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Author Talk with Holly Seddon

Author Holly Seddon talks to Lovereading about her Psychological Thriller Try Not to Breathe.

Author photo © James Seddon

Author photo © James Seddon

For how long have Alex and Amy from Try Not To Breathe been resident in your mind? Have they ever kept you up at night? 

Alex and Amy have kept me awake many nights! Amy came to me first and she’s the one that I worried about the most. I wanted to get her story and her voice just right, and do justice to her situation. Alex came to me second, once I’d started writing and needed a character to take up Amy’s story. At first she was fairly functional and then something happened, I pictured her pouring her drink and closing the curtains and I realised she was a whole, damaged person in her own right. But then I also thought endlessly about Jacob too!

When did you know that you had all of the jigsaw pieces ready to write your first novel? 

I’m not sure that I did know! It was more like a compulsion to write it, even when I really should have been doing other things. I’ve always written stories and always hoped to write a novel but, maybe like having a child, you never really know if you’re ready. And there’s a lot of trial and error in the first, messy draft.

Did Amy’s condition come first or Amy? How did you decide when artistic licence should take precedence over fact?

Amy’s condition came first. I was gripped by the idea of a patient in this state, but more from the point of view of the people left behind. How do you grieve when your loved one is still there? Should you grieve? How do you keep hopeful when the odds are so long? With fiction, I think you make a deal with a reader that you will be using imagination and artistic licence but within the framework of it being plausible. I hope!

How have your reading tastes changed as you’ve grown from child to teenager to adult? 

I have a lot less time to read now and that makes me very sad! It’s such a pleasure to just read and read for hours, to lose yourself in another world. I still read widely, just not for as long so I’m a lot more picky with that precious time. I’ve got a bit more soppy since having kids too, I can’t read anything about terrible things happening to children! I used to read supernatural nonsense and gore (like most kids and teens) but now I’m more interested in characters. Metaphorical skeletons in the closet rather than real ones!

9781782399452-2What is the best experience you’ve had since becoming an author?

When my mum sent me a photo of my dad holding my book in their local bookshop. I cried like a baby!

Do you have a strange book habit that you’d like to admit to?

When I wrote the chapters from Amy’s point of view in the hospital, I could only write them lying in my bed. Nice excuse, eh?

What is your writing routine? 

Shambolic! My idea of heaven is getting up about ten o’clock, going to the gym, and then having someone bring me endless tea while I spend the whole day writing. Maybe writing from a poolside lounger!

The reality is getting up about six and fumbling about, trying – and failing – to get the baby back to sleep and then writing in bursts whenever I can. I write during nap times, I write in the evening and I write two afternoons a week when I have childcare. I also stop in the middle of the pavement to make urgent notes on my phone about the current work in progress, I make notes while I’m at the gym and I’ve even got out of the swimming pool before and run, slipping and dripping, into the changing room to type out a bit of dialogue on my phone before it leaves my head. It must be very annoying to those around me but needs must!

What makes you smile?

I love comedies like Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Arrested Development. And having a really good roast dinner with my family. We live in Amsterdam now and I miss British roasts like you wouldn’t believe.

If you could write anywhere in the world, that you’ve not yet visited, where would it be and why? 

I’d love to go on a writing retreat anywhere quiet but especially somewhere in Ireland or Cornwall.

For years I’ve been obsessed with Skara Brae, a Neolithic village on one of the Orkney Islands. A whole slice of Neolithic life is preserved there and I find it fascinating. All those lost stories.

How did you feel when ‘Try Not To Breathe’ was ready to print, were you completely ready to release it to the world? 

I really trusted that everyone who had worked on the book – my agent, editors, proofreaders, copyeditors, designers and so on – were so passionate and so knowledgeable that even though I was a novice, it was in really safe hands. I was nervous, you feel very vulnerable putting something out there that you’ve created out of your own mind, but I was so happy to finally realise a lifelong ambition that my normal hyper-anxiety took a back seat!

How has your journalism career helped or hindered your novel writing one? 

I think it’s helped with discipline. I’m used to daily deadlines, so sitting down and writing every day feels normal. It also helped with research and some practicalities: I wrote some ‘clippings’ of news stories from different publications in Try Not to Breathe and of course one of the main characters is a journalist, so that felt comfortable.

But publishing books is a far slower process and I had to learn to slow myself down and also adjust my expectations of how long things would take. I also realised that I wasn’t expected to fly by the seat of my pants all the time, and could take time to get everything right. I learned so much with this first book, and that’s really helping with book two.

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Book Review Fat is our Friend BY Sammy Pepys

The title may sound controversial, but this eye-opening book about the health-boosting and pound-shedding potential of eating more natural fats is likely to change the way you think about what you eat forever.

 

fat_is_our_freindCutting through all the confusing and conflicting messages from the media, food industry and, yes, health organisations, Fat is our Friend is a heavily-researched, plain-English guide to the benefits of eating a Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) diet, based on the writer’s personal experiences and three-year investigation into the truth behind dietary fat.

 

Pepys certainly has some solid results to back up his claims. Desperate to help his overweight sister-in-law, Katy, avoid a gastric bypass operation after countless diets had failed to help her lose weight, he devised a LCHF diet that eliminated processed low-fat foods and embraced traditional ‘baddies’ such as butter, lard and full-fat cheese.

 

Katy lost – and kept off – three stone, without having to resort to surgery, and without going hungry or sacrificing family meals. In addition, she reports higher levels of energy and her blood sugar levels has improved, drastically improving her type 2 diabetes – another obesity-related issue – to the point that she is now on the minimum medication for the condition.

 

Keen to find out exactly why this diet worked where others had failed, Pepys extensively researched the available medical literature on fat and its effects on the body, and reached some surprising conclusions.

 

Based on his findings, he casts aside the widely-accepted and promoted notion that all fats are bad for us. While he agrees that manufactured trans-fats are harmful, as found in junk food and heavily processed meals, he goes against the grain when it comes to saturated fats and natural fats as found in such ingredients as coconut or olive oil.

 

In fact, he calls upon a good range of scientific studies to show that these fats are actually essential to the body, can help rather than hinder weight loss, and should form a greater part of our daily diet.

 

Though fat has been demonised in recent years, he convincingly argues that the real culprits behind the West’s rising obesity and diabetes crises are carbohydrates, including sugars and starches.

 

He says that a diet rich in carbs, combined with, surprisingly, ‘low-fat’ foods which turn out in the main to have been stripped of nutritional value and pumped full of artificial thickeners, flavourings and sweetener,  has led to higher risks of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Similarly, he suggests that we should forget calorie counting as an aid to health and weight maintenance as it’s the type of food you eat, not how many calories you eat, that makes the difference.

 

The author recognises that many people will, at first, challenge the proposition that fat is actually good for us. It has, after all, been drilled in to us like a modern-day mantra and, indeed, he recounts how his sister-in-law had the very same knee-jerk reaction to begin with.

 

The idea that fat-free or skimmed milk is actually worse for us than whole milk or that lard, the housewife’s favourite in times gone by, should enjoy a culinary renaissance, seems counter-intuitive at first glance.

 

But Fat is our Friend’s purpose is to break us away from what the author sees as institutional brainwashing; to present the evidence and let us make up our own minds.

 

Sammy Pepys describes himself as a ‘reluctant nutritionist’ and makes no claims to be a professional dietician.

 

He has, however, taken the time to investigate the topic in depth, raising important questions about fat and the claims made against it. The fact he is not a professional actually works to his favour. He has no fad diet to peddle; no products to push. His only agenda is to provide the same level of insight he discovered the long way round.

 

What he says in Fat is our Friend chimes with shifting advice about the role of fats in healthy eating and offers the reader a simple, easy-to-understand guide to increasing fat in our diet – if we wish to.

 

For anybody who wants to lose weight, improve their general health or reduce the risks of certain diseases, this book certainly offers substantial food for thought.

Fat is our Friend by Sammy Pepys is available now in eBook (£7.99). For more information on the paperback (£14.99) Visit www.fatisourfriend.com

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Mid-June email update

We think it’s time to stop thinking and worrying about the weather (real or political) or the football, cricket or tennis and let yourself be distracted by our newly launched Summer Reading collection and the chance to win a £500 gourmet mini break in Devon… Or any other of the shiny bookie baubles in this email.

     

A brace of discerning debuts

Just out are two very special debuts which we believe will be at or near the top of our debut tree at the end of this year – yes we’ve given them both a massive thumbs-up by making them Mega Debuts – an accolade we don’t give easily. Why not stop for a second and download a free extract of one or both of them and decide for yourself.

Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan. A brilliantly conceived, twisting psychological suspense thriller that’s intensely compelling and deeply satisfying. ‘Gripping from the first page to the last – imaginative psychological thriller that’s sure to increase your heart-rate.’ (Reader Review).

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase. A thrilling spiral into the hearts of two women separated by decades but also a story of forgotten childhood and broken dreams, secrets and heartache, and the strength of a family’s love.

Something for the Summer?

Do you judge someone by the books they read? Just one of the questions in our Summer Reading Survey? Find out the light-hearted results here.

Also, our popular Summer Reading category is back! Here you’ll find a carefully distilled selection of superb titles to get you in the holiday mood! Scroll down to see a small selection or visit the site to see them all where you can enter the £500 mini break prize draw! Plus! Make use of our unique Book Map, which lets you find titles that feature your holiday destination in its pages. Cool, right? It’s the perfect setting for some superb escapism! Find out more.

Pre-Publication Exclusives!

Here is your chance to read extracts from terrific new titles before they hit the shelves! This month, don’t miss.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman. The brilliant 3rd novel from the author of A Man Called Ove. A funny, poignant and uplifting tale of love, community, and second chances. Baby Doll by Hollie Overton. Impossible not to read in one sitting! A taut psychological thriller that focuses on family entanglements and the evil lurking behind normality. Florence Grace by Tracy Rees. A fabulous, engaging historical tale of identity, longing and love with a heroine for everyone to believe in.
The Invitation by Lucy Foley. From the author of the excellent The Book of Lost and Found, an escapist epic for fans of Kate Morton and Victoria Hislop. Sleeper’s Castle by Barbara Erskine. A return, after 30 years, for the enigmatic Lady of Hay where history mingles with the modern in this atmospheric epic. The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola. A grizzly tale of murder in Victorian London that will leave you wanting more… An exciting new voice in historical fiction.

Wife. Mother. Spy

‘A thriller that had me holding my breath’ … ‘An intriguing tale of double lives, scandals & lies’. The debut A Quiet Life by Natasha Walter is one both our experts and consumer Reader Reviewers have waxed lyrical about and we wouldn’t want such a treat to be missed. This complex, compelling, claustrophobic, Cold War spy tale is thought-provoking, illuminating and fascinating. Please find out more today.

Take a 375˚ Look! Thrillers by Nikki Owen

We’re very excited by the novels of Nikki Owen. Thrillers from a surprising perspective with a heroine whose Asperger’s syndrome forces the reader to view the world differently.

Vulnerable, honest and with real tension, The Project trilogy will grip you from the first word. Start with (re-released) Subject 375 (formerly called The Spider in the Corner of the Room) and then devour The Killing Files and enter a different world, balancing a razor-edged tightrope of shocks and suspense. Find out more.

Long-awaited Annie Proulx is back

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Author of The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain has just published a characterful, immersive and extraordinarily thought-provoking book that is simply a masterpiece.

For the Wolf Hall readership, Barkskins is a massive historical novel charting the lives of two families, the Sels and the Duquets from 1693 to 2013. Dramatic, violent and absorbing we think you will find it difficult to put down.

Dear (e)Reader!

For all you digi-book doyens out there, a perfect selection of terrific tales to download whatever your taste. On our eReader this month, we love…

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. Gorgeously eloquent, beautifully written and powerfully dramatic relationship tale to be savoured and enjoyed. My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry. A relationship drama that gradually develops into something much darker … a real page turner’. (Reader Review). The Museum of You by Carys Bray. ‘A lovely tale about a family touched by tragedy but despite that both funny and warm. Highly recommended.’ (Reader Review).
The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle. Haunting and emotional, it’s another gorgeously readable and oh so captivating slice of historical fiction. A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming. A superbly crafted, topical and powerful novel from this award-winning master of the modern spy thriller. How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry – A lovely, gentle read, full of interesting characters, and at the heart of it all, a rather wonderful book shop.

Not Mad! Max! – Maxim Jakubowski’s June Selections

Another month bursting with excellent recommended reads, many of them exceeding 500 pages by several lengths! Maxim’s Book of the Month is City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin. The conclusion to the epic doomsday scenario trilogy set ten years or so after the visceral The Passage and The Twelve.

He also highly recommends The Fireman by Joe Hill that he believes will provide you with nightmares and epiphanies in equal share. Why even try to resist?

King of the Supernatural – Stephen King’s Bill Hodges Trilogy

As the Bill Hodges Trilogy reaches its climactic finale in End of Watch, we thought we’d point you in the direction of this fantastic, supernatural and chilling series.

Each novel works as a stand-alone read, but reading them in sequence is an experience! Along with Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, End of Watch is a deliciously creepy, mind-bending and dark, modern American foray into the grotesque potential of human beings. Read more.

A Penguin Book. But not as you know it!

As heard on the Radio 2 Fact not Fiction Book Club, The Penguin Lessons is a remarkable true story that reads like fiction. Set against the turmoil of the Peron regime ending in Argentina, it is an extraordinary story of survival. Politically enthralling and heart-stoppingly tense, it’s a delightful, warming and compelling relationship-tale of one man and his penguin. Not to be missed.

‘Tremaynes’ of the Day

S.K. Tremayne is a bestselling novelist and award-winning travel writer. He also writes religious thrillers under the name of Tom Knox but is perhaps most loved for his dark, psychological thrillers.

The Ice Twins, a tightly woven and disturbing tale, was a Sunday Times No.1 bestseller and his latest, The Fire Child, is a haunting story of broken families and the spectre of the past. Claustrophobic, brilliant and not to be missed. See them here.

The Kids Are Alright! – Superfoods for Super Children

Okay. There are a lot of faddy books for people keen to ride the wave of nutritional must-dos in this modern world of ours.

However, here’s one that just makes sense, to us anyway. Superfood for Superchildren combines peer-reviewed scientific evidence with straightforward, mouthwatering recipes to help you provide low-sugar meals, free from refined carbs, to help you and your kids stay healthy, energised and happy.

Front Line Literature – The Somme Remembered 100 Years on

Next month marks 100 years since the start of the Battle of the Somme. In the wake of the horrific devastation and the futile struggle for mere inches of land, the Somme has left a legacy of incredible stories which hopefully mean that the lessons of those dark days will endure forever. You’ll find them all in their own area within our World War One category: fiction and non-fiction, first-hand accounts and imagined experiences. Among them is The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme by Gavin Stamp, a brilliant study of the origins of the Thiepval Memorial and its significance to future conflicts.

Nordic Noir’s Gunnar Get You!

Terrible title puns aside, fans of Scandinavian crime stories will loveWhere Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen one of Ian Rankin’s favourite Scandinavian authors and described by Jo Nesbo as ‘A Norwegian Chandler’.

With private eye Varg Veum, a sharp and engagingly flawed anti-hero, at its centre, it’s a stark, bitingly real and tenacious read that will have your mind working overtime. Part of the Varg Veum series, it works just as well as a stand-alone novel. Find out more here.

June Festival Update

This month’s brightest and best lit fests including a chance to win tickets to hear James Naughtie at Raworth’s Harrogate Literature Festival (7-10 July), Lewes Speakers Festival (22-24 July), Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (21-24 July) and newcomers Buckingham Literary Festival (1-3 July).

Scroll down to see more Summer Reading Selections or visit the site to see them all. See you in July.

P.S. Fans of ITV’s Home Fires series shouldn’t miss the chance to win a DVD box set of the series.

Fun and Feel Good – Love the book you are reading

Emotional and Absorbing – Get lost in a beautiful story

Literary Loungers – Catch up on some top class fiction

Mysterious and Thrilling – Edge of the sunbed stuff

Action Packed and Exciting – High-Octane reading for the Summer

People and Places – The pick of the best real life stories

Another Time, Another Place – Historical stories to transport you in time

Young Adult Reads

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Five minutes with Lisa Jewell

Juggling motherhood with writing is never easy but Lisa has it sussed. She talks to Mary Hogarth about starting her first novel for a bet, plus the trials and tribulations of being a writer.

 

Lisa-Jewell_smWhy writing?

I had always wanted to write a novel but thought I should wait until middle age when I’d had a child or two, experienced loss, illness and had some life-changing experiences. Reading High Fidelity back in 1996 changed that perception. Here was a young man writing about someone the same age doing nothing much but thinking about his ex girlfriends.

A friend made a bet with me to write three chapters of a novel. It was just meant as a bit of fun, but those three chapters evolved into my first novel, Ralph’s Party.

 

Was it hard getting Ralph’s Party published?

It was easy. My timing was good, Bridget Jones had been a huge success so publishers were desperate to sign up young women writing pithily about their lives. I found an agent from my first hit-list of 10 who advised me to rewrite the last third of the novel. She then submitted it to three big publishers and a top editor at Penguin snapped it up within five minutes of reading it.

It was favourably reviewed on a highbrow late night BBC review show on the day it was published, this sparked a snowball effect and for a while my book was everywhere. It was the highest selling debut novel of 1998.

Today publishers take far fewer punts. There are still fairy tales about debut novelists but they’re fewer and further between.

 

9780099559573You write in a café?

If I tried to write at home I would get distracted. There’s the Internet, biscuit tin and the pile of washing that needs to be hung. When I’m in a café I have no Internet and am surrounded by buzz and chatter of real people, which I really enjoy.

I don’t let myself leave until I’ve written 1,000 words so the longer I fart about the longer I’m stuck there for and after a couple of hours I usually really need the toilet.

 

How do you juggle writing with family life?

Ah, the age-old question men never get asked. Before I had kids I could not imagine how I could combine writing with having a child. And for the first few years there was a lot of juggling involved. I had unreliable childcare and often lost precious writing days due to logistical issues.

Now that both children are at school, my working day runs like clockwork. I write in the mornings, 1,000 words and I’m done. I get home for lunch, catch up on housework, email, social media, Q&As for blogs etc and then collect my youngest from school. Over the years I have somehow managed to structure my life so that there is virtually no overlap between writing and family life. I am very lucky.

 

Your biggest lesson as a writer?

Every book I read is a lesson, whether it’s in plotting or timing or a lesson in what never to do. I learn a lot from watching movies and box sets, too, anything that shows me how someone else has chosen to tell a story is informative. But my biggest lessons come from my own mistakes – there’s nothing like binning 50,000 words of a book in-progress to focus your mind on what should be done differently next time.

 

Which comes first characters or the plot?

My books start with a spark of interest, usually something quite loose and vague. I plant these little ideas in my head and let them grow. If it doesn’t grow I’ll ditch it.

The Making of Us, for example, started as an idea for a story about an older woman entering into an unlikely friendship with a younger person. I couldn’t grow this so I came up with the idea that my characters would be donor siblings. Suddenly the story had legs.

 

Ever written about people you know?

People occasionally land in my books from real life but mostly I’m barely aware I’m doing it. However, in my fifth novel, Vince & Joy, I wrote about an ill fated and controlling marriage, based on my own marriage in my 20s. It was something I’d wanted to write about since the day I left my husband – I’d just been waiting for the right time and book. But ‘George’ was still very much a fictionalised version of my ex and Joy’s marriage to him was different from my marriage in many ways.

The only time I’ve written about ‘real people’ was in Before I Met You where I used a real life all-black jazz ensemble called The Southern Syncopated Jazz Orchestra who took London society by storm in the 1910s. I found a copy of their 1919 UK tour dates online and used those to place the story. Many members of the orchestra drowned in a shipping disaster off the coast of Scotland later that year and I incorporated that tragedy into my story.

 

9780099599470Tell us about The Girls

It’s about a community of families who share a large, idyllic communal garden in north London. Many of the families have lived there for two generations so allegiances, secrets and histories run deep.

The book opens with 13-year-old Grace, who is fairly new to the garden, being found by her sister, Pip aged 12. She is unconscious and bloodied in a dark corner of the garden. We then travel back in time six months to watch how all the relationships developed and built up towards this inexplicable attack.

 

What’s inspired your latest novel?

Originally I wanted to write a story about two people who meet on a suicide pact forum but everyone I mentioned it to recoiled. So I backed away but was still left with this lingering connection to the female character I’d created, called Alice. She was chaotic, brusque and unconventional, with a brood of kids from different fathers, lots of untrained dogs and a cosy, messy cottage abutting the sea. I just couldn’t forget her so that’s how I Found You evolved.

 

Your most inspiring experience?

Every person I meet is a walking story and I love writing about people in all their incompleteness and randomness, making stories out of the beauty and futility of existence.

Lisa Jewell’s latest novel, I Found You, is published by Century and will be available from 14 July.

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Top 10 most popular titles on Lovereading 12 – 19 June 2016

Lovereading Top 10

1
My Italian Bulldozer My Italian Bulldozer
Alexander McCall Smith
June 2016 Book of the Month.
A fabulously quirky, ‘standalone’ romance-cum-farce from this feel-good author.  Abandoned by his long-time girlfriend, travel writer Paul goes to Tuscany to research his next book.  Arrangements are made but upon arrival no car is available.  …
Download free opening extract
2
How to Find Love in a Book Shop How to Find Love in a Book Shop
Veronica Henry
June 2016 eBook of the Month.
A lovely, gentle read, full of interesting characters, and at the heart of it all, a rather wonderful book shop called Nightingale Books. In this charming romance, we take a peek into the lives of …
Download free opening extract
3
The Hanging Club The Hanging Club
Tony Parsons
June 2016 Book of the Month.
The third in the London based detective series featuring a man I really like, one Max Wolf, second in command in the Saville Row Crime Squad. His very human female boss here has some sad …
Download free opening extract
4
The Fire Child The Fire Child
S. K. Tremayne
A sublimely creepy slow burning thriller, a tale where the countdown to Christmas is a chilling one. Rachel tells her own story, she has just married widower David and moved into his huge family home, Carnhallow House, on the site …
Download free opening extract
5
This Must be the Place This Must be the Place
Maggie O’Farrell
June 2016 Book of the Month.
Award-winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell returns with her latest breathtaking novel.  This Must Be The Place is a story about journeys, it’s about discovering who you are and where you’re meant to be.  Daniel Sullivan is …
Download free opening extract
6
Barkskins Barkskins
Annie Proulx
June 2016 Book of the Month.
For the Wolf Hall readership, this is a huge historical novel to immerse yourself in.  A dramatic, violent, absorbing, long read for which you need to put aside serious time to devour.  You will find …
Download free opening extract
7
Remember My Name Remember My Name
Abbey Clancy
June 2016 Debut of the Month.
A light, flirty and oh, so much fun, debut novel by model and TV presenter Abbey Clancy. 22 year old Jess, a party entertainer from Liverpool has always dreamed of being a famous singer, so …
Download free opening extract
8
The Girl on the Train The Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins
In the footsteps of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, the unreliable narrator domestic drama of untruths is the new ‘hot’ genre. The author was best known under another name for chick lit entertainments. …
Download free opening extract
9
When I Was Invisible When I Was Invisible
Dorothy Koomson
May 2016 MEGA Book of the Month.
An absolute page-turner of a novel, at times uncomfortable, yet powerful and oh so compelling. Roni and Nika meet when they are 8 years old, as the years pass their relationship changes, yet in …
Download free opening extract
10
Black Rabbit Hall Black Rabbit Hall
Eve Chase
June 2016 MEGA Debut of the Month.
Pencraw Hall, Cornwall, is a beautiful old house, the holiday retreat for the well-off Alton family of four children, twins and then a couple much younger, a hard-working father and a young, gregarious American …
Download free opening extract
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Author Beatriz Williams discusses her latest book A Certain Age

9780008132613What was your inspiration for writing A Certain Age?

Growing up, we didn’t have much extra money—my father was a civil engineer, my mother a homemaker—but both parents were passionate operagoers and they basically steeped me in Verdi and Wagner from an early and completely inappropriate age. At five, I was entertaining dinner guests with a melodramatic rendition of Desdemona’s death scene, and I was crushing on Plácido Domingo as Des Grieux when my friends were into David Cassidy. (Although I think I just dated myself there.) So the idea of star-crossed love is sort of imprinted in my DNA, and one of my favourite moments in the entire canon arrives at the end of Richard Strauss’s marvellous masterpiece Der Rosenkavalier. I won’t reveal the spoiler for those who aren’t familiar with the work, but it’s just a singular act of grace performed by an extraordinary woman, and the more I thought about this opera and its themes – love and loss, class, youth versus age, romanticism versus realism—the more I thought that Manhattan in the 1920s would suit this story and this character beautifully. And luckily my editor was happy to go along with it!

 

All of your novels have been set in the first half of the twentieth century. What is it that draws you to write about this period?

As a storyteller, I’m drawn to conflict—it’s the fuel that drives the narrative along. And conflict arises out of change, and the transformation that took place in the first half of the twentieth century is probably unparalleled in written history. All the ingredients start falling into the pot as the century turns—scientific advancement, powerful artistic movements, economic and social unrest—and then the First World War just throws the whole mixture into a terrible oven and out comes the modern era. The culture changes irrevocably. There is massive cultural friction as this new world rises up from the old one, giving us the extraordinary electricity of the Jazz Age. Then on top of that we’re plunged into economic depression and then another cataclysmic war. You could write forever about this period and still not get close to making sense of it all.

 

Tell us about the research you do for your books.

Here’s my grand theory of historical fiction: I’m not here to teach you history. There’s some marvellous narrative nonfiction out there that will tell you everything you need to know about dates and battles and events and how it all fits together. My job is to describe what it’s like to be alive, what it means to be a human being navigating a lifetime during a period of cultural change, so I absorb old films and old books and diaries. I want to know how people talked and thought, the everyday details of their lives. When I do need historical facts I’ll look them up as I go, but I aim to weave these into dialogue and plot. I don’t give history lessons, because what person imagines herself in a historical setting as she’s living her life? Nobody! I’m not telling you what the Jazz Age was like; I’m showing you.

 

At the heart of A Certain Age is a very bittersweet love triangle. As such, did you find this hard to tie up satisfactorily?

Actually, this was the easiest part! I really started from the end, because that was the moment that captured me in Strauss’s opera—the tricky part was navigating the path to that ending, because you have to make each character sympathetic in order for the reader to care, to feel that bittersweet tug. And while all three characters travel through a terrible sea in this book, I think Theresa Marshall’s journey to redemption is the hardest and most moving, so writing those final scenes was—for me—one of those golden moments, where I felt I had done exactly what I wanted to do and brought all the ships to some kind of shore.

 

The nineteen-twenties was a period of great change both in America and Europe. What do you think were the most important things to come out of this decade, particularly for women?

When I think of the Twenties, I’m often reminded of my grandmother, who was a child of the British Empire and grew up in Kobe, Japan, before moving to Calcutta (where she met my grandfather) and finally to London after India’s independence. She used to say that this was a marvellous time to be a woman—we were taking jobs and contemplating careers and feeling our strength, we had the vote and the automobile and the freedom from chaperones, and if you look at the films of the period, they are absolutely chock full of vibrant, dashing, confident women who were nonetheless feminine and glorying in that femininity. And then—my grandmother says—after the war we FELL ASLEEP (I can still hear her indignant voice saying that) and we DIDN’T WAKE UP AGAIN until the Sixties! So while baby boomers love to think that they invented the sexual revolution, it really wasn’t so. And I would add that in America, the enactment of Prohibition at the start of the decade served in many ways to fire that hurtling toward freedom. Suddenly men and women were drinking together in clandestine establishments, flouting the law, and as we all know, once you start flouting one little law it becomes much easier to flout others!

 

You have a magical way of weaving in characters from your other novels into all your books, was this something you set out to do from the beginning? Or was it something that happened quite organically?

It was absolutely organic! My second book, A Hundred Summers, bore no relationship at all to my debut, Overseas, but in writing it I discovered I had a real affinity for America’s Eastern coast during the period between the wars. In particular, I loved the family I had created—the Schuylers, named deliberately to evoke old New York—because first of all, this fictional clan seemed to be producing some really interesting, assertive women, and secondly…well, the older the family, the more skeletons in the closet! So when I sat down to write The Secret Life of Violet Grant, I decided to incorporate the Schuylers back into the narrative, and while writing that book I realized I had to write about Vivian’s two sisters as well. And there you go. Family epic. That’s how it happens.

 

Further to the last question, Theresa’s story is left quite open ended – will we see her again do you think?

Oh, we certainly will! She turns up again in the book I’m writing now—out next summer—and I have a whole novel planned around the outcome of Theresa’s story in A Certain Age. She’s the kind of character who transforms every scene she walks into, and you can’t waste a character like that!

 

Can you tell us about your next novel?

It’s called Cocoa Beach, and it picks up the story of Sophie’s sister Virginia, who’s on a train to Florida at the end of A Certain Age, tracking down her missing husband, whom she first met as an ambulance driver during the war. The narrative alternates between the First World War and Florida in the 1920s, involving bootleggers and a ruined citrus plantation. It’s got a real Gothic flavour, which I’ve been wanting to try for some time!

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THE CORPSE LODGING BY EJ HENRY

If you’re looking for a gripping, gruesome holiday read that will have you hooked from start to finish, this dark folk-horror thriller from acclaimed British writer EJ Henry fits the bill.

 

The-Corpse-Lodging-FCHenry’s captivating psychological thrillers have earned comparisons with John Grisham, and The Corpse Lodging certainly proves that he shares Grisham’s ability to seamlessly blend page-turning storylines with clever plot twists.

 

Inspired by Manx folklore, horror fans will relish the unsettling backdrop of an isolated Isle of Man fishing village which gives the expression “time standing still” a sinister new meaning.

 

The book opens during a stormy night in 1818. A young wife and mother named Mona loses her fisherman husband Euan to a storm at sea, and his body is never recovered.

 

Distraught and desperate to give him a proper burial and a ‘Corpse Lodging’ – a tradition similar to a wake – she is led to a local ‘witch’ for advice and is told that her husband will return to be buried, but not in her nor her son’s lifetime.

 

The book then flashes forward almost 200 years into another story of peril at sea. This time, the danger comes not from the water itself but from Somali pirates, who hijack a merchant navy ship. British mariner Ed Donovan is called upon to negotiate – witnessing horrific events in the process.

 

Traumatised, he is sent to a clinic to recover from the deep psychological and emotional wounds and while there he falls in love with Mary – a beautiful but troubled young American patient.

 

When Mary falls pregnant the young couple are delighted, and their future happiness appears to be cemented when she discovers that she has inherited a house in the remote Manx village of Ballaugh from a distant relative.

 

Although there are some curious strings attached to the inheritance, including, somewhat morbidly, the upkeep of an empty grave, the new family hope that the new start will help them recover from the past.

 

But, in keeping with the best horror traditions, strange things soon start to happen.

 

An old diary reveals odd coincidences along with disturbing references to Mona and Euan. The villagers, meanwhile, seem stubbornly old-fashioned: refusing modern technology, rejecting outsiders and conducting curious rituals.

 

Things grow darker after the birth of the couple’s baby boy. Mary’s personality seems to be changing and both are being afflicted by disturbing dreams.

 

It gets to the point where Ed begins to question his sanity, but are these unsettling experiences manifestations of mental illness brought on by loneliness and trauma, or something far, far worse?

 

The Corpse Lodging is a taut psychological horror as eerily atmospheric as The Wicker Man and with a shade of MR James’ masterly command of the truly haunting supernatural tale thrown in for good measure.

 

In fact, with its creepy setting and well-drawn characters, the book has a cinematic feel and it’s easy to imagine the events playing out on the big screen.

 

This is EJ Henry’s first novel with leading digital publisher Endeavour Press and it’s a cracker. Who’d have thought the Isle of Man could be so terrifying?

 

The Corpse Lodging by EJ Henry (Endeavour Press) is out now, priced £2.99 as an eBook. A paperback version will be released in late summer 2016. Visit www.ejhenry.co.uk

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Lewes Speakers Festival 22-24 July & Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Harrogate 21-24 July

Lewes Speakers Festival 22-24 July

This year’s Lewes Speakers Festival, which takes place from 22nd-24th of July 2016 (www.lewesspeakersfestival.com) brings together a varied and fascinating line-up of speakers: Ken Livingstone explains his vision for the Labour Party and the Left; Sir Malcolm Rifkind gives his memoirs; and former Director-General of the National Trust Fiona Reynolds, states her reasons for fighting for beauty rather than just economic growth. BBC presenter Dan Cruickshank, relates the History of Architecture in 100 Buildings; Philip Mansell speaks on Aleppo; and Former BBC Chief Economics Correspondent Hugh Pym, gives the inside story of the banking crisis.

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Former Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland Peter Hain, talks about the future of socialism and former Headmaster of Eton Tony Little, relates his progressive views on how education should evolve. Andrew Lownie tells the story of the double agent and traitor Guy Burgess from his book which won national biography of the year and Frances Welch explains the life of Rasputin. Azi Ahmed, a Muslim woman, recounts what it was like to complete her SAS training and local author Lesley Thomson speaks about her latest detective book. BBC presenter, Diarmaid MacCulloch, presents the reformation and Ruth Dudley Edwards tells the story of the seven founding fathers of the Irish Republic. Political expert James Boys assesses Hillary Clinton’s future and John Gimlette recounts his journey through Sri Lanka.

 

Former senior Foreign Correspondent for the Economist John Andrews, explains the reasons behind the level of conflict in today’s world; Peter Hennessy relates his conversations with some of Britain’s most iconic senior politicians and Prime Ministers; and Times writer, David Aaronovitch, relates his family’s communist roots.

Tickets are now available at www.lewesspeakersfestival.com

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Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate 21-24 July

Beer and books have proved the perfect partners in crime; the 14th Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival takes place at Agatha Christies’ old haunt, the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, from 21-24 July this year with over 90 authors, and is expected to sell 14,000 tickets to crime aficionados from all over the world.

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2016 sees Val McDermid join Special Guests Martina Cole, Jeffery Deaver, Linwood Barclay, Tess Gerritsen, Gerald Seymour and Luther-creator, Neil Cross.

Programming Chair ‘King of the police procedural’ Peter James, recently won the Crime Writers’ Association’s highest honour, the CWA Diamond Dagger award. His Brighton detective, Roy Grace series has been adapted for theatre with The Perfect Murder starring Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace.

The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is ranked as one of the top three literary festivals in the UK by The Guardian, and featured in The Independent’s ‘The 50 Best Festivals’. Behind the Festival atmosphere, the event is one of the most important in the literary calendar, with publishers, agents, publicists and authors attending.

The Festival also delivers the most prestigious of crime fiction awards, the annual Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.

For more information and to book tickets visit www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/crime

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Book Review: Left To Die, But Loved By God – John McCreedy

This powerful and insightful book from former church pastor, missionary and broadcast journalist John McCreedy uses the Old Testament story of Hagar to highlight many of the major problems facing the modern world.

9781910786178Using clear, concise language, the author calls upon readers to examine their own actions and attitudes, making a convincing plea for tolerance and understanding and an end to religious and moral bigotry.

The author uses the biblical example of Hagar – whose name roughly translates from Hebrew as ‘one who seeks refuge’ – to raise timely questions about such issues as the ongoing refugee crisis, the horrors of modern-day slavery, the plight of the homeless, and racial intolerance.

The book, released through Malcolm Down Publishing, takes a frank, non-judgemental look at these emotive issues, and is equally unafraid to address problems within the Christian church itself – particularly surrounding elitism and bigotry in relation to other denominations and faiths.

To the uninitiated, the story of Hagar is told in the Book of Genesis. A former Egyptian hand-maiden to Pharaoh, she become the slave of biblical patriarch Abraham – the father of the three Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Judaism and Islam –and his wife, Sarah (or ‘Sarai’),

Sarah was unable to conceive so Hagar agreed to carry Abraham’s child, but while pregnant was cast out by Sarah due to jealousy. Bereft in the wilderness, Hagar was visited by an angel who blessed the unborn son and named him Ishmael, which translates as ‘God hears’.

Hagar returned to Abraham and Sarah and was welcomed back into the home, until 14 years later when God granted the couple a miracle child of their own – Isaac. At a feast honouring her son, Sarah overheard a now teenage Ishmael mocking him and soon Hagar and Ishmael once again found themselves banished. Alone and with her son close to death, Hagar’s plight appeared hopeless, until God heard the boy’s cries and provided a well of water.

The story is used throughout by McCreedy as a metaphor not only for the plight of refugees fleeing conflict, but also for those who have ever felt cast out, abandoned or rejected. This could be the hard-working immigrant who came to the UK to build a better life only to find suspicion and hatred, the estimated 21 million men, women and children around the world are currently trapped in some form of modern-day slavery from forced labour to sex trafficking, those who find themselves without shelter or someone isolated within their church.

Each chapter of Left To Die, But Loved By God looks at a key moment in the life of Hagar, and encourages readers to think about how she must have felt at that time, while examining the modern-day equivalents. At the end of each chapter, McCreedy poses a series of questions and points for reflection, encouraging the reader to examine their own moral conscience and think about the implications of their words and deeds.

Ultimately, the book makes a call for forgiveness, charity, tolerance and interfaith understanding – using the story of the unlikely reconciliation between Ishmael and Isaac to demonstrate that peace can be achieved even among those who have previously lived as enemies.

The book dares to opens readers’ eyes to spiritual elitism and extremism within the church – which McCreedy sees as being in opposition to Christian teaching and actively harming Christianity from the inside – and suggests that peace between the three Abrahamic faiths, and all other religions, can be achieved.

While this is ostensibly a book about religion, it will appeal not only to religious readers but also to anybody with an interest in theology, current affairs and humanitarian crises, or those simply seeking a new perspective on some of the pressing moral dilemmas facing society today.

In encouraging readers to think about the way they treat others, it is a powerful tool in raising awareness of the way we act towards our neighbours, and stresses the importance of recognising and challenging Islamophobia, homophobia, racism and all other forms of intolerance.

McCreedy makes an intelligent and compassionate call for change, and though it may be more than 2,000 years old, the Old Testament story of Hagar never felt more relevant, or inspirational, in illuminating this message of hope.

Left to Die, But Loved By God by John McCreedy (Malcolm Down Publishing) is out now, priced £8.99 in paperback. Visit www.johnmccreedy.co.uk

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Lovereading Summer Reading Survey 2016

Lovereading Summer Reading survey 2016

Lovereading Summer Reading survey 2016

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