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Book Review: The Five Year Queen by Janet Walkinshaw

Fans of Scottish fiction and historical novels will lap up this absorbing new novel from award-winning Scottish author Janet Walkinshaw.

 

The-Five-Year-Queen---coverThe eagerly-awaited second instalment of Walkinshaw’s ‘Scottish Reformation’ trilogy follows the well-received Knox’s Wife, which was unique in focusing on protestant reformer John Knox as a main character.

 

The Five Year Queen deals once again with the theme of religious history as well as putting the spotlight on another important yet oft-overlooked historical figure involved in the religious and social upheavals of the Scottish reformation.

 

Walkinshaw has a gift for seeing historical events through the eyes of women and In The Five Year Queen she has written possibly the first and only historical novel to focus on Mary of Guise – the eponymous protagonist.

 

The author’s clear, elegant prose has won her many fans and awards – her short stories have featured on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland – and her evocative language quickly draws readers into the novel, and the world of young Marie de Guise.

 

The book begins in 1537, when the French beauty has been recently widowed and finds herself in great demand among rulers looking for a suitable wife.

 

Marie is ordered by King François of France to marry Scottish King James V, in an attempt to strengthen the famous ‘Auld Alliance’ between the two. In England, meanwhile, Henry VIII is vying to make her his fourth wife.

 

Although she initially refuses both, her mind is changed by a letter, apparently penned by King James himself, pleading for help in governing the unruly Scottish kingdom.

 

With her sympathies engaged, Marie duly sets off for Scotland, where she is surprised by the level of sophistication at the Scottish court, but is conscious that she remains an outsider, and wary of the deep religious divides that are nurturing distrust, disloyalty and treacherous behaviour.

 

The threat of war is never far away, and over the border in England Henry looms large as a figure hungry for war, while the wider Protestant reformation is wreaking havoc across Europe.

 

Although James has several illegitimate children, his wife is well aware that she must bear him a son and heir, as other members of the nobility lie in wait, eager to seize the throne.

 

Walkinshaw returns to several key themes of her short stories, as collected in Long Road to Iona & Other Stories – travel, pilgrimage and shrugging off of identities – as she describes King James and Marie making a journey to a holy site that is said to help barren women bear children.

 

It is in moments like this that we see the living, breathing people behind the historical figures.

 

Marie becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, but external pressures take a great toll on her marriage and her husband begins to suffer depression and violent changes in personality. Although he appears to improve and his wife gives birth to another son, the story takes a tragic turn when both boys die, and it is unclear whether their deaths are natural or murder.

 

With Scotland on the brink of war with England, King James becomes ill again and, days after the birth of a daughter, he dies. Widowed for the second time, Marie is offered the chance to return to a wealthy life in France, but instead stays in her adopted nation to raise her daughter – the child who will grow up to become Mary, Queen of Scots.

 

The Five Year Queen will have great appeal to those with an interest in the past, but its weaving of historical fact and dramatic license makes for an absorbing work of women’s literary fiction, packed with heartache, dilemmas and turmoil.

 

The character of Marie de Guise is sympathetically drawn, and Walkinshaw endears her to a modern audience, many of whom might never have heard of her before, by highlighting her human traits – her fears and foibles, as well as her many strengths.

 

It’s a great read, and an important reminder of the role played by women in shaping British history.

 

The Five Year Queen by Janet Walkinshaw is available now, priced £7.99 in paperback and £3.54 as an eBook.

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Book Review: Knox’s Wife by Janet Walkinshaw

A fascinating work of historical fiction, Knox’s Wife is an engaging and elegantly-written novel from award-winning Scottish author and playwright Janet Walkinshaw.

 

Knox's-Wife---coverIt’s the first in Walkinshaw’s planned ‘Scottish Reformation’ trilogy, but as the trilogy is connected more by theme and time period then characters, it can easily be treated as a stand-alone novel.

 

Walkinshaw, whose short stories and plays have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland, has a keen interest in the religious upheavals that shook Britain to its core across the majority of the 16th century.

 

Indeed, this is a fertile setting for high drama, intrigue and clashes, both intellectual and physical, as the Protestant Reformation tried to sweep away centuries of Catholic tradition.

 

At the centre of this crusade in Scotland was Scottish clergyman, theologian and protestant reformer John Knox, but probably this is the first time that he has figured as a prominent figure in a work of fiction.

 

As well as having a knack for rich, descriptive prose that effortlessly transports the reader to another period in history, Walkinshaw also excels at telling stories from a female perspective, and here Knox’s real-life wife, Marjorie Bowes, is the protagonist through whom we gain a window into those troubled, dangerous times.

 

Those who fear they may be in for a lesson in theology can rest assured that while the battle between rival dogmas is (rightly) addressed, and done so engagingly, the novel at its heart is a nuanced account of a love affair conducted in a climate of fear and violence.

 

The author brings to life the conflicted feelings of Marjorie as she takes great personal risks to be with the person she loves.

 

Those familiar with the period may well have an idea of John Knox as a stern and bloody-minded man. Certainly, that is the way he has been portrayed in modern times, but through its conceit, Knox’s Wife offers up a fresh idea of the private man behind the religious icon.

 

The novel begins in Tudor England when Marjorie is a child growing up as one of several daughters in a rich and powerful English Catholic family. Amid a climate of paranoia and civil unrest generated by the sweeping religious reforms of King Henry VIII, they must conduct their religious observations in secret, with prayers spoken in closed circles and hushed voices.

 

As members of the gentry living in the north of the country, her family are deeply embroiled in the Northern rebellion against the enforced Protestant reforms, and she is raised hearing terrifying tales of marauding Scots crossing the border seeking bloody revenge for perceived religious wrongdoings.

 

When Marjorie is 17, her father Richard is appointed captain of a garrison stationed at Norham Castle – the biggest border stronghold defending against the Scots. It is in this cold and windswept landscape, a stark contrast to the luxurious home in which she grew up, that she first meets John Knox, a protestant Scottish preacher exiled from his own country for his beliefs, and recently released from imprisonment in the French galleys.

 

He becomes a regular visitor to the Bowes home, tending particularly to Marjorie’s mother, who has been thrown into deep religious, emotional and physical turmoil by the changing face of religion in the country.

 

Marjorie carries with her the memory of catching her mother in a clandestine embrace with a religious man other than her father, and perhaps marked by this warns Knox that his visits might cause people to gossip.

 

Soon, however, she discovers that it is herself and not her mother that he has strong feelings for.

 

Gradually, Marjorie begins to develop romantic feelings of her own but their hopes for a life together will not be easy, hampered by strong opposition from the Bowes family as well as the religious vacillations of the royal court, that lead to Mary Tudor, a Catholic, taking the throne and leading to Knox having to choose exile abroad or risk his life.

 

There is no shortage of books on the subject of the Protestant Reformation, but the majority concentrate on the English Reformation. As Knox’s Wife ably demonstrates, the Scottish side of the story is every bit as dramatic, and Walkinshaw has made this into a gripping read.

 

Knox’s Wife by Janet Walkinshaw is available now, priced £7.99 in paperback and £3.80 as an eBook.

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Book Review Long Road to Iona and Other Stories by Janet Walkinshaw

This endearing collection of 25 short stories from the pen of award-winning Scottish writer Janet Walkinshaw is a book to dip into time and again.

 

Long-Road-to-Iona---coverWith a wry sense of humour, Walkinshaw – whose work has been broadcast on BBC Radio Four – has created a cast of characters that will stick in readers’ minds.

 

She writes with a pleasing sense of the absurdity of day-to-day life and has a way of capturing the pleasures and disappointments of lives, whether lived fully to the last or cut sadly short.

 

Many of the stories also have an ironic or dark twist in the tale. It wouldn’t be right to spoil the surprises but be careful with little old ladies, tourist guides and straight-laced lawyers as they may not be what they seem.

 

Common themes in the book are those of travel, escape and disguise. Characters in the book frequently yearn to travel, to run away, or to simply shrug off their identities and begin again elsewhere.

 

Unrequited love and unresolved yearnings are also recurring threads. The story ‘Fergus in Love’, for example, introduces us to a character who has long carried an undeclared torch for a female friend.

 

In some of the stories, the tender feelings are mutual; in others they are clearly one-sided, and in others – such as ‘Miss Bell and Miss Heaton’ – the nature of the characters’ feelings is kept more ambiguous.

 

Among the longer stories, a standout is ‘I’ll Settle For Arran’, in which a woman’s travel plans are frequently thwarted by those around who don’t share her sense of adventure. There’s a sharp sting of pathos to this and many of Janet’s stories, but also a healthy dose of humour.

 

Each of the stories in the collection, brought together for the first time, has its own merits, but to this reviewer, major standouts include ‘Fergus and the Cost of Living’, in which the protagonist seeks a feeling of camaraderie and belonging among people of no fixed abode; ‘Waiting for a Death’ – a ‘sting-in-the-tale’ story of a duplicitous lawyer who bends the rules to be a ‘good friend’; and the title story ‘Long Road to Iona’, a longer, more complex tale in which a widowed woman finds herself written off by younger family members who move her from her beloved country farm to a “grotty flat up in the air”. She then begins to walk, and carry on walking, casting off responsibilities and even her own identity as she goes.

 

Like many of the stories in this book, the tale which lends the collection its title celebrates the freedom that comes from letting go of the weight of other people’s assumptions, the tedium of day-to-day duties and the embracing of the open road.

 

At times funny, frequently poignant and very often thought-provoking, Long Road to Iona & Other Stories is a literary path to follow.

 

Long Road to Iona and Other Stories by Janet Walkinshaw is available now, priced £6.99 in paperback.

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Top Ten most popular books on Lovereading 22 – 29 August 2016

Lovereading Top 10

1
The Girls The Girls
Lisa Jewell
May 2016 Book of the Month.
A captivating and deeply dark family drama and mystery, set in the midst of a London communal garden square. ‘The Girls’ begins as a party is ending, a thirteen year old girl is found unconscious …
Download free opening extract
2
Watching Edie Watching Edie
Camilla Way
August 2016 Book of the Month.
In alternating chapters headed “Before” and “After” and narrated by both Heather and Edie, this is one truly compulsive read. Menace hangs over the whole thing. “Before” was seventeen years ago when the girls became …
Download free opening extract
3
A Little History Of The English Country Church A Little History Of The English Country Church
Roy Strong
Appeared on “Hay-on-Sky” 28 May. In this eloquent, passionate and easy to read book Sir Roy Strong tells the dramatic story of the English parish church, from Anglo-Saxon times to its uncertain future in the twenty-first century. Anyone with the …
Download free opening extract
4
Where My Heart Used to Beat Where My Heart Used to Beat
Sebastian Faulks
The recurring themes of Sebastian Faulks’s fiction are here brought together with a new stylistic brilliance as the novel casts a long, baleful light over the century we have left behind but may never fully understand. Daring, ambitious and in …
Download free opening extract
5
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
6
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 …
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7
Eileen Eileen
Ottessa Moshfegh
Shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award 2016.
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016.
A young woman relentlessly drives through the darkness of the American roads. Is she fleeing from a misdemeanour? Is she on a mission? Slowly, …
Download free opening extract
8
The Final Minute The Final Minute
Simon Kernick
An action-packed page-turner with a pace that is relentless. A recurring nightmare troubles Matt Barron once he surfaces from his three-month coma after a traumatic car accident. The other horror is memory loss. He is recuperating at his sister’s and …
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9
Shopgirls True Stories of Friendship, Triumph and Hardship from Behind the Counter Shopgirls True Stories of Friendship, Triumph and Hardship from Behind the Counter
Dr. Pamela Cox, Annabel Hobley
From Victorian times down to the present day, a history of the women who have worked in the growing retail trade. Individual stories are laced into the narrative giving us a picture of the conditions the women faced from having …
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10
Talulla Rising Talulla Rising
Glen Duncan
The first book in this new series, The Last Werewolf, was one of our ‘stand out reads’ for 2011, so getting the sequel to review was an exciting event in the office and it doesn’t disappoint. The page-turning plot and …
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The Books Entrepreneurs Live By

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Book Review: The Customer Experience Book, By Alan Pennington

In a world where customers are increasingly inclined to go public with tales of exceptionally good – or bad – experiences, it’s more important than ever for businesses to get it right when it comes to delivering on their promises.

 

TheCustomerExperienceBook_smAnd with the advent of the internet making competition fierce in virtually every field of business these days, gaining and retaining customers by providing a quality experience is more vital than ever.

 

But while, according to customer experience expert and author Alan Pennington, many business professionals are aware of this, at least in theory, the vast majority lack the detailed knowledge necessary to make real, lasting change. This is where The Customer Experience Book comes in.

 

Newly released by Pearson, this is the first practical guide to implementing an effective customer experience policy within and across a business. As such, it will prove an indispensable resource for anyone in business, from C-suite executives to those working in human resources, marketing and sales, and front-line customer service.

 

As Pennington explains, experience that customers have when dealing with a company can have a huge impact on the success or otherwise of its operations, which makes it all the more surprising that relatively few companies are presently addressing the issue.

 

In this straight-talking guide, the author, who co-founded market-leading global customer experience consultancy Mulberry Consulting, gets right to the nub of the matter, presenting practical ideas and solutions that, when properly implemented, can yield impressive results for businesses of all sizes.

 

As a concept, customer experience, or ‘CX’ for short, is relatively new; only entering the business lexicon within the last decade or so.

 

Unfortunately, according to Pennington, many British businesses have been slow to catch on, preferring to continue with an old operational model that might have worked in the past but is woefully ill-suited to today’s commercial pressures.

 

One of his central arguments is hard to refute: why waste potentially millions of pounds on advertising and marketing of a product or service just to lose those same customers you’ve courted if the overall customer experience is flawed.

 

By this, he not only means the product or service itself, though that’s a large part, but the total package, including the customer’s experiences with the sales team or help desk.

For those rare businesses that get it right, such as Apple, the net result can reap dividends in generating repeat business, customer loyalty and word-of-mouth recommendations.

 

Refreshingly, Pennington is no idealist and appreciates that a company philosophy cannot simply change overnight. What he advises are gentle steps towards the CX goal, perhaps over the space of a few years, so both employees and customers don’t get scared off by the new polarisation.

 

In The Customer Experience Book he offers an ‘end-to-end’ view of the subject, which cuts through the jargon and the publicity stunts to clearly and simply show business leaders how to integrate and deploy a customer experience strategy that will give their brand the edge.

 

Citing numerous case studies and examples of good and bad practice in the field, Pennington highlights how businesses are often defeating their own ends by sacrificing a quality customer experience in favour of cutting costs: for example, by outsourcing to that bane of modern existence, the call centre, or by encouraging telephone staff to stick to a script to shave time from their communications.

 

This book introduces measurement tools such as Customer Journey Mapping and the effective use of Big Data, and as a whole is enormously useful in helping business leaders assess where their company currently stands, and what steps they should take to delivering a customer experience that will genuinely benefit both their customers and bottom line.

 

The Customer Experience Book (Pearson) by Alan Pennington is out now, priced £17.99. Find out more thecustomerexperiencebook.com

 

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Author Talk: Jackie Morris and Jon Boden discuss their book The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow

9781910862650Globally acclaimed artist and author Jackie Morris inspires us with an illustrated short story collection, The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow, inspired by music and musicians. This collection of interwoven illustrated stories for adults are also perfect to share with musically inclined children of all ages. Here Jackie shares her thoughts and then singer, composer and musician, Jon Boden also shares his.

 

Jackie Morris talks:

Jackie_Morris_picThe Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow is a book worked backwards. The illustrations were commissioned Christmas card designs for the charity Help Musicians, produced at a rate of one painting a year.

 

The brief was always the same: anything, so long as there were musical instruments or musicians in it. Even with the first card there was an unwritten narrative behind the image of three kings, three ships and a star.

 

After a few years the narrative widened; characters began to move between the paintings, sometimes missing for a year or two, but entering again into the next year’s card as if returning from a journey. As they gathered over the years, the stories flowed between the cards and the images became a window into a strange world.

 

Sometimes people would ask me if there was a story behind a piece of work, and what it was. I would reply, “you tell me.” My feeling was that the images all spoke a different story to different people.

 

Now, here, between the covers of this book there is a new gathering, of images and stories. The words tell only a small part of what can be found in the images. These stories ask more questions than they answer. Look at the paintings and find within them more answers. The book is a harbour in which to rest, a catalyst for the imagination, and the stories are a series of lullabies for grown-ups.

 

My hope is that the threads of stories will wrap around the dreams of others and spin fine gold threads to catch the imagination.

 

 

Jon Boden, Singer, Composer and Musician talks:

jon_bowden_smI first became aware of the beautiful imagination of Jackie Morris over ten years ago when I received a Christmas card with a panoramic vision of snow, patchwork balloons and music-making pilgrims entitled “Flight of Fancy”. The picture was so mysterious and enchanting that I immediately stuck it in a frame and placed it on our living room mantelpiece, and there it has remained ever since, centre-fold crease and all.

 

Morris’ sixteen-year “flight of fancy” in her work for Help Musicians UK (previously the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund) has been a slowly blossoming flower, each year yielding a tantalising glimpse into an enigmatic, free-flowing world with music at its heart. Each character, each landscape feels like the window into an unknowable story that is quietly carrying on its own time and space, untroubled by the inquisitive eyes of onlookers gazing up from beneath the mantelpiece. I must admit to a tinge of sadness every time I’ve immersed myself in these pictures, that the secrets of their private cosmos would never be revealed.

 

So thank goodness Jackie Morris has decided to throw open that window and invite us into the magical world of The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow.

 

The question of where folk tales have come from is one that has long occupied literary theorists and psychologists alike, but most agree that the strange, simple, twisted beauty of such stories must be a manifestation of the human subconscious itself. That being the case it follows that new fairy tales can only really be created if they are written sub-consciously. For most people that would presumably mean taking mind-altering drugs or hoping that a dream comes along at some point with narrative intact…

Love-Reading_The-Quiet-Music-of-Gently-Falling-Snow_Jackie-Morris-ilovepdf-compressed-5

The brilliance of this book is that Morris has devised a far more interesting and fruitful method for tapping into the subconscious world of the folk tale. By letting her imagination run riot through her paintings over many years without any compulsion to provide a narrative context she has yielded the sign-posts for these stories. But since they have come bubbling up from her own sub-conscious it is only really possible for her to follow those markers and piece together the hidden stories of her own visual imaginings.

 

That she has managed to do so in such a compelling, lucid and bewitching way is not only immensely gratifying for readers and lovers of great illustrative art, but is also tremendously exciting for the future of artistic creation itself. Music, painting and words have long been close acquaintances, but in The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow Morris has discovered a way of bringing the three art forms together in a truly organic, intuitive amalgam.

 

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Book Review: Because of You by Helene Fermont

Because of You by debut author Helene Fermont is a confident and absorbing work of modern women’s fiction with a psychological twist, spanning three decades in the intertwined lives of four individuals.

BOY-cover-(RGB-update)Starting off at the tail end of the disco era in the 1970s, the novel introduces us to fresh-faced 18-year-old Hannah Stein, who has left her native Sweden to spend a gap year in London before launching into a challenging teaching career with special-needs children.

The early chapters see Hannah finding her feet as she adjusts to life away from her parents, making friends and slowly coming out of her shell as she is introduced to the exciting London club scene.

Here she meets the handsome, charismatic Mark. There is an immediate and undeniable sexual chemistry between them, but Mark has a reputation as a serial womaniser and the couple’s relationship quickly becomes tempestuous.

While still involved with Mark, Hannah is introduced to the alluring Ben at a friend’s birthday party. They are made for each other and he has the stamp of approval from Hannah’s parents and friends, but the course of true love never did run smooth and over the coming years life will throw a series of obstacles in their path as Hannah tries to decide between him and the persuasive yet unscrupulous Mark.

Foremost among these obstacles will be Vanessa, the daughter of a millionaire who is Ben’s business partner. Her obsession with Ben means she will stop at nothing to undermine the relationship between Ben and Hannah, and a cash-strapped Mark is only too happy to help in her underhand plans.

Split between London and Sweden, Because of You weaves a complex and fulfilling narrative tapestry as the years, and decades, pass.

Just as in real life, the indiscretions and mistakes of the past leave their mark on the characters as each searches for happiness in their own, sometimes misguided, way.

Between 1978 and 2014, when the saga comes to an uplifting and satisfying conclusion, Hannah, Vanessa, Mark and Ben face many trials and tribulations, some shared, some alone; some to be expected and others, such as a terrifying rape ordeal, coming completely out of the blue.

Loss, bereavement, and grief are recurring themes. Hannah, for example, has to accept that friends move on with their lives and that her parents and beloved grandmother will not be around for ever.

The description of one of the characters having to deal with their mother’s sad decline with Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, is especially poignant, as is another character’s experiences after suffering a miscarriage.

Another key motif is the role of fate and destiny in shaping people’s lives, and how individuals respond to situations that are simply out of their control.

What is refreshing is how author Helene Fermont goes to great lengths to create believable and relatable three-dimension characters. Even the supporting cast and most villainous antagonists all have their reasons for acting as they do while retaining the facility to adapt, even to find some form of redemption and atonement, over the course of time.

And perhaps it’s the author’s Anglo-Swedish heritage that has a part to play in making Because of You unique in the booming women’s lit genre. The realism combined with dark psychological undertones have more than a whiff of Scandinavian noir about it, usually something found only within the realm of crime fiction.

As engaging as it is thought-provoking, this character-driven novel is a nuanced account of the way past events and experiences can shape personalities and impact on the present – both for good and bad – and how, beneath the turbulent streams of life, enduring love, acceptance and fidelity can ultimately bring peace and contentment.

At 500 pages, it’s not a short read and certainly not to be mistaken for an airport novel.

But for readers ready to invest the time and emotion, they will discover that Because of You is an exceptional first novel by an author with a clear and original voice, and a very promising future.

Because of You by Helene Fermont (Fridhem Publishing) is published August 15, priced £9.99 in paperback and £3.99 as an ebook. Find out more at helenefermont.com

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Author Talk: Q&A with Christobel Kent author of The Loving Husband

 

9780751562415-2Did you have the whole plot for this book worked out before you started writing or did you change or review certain things as ideas came to you?

For this novel, as for my previous English-set thriller The Crooked House, and the one I have just finished – although not for any of my Italian books – I worked out the whole plot before I began writing the book in a scene by scene plan, much more than a synopsis, something around a hundred pages long. It doesn’t at all feel as though I ‘begin writing’ when I set out to write the novel itself, as an awful lot of quite developed writing has already happened. I do it this way because I need to understand the characters and develop them before the plot takes shape. Even a plan as detailed as this, though, allows for changes and digressions. One clue or plot twist or character can end up taking much more space and significance than another, for example and ideas can occur to me as I go along. But there are much less likely to be any big changes, such as who did it.
 

What is the most interesting thing you have learnt when creating your books? Do you learn new things about yourself?

You learn how dull and uninteresting you are, quite a lot of the time!  Putting your thoughts and yourself down on paper can be rather testing, when you only think ooofff how boring. I try very very hard not to be boring, that’s my idea of total failure as a novelist, so I suppose I set the bar very high.

 

Was Nathan a difficult character to research? He seemed to have a lot of psychological problems that gave him power to control people that should have known better?

I don’t really research characters, or indeed anything in my novels aside from some small specific technical details. I just sort of accumulate bits of information about criminal or unpleasant behaviour – about bad people whose quirks and characteristic behaviours can be given away in chance remarks or newspaper stories. Such as: when the infamous Rosemary and Fred West were tried, a neighbour said of Rose West that she was astonished she could have been capable of such terrible acts because ‘she kept her children’s hair so nice’. Small unexpected or telling details like that are gold dust, and they can come from all sorts of places – not least amongst one’s acquaintance; usually not from people one knows well but from passing encounters. I don’t seek them out or write them down, but once heard they are never forgotten. There are plenty of men a little bit like Nathan out there: men who need to control their wives or lovers or girlfriends, and disguise that control as loving care.

  

How did you feel when you heard your novel was going to be optioned for a three-part drama by ITV studios?

I was absolutely delighted, of course!  When you write – and I have written eleven novels now – practically the first thing anyone ever says is wouldn’t it be great if it was turned into a TV series/movie?  Of course I know quite well what the odds are even of being optioned, let alone the film or series actually getting made, so my heart always sank when the question was asked. But my books are all in their way cinematic, not least because I focus a lot on setting, and always have a very strong visual idea of what is happening and where. And trying to decide on one’s perfect cast list for one’s characters is every author’s favourite daydream (not least because it ends with us being rich and famous).
 

What does your usual writing day routine consist of?

My usual writing day routine consists of getting the children out of the house to school (this is easier than it used to be as I only have the last of five children at home now), sitting down at my computer (which is in my bedroom, facing the wall so as to present no opportunities for distraction) and writing for two hours, roughly. This was established when I started writing and I had a nine-year-old, a seven-year-old, a five-year-old and a three-year-old. When the last baby came along a couple of years later, two hours was an absolute maximum because that was how long she would sleep after I had wheeled her home in the pram from dropping the others at school. My husband makes me one cup of the best coffee in the world after about ten minutes, and I make myself a second (less perfect) one when I have got to five hundred words. I write a thousand words a day roughly, never less, occasionally more. When I started writing I used sometimes to go over it again in the evening for half an hour, with a glass of wine in my hand. I do that less now, but it works pretty well as a light self-editing technique. As long as you only ever do it on one glass of wine.

 

Have you ever written a scene that has scared you enough so you have had to walk away for a minute or two?

I don’t get scared exactly by my own writing, as generally I have a resolution worked out – though I have had the hairs rise on the back of my neck. For example, when in The Loving Husband Fran goes up into the attic of the grim old house she lives in: I hadn’t really worked out what it was she was going to find there when I began writing it so it was more about closing my eyes and thinking of what a dark spidery attic feels like, the space, the smell, the rafters, the quality of the shadows and that sense in many crowded attics that something might be waiting in there.

 

Where does the darkness in The Loving Husband come from?

I think the darkness in The Loving Husband comes from my understanding of the very risky business of motherhood, the fears and burdens it brings, and of committing yourself to another human being for life, very often when you know very little about them. People regularly turn out to be darker and more complicated than you first realise, when they present their sunniest, most upbeat face to you and the world; sometimes they conceal their true selves from you, consciously or unconsciously, sometimes they change with major life events such as having children. The thought of revealing your most vulnerable, needy self, your deepest self, to someone who then either rejects or abuses or manipulates you, is horrible to me. And if you add in the need – as in The Loving Husband – to protect small children, plus a hostile alien environment, what you get is terror.

 

Do your characters stay with you after you finish writing or do you leave them on the page?

Some of my characters stay with me long after I’ve written the novel in which they appear. The best ones do – and the ones you mine yourself most deeply for. In my Italian detective series, of course, (five novels so far) I have come to think of my principal characters as my own family. I know I am going to see them again, and look forward to it.

 

Have any authors or novels particularly shaped your writing style?

I don’t think I write like any other crime writer, if I am honest. I often wish I did – but those who have inspired me are Patricia Highsmith for her deep uncompromising darkness and understanding of the criminal urge, Daphne du Maurier for her wild imagination, her delight in bold drama and her intense involvement with landscape, and Georges Simenon for his fine cool economy with description and detail and characterisation, his understanding that what is really interesting in a crime story is human nature. I think Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine is really the mistress of the powerful hybrid that is the literary psychological thriller and she was the model who gave me confidence to write something more elaborate than a simple ‘mystery’ while not losing sight of the mission to entertain and excite and terrify.

 

Did you have a favourite bedtime read as a child? If so, what did you particularly love about it? 

I loved Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase series (though when I was a child I think she had only written the first four). Black Hearts in Battersea was my favourite, I think. I loved her fine eye for physical detail and her brilliant way with character – feisty misfit girls, evil governesses, lumbering sidekicks – and her strong sense of adventure, of what a child responds to, and beauty. There was a wonderful scene in Wolves of Willoughby Chase when the two main characters, young girls, escape in deep snowy winter from an orphanage by scaling the wall and are met by a friend driving a cart loaded with sheepskins where they can burrow down and stay warm even in the frosty night, safe from pursuing wolves.

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Author Talk: Unravelling by Thorne Moore

Author Thorne Moore answers a few questions from Lovereading about her book Unravelling 

9781909983489What were you like at school?

Academically bright, socially hopeless. It wasn’t my happiest time.

Were you good at English?

Yes, great at English Language, which involved grammar and what would now be called creative writing. My best O level grade was English Language. However, I very nearly failed English Literature, since it seemed to be about expressing the correct opinions about other people’s writing. I have never been short of my own opinions.

Which writers inspire you?

Iris Murdoch, Barbara Vine, Kate Atkinson – and Jane Austen in a very humble, kneeling-at-her-feet sort of way. I used to use milestones in her life to encourage me not to give up. She was 36 when she first got published. That encouraged me until I was 37. She died at 42, so I gave myself till 42. Seriously annoying when I turned 43. Now I reconcile myself with thinking that she took her time to get going.

So, what have you written?

Well, apart from the 20,000 novels written and discarded since I was about 14, I have three novels published by Honno – A Time For Silence, Motherlove and The Unravelling, which was published in July this year. My first published work was a short story, in a magazine, in 2010, which was voted 1st prize by the readers. It gave me the push I really needed to get over the finishing line.

What genre are your books?

A difficult question. Crime, but not whodunits. I am not interested in crime as a puzzle, with clues to be followed in order to reach a triumphant conclusion. I am not interested in a duel between goody and baddy, with a clever criminal carefully planning a crime and determined to mislead an even more brilliant detective. The crimes I am interested in are the unintended ones, the ones committed on the spur of the moment by people pushed into a corner, crimes that are just the fatally wrong choice at the wrong moment. The crimes they didn’t mean to commit and wish they hadn’t. It’s the psychological impact that interests me, and the long-term consequences. Even if I write about psychopaths, I am really interested in how it all came about and how people would cope with having a psychopath in their midst. Would they recognise the phenomenon or try to pretend it’s not true? And how would they cope with the aftermath? I could call my genre Psychological Mystery, but I quite like Domestic Noir.

How much research do you do?

Enough to make sure I get details right when necessary. I don’t want any reader to start screaming ‘She’s got that wrong!’although I expect some will, but I try to get dates, procedures, little details right. I don’t want to make any research too obvious, though. Sometimes, research uncovers details that I itch to include, because they are so astonishing and interesting, but if they are irrelevant to the theme or characters, I have to be firm with myself and put them to one side. So I put aside all the fascinating information I discovered about a local POW camp, when I was writing A Time For Silence, because it didn’t add to my theme, but I did read local newspapers and talk to local people in order to get the general background right. In my latest book, The Unravelling, I needed to check small things like the weather on very specific days, or TV schedules from years ago. The internet really is a godsend for that sort of research. Instant answers found at the click of a mouse. How did I manage before? On the other hand, it is about a girl who was 10 in 1966, and I didn’t have to research that. I just had to remember it.

Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?

Any author worth her salt is supposed to say, ‘Oh I always write in longhand with my trusty Parker fountain pen,’ or ‘Call me old fashioned, but I still tap with two fingers on the Remington Standard 2 I inherited from my great-great-grandmother.’ Rubbish. The word processor, on my laptop, is the best thing since unsliced Granary bread. No more throwing reams of paper in the bin, no more illegible corrections scribbled in margins, and extra bits sellotaped in. No more realising that you’ve used the wrong name and wondering how many times you’ve done it in the previous 300 pages. Cut, paste, find and replace – brilliant.

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

I have a loose outline and yes, I see where it takes me. I usually have very definite images of the locations, and of most of the characters but sometimes I think I know what they’re going to do and they surprise me. If they have developed in a realistic enough manner, who am I to argue with their choices?

What is the hardest thing about writing?

Writing isn’t hard. Deleting half of what you’ve written because it shouldn’t be there is the hard bit. All the editing – and the endless waiting. “Writer” is only one letter removed from “Waiter.” That’s the most agonising part of the process.

What are your thoughts on writing a book series?

I’ve never wanted to in the past, but a carrot has been dangled before my nose and I’m seriously thinking about it. I can see the appeal.

What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?

My thoughts on bad reviews don’t bear repeating. But mostly, really bad reviews are by bad tempered people who got out of bed the wrong side, or who are simply the wrong audience for the book. I don’t write bad reviews, because if I think a book is really bad, I can’t be bothered to review it. If someone can be bothered, he or she is probably prompted by hidden issues. Good reviews, on the other hand, really lift the spirits. They don’t have to be five star reviews to be good. A good review, for me, is one that shows the reader has read my book and thought hard about it. That is very flattering.

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