Friday 13 October 2017

Q&A with Andrew Harris, author of A Litany of Good Intentions

Published by Faithful Hound on October 12, 2017

Can you tell us one thing we would be surprised to learn about you?

I failed English Literature at school as books sadly weren’t part of my childhood. I grew up in a family where literature was less important than football. As a late-developer, I have made up for lost time and now books are a fundamental part of my life.

What inspired you to write the Human Spirit Trilogy?

I wanted to celebrate the Human Spirit and what makes us special as a species. In particular, to highlight our scientific successes whilst commenting on what I believe has gone wrong in recent years and is now threatening our very existence. Crime fiction is the perfect genre to get the messages across.

A Litany of Good Intentions was published on October 12. Can you tell us a bit about it?

It is the second crime fiction novel in a trilogy with the same lead characters. It addresses some of the very real issues around poverty, human trafficking and slavery. How can we live in a world where 2.6 billion people have no access to something as basic as running water, a toilet or even electricity?

What did you find the most challenging about the process of writing A Litany of Good Intentions?

Trying to keep the pace and simplicity of a thriller storyline whilst weaving in the complexity of historical themes, extensive research and various sub-plots. Putting words in the mouth of Albert Einstein was an interesting challenge.

How meticulously did you (or didn’t you) plot it out?

Very meticulous. I prepared a 14 page synopsis of the story and detailed background notes on each of the main characters. I had the final scenes in place before writing the first chapter. The whole book was underpinned by personal research and a growing reference library.

Being the second in the trilogy, did the process of writing A Litany of Good Intentions differ from the process of writing book one?

Not in writing style which follows a similar format. The challenge was to introduce the main protagonists again without boring the people who already knew them from the first book. Also, as it is a sequel, to tell this story which takes place one year later, without giving too much away about what happened in the first novel.

What does your typical writing day look like?

It starts with a long walk accompanied by my Plot Development Director, who happens to be a Golden Retriever – the real life Trigger. I know in outline what needs to be achieved that day before I start. The creative bit is finding the right words to tell the story. Sometimes it flows, sometimes it is seriously hard work. I aim for 2000 – 3000 words per day. I always take a break after completion for another walk before a critical review.

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

Outdoor living and regular exercise such as golf or fly fishing I find really stimulates new ideas for storylines and characters. Spending time with my wife and family is always a pleasure. Also I find music is a great source of inspiration and relaxation. I subscribe to the view that minds are like parachutes – they work best when they are open.

If you could choose one book published during the past year that you would recommend we read, what book would that be?

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee. Clever, complex plotting, Agatha Christie goes to 1920’s India. I loved the pace, spirituality and deductive reasoning of this refreshingly different detective novel. Mukherjee’s second book has established his name within the crime fiction genre.

Is there a book you wish you’d written? If so, which one, and why?

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo. For me this was the pinnacle of his Harry Hole series. I love the way Nesbo takes us into the mind of his detective hero who is so infuriatingly flawed that you want to shake him out of his alcoholic stupor and get on with solving the mystery. The crime scenes were beautifully crafted: the suspense was palpable. This was crime fiction writing at its very best.

Finally, can you tell us anything about what you’re working on next?

The third book in the trilogy is called More. The same lead protagonists this time will be facing the challenge of how we will feed 9 billion people without destroying our precious planet. It will address the important issues surrounding genetically modified foods, addictive thinking and behavioural types, the rise in obesity and spread of diabetes. It is intended for publication Christmas 2018.

Thank you, Andrew!

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Guest Post | Angus Donald on religion and realpolitik in the reign of Charles II

Published by Zaffre on October 5, 2017

Religion and realpolitik in the reign of Charles II
by Angus Donald

 I went to an old friend’s wedding last weekend. I wore a nice suit, prayed a little bit, received Communion, and belted out Jerusalem at the end. It was a lovely service.

I don’t go to church much, to be honest; Christmas, yes, and Easter, if I can be arsed, but apart from that it’s christenings, weddings and funerals. I’m not even sure if I believe in God. That’s right, I’m C of E. But the charming ceremony I went to on Saturday was a Roman Catholic one, and the first of its kind I’ve ever attended. I’m not sure I would have noticed the differences, really, if I hadn’t been looking for them: some little bells tinkling prettily, rather more reference to the Virgin Mary than I’m used to. Very little, really, on the surface to distinguish it from an Anglican rite.

But as I sat there in that lovely old church in Cambridge, listening to the Monsignor give the homily, my mind kept drifting back to the 17th century, to the reign of Charles II, and to the cast of characters in my new novel Blood’s Game.

This sort of service would have been treated with a great deal of suspicion then – perhaps even with horror. For then the Roman Catholic faith was proscribed in England, and only oath-sworn Anglicans could hold public office – yet there were still plenty of Catholic families about, and the priests to minister to them. Foreign Embassies had churches where die-hard English Catholics could gather and worship, the Liberty of Savoy, an anomalous few acres near Charing Cross in London, had a Catholic Church with a special dispensation to succour to the faithful. Charles II’s Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza was Catholic – and had her own chapel in the Palace of Whitehall – as was his mother Henrietta Maria, and his brother James, Duke of York, though he had to keep it secret and be seen to attend Anglican services.

However, the vast majority of the English population – roughly ninety percent – was Protestant, and for many of them Catholicism was a sinister, in fact, a downright dangerous religion. It was the faith of their foreign enemies, it was the faith of the dictatorial monarch Louis XIV of France, it was the faith of sneaking assassins and devilishly cunning Jesuits who were out to steal their souls. It was wrong, even perhaps evil, and those who owed allegiance to the Pope were never to be trusted.

Some people at the time whispered that even King Charles himself was secretly a Catholic. Some respected historians since then had also suggested this. Charles’s loud protestations of Anglican faith while in exile in the Low Countries was mere expediency, they say. For he could never expect to be restored to the thrones of the Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland if he were openly Catholic. And these academics also highlight to the fact that he attempted, through royal declarations of indulgence, to ease the lot of Catholics. They point out that on his deathbed – when his soul was in the balance – he converted to the Old Faith and was at last received into the Catholic Church. All of these things are true.

However, I think the reality is a little more complex. Yes, Charles II was born into the Protestant faith and died in the Catholic one. And it would certainly have been politically very difficult for him to convert to the Church of Rome during his reign – after all, his younger brother the Duke of York, when he became King James II, lost his throne in 1688 in the Glorious Revolution largely because he was Catholic.

However, I think that Charles believed that in religious matters politics was far more important than principle. In Blood’s Game, when his brother James raises the subject of his religion, I have the King saying this: “I give you warning, James, that you must keep your faith to yourself. I might well be compelled to send you from me – to France, say – quite against my wishes, if you do not govern your tongue in this regard. I say this not as a threat but as an expression of the realities of this realm. In their current mood, the English will not have a King who is sympathetic to the Old Faith – after Queen Mary and the Oxford Martyrs and Guido Fawkes and all of the bloody wrangling over their souls for the past hundred years. They will not stand for it. Not now. Perhaps one day, if God wills it, but not this year, nor the next. If, by your indiscretions, I am forced to choose between the preservation of my throne or my brother’s position at court I know which I shall choose.”

While I was researching Blood’s Game I discovered a secret treaty signed in June 1670 – which was kept under wraps by the British Government for a hundred years afterwards, and which never really came out of the historical shadows till 1910 – in which Charles II agreed to make a public profession of his Catholic faith in exchange for a huge sum of money from Louis VIX of France. Is this evidence that Charles, like his brother, was a secret Catholic? I don’t think so. Charles received the French money, and swiftly spent it, but never made the public profession of the his Catholic faith. Why not? Either because he did not truly espouse the Church of Rome or because he could not safely do it without losing his throne. Actually, I believe that Charles used the ambiguity of his religious allegiance, quite cynically, as bargaining chip to achieve his ends – in this case, much needed money. I don’t think we can read anything more spiritual into the treaty than a King’s desire to pay off his huge debts.

Charles, I think, made a sharp distinction between maintaining a political position on an issue and what constituted his private, personal beliefs. Antonia Fraser in her excellent book King Charles II, compares his attitude to that of John F. Kennedy. He made a distinction between his role as President of the United States of America and as a private member of the Roman Catholic Church. As President, for example, he would not be subordinate to the Pope in Rome. What if America were to go to war with Italy again, as they had done in 1941? But as a private Catholic he did, as he must, acknowledge the Pontiff’s absolute supremacy.

Interestingly, like JFK, King Charles was not exactly known for his chastity – while he was married to Catharine, Charles had at least seven mistresses and possibly as many as thirteen. But then the Catholic Church has always been able to understand the frailty of the flesh – and to provide absolution after confession and contrition.

The truth is that we will never know for sure what was in Charles’s heart – or, indeed in anyone’s heart. He publicly espoused Anglicanism all his life, except in the final few hours. But then he did not really have a choice in this matter if he wanted to remain King. In secret, and in writing, he promised to convert to the Old Faith but never did until many years later when he was staring into the abyss. So was he a genuine Protestant? Or was he privately a devout Catholic? Only God truly knows.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Review | Race to the Kill by Helen Cadbury

Published by Allison & Busby on September 21, 2017

Race to the Kill is the third, and now sadly final, book in Helen Cadbury’s Sean Denton series. I’ve got copies of both the earlier books, To Catch a Rabbit and Bones in the Nest, but haven’t got around to reading them yet. However, after reading Race to the Kill, I now really want to read them as soon as I can. I’ve really struggled reading over the past year, finding that I struggle keeping an interest in a book after the first couple of chapters which is very unlike me. With Race to the Kill, I was absolutely hooked from chapter one and I barely put my Kindle down afterwards as I raced to the end.

At the beginning of the book we meet a mysterious woman in a petrol station. She’s desperate for the help of Sean Denton and Gavin Wentworth but nobody is quite sure why. With a bit of persuasion, they follow her to a boarded-up school – the local squat – and find the place uncomfortable and dangerous. In amongst the place, they also find a dead body, and so the murder investigation begins.

This is just one strand of a hugely intriguing, dark and multi-layered, full of depth novel. There’s so much content packed into this novel and there wasn’t a single bit that didn’t have me engrossed. The writing is sharp and emotive, with intrigue layered in every chapter and the tension built on what may be discovered next was very engrossing and I finished each chapter more hooked than I did the last. One thing I loved about Race to the Kill was the pacing, as it never let up, and this allowed the suspense to build beautifully as well as stopping me from having the time to work out what may have happened. Therefore, the shock factor in Race to the Kill was also brilliant as this absorbing novel surrounding drugs, immigration and sexual abuse unfolds.

I loved the Yorkshire setting to this book as it felt familiar and this gave the plotlines more strength to me as I could better imagine where they were taking place. I’ve not read many crime novels set in Yorkshire so this could have been another reason why I enjoyed Race to the Kill so much. I loved the greyhound racing stadium setting as we take a look at the people around the place and what has been taking place. There was not a theme to the book I could say I preferred as each part had me gripped and this was definitely a book that I felt was over too soon as I barely stopped for breath when reading it.

I found Sean to be a really interesting and likeable character. As the third book in the series I am never sure how I will take to the main character on the force as there could be a lot of missing backstory, but here really early on we get an insightful look at what drives Sean, his family, his dyslexia and his ambitions. I really liked Sean straight away and if this series was not so sadly cut short by the passing of Helen Cadbury then I know I would be really eager to read more about him and more of his investigations as Race to the Kill had me enthralled. There is evidently a lot to be missed about Helen Cadbury’s writing but her storytelling ability will forever remain within the three novels in Sean Denton’s series, and if the first two are anywhere near as good as Race to the Kill then she has left behind three cracking books to be read and enjoyed.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Review | Dan Knew by F J Curlew

Published on June 5, 2017

Dan Knew is the story of a dog and his family which is based off the real-life experiences of the author. The dog in this book, as well as the way he comes into his new family’s lives, is real, and as Dan Knew is narrated by Dan himself, as the reader we get to fall in love with this dog who was a special part of the author’s family. Dan’s character is guarded, at times jealous and at times very much a worrier, but he was a lovely character to follow and any pet owner can believe the way he acts and the thoughts he shared, as the relationship between a pet and their owner is a special one where we are convinced we know what the other one is thinking.

Dan’s a dog with a huge personality and I loved his character right from the start. Of course it’s a bit unusual to read a book told from the perspective of a dog (though I have read a few) but it didn’t take long to get to know him and his quirks. His voice really stands out and the author stays true to his representation, with his behaviour and the way he describes things told the kind of way you would expect your pet to speak if they really did have a voice we could understand. For anyone who has had a pet it is so easy to see the author’s love for her pets shines through in Dan Knew and the actions of Dan are believable as they are the kind of things you see your own pet doing. He’s not a very laid-back dog and does a lot of thinking about humans and the world he’s living in and his thoughts and overreactions often provide some humour to the book which I enjoyed.

At the beginning of the book, we’re in Ukraine as stray puppy Dan is taken in by his soon-to-be new family. Dan is a nervous little thing and has gone through his own traumatic experience, but along with his new family there are plenty more of those to come – only this time the love and bonds between pets and their owner really shines through. Through trust, patience and loyalty, Dan becomes a big part of this family’s life and I found myself enthralled by this charming novel.

I have read other books told from a dog’s POV before but this one had a lot more substance than most. The tale Dan tells of his family is utterly fascinating as the lives of his human family are interesting, hectic and emotional. The book crosses different countries and strong themes such as abuse and cancer. There’s much more as well as those but to give away too much would spoil the experience of reading it for yourself. Dan’s descriptions of what takes place are quite simplistic in text but also really expressive so as the reader you can get a good feel for what is happening and that the story inside is relevant to the author’s real life made it all the more poignant – and I found myself really engrossed in the events of this family.

Whilst I was hooked on the story, at times I would have liked to be able to move the story on as sometimes the focus on one aspect lasted longer than I thought necessary. But that was all a matter of taste as with so much going on in Dan and his family’s semi-biographical lives, there were bound to be parts that I enjoyed more. Dan Knew is overall an engaging novel about love, loyalty and the impact a pet can have on one dysfunctional family. This is such a content-packed book and throughout, Dan’s personality shines through. Throughout all the trials and tribulations of his family, I took this dog to my heart and found myself a little attached come the end…

Friday 15 September 2017

Review | Miss Seeton Quilts the Village by Hamilton Crane

Published by Farrago on September 7, 2017

"When it's Miss Seeton," said young Mrs. Newport, "you never can tell what might happen next!"

Miss Seeton Quilts the Village is the first new addition to the series in over twenty years. It is not a series that I’ve read before, though I have heard quite a bit about it and now have the audiobook of an earlier book in the series ready to listen to. I love cosy crime and cosy mysteries. They are, in my eyes, typically relaxing and refreshingly funny novels set in a village full of secrets, wrong conclusions and plenty of frolics. The same applied to Miss Seeton Quilts the Village, as it was a book I really enjoyed reading.

It’s a slow start to Miss Seeton Quilts the Village as old names are reintroduced and as a new reader to the series, it was a bit of an effort at first to acquaint myself with the setting and the characters and then tuck into the new instalment. Though it did take quite a few chapters to settle into the new book, once I did it was thoroughly worthwhile as Miss Seeton Quilts the Village is witty, often laugh-out-loud funny and very endearing.

Miss Seeton is a quirky character and nothing if not entertaining. Armed with her sketchbook, she can help the police on cases they can’t get to the bottom of. Her sketches detail people, their actions and their emotions – even the ones which haven’t happened yet. Her attitude is great and following her character is utterly charming. I can see why there are so many books in this series, first written by Heron Carvic and then continued by Sarah J Mason writing as Hamilton Crane, as Miss Seeton is an interesting and engaging character who can be trusted to get to the bottom of any mystery.

There is a fair bit of tension in the village of Plummergen brought about by the creation of a village tapestry. I found the antics and the issues of the villagers to at times be laugh out loud funny. The characters are pretty mad and kept me entertained at all times. It’s exactly what I would come to expect from a close-village setting and yet the humour still got to me and when I could finally keep up with all the characters, I found myself really wrapped up in their lives and the gossip they spread.

As for the plot, it was a bit repetitive at times but still, there’s plenty to get stuck into. From espionage to local history to Nazi secrets and a whole wad of mystery and intrigue, this book is full of content and more than enough secrets and gossip to keep me engrossed. There are oodles of secrets hidden within Plummergen and a heck of a lot of gossip too. With every page turned another secret comes to light and it was frantic yet entertaining keeping up with every last thing happening within the pages of this book. I breezed through this book as I found it all highly enjoyable and couldn’t get enough of the quirkiness and eccentricity of the place, the people and the gossip.

Jam-packed with mystery, secrets and dry humour, Miss Seeton Quilts the Village is a raucous romp of a read that had me smiling throughout.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Guest Post | Daniela Sacerdoti on her writing inspiration

Published by Headline on September 7, 2017

Daniela's Writing Inspirations 

Have you ever heard that saying, the one about us being dwarves on the shoulders of giants? I think it’s so true. I believe my imaginative world and my writing skills are built of many tiny bricks, and each brick I owe to a writer who inspired me and moved me and taught me as a child and young woman, when I was at my most receptive.

My father was just as crazy about books as I am, so whenever I interrupted him when he was reading he’d sit me down and read aloud for me. This way I absorbed The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, two of my greatest inspirations. I remember being desperate to visit Middle Earth, and thinking that maybe, when I grew up, I would find a way. Although I never wrote fantasy, I was deeply influenced by Tolkien’s dualistic view of the world, deep morality and belief in self-sacrifice. When I began reading on my own there was no stopping me - my parents gave me some beautiful books from the Mursia collection, very popular with Italian children in the seventies and eighties, and I discovered Lucy M.Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. She became my heroine. I wanted to be just like Anne, and I was desperate to write just like Lucy!

When, years later, I read Emily of New Moon in English - it hadn’t been translated in Italian - I found my literary alter-ego: I was definitely Emily Murray, the aspiring writer and spirited, solitary, stubborn young woman. Those books are underlined, highlighted, ear-marked and quoted all over my diaries. Of Lucy Montgomery I love the way she describes the emotions and inner storms of girls and women, and how she describes life in small villages, their dynamics and web of relationships.

As a young woman I began reading in English, as it offered me a host of women’s fiction I couldn’t find in Italian (back then). My first discovery was Lesley Pearse with Rosie and Ellie, the kind of unstoppable, generous, abundant storytelling that made me feel like I was inside the story. Also I found amazing the way she didn’t shy away from controversial topics, and made her heroines go through so much strife before they found happiness.

During my year at university in Dublin I discovered Maeve Binchy and Sheila O’Flanagan: Maeve’s The Glass Lake and Light A Penny Candle were pivotal in showing me how skilled, how deep, how perceptive women’s fiction can be, though often (almost always) underestimated.

Although I’ve read widely, it’s mostly to Tolkien, Montgomery, Pearse, Binchy and O’Flanagan that I credit the writer I am today. A motley crew maybe, but what they all have in common in honest, truthful, soul-deep storytelling.

Friday 25 August 2017

Guest Post | Jo Thomas shares her top five writing tips

Published by Headline on August 24, 2017

Jo’s top 5 writing tips

1. Write! Write anything, because something can always be made better.

2. You don’t necessarily have to write about what you know. Write about what interests you. Put yourself in your heroine’s shoes and go on a journey of discovery.

3. Don’t get bogged down by the theory. You need a beginning, middle and end. If you know what the end is, you should be able to work out how you get there.

4. Write what you enjoy reading, not what you think will sell.

5. Keep going. Someone once told me, the only difference between an unpublished author and a published one, is that the unpublished one gave up.

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