Thursday, 19 April 2018

Kill Me Twice by Simon Booker

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

From HMP Dungeness Anjelica Fry protests her innocence: she didn’t kill the father of her baby – Karl Savage. Neither did she set his Dalston flat on fire. But all the evidence points at her.

Two years after her daughter Lissa went missing, Morgan Vine takes on a case that is riddled with depravity and vindictiveness. In the wake of her best-selling book on a miscarriage of justice, the kick-ass investigative journalist is in two minds whether to trust Anjelica, but is piqued by minutiae details in her account of events. Little does she realise that the case still has a touch of Lissa in it - but only darker.

In the second instalment of a Morgan Vine Thriller, Kill Me Twice ‘whips’ its readers up from the onset - opening with an attack on a mother and daughter who are having a walk round a cliff. He gets better; having moved on from filling in readers with lengthy prose about his heroine’s background, he instead feeds them with drip-narratives concerning the depth of Lissa’s involvement in her mother’s case.

Meanwhile, Morgan needs to explore all avenues to confirm that Anjelica’s has indeed been framed for murder and Savage is in fact a dead man walking. Although the police found his body and Savage was identified by his dental record. Traces of liquid in the empty petrol canister found in Anjelica’s car is the same as the one retrieved from Savage’s burnt-down flat. And her DNA is on a certain Spaniard brand of matches found at the crime scene.

Booker is curt and furious in depicting Savage 'the demise'; in interspersing chapters Booker paints the making of a sociopath in him. Yet he also portrays the still fragile Morgan living in the long shadow of her teen trauma and her struggle as a single mother.

An old hand in dealing with suspense, Booker’s balancing act for vicious twists and keeping the lid tightly screwed on until the penultimate ending, is outstanding. His adrenaline-pumping narratives follow the topsy-turvy turn of events through Morgan’s viewpoint in another extraordinary cliffhanger encore. Also, despite being a pantser in her investigation, Morgan then emerges as Savage’s Nemesis.

The Whistler is a regular fixture these days. Weekends only. Seemed an OK bloke, at first. Cooked a nice beef stew, brought it down to the cellar. Watched Karl eat every morsel.


-Not bad. Thanks.

A grin.

-You know it was dog food, right?


-Yeah. And stop snivelling. Boys don’t cry. Your dad sounds like a right poof. We’ve got to toughen you up, kiddo. You need to learn to take a joke.

Karl shudders, trying to banish the memory of the dog food.

He’s doing his best to forget the game too. The one The Whistler makes him play when he comes down into the cellar at night, while he’s sleeping.

-Our special game.

Another shudder.

Kill Me Twice can easily tick all boxes for a perfect crime perusal; Booker’s plot is watertight and his plain but striking words are effective. The crisscrossing of characters is smartly done but not over the top; his minor characters fit well like the cogs running smoothly in an engine with their distinguished voices.

One thing.

The risk-calculated Savage, being brought forward gradually, a survivor of systematic child abuse who manages to break free and end the tortures. No doubt his terrible experiences have hardened him added to what Anjelica has recalled to Morgan as his abandonment issues. On the surface nonetheless he’s imbued with an unusual charm that draws women into his trap.

On the one hand, Booker has created a sound killer with an extreme anger about his past that lingers. Savage’s gruesome acts are plausible, enforcing the adage that violence bears greater violence. Besides, the variations of Savage’s characters spread in many crime novels. On the other hand, would every orphan with a cruel mother end as a murderer? If anything, there is Oliver Twist, Anne of Green Gables and Harry Potter, too.

How different would it be had Karl Savage been a spoilt upper-class child like Holden Caufield? How had his interest in older women evolved - like Morgan - and his entrapment for her? Perhaps in crime fiction, however, the pull towards the likes of Hannibal and Lord Voldermort are inevitable. Alas, it’s a disappointment. Once more, the known stereotype -the messed-up orphan- is being reinforced.

Be that as it may, the curtains fall leaving Morgan to ponder over her biggest dilemma of how she can keep Lissa.

Thank you to Simon Booker for the review copy.

Follow Simon on Twitter: @simonbooker

Monday, 2 April 2018

How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster

Review by Greenacre Writer Vasundra Jackison

Tara Fraser has committed a serious crime and paid the price for it. After eleven years in prison, she is finally free to start all over again. But she has to move away from London.

London was full of weird people. Once, that had been part of the thrill of living here, but not now. Where should she go?

Randomly, she chooses a small town near the sea in Cumbria. The authorities help her find a small terraced house and a factory job where she can hide away from prying eyes. It will be a dreary life, but she is determined to live it quietly and privately; very different from before. She has a new name: Sarah Scott. She will stay in the background, talk to no one and keep to herself.

She was aware that in trying so hard to be anonymous she was presenting herself as odd, a strange, nervous, bland woman.

Her elderly neighbour, Nancy, is extremely curious about her. She watches her every move from behind her curtains. She can see her through the open curtain in the bedroom. She knows exactly what time she leaves for work, how long she is away and how still she is when she lies on her back in bed.

This woman entered her house in the dark and put no lights on for a full ten minutes or more. How did she manage to see her way round?

Tara does not want to make any friends. Even her old school friends are dead to her. They had let her down when she needed them most. But when she receives a letter from one of them inviting her to a reunion, she is tempted to go, just for the “possibility of relishing someone else’s guilt or remorse.”

Tara is under no illusions about her own faults. “I’m full of lies, and I’m sorry,” she tells Nancy on one occasion. She knows she has a temper and can lash out. Her foster parents had tried to give her all the love and attention she needed. But she had been a difficult child and a very problematic adolescent. Her friends’ parents thought she was a bad influence and could not understand why children were drawn to her, wanting to follow her.

She’d had time even before she became Sarah, during all those years of reflection, to realise she had always been a dangerous person.

Tara does not really like Nancy’s company, but she realises there are times when she needs her. This is usually when she wants something from her. She likes the fact that Nancy does not “prod and poke and drag out any history.” But several times, she hurts Nancy’s feelings.

Nancy worried that Sarah had been mocking her. Had she been trying to suppress laughter? But there was nothing funny about measuring a cow.

The two of them develop a strange relationship, though it cannot be called a friendship. Nancy comes to the “conclusion that Sarah had some sort of fence around her. No, she didn’t mean fence, not a real fence obviously, but a barrier of some kind which gave off a Do not approach me signal.”

The time soon comes when Tara realises she need to return to her old life and face the people she has left behind. It is going to be difficult, but she has to try.

It was like trying to leap over a huge crack in the ground, beneath which a stream of memory raged. There was no bridge, the jump had to be made, and once made she would be safe, in new country.

But will she really be safe? And will people around her be safe? This is what the reader will wonder about, because Tara’s character is so complex. She is difficult to befriend and even more difficult to live with. She needs help, but it is not easy to help her. The story is quite disturbing from many points of view. But it is fascinating too. The author keeps us guessing about the crime Tara has committed, and when we find out, it is quite a shock. The book is unsettling, but it is hard to put down. A compelling read, written beautifully by an accomplished author.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Five Get Snowed In At Greenway

Two weeks ago, five writers - Rosie Canning, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, Nicole Fitton, Jane Lomas and Michelle Cunnah - travelled from various parts of the country towards the National Trust property, Greenway, near Brixham for a writing retreat organised by GW. On the way down there was serious flooding, trains were cancelled and had to go through Tiverton very very slowly putting an extra hour on the journey for those travelling from Paddington.
Rosie Canning about to board the 4.50 from Paddington.
The writers had to leave a few hours earlier than planned due to the snow which turned into a blizzard quickly rendering parts of Devon impassable. There were road accidents, abandoned cars and closed roads. Getting home was an all day into early evening affair but they all agreed, it was so worth it.

This impressive Georgian house was built in about 1792, but the Apartment is decorated as it was when the house was refurbished for modern living in 1938. Greenway was the holiday home of author Agatha Christie and her family.

"One day we saw that a house was up for sale that I had known when I was young... So we went over to Greenway, and very beautiful the house and grounds were. A white Georgian house of about 1780 or 90, with woods sweeping down to the Dart below, and a lot of fine shrubs and trees - the ideal house, a dream house." - Agatha Christie

This atmospheric house is set in the 1950s, indeed when you walk in through the doorway, it’s as if Agatha and her family have just popped out for a walk and will be back at any moment. The family were great collectors, and the house is filled with archaeology, Tunbridgeware, silver, botanical china and books.

In the garden a large and romantic woodland drifts down the hillside towards the sparkling Dart estuary. The walled gardens are home to a restored peach house and vinery, as well as an allotment cared for by local school children.

The book most clearly influenced by Greenway was Dead Man's Folly (1956). In this story Greenway house, garden, Boathouse and local area are all described and in 2013, ITV filmed their adaptation of Dead Man's Folly here.

The house overlooks the river Dart and is set in a spectacular part of Devon. The apartment in 'the' house has four double bedrooms and the writers used these as their writing areas (apart from Ingrid who preferred the extremely large bathroom) - though there is a kitchen/dining room, sitting room and private garden and these were available too.

The five writers stayed in the beautiful apartment located on the first and second floor, here two of them, Jane and Nicole tell us whether they achieved what they set out to do.

Jane Lomas:
I enjoy writing flash fiction and short stories and have been published in Microcosms Fiction, Carers UK, Reflex Fiction, Speculative 66, Paragraph Planet, Ad Hoc Fiction and FlashBack Fiction. I have also had non fiction pieces in the Guardian, and Caring Magazine, and I wrote regularly for two local newspapers. I am an avid fan of Twitter: two tweets have been used by Mslexia, and one was chosen for the Canadian edition of Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. I am currently working on a women's commercial fiction novel but am easily distracted by ideas for flash fiction stories. 

My goal for the retreat was to work on two key scenes in my novel. I'm really happy with the way they turned out and I went on to draft a flash fiction piece (you see, I can't keep away from it!).

The retreat allowed me the time and space to write. Set in beautiful, spacious surroundings, I walked around the grounds twice a day and my mind felt clear and focussed when I sat at my desk overlooking the river. Having set mealtimes worked really well as it added structure to the day - no time for procrastination. And staying with a warm and welcoming group of ladies was so inspirational - I thoroughly enjoyed the times we came together to discuss work or socialise.

Nicole Fitton
I'm a freelance writer who has lived in such glamorous locations as London, New York, and Croydon! I currently live in Devon with my family. My career has spanned 3 decades working in PR and marketing within Europe and the USA. I currently work within healthcare management in the UK. I write mystery thrillers with a splash of romance. My novel 'Forbidden Colours' was released in December 2016, and has been described as a 'contemporary high octane suspense thriller, worthy of Ron Howard turning it into a blockbuster movie'.

Alongside novels, I write short stories. Over the last two years, my stories have been both short and longlisted in the following: Exeter, Screwturn Flash Fiction, Black Pear Press, Fiction Factory and the Finchley Literary Festival Short Story competitions. My short story 'Soaring' features in the Black Pear Press anthology 'On The Day of The Dead and Other Stories'.

Greenacre Writers retreat was the perfect place for me to edit my current work in progress, a historical thriller set in 1912. My goal was to complete the first edit and get the first few pages as tight and ready for publication as I could. I am happy to say, unbelievably, I achieved both of these goals and am now sitting smugly patting myself on the back!

There was so much I enjoyed about this retreat but the combination of the surroundings and my fellow writers were what made it so special. I'm deliberately not mentioning the snow!

The surroundings - creatively beautiful, serene, inspiring.

My fellow writers - supportive, creative, fun loving and all slightly wonky like me!

Follow Jane on Twitter: @completelyjane
Follow Nicole on Twitter: @MisoMiss

Friday, 23 March 2018

A Conversation with Bridget Blankley

Bridget Blankley spent most of her early life in Nigeria. She has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and has been an engineer, educator and fulltime carer. Bridget came late to writing and had her first piece of fiction published in her early fifties. Her work swiftly won prizes, including the Winchester Writer's Competition, 'Writing Can Be Murder' 2013, and the Commonword Diversity Writing for Children Prize, 2016. In the same year she was runner-up in the Alpine Fellowship Writing. Her latest award is the Hammond House Short Story Prize. Bridget lives in Southampton, UK.

The Ghosts & Jamal is an intriguing story, touching on religion, terrorism and Nigeria’s internal conflicts, following a young orphan who is negotiating an unforgiving society.

Waking up in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, 14-year-old Jamal tries to piece together what has happened whilst simultaneously trying to evade capture by the attackers. It soon becomes clear that he has been living in a separate outhouse from his family on account of the “bad spirits” that plague him. As he wanders around his family’s compound, he comes across red canisters leaking yellow gas, which he works out were the weapon that killed his family, and he begins calling the gas “ghosts”. With his family dead, he begins to search for his grandfather who he hardly knows; when his grandfather turns him away he keeps walking. On his journey he passes out and is picked up by a patrolling soldier. He is taken to a hospital where he is treated for the “spirits”, or rather, his epilepsy. Jamal escapes and on doing so, he wanders bewildered around the city. On the way he meets prejudice, exploitation and friendship, before finally discovering that it is people, not ghosts, that have killed his family, and they have plans to keep on killing.

'Jamal is a compelling and a resourceful hero in a world that tells him he doesn't belong. A beautifully written tale of survival and bravery.' Patrice Lawrence

'Pacy and moving. I couldn't stop reading.' Rebecca Smith

'This is a clever story that releases its secrets slowly. With big ideas and lots of heart, it pulls you in and then - whack! What a great ending!’ Melvin Burgess

Greenacre Writers are delighted to feature The Ghosts and Jamal, and wish Bridget many congratulations on the publication of her first novel.

Tell us about your journey as a writer

I haven’t been writing for that long. I come from a family of story tellers, and story readers, but there has never been a reason to write anything down. My mother would make up stories for us at bedtime. Am ashamed to say that my siblings and I didn’t like her to read to us as she didn’t ‘do the voices’ like my father did. But she could make up stories and we enjoyed them. So, when I had children, I would sometimes read to them and sometimes make up stories.

Once the children grew up I didn’t think much about stories until I left work to become a carer. Then, when I was looking around for something to do while I was at home, I saw an evening class in Creative Writing and signed up. I enjoyed it. I wasn’t convinced that I was very good, I wasn’t interested in many of the topics that we were asked to write about, but it was relaxing. I began to think that maybe I could write stories for my grandsons as I didn’t see them often enough to read to them. Unfortunately, it turns out that I’m better at adult and young adult fiction, but I guess they’ll grow into it.

I’ve enjoyed making up stories and I’ve been lucky enough to win a few awards for my writing, so I guess I have an excuse to keep doing it, at least for a while.

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

I think I’ll reverse this question and answer the easy part first. What do I like most about being a writer? That’s easy, it gives me the excuse to say ‘go away I’m reading’ to anyone who wants me to do almost anything. What other job has a requirement that you buy, and read lots of good books?

There is also the fact that there is very little pressure. If you start a story and find you’ve hit a brick wall, then you can just stop and write something else. No one is looking over your shoulder insisting that you get a report finished or an audit completed.

Although there are disadvantages, but not many, so I think that I’ll stick to saying how lucky I am to be able to write.

As to the other part of your question, I’m not sure. Do writers really have a role in society? Maybe if I wrote serious analysis of current affairs, or if my books had an important political message or a warning about possible dystopian futures then maybe I could claim to be usefully employed. But I don’t my work is entertainment and adventure. Stories of people doing their best in difficult situations and, sometimes, finding their way out the other side. Thought I guess as reading is never a waste of time, then someone has to do the writing and I feel lucky to be able to fill that role.

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

I wrote a short piece of writing for a competition a couple of years ago, 'Eyes in the Park'. It was narrated by an unnamed murderer. Quite different to the sort of thing I normally write. I can’t say that I empathised with the character. They were thoroughly unpleasant, but it was very enjoyable to write. I found I wrote it piece very quickly, following the protagonist’s thoughts, often speaking them aloud as a wrote – not something I usually do when I’m writing. Looking back, I wonder if saying, rather than thinking, what the character said helped me to keep my distance. I was almost as if I was listening to what someone else was saying rather than saying it myself. Maybe I’m reading to much into this I don’t know. But in general, I think you have to be able to connect with the characters you are creating. Even if you are creating a character that you want your readers to despise. Perhaps I should try writing about a few more murderers to see if the same thing happens.

What is your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I cannot say that I look to specifically write about diverse characters. I just try to write about the characters that particular stories need. That sounds a bit pretentious, let me try to explain myself a little better. I wrote a short story recently. It was about two sisters. I wrote it after I was shown a newspaper article about a pair of slippers that had been found in the charity shop. They were trying to find the owner – I can’t remember why. I remember thinking that I would know if it was my sister’s shoes, because her feet were different sizes, then I thought about the other people who we met when my sister was in hospital. One thing led to another and the story just developed. It became a about Osteogenesis Imperfecta, not deliberately, but because that fitted in with the narrative. Similarly, when I wrote The Ghosts and Jamal, I didn’t set out to write a story about a child with Epilepsy, but I needed a reason for Jamal to be isolated from his family, and I needed an explanation for the way he saw the world. I spoke to a family friend who had been a nurse in West Africa and Epilepsy fitted with the needs of the story. I was once lucky enough to have tea with Mary Hoffman, author of Amazing Grace, she put it very well when she said, just write the stories you need to and the right characters will present themselves to you.

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

Again, this is a tricky question to answer. Firstly, because I have had most success writing in the living room of my mother’s flat in Southampton, so maybe I should stick to what I know, but also because it depends on what I am writing. I have a fondness for the north Norfolk coast. I love the big skies and wide horizons. I like the way the pines curl up against the wind and the enormous shorelines when the tide is out. So I guess if I could only have one place to write it would be in Norfolk, preferably in the winter. However, have been discussing a book that will be set in the Egyptian desert so it would be good to set my writing tent in Siwa for a while to get the feel for my heroine’s home. But I’m not sure I would want to stay there for too long, I tend to overheat these days.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I’m afraid I’m going to hedge a little here. Because Anthony Marra wrote a book, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which is beautifully written and juxtapositions absolute horror with observations of the beautiful. I would love to be able to write like that, and I would recommend it to any aspiring novelists. But I would hate to have lived though the violence that inspired the novel. So maybe I’ll settle for The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by T E Carhart. It was Carhart’s first book and it is a beautifully written work. Gentle and evocative, and the result of getting slightly lost in Paris on a summer afternoon. So, on balance, and largely because of the life you must lead to write your book, I would love to have written Carhart’s book.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Well so many people have said this but it’s true; ‘if you want to be a writer you’ve got to sit down and write.’

You need to set yourself a target, 100 words a week or 1000 words a day, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you stick to it so that you develop the habit of writing.

The other piece of advice is to have more than one piece of writing on the go at the same time. I know that this doesn’t work for everyone, but I find that if I get stuck writing one story, you can ‘give your brain a rest’ and look at the other piece. The second piece doesn’t have to be another novel, it doesn’t even have to be very good, it just has to be something different so that you start to thing about words in a different way.

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

At the moment I am working on a book about a rebellious Egyptian woman, being pulled between duty and freedom. The working title is Nesma Means Breath of Wind, I hope to have, at least the first draft of this ready for the Autumn. I’m also researching the next novel, which will be set in Ghana in the mid twentieth century. I have the idea set in my mind, but I need to spend more time talking to people who remember that time. It is another thing that I am really enjoying. I think that there might be a danger of spending too much time researching and not enough writing, but, for the time being at least, I’m OK. I haven’t overrun the time I’ve allowed for research yet.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I think this would have to be Tove Jonsson’s Moomin Troll. Or any of the Moomin family for that matter. They had their heads screwed on right, as my gran would say. One of my favourite quotes is, I think, from Moominpappa at sea, ‘Isn’t life exciting, everything can change all of a sudden, and for no reason at all.’

I like to remind myself to thing of the world as exciting rather than chaotic, when things are getting on top of me.

The Ghosts and Jamal is published by Hope Road

Follow Bridget on Twitter: @BridgetBlankley

Bridget has Asperger’s syndrome and is proud to support the work of The National Autistic Society.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Ghostbird by Carol Lovekin

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

In a faraway Welsh village, in which its stone cottages are as
ancient as its trees, it rains every day in August. In its fairy-tale like world, in which everybody watches one another like owls preying at night, the Hopkins women live. A stone’s throw from a lake, Ty Aderyn – a bird house- has been divided into two cottages and stands as long as the living memory itself. In one resides Violet, and her teenage daughter Cadi and in the other Lilwen, and her magical garden.

What could have gone amiss between the women? Lilwen, a spinster, a woman who understands the language of herbs and flowers, is known for her witch-like reputation. Her English sister-in-law, Violet, was a grieving widow who found herself expecting Cadi in the aftermath of her husband’s death. A month beforehand Lilwen’s only sibling, crashed his car, their infant daughter Dora was drowned in the lake. It's the same lake that has been calling Cadi to get closer to it over the years despite Violet’s warnings.

In an idyllic setting Carol Lovekin, spins the tale of Blodeuwedd with a contemporary touch. In the mythic tale, the wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes is turned into an owl after a failed plot with Gronw Pebr’s to kill her husband. Whilst she retains her name, her presence is hated by the other birds and she became unable to show her face during the daylight. In Lovekin’s hand the legend comes as a story of loss and love, grievance and hope in her evocative narrations.

Lovekin, who has Irish blood but is Welsh at heart, suffuses her debut novel with lyrical but visceral depictions that capture the lives of her protagonists. The frustrated Cadi has enough of the maddening silence between Violet and Lilwen. Gossipers Mrs Bevans and Mrs Guto-Evans, react to the return of Owen Penry, who Violet had a fling with fourteen years previously, stir the brew of simmering anger and self-hate. The wafting smell of doubts and home truths spew in the warm air after the rains. Lovekin showcases her sensitivity about affliction by threading the uncharted waters of forgiving and forgiveness through the outstanding metaphors.

It was a baby’s bangle. The kind you adjusted to fit a tiny wrist, decorated with patterns of flowers. Cadi shook her head to clear it of the cloying smell. She turned over the bangle, looking for signs of rust. There were none. It looked as good as new -someone must have lost it recently. She slipped it into a pocket of her jacket. She would ask at the shop. Someone may have put up a card.’

From the time Cadi bumps into Penry in the churchyard, little does she realise that the lid of a jar containing a must-not-be-spoken memory has been unscrewed. Born to a mother who won’t smile, she determines to find out about what happened and all the while the call of the lake grows louder in her ears.

Lovekin’s way of revealing moments of veracity are simple but effective; her dialogues thoughtful but poignant.

I’ve had to make up my own story because I haven’t known any better. But it’s never been the truth; only their version of it.

Cadi’s quest inevitably ruffles a few feathers in its wake; onfronting her indifferent mother and her eccentric aunt seems to make Lovekin’s lead character a very mature teenager. Moreover, Lilwen’s hosepipe-alike interventions to the mother and daughter’s fiendish verbal exchanges are somewhat comforting but unnecessary. As a result, the battle is petering out like the rain and the interesting sub-plots have a slight bland taste. Such as Violet and Lilwen’s fondness for each other, obscured by their opposing views, that remains mysterious in the penultimate ending. Lovekin has it right nevertheless with Violet’s raw emotions owing to her guilt and love whilst Cadi and Penry’s unlikely friendship that blossoms.

By the same token, the use of italics that sprawls throughout the book takes time to adjust. For some readers, particularly the virgins in The Mabinogion folk tale, they can be quite confusing at times. On the one hand, the italics are used to generate thoughts of the main characters and on the other hand, they also serve as the voice of the ghost bird whose calls are bewitching Cadi.

The ghost shivers in the rain.
She shakes her feathers, trying them for size.
An expanse of weightless sky entices her – she can go anywhere she chooses. She senses her talons, growing sharp and fine.
The other birds see her now. Screeching their alarms they try to chase her away.
The ghost flies into the cherry tree, waits until her sister falls asleep. Gliding through the mist she flies into Cadi’s dream.

This succinct book is a treat. More pleasure can be discovered in a second reading which highlights the time to indulge in an array of rhyming prose. More importantly, Lovekin deserves a commendation in her painstaking interpretation of the daughter of Math and Gwydion, the flower-faced woman of oak, meadowsweet and broom for a 21st-century market.

When a girl of fourteen has longed for something for most of her life, when the sense of it clings like dust to the edge of every waking thought, it’s possible old magic will hear her.
Thin veils may tremble as she passes, their fragile threads split, and she will step through.

Thanks to Honno Welsh Women's Press for the review copy.

Follow Carol on Twitter: @carollovekin

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Home by Amanda Berriman

Review by Greenacre Writer Vasundra Jackison

This is a moving story about a single parent family facing financial hardships in a modern-day British city full of social problems. The young mother is Tina, whose efforts to keep her two children safe and warm is heart breaking.

Uniquely, the story is told by Tina’s daughter Jesika, who is only four- and a half years-old. We see life through this young child’s eyes. She understands a lot of things, such as how cold their flat is, and how smelly their stairs are. But so much of what she hears and sees is too confusing for her to understand, like when she spots something interesting on one of the steps.

It looks like a jection, not like the one in my doctor bag for Baby Annabelle, but a proper jection like the one the real doctor scratched my arm with so I don’t get nasty germs.
Oh! That’s something useful!

‘Look,’ I say. ‘There’s a jection for Toby to make his chesty fecshun go away,’ but Mummy’s still fight the bags. I know I’m not apposed to go down the Smelly-Stairs but Toby’s coughing and crying and the jection will make him all better and Mummy will be really pleased, won’t she?

But these are dirty needles thrown out by drug addicts. Jesika can’t understand why her mother pulls her roughly away and looks at her with ‘scary-wide eyes’ or speaks with her ‘snappy like a crocodile voice’. She tries hard to do as she is told. But sometimes, when her mum forgets something, even Jesika gets angry.

'It’s all your fault Mummy. You didn’t tell me it was Red day at pre-school.'

Everyday is a struggle for Tina, and when her son becomes very ill, she finds it difficult to cope. And when Jesika moans about not having any ‘melty cheese’, and makes funny faces, she and the baby laugh and laugh.

eye-open-scary-wide-heart-thumping-burning-hot-hot-HOT – ‘YOU’RE ALWAYS SHOUTING! I HATE YOU!’
…Mummy pushes her chair back not carefully at all and it goes BANG! On the floor and she shouts, ’Find yourself a new Mummy who doesn’t shout, then!’

For days, Jesika worries Tina is going to leave her. But she is a good mum, who is open and honest with Jesika. She tells her not to be afraid and to stand up for herself. This is not always easy for Jesika, especially when she makes a new friend at school and meets other families. Families who have secrets.

Tina’s plight is very distressing, and the need to know how the novel ends is compelling. The heart stopping moments are lifted by light and funny flashes.

And I look at Mummy and I giggle cos there’s a big drip of water hanging off the end of Mummy’s nose and I tap Mummy’s nose to make it fall off and I giggle again and Mummy says, ‘Oh that’s so funny Jesika,’ and she’s trying to look cross but her laughing face keeps pushing the cross away and I giggle again.

Jesika is an endearing child who is liked by several kind and helpful neighbours. She, in turn, amuses the reader with the names she gives them, such as Shiny Head Man, or Not Smiley Lady and others.

Jesika sees everything around her in a simple, straightforward, childlike way. She reminds us of how it might have felt to be a young child in an unsafe world. All she knows is that she loves her mother and brother and she needs them more than anything in the world to feel safe and happy, even at home.

All adults should read this book because it is an eye opener on so many counts. It is a gripping tale which will haunt the reader for a long time after it is finished. This is a wonderful book, written beautifully by an author who understands the emotions of small children. A must read.

Follow Amanda on Twitter: @MandyBerriman

Thanks to Transworld Books for the review copy

Saturday, 3 February 2018

A Conversation With Katherine Clements

Katherine Clement's is editor of Historia, the online magazine of the Historical Writers’ Association, and is a member of the HWA committee. She is a member of the Society of Authors and authors’ collective the Prime Writers and is an occasional contributor to Northern Soul. She is currently Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Manchester University.

Katherine's critically acclaimed debut novel, The Crimson Ribbon, was published in 2014 and her second, The Silvered Heart, in 2015. Her work has been compared to the likes of Sarah Waters and Daphne du Maurier. Her third novel, The Coffin Path, is published on 8th February 2018.

Maybe you've heard tales about Scarcross Hall, the house on the old coffin path that winds from village to moor top. They say there's something up here, something evil.

Mercy Booth isn't afraid. The moors and Scarcross are her home and lifeblood. But, beneath her certainty, small things are beginning to trouble her. Three ancient coins missing from her father's study, the shadowy figure out by the gatepost, an unshakeable sense that someone is watching.

When a stranger appears seeking work, Mercy reluctantly takes him in. As their stories entwine, this man will change everything. She just can't see it yet.

'Spine-tingling... the scariest ghost story I have read in a long time' Barbara Erskine

Greenacre Writers is very pleased to be kicking off The Coffin Path, blog tour and welcome the extremely talented Katherine Clements to today's A Conversation With... An eerie and compelling ghost story set on the dark wilds of the Yorkshire moors. This gothic tale will weave its way into your imagination and chill you to the bone. We wish Katherine much writing success with her third published novel.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I used to write as a child, but life took over and it wasn’t until my early 30s that I picked up my pen again. I dabbled for a few years, taking evening classes and making false starts, struggling with confidence. Then, an insightful friend encouraged me to enter a short story competition. That story was shortlisted, which gave me the boost I needed to take my writing seriously. The real turning point came in 2008 when I attended an Arvon course. There I found the confidence and encouragement to make a start on the novel I’d been thinking about for years. I came home inspired and determined to give it my best shot. It took another four years, and about seven drafts, but that book became my debut novel, The Crimson Ribbon. Along the way I entered, and eventually won, a few writing competitions, and the manuscript of my novel was longlisted in the inaugural Mslexia Novel Competition in 2011. I got an agent in 2012 and after that things moved pretty quickly. In December 2012 I signed a three-book contract with Headline. The Coffin Path is the third book of that deal. After that – who knows?

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

Interesting question! I write historical fiction and I think a good historical novelist can entertain, educate and enlighten readers. There is something of the historian in me but I believe that novelists can go where historians cannot, making history accessible and relevant for a modern audience who might not pick up a non-fiction book. Hilary Mantel says it better than I ever could: “So what can historical fiction bring to the table? It doesn’t need to flatter. It can challenge and discomfort. If it's done honestly, it doesn't say, ‘believe this’ – it says ‘consider this.’ It can sit alongside the work of historians – not offering an alternative truth, or even a supplementary truth – but offering insight.”

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

Many of my characters are deeply flawed and have some very unappealing traits! Some readers absolutely hated Lizzie in The Crimson Ribbon. She’s a very selfish, manipulative character, but I recognised and understood her contradictory nature – there is good in her too and that’s what my protagonist, Ruth, clings to. Similarly, Kate, the main character in The Silvered Heart, is spoilt, snobbish, self-obsessed and judgemental, but I adore her! I have a soft spot for Sir Richard Willis in the same book. He’s a terrible cad, but was so much fun to write.

It’s all about understanding a character’s motives. I’ve tried to write a truly unpleasant character but it didn’t work for me: they seemed clichéd and one-dimensional. Of course, it can be done, but most people are a mixture of likeable and not-so-likeable traits; surely our job as novelists is to create realistic, multifaceted characters.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?
This is a tricky question because it depends on the definition of diversity. I think there is currently impetus to repopulate the past with the stories of people that are missing from the traditional narrative of western history written by ‘white middle-class men’. That can only be a good thing, but I think novelists, myself included, have been doing this for years.

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

Right now, New Orleans. I’m working on a project based on the early colonial history of that city and am longing to return. It’s like nowhere else.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I’m tempted to say Wolf Hall – it’s such a masterpiece – but I think Fingersmith by Sarah Waters is more my style.

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

Read. Write. Edit. Repeat. Read your work aloud. I spent many years too afraid to write anything at all because I was scared I wouldn’t be good enough. Don’t do that.

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

As mentioned above, I’m currently working on a novel (or possibly a trilogy) about New Orleans. It’s a big change for me, in terms of location, historical period and challenging history. I’m still researching and planning, so it’s early days – too early to say anything more!

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Jane Eyre. I was a precocious reader and devoured Charlotte Brontë’s classic quite young. Much of the nuance was lost on me at the time, but I cared deeply about Jane and, even at that young age, found much that resonated. She and the novel, have endured. Since I moved back up north a few years ago I’ve spent time in Haworth and have visited Brontë Country a lot while researching for The Coffin Path. It’s a romantic view of the moorland landscape, but all the Brontë characters (or perhaps Charlotte, Emily and Anne) are always in mind.

The Coffin Path is published by Headline.
Follow Katherine on Twitter: @KL_Clements

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Fellside by M.R.Carey

Review by Greenacre Writer Vasundra Jackison

Jess Moulson has been sent to Fellside, a maximum security prison in Yorkshire. She believes she deserves to be there. She cannot remember what happened on the night of the crime, but she is certain she has committed the offence. When the Judge and jury pronounce her guilty, she accepts the verdict quietly.
She refuses the help of her lawyer.  He wants her to appeal the verdict, but she fires him instead.
“I’m not making an appeal. You need to go away.”
He tells her to reconsider because she would not last in prison, especially one such as Fellside.
“I’ll be fine,” she assured him. If Fellside was terrible, Fellside was where she belonged.
She could not have been more wrong. The prison is so dangerous that even the Governor and guards are afraid of the inmates. It is rife with drugs, weapons and gangs who terrorise their fellow prisoners. Jess has to endure sickening bullying rituals almost on a daily basis. She wants to end her life, but her aunt tells her:
“Don’t put out that precious light, Jess. Whatever they say you’ve done, don’t throw yourself away. Not for someone else’s idea of crime or sinfulness. You know what you’ve done and what you haven’t done, and you’ve only got to answer to yourself, not to them.”
Then she hears another voice, that of a boy, telling her to stay alive and do something for him. Jess thinks she is dreaming, and refuses to listen. She has constant nightmares that leave her shaking in fear or completely confused about what is real and what is not. But the boy is persistent. Should she help him? She is not sure. And even if she does try to help, what can she do inside the prison bars of Fellside.
The book is full of different and interesting characters. The reader will empathise with some who should not be in Fellside because they are inherently decent. But others are shockingly malevolent. One inmate in particular is terrifying because she is pure evil. She holds court in the prison, day in day out. Unfortunately, she has chosen Jess to pick on. Somehow, Jess has to find a way to outsmart her.
This is a powerful tale of life in a high security prison. It is also a story of one inmate’s struggle to work through the truth and lies surrounding her. Her dreams, visions and nightmares will give the reader a fascinating, yet haunting insight into her mind.

You can follow Mike on Twitter: @michaelcarey191

Thanks to Mike for the review copy of Fellside.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

A Conversation With Simon Booker

Acclaimed author and screenwriter Simon Booker writes prime time TV drama for the BBC, ITV and US TV. Simon’s TV credits include BBC1’s Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Holby City and The Mrs Bradley Mysteries starring Diana Rigg and Neil Dudgeon, ITV thrillers The Stepfather and The Blind Date, and Perfect Strangers, the CBS romantic comedy starring Rob Lowe and Anna Friel. He has written many plays for BBC Radio 4, worked extensively as a producer in television and radio and as a journalist.

Without Trace (2016) is his debut novel, the first in a series of psychological thrillers featuring Morgan Vine, a single mother and investigative journalist obsessed with miscarriages of justice.

Kill Me Twice (August 2017) is the second in the series. Both books are published by Bonnier Zaffre.

Karl Savage is dead.

He must be. His ex, Anjelica, is in prison for murdering him in an arson attack. Multiple forensic experts testified to finding his charred remains.

So when Anjelica begs investigative journalist Morgan Vine to prove her innocence, it seems an impossible task. It doesn't matter that Karl was abusive. That Anjelica has a baby to care for. That she's petrified of fire.

The whole world knows Karl is dead.

Then he turns up outside Morgan's window . . .

Simon Booker’s fast-paced twisting thrillers are a must-read for anyone who loves a good page turner’ – Simon Kernick.

Simon lives in London and Deal. His partner is fellow crime writer Mel McGrath. They often discuss murder methods over breakfast.

Absolutely delighted to welcome Simon to Greenacre Writers and wish him well with the second novel.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I started writing at school – plays etc. At 15, while still at school, I managed to blag my way into writing feature articles for The Observer. Later on, I continued to write while working as a producer in radio and TV, selling my first ‘spec’ radio play to Radio 4. This led to a TV commission, which, in turn, led to my writing prime time drama for the BBC and ITV – everything from shows like The Inspector Lynley Mysteries to Holby City and Working Title rom-coms starring Rob Lowe and Anna Friel. My first crime novel WITHOUT TRACE was published in 2016, my second – KILL ME TWICE – followed in 2017. I’m currently writing an audio drama for Audible Originals, a rom-com novel, and developing a drama-documentary for the BBC.

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

I hope I write stuff that people find entertaining. As someone lucky enough to write full-time and work from home, I love never having to set an alarm clock (and being able to have a siesta after lunch…) But don’t get me wrong, I work hard – office hours, mainly – and, as someone said, ‘writing is like having homework every day of your life’.

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

Karl Savage, the villain in KILL ME TWICE is a nasty piece of work and while I don’t exactly empathise with him, I hope I’ve painted a picture of his early life that will help readers to understand why turned out to be such a sociopathic bastard.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I’ve always tried to portray the world of the book or TV show as would be reflected in real-life, ie, a story set in London would be populated by a multicultural cast of characters.

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

I’m lucky enough to live and write in a place I love – Stoke Newington – and that’ll do nicely!

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is a treat; and I loved Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

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

Finish a piece of work. Don’t constantly revise – perfectionism is the enemy of progress. Write 500 words a day, or even 300 – do it every day and you’ll have a book this time next year. We make time for what matters to us. No excuses - Just Do It!

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

Look out for the Audible Original of my new thriller, ANIMAL INSTINCT – coming soon!

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I read Sherlock Holmes when I was a kid, and loved following Conan Doyle’s clever plots. Maybe that’s why I’ve written so many murder mysteries for TV, and now books.

Thank you to Simon for copies of both books.

You can follow Simon on Twitter: @simonbooker

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

Jonah Hancock has lived a merchant’s life. From his wedge-shaped counting-house in Deptford he sends vessels to the Far East that return with valuable commodities. He continues in the tradition of bringing fortunes from the investments his father and his grandfather built. He knows no other way. In autumn 1785, one thing makes him anxious: for eighteen months there has been no news of The Calliope. Nor does he receive any communications from the ship’s captain. Until on a stormy night Captain Jones knocks on his door bringing in the most peculiar creature the merchant has ever seen.   

Somewhere a tide is turning. In that place where no land can be seen, where horizon to horizon is spanned by shifting twinkling faithless water, a wave humps its back and turns over with a sigh, and sends its salted whispering to Mr Hancock’s ear.

This voyage is special, the whisper says, a strange fluttering in his heart. 

It will change everything. 

Sitting at her dressing table, Angelica Neal stares at her reflection in the mirror. After three years with her patron and following his death, her ‘term of employment’ has ended. What’s more, he seems to have forgotten her in his will. The high-class courtesan is pondering over her options; her money is dwindling and yet there is also a new sense of freedom whereby no man has claim to her body but her. Either she is to return to Elizabeth Chappell’s Temple of Venus or hasten to seek another patron. This time, however, she wishes for a lover and dreams of marriage.

In Eighteenth Century London, Hancock and Neal would have brushed past each other on the streets. One a widower and childless, a man who knows money but does not spend it in the embrace of women. The other carries on an ‘adventurous’ life in the embrace of men and values them by how much they would spend on her. In a nutshell, their worlds are like two blinds that stand parallel. Nevertheless, Imogen Hermes Gowar believes they should meet. 

Coined as Vintage’s Lead Debut for 2018, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock spins a bewitching narrative with a fairy tale thrown in. Based on a classic legend sung in various rhymes by seafarers and in the dreams of explorers, it’s something familiar to everyone but a kind of tale that might have been unheard of before.  

Imogen yarns the plot that entices readers to regard a period of time years before Andersen’s Little Mermaid was published but some time after the tales of the Mermaid of Amboina reached the ears of Tsar Peter The Great and George III of England.

It might have surprised Imogen that there hasn’t been a mermaid character in English fairy tales, but the public have an insatiable curiosity of the mysterious embodiment. And so it goes: how about a London mermaid - her own very tale?

‘But what am I to do with it?’

‘Why, exhibit it!’

‘I am not a showman,’ says Mr Hancock primly. ‘I shall notify the Royal Society. This must be an important development for science, and I am not a scientific man either.’

Captain Jones waves his hand in disgust. ‘And then how will you recoup your cost? Listen, ‘tis common sense. Find a coffee-house, charge a shilling per view, and say three hundred view it in a day – I am being conservative- why that s ninety pounds in a week. ‘You might tour the country with it. Take it to fairs. The provinces’ appetite for such things has never been quenched.’

‘Ninety a week, though?’ wonders Mr Hancock.                    

Mermaid for profit. A dead mermaid for hire. Imogen might have had this idea after she set eyes on a mermaid taxidermy at the British Museum where she used to work. The idea of hiring a place to display a curio, let alone artefacts in designated premises might possibly be far-fetched. Through her depictions Imogen is inviting us to foresee particular circumstances wearing different thinking hats. 

Imogen is painstaking in her details. Her fruitful labour gives birth to a new tale that is brought together because of her protagonists’ distinguished viewpoints. Her mermaid has a voice; she conjures not a prince for the immortal soul but men with attitudes; an unscrupulous abbess for a mer-grandmother and the sisterhood of the Temple of Venus’ girls to replace the Little Mermaid’s sisters. Consequently, she shies herself not from dwelling into judgment on moralities; racism and class or hypocrites and thieves. Her minor characters are assertive and audacious, seemingly strong but vulnerable people that shadow Hancock the mermaid man and Neal the courtesan and pull them in different directions.
There’s more to Imogen’s mermaid than meets the eyes; pages that oftentimes would be understood better after a second reading. Her approach in blurring the world between the mer-people and humans’ is a departure from Andersen’s firm inclination to the opposite.

In the excitements of unfolding events, however, Imogen’s subplots are ripped at the seams. In spite of flowing dialogues, she makes the audience extend their patience a little while anticipating the climax. After so much has happened, is the denouement going to be a little flat?    
‘Mr. Hancock?’ Mrs. Neal turns restlessly, and lays her face upon her arm. ‘Were you ever in love?’

He tugs his cravat. He feels that Henry has walked beside him all the day, and many hours after waking, his mind is still so distracted that the word love on the lips of a beautiful woman puts him in mind of nothing that it ought, but instead lays in his arms once more the weight of his little boy, Henry, as he cradled him that one and only morning. The child was already dead at that time, his poor blood crisping at the jag in his head that the instrument had made.

Be that as it may, Imogen is skilful at building up moments which then deliver unusual openness as the above depiction would testify. Her stitches might occasionally be imperfect, but they will hold together. More importantly, the book is far from a saga of a young mermaid giddy in love and chasing her immortal prince at all cost. After all, a happy ever after isn’t what the book has intended.  

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is published by Harvill Secker, we'd like to thank them for the review copy.

Follow Imogen on Twitter: @girlhermes