Thursday, 14 September 2017

Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal

Review by  Greenacre Writer Carol Sampson


Although an early riser Nora Watts is still uneasy when the phone rings at 5am.

I am immediately on guard because everyone knows that nothing good ever happens this early. Not with a phone call, anyway. You never get word that a wealthy relative has passed and is leaving you his inheritance before 9 a.m. It’s fortunate, then, that I’m already awake and on my second cup of coffee, so I’m at least moderately prepared.”

The call is from Everett Walsh, who wants to meet with her about a missing girl she may know something about. She has never heard of him and is unsure whether she wishes to meet with him, despite that being part of her job: finding missing people. Unable to fathom what she could possibly know about this missing girl she decides to meet with him.

His desperation is so fresh and raw I can almost taste it.

On meeting with Everett and Lynn Walsh, Nora discovers the missing girl is the one she gave up for adoption fifteen years ago. The Walsh’s have named her Bronwyn. Bonnie. Bonnie has been missing for two weeks and they hoped she had contacted Nora, her birth mother, whose details Bonnie discovered when she saw her original birth certificate along with the amended one issued on adoption.

The police are not seriously looking for Bonnie as she has a recent history of running away. She also stole $1,000 from her parents before she left. Despite this, Everett Walsh does not believe Bonnie has disappeared voluntarily. Nora knows from personal experience the treatment given to those who are deemed troublesome or, like her and Bonnie, of mixed race - “my skin is not light or dark, just something muddy and in between”. She is very aware that the plights of these young women are often overlooked.

As Nora begins to investigate the disappearance of her daughter she learns that it is not just her and the Everetts looking for Bonnie and Nora becomes embroiled in a dangerous web of lies and violence as she begins to uncover the truth. As memories surface she is forced to face events of her harrowing past; events she spent a long time coming to terms with.

The story begins in the seedier side of Vancouver – a place where those who have never visited cannot imagine – and the reader is then taken on a journey through the snow-capped mountains of Kelowna to ski resorts where the wealthy holiday and have their every needs met. The contrast between Nora’s life and those she is involved with could not be starker.

Eyes Like Mine is a gritty and addictive thriller told in first person narrative by Nora Watts. The story is as much about Nora as it is the mystery. Her character is fully developed and engaging and the story explores how Nora deals with life after the fallout of a terrible experience. She is quirky, unconventional, extremely flawed and not always likeable. That said, she is compulsive.

Sheena Kamal’s experiences as a journalist have provided the background for the book and the formation of Nora’s character, resulting in this feisty and compelling thriller. Kamal observed that the crimes against women, such as rape and abuse, were often dismissed by police – sometimes pushing the blame on the victims - and the story raises the moral question of how society treats people who are disadvantaged, different or just do not conform.

As Nora so aptly explains:

There’s a whole highway in the north of the province stained by the tears of indigenous girls and women who aren’t blond enough to matter.

Eyes Like Mine is the first novel in a proposed trilogy and I very much look forward to reading the next book.

Eyes like Mine is published by Bonnier

Follow Sheena on Twitter: @sheena_kamal




Wednesday, 6 September 2017

A Conversation with Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth Haynes grew up in Seaford, Sussex, and studied English, German and Art History at the University of Leicester. 

Her previous jobs have included selling cars, working as a medical rep and selling printing consumables. A former police intelligence analyst, she now writes full time and lives in Norfolk with her husband and son.

Haynes’s first novel Into the Darkest Corner was Amazon’s Best Book of the Year 2011 and a New York Times bestseller. Now published in 37 countries, it was originally written as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an online challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. 

Her second novel Revenge of the Tide was published by Myriad in 2012 and her third Human Remains was published in 2013. Under a Silent Moon, the first in Haynes’s Detective Inspector Louisa Smith series (Little, Brown), was published in 2014 and the second in the series Behind Closed Doors in 2015. 

Her latest novel Never Alone was published by Myriad in 2016. Elizabeth is currently working on a historical crime novel, based on an unsolved murder in 1843.

We thank Elizabeth for joining us in Conversation and wish her lots of success for the future.

Sarah Carpenter lives with her two dogs in a farmhouse, high on the North Yorkshire moors. Alone for the first time since her husband died and her children left home, she isn’t exactly lonely but welcomes the arrival of an old friend, Aiden Beck, who needs a place to stay.

Aiden clearly has secrets, but then so does Sarah, and that’s no reason not to respond to his warmth and charm. But something doesn’t feel quite right. As the weather closes in, and snowfall blocks the roads, events take a dramatic turn and suddenly Sarah finds herself in terrible danger, unsure of who she can trust.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

Like many of us, I’ve always written. I went from stories serialised and passed around the playground and keeping a diary, to snippets of dialogue and story ideas that never saw the light of day, and ended up being abandoned when I ran out of steam or got stuck. What made the difference for me was being introduced to NaNoWriMo in 2005. It gave me the excuse to take writing seriously, whilst still having fun with it. For the first time, I was able to carry on over that hump of being stuck, and actually finish something.

In 2008 I wrote a complete novel that I thought might be worth editing; that book became Into The Darkest Corner.
I still take part in NaNoWriMo every year and all of my six published books were originally written in November.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I think my role is to encourage other people, through NaNoWriMo, and every time I meet anyone who is writing themselves. Writing is seen as a bit self-indulgent and so you have to sneak time into your busy life to do it; almost like you need to ask permission to go and write. If you need an excuse I’ll give it to you. Write, because you can. Write because it’s fun, and it does your soul good. And you never know what might become of it.

Writing my own books is something that still happens in private, for fun, and cannot feel like a job to me or I wouldn’t be able to do it. Writing the first draft of anything, during November, is the best fun of all. It gets a bit serious and work-like after that.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

I think that’s inevitable. Characters need to be layered. Even the most hideous of villains needs to have a reason for that appalling behaviour, whether it justifies their actions or not. I wrote a female character once who was flighty and gorgeous and self-obsessed; I didn’t like her at all, until I realised that I’d be exactly like her if I was a size 12 and beautiful – after that I treated her with a little more kindness.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I’m sure others will have said this, but my characters come to life by themselves. I start writing them when they are mere shadows, and they reveal themselves to me over time. It doesn’t always work – sometimes they resolutely refuse to come to life, and then I need to rethink what it is I’m trying to do with them. Sometimes they are real straight away, sometimes it takes a particular scene or challenge to find out who they really are, and then I might have to go back and rework the start.

This is particularly the case for the introverts; a female character I’m writing now was decidedly frosty towards me until I wrote about her from someone else’s point of view. She was completely different to them! She just needed the right person to bring her out of her shell.

In my third book, Human Remains, I wrote from the perspective of two people who were both socially very awkward. The male character, Colin, did not want to behave; it was as if he thought I wasn’t the right person to be writing about him. He wanted me to prove myself as a writer, and he kept challenging me by behaving in the most awful ways. Finally when I persevered he let me in, and I saw that for all his intelligence and his qualifications and his testosterone he was really just very lonely. But all the misbehaving had to stay in the book so that he made sense; even these days, when someone tells me they’re about to read Human Remains, I say to them, ‘sorry about Colin’.

I realise this all sounds a bit weird. I mean, these are my characters – surely they’re entirely under my control? I suppose they must be, but I know my writing is always much better when I let them speak for themselves.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

This is a tough one. Fatty from the Enid Blyton ‘Five Find Outers and Dog’ series, because he was the clever one who always came up with a plan. John Flory from Orwell’s Burmese Days. Simon from Lord of the Flies. I think I always fall for the vulnerable ones.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I would quite like a holiday on a tropical island somewhere, without the hassle of getting there, but I don’t think I’d get much work done. I write best in my local tea room, with cake, so if we’re talking about supernatural forces, it would be quite nice to be able to eat unlimited cake without the consequences. Cake is brain food.

What is the one book you wish you had written?


I’ve been thinking about this one for a good ten minutes and I can’t think of just one. I wish I’d written all of the books I’ve loved, but to do that I’d have to be a different person or an expert in different things. I will say that I wish I could write like Jeanette Winterson, or Amy Sackville, or Nikki Gemmell. My aspiration is to write beautifully.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

My thoughts on it are: if I can do this, you can too. If you’re writing, that makes you a writer, there’s no ‘would be’ about it. Take yourself seriously, work hard at improving, listen to feedback without being discouraged by it. Don’t stand in your own way.

Also, if you struggle with time to write, or if you’ve never managed to write a full-length novel before, try NaNoWriMo. It’s only a month, and it’s great fun.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I am working on a fictionalisation of a real unsolved murder from 1843. I have never written anything historical before, so the research is presenting new challenges! Hopefully it might be out late next year.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter: @Elizjhaynes

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Don't say a Word by A L Bird


Book review by Greenacre Writer Carol Sampson

Ten year old Josh means the world to Jen Sutton. She would do anything to protect her son and keep him safe – as most caring mothers would. It becomes clear immediately, however, that Jen protects her son more than most.


Something as innocent as a postcard, delivered early one morning, sends Jen reeling.

My stomach twists. I flip back to the name again. And that’s when I see. There’s a stamp, but no postmark. Where the postmark should be, it’s written: ‘By hand’…We both know who it was. And that Josh isn’t safe.

As fear wrap itself around her, knowing they have been found, Jen is forced to face the past yet again as their safety is threatened. Their life, built on a lie, begins to crumble around her.

Meanwhile, Jen has her hands full at work when Tim, one of the lawyers, asks her to help him on a new case. She is thrilled to be asked to work on something decent rather than the mundane admin jobs usually pushed her way.

Tim says: “Keep this new matter between us OK? Very confidential, I’ll explain why later...If you need to speak to someone, you can talk to Daniel Farley. I’ve instructed him.

Jen, understandably is excited. A confidential case and the opportunity to rekindle her friendship with the gorgeous Dan Farley. As Jen tries to juggle work and the problems with home life, she feels any control she had slipping away. 


Why is Jen so afraid of the past? What  - or who - are they running from? And why has Tim felt the need to keep the case they are working on so confidential?

Don’t say a Word is a psychological thriller with all the twists and turns that A L Bird is known for. The style of writing – Jen’s first person narrative – took a little getting used to but as her character developed and her personality came through it settled into a rhythm. The style – a little jumpy – reflected Jen’s anxiety, which made sense as the story unravelled.

It is an easy read and keeps the reader engrossed to the very last page.

An enjoyable book.

Don't say a word is published by HQ and we thank them for the review copy.

Follow A L Bird on Twitter: ALBirdwriter

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

A Conversation with Nuala Ellwood

Photo courtesy of Justine Stoddart
Nuala Ellwood moved to London in her twenties to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter but ended up writing novels instead.

She comes from a family of journalists and they inspired her to get Arts Council funding to research and write a novel dealing with psychological trauma in the industry.


Her debut thriller My Sister’s Bones was a Top Ten Bestseller and will be published in paperback by Penguin on 7th September 2017. Nuala was named as one of the Guardian’s New Faces of Fiction 2017.

If you can't trust your sister, then who can you trust?





Kate Rafter has spent her life running from her past. But when her mother dies, she's forced to return to Herne Bay - a place her sister Sally never left.

But something isn't right in the old family home. On her first night Kate is woken by terrifying screams. And then she sees a shadowy figure in the garden... Who is crying for help? What does it have to do with Kate's past? And why does no one - not even her sister - believe her?

'Rivals the Girl on the Train (and beats it for style)' - The Guardian

'Memorable, jaw-dropping ... harrowing fiction that skilfully draws parallels between the effects of civil war and domestic violence' - Sunday Times

Review of My Sister's Bones can be read via carolsampson.co.uk

We thank Nuala for taking part in our conversation and wish her lots of success in her literary career.

Tell us of your journey as a writer


I’ve always loved writing; it’s how I make sense of the world. I grew up in a very creative household full of singing and storytelling and music and being the youngest of five I had a wealth of material to draw on from the comings and goings and dramas of my elder siblings. As time went by my writing came out ‘song-shaped- and I spent several years working as a session singer/ songwriter. But writing novels is what I love and so a few years ago I decided to do an MA in Creative Writing at York St John University. It was an amazing experience and it helped to hone my writing in so many ways. Soon after graduating I signed with my agent Madeleine Milburn and she secured me a two-book deal with Penguin. The first of those novels, My Sister’s Bones, was published this year and tells the story of a troubled female war reporter who returns from Syria to her childhood home and fears that something deeply disturbing is taking place in the house next door. The novel took three years to write and I was awarded Arts Council England funding for the research phase, which explored the link between Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and war reporting.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I have always been fascinated by people, their quirks, their motivations. As a writer I like to see how ordinary people cope in extraordinary circumstances. I’m a lifelong people-watcher and I get most of my ideas from sitting on the train or bus. I see my role primarily as a storyteller. There is something ancient about the need both to tell and to hear stories – they help us make sense of the world and of our place within it. I’ve always felt that the last page of a novel is really the beginning as a good story should leave the reader with more questions, about themselves, about life, the world, and that is what I hope I have achieved with My Sister’s Bones.

What do I like most about being a writer? 


The sense of equilibrium I feel when a novel comes together. It’s a wonderful feeling and also rather addictive. I think it is the pursuit of this feeling that keeps me wanting to write more and more, despite the rejections and uncertainty that come with being a writer, there is still magic to be found.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Yes. In My Sister’s Bones, the character of Sally, my protagonist’s sister, is a pretty dislikeable character, but once I set about fleshing her out and delving into her background it was clear that there was more to her than the hard, brittle persona she presented to the world. By the end of the novel Sally redeems herself both with her sister Kate and the readers.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

In My Sister’s Bones the characters range from a female war reporter to an ordinary suburban dad to a Syrian child trapped in a war zone and an alcoholic woman living in a new build estate in Kent, so there were many diverse voices to tackle. As a writer I find the best way to capture the essence of a character is to spend time in their habitat. For the Kent part of the story that was simple – I travelled to Herne Bay and spent two weeks immersing myself in the setting, listening to the voices and stories of the people who live there, walking the same streets and seeing the same views that my characters would. The Syrian part of the story was more challenging. I spent a lot of time researching Aleppo, the war, the culture, but I’d always intended the character of Nidal, the Syrian child, to be a universal child, someone we could all relate to. During the time I was writing the novel my husband Nick, a reportage artist, travelled to the Calais refugee camps to document what was happening there. The stories he told me, particularly those from of the children who had fled Syria, chilled my blood. And it was from those stories and my own experience of being a mother to a ten year old boy that shaped the character of Nidal, a little boy who, though trapped in a war zone, just wants to play football, to go to school, to laugh and sing and, most importantly, to be safe; something every child deserves.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Oh gosh, that’s a hard question – there are so many! I guess it would have to be Tolly from The Children of Green Knowe. Tolly is a shy, bookish young boy who goes to stay with his grandmother in an ancient moated house called Green Knowe. Once there he befriends three seventeenth century ghosts and travels back in time to explore the history of the house and the ghosts that haunt it. I loved this book when I was a child and there is a lot of me in Tolly. Like him I was a bit of an introvert but I also have a fascination with ghosts and haunted houses – something that comes through a lot in my work.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I think that depends on my mood at any given moment. Right now I would like to be sitting on a roof terrace in the beautiful Moorish hilltop town of Vejer de la Frontera in Southern Spain. I would work all morning then have lunch of gazpacho, salted tomatoes and a glass of rioja in the town square before retiring for a well-earned siesta. There are certain places that really capture your soul and this is one of them. It was also where, many years ago, I jotted down the opening lines of what would go on to be my first novel.

What is the one book you wish you had written?


Any Human Heart by William Boyd. This novel, a beautiful evocation of an ordinary life played out against the pivotal moments of the twentieth century, had such an impact on me when I read it and it has inspired my writing in so many ways. The title is taken from a Henry James line - ‘never say you know the last word about any human heart’ - and that quote pretty much sums up what novel writing is all about for me.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?


Try to write every day. Read, read and read some more. Get plenty of sleep and a good accountant!

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?


I’m currently working on my next novel which tells the story of Maggie Ashford, a woman who wakes from a coma to find her world torn apart. The police tell her that her daughter Elspeth is dead, drowned when the car Maggie had been driving plunged into the river. Maggie remembers nothing, just the fleeting sense that someone else was there, standing on the riverbank. When Maggie begs to see her husband Sean, they tell her that he has disappeared and was last seen on the day of her daughter’s funeral. And so Maggie must piece together what happened that day at the river and why her husband has gone. But she can’t shake the suspicion that somewhere, somehow, her daughter is still alive.

Like My Sister’s Bones, it is a haunting psychological thriller, this time set in the watery marshlands of East Sussex. It will be published by Penguin in 2018.

Follow Nuala on Twitter: @NualaWrites

Thursday, 17 August 2017

A New Map of Love by Abi Oliver


Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

How would middle-aged men respond in the event of their partners’ passing? For women, the answer may be clearer: they carry on. Because the statistics say that women live longer. But if not? 




George Baxter is adjusting to life without his wife of twenty-six years, Winifred. His antiques business keeps him occupied and Monty, his beloved Basset Hound, keeps him company. Moments of loneliness hit him hard until Slyvia Newsome sweeps him off his feet. Is she his golden ticket to the second chance of love?

Set in a village in 1960s England, A New Map of Love portrays a ‘just widowed’ man learning the ropes of his new status. In a light-hearted tone, Abi Oliver is bringing forward a series of niggling issues men and women would quietly ask to themselve
s: how much does life change after twenty-six years of marriage and the death of a spouse? How many memories are retained? In a life without a long-term partner, how easy is it to adjust and move on?

Oliver is at her best describing people’s idiosyncrasies through their comedy of errors. Done in warm but hilarious depictions which often finds her protagonist being trapped in a number of ‘women situations’. Not only is the plot brimming with scenes of George’s mishaps with the opposite sex, but also his ‘exploration’ of women; the latter being a tick
for Apple Tree Yard (2014) without its messy aftermath.

Oliver's crafting of a scene can make a seemingly ordinary domestic scenario become imbued with an unusual seriousness. An undercurrent of disagreements needs not turn into a battle of viewpoints, whilst her depictions of George’s encounters with some of his quirky clients are seriously hilarious set in an already hilariously serious situation.

Lady Byngh’s pugnacious face presented itself at the open window from under a crushed-looking hat of a black straw. At the sight of George’s face, the two bloated Cairn terriers hurled themselves like cannonballs with teeth and moustaches against the black widow. An equally paunchy golden Labrador gazed desperately at him from the passenger seat through a haze of smoke. Clearly Lady Byngh was not intending to get out of the car today so he was not to be treated to the sight of her cigarette-scorched tweeds or oddly matched stockings.

Oliver’s choice of the setting may be personal but nonetheless it's an audacious one. The old-world feeling might recall to readers’ mind the Miss Marple’s novels set in the same sorts of villages, George visits. Or perhaps to Marguerite Steen's last years in Blewbury. Yet it is the enthralling details of the seasonal features in the book, the feisty women round George and their occasional frivolities that are a pleasure in the reading.

Any impression construed that Oliver’s debut is another novel about grief is unfounded and moreover misunderstands the complexity of moving on. More importantly, she puts forward the quest about rules of mourning for men: how long is long for them? How short is short? Above all, are there any rules at all?

Maybe, he calculated, once we have finished our coffee, I should just ask her, outright. No messing about. They were both mature, experienced people. She might like the masterful approach. The only thing was, he just wasn’t very masterful. As she chattered on to him he rehearsed the words in his head… Now then- how about we…? No – how about, Isn’t it time we went upstairs? Or perhaps the martinet approach – come along now! Or perhaps, Oh, darling, come with me, I must have you, now!

Does being a man make grieving easier? Before passing a verdict, read the book, there’s more to just being a widower in George Baxter.



Thank you to Macmillan for the review copy.


You can follow Abi on Twitter: @AbiWriterOliver

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Conversation with Ruth Hogan

Photo courtesy of Ben Croker
Ruth Hogan was born in Bedford. Like many authors she has been an avid reader since childhood and went on to study English and Drama at Goldsmith’s College, University of London. She then took a job in Human Resources for a government department. 

Although Ruth enjoyed writing it was only when a car accident left her unable to work full-time that she began to write more seriously. 
It was all going well until 2012 when Ruth got Cancer – which she describes as ‘bloody inconvenient’. When chemo kept her up all night she passed the time writing and the result was her debut novel.

The Keeper of Lost Things was published in January 2017.

Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.


Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

But the final wishes of the 'Keeper of Lost Things' have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters...



“Heartwarming and engaging from the start.a mysterious, ghostly, magical love story with some really wonderful characters and a brilliant premise” - The Bookbag

We wish to thank Ruth for taking part in our Conversation and wish her a huge success with her first novel and all the best in her future writing career.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

If you’d asked me when I was about six what I wanted to be, I would have said a vet. I had no talent for or interest in the sciences that were required, and no understanding of the years of study it would take. I just loved animals and wanted to make them better. As I grew older and wiser and developed an intense dislike for my chemistry teacher, I moved on to plan b. I’d always loved books, and my parents taught me to read before I started school. From my love of reading, came a love of writing and I decided that I would do something with English. I would be creative and mysterious, henna my hair, and wear strange and exotic outfits. And I did. For the whole three years that I was at Goldsmiths College studying English and Drama. Then I came home, married and got a ‘proper’ job. My career in local government took off and I was rapidly promoted. But then, in my early thirties, I had a car accident that left me with chronic back problems and unable to work full-time. But eventually I came to realise that the accident had given me the opportunity to resurrect the dream I’d had at university of ‘doing something with English’. I got a part-time job to pay the bills and I began to write. 

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

As a writer, I see my role as a story-teller. But I don’t just want to tell the stories, I want to draw the reader completely into the world where my characters live. One of the things I love most about it is finding fresh and original ways of saying things. English is such a rich language, but it is easy to become lazy and use the same tired descriptions and clich├ęs. I can while away hours poring over words in a dictionary!

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?


Portia in Keeper is a detestable little madam, but when I was writing about her reaction to her father’s Alzheimer’s, I did empathise with her fear and the way that she tries to cover it with anger.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I enjoy writing about people who are different or flawed in some way. I genuinely find it more interesting and challenging than writing about so-called ‘normal’ people. But it isn’t always easy. My portrayal of Sunshine (a character who happens to have Down’s Syndrome) in Keeper has been soundly criticised by a small minority of readers, who felt that her portrayal was ‘insensitive’ and ‘patronising’. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I developed Sunshine’s character on the back of considerable research and personal experience and so I’m very happy to stand by what I wrote.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I couldn’t possibly choose just one! I loved the Moomintrolls and the magical world they inhabited, Winnie the Pooh because he’s adorable in a morose kind of way, and I wanted to be Lucy in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I was also an avid fan of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories, but could never decide whether I wanted to be Anne (she could be a bit wet) or George (I didn’t like her short hair).

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I’ve thought about this. A lot! My ideal writing room would be on the second floor of an isolated house right on the beach. My writing room would face the sea and have huge windows. It would also have a balcony where I could sit and write when it’s warm enough. I like to be alone when I’m writing – I’m very happy with my own company (and a dog or three!) and I love the sound and sight of the sea.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Morning's at Seven by Eric Malpass. It’s the book that made me want to be a writer.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

It’s a tough game. You can write a brilliant novel, but if it’s not seen by the right people at the right time it might never get published. As well as talent and determination you need a bit of luck. If you don’t love writing, if your story doesn’t wake you in the middle of the night demanding your attention and if you’re easily disheartened, it probably isn’t the career for you. Rejections can be very hard to take, and the chances are you’ll get them. In spades. The thing that kept me going was that I found it impossible not to write. It’s what makes me happy and you need that passion to get you through the bad times.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

My next novel is called The Particular Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes, and will be published by Two Roads in spring 2018. It focuses on Masha, an intelligent, independent woman in her early forties whose life has been irremediably changed by a tragic event. Unable to share her grief, she finds solace in the local Victorian cemetery and in her town's lido, where she seeks refuge underwater, safe from the noise and the pain. But a chance encounter with two extraordinary women – the fabulous Kitty Muriel, a convent girl-turned-magician's wife-turned-seventy-something roller disco fanatic, and the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice – opens up a new world of possibilities, and the chance to start living again.

Follow Ruth on Twitter: @ruthmariehogan

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A Conversation with M Jonathan Lee


Jonathan Lee was born in a small mining town in northern England in 1974. His first novel The Radio was shortlisted for the Novel Prize 2012. This was followed by The Page (2015). Also in 2015 A Tiny Feeling of Fear was published.

This novel deals with mental health issues and was inspired by a very personal tragedy in Jonathan’s life. Jonathan aims to raise awareness on mental health issues and writes regularly on this subject for the Huffinton Post. Jonathan currently lives in South Yorkshire with his partner Nikky, raising their five children.

Jonathan's fourth novel Broken Branches is released on 27th July 2017.

Family curses don’t exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don’t think so.

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.



Broken Branches is a tale of family tragedy resulting in immense pain and suffering and Ian’s mental decline is very realistically expressed. His character elicits a great deal of empathy as he struggles to understand the curse that he believes has blighted his family for generations.

Review of Broken Branches can be read via Carol Sampson.

We thank Jonathan for participating in our conversation and wish him every success for the future.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I began writing properly back in 2009. When I say properly, that was the time I decided that I was going to sit down and actually try and write that novel that I had been saying I would write for the previous twenty years. The suicide of my brother was the trigger. My first novel, The Radio was shortlisted in the Novel Prize 2012 which was a national prize for unpublished authors. It was published in 2013 and since then I’ve had two more novels published, The Page and A Tiny Feeling of Fear. My new novel, Broken Branches is my fourth.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I struggle with the terms such as writer, author, novelist. I have always seen myself as a storyteller. I like to write books that tell a story, but I also like to trick the reader. What do I like most? Definitely being able to have the licence to create my own scenarios, worlds even. I like to be able to immerse myself fully in those worlds as a form of escape.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?


Yes, absolutely. Michael Sewell, the main protagonist in The Page, was written purposefully with the intent of creating a hateful lead character to see whether people would bother to read a story about a man who was awful in every way. There were reasons that he was that way, though.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I find character writing very easy. I have a very broad brush approach to how the character will be. You know, like strong or weak. Overbearing etc. From there on I mould them to fit the story using little exaggerated pieces of personality of people I have met or overheard.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Bobby Brewster sticks in my mind. These were short stories about a boy who magical things happened to. For example, in one story the characters on Bobby’s wallpaper came to life and began speaking. In another, a scratched record he played began to talk to him. I read all of the books and loved them.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?


Take me to the rolling fields of Nebraska in a cabin, surrounded by nothing whatsoever. Isolation. Solitude. Both work perfectly for me as they help my ideas to spill out. Oh, I’d need some speakers so I can turn the music up loud.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Stephen King’s Misery sticks in my mind as the one. Though Life of Pi is very very close behind.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?
There is a lot of advice I could give. Bits and pieces that I’ve picked up that could really help. I suppose the main one would be write what you feel. When you sit down to write don’t feel you have to write your novel in chronological order. If the scene you wrote previously was a sad scene and you don’t feel sad today then don’t continue it. Write a different part of the book. Then piece it all together at the end. I leave lots of manuscripts with chapters pending to write as I go through.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I have just about finished ‘How was I supposed to know how it would be?’ which is a story about a man who considers faking his own disappearance to get away from the stresses of bringing up a young family. He yearns for the peaceful life of his elderly neighbour who seems to watch him from across the street daily. The only problem is that he doesn’t actually know what his neighbour’s life consists of, and what goes on behind closed doors.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @MJonathanLee