Monday, 27 February 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown - Blog Tour

I am delighted to be today's stop on the Blog Tour for The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown. The Witchfinder's Sister is being published by Viking on 2 March 2017. Read on for my review.

The Witchfinder's Sister
By Beth Underdown
Published by Viking (2 March 2017)
ISBN: 978-0241978030

Publisher's description
'The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six...'
1645. When Alice Hopkins' husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.
But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women's names.
To what lengths will Matthew's obsession drive him?

And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

My verdict
I really enjoyed The Witchfinder's Sister. I found the book to be highly atmospheric with very realistic narrative and dialogue in keeping with the time period in which it's set. It starts off slowly, building up the suspense until it becomes a twisty page turner that's difficult to put down.

The story centres around Alice Hopkins, recently widowed sister of Matthew, who was an English witch hunter, mainly in East Anglia. Due her own circumstances, Alice becomes trapped in her brother's home and is reliant on him for food and lodging. Soon she discovers that her brother is a monster with no heart - and that he expects her to join his quest to find witches. Does Alice have a choice?

It's not an easy read, in terms of content, and is certainly not uplifting. But it's not meant to be. Instead, it's a fascinating and gripping tale of a time when women could be arrested for witchcraft, incarcerated and hanged, just because a man viewed them with irrational suspicion. The plot is claustrophobic, vivid and oozes tension and unease.

The Witchfinder's Sister is perfect for historical fiction fans who like well-researched books with a gruesome, and slightly supernatural, theme. Highly recommended.

Follow the Blog Tour

Friday, 24 February 2017

Some Thoughts on Write or Wrong by Marilyn Messik

I would like to welcome author Marilyn Messik on my blog today too talk about writing. Marilyn's second book Even Stranger was published by Troubador Publishing on 25 April 2016.

Some thoughts on write or wrong!
By Marilyn Messik

Success on a plate – Fat Chance!
Wouldn’t it be nice if writing success came with a neatly set-out instruction book? One that laid down a step by step route, for us to follow the yellow brick road to the pot of gold, the six-figure publishing deal?

Truth is, such an instruction book or writing course doesn’t really exist although, like happy-ever-after-endings, the tooth fairy and anti-ageing creams we’d all like to believe they do. But don’t let yourself be put off. I’m just pointing out that success is a mixture of hard work, dogged determination, a small slice of luck, faith in yourself and above all, enjoyment in what you’re doing. And in case you think I’m heading for the spiritual and suggesting you put it out to the universe – I should just say, that’s not my way of thinking either. When spirituality was handed out I was in the toilet. I also missed tall and willowy but we won’t go into that now. I’m strictly for the practical approach!

Will these ruminations help you?
Well, all I can say with complete certainty is, like chicken soup, they certainly won’t do you any harm. The fact of the matter is, you can be told all sorts of things you need to know, but in the long run it’s how you take that information and make it your own, that counts.

In the long run there are no guarantees. Sometimes we can be given all the ingredients for a superb cake, together with an idiot-proof recipe. Some efforts will turn out impeccably, others won’t! My belief though is that you should always bear in mind, as with most things, there is no absolute right or wrong, there are only opinions and whilst the opinions of some experts will fit well with yours, others will not. Don’t try to mould yourself to a way of working or an approach that doesn’t sit well. If it feels wrong for you, then it almost certainly is.

Trust your own instincts and gut feelings. They usually push you in the direction which will work for you and on the occasions they don’t – well, we have to take the rough with the smooth don’t we? The one thing of which I am convinced is that some of the time you just have to shut your eyes, fly by the seat of your pants, cross everything that can be crossed and hope for the best.

Short and sweet is often the safest route
Let me give you a practical example of what I mean:

Picture if you will:
Handsome prince.
High stone tower.
Window at the top. Beautiful girl.
He calls, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.’
She does. He climbs.
Unfortunately, Rapunzel’s had hair extensions.
Not a happy ending after all!

Just 38 words. But as you read those 38 words, couldn’t you see each stage of the story? That’s clear communication. Something that’s gone straight from my head to yours. I feel any writing worth its salt should come across with the same sort of clarity. If we analyse it, that small story works because it’s:
Familiar: traditional fairy tale, instantly recognisable characters.   
Simple: it’s not exactly a convoluted plot, so - instant comprehension.
Visual: every phrase paints a picture.
Brief: there’s no waffle. 
Funny: that’s the icing on the cake!

I think it’s a great set of principles to apply your writing, whether fiction or fact. What are your thoughts?  

About Marilyn Messik

Marilyn was a regular feature and fiction writer for national magazines when her children were small. She set up her first business, selling toys, books and party goods, from home, before opening first one shop then another. When she sold both shops she moved into the world of travel, focusing on Bed and Breakfasts and Country Inns in New England, USA. Her advisory, planning and booking service flourished and she concurrently launched a publishing company, producing an annual, full-colour accommodation guide.

In 2007 she set up a copywriting consultancy, to help businesses shape their messages to optimum effect. She’s the author of the Little Black Business Book series and the novels Relatively Strange and Even Stranger. She’s been married to her very patient husband for more years than he deserves and they have two children, five grandchildren and, somewhat to their surprise, several grand-dogs. 

Find Marilyn Messik on her website and on Twitter - @marilyn_messik

About Even Stranger

Even Stranger
By Marilyn Messik
Published by Troubadour Publishing (25 April 2016) 
ISBN: 978-1785891960

Publisher's description
With the swinging Sixties staggering, shamefaced and flustered, into the slightly staider Seventies, Stella's life isn't running half as smoothly as she'd like. As an ordinary person, who happens to have some extraordinary psychic abilities, it's frustrating to find that even something as simple as holding down a job throws up unexpected hurdles. Of course - and she's the first to admit - she'd be a lot better off if she could ditch the conviction that she always knows best. This shortcoming, combined with a chronic inability to keep her mouth shut and her nose out of other people's business, has led her off the straight and narrow more than once. But Stella's perfectly clear how things are going to be from now on. It's not she can't handle sticky situations, she can, she just doesn't want to - violence really isn't her thing. Forward planning includes setting herself up in a successful business, sticking like glue to normal, squashing an over-active conscience and steering clear of anything remotely risky or unpleasant. Unfortunately, the best laid plans often lead to the darkest places...Even Stranger is a darker tale of fantastic occurrences that will appeal to fans of authors such as Stephen King, and Marilyn's first novel, Relatively Strange.

You can find Even Stranger on Amazon UK here.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

BEST OF CRIME with Alison Joseph

Welcome to a new feature on my blog called BEST OF CRIME, looking at crime writers' top picks, from their favourite author and fictional detective to their best writing tip. 

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


to share her BEST OF CRIME... 

Credit: Hugo Glendinning

I absolutely love crime fiction, and I love seeing what my fellow writers do with the infinite possibilities of telling a story about killing. I’d say Val McDermid, Stella Duffy, and John Harvey are amongst my favourites.  But I’ll go for Walter Mosley. He pushes at the boundaries of possibility in the genre, whilst absolutely owning it. His books are page-turning stories, with emotional truth and great poetry.

Odd Man Out. Made in 1947, it’s a nail-biting thriller and a very dark tale, but with a huge heart and a fantastically talented cast too.

The Missing. I got fed up with compulsively watchable TV series where the final ending was unbelievable – where the story was so ramped up that the denouement couldn’t possibly measure up.  But the Missing I’ve stuck with loyally and been rewarded.  The acting, the story structure, and the world it inhabits – all believable and extremely well written.

This is a difficult one. Most killers, as any police officer will tell you, kill for very straightforward reasons. So there’s already a challenge in making a killer believable.  Agatha Christie, for all her unlikely puzzle-based plotting, makes it so that when the murderer is unmasked, it all somehow makes sense.  

Simenon’s Maigret, for being the still silent centre of the story. 

It’s amazing how much time we perfectly ordinary crime writers go about our daily lives thinking about ways of killing people. Most of my characters grab the nearest weapon, as we all would. Wouldn’t we?  But I do like the (spoiler alert) bellrope snake in Conan Doyle’s Holmes story, The Speckled Band.

Killer Women.  I know I’m a member, but Killer Women is just the most fab group of women crime writers and I’m proud to spread the word.

I’ve had the privilege of teaching on various creative writing courses over the years, and what I’ve learnt is that there isn’t a ‘right’ way of writing a crime story.  Of course the structure is extremely important, and I do tend to work on that before I do the actual writing of the novel. I think it’s like a game of patience, or solitaire – the whole plot can be happily unfolding and I can be feeling very clever, and then suddenly it’s quite clear that it doesn’t make sense, that my murderer’s motivation is completely unbelievable and stupid, and it’s like a key card is stuck under the heap and I have to start again.
But the heart of the story, the truth of the characters – I don’t really know where that comes from. I think acting and writing are very connected,  that there is some kind of being someone else that happens when I’m working on a character.

About Alison Joseph
Alison Joseph is a crime writer and radio playwright, former Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association, and founding member of Killer Women. As well as her Agatha Christies series, she is the author of the series of crime novels featuring detective nun Sister Agnes. Agnes is contemporary, based in South London where she works in a hostel for the homeless. She has appeared in seven novels and on BBC Radio 4. Other credits include the standalone crime novel Dying to Know, set in the world of particle physics. It features Detective Inspector Berenice Killick, who has also appeared in a short story The Day of the Dead, part of the Killer Women anthology of 2016.

Alison has written about twenty radio dramas, including adaptations of the Maigret novels by Georges Simenon.  She was born in North London, where she still lives.

Death in Disguise is the third in a series featuring (a fictional) Agatha Christie as the detective. This one is set in 1928, and takes place in the world of London variety theatre. The other two in the series are Murder Will Out and Hidden Sins.

Find Alison Joseph on Twitter - @AlisonJoseph1

About Death in Disguise

Publisher's description
Some people want to be fooled…

1920s, London

Agatha Christie, the famous detective writer, is struggling to come to terms with her divorce. So much so that she can barely bring herself to say the word.

To add to her despondency, she can’t shake off the cutting words of a recent critic… utterly unlikely… a plot like clockwork…

Her friends rally around and encourage her to get out of the house, meet up with friends, go to the theatre…

Reluctantly, she attends a variety show with an old friend, and following a dramatic and violent turn of events at the theatre, discovers that life can, and does in fact, imitate art.

Perhaps she can find a new style…

Her musings lead her to her own investigations to uncover the truth behind the ‘facts’, and in doing so, she must face her own demons.

Death in Disguise is published by Endeavour Press. It's already available in e-book and is being published in paperback in March 2017.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Dead Simple - Quick Reads

Dead Simple
(one of 6 Galaxy Quick Reads books for 2017)
Published by Orion Books (2 February 2017)
ISBN: 978-1409169123

Publisher's description
A woman reports a crime to the police, with unexpected results
The grieving widow who finds that she's about to lose more than just her husband
When a man attempts the perfect murder, it's not quite as easy as he thinks
Two men in prison play a deadly game of Scrabble
A young woman tries to trick an old man and gets more than she bargained for
Sometimes crimes are solved in ways you can't explain
A murderer about to be hanged finds that's not the worst thing that can happen
You never know who's going to turn up at your door

Original stories from Mark Billingham, Clare Mackintosh, James Oswald, Jane Casey, Angela Marsons, Harry Bingham, Antonia Hodgson and CL Taylor - specially written for Quick Reads.

My verdict
Quick Reads are an ideal purchase if you love reading but struggle to fit it into your day. And Dead Simple is the perfect choice if you're a fan of crime fiction and psychological thrillers.

Not only is the book itself small, but there are eight fantastic short stories inside, so you can dip in and out of the book to suit your reading time. I loved these twisty tales - all are unique and there's something to appeal to everyone.

Dead Simple is also a great introduction to six top crime writers and certainly left me wanting to check out their novels. It's good fun, with plenty of darkness and humour. And it only costs you £1!!!

About Galaxy Quick Reads
The Reading Agency's six new Galaxy® Quick Reads titles are specifically designed to be easy to read, and are shorter and easier to tackle for adults who are less confident in their reading skills. The accessible, bite-size format means they’re also perfect for people who want a light, easy read to pick up for their commute or to fit into a busy day.

According to the National Literary Trust in 2012, one in six adults in the UK struggles with reading, while one in three doesn't read for pleasure. Sponsored by Galaxy® and run by The Reading Agency, the annual Quick Reads campaign aims to inspire more people to read more often by producing six short books each year, made available for just £1 from most major booksellers or loaned from libraries. 

For more information on Quick Reads and this year's books, visit here. And follow Quick Reads of Twitter - @Quick_Reads