice’s most recent book is Winter Writerland: A Daisy McFarland Mystery and here’s what it is about:

A gruesome murder was inevitable, but how the death would unfold would be anyone’s guess. And the murderer’s identity? That would remain a mystery until the appropriate time…

Meet Daisy McFarland, an American spinster who has retired to England after teaching elementary school for thirty years. An aspiring novelist, Daisy looks forward to attending the Crime Writer’s Conference in Branick for the third year in a row.

The winter gathering provides a great excuse for Daisy to escape being alone and keep holiday blues away. It also gives her a chance to meet new people and reconnect with several British friends. Their lively spirits and enjoyment of a glass of wine spark Daisy’s creative juices—especially after she’s enjoyed a few drinks.

Teachers at the event are regular contributors, all specialists in law enforcement, forensics, crime scene photography, or pharmaceutical drugs. With such an intriguing lineup of classes, Daisy can scarcely choose which ones to attend.

Bitter weather keeps attendees indoors. But after a night of wine, joviality, and juicy gossip, a jaunt outside is exactly what Daisy needs to get her blood flowing. Much to her horror, she soon discovers that blood is also flowing in the lake.

Daisy had come to the conference to write about murder, not discover one. Who was the dead person floating facedown in the murky water, and who among them could have murdered this unfortunate victim?

About Beatrice Fishback

Beatrice Fishback, originally from New York, lived in the East Anglian area of Great Britain for over twenty years and traveled extensively in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. She is the author of Bethel Manor and Bethel Manor Reborn, Dying to Eat at the Pub, Loving Your Military Man by FamilyLife Publishing and, with her husband Jim, is the co-author of Defending the Military Marriage and Defending the Military Family. She has been published in various compilations, magazines and online websites. She and her husband have spoken to audiences worldwide and currently reside in North Carolina where scones are called biscuits and are topped with gravy, and tea that is served over ice.

Beatrice’s Amazon page: http://amzn.to/2ATzBup

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Beasattitudes

Review – Skin Deep by Liz Nugent

The Blurb

Cordelia Russell has been living on the French Riviera for twenty-five years, passing herself off as an English socialite. But her luck, and the kindness of strangers, have run out.
The arrival of a visitor from her distant past shocks Cordelia. She reacts violently to the intrusion and flees her flat to spend a drunken night at a glittering party. As dawn breaks she stumbles home through the back streets. Even before she opens her door she can hear the flies buzzing. She did not expect the corpse inside to start decomposing quite so quickly . . .

My Thoughts

‘I could probably have been an actress. It is not difficult to pretend to be somebody else. Isn’t that what I’ve been doing for most of my life?

Liz Nugent is back with her much anticipated third novel, Skin Deep. Anyone who regularly reads my reviews will know that I have had a bit of a hard time with psychological thrillers recently, but I’m pleased to say that Nugent has re-kindled my love affair with them. Skin Deep is, in true Liz Nugent style, deliciously dark.

Of course, it has that killer first line that we now expect from Nugent and the prologue drags you in as we are introduced to Cordelia Russell. Delia is beautiful but bad. And when I say bad I mean Bad with a capital B! From a small island off the coast of Ireland, to say Delia’s childhood was unconventional would be an understatement. Nugent takes us through Delia’s history in order for us to see how she has got to the position we first see her in in the prologue. Skin Deep is addictive and fascinating as we act as voyeurs through the course of Delia’s life. The saying ‘All that glisters isn’t gold’ is proved correct as we discover the dark core of Delia’s perfect exterior.

Very much a character focused thriller, Delia is despicable, her behaviour is repugnant and it makes Skin Deep oh so compelling. Always fascinated by the nature-nurture debate, it has you wondering how much of Delia’s personality is due to her upbringing? Nugent tells Delia’s story through first person narration via Delia’s perspective, but we are given glimpses of the perspectives of others as every now and again the point of view switches for a chapter which works perfectly. Delia also reflects on the stories that her father told her during her childhood all of which have a moral edge to them and the picture of Delia and her off-kilter moral code is built up perfectly. Skin Deep is the budding psychologist’s dream. Delia is utterly detestable and I loved her for that!

Nugent’s writing is fantastic as she gets you to the very core of Delia. Her portrayal of manipulation and deception is fantastic and I wonder what goes on within Nugent’s mind. The tone is heavy and dark throughout and Nugent uses words like weapons in order for them to stun and shock you. Unable to second guess what will happen next, Nugent has this amazing ability to ensure you are always taken off guard.

Nugent never lets me down and Skin Deep is yet another accomplished novel by this talented author. She has weaved another twisted tale to perfection ensuring her place at the top of my list of favourite authors. Skin Deep takes you for a walk on the darker side of life and it is delectable. An absolute must read for fans of psychological thrillers.

Skin Deep was published on 5 April 2018 by Penguin Ireland. You can get your copy HERE.

A huge thank you to Liz Nugent, Pengiun Books and Netgalley for the copy in exchange for my review.

Author Influences with Robert Scragg

After a month long hiatus I’m pleased to be back with Author Influences. This week I’m delighted to be welcoming author Robert Scragg to Bloomin’ Brilliant Books. Robert’s debut novel What Falls Between The Cracks is out now on Kindle (more information on the book later) and Robert will be attending one of the panels at this year’s Newcastle Noir. So, let’s crack on and find out about the books that have impacted on Robert.

Which authors/books did you like to read as a child?
I’ve still got the copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that I had as a kid. Lost count of the number of times I’ve read them over the years. I also had a series of kids classics, that I also have in the loft (I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to book!) That includes titles like Treasure Island, Moby Dick and Robinson Crusoe.

Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?
I was ok I guess – usually top half of the class, but never the star pupil. I enjoyed English Language more than Literature and took that up to A-level.

What genres do you like to read? Have they had an impact on the genre you write?
I love crime fiction, and that’s absolutely influenced my choice of genre to write in. Around 90% of what I read is crime, although I’m trying to branch out more. Read a couple of fantasy/sci-fi recently, which is a genre I used to be into in a big way. Also trying to read at least one non-fiction book every month to broaden my horizons a bit!

If you were to write a different genre what would it be and why?
I’ve got plans to try my hand at children’s books at some stage. There are a few ideas bubbling around, but I want to get my feet under the table with crime first for the next few years, and then we’ll see. Having been encouraged to read as a kid, and loving books from an early age, I’d love to be able to help inspire those same feelings in the next generation of readers.

Did any author’s work encourage you to pick up your pen and write and if so who, what and why?
If I look back at who I was reading in the run up to putting pen to paper myself, it’d be the likes of Jeffrey Deaver. He’s still a shoe-in on my TBR pile, but love some of his earlier stuff in particular, like The Devil’s Tear Drop and The Coffin Dancer. As for why, I’m a sucker for a plot that keeps twisting back on itself, keeping me guessing all the way to the end, at which point I still find that I had it pegged wrong. He’s a master at that. Harlan Coben is another. I love how real and vivid his characters are. His books helped me realise that some readers will come back for the character first, and plot second (not that there’s anything wrong with his plotting either!).

Are there any authors who, as soon as they publish a new book, you have to get it?
That’s a list that seems to get longer every year. It’s a mix of homegrown names, and international writers such as Mark Billingham, Mari Hannah, Howard Linskey, David Mark, Pierre LaMaitre, Greg Iles, Harlan Coben, Jeffrey Deaver. There’s more, but I’ll stop there!

Which books have you read that have made you think ’Wow, I wish I had written that’ and what was it about the book?
The Natchez Burning trilogy by Greg Iles – an absolutely epic trio of books. The sheer scale of the plot is quiet something to behold; the kind of thing you’d have to take up an entire wall to map out. His characters are so real they practically jump off the page, and when I reached the end of every one of them, there was that amazing mix of ‘what a book’ at the same time as ‘damn, didn’t want it to end.’

Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people? (Be careful, I don’t want you getting sued!)
Not yet, but I’ve had a few friends request people they’d like to see in a body bag in future books, so you’ll have to wait and see.

Massive thanks, Robert, for taking part. Great answers and I concur with your list of authors you have to buy!

Robert’s debut novel What Falls Between The Cracks was published on eBook and hardcover on 19  April 2018 and is out on paperback on 20 September 2018. Here’s what it’s about:

Did she slip through the cracks, or was she pushed?

When a severed hand is found in an abandoned flat, Detective Jake Porter and his partner Nick Styles are able to DNA match the limb to the owner, Natasha Barclay, who has not been seen in decades. But why has no one been looking for her? It seems that Natasha’s family are the people who can least be trusted.
Delving into the details behind her disappearance and discovering links to another investigation, a tragic family history begins to take on a darker twist. Hampered by a widespread fear of a local heavy, as well as internal politics and possible corruption within the force, Porter and Styles are digging for answers, but will what they find ever see the light of day?

About Robert Scragg

Robert Scragg originally trained as a solicitor, then had a random mix of jobs before taking the dive into crime writing; he’s been a bookseller, pizza deliverer, Karate instructor and Football coach. He lives in Tyne & Wear, is a founding member of the North East Noir crime writers group and is currently editing the second Porter and Styles novel, as well as working on a standalone set in the North East.

Website – www.robertscragg.com
Twitter – @robert_scragg
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/robertscragg/

 

Review – Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

The Blurb

There are three things you should know about Elsie.
The first thing is that she’s my best friend.
The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.
And the third thing… might take a little bit more explaining.

84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?

From the author of THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP, this book will teach you many things, but here are three of them:
1) The fine threads of humanity will connect us all forever.
2) There is so very much more to anyone than the worst thing they have ever done.
3) Even the smallest life can leave the loudest echo.

My Thoughts

‘Even the smallest life can leave the loudest echo.’

Three Things About Elsie is the highly anticipated second novel from Joanna Cannon. It tells the story of eighty-four-year-old Florence, resident of Cherry Tree sheltered accommodation, who has fallen in her flat and reflects on her life as she waits to be found and helped. A new resident has moved into Cherry Tree and he looks suspiciously like a man Florence knew in the past but who died sixty years ago.

Like its predecessor, The Trouble With Goats And Sheep, Three Things has at its core a mystery that needs solving in regards to the identity of new resident, Gabriel, but it is a multi-layered in the themes it explores. And Cannon explores them beautifully, resulting in me highlighting many sentences so that I could read them back and reflect on them later.

It is a testament to Cannon’s writing skills that she is able to go from writing via the perspective of a child to the other end of the spectrum, that of an octogenarian, and do so with authenticity. I fell in love with Florence, Elsie and especially Jack. Told largely via the perspective of Florence with interspersing chapters from the points of view of a couple of the staff members at Cherry Tree, you live every moment with Florence and her friends.

As I said, Three Things is a multi-layered book that goes beyond the mystery Florence and her friends are trying to get to the bottom of. Cannon has a real understanding about human beings and human nature and Three Things is a book about enduring friendship, long-held secrets and the impact of keeping them and dementia. Cannon eloquently and movingly depicts dementia from the perspective of the person suffering from it. Funny and yet heart breaking in equal measure, Three Things manages to convey all that is good and less good in life.

I have to confess that initially I didn’t think I enjoyed it as much as Goats and Sheep but the more I thought about it after I had finished it, the more it affected me and the more I appreciated it. Now I would say it is on an equal footing.

Funny, gentle, heartrending, poignant and so beautifully written, Three Things About Elsie is a book that will remain in my heart for a very long time. It heralds Joanna Cannon as one of the great new writers of our time and I urge everybody to read it.

Published on 11 January 2018 by Borough Press, you can grab a copy HERE.

I reviewed my own copy and this is my honest and unbiased review.