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Ask the Author: Karen Maitland

Book Review: The Raven’s Head by Karen Maitland, plus Q&A with the author 

By Vikki Patis

When Karen Maitland’s new novel The Raven’s Head came up for review on Lovereading, I was ecstatic. I simply had to have it.

I adore Maitland’s work. Her books are dark, gritty, and utterly absorbing. I always read her historical notes, finding them fascinating, and extremely informative. Maitland is an utterly brilliant storyteller. Her novels are always full of dark, creepy settings, and captivating characters. The Raven’s Head is no different.

The Raven’s Head introduces us to several interesting characters, from different walks of life, who come together under the roof of one man – Lord Sylvain. Vincent, an apprentice librarian from France, flees the country after angering his master, who plots to have him killed. In his possession is a beautiful raven’s head, which refuses to be sold, as it seeks out its true master.

Gisa, a young woman who lives and works in her uncle’s apothecary shop, is soon recruited by Lord Sylvain, for her knowledge of herbs and her innocence. Wilky, a small boy who was offered up by his father as payment for a debt, is taken by the menacing White Canons, and becomes Regulus, the little king. He soon learns a life of hardship and fear.

All three will be useful to Sylvain and the White Canons, as they endeavour to use the power of alchemy to fulfil their wildest dreams.

A wonderful historical fiction, full of the supernatural and intrigue, The Raven’s Head is yet another triumph for Maitland.

I took the opportunity to ask Maitland a few questions about The Raven’s Head.

As mentioned in a previous interview, Maitland usually looks at contemporary issues, and tries to find a historical counterpart to base her stories on. I wanted to know which issues inspired The Raven’s Head.

There are two current issues. Today, in 2015, we are all aware of the terrible atrocities that are being committed by members of different religious groups in the name of their God. Throughout the centuries, greed, ambition and hatred have driven individuals and groups to murder, but when people believe they are acting as instruments of God, it seems to makes them much more ruthless and cruel. Since the dawn of writing, men have been able to twist the meaning of any holy text to justify their actions in their quest for absolute power. In THE RAVEN’S HEAD, two men each have different interpretations of the same book. Each is convinced he alone knows God’s mind. Such men are always exceeding dangerous.

Photo---Karen-Maitland_smThe story of THE RAVEN’S HEAD revolves around the mysterious art of medieval alchemy which, at its heart, was the search for never-ending life. Today, medical researchers and scientists are still searching for the exactly the same thing as those medieval alchemists – how to stop people dying; how to prolong life and how to resurrect the dead, though today we try to do it through storing eggs and sperm; through cryonics; or by using the DNA to create clones. While scientists now believe that the answer to prolonging life and preventing death could lie in altering the genetic code of human cells, the alchemists believed that by altering the balance of elements in the body they could prevent death. Centuries apart we are still looking for that magic alchemist’s stone.

But THE RAVEN’S HEAD has its lighter moments too. The young medieval hero of the novel is always trying to think of ways to get rich that don’t involve actual work and like many of us, he is dreaming of the medieval equivalent of today’s lottery win.

Maitland’s books are always incredibly well-researched, with extensive historical notes at the end. I wanted to know how she goes about her research.

Finding the right setting is always the starting point for the research. I was walking along a road in the Norfolk fens one night when I glimpsed the pale ruins of Langley Abbey rising out of the mist. It was so eerie that I knew I’d found the setting for THE RAVEN’S HEAD. I began by reading the records of past archaeological excavations carried out on the site and as well as the medieval ecclesiastical records of the abbey itself, including the reports on its finances written by Thomas Cromwell’s men during the reformation.

The ecclesiastical records revealed that the white canons at Langley Abbey were accused of all kinds of sins and throughout the Middle Ages new abbots were repeatedly appointed to try to discipline them, but on most occasions, it seems, the abbots appeared to be corrupted by Langley and had to be replaced.

For the alchemy aspect of the novel, she read as many texts written by medieval alchemists as she could find.

To protect themselves and their knowledge, the alchemists recorded their experiments in a coded language using elaborate symbols, often in the form of pictures. As I pored over the strange and violent images in the manuscripts – pictures of hermaphrodite sovereigns descending into tombs and boys being eaten by their fathers – the challenge for me was to try to understand how the medieval mind might have interpreted these images.

Maitland is drawn to the Dark Ages for many reasons.

It is an age on the cusp between the ancient and the modern world. An age of omens and magic on the one hand, yet if you had walked into medieval alchemist laboratory, you would instantly recognise apparatus and techniques that are still used in modern science labs today. I am constantly surprised to discover what they knew in Middle Ages such how to use anaesthetic and antiseptics and how to drill and fill teeth.

It was an age of rapid change and of great contrast in the way people lived. While some people rarely left their villages, others traded right across the world, bringing goods, and exotic animals, into England from India, Africa and Siberia. The English even exported herrings as far as the Middle East. This variety and colour gives any novelist enormous scope. I love to delve into the lives of groups of people pushed into the margins of society, those who lurk forgotten in the dark corners of history. The Middle Ages is full of such people whose stories have never really been heard.

A woman after my own heart, Maitland loves reading novels set in the murky depths of Victorian life.

But that’s rather a crowded field for writers. So for now I am happy to stay in the medieval world. It is such a broad span of history with so many little-known aspects to write about, but if I was going to explore another era, I’d probably want to go back rather than forward, maybe to Saxon times or Viking times, or perhaps delve into much earlier civilisations in Europe.

In August 2015, Maitland will be one of the Arvon tutors on the Historical Fiction residential course for writers, working together with the brilliant historical novelist M.C. Scott, of whom Maitland is a huge fan.

I am really excited about sharing time with the students on the course and reading their writing. I’ll also be leading a one-day ‘Historical Crime and Thriller’ writing workshop in September in Norwich as part of the Norwich Crime Writing Weekend. So it seems to be a year when I will be helping new historical novel writers to blossom, which is fantastic.

As for her next novel, Maitland is hard at work on a new one, but it is not yet at a stage where she can talk about it to anyone without destroying the magic of the writing process.

So, like the medieval alchemists, I am locked away in my own laboratory of secrets, mixing my potions and muttering to myself.

Author photo © John C. Gibson

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Author Talk. Me & Mr J by Rachel McIntyre

The premise behind the debut Me and Mr J by Rachel McIntyre is current and controversial, with a pupil/teacher relationship at its core. Our reviewer Andrea Reece said of the book ‘An impressive YA debut, this is a book to make you think, with characters that will stay with you after the final page‘ so we were excited and pleased when the author agreed to give us some exclusive background information about how her own work as a teacher has influenced the book.

Thoughts from the author

When I began “Me and Mr J”, I was fortunate enough to be teaching in a fantastic sixth form college and my inspiration came from a news story dominating the headlines. A girl running away with a teacher? My students were so fascinated and their opinions so varied and passionate, I knew I just had to write about it.

The trigger for Lara’s narrative was a student fervently arguing “but it’s romantic”. As an adult and a teacher, I was horrified but it started me thinking….how would a 15/16 year old feel? It’s easy with years of adult experience to recognise an abuse of power, but would an desperately unhappy and naïve teenager think the same way? Maybe not. That’s how the character of Lara was born.

From her point of view, Mr J is the “knight in shining armour” who rescues her from the grim reality of her life, providing a refuge from the bullies and a shoulder to cry on when there’s no-one else around.

To a young girl, a forbidden relationship might appear “romantic”, but the central message of the novel is it is always WRONG. Lara fully believes Mr J is simply a boyfriend with added complications and using her naïve perspective enabled me to present how and why a relationship like this could develop. Lara grows up during the course of the novel and ends a wiser – and much happier- girl, able to stand up for herself. Most importantly, she has learnt to recognise that just because something feels right, doesn’t mean it is right. Teachers should never enter in to relationships with pupils. Full stop.

The world through the eyes of a vulnerable and unhappy sixteen year old can be a confusing place and trying to pin that down in writing is a daunting task. In “Me and Mr J”, Lara surrounded by conflict and uses her diary to explore and record her feelings. Creating Lara’s distinctive voice was key to the novel as I wanted to add  an underlying vulnerability and naivety to her sarcastic and lively response to the world around her.

I watched a lot of teen- targeted TV and read a lot of Heat magazine to try to create authenticity. And obviously, I spent my working days surrounded by people the same age and from the same town as Lara, so her voice grew from the way my students talked; their humour and sarcastic take on life permeates the book. They were without a doubt my biggest influence.

I guess I really wanted to write for them, too, particularly the ones who didn’t usually read. As I was writing the book, I definitely had them in mind as my target audience. Many of the students I taught loved reading for pleasure, but many didn’t. Not because they weren’t technically accomplished readers, but because TV, film, internet and other distractions meant maybe they only had time for a magazine or a misery memoir on holiday. What did they like? I took their interest in soap opera romance, family life, comedy, traumatic events, the teen female lead who triumphs over difficulties; combined them with the hook of a scandal  and wove it all in to “Me and Mr J”.

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Ask the Author: Samantha Shannon

By Vikki Patis

I spoke to author Samantha Shannon ahead of the publication of her new novel, The Mime Order.



The year is 2059. Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant – and under Scion law, she commits treason simply by breathing.

Elsewhere, however, there is a seat of power even greater than Scion. And they have a different design for Paige and her uncommon abilities…


samantha-shannon-the-mime-orderBorn in Hammersmith in 1991, Shannon has lived in the city’s western suburbs ever since. In 2010, she began studying English Language and Literature at St Anne’s College in Oxford, and published her first novel, The Bone Season, in 2013. The Bone Season marked the beginning of a seven-book series, published by Bloomsbury.

A fan of old music, gramophones, good coffee and real books, Shannon has four siblings, four parents, and a male tortoise named Lily-Beth. Her second novel, The Mime Order, will be published on the 27 January this year.

Shannon and I are the same age. This both frightens and inspires me. I wanted to know how a young woman has managed to embark upon such a successful career as an author.

I wanted to be a writer since I was about twelve or thirteen. I’d always been a voracious reader, and I’d written little stories before that, but it wasn’t until then that I became fully aware of the idea that people actually created stories for a living. As a child, I’d been so interested in books that I’d never really paid attention to the names on the cover. I knew, then, that there was nothing else in the world I’d rather do.

She takes a lot of her inspiration from cities.

I am endlessly fascinated by cities, which is one of the reasons I love travelling so much. Each person, each building, each street, and each district has its own story to tell, and its own song to sing. The core ideas of The Bone Season and The Mime Order came from living in London and Oxford.

9781408857397Her advice to aspiring writers is to listen to your gut instinct.

Be open to critique, but don’t feel like you have take too much advice. Remember, it’s your story, and nobody can tell it quite like you can. Listen to your gut instinct. 

Before she was published, Shannon was concerned about not having a say when it came to how her book looked. But her fears were unfounded.

It would have been comforting to know that I’d be able to stay in control of how my work was presented. My publisher, Bloomsbury, always asks for my opinion on things like cover design and illustrations.

Shannon is currently working on the third book in the Bone Season series, which she’s hoping will be finished in time for publication in 2016. She will also be on tour in the US and the UK.

This year I’ll be on tour in the US from the 9th to the 15th of February. I’ll be appearing in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Missouri, Utah, and California. I’m also doing various events around the UK from January onwards.

For more information on her tour, check her website.

As she has to focus on her own writing for a while, Shannon is not currently reading anything.

The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon is published by Bloomsbury on 27th January 2015, £12.99 hardback and £10.99 eBook.

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Ask the Author: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

As I state in the Author’s Note in the back of My Heart and Other Black Holes, I began to write the book in January 2013, a few days after the death of one of my very closest friends. I found myself in a place of deep grief and working almost compulsively on the manuscript was one of the ways in which I dealt with those feelings.

So while one of the major inspirations for the book stemmed from my own grief, I also pulled inspiration from a desire to write about the importance of love and all of its many forms (familial love, friendship love, romantic love, and most importantly self-love). Though Aysel and Roman’s relationship certainly drives the main thread of the plot, the book for me has always foremost been about Aysel’s journey to self-love and self-acceptance.

Depression is such a tricky disease to understand because it usually doesn’t present in any physical way; you don’t lose your hair, you don’t lose a limb, you don’t break out in a violent rash. But on the inside, you feel terrible. Your mind is your own worst bully, which makes self-love a nearly impossible prospect at times. Even though depression can be nearly impossible to physically detect, it is certainly a very serious disease; however despite depression’s severity (and oftentimes its longevity), it doesn’t have to be a terminal disease.

And so I set out to write a book that not only illuminates the realities of depression, but also showcases what I believe to be one of the most important components to battling and surviving depression: love and human connection. At the start of the book, Aysel is very isolated, but as the novel progresses, and she begins to let Roman into her life, she starts to see her world, including herself, from a new perspective, and this makes all the difference.

What Roman does for Aysel is what I think is one of the most beautiful things about friendship—how our friends help us to see ourselves through a different, more forgiving lens. Through our friends’ love, we learn to accept and love ourselves. Sometimes we even learn to find strengths where we used to see only weakness, find beauty where before we only saw ugliness. My dear friend who passed away certainly did that for me, and while the actual storyline of the novel is not based on him in any way, that particular kernel of inspiration stemmed from my grief of losing such an important person and desire to write a story that hopefully honors the strength and importance of human connection.

I hope readers of My Heart and Other Black Holes will be reminded of the people in their life that they love. That the book will encourage them to be kind and gentle with those loved ones. And even more importantly, I hope after finishing the book, readers will learn to be kinder and gentler to themselves because self-love and self-acceptance are paramount. Jasmine Warga.

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Ask the Author: Karen Maitland author of Company of Liars

By Vikki Patis

I spoke to best-selling medieval thriller author Karen Maitland about her writing process.

With many books published by several publishers, Karen Maitland deserves the title of best-selling author. Company of Liars, published by Penguin in 2008, was shortlisted for a Sue Feder Memorial Award for the best historical mystery of the year, and with very good reason. I picked up Company of Liars after a recommendation from a friend, and was blown away by Maitland’s captivating and compelling style.

Photo---Karen-Maitland_smAs well as writing her own books, Maitland is one of six historical crime writers known as the Medieval Murderers. Together with Philip Gooden, Susannah Gregory, Michael Jecks, Bernard Knight and Ian Morson, she writes an annual joint murder-mystery novel, which is published by Simon & Schuster. She also contributes a regular blog on The History Girls website on the 8th of each month.

Company of Liars came to be written after Maitland was commissioned by the National Rural Touring Company to travel from Cumbria to Cornwall with a multicultural show, and write a book about the tour. Maitland is known for her historical accuracy, with a novelist’s flair, and her extensive research is evident in her wonderful stories.

Her latest novel, The Vanishing Witch, was published by Headline in August this year, and was listed as the Best Historical Fiction for summer reading in Woman’s Own.

After enjoying The Gallow’s Curse, another fascinating historical thriller, I contacted Maitland, and she was kind enough to answer my questions about her writing process.

When Maitland understood that a novel could be about what people really felt and feared, she began to write. But she kept her writing a secret for years.

‘The first adult novel I ever read which was Graham Greene’s ‘The Power and the Glory.’ It was the first time I understood that novels could be about real people – people who weren’t beautiful, who had flaws and bad habits, normal people who when faced with torture and death would naturally want to run away. Up to then all the children’s books I’d read had been about impossible, handsome heroes who charged into danger, but you knew would always escape.’

Maitland needs three things to come together for an idea to work: location, central character, an event.

The location is very important, as, to Maitland, it is a character in a story, as it has as much personality as any character.

‘A remote village, a haunted street, a church with a strange carving or a lonely marsh. Every time I go anywhere, I am looking for a place that might inspire a future novel.’

For the central character, Maitland tends to use someone who is outside society, such as a girl with a hidden birthmark, as in The Owl Killers, a man who was castrated as a child, as in The Gallow’s Curse, or a badly scarred peddler with a strange past, as in Company of Liars.

Bizarrely, the events that inspire her historical thrillers come from things that are happening in the news now. Maitland then tries to find a parallel in the medieval period.

I know if it is happening again now, the reader will be able to relate to it. So for The Vanishing Witch it was watching the London riots of 2011 on TV were so similar to the Peasants Revolt in 1381.’

Her advice to aspiring writers is to attend as many book festivals as you can.

Editors and agents often attend them to support their authors and to network, so you frequently find yourself standing in the coffee queue next to an agent or publisher who will be far more interested in reading your manuscript if they’ve met the friendly face behind it.’

Before she was published, Maitland went to a book festival to learn more about writing from publishing authors.

‘I got chatting to someone sitting beside me in the audience, who told me about a Historical Novel festival that was coming up. I took her advice, went to the festival and there met a manuscript appraiser and talent scout who read the first few chapters of my novel, liked it, and asked if they could send it to an agent. That agent took me on and got me a brilliant publishing deal. You never know where conversations will lead, but you have to get out there and meet people.’

Once she was published, she realised that, when you are under contract for a book, you no longer have the luxury of writing when you feel like it, or leaving your book for a week because there’s a family crisis.

‘Once the publication day is set, the clock starts ticking. The publishers have to book an army of free-lancers and in-house people months in advance to work on your book – cover designers, copy-editors, type-setters, proof-readers, printers, marketing, book-sellers.’

If you miss a deadline at any stage of the writing process, from sending in the finished manuscript to answering the copy-editor’s queries, you can cost the publishers thousands, and risk your book being dropped.

So you have to be prepared to stay home while the rest of the family go on holiday, miss weddings, work through flu and ignore your best friend’s meltdown over her boyfriend to meet those deadlines. If you are not the kind of person who can do this then it’s best to self-publish, so you can decide when you want to write.’

When researching for a novel, you have to make sure you keep a note of exactly where you found each piece of information, however trivial, because a copy-editor or proof-reader will query that small detail, and ask you to check it. Keeping thorough notes is a good way of making sure you don’t waste time digging up a small piece of information.

Her next novel, The Raven’s Head, will be out in March 2015.

‘The novel is about medieval alchemy. As the central character of the book discovers to his horror, the raven’s head is the alchemist symbol of death and putrefaction. The hero of the novel also learns it isn’t a good idea to blackmail an alchemist, not if you want to live long enough to enjoy the money.’

Maitland has also just started a brand new historical thriller:

‘It’s always an exciting moment when the ideas are bubbling up and I am getting to know the characters. It’s like joining new club or moving into a new neighborhood in which everyone else knows each other, but where the author is the newbie in the group. I’m excited but nervous – what will this new group of people be like? Who will be leaders? Who will be the ones not to trust? What goes on behind those closed doors?’

She has already attended several festivals this year, including Harrogate History Festival, Guildford Festival, the Celtic Crime Festival in Northern Ireland, and the Lire en Poche Festival in Bordeaux, France.

‘One of the fantastic rewards of being a writer is that after months of being locked in solitary confinement, scribbling away, you get let out on parole to go to lovely places and talk to readers who often share amazing stories and knowledge with you. So, I am excited to see where 2015 will take me.’

She is looking forward to being one of the guest authors who will be running Fiction Writing Workshops at the AsparaWriting Festival from the 6th-13th June 2015, at Evesham, Devon.

‘I hope that festival will help aspiring novelists to realize their dreams and that I will be buying the novels of some of those new writers in a couple of years.’

Maitland always has several books on the go, in many different formats. Her current audio-book is Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore, which she describes as brilliant and the perfect audio-book.

‘The books I’m reading are: Blood and Beauty, a novel about the Borgias by Sarah Dunant. It’s changing everything I thought I knew about them. Also the The Winter Witch a beautifully written novel by Paula Brackston, and A history of Loneliness, an incredible powerful novel by the Irish writer, John Boyne.’

To find out more about her books, visit her author page on Lovereading or her website:

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Ask the Author : Daisy Waugh

By Vikki Patis

Daisy Waugh, author of the fantastic new novel Honeyville, spoke to me about her writing process.

Set in Trinidad, Colorado, in 1913, Honeyville tells the tale of Inez, through the eyes of prostitute Dora Whitworth, and the impact she had on so many lives.

A hooker. A mistress. A murder. This town was built on sin.

The only novel I can compare Honeyville to is The Great Gatsby. The way in which Dora narrates the story – not the story of her, but rather the story of Inez, and the way she changed the lives of the people around her – gives the reader a fascinating view of the events, and is reminiscent of the way in which Nick Carraway is obsessed with the life and impact of Jay Gatsby.

Such a narrative, alongside the beautiful yet brutal imagery and deep, incredible characters, also helps to transport the reader back in time. Such a narrative, alongside the beautiful yet brutal imagery and deep, incredible characters, also helps to transport the reader back in time. Based on the true Ludlow Massacre, Honeyville manages to give all sides of the story, from the unhappy, underpaid miners, to the ruthless National Guard, and the riot-inducing Union. Waugh shows us everything – the sadness, the desperation, the short-lived joy – in an extraordinary way. Waugh is most certainly an author with an amazing talent.

Waugh is a novelist, columnist and journalist. She has published seven novels and a travel book about her time working as a teacher in Northern Kenya. She has worked as an Agony Aunt, a restaurant critic, a property reviewer, and a general lifestyle columnist for many years. She writes a monthly column for the magazine Standpoint, and has worked for radio and TV.

I wanted to know what inspired Waugh to become an author.

‘I have written stories ever since I can remember.  It’s all I ever wanted to do. Over the years I have been given a lot of encouragement by a lot of kind and clever and helpful people …  I think I would gone ahead and done it anyway though.’

Daisy_Waugh-by-Paul-Stuart_smHer ideas come from everywhere and everything.

‘Experiences get mixed up and mashed around but in the end – everything  is copy. Perhaps it shouldn’t be, but it is.’

Waugh’s advice for aspiring writers is to, well, don’t.

‘A million pieces of advice and none at all. I think, in a nutshell, my advice would probably be ‘stick to the day job’.  It’s a lonely business, and you need a very thick skin – which no decent writer ever has. You have to be ludicrously driven to be willing to spend so many hours alone, and slightly unbalanced to persevere. I actively discourage my children from becoming writers. Trouble is, for most writers, writing is a compulsion. A disorder. A source of misery. And there’s not much money in it either. My advice? Unless you absolutely can’t help yourself, don’t. In which case, I could write a book full of advice. In fact, now I think of it…’ 

Which isn’t as depressing as it sounds. Every writer has known what it’s like to struggle, but they struggle on because writing is, as Waugh says, a compulsion, something that can’t be helped. And there’s a kind of beauty in that.

Although Waugh says that, as a writer, you are always and forever on your own, she is currently working on a screenplay as part of a team.

‘It’s a new discipline, utterly absorbing, AND I get to go to meetings!  Also I’m working on a new novel – contemporary this time, and a bit more light-hearted than the last few. Also various other projects are bubbling away. But mostly I’m working on the screenplay due to the fact the deadline is looming!’

Waugh has no plans for a book tour just yet, but would love to do one. At the time of the interview, she was reading Straw Dogs by John Gray.

‘It’s a very dense book and it is blowing my mind… It’s a book of philosophy which looks at what it is to be human … and it’s partly rather liberating, but mostly, intensely depressing. I have to read it in bursts and then spend a few days recovering. I’m also reading various screenplays. I’ve just read the screenplay for Suffragettes, which is coming out around Christmas. And I just reread the script for Withnail and I. Still brilliant after all these years!’

To find out more about Waugh and her brilliant books, visit her website, Honeyville was released on the 20th of November. Find it on, the UK’s No.1 book recommendation site.

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Ask The Author: Julia Suzuki

By Vikki Patis

Julia Suzuki, British author of children’s literature, spoke to me about her writing process.

julia-suzukiSuzuki grew up in Staffordshire, listening to the magical sounds of fair rides and animals from a theme park across the stream at the bottom of her garden.

Through working with a Disney licensing company and working with entrepreneur David Lloyd in an international resorts business, Suzuki visited many beautiful places, inspiring the setting for her literature.

Suzuki’s love of reading, of nature and of the outdoors fed her colourful imagination and inspired her to become an author. I wanted to know more about her inspiration, and discuss her novel, The Gift of Charms, which was published in September 2014 by John Blake Publishing.

Here Be Dragons…Hidden in a mist-filled valley, far away from the habitation of man, live the last of the world’s dragons”

Hailed as a beautifully presented, wonderfully unique debut, The Gift of Charms is an award-winning fantasy novel perfect for readers of any age. Royal Commentator and Sunday Express Journalist Phil Dampier describes it as a “mythical magical fable in the tradition of Tolkein and JK Rowling”, instantly charming and magically enticing. Full of rich description, beautiful landscapes and fascinating characters, The Gift of Charms is perfect for losing yourself in. And who doesn’t love dragons?

A self-described “fairytale/Disney fangirl”, Suzuki set out to write what she felt readers wanted.

‘The basic idea for a new series of books came to me, that I believed would appeal to people like myself as well as a wider audience. Once I started I felt like writing was my place in life, and then, step by step, Dragor came to life.’

9781782199243Although the beautiful places she has visited inspired the setting for Dragor, her ideas come from deep in her subconscious.

‘Ideas come to me in day and night dreams, and hit me sometimes like a little bolt of energy; making me feel it is the right plot or character or event to engage the reader.’

Persistence is key to the modern author. Few authors, if any, make it easily into the literary world, according to Suzuki.

‘Authors also need to be marketers these days, or at least understand the principles and employ the necessary services. Writing is only one part of what is necessary. Being able to promote yourself is paramount: to agents, publishers and the world at large.’

 Suzuki wishes she’d started to build an online presence earlier. Promotion takes time and effort, and she now realises the importance of online promotion:

‘Social media is an important promotional vehicle, and a quality following takes time to accumulate.’

Due to working hard on her own novels, Suzuki currently has little time to read.

‘But I do have eight books on my book table that I dip in and out of! Two of the titles I am reading are a children’s fairytale ‘Fire’ by Kirsten Cashmore and a thriller ‘Revenge’ by Martina Cole. My reading is thus very diverse.’

Suzuki is currently working on the next novel in The Land of Dragor series:

‘The Gift of Charms sets the scene but the real adventure comes next!’


She will be visiting many schools and stores in the run-up to Christmas. For more information, check out her website, You can also find her on Twitter, @JuliaSuzuki_uk.

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Ask the Author: M.R. Carey

mike-carey-smBy Vikki Patis

Born in Liverpool in 1959, Mike Carey is a well-known writer of comic books, films and novels. He wrote the Eisner Award-nominated comic book Lucifer for the Vertigo Imprint of DC Comics, as well as being the ongoing writer of X-Men: Legacy for Marvel Comics. After such an impressive writing career, it came as no surprise that Carey decided to turn his hand to novels. The first book in his Felix Castor series was published by Orbit in 2006, and The Girl With All the Gifts was released earlier this year.

On the recommendation of the lovely Peadar O’Guilin, I read and reviewed The Girl With All the Gifts a couple of months ago (proceed with caution – my review contains mild spoilers!). I thought it was absolutely fantastic. Not only is it a brilliant novel, with a fresh take on the overdone zombie theme, but it’s set in the area in which I live, so I could really visualise the events. My secondary school is literally down the road from RAF Henlow, where the base in The Girl With All the Gifts is located, and I used to live in Baldock. I have to agree with Sergeant Parks – it would be no great loss if the service station was burnt to the ground, though I’d rather keep the KFC. Stevenage is, regrettably, where you have to go if you want to get any decent shopping done. It came as no surprise to me that Stevenage was overrun by “hungries” – it’s practically the case already.

When I spotted Carey’s name on the programme for WorldCon, I was ecstatic. Book in hand, I sauntered over and demanded to know if he lived in the area. I can see how that may be taken the wrong way, but after assuring him that I wasn’t a stalker, I proceeded to explain that I lived in the area, and that he’d written about it perfectly. Luckily for me, he didn’t run away, and I managed to set up an interview.

TGWATG-smCarey didn’t see writing as a possible career, and so he writes, quite simply, because he loves to tell stories.

‘As a kid I used to make comics for my younger brother Dave, and then when I had kids of my own I used to tell them stories too – sometimes reading aloud from books, sometimes just making it up from whole cloth.  That pleasure is my strongest motivation.’

He has, of course, had an extremely successful writing career, despite his earlier hesitation.

‘It was something I did alongside my actual job, in the little interstices.  I was a teacher, and later a parent too, so I didn’t have a lot of free time.  But what I did have went to writing.  I wrote novels mostly, and they were big shapeless bags of story with no real structure.  Then I started to write and pitch comic series, and through that I learned how to structure a story.’

Carey, like many others, appeared to blanch at my second question: where do you get your ideas from?

‘From everywhere, I suppose.  And usually from sources that are fairly opaque to me.  I’m sure that’s true for most writers.  An idea comes to you and you don’t question where it comes from, you just grab it and start worrying it like a dog with a plastic bone.’

Writing 101, according to Carey, is to strip back your own childhood, and write about the experiences that are the most vivid and real for you.

‘A lot of people and places and actual events from my childhood have made it into my stories one way and another. The Hellblazer issue entitled The Gift was very heavily based on things that happened to me, and lots of the backstory in the Castor novels – especially in the fourth book, Thicker Than Water.’

And of course you’re wide open to stuff that’s bubbling away in the zeitgeist, he says.

‘In other words you build on other people’s stories.  Not in the sense of consciously borrowing from them, but in the sense of having them embedded in your brain at a deep level so bits of them filter up in disguised form.’

Carey has some brilliant advice for aspiring writers. The three most important things are the three most obvious ones: read a lot, write a lot, but not in a vacuum.

‘Read voraciously in the genre and the medium in which you want to write.  In my opinion if you don’t love it as a reader then you won’t hack it as a writer.  That sounds intuitively obvious but I’ve had conversations with people who’d decided to write (let’s say) a fantasy novel without ever at any point in their lives having picked one up.  Not gonna work.

Writing is very much a learning-by-doing thing.  It’s a creative skill, but it’s also a mechanical skill.  Mechanical skills improve with repetition, and writing does too. 

Take the stuff you’ve written and get people to look at it.  Read it aloud to friends and family.  Join a writing group and read it aloud there, too.  Seek out people who are not afraid to give you negative feedback – negative feedback is precious.  Find out what you’re doing wrong, then get back on the horse and try again.’

As someone who did a lot of indie work and fanzine work, Carey thinks the benefits of writing and reaching an audience will often outweigh the drawbacks of choosing to swim in a small pond. Small press and self-publishing are therefore valid and viable routes, though he has a word of caution, as going down those routes can make it harder to get a commission from a major publisher afterwards. If you can get an agent, do so. They will lift your work out of the slush pile and get it a sympathetic reading.

‘Having said that, I got my first job at DC Comics (Sandman Presents Lucifer) by being picked out of the slush pile, so it can be done.’

Carey wishes he hadn’t spent his twenties hiding his manuscripts in his sock drawer. Writing is a learn-by-doing process, and there’s a sense in which you always start out clueless and find out who you are as a writer by actually writing. But the process doesn’t kick in until you get serious. Once you’re writing whole stories and getting them out in some form – self-published, online, it doesn’t matter how – that’s when you really start to develop.  So the sooner you get on with it, the better. And when it comes to editors, it pays to do your research:

‘I wish someone had told me not to treat all editors as if they’re limbs of the same big monster-editor.  I sometimes sent pitches in to people who didn’t handle that particular genre at all.  I might just as well have dropped those pitches into the wastepaper basket.’

Being a freelancer means always thinking about the job after the job after next. At the time of this interview, Carey had delivered his next novel and was deep in rewriting it. He was also writing some episodes for a TV series at Touchpaper, as well as working on the movie adaptation of Jonathan Trigell’s sci-fi novel Genus. He’s also pitching a comic book series with Peter Gross, which he hopes they will be able to work on once The Unwritten wraps up at the end of this year.

As always, I asked what Carey was reading. He had just finished The Shining Girls by Lauren Buekes, which he described as an amazing and hard-hitting book. As light relief, he then picked up Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks, before moving on to Peter F. Hamilton’s latest novel.

‘And I’m simultaneously reading The Ocean At the End Of the Road to my wife, while she reads me Raising Steam.  This is a long-standing arrangement that kicks in when one of us is doing some cooking.  The cook demands and gets in-kitchen entertainment.’

Carey does a lot of appearances, both at festivals and in the form of readings in bookstores. He was in Lanarkshire for Encounters, and before the end of the year he’ll be attending Thought Bubble, Wales Con and the Herts festival. Keep an eye on his website or social media for appearances coming near you.

The Girl With All the Gifts is available on, the UK’s No.1 book recommendation site.

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Ask The Author: Robin Talley

By Vikki Patis

I spoke Robin Talley about her writing process, ahead of the publication of her debut novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves.

Robin Talley - AuthorRobin Talley grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, writing terrible teen poetry and riding a desegregation bus to the school across town. A Lambda Literary Fellow, Robin lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin’s not writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is an exceptional debut novel. Set in Virginia, 1959, it tells the story of two young girls, one black, one white, and their extraordinary journey through racism, oppression, and adversity.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy, and I absolutely adored it. It was hard to read at times, but it is absolutely necessary for us to understand just what people went through, and are still going through today. A beautifully crafted novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves made me angry and sad and hopeful, all at the same time. Linda’s character totally surprised me, and Sarah’s ability to remain strong in the face of such horrible adversity was impressive to say the least.

I wanted to know what inspired Talley to start writing.

‘It was reading the Baby-Sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin, and reading voraciously in general, as a kid that initially made me want to be a writer. I loved the idea that fictional characters ― people someone else had made up in their head ― could seem so powerful, so real. I wanted to try making up people like that myself!’

She gets her ideas from all over the place:

‘Stories I read about in the news, that I hear from friends, that start out as alternate versions of other people’s stories, etc. For several years I’ve kept a running list of bits and pieces of ideas in a Google doc, and when I’m starting a new project I’ll go through the list and choose different elements to mix together. My list has hundreds of different entries by now.’

Talley wishes she’d established relationships with other writers, and her advice to aspiring writers is to do just that.

‘No one else will understand what you’re going through, or be able to offer helpful suggestions on your work, as well as other writers who are at the same level as you or who are just ahead of where you are.’ 

She also wishes she’d known that there is a big difference between giving yourself a deadline, and dealing with multiple external deadlines that have actual consequences behind them.

Her next YA novel, which is tentatively titled Unbreakable, will be published next autumn by Harlequin Teen.

‘[It] follows a teen couple — Gretchen, who identifies as a lesbian, and Toni, who identifies as genderqueer — as they struggle to stay together during their first year in college, despite the growing rift caused by distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity.’

Talley is currently reading another 2014 YA release – The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Richmond. She describes it as a beautifully written alternate history story based on a fascinating premise’ and highly recommends it.

Talley will be at librarian and bookseller conferences this autumn, as well as appearing at bookstores, schools and libraries around Washington D.C. All the details of her upcoming events can be found on her website, You can also find her on Twitter: @robin_talley.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is released in the UK on the 3 October. Find it on, the UK’s No.1 book recommendation site.

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Ask the Author: Ed Cox

By Vikki Patis

Thanks again to the wonderful people at Orion books, I interviewed debut author Ed Cox about his writing process and upcoming novel The Relic Guild.

the relic guild‘Magic caused the war. Magic is forbidden. Magic will save us.’

Cox, with over a decade of writing behind him and a host of short stories, has decided to turn his hand to compelling fantasy fiction. Based in the UK, Cox has a BA 1st class with honours in creative writing, and a Master degree in the same subject. He then went on to teach creative writing at the University of Bedfordshire.

Described as ‘a highly commercial fantasy with a complicated heroine’, The Relic Guild is the first in an epic trilogy, following a young woman who must control her magic and escape her prison. According to Cox himself, ‘The Relic Guild is a story about intrigue, isolation, magic and adventure. It’s about people doing the right thing even when they’ve been given every reason not to.’

Set in an amazingly visualised city with a host of memorable characters, The Relic Guild is a must-read for lovers of adventure, mystery, magic and monsters, and complex characters.

The Relic Guild  is published on September 18th by Gollancz, in trade paperback, e-book and audiobook.

According to Cox, it was only a matter of time before he caught the writing bug:

‘As far back as I can remember I’ve always had a love for stories.’

He quotes the Ray Harryhausen movies as an early inspiration, but reading David Gemmell showed him how much he wanted to write fantasy stories. Neil Gaiman, Angela Carter and Tad Williams are also his literary heroes.

Ed-1Like many authors, Cox says that his ideas come from everywhere and anywhere:

‘A conversation, a story that didn’t go in the direction I thought it would, walking, driving, having a bath, cooking dinner, TV – anywhere. I’ve learned not to go looking for story ideas; they’ll just come to me when they feel like it. This sounds like I’m being glib, but the harder I try to force ideas the less likely they are to happen. In fact, every time I stress about any aspect of writing I just end up making it tougher for myself.’

Cox’s tip for aspiring writers is that it’s important to keep your perspective focused on what you’re creating.

‘The story always comes first. Focus on that and nothing else until it is as good as you can make it. Then get your story read, get some feedback, and then make it even better. Only when it’s finished should you concern yourself with agents and publishers. I say this from experience. There have been times when I’ve written with one eye on getting published and making money. The work suffers for it, and I always fall flat on my face.’

The amount of waiting, and patience required, is what Cox would have liked to have known before he was published.

‘It’s taken 18 months for The Relic Guild to be published, but it has felt like my desk chair has been on fire since the moment I signed the contract.  Patience is an important part of a book deal, but not always easy to find, and you go through a whole host of emotions waiting for publication day. And then, of course, publication day comes around and you panic. There’s suddenly a shedload of work to do, and you worry that you’re not prepared for it at all! It’s all part of the fun.’

Cox is currently waiting for his editor to send back the edits on book two of The Relic Guild, and then for the next year or so he’ll be writing book three. He’ll be making an appearance at Goldsboro Books in London on the 18th of September for the official launch.

He’s currently reading Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams, and will move on to Banished by Liz de Jager next.

The Relic Guild will be available on from 18th September, the UK’s No 1 book recommendation website.

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