Made in Hull

I was made in Hull; I even lived in the city for a while. It was in fact the first place I lived, if only for six months, when my young parents rented a flat off Pearson Park. Apparently, I loved being pushed up and down the pathways in my pram, likely even then planning my next story.

Then we emigrated; we made the arduous journey to the West Hull Villages, where I’m one of those accepted outsiders, a child of the city who abandoned it for the suburbs, for Cottingham then Hessle, loyal but distant. I live now in the shadow of the Humber Bridge – if ‘in the shadow’ means that I can see the top of the north tower from my bedroom window.

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I was made in Hull but here, on her outskirts, I’ve lived in some of the area’s most notable buildings. When my mother got divorced we resided briefly upstairs at Hessle Mount. The 200-year-old mansion became a school in April 1979 and my mum taught there. My siblings and I loved the weekend when we could explore the classrooms, play in the surrounding woodland, and fool around on the old piano in the buildings behind. At night, I scared my younger sisters to death, sharing stories of the infamous Jenny Brough whose suicide by hanging from a tree apparently gave the street nearby its name. I’ve always been a secretly dark storyteller…

After that we moved to The Cliff on Hessle Foreshore. Once the home of a sailor – sea people form a lot of my history, often in these surprising ways – the mansion was a place for ‘needy’ families in the late 1970s. We had an upstairs flat for the winter of 1979. It was damp and bitterly cold, but kids never care about that. We loved playing on the muddy foreshore, climbing the nearby trees, and (again) making up ghost stories. I can still hear the eerie foghorn on the river. This house inspired Tower Rise in The Mountain in my Shoe.

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TOP LEFT – The Cliff circa 1979    TOP RIGHT – The Cliff as a new house   BELOW – Hessle Foreshore

In 1981, my two sisters and I temporarily stayed at another local landmark. Hesslewood House was one of the grandest mansions in Hessle back in 1823, another place facing the turbulent River Humber. In 1921, it became Hull Seaman’s and General Orphanage; we were taken in when my mother was ill. I remember tall ceilings, a long dining hall, an empty swimming pool overgrown with weeds, and a cupboard full of broken toys.

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I was made in Hull; I’ve lived in some of her most beautiful buildings. And I’ve always stayed close to the water. My favourite places to walk are the foreshore – from what was once the Ferry Boat Inn to the Country Park – and along Hull Marina. Much of The Mountain in my Shoe was set here – young Conor falls from the pier steps, makes a call from one of our infamous cream phone boxes, and stops for the toilet in the Minerva pub.

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My own son Conor stands where The Mountain in my Shoe Conor fell. Also, the pier, the Minerva Pub, and our infamous Hull phone box.

I was made in Hull; and so were my paternal ancestors. Though they too dwelled mainly in the West Hull Villages, my grandad, Colin Armitage, began his fated journey on the SS Lulworth Hill from Hull Docks. Like many men of the sea – and of Hull – he came back, no matter where he went, or what great places he saw. This was home. Sadly, some of his shipmates never saw it again. I honoured his ordeal – and his companions – in my debut novel, How to be Brave.

I was made in Hull; and so were my husband and children. I met Joe while we were at Riley College, our relationship cemented at Spiders nightclub, a place I frequented through my late teens and twenties.

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I was made in Hull; we all were in 2007, when the floods hit. Though our city featured the least on the national news programmes that rainy June, we came together. We helped one another carry TVs upstairs, we shared bricks on which we raised our furniture out of the water, we bragged when we got the much-wanted dry certificate and repairs could begin on our homes. It was an extra tough time for us – our daughter Katy was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes three weeks after. My next novel, Maria in the Moon, was inspired by those times, and written to a backdrop of hammering and building work.

I was made in Hull; all my stories come from here, because I do. Even if they are set elsewhere, my themes pulse with gritty Yorkshire honesty, my voice is character-led, and my words won’t do as they’re told.

The Light Room

This mother wears a flower corsage pinned upside-down on her lapel – as though it’s saying goodbye to the gentle spring just passed – and she asks me if her daughter’s nose can be chiselled into something less monstrous. I tuck a wayward curl behind my ear and explain gently, without insult, that only shadow and shade are alterable, not size or shape.

“But all I can see in these pictures is nose, nose, nose.” This latest mother prods my computer screen like her finger is a wand that might undo the ugly and change her frog offspring into the desired princess. “You must make it right.  Isn’t that what you’re here for, dear?”

My screen bears the smudged mark of so many wands, its plastic a window onto a waiting world of wishes. I’m tired of asking the mothers not to keep touching it, but fear I’ll usher her from the shop if she does again. “Please, don’t-”

“There simply must be a way you can erase this unsightly bump – and how about the black lines under her eyes. Goodness, she looks like she’s in a Rolling Stones video, not getting married!”

“Lines we can smooth out,” I say, as soft as the white petal that falls from her corsage and lands by the counter. It settles there, a creamy O on our red tile floor.

“Can you? Oh, you’re just wonderful, dear. There’s hope after all.”

I endure so many mothers; they come in all guises, parade the shop floor like I’m to pick one over the other in some pageant; they discard sweet wrappers and leave lilac perfume in their wake. There are those who want to show off their daughters, whose eyes shine natural sunlight. There are those who want to change them, whose eyes narrow like November evenings. There are those who want them to be everything they never were but instead they say, well, she’s so wilful.

I’m the magician. I’m the airbrusher; more powerful than a photographer or dress fitter or lie. I enhance any image provided. With my brush strokes I improve every bride, smooth out dress creases a cramped car caused, whiten teeth an indulged childhood turned yellow, correct flaws, hide blemishes. I’m spring to their winter flaws.

“I went to One Click on the High Street and they wanted to charge me three hundred pounds.” The corsage-wearing mother flushes red and paces, her tick-tacking heels punctuating each word with an exclamation mark.  Her lost petal lies still. “My daughter’s nose needs help, but quite. Now, I want the weather changing too – can you do that?”

I nod and look – not for the first time – at the photograph, at the rain-bloated clouds and budding branches behind this imperfect bride and her new husband. Her mouth is the loveliest I’ve seen; kind of wonky, shy, closed. She hides her teeth, keeps her lips close together like two hands joined, praying, like she knows she’ll later be analysed and is asking please for acceptance. But her eyes, they smile; they light up as if they have a choice.

“We can add sunshine,” I tell the mother, always reluctant to mess with what is. “Blue sky, an archway, full moon, flower garlands. How would you like it to be?”

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The mother’s phone rings and she rummages in her bag for it. She cries out her conversation as though advertising our service – But they can improve you! Yes, really, dear! You need not have held your breath or clamped your mouth shut like you were doing long division in your head! You’re going to look divine, perfect! Really, they can make you that way!

“I think I’ll have to come back in a while,” she says then, to me. “I need to discuss with my obstinate daughter what’s to be done. She can’t see the need to airbrush. She actually likes the pictures, she says. She actually thinks I’ll hang her wedding pictures on my wall like that.”

My computer screen is once more prodded before I can react. On her way out, the mother picks up one of our leaflets (At Fantasy Fauxtograph we can transform your Magical Day into something really Memorable!) and the bell above the door – quaint compared with the minimalist décor – tinkles her departure like a wedding supper announcement. The white petal lifts and dances in the doorway’s breeze.

It’s time to make spring. But my hands turn cold.

I wish I could develop the images of this bride how they are. True. Leave her smile as wonky as a row of white towels on a line. I save the photographs, untouched. I’ll come back to them later. For now, I go into the dark room.

Fantasy Fauxtograph is the only place in town that has one. Digital photography has rendered them frequently unused but some dedicated artists still request we develop their images the old way, and so it remains. I prefer it. I love letting images develop as they will, no intervention, only time in charge. I love the smell of fixer, the tickle of chemicals on my skin, the soft slosh of liquid; the otherwise quiet.

With the corsage-wearing mother gone, and my boss out for a few hours, I go to this dark place. Prints are waiting to be developed so I turn on the safelight. Its amber glow warms my mood. Black and white papers are ruined by blue and green light. Colour paper however, being sensitive to all parts of the visible spectrum, must be kept in complete darkness until it’s properly fixed. These prints are black and white. After doing a test strip to ascertain the exposure time I immerse one of the papers in the developer and watch it sink.

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I wait.

The image emerges, centre first, its heart.

I wait.

Black spreads like spilt tea, darker in parts, lighter in others.

I wait.

Faces appear, smiles, laugh lines, wind-blown hair, freckles; reality.

I wait.

The pictures are of children – three – and they’re clearly the customer’s own; a photographer cannot hide love of his subject. The children jump and he captures them forever in the air, weightless, flying. A girl – whose abundance of freckles suggests that despite the monochrome she must be a redhead – dances around a tree. Blossom falls like confetti. Another girl, younger, looks over her shoulder at the photographer, flirting with him. A third – clearly the oldest – waits by the bark, unsure, her hands at her mouth, hiding any expression.

We were three, I remember.

And I remember waiting; waiting for our mother.

It was spring. At Granny’s window, we didn’t know what car to look for, not even the colour, so each one that rounded the street corner was a possibility. Granny called from the kitchen –Don’t touch the glass! Don’t mark the glass! My little sister Jenny’s fingers had already left their impression and Baby Paul would soon add his. Mine never touched, not anything. I stood away from the window, away from the scene, from them. I knew. I don’t know how. I was only nine. No one told me.

I hated knowing.

When it came, the car was yellow, like hope. Our mother was with a social worker – time has since given her this title but back then she was just a lady in a smart coat. A lady who brought our mother from the hospital. Time has also given this place a name – Rowan Lawns, Mental Health Unit. Time airbrushes. The mind tries to resist, to listen only to the heart, but memories are coloured by all that has passed since, shaded by the all the versions given.

My memory cannot find Granny – I don’t know where she was when our mother stood in the hallway, hiding her teeth, keeping her lips close together like two hands joined, praying, like she knows she’ll later be analysed and is asking please for acceptance. We hadn’t seen her in eight months. Little Jenny wrapped chubby arms around her leg and Baby Paul raised his open, wiggly hands, asking to be picked up. She seemed not to know how to respond.

Outside, blossom fell.

In the living room, she perched on the rocking chair and smiled at the flood of questions. Have you brought my Barbie doll? Why have you been gone so long? Do you still love us? Can we go to Scarborough? How long are you staying? I didn’t ask; I knew. The social worker disappeared into the part of my mind where Granny was and I never saw her again. Our mother’s teacup never left the saucer. The gold clock on the mantelpiece next to Jesus accelerated, I’m sure, an hour, two, three, each time I looked at it.

And then we were in the hallway again, and Granny came out of the dark, to help me. Our mother was leaving. I had known. Little Jenny clung to her leg, desperate now, not elated, not hopeful, but knowing too. Baby Paul’s fingers opened and closed, like an imitation of ambulance lights. On the bronze table in the living room her tea grew cold. We would later play cookery when she’d gone, pouring the cold liquid back and forth between cup and beaker. Granny would call from the kitchen – Don’t mess the table!  Don’t mark the carpet!

In the dark room, I always find light. The customer’s pictures are born now, pure, untouched. I should have told them; I should have told Little Jenny and Baby Paul that I knew our mother wasn’t staying, that she hadn’t come to get us. I’m their memory now. I tell them things I remember, give them their history, but I’ve to be careful not to shade these moments with my own guilt. I must let their flashes colour it also.

I peg the images of the three children on the line to dry and return to the shop.

The white petal has settled in the middle of the floor, a blank paper, awaiting image. I know what I must do. The bell heralds the return of the corsage-wearing mother; the petal dies under her laced boot. Her remaining flower is squashed against a pile of boxes, two of which she puts carefully on the counter near my screen.

“I brought you some wedding cake, dear,” she says, removing one of her white gloves. “A piece for you and a piece for the other young man who helps you. Yours is the one with half of an iced shoe on it – I thought you’d like that.”

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I shake my head, but can’t find any words.

“Now, dear.” She removes the other glove and places it atop the cake boxes. “I read your leaflet while I waited for my hair appointment and it says that you can remove people from pictures. People! You can make them disappear, like they never were there.”

From the place in my mind where Granny hid I find – No, I can’t.

“You can. It says here – look.” The mother opens our leaflet, waves her red-nailed wand at the words, the promise. “Now, in seven of the wedding pictures there’s my husband’s mother, and I want her out. Really, she should never have been invited after what happened, but I won’t go into that, not here, now’s not the time. I want you to do whatever it is that you do and remove her.”

“I won’t,” I say softly.

“But it’s what you do, dear. You’re a Fantasy Fauxtographer!”

I click open an image of her daughter – one where she’s closing her eyes to the blast of rainbow confetti, her fingers trapped in the froth of veil. “This picture is beautiful,” I say. “In its lopsidedness and in the slightly-stained sash and in the grey light of rain, it’s beautiful. I won’t touch it. Don’t you see? You’re changing the memory before you’ve even had time to let the moment pass and become one.”

“I’m making it perfect, dear.” The mother looks at me, disbelieving of my daughter-like wilfulness when I’ve no right. I’m not her child but I speak for the bride who is, for all of the daughters.

“I’m not going to change the picture,” I say.

“I’ll go to One Click, you know,” she snaps. “They’ll take my bloody mother-in-law out of the picture. They’ll trim my husband’s nasal hair.” She pauses, looks at the boxes, and then back at me. My expression must cement my words. Taking her gloves and putting them back on she says, “Oh, keep the darned cake anyway.”

The bell tinkles her second departure. The petal is gone too. I think I’d known she’d come back; I have a sense of these things. But I know she’ll not return now, that she’ll find what she wants at another place.

The mothers have come and they’ve asked me to give them the daughters they always wanted; they thought I could take away the times they’d argued over boyfriends and the times they’d called each other names and then didn’t speak for months. They said – with tears in their eyes – that I must clean all that had been sullied, bring back the seven-year-old girl who’d loved without condition, conjure up the ten-year-old who’d kissed upon request.

But I can’t.

I already have a mother – one – and that’s enough; and she’s imperfect and flawed and real and she’s hurt me, but, somehow, I still love her.

Writing – The Fantasy versus The Reality

The other day, I shared on social media a scrappily-put-together meme of the me I like to think I am when I write… and the truth. My publisher, Karen Sullivan, was rather tickled, and we invited other writers to do the same. And what delights were revealed in the wake of my honesty. Want to see them? Of course you do.

So here’s my #RealWritingFace…

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The beautiful Claire King – author of The Night Rainbow and Everything Love Is – shared hers. I find this warm and comforting. I also want to get spectacles.

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And then Mr John Marrs – author of Welcome to Wherever You Are and The One – pinged me this beauty. I recognise the hunk at the bottom, but not sure who that nobody at the top is…

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Amanda Prowse – author of way to many novels to list here, my favourite being Three And a Half Heartbeats – sent me her own treat. She and Claire King have the same fantasy. They should get together. Could be fun.

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Craig Lancaster – author of the 600 Hours of Edward series – is quite a dandy. I reckon I need me a quilted jacket with gold trim…

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Gill Paul – author of The Secret Wife and Women and Children First – fantasises about writing in a tidy, calm and orderly environment. Her real life is another matter. Nice bottom though. Have to admit that kind of derriere is definitely my fantasy.

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David VideoCassette… sorry, David Videcette – author of The Theseus Paradox – adores writing. See how he needs no encouragement. See how happy he is at his desk.

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Cassandra Parkin – author of The Beach Hut and Lily’s House – cheated a little. Her writing face is way too pretty. Boooo! Nice ‘almost going to cry at this writing malarky’ eyebrows though.

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Louisa Treger – author of The Lodger – is Wonder Woman. At least she feels that way. So do I. Then I tighten my dressing gown, scratch my Brian May hair, and get on with real life…

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Kate Furnival – she of The Liberation and White Pearl fame – is a creator of fiction in more ways than one. She tells guests she writes in a place at home that she doesn’t! Never in my life! Writers are such fibbers!

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Hemmie Martin – author of What Happens After – also dreams of a trendy and minimalist writing space. Then she falls asleep in her chair…

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Pete Domican apparently doesn’t turn the heating on. Me neither, Pete. I like to write as though I’m in 1800s Russia…

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And Matt Wesolowski – author of Six Stories – has 1980s Stephen King-esque fantasies of creating his literature. The truth? Definitely more 2017…

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And the gorgeous Lizzie Lamb simply sent me her #RealWritingFace… and it’s lovely.

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It’s A No…

Recently, I’ve been watching Dave Gorman’s Modern Life is Goodish each night in bed, while attempting to switch off from all the writing and editing and reading and promoting and thinking of something new to have for tea. He offers a look at life that is interesting enough to stimulate, and light-hearted and bite-sized enough to let me unwind. He argues, via PowerPoint presentations, that life isn’t bad or good, but goodish. He has a nice beard too.

I particularly like the Found Poem segment. In this, Dave finds the most random comments that have been left on various websites (in response to some bizarre current topic) and fashions them into a poem. He then reads said Found Poem aloud, accompanied by the Billroth String Quartet, as though reciting TS Eliot. They have included such masterpieces as Not a Very Nice Biscuit, Badgers Don’t Vote, Spray Gravy, and I Like Eggs.

I don’t always understand poetry. It scares me a little bit. And so it occurs to me every single time I watch that this is my kind of poetry. Real. Surreal. Funny but somehow serious. Silly and beautiful. Accessible and relatable. Dave takes life and makes it into… well, art. Such has been the popularity of it, there is available a thin volume of his works.

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Which you can apparently purchase here… Dave Gorman Shop

Being a writer, I felt I wanted to have a go. To take the comments actual people had made, somewhere, and turn them into something bigger. But which comments? Whose comments? I had a piece to write for a wonderful gig I take part in every month at Kardomah in Hull, the Women of Words  event. I realised the Found Poem was made to be read aloud; perfect in its multi-voice format for sharing verbally. My writing is usually part of a large thing – the novel – so not always ideal for a five minute slot.

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The many performers at Women of Words, Kardomah, Hull

And then I knew which comments I would use for my Found Poem. Negative ones. The 1 and 2 star reviews my novels have received on Goodreads, Amazon, and other places. The critical words that tore apart my books, the opinions that reviewers were fully entitled to have, but that naturally sting a bit. Why not make it into art? So I did. I had a blast too.

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I read it aloud at Women of Words, to much laughter and encouragement. People came up to me afterwards, said it was the best way to deal with criticism, and they were inspired to keep going with their writing. But criticism is not the hardest thing to cope with as a writer – rejection is. And so – on a passionate wave of creation – I wrote my second Found Poem, using lines from the many, many rejections I had for my novels and short stories. I took eight years and probably a thousand rejections, and turned them into something glorious. Thank you Dave Gorman, for your fantastic beard and your genius idea. This is, It’s A No.

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What’s Next?

My heart is usually most invested in, and captured by, my current work in progress, or my WIP as we creatives call it for short. I live in the world that I’ve created; peer out through my characters’ eyes; get lost in those words.

Currently I’m dividing my time between two such worlds. I’m editing book three, Maria in the Moon, which will be out in September this year. For this I am back in 2007, during the Hull floods, and I’m Catherine, a woman on a journey into her own forgotten past. I’m also writing book four, The Lion Tamer Who Lost, a tragic love story set in Zimbabwe and England.

When I read a book I love, I immediately wonder of the author, ‘What’s next?’ And so I thought that perhaps if I shared mine, so to speak, a few of my favourite writers might share theirs. I’m excited (and a little nervous) to reveal brief extracts from the two novels I’m working on. And then no less than seventeen other award-winning, bestselling, and richly talented writers will share theirs exclusively here.

Maria in the Moon

My mother never told me I was beautiful. 

But she told me she was. Heads turned, she said. Boys wanted to be near her, girls wanted to know her, she said. So, when I was very small I’d look at my mother as though I had a mirror in my hand. I’d pretend her face was mine, that my eyes weren’t ice blue but chocolaty brown, and my skin wasn’t white but olive, and my bluntly-cut hair flowed like her silky mane. The pictures of my real mum were too faded and out-of-focus to mimic. Though dad brought her to life for me during our chats, I could not follow her, watch her, try and be her.

The Lion Tamer Who Lost

While Andrew slept, when his breathing evened and the movement behind his eyes ceased, Ben stroked his hair. He wondered what the odds were of finding a man exactly like Andrew, with hands that arched at the thumb like his did, with two fleshy mounds that pressed against his when he held him down, with one freckle nearer his left nipple than his right as though marking the spot for his heart, who believed in wishes and words and made-up games. 

            Zero. The odds were zero.

 

And now enjoy a host of other writers…

 

Kate Furnivall

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My current WIP is THE BETRAYAL and will be published in November 2017 by Simon & Schuster. Here’s the blurb; Could you kill someone? Someone you love? It’s Paris 1938. The story of twin sisters divided by fierce loyalties and by a terrible secret. The drums of war are beating and France is poised, ready to fall. One sister is an aviatrix, the other is a socialite and they both have something to prove and something to hide. A story of love, danger, courage …. and betrayal.

And this is the opening…

There is blood on my hands.

     I am not speaking figuratively, you understand. Literally. Under my nails. Embedded in the soft valleys between my fingers. Strings of scarlet, glossier than paint, are dripping from me on to the Persian rug, ruining it. I stare at them bewildered. My mind jams.

    Where has it come from?

A little more…

     I lift my head and instantly hear a loud thumping sound deep inside my ears, like a drum beaten in an empty room.

     Lift my head?

     Why am I lying on the floor? I sit up, heart racing, and wait for the room to stop dancing, while I struggle to remember what happened. But a black hole lies where my memory should be. I shake my head but when I look again the black hole is still there. Bigger this time. Darker. An inky pool with a sheen skimming its surface and I feel panic uncoil inside me.

 

Vanessa Lafaye

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‘At First Light’ is published by Orion on 1 June 2017.

In the garden, she fills her lungs with the lush greenness, and pictures the last time she saw the gun in his hand. He held it naturally, the way a soldier does, the strong lines of his fingers wound in a beautiful curve round the walnut grip. She removes the Colt from the box and imagines it still bears traces of his fingerprints, maybe even the smell of his hair oil. But there is no time for such nostalgic self-indulgence. The gun sinks easily into her pocketbook. The weight of it is solid, insistent. It has lain in its box, wrapped and oiled, for seventy years, waiting for this day, this day which she feared, and hoped would never come.

 

Russ Litten

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This year I will be releasing a collection of short stories entitled “We Know What We Are”. All the stories are set in Hull during 2017. Here is a short extract from a story called “A Circus Poster On A Chinese Wall”.

Me Dad’s having chicken balls. Uncle Terry wants that beef thing that he likes, beef with black bean sauce. Me Mam says she’s not bothered.

   – Number seventy-three with fried rice not boiled and a carton of curry sauce. Number fifty-eight with chips. And a bag of prawn crackers, please. 

   Terry says I can have what I want with the change. He means curry and chips or summat. But I’m not eating any more Chinky, bollocks to that. I’m proper sick of it. One pound eighty four change. That’s going straight in my pocket, that is. There’s three people waiting for their orders in front of me, a woman and two blokes. I go and sit down near the window. It’s all steamed up. I write H.C.A.F.C and JASE in big dripping letters. 

 

Steph Broadribb

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I’m currently working on the second book in the Lori Anderson series (Orenda Books) – DEEP BLUE TROUBLE. The book picks up a couple of weeks after DEEP DOWN DEAD ends. Here’s a bit from the current draft that (hopefully) doesn’t give too much away…

No good ever came from dreaming on a man. Thing is, I’d let myself get caught up in the moment. Let myself think on the possibility of some kind of happy ever after. I knew it was fantasy; some bullshit pedalled by hopeless romantics and greeting card sellers. The best I could hope for was guaranteeing a straight plain after for JT, and so safeguarding one for Dakota.

Coffee can be a cure for many things, but it couldn’t change the distance between us. When you’re that many states apart, moping and wishing on things being different are pretty much a waste of time, and I didn’t have the time to go wasting. The only thing that could get me back to Florida, and JT out of danger, was for me to finish the job

 

Claire Fuller

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Swimming Lessons, published by Fig Tree / Penguin on 26th January, is the story of Ingrid, who writes letters to her husband and then disappears from a Dorset beach, and her daughter, Flora who wants answers to what happened to her mother.

As Flora is driving home in the dark it starts raining fish…:

The wind in the pines was a roar, and the rain slammed against the road. Without stepping down, she saw on the slick black tarmac a fish lying on its side with its mouth open. It was the size of her palm and a silvery-blue iridescence shone off it. She stuck her left foot out to flip the thing over, and even in the rain she saw that the underside was lacerated, crushed when it had hit the ground. Shielding her eyes, Flora looked in the direction of the fading headlights: hundreds of the creatures lay across the road, a handful flapping feebly. They may have been baby mackerel. 

 

Jane Isaac

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 The Lies Within sees the return of Detective Inspector Will Jackman to unravel a story of deception, family secrets and the ultimate betrayal.

There’s something sinister about lies. They curl and fold, tie themselves around in knots so that in the end they become a tangled ball of wool and you can’t find the end. Grace had wanted to tell someone, all those years ago. But how could she? Her mother had trusted her, given her the taxi fare herself. She wasn’t sure how she’d made it home that night. Vague memories of scrabbling around for her shoes on the concrete slipped in and out of the shadows of her mind. 

 

Craig Lancaster

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Here’s a paragraph from my WIP, something I’m tentatively calling THE WHOLE LOVE. I don’t know much about it yet, except that a few forty-something guys are trying to navigate divorce together, with an emphasis on one guy:

So now I’m up, staring into my one-room abyss, and thinking about…well, all of it, I guess, as cliched as that has to sound. It’s just a lot to take in, a lot to sort out, and I’m just too damned tired of the preamble to get past the surface of the thing. In those early years after we’d both moved back here, we were like a seventies movie, Jenny and Carl and Matt and Rachel. Later on, we were less so; Matt and Rachel started having little cabbages, and their closer friends—at least the kind you do stuff with—became the parents of their kids’ friends. It was perfectly natural and just as well. Jenny and I, we never wanted kids. Or, I should say, we never talked about having kids, so the default position was that we didn’t want them. That binary quality—if it’s not yes, it’s no—made sense at the time. Now? Well, now everything is open to debate and conjecture, even within the body of a single person. Me.

JULEP STREET is coming out May 9th. Carson McCullough has given his career to a singular pursuit—putting out a small daily newspaper that keeps his employees engaged and his hometown informed. But as time and technology conspire against him, Carson’s Argus-Dispatch is shuttered by an owner with a different view of its future.

Stung by the abrupt end of his career and burdened by regret and grudges, Carson and his one true companion, a yellow Lab named Hector, set out on a road trip. As the miles pile up and Carson erratically drives into the residue of past decisions and the consequences of current actions, he confronts questions of love, faith, self-worth, and, perhaps most pressing, whether he can redefine himself after his identity is stripped away.

In his seventh novel, Craig Lancaster (600 Hours of Edward, The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter) returns to the broad themes of his award-winning work and goes deeper yet, straight into the heart and mind of a good man who has lost his way and is struggling against himself to set things right.

 

Cassandra Parkin

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Five years ago, Susannah Harper’s son Joel went missing without trace. Bereft of her son and then of her husband, Susannah tries to accept that she may never know for certain what has happened to her lost child. She has rebuilt her life around a simple selfless mission: to help others who, like her, must learn to live without hope.

But on the last night of Hull Fair, a fortune-teller makes an eerie prediction. She tells her that this Christmas Eve, Joel will finally come back to her.

As her carefully-constructed life begins to unravel, Susannah is drawn into a world of psychics and charlatans, half-truths and hauntings, friendships and betrayals, forcing her to confront the buried truths of her family’s past, where nothing and no one are quite as they seem.

The Winter’s Child will be published by Legend Press on 15th September 2017 and it’s available to pre-order on Amazon now:

In the warm cigarette dimness of the caravan, the Roma woman’s eyes are shrewd and bright. 

            “You’ve lost someone,” she says.

            We gaze watchfully at each other across a table of polished glass, etched with a cornucopia of flowers. Its bevelled edge is sharp to the sight but not to the touch. I’d imagined the inside of a traditional vardo, painted wood and bright patchworks, but instead I’m surrounded by glass and china and crystal, intermittently set ablaze by the lights of the carriages that dip and wheel above our heads. The cabinet behind my opponent is filled with china girls with arms like ballerinas, waists no wider than their necks and frothing, intricate skirts. Do all showmen live in this impossible delicate luxury? How do they take their homes from place to place without breakages? 

The fortune-teller is looking right into my eyes, watching and waiting for a tell. I force myself to sit cool and blank, trying not to be distracted by the fragments of my reflection – blonde hair, blue eyes, slim figure – that appear, startlingly distorted and inverted, in the million reflective surfaces of the caravan. 

If my sister Melanie finds out what I’ve been doing, she’ll be furious. I’m supposed to have given this game up years ago. I shouldn’t be here. 

 

Louisa Treger

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This is a first draft, and I’m not yet sure what it might be. It’s set in the 1920s, when it was shocking for a woman to be tattooed.

The first he saw the snake tattoo – he came out of the bathroom on their first morning and found her smoking in bed with the sheets flung off – he was shocked, revolted. The creature coiled up the entire length of her leg, its heavy lines stark against her creamy skin. It was like a deformity.

  “Snakes mean wisdom,” she said coolly, noting the expression on his face.  

  When he didn’t reply, she said, “I suppose you’re wondering why I had it done?”

  He nodded and sat down on the edge of the bed, waiting for her to speak. Ginie’s hair was tumbled on the pillow, smelling of smoke and a perfume that was as haunting and unsettling as jazz music.

 

Ruth Dugdall

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My next book, My Sister and Other Liars, is released on May 1st, and already available for pre-order on Amazon. Here’s the blurb:

New Year’s Eve. Samantha Hoollihan is dying. She lives on a hospital ward and is in the advanced stages of anorexia, like her fellow sufferers, she thinks of `Ana Unit` as her best friend. She just wants to forget and disappear. But oblivion is not what Clive, the hospital director, has in mind. He has decided on an unusual form of therapy: Sam must talk for a set time, or she will be force-fed through a naso-gastric tube. It is a brutal tactic, and Sam’s last chance for survival. 

If only she wanted that. 

But something changes. Sam’s mother dies and her personal effects are brought to the hospital, including a chocolate box full of photos. Clive gives Sam the box, and asks her to talk about a photo. Or be force-fed. She has to choose.

 

David Ross

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So, here’s the thing. Here’s how it all started…

 It’s the year punk rock was born, Concorde entered commercial service and a wee Romanian gymnast changed her sport forever. Archie Blunt is a man with big ideas. A bizarre brush with the entertainment business – he ‘saves’ the life of the UK’s top showbiz star Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks – has left him with dreams of hitting the big-time as a Popular Music Impresario. Seizing the initiative, he creates a new singing group from five unruly working-class kids from Glasgow’s East End.

 Fast forward almost 40 years and a man sits in a parked car staring out at the calm water of the Firth of Clyde. A home-made CD of songs is playing on repeat, an essay written about the actress Julie Christie 30 years earlier is in his hand, and the body of a controversial Glaswegian politician – who’s been missing for two weeks – is in the boot.

 Back to the mid-70s; Shettleston – a district in the East End of Glasgow – had no private detectives. Despite high and increasing levels of local criminality, adultery and missing persons no-one had considered this a viable occupation for middle-aged weegie bampots armed only with a camera and a degree from the University of Life. No-one, that is, until … Robert McAdam Souness.

 A week. A confession. A generation. All three strands are connected; by people, by accidents of time but most of all by the city. The city of wee men and big windaes. 

This is … A GLASWEGIAN RHAPSODY.

 

Beth Miller

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Here’s the opening paragraph of my work-in-progress, which has the working title of ‘The Re-Education of Hana Bresler.’

I got engaged on my wedding day.

I know what you’re thinking – rather late for the engagement, yes? But what I mean is that I got engaged to one man – let’s call him Man A – on the same day that I was supposed to marry a different man – Man B. It sounds like the start of a Jewish joke. But at the time, no-one felt much like laughing.

Leah was fascinated by the Man A/Man B story when she was little. She still is fascinated, if last night was anything to go by. Or maybe horrified is more accurate. Anyway, I don’t want to think about last night. I don’t want to think about Leah’s face as she stood in the doorway, the black eyeliner she favours making her seem even less childlike, looking at me with that cool, clear way of hers. I prefer to think about Leah when she was little, and I could do no wrong in her eyes. Not now, when she is fourteen, and angry, and missing since early this morning.

 

David Young

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The as yet untitled Book three in my Oberleutnant Karin Müller ‘Stasi’ thriller series (due February 2018), set in 1970s East Germany. Müller finds promotion is a poisoned chalice, as she she’s thrown headlong into a murky murder inquiry on the border with Poland. When Müller discovers the unexplained deaths are linked to a scheme to get hard currency for the GDR, she puts herself in direct opposition to the Stasi — and that can only end badly.

Next Book is Stasi Wolf, pub date Feb 9th 2017.

This is a flashback scene from my new book STASI WOLF to a time when Oberleutnant Karin Müller was a five-year-old child, in her home village — the east German winter sports resort of Oberhof.

The girl spoke clearly, bravely, without fear, staring directly into the mean big chief soldier’s eyes, challenging him, matching his stern expression with one of her own. ‘My name is Karin Müller. And you are a very nasty man. I will never forgive you for taking away my best friend.’

 

Tracey Scott-Townsend

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My WIP is called The Foam of the Sea, and it’s a psychological drama about a couple who meet again after almost thirty years apart. They split up after a traumatic event comes between them, a decision Lauren never stops regretting. They meet again on a ferry to the Outer Hebrides and Lauren recognises Neil’s hand first, because of the scar on the back of it that she gave him.

The story touches on the idea of a parallel existence and explores the theme of refugees, of one kind or another.

‘Shh, now. I meant to talk to your hand only. When you have touched me, hand, at 

the end of this journey, will you then pass over a note covered in generic doctor-style 

handwriting, while people gather their coats and bags and queue in the doorways to 

leave? If you do this, what will the note you’ve written say? Will Neil’s eyes and mine 

ever look into each other at all, or will there only be written words and the memory of 

the one brief touch between us? The touch that hasn’t happened, yet. And if it does, 

will it be enough for us both to take away, along with anticipation?’

 

Nick Quantrill

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As ever, I’m working on a crime novel, but 2016 was a struggle. I’d worked on a Hull novel for 2017, but it took me a while (and a lot of wasted words) to figure out I simply didn’t know how the city was going to look or feel during its reign as UK City of Culture. So I started again, this time on a novel that takes place elsewhere in Northern England. No settled title yet, but it’s slowly building…

“I’d vowed to never go back. Not to the North, certainly not to Yorkshire. But sometimes you don’t have a choice. I stared at the unconscious man in the Intensive Care Unit, knowing I had to make a decision. The once thick head of dark hair had thinned, the goatee around his mouth new. He’d lost weight. He’d also been beaten to within an inch of his life. Decades had passed, but I’d recognised him instantly. The decision was an easy one. I was going to lie to the detective standing next to me.”

 

Kerry Fisher

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A few words from The Secrets of Second Wives, which is out on 24 Feb.

I didn’t actually need to witness the concrete evidence that everyone, possibly including my husband, was still wishing Caitlin had never died, that their lives had never had to break open and include me. No, I could think of things I’d rather do. Like sniff chilli up my nose, mistake Deep Heat for Canesten, sever a limb with a cheese wire.

 

Kerry Drewery

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So this is the very beginning from my next book DAY 7, which is the sequel to CELL 7. It’s out on 15th June with Hot Key Books.

I should be dead.

I

should

be

dead.

I feel cold air in my lungs.

I feel somebody’s hand holding mine.

I hear shouting.

 

Michael J Malone

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DOG FIGHT is out April 6th from Saraband.

‘I see you’re wearing a wedding ring,’ Ian said, looking over at Dom’s hand. ‘A bit young, aren’t you?’

‘Got her pregnant, didn’t I? First time an’all,’ he grinned, grabbed his crotch with his good hand. ‘Super sperm, me. One shot. Bang.’

‘Yeah, that was real lucky,’ said Ian with a grimace. ‘How’s that working out for you?’

Dom took a long draw on his cigarette, exhaled and screwed his eyes against the smoke. ‘Could be better. Missus can’t deal with my…’ he adopted a posh doctor speaking voice, ‘…my anger management issues. And the wean is feart to look at me. Keeps running away.’ He smiled, but it was clear from the haunted look in his eyes that this pained him more than anything. He’d bought the line: join up, fight to keep your country safe, and now to his own child, he was the bogeyman.
Here’s the blurb …

“Kenny O’Neill, a villain with a conscience, returns in a hard-hitting thriller of exploitation, corruption and criminal gangs.

When Kenny’s cousin, Ian, comes to the aid of a fellow ex-squaddie in a heap of trouble, he gets caught up in the vicious underground fight scene, where callous criminals prey on the vulnerable, damaged and homeless.

With Ian in too deep to escape, Kenny has no option other than to infiltrate the gang for the sake of his family. Kenny is an experienced MMA fighter, as tough as they come, but has he found himself in the one fight he can never win?”

Tracy Fenton – founder of TBC, book-lover, and pert-buttock-owner…

Tracy Fenton’s reputation precedes her. At the London book launch of The Mountain in my Shoe, even my husband knew who she was when I pointed her out, and he’s not an avid reader. There are probably small undiscovered tribes in remote jungles who have heard of her and TBC, Facebook’s THE Book Club. She’s also just started her own website (link at the end) devoted to all things books, authors and words.

In short, she’s one of the most passionate readers I know. She supports books and authors with a fiery dedication. She devotes a lot of her life to running TBC, a club with over 6000 members now. But what secrets lurk behind the public façade? She has agreed to let me probe her intimately. I give you, Tracy Fenton….

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For readers, tell me exactly what TBC is?

TBC is THE Book Club on Facebook. It’s a group I set up initially for passionate readers who just want to talk about books, recommend their favourite reads and be in a safe environment without fear of trolls, online bullies and ridiculous Viagra and Rayban adverts.

(What’s Viagra?) Tell us, how exactly did TBC start? What led to it, when did it happen, all the juicy gossip?

I was a very active member of another book club which in my opinion became too large and didn’t have enough admin to moderate it, so it fell victim to nastiness, self-promotions and had a really negative feel. On a whim, I decided to set up a secret group on Facebook, invite my 20 closest bookworm friends and people I knew were as passionate and serious about reading as I was and overnight the word spread – and 20 became 450. Two years on we have 6600 international members and have just over 850 authors as members too.

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Who else helps make sure TBC runs smoothly? What do they contribute, and who’s slept with who?

Helen Boyce – she is my 2nd in command and my voice of reason.  In reality she does everything and really should get much more credit for her role in TBC.  Without her, I wouldn’t be able to run the group.

Sumaira Wilson – she is the original admin and to be honest apart from supplying and drinking too much alcohol she does absolutely f*ck all.

Sharon Bairden – She is known as #SAS – she is our Scottish Author Stalker and I can’t understand a word she says and I am too frightened to say anything in case she gives me the Glasgow Kiss.

Carol Ellis – She’s our posh bird – she’s also part vampire as she doesn’t sleep and is often found roaming the corridors of TBC between midnight and 3am.

Helen Claire – She does anything (anyone) we tell her to.

Teresa Nikolic – She’s the real author stalker, constantly fangirling and gushes everywhere.

Charlie Fenton – He looks after all the admin girls.  Obviously during the initial interview process he slept with them all just to ensure their flexibility and how far they were prepared to go for TBC.  We call it the “book bed” rather than the Casting Couch.

You have a great team – and you know Charlie Fenton and I indulge in many escapades together, beyond the ‘book bed’. You’re very much a ‘take me as I am gal.’ Speak as you find. Don’t hold back. But I sense a more sensitive creature beneath, one you don’t always show. Is there more to you than meets the eye?

Of course. In real life, I am shy, quiet and keep myself to myself. I hate being the centre of attention and would much rather be in my pyjamas on the couch with a snuggly blanket watching TV and eating Galaxy Chocolate.

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So, you’re all about books. Were you an avid reader as a child? When did the love start? Why? Did something lead to it?

I’ve always read books and have been a fast reader – I don’t remember where or why the love of books came from, I remember reading Lace by Shirley Conran and crying for days, and the Flowers in the Attic trilogy and being spooked out. I even read ten books on my honeymoon which was touring in Egypt.

That’s one SEXY honeymoon! Tell us about something you love aside from books. Something that might surprise us.

Being with my family (two sons and husband) and listening to my boys laugh, or actually talk to each other instead of arguing makes me go all fuzzy.

I also have absolute NO sense of direction and get lost coming out a carpark. I can’t tell my left from my right without looking at one knee, which caused many problems in my driving test and doing a Step class at the gym.

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That’s so weird – I have to hold up my right (writing) hand to know my left from right! Do you like being in charge?

Yes, who wouldn’t?

Seriously nobody listens to me at home and my family all ignore me most of the time, so it’s nice to be able to say something on TBC and people agree or disagree but at least they listen!

Would you do a Real Housewives of TBC type show, or are you too private?

Well, if you want to bring a camera round to watch me in my pyjamas with no makeup reading a book all day long – bring it on!

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Is there a book that no one has yet written that you’d LOVE to read?

I’m not sure. There are lots of books that I know I would buy immediately if they contained certain storylines, characters or plots. There are so many incredible books that I have read and would put in my All Time Favourite list – but none of them are similar in genre or story line and it always surprises me when I read a book I don’t expect to enjoy and it blows me away.

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Make sure you visit Tracy’s Website here – she’s interviewed all kinds of writers, from Rowan Coleman to John Marrs. And she asks the questions no one dares….

Follow her on Twitter – @Tr4cyF3nt0n

And of course, if you’re really lucky, you can join TBC on Facebook….

My Top 13 Reads of 2016 (in no particular order…)

 Shtum – Jem Lester

This was a book I could not read in public. By the end I was a teary wreck. It’s brutally beautiful. Written without restraint, showing us how incredibly hard life can be with an autistic child, the gorgeous Jonah. With utterly real characters, who are flawed and yet courageous, the book is like nothing I’ve read before. An absolute must-read.

 25369192-_uy2551_ss2551_The Secret Wife – Gill Paul

For two weeks Gill Paul had my heart. After falling in love with the characters and beautiful writing in Women and Children First, I was beyond excited when I got my advance copy of The Secret Wife. This huge story spans generations, joining present day Lake Akanabee, New York State with 1914 Russia, both world wars, and much more. At its heart is the pulsating love story between Cavalry Officer Dimiti and Duchess Tatiana, who are torn apart on an infamous evening in Russian history. We learn their tale along with modern-day Kitty, who has escaped from London to a haunted, mystery-filled cabin in the US after a betrayal. To cope, she rebuilds the cabin, discovers its secrets and those of a long-gone ancestor. Gorgeously told in lyrical language, with warm, real and absorbing characters, this book is one I will read again, and therefore likely not lend to a soul. They will have buy their own. It was simply magical. At the last line, tears rolled down my cheeks.

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 Stasi Child – David Young

This was such a classy read. It pulsed with atmosphere and the characters bristled with presence, especially the very real and flawed Karin Muller. I loved the two stories. I love it when you get both sides, two perspectives. Highly recommend, and I look forward to more from David, which won’t be too long I hear.

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 600 Hours of Edward – Craig Lancaster

This was recommended to me by so many people, and I had it on my Kindle for months. How I wish I’d started sooner. As soon as I finished I sat and wrote a review while I was uplifted, tearful, inspired and blown away. I’ll never forget Edward. I just… got him. As a serious OCD sufferer, I fell in love with his quirky, obsessive compulsions, of his attempts to live life his own way, and to find meaning and truth in everything. Beautifully written. Just extraordinary

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 Exclusion Zone – JM Hewitt

A lot of my favourite books have utterly memorable settings, where the place becomes one of the characters, and Exclusion Zone is no exception. I’ve always been a little intrigued by what happened at Chernobyl and it was pure genius to have such a dark story set here, where the trees grow wild and the animals are terrifying. Detective Alex Harvey and Elian Gould are realistic and fascinating people who I rooted for and couldn’t get enough of. The past – 1986 and the explosion – blended perfectly with the present, coming together in a brilliant climax. I literally devoured the second half of this book in hours.

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 Summertime – Vanessa Lafaye

What a beautiful book. It was thought-provoking, moving, gorgeously written, and utterly addictive. I escaped into its pages for a few memorable weeks. The sense of place (both physically and time-wise) was so vivid, the issues still relevant, the characters positively beating through the pages, and the main love story just wonderful. I couldn’t recommend it more.

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 In Her Wake – Amanda Jennings

I was haunted by this book. Haunted. I closed the last page and quite literally sat for a while, in quiet, gathering my thoughts. It was so exquisitely and patiently written, so gentle yet somehow brutal, and all the reveals (hate the word twist as it belittles this book) were shocking/surprising and yet somewhere in my heart I know I knew what they would be. This was a book about love, forgiveness, and identity. I’ll never forget it. Ms Jennings outdid herself.

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 The Dark Inside – Rod Reynolds

This was so beautifully written, so patiently told that each reveal is natural and yet still shocking. Reynolds vividly evoked the claustrophobic/enclosed feel of a 1940s Southern town in America, where secrets naturally festered. Charlie is a flawed, likeable reporter, damaged by divorce and a recent accident, who I grew immensely fond of and was with every step of his journey in uncovering the murderer. The cleverly woven strands all pulled together in an amazing climax.

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 Flowers for the Dead – Barbara Copperthwaite

This was just an amazing, un-put-down-able read! Aside from the exquisite writing, what I loved was the characters. These were real people – people you were rooting for, and that includes Adam. In fact, particularly Adam, which is an amazing feat to pull off. Don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like it. Wonderful. Will think about it for a long time.

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 Lily’s House – Cassandra Parkin

Lily’s House is a beautiful, rich, haunting and addictive read. I have loved everything Parkin has written, but perhaps this is a new favourite. She effortlessly weaves magic in this story of long-gone secrets, self-discovery, empowerment, and love. The book is assured, mature… a masterpiece. I’ll never forget it, and nor will you

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 A Suitable Lie – Michael J Malone

I devoured this in about thirty-six hours. Could not stay away from it. Thought about it when I wasn’t reading it. A Suitable Lie explores a topic not easily discussed, and not often talked about, but one that really needs such attention – and Michael J Malone writes so beautifully and honestly about it. It will linger long in my mind. Cannot recommend enough.

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 Melissa Bailey – Beyond the Sea

This was a stunning book. Left me breathless. The prose was so rich and poetic. The themes so cleverly entwined, a mixture of letters, diaries and fairytales (all my favourite forms!) merged with a modern-day story of grief and loss. I was at that lighthouse, by the sea. I could smell, see and feel every moment. Just wonderful. I didn’t want it to end.

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 The Dead Can’t Talk – Nick Quantrill

This was the best yet by Nick Quantrill. I felt he really and truly hit his stride, somehow. The book was pacy, gritty, addictive and dark – totally Hull therefore. The characters were real – flawed, human – and their journeys satisfying. I really hope to have more from Anna Stone. Thoroughly recommend this.

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 Honourable Mentions (because 13 just isn’t enough)

I must also mention that I discovered some great writers for the first time this year, including Isabelle Broom, Jane Isaac, Louisa Tregar, Yusuf Toropov,Amanda Prowse, Katie Marsh, Alison Taylor-Baillie, Nicky Black, Mari Hannah, Katy Hogan, Claire Fuller, and Tracey Scott Townsend.

ADVANCE READS coming in 2017 that are GLORIOUS include Craig Lancaster’s Julep Street and Su Bristow’s Sealskin. I’m also dying for Steph Broadribb’s London launch of Deep Down Dead – I hear great things.

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Birthday and Beneath the Ashes…

Today – on her birthday! – I’m welcoming Jane Isaac to the website since she’s also celebrating the release of latest novel, Beneath the Ashes, which is so high on my TBR list it’s just about touching the ceiling. With a glass of champers in one hand, and a high five woohoo from the other, let’s see what one of the loveliest women writers I know thinks about things…

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Was there a defining moment when you realised you wanted write?

Hi Louise! Thanks for inviting me to your lovely blog.

Strangely, yes, there was a defining moment. Well, more a year actually. Before my daughter was born, my husband and I took a year out to travel the world and we were given a diary to keep. I didn’t think we’d manage to keep it going, I tried as a teenager and never got past a couple of weeks, but since we were seeing and experiencing so many interesting things, we both made an entry every day and eventually came back with a collection of diaries.

I really enjoyed recording our experiences, and reading them back years later brought back some wonderful memories that I could never have kept in photos. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to write at that time, I just felt the urge to continue and explore the opportunities. Eventually I took a creative writing course which introduced me to writing fiction. The rest, as they say, is history.

Head or heart when it comes to writing?

The ideas come from the head, but the writing definitely comes from the heart. I’m such a drama queen though, my first drafts are packed with ‘gasps’ and people overreacting to certain situations. The finished product has to be well honed before it’s published:-)

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What draws you to the darkness of crime writing, apart from being a Scorpio? (We’re renowned for wanting to explore the depravities of life!)

Haha, I didn’t know that about Scorpios!

I just like the idea of putting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and watching how they react. Apart from the odd parking ticket or speeding fine, I suspect most of us have never had a brush with law enforcement. It interests me to watch how people react when you take them out of the realms of reality. That’s why I like to weave a victim, or somebody else involved with the case, in with the detective’s point of view, so that I can explore both angles.

Which crime writers do you admire, and why?

I grew up with Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, so they hold a very special place in my heart. More recently, I think Peter James pretty much cracks it for police procedurals. My favourite crime thriller is The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.

Is it just as exciting each time a new novel of yours is released, as happened for you last week?

Absolutely! It’s a whirlwind of emotions each time.

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Is there a genre you’d love to try?

Hmm. I’ve been asked this several times and always struggle to find an answer. I think it’s because I do love working in the twists and turns of a good mystery. Perhaps historical fiction? Something written in the Victorian era, although I can’t guarantee there won’t be a dead body or two in there!

Happy endings or sad endings – and why?

I like a mixture of both in my reading. Fiction should emulate life, which is never one way or the other.

Thank you so much Jane! Hope you have a wonderful birthday (you don’t look a day over 23 and 3 quarters). You can order Beneath the Ashes HERE

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From Written Word to Spoken Word

On conquering my acute public speaking fears…

One of the things I’ve had learn to do on this being-published journey is something much more challenging than writing. Writing is a joy – my safe place, somewhere I’m comfortable, something I feel confident about, love. But when your work goes out into the world, you have to go there as well. And that means public speaking. This has terrified me all my life. It’s something I’ve avoided wherever possible. Something that makes me sweat and stutter and blush and feel nauseous.

When I was doing my A levels I chose English Language, English Literature and Theatre Studies. I picked the latter to learn stage writing, but of course it involved studying all aspects of the stage; writing, acting, costume, directing. On our first day we had to break the ice by going around the circle and speaking about who we were, and who we thought the two people next to us were, and do each in a different accent. Seems such a simple, almost silly, task now. But I froze. I just wanted the ground to swallow me up. I couldn’t do it, and the teacher moved on with ill-disguised judgement in his eyes for this pathetic creature who couldn’t even open her usually chatty mouth. I gave that A level up the next day and stuck with English. Written words were wonderful in that I could hide behind them.

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Daring to speak at Women of Words…

People have often assumed because I’m quite the chatterbox that I’d find public speaking a natural thing to do. A thing I might enjoy. No. It wasn’t. But I’m getting there. Slowly. I kind of knew I’d one day have to face it if I was to fulfil my dream of being published. So I started small.

I volunteered at a local community radio station with a couple of friends and took part in a weekly show. This meant I was speaking publicly but without having anyone actually watch. When you’re in a studio, hidden, it’s easy to pretend it’s just you and your gang, having a gossip. But I learned to speak more slowly, to think about what I said (only one complaint when I used the word bush inappropriately) and to share the air space. This naturally led to the Mums’ Army slot at BBC Radio Humberside, where I grew more confident alongside my wonderful pals, Claire, Fiona and Lesley, and with the guidance of presenters, Lizzie and Carl.

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With the BBC Mums’Army and Carl Wheatley

Still I had to learn to face a physical audience though. I first did this at an event for International Women’s Day in 2014 when I read an extract of my then work in progress, How to be Brave, at the library. I won’t lie – I drank at least three large swigs of whisky in the toilet beforehand. As I sat and waited for my turn I kept thinking, pretend to faint, say you’re ill, leave, anything to avoid it. But I did it. I did it and lived. Perhaps it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d anticipated.

Once How to be Brave and then The Mountain in my Shoe came out I had to do all manner of readings and launches and interviews. But the radio work had prepared me a little. And I suddenly realised, quite profoundly, that when you talk about something you love, it’s that much easier to do it. Part of my fear of speaking in public was the fear we all have; of making a mistake, of sounding foolish, of looking like an idiot, of being boring, of appearing stupid, of looking out into disinterested eyes, of being criticised. As a child I was criticised a lot. It was a familiar thing to me so you might imagine I would therefore be used to it, not fear it. But negative experiences don’t make us any better at dealing with them.

Husband Joe recorded my chat with Michael J Malone at my London book launch. I didn’t want to watch it. Thought if I did it would only add to my fear. Make me see that it was true, I looked a fool. But I decided I could maybe learn something about my mistakes. It was a strange experience. I wasn’t sure who this person was who didn’t look all that nervous, who seemed to know what she talking about, who did quite okay really. Again, it must have been because I was talking about something I felt passionate about, and so I forgot about my nerves.

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Chatting to Michael J Malone at my London Launch

When recently my editor and publisher said they were proposing me for a big TED-style Talk as part of Harrogate International Festivals my first instinct was to say no. I almost typed no straight away. Not just no, but no way. Absolutely never. Who’d want to watch me for thirty minutes, rambling on. All my insecurities came back. My daughter was home so I said to her, ‘If I ask you something, will you answer me honestly? Not kindly or telling me what you think I want to hear, but honestly?’ She said she would. I knew she would. She’s sixteen. She generally likes being brutally honest with me. I asked if she thought an audience would find me remotely interesting if I were to talk for thirty minutes on creativity and inspiration. Without pausing, looking me directly in the eye, she said yes.

So I said yes to the talk. I may not get chosen. And if I do I won’t sleep until it comes around. But I said yes.

 *In honour of the physical spoken word I’m doing a giveaway of my second novel, The Mountain in my Shoe, as an audiobook. The winner will receive a code to use at Audible to download the book. I just want you to share this post with the hashtag #SpokenWord and tell me what you think we should be talking about. Anything you think matters and helps to be spoken about.*

A Couple of Hours of Craig Lancaster

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600 Hours of Edward by Craig Lancaster is a difficult book to categorise, and to describe. Novels like this are always my favourite kind. Just as the best magic tricks are the hardest to explain, the best books are too. I’d heard of it long before I got around to reading, and the only reason I took so long was because of all my writerly commitments like editing, reading for reviews, and other things that involve my poor tired eyes. There’s a fantastic team of Edward fans at TBC (The Book Club on Facebook) who rave about him at any possible opportunity, hashtagging every comment and review with #TeamEdward, and awarding a badge to those who’ve read all the books.

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The TBC ‘badge’ awarded to those who’ve read all three Edward books

This beautiful, haunting and intelligent novel involves thirty-nine-year old Edward who has Asperger’s Syndrome and OCD. His life is about routine and order; watching his favourite show, Dragnet, every night at exactly 10pm, monitoring his exact waking time each day, and filing articulate daily letters of complaint that he never sends. But change is coming. Will Edward learn to adapt to life and all its suddenness, or remain alone?

I want to welcome author Craig Lancaster – so excited! – and ask him a few questions.

The first one is one that everyone I speak to about the book wants to know (and definitely the fans at TBC) – where did Edward come from? He’s like no one I’ve read before. Was he based on anyone? Inspired by someone you know?

Edward has no real-life counterpart. For better or worse, he gestated in and was born from my imagination. He was a little bit of a back-construction, in the sense that he was conceived as someone so bound by his routines that simple, everyday challenges and changes would force him to react sharply, with poignant and humorous results. So it was the broad idea first, then figuring out what his underlying condition might be. The really validating thing about that is how many people have sought me out and said “I saw my son” or “I saw this child I taught in the third grade,” or whatever. I write character-driven fiction, and the aim, I suppose, is that old line about making art a lie that reveals the truth. I’m appreciative—and deeply, deeply humbled—any time someone tells me Edward hit that mark.

Now, there are certain surface things about Edward that have a lot in common with me. R.E.M. is (or was) my favorite band. When I still followed American football, I was a Dallas Cowboys fan. That sort of thing. But those were expedient choices, for the most part. As I’m fundamentally lazy, those things didn’t require any particular research on my part.

Was it a challenge to write such a diverse and unique character? Did you have to do much research?

This is the question that requires me to just be honest: I did almost nothing in the way of research, outside of acquainting myself with behaviors and traits and a little deeper digging for the pharmaceutical likelihood for someone like Edward. I knew my tendencies, and if I’d read a textbook about the autism spectrum, I probably would have written a deeply clinical book. I’ve written Edward three times now, and my only aim each time is to make him consistent unto himself. A friend of mine who’s on the spectrum told me once that if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism. That was freeing, because it meant that Edward could be whoever I imagined him to be. I think I’d have locked up had I felt forced to categorize him in any way.

What was the best part about writing the book? And the worst?

The best part is easy: finishing. That first book was the first novel I ever wrote to completion, and that I did so in 24 days seems almost inconceivable to me now, especially so because I’ve seen the other side of it. Six published novels into my career, I’ve had the range of writing experiences: the first novel that comes fast and nearly complete, the second novel that takes almost a year and three major rewrites, etc. I’ve learned to appreciate each journey for what it is.

The worst part occurred to me only in retrospect. It almost didn’t happen. The first Edward book started as a lark, when my friend Jim Thomsen asked me to do National Novel Writing Month with him as a way of keeping each other honest. I said no at first. I’d had a horrible motorcycle crash a few months earlier, and I didn’t feel as though I had the energy for a project like that. Literally the next day I started thinking about Edward. I called Jim back and said, “Yeah, OK, let’s do this.”

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Did you know what was going to happen to Edward when you ‘set off’?

I had a bare-bones outline when I started the project, because I didn’t trust myself to work without a net, so to speak. But I abandoned that outline fairly early in the writing as I found my groove and discovered that when I sat at the keyboard, I had this ability to sort of step into Edward’s head and let his thoughts guide my fingers. I haven’t outlined a novel since. I just don’t want that much control. I find that if I’ve given enough thought to a character and/or a premise, I’m sufficiently compelled to sit down and start the work. So I give it a little shove, and then I just follow the action.

Here’s something funny, though: The last line of the first Edward book, I knew that before I ever started writing. I could see the scene in my head, clear as a spring day. That was interesting. And it’s happened a couple of times since, this clear idea of where it’s going to finish but no idea at all how it’s going to get there.

What did you hope to achieve with the book? Did you anticipate the amazing response and reviews? What has that been like?

I just wanted to finish a novel. Thoughts of publication, acclaim, more novels, all of that—I had none of that. So the journey of this book, in particular, has been a bit like living a dream. It started out being self-published, ended up with a small Montana publisher who didn’t sell many copies but helped it find some awards and recognition, got shuttled off to a much bigger publisher who’s been able to make it a hit. Month after month, year after year, it’s my biggest seller. So Edward’s constantly finding new friends, and I’m constantly meeting and hearing from these wonderful readers, and on it goes. It has changed my life.

And those changes have mostly been wonderful. There have been a few hard lessons. I’ve afflicted myself and others, at times. I had to get used to some people conflating me and the work. But that doesn’t happen often, and I’m better equipped to deal with it now than I was some years ago. Mostly, people have been wonderful to me and wonderful ambassadors for the book.

Tell us a bit about your writing routine?

This might seem a strange declaration from someone who’s published seven books in seven years, but I take a lot of time off between projects. Months, sometimes. But let’s assume here that I’m actively working on something. Here’s a typical day in the life:

I wake up and take a walk with my fiancee (Elisa Lorello, also a novelist—and a damn good one). I drive over to my ex-wife’s house and pick up the two dachshunds we co-parent and bring them back to the house. Everybody eats breakfast. Elisa and I go to work, she in her office and I in mine.

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Craig and beloved fiancee, Elisa

I work till lunchtime. I start by editing what I’ve written the previous day, both to make it better and to get my head back in the story, and then I write fresh stuff. I’m not big on daily word counts; I just write until I feel like I’m losing some of the elasticity in my thoughts and my words, and then I look for a place to step off until the next day.

We have a family lunch. Then I drive across town to see my father and, if it’s a good day, I kick his ass a couple of times at backgammon.

Back to the house, do non-writing chores (answer correspondence, update the website, whatever). Take the dogs back to my ex-wife’s house. Come home, have dinner, relax with Elisa.

It’s a beautiful life.

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With another of Craig’s dogs, Bodie

Who are your influences, you favourite writers?

Oh, I have a bunch.

Hemingway was the first writer who made me think I might want to do this. He had a journalism background, and that’s the career I was aiming at when I was in high school. He wrote in this lovely spare way that I was learning at the time, although I must say I’ve gotten a bit more expansive in my own style in the years since.

I learned so much about place and heart and the simple power of a well-chosen word from reading Steinbeck.

I really love the work of Alyson Hagy, a novelist from Wyoming whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a bit.

Gwen Florio, another friend, blends artistry and action like nobody’s business.

Jonathan Evison writes with more heart than anybody I know. He’s also the kindest author I’ve ever met. Not a bad combination.

And there’s Elisa, who writes love stories that have a deep, psychological component and the best dialogue I’ve read anywhere.

There are two further Edward books – I just bought the next one! – but will that be it? Can we expect more from him?

Several years back, after 600 HOURS came out and started to find an audience, I said flatly that there’d never be another book about him. I felt confident in saying that; I felt as though I’d told the story that was there and was ready to move on to other things.

Here’s the problem: A few years later, Edward started to tug at me again. So I wrote another book about him and made my apologies for being so strident earlier.

So I can’t say yes or no to another Edward. If he’s ready to come out again, I suspect he’ll let me know. I certainly finished the third book in a way that leaves room for his story to go on. That’s not unusual, for any of my stories. To one degree or another, they all finish in an open-ended way, because I like this idea that a book is just a snapshot in time of certain characters and situations—that they have a history that pre-dates the book and a future that will go on after the final page.

What I will say is it’s important to me, if no one else, to write other stories and other characters. I saw an Amazon review the other day for THE FALLOW SEASON OF HUGO HUNTER that said, in essence, “nothing here for Edward fans.” People like what they like, and I wouldn’t presume to tell them otherwise, but I had to wonder why that was a terribly important thing to point out. Whether it’s a band I dig or a writer I enjoy reading, I like following artists where they want to go. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I get that. I’m an R.E.M. fan. I loved “Lifes Rich Pageant” and hated “Around the Sun.” But if the latter was the record they wanted to make at the time they made it, I have to honor that. Otherwise, I’m just wishing they were my personal jukebox. Which is unfair.

Finally, what else do you have plans to write?

Oh, lots and lots of stories. No specifics, though. It ruins the magic. 😉

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Craig and Zula!

Craig’s Bio

Craig Lancaster is the author of six novels: 600 Hours of Edward, The Summer Son, Edward Adrift, The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter, This Is What I Want, and Edward Unspooled.  He’s also the author of a short-story collection, The Art of Departure. His work has been honored by the Montana Book Awards, the High Plains Book Awards, the Utah Book Awards and the Independent Publisher Book Awards gold medal. Lancaster lives in Billings, Montana, with his fiancée, Elisa Lorello, who’s also a bestselling author.

Buy 600 Hours of Edward here

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