scared-to-death-cover-ebook-large

Published by Saxon Publishing

Ebook : 3 December 2016  |  Paperback : 6 December 2016

 

It’s my turn today on the blog tour celebrations for Scared to Death and I’m delighted to welcome Rachel to the blog with a guest post. I do love a crime thriller and although I haven’t had time to read a copy in time for the blog tour, I have purchased a copy from Amazon to add to my reading mountain, so a review will follow at some stage!

 

 

Everybody has a motive

When sketching out the initial idea for a new story, one thing I try to do is ascertain what motivates each and every one of my characters.

It doesn’t matter if they’re one of the good guys, or one of the bad guys. Everybody has motive for what they do. Something that drives them.

My antagonist in Scared to Death is motivated by power and revenge.

My protagonist, Kay Hunter, is obviously motivated to catch the bad guy, but she’s also driven by the need to prove herself to her colleagues and to her superiors. Notwithstanding this, she is incredibly tuned in to the motivations of those around her. This means that although the series is named after Kay, she is only one member of a strong character cast.

Her team comprises two detective constables and two police constables, and she reports to a detective inspector. All these characters have individual motivations that drive them. Whether that is to prove themselves on their first major incident investigation, or to be seen as an integral part of the team so that once the investigation is concluded they open up new career opportunities, it’s my responsibility to ensure that they get the chance to shine.

When the story starts out, the team has only just been put together by the Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Inspector Devon Sharp. As the investigation unfolds and the team’s resilience is tested, the supporting cast also get their time in the spotlight.

This is really important for me, and although I can’t remember where I heard the advice or who said it, the fact remains that secondary characters in a story don’t know they are secondary characters. Every single one of them matters.

It is my hope that readers of Scared to Death will grow to like each and every one of Kay Hunter’s colleagues as much as they like Kay Hunter herself. After all, in time those team members may one day have stories of their own to tell…

 

About the book:

A serial killer murdering for kicks. A detective seeking revenge.

When the body of a snatched schoolgirl is found in an abandoned biosciences building, the case is first treated as a kidnapping gone wrong.

But Detective Kay Hunter isn’t convinced, especially when a man is found dead with the ransom money still in his possession.

When a second schoolgirl is taken, Kay’s worst fears are realised.

With her career in jeopardy and desperate to conceal a disturbing secret, Kay’s hunt for the killer becomes a race against time before he claims another life.

For the killer, the game has only just begun…

Scared to Death is the first book in a new crime thriller series featuring Kay Hunter – a detective with a hidden past and an uncertain future…

If you like Angela Marsons, Peter James and Mark Billingham, discover Rachel Amphlett’s new series today – at a special launch price.

 

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About the author:

Rachel Amphlett is trachel-amphletthe bestselling author of the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the new Detective Kay Hunter crime thriller series, as well as a number of standalone crime thrillers.

Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel’s novels appeal to a worldwide audience, and have been compared to Robert Ludlum, Lee Child and Michael Crichton.

She is a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold, being sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint in 2014.

An advocate for knowledge within the publishing industry, Rachel is always happy to share her experiences to a wider audience through her blogging and speaking engagements.

You can keep in touch with Rachel by signing up to her mailing list via her website (http://www.rachelamphlett.com)

 

Author Links:  Website  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  | Amazon UK  |  Goodreads

 

an-off-piste-christmas

 

Published in ebook : 1 November 2016

 

The last thing Harriet Westmoreland wants is Christmas away from home, particularly when skiing, snow, heights and freezing her backside off are on the menu. While her own family, together with her best friend Grace’s, are soon whizzing down ridiculously high and scary mountains in the fashionable Italian resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo, Harriet is stuck in the remedial class on the nursery slopes unable, it seems, to remain vertical.

Tired of trying to stay upright in the dunces’ class, Harriet decides to overcome her fear of heights and take her bruised body off to explore the refugios in the magnificent Dolomites above Cortina. And maybe catch a glance of George Clooney, rumoured to be in town… But what happens next triggers a totally unexpected avalanche of events which proves that, for friends Harriet and Grace and all their families, Christmas really is a time for little miracles…

 

As I’m trying to get into the Christmas spirit, I’ve added a few Christmas books to my current reading list.  Today’s post features a Christmas novella, An Off-Piste Christmas.  Author Julie Houston has very kindly agreed to take part in a Christmas themed Q&A and I have a short review at the end.

 

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Please tell us a little about an Off-Piste Christmas and why you decided to continue the story of the Westmorelands in a Christmas novella

Because my first two novels, GOODNESS, GRACE AND ME and THE ONE SAVING GRACE are both about Harriet Westmoreland and best friend Grace, my agent (Anne Williams at KHLA) suggested I continue their story in a novella for Christmas. I wanted the girls, plus their ever-expanding families, to be somewhere exciting for the festive period and because I love Italy (my great-grandfather was from Naples) I decided to set it in the Italian Alps. There are a couple of chapters in THE ONE SAVING GRACE which describe Harriet and Grace enjoying (to some degree!!!) Christmas at home here in England, so I decided this year to give them a treat and whizz them off on a ski trip instead.

Why the Italian location? Are you a skier?

I hate skiing with a passion!! I first tried it in the Southern Alps when I was living in New Zealand and I couldn’t even stand up. Because my husband adores the sport I agreed to have another go at it and we took the children when they were just six and nine to Courcheval in France. I was just as hopeless and, like Harriet, gave up mid-week while the rest of my lot whizzed past me. The three of them are all now superb skiers and go at least twice a year leaving me to entertain myself (yay!) somewhere warm with a book in one hand and a rather lovely cocktail in the other. We have agreed to disagree on the subject!!

Describe a typical Christmas in the Houston household and do you have any family traditions?

Because I love cooking and having people round I have done Christmas lunch ever since we were married. We have a mixture of family and friends round and I am always open to anyone having their feet under the table. This year we are up to fourteen. My mother-in-law always does the smoked salmon starter and I do the rest. Because my husband has a promotional gift company there is always a surfeit of table gifts, crackers and hats to hand. Boxing day is often a long walk with up to twenty or so friends and back to us for sausage and mash and Christmas pudding ice cream.

You can travel anywhere in the world – where would be your ideal place to spend Christmas?

Probably Barbados. Been there a couple of times for the New Year and absolutely love it. I spent one Christmas in Australia in Surfers’ Paradise and that was amazing. I’d been teaching in New Zealand and three of us flew to Sydney and then up to the Gold Coast for Christmas. Wonderful!

Who puts up the Christmas decorations in your house?

Always my husband and my daughter. It has become a total tradition that they do it together. I was sacked from the job many years ago: my husband is a perfectionist and it was my job to make sure the tree was at 90 degrees. I was more than happy with anything from 70 – 100 degrees and while I got the giggles following his directions – right a bit, left a bit etc, – my husband just got cross. I think it’s the one thing we always fell out about. I’d just sling a few decorations at the tree and hope for the best, but husband and daughter make sure all is symmetrical. Life’s too short to have a perpendicular Christmas tree!!

Do you have an all-time favourite Christmas book?

Yes, totally!! Every year out comes A SMALL MIRACLE by Peter Collington. (dragonfly books) It is a book with no words but beautiful drawings and tells the story of an old traveller woman who one Christmas Eve leaves her caravan to trudge through the snow into the town to sell her beloved accordion as she has no money for food or heating. She is mugged of the money and follows the mugger through the snow to the church where not only has he helped himself to the Nativity collection money, but has desecrated the nativity models as well. She sets the figures back in the stable and then trudges back towards home without any money or food but collapses in the snow. Over the hill come the figures from the Nativity and carry her home, put her to bed and then go into the town to get her accordion back and into Sainsbury’s to buy turkey, pud etc. Mary organises Joseph, the shepherds and wise men to cook Christmas lunch. I’ve entertained classes of children with the book and every year it always makes me cry. (“Are you crying, Mrs Houston…?”)

What is the best and worst Christmas present you have ever received?

The best is ‘Kenny’ my all singing and dancing Kenwood Mixer that my husbands reckons I love more than him. It’s silver, shiny, very sexy and is always at my bidding…!
The worst is probably the china ornament of two cats on top of each other given to me by one of my nine-year-olds. What they were up to is anyone’s guess!!

Quick fire questions:

Xmas Tree – real or artificial: Real
Favourite Christmas song:  BENJAMIN BRITTEN’S ‘THIS LITTLE BABE’ we used to sing every year, and were famous for, at my girls’ grammar school carol service. Still sends shivers down my spine when I hear it.
Favourite Christmas film: Love Actually
Paper Christmas cards or e-cards:  E-Cards (hangs head in shame)
Xmas pudding or plum pudding and Cream or brandy butter:  Christmas Pudding with Rum Sauce
Twiglets or pringles: Pringles
Queen’s speech or DVD: Neither, have probably collapsed at that point! 

 

 

My review

This is the second book I’ve read by Julie Houston featuring the antics of the Westmoreland family (the first being Goodness, Grace and Me) (you can see my review here) and this was just as funny and engaging.

Set in the period between Christmas and New Year, Harriet and her family, together with friends Grace, Amanda Henderson (I use the term ‘friend’ loosely in respect of Amanda as she is just as snobbish and overbearing as ever!) and their respective families fly out for a luxury skiing holiday to the Italian Dolomites as the lucky guests of a rich company contact.   I have yet to catch up on book 2, (The One Saving Grace) and it seems that an awful lot has happened to Harriet and her best friend Grace in the meantime.  Each family relationship has become more complicated and it took a short while to get my head around who was with who.  But, it didn’t take long to get back into the swing of the family dynamics and what followed was a lot of snorting and chuckling on my part (I soon realised from the odd looks I was getting that it was a mistake to read this book on my train commute!)

One of the things I love about Julie’s writing (apart from her wicked sense of humour) is that she makes her characters seem so believable.  I actually want to be friends with Harriet as she seems such fun to be with – (I also share her dislike of skiing and the two of us could sit with a hot chocolate and cake!). However, none of them are without their flaws, least of all Harriet and one aspect in particular in this story follows on from book 2 which came as quite a surprise to me and has now made me even keener to catch up and find out exactly what went on. The ensuing fallout from this previous storyline is dealt with sensitively and ensures that there is a more serious level of depth to the story.

Quite often novellas, by their very nature, leave me feeling shortchanged and disappointed.  I certainly didn’t get that feeling with this one.   The storyline is perfectly paced, it didn’t feel rushed and even the minor characters had enough personality to make them memorable. including moody teenagers and bossy adults.  The youngest members of the family were just as funny and endearing as the elders and Harriet’s daughter India, at just 10 years old, was a delight.  Despite the luxurious surroundings, not everyone is in the holiday mood and as you can probably imagine, mishaps and misunderstandings all add to the fun and drama of the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed An Off Piste Christmas and definitely recommend this for a little bit of winter cheer. I really must find the One Saving Grace on my Kindle and catch up properly with the family’s shenanigans.  If you haven’t read either of the other books before, don’t worry, this one can be be read on its own.

 

Source: my own purchased copy.  At the time of writing this post, it can be downloaded from Amazon UK for £1.99.

 

 

About the author:

julie-houston

Julie Houston is the author of four novels – The One Saving Grace, Goodness, Grace and Me, Looking for Lucy and just published, An Off-Piste Christmas.

Julie Houston is Yorkshire born and bred. She lives in Huddersfield where her novels are set and her only claims to fame are that she taught at ‘Bridget Jones’ author Helen Fielding’s old school and she was rescued by Frank Bough when, many years ago, she was ‘working as a waitress in a cocktail bar’ at the Kensington Hilton in London.

After University, where she studied Education and English Literature, she taught for many years as a junior school teacher. As a newly qualified teacher, broke and paying off her first mortgage, she would spend every long summer holiday working on different Kibbutzim in Israel. After teaching for a few years she decided to go to New Zealand to work and taught in Auckland for a year before coming back to this country.

She now teaches just a couple of days a week but still loves the buzz of teaching junior-aged children. She has been a magistrate for the last fifteen years, and, when not distracted by ebay, geneology (so time consuming but so interesting – she recently discovered her husband is descended from the poet Shelley and the Duke of Milan!!) and crosswords, she spends much of her time writing.

Julie is married, has a twenty-one-year-old son and eighteen-year-old daughter and a mad cockapoo called Lincoln. She runs and swims because she’s been told it’s good for her, but would really prefer a glass of wine, a sun lounger and a jolly good book.

 

Author Links:  Website  |  Twitter  | Facebook  | Amazon UK  | Goodreads

 

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heavens-rage

 

Published by TSL Publications

Paperback : 1 December 2016

I’d like to welcome Leslie Tate to My Reading Corner.  Heaven’s Rage was published yesterday and described to me by the author as “part-novel, part-essay, Heaven’s Rage uses stories, dialogues, poems and scientific theories to write lyrically about childhood dreams, cross-dressing, alcoholism and late-life illness. The aim is to explore the question ‘What makes us creative – and human?”.  I was introduced to Leslie via Linda Hill of Linda’s Bookbag, where you can find Linda’s review of one of the other chapters of Heaven’s Rage together with a guest post from Leslie on his book ‘Blue‘.

For the Heaven’s Rage blog tour, Leslie has provided a guest post below, and I also have an extract below from the ‘Childhood’ chapter which I chose to read. I haven’t read any other section but I was very taken with the excellent quality of Leslie’s writing. He writes beautifully and with poignancy but without self pity.  Childhood is such an honest and open piece of writing and there were parts that resonated with me, particularly when he referred to being an only child.

HEAVEN’S RAGE: THE INSIDE STORY

by Leslie Tate

The subtitle for Heaven’s Rage, my collection of autobiographical pieces, is Childhood, Survival and Crossing the Gender Line.

I chose the word Childhood because that’s where it began, writing reflectively about the crazy powers of the untrained mind. I wanted to capture the childhood world I’d lived in – a place full of mystery and repression where unspoken meanings pushed in from all sides. The word Survival refers to the sections in the book about alcoholism and illness, but also to the writing about cross-dressing. In all these sections the ‘rogue condition’ that sets the person apart from society becomes a source of strength. The final phrase, Crossing the Gender Line, echoes the 180 Degree Rule in film-making(1) i.e. switching gender roles may be confusing, but it’s fun – and can be enlightening – when you get used to it!

Writing about such intimate experiences raises technical and moral questions. Technically, it runs the danger of being samey because of the single, subjective viewpoint, so I used different approaches – including novelistic writing, psychological theories, dialogues and poetry – and brought in other voices questioning my experience and motives. The main moral issue was how to write about my parents. In fiction I often start with snippets taken from life which change and develop to fit the story. The danger of writing anything directly autobiographical was that any changes, however necessary, might amount to falsification. At best they might lack distance; at worst they might misrepresent my parents completely. Fortunately my mother has never read my writing, but even so it wasn’t until Robin Gregory asked me in an interview, ’Can you tell us a little about your family?’ that I wrote explicitly about how I saw them. What I discovered in the process was that being misunderstood and steered away from writing by my parents had some surprising benefits. So while my wife Sue Hampton was encouraged, which has made her prolific, the line my parents delivered – that writing ‘wasn’t realistic’ – has helped me to understand the false expectations and projections families can place on each other. It has also taught me to hold out against discouragement – always a useful trait in the book world – and added hidden toughness to my characterisations.

If they were reading this my parents would say ‘We told you so’ – meaning, perhaps, that it was right and proper that I had to reach full maturity before I could make the choice to write. But I was blocked inside, which may have contributed to my drink problem. And writing takes many years to mature. So another voice inside me complains, less generously, about the time lost when I could have been writing from the age of twenty…

We all have these impossible dialogues in the head. Being a child while living as an adult was a condition I aimed to recapture in Heaven’s Rage. Other fantasies such as playing Liszt at The Proms, composing odes while walking in the fields and vaguely-defined spiritual longings, were all part of the secret-but-oh-so-human experiences that I wanted to share. Because if my book has a lesson to offer it is that we all have our personal fables and imaginary audiences(2). The purpose of Heaven’s Rage was to own up to these obsessions and to celebrate, with a slightly ironic nod, the stories we all hide in the back of our heads but hesitate to acknowledge…

Footnotes:

(1) The 180 Degree Rule for films states that two characters in a scene should always have the same left/right relationship to each other. Crossing the line happens when the camera moves to the other side of the two characters, reversing their left/right relationship and disorientating the audience.

(2) The personal fable is the secret story an adolescent invents, casting him/herself as misunderstood hero, with completely unique thoughts and feelings. At the same time, the adolescent believes that everyone else (the imaginary audience) shares the same fascination with her or him as she/he does. Elkind, D (1967). ‘Egocentrism in adolescence’.

 

 

EXTRACT OF CHILDHOOD CHAPTER

1. THE PAST IS ANOTHER COUNTRY

I felt the solidity of my adult life compared to the transparency of childhood. It was as if I’d glimpsed myself as another person in another time and place.

Have you ever taken the nostalgia trip to where you used to live? Maybe to your old house, a school, a street or a childhood play space? Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably thought about it. So what’s it like? And what does it tell us, if anything, about ourselves? I imagined it would bring back memories and plug me in more directly to childhood. I also hoped it would tell me more about myself and start me off writing. But the experience wasn’t quite what I’d expected.

My return to my first home in North London made realise how much I had changed. Suddenly the house, which had seemed like a castle, was an average semi-D with a short front garden and a narrow side alley. Instead of looking up at the concrete front steps I faced it on the level. It was measured, suburban and unremarkable. My memories contained scenes of adventure climbing fences and imaginary escapes over roofs and chimney pots. Certainly, being there was emotional in a quiet way, but there wasn’t the drama and magic I’d remembered. I was surprised that I’d lived in this ordinary place and found it so grand and exciting. I felt the solidity of my adult life compared to the transparency of childhood. It was as if I’d glimpsed myself as another person in another time and place.

While I was there I retraced the walk I took to school. The route was marked by cinema-like images of the overgrown wasteland with its hidden stalkers, the clinic where the nurse counted slowly with a needle in my arm and the back alley detours I took to avoid being followed. Painful memories which I can see as I write. Of course the route looked different but the new-build and the fences couldn’t change the memories. The past remains inside us, in tight fists of feeling. It’s a picture I find myself painting when, like now, I select from all those memories and take a point of view. What we choose to remember, and how we shape it, is who we are.

My next trip was to my old school in Northumberland. Again it was the painful memories that stood out: the cross-country runs with snow on the ground, the bullying, the boredom, the note-taking and tests. The school was the same – grey slate and blackened stone with muddy playing fields – but what it brought to mind was how much I’d wanted out. Behind the ordinary façade I could still feel the kick in the shins, the punch on the neck and the rubber-tube beating by my Maths teacher. The trip didn’t change things because those memories are fixed inside, like blown-up photos taken at the scene of a crime. But instead of being the victim, I was the inspector checking through the evidence, able to see myself at a distance.

The last trip was to the seaside town where my grandparents lived. The memories here were of watching ten-foot waves breaking on concrete and all-day games playing on the beach. The adult eye saw an empty town with boarded-up amusements and abandoned buildings. But standing on the front I felt again that ridiculous, straining desire to escape. It’s what’s called the oceanic feeling. In trying to be a poet I trained myself to look at the clouds, reciting Shelley and working on my sense of aloneness. Perhaps I’d understood that spiritual elevation, like anything else, can be increased through training. But being there again made me think that my boyhood afflatus wasn’t so silly after all. Without it I couldn’t have that feeling of oneness with nature or know that what we call the ‘poetic’ may begin from being forced. The boy I’d connected with hadn’t really changed, but now I accepted him.

As an author, returning to childhood seems to me now like proofing your own work. You’ve been over it so often you know what’s coming. So mostly what you see is what you think happened. But every so often something jumps out, you get a fresh perspective and the story changes. And, of course, the place called Longsands in my novel Purple owes a lot to my wild-child walks on the beach…

 

AUTHOR BIO

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Leslie wrote his Lavender Blues trilogy while attending a University of East Anglia Creative Writing Course. He is a novelist, poet and teacher, with an MA in Creative Writing, whose stories are driven by language and character. Leslie admires Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Carol Shields, Marilynne Robinson and Michael Ondaatje. He runs mixed-arts shows, a poetry reading group and a comedy club, and has led writing workshops at universities, libraries and festivals. He uses music and art as part of his performances which offer surprising insights into prose and how authors ‘reread the world’. He often performs with his wife, author Sue Hampton. Calling themselves ‘Authors in Love’, they live together in Hertfordshire

 

 

To order Heaven’s Rage go to http://www.lulu.com/shop/leslie-tate/heavens-rage/paperback/product-22943294.html
The first novel in Leslie’s trilogy, Purple, is available at http://leslietate.com/shop/purple
The second novel in Leslie’s trilogy, Blue, is available at http://leslietate.com/shop/blue/
The third part of the trilogy, Violet, will be published in 2017.
On Leslie’s website www.leslietate.com you will find weekly interviews and guest blogs by writers/artists/musicians, as well as Leslie’s own writings. You can contact him on Facebook at Leslie Stuart Tate (personal) and Leslie Tate (author page). His Twitter handle is @LSTateAuthor.

 

stellas-christmas-wish

 

Published by Black & White Publishing

Ebook : 3 November 2016

 

One phone call can change everything…

Six days before Christmas, Stella could never have anticipated the impact on her life when the phone rings in her London office.

The phone call is from a friend of the family informing Stella that her grandmother has been hurt in a fall at her home in the Scottish borders and is in hospital. Torn between her responsibilities at work and the need to be with her grandmother she decides she must return to Scotland immediately.

However, on her return to where she grew up, it becomes apparent that her grandmother’s health is not her only concern. Relationships which have lain dormant for years are re-kindled and fresh opportunities present themselves – if she will only dare to take them…

 

 

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Stella’s Christmas Wish by Kate Blackadder.  I have bought a copy of the book to read when time allows but in the meantime I have a Christmas themed post from Kate. Two Christmas’s a year – sounds good to me!

 

Christmas comes but once – or twice – a year

 

Christmas is on 25th December – right?

Yes – except when it’s in July or November.

One day in July 1995 I made and iced a fruitcake and baked some tree-shaped biscuits. I borrowed some lovely Christmas garlands from a friend and draped them over the mantelpiece and the piano. I arranged some toys around the room. We lit a fire and closed the curtains to keep out the sun. The children were excited if bemused – at seven and three they knew that there was something not quite right about this Christmas. Why hadn’t they had stockings and why was teddy on the sofa?

The room became even hotter when the photographer turned up with his cameras and arc lamps to take a picture for the book cover my husband was designing.

I think the photographer did a great job with the lighting – the room looks (for the first and last time) as if it should be in a glossy mag.

The room was returned to normal, curtains drawn back and the window opened. Teddy was retrieved. We all had a cup of tea and cake and biscuits. And there was still the second, proper, December, celebration to look forward to. Can we have two Christmases every year, Mummy?

Well … no, I said. But last year, 2015, we did have a full Christmas dinner, crackers, carols on a CD, the lot, on the 25th of – November.

My daughter was going to Australia at the end of that week and planned to stay for a year – but wanted to have Christmas at home too. Wanted to have her Christmas cake and eat it in fact … The friend she was travelling with came round. We exchanged presents. There was just four of us so no turkey, but a nice free-range chicken with all the trimmings, preceded by smoked salmon and followed by espresso martinis. At one point in the afternoon I realised I didn’t have a particular ingredient so I popped out for it – all the shops were open!

It was odd, in a nice way, seeing everyone going about their normal business, hearing the usual programmes on tv and radio, while we were having a secret Christmas (and of course a month later, at different ends of the planet, we all enjoyed a second Christmas).

In Stella’s Christmas Wish Stella’s plans to spend Christmas with her granny and her sister have gone awry and she contemplates spending Christmas on her own. Friends are horrified at the idea – ‘Turkey slices for one? Pull a cracker with yourself? You can’t do that!’ Stella says she’ll be fine – she’ll ‘Eat too much chocolate. Watch Christmas movies. The usual things.’ But, as she finds out, there are other ways of celebrating on Christmas Day.

You can even have it in July and November.

Stella’s Christmas Wish, set in Edinburgh and the Borders, is published by Black and White Publishing at 99p.

 

 

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About the author:

kate-blackadder

 

I’ve had around fifty short stories published and three magazine serials. Stella’s Christmas Wish, is my first full-length novel.

 

Author Links:

Website | Twitter | Facebook |  Amazon UK | Goodreads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a pleasure to welcome to the blog, Vena Cork.  Vena is the author of The Rosa Thorn Trilogy – Thorn, The Art of Dying and Green Eye and has had two novels published this year with Endeavour Press, The Lost Ones and Toxic.

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First of all I’d like to say a big thank you to Karen for inviting me to guest on her blog.

I live in London with my husband, who is also a writer, although, as an art critic, unlike me he doesn’t make things up. He writes in a room upstairs; I write in a room downstairs, and we shout to each other through the ceiling or if that’s proving difficult we text.

I started my working life as a drama teacher, but gave this up when I had the first of our four children. When my youngest child was three I acquired an Equity card, and became an actor. This didn’t work out too well so I went back to teaching. All the while however, I was writing, mainly plays, some of which were staged at the school where I worked. At some point, however, I realized that writing a novel might be a more satisfying experience, and so that’s what I did and I was lucky enough to find an agent who landed me a three book deal. Three crime novels with the same central character, Rosa Thorn followed. Then I was diagnosed with cancer and dropped out for a while, but when I recovered I started writing again.

This year I’ve had two books published by Endeavour Press, both set in London but with very dissimilar locations. The Lost Ones takes place in Notting Hill, Portobello Road during the weeks leading up to Carnival. Toxic, by contrast, is set in suburban Willesden. From the top of the hill in Roundwood Park you can see Wembley Stadium, but that’s about it as far as icons go. Unlike the wedding cake concoctions of Notting Hill, the houses in this part of Willesden are very 20th century: many houses built between the wars, and some blocks of modern flats.

Willesden is in Brent, one of the most multicultural areas of London, and as I pounded the streets waiting for inspiration to strike, I found that the image of a tower kept popping into my mind – a 21st century tower of Babel, peopled by many diverse nationalities and personalities. This tower assumed mythic proportions. It became a character in its own right – the first character in my novel. It was also clear to me that something was wrong with it. The first moment she enters the building the atmosphere of unease permeating the place is immediately clear to Persey, my main character. It’s also clear to Harry, a long-standing resident who has loved living there but who now feels a creeping sense of unease, the cause of which is a mystery to him.

Initially I imagined the tower to be fifteen or sixteen floors high. But I wanted the reader to know most of the occupants, and this would have meant writing about hundreds of people. However the image of the menacing monolith persisted: the tower had to loom large. Eventually I hit on the solution: a block of 15 flats on five floors only, but positioned on a hill, thus making it appear much larger and more formidable than it actually was.

One day, as I wandered through Willesden it struck me very forcibly that the sprawling suburb hadn’t actually been there for that long. Even in the lifetime of my great grandmother it would have been a little village in the middle of the countryside. At that moment 21st century Willesden with its brick buildings and tarmac roads seemed very insubstantial and I had this idea of the savage wildness of past millennia still lurking under the concrete, waiting to erupt.

Once I’d sorted out my tower, peopling it was easy : I had several stories waiting to be told. But there were two problems. Firstly, how to ensure that all the separate stories also interlinked to form part of the central narrative and secondly how to deal with so many different narrative voices in such a way that the reader would jump from one to another without becoming disengaged. In The Lost Ones, although there are two narrative voices, most of the time the story is seen from the main character’s point of view. With Toxic, by contrast, although I knew what the story was about, I was constantly having to ask myself who reveals what to whom and when. It often felt like crawling blindfolded through an impenetrable forest.

It’s only now when I look back on what I’ve written that I recognize that what unifies the people in the tower is loss and how to deal with it. This wasn’t a theme I consciously set out to explore. It chose itself.

Below is the opening of Toxic.

SEPTEMBER

1

Harry Hartley was watching the sun rise over Willesden when a giant bat swooped past his balcony. A second later there was a loud crump and time stopped.

When it restarted Harry saw that the bat was Gillian Thomas from Flat 8. She lay in a spreading pool of blood on the tarmac below. The biggest shock was that it wasn’t a shock; there’d been an atmosphere in Yew Court lately. Harry was susceptible to atmospheres; it was one of the reasons he’d been such a successful teacher – he knew when things were about to kick off way before anyone else. Joyce would have said that atmospheres had nothing to do with it, that the place had gone to pot since the housing association installed Stanley Atkins as caretaker in the 1980s. Priti would probably have agreed; she was no fan of bombastic, bullying Stanley. Ironic that Joyce, had she lived, would have finally found common ground with Priti. But Harry knew it wasn’t Stanley, or the fact that the building badly needed a makeover. It was something else. He didn’t like it. Yew Court had been his home for over forty years; he was damned if he’d see it ruined.

 

About ‘Toxic’:

When you come home to one life but find yourself in another…

When Persey Delaney returns to Britain after working abroad, everything has changed.

Her mother is newly-divorced and her younger sister Meg is still struggling to recover her confidence after a horrific accident.

Together, they have moved from their long-envied, prime address in Mayfair to a seedy block of flats in Willesden.

Soon Persey lives there, too.

And within weeks of Persey’s return home, strange goings-on begin to upset her already unsettling new life.

It seems that Yew Court has become a malevolent witness to secret lives.

The horror begins as the residents are subjected to a series of dreadful events, each getting more and more frightening as the days progress.

The local paper dubs Yew Court the unluckiest block of flats in London, but Persey fears that luck has nothing to do with it.

Dark forces are at work and there’s a race against time to prevent a catastrophe…

Toxic tells of how so many lives are woven by Fate into a tapestry of terror in this gripping thriller.

 

 

About the author:

vena-cork

Vena studied at Homerton College, Cambridge, and was one of the first female members of the Cambridge Footlights. She was an actress, playwright and teacher before becoming a full-time writer and producing the Thorn trilogy.

Thorn, the first in the trilogy, was hailed by the Guardian as ‘a compelling, dark-hued psychological thriller’, by Time Out as ‘an outstanding debut’, and by The Times as ‘one of those rare and energetic books you can’t put down and don’t want to end.’ It was followed by The Art of Dying and Green Eye, both also highly praised. The trilogy is now available from Endeavour Press.

Her new standalone novel, The Lost Ones was published on May 16, 2016 and her fifth novel, Toxic, also a standalone will appear later in 2016. Both are published by Endeavour Press.

Vena lives in London with her husband, the art critic Richard Cork. She has two sons, two daughters and a grandson.

 

Author Links:  Website  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  | Amazon UK  |  Goodreads

 

 

vena-ork