It’s always a time of excitement when an email pops into my inbox from SJV (@BookMinxSJV) from Simon & Schuster’s ‘Books in the City’.  They hold the most welcoming blogger events and I feel honoured to be invited.

This latest Spring Event was held at BATC HQ on Thursday night (22nd March).  There were no less than 10 of their female authors in attendance, with the chat and Q&A’s being chaired by editor, Jo Dickinson.

These were the books being featured:

Anstey Harris (The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton) (January 2019)


Between the simple melody of running her violin shop and the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.

Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until, suddenly and shockingly, one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.

It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kickstart a new chapter for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable, and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about …

For fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and The Keeper of Lost Things, The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton is the story of a woman who has her heart broken, but then puts it back together again in the most uplifting and exquisite way.

Catherine Isaac (You, Me, Everything) (I didn’t know this before but Catherine’s alter ego is Jane Costello) (19 April 2018)

You Me Everything is a heartfelt and unforgettable story about the lengths we are prepared to go to for those we love. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry, this is novel you will never forget.

You and me, we have history.
We have a child together.
We have kept secrets from each other for far too long.
This summer, in the beautiful hills of the Dordogne, it is time for everything to change.

Heidi Swain (Sunshine and Sweet Peas in Nightingale Square) (31 May 2018)

Kate is on the run from her almost-divorced husband who is determined to have her back, and she has found the perfect place to hide... a little cottage on Nightingale Square in Norwich, far away from her old life in London. But the residents of Nightingale Square don't take no for an answer, and Kate soon finds herself pulled into a friendship with Lisa, her bossy but lovely new neighbour.

Within a matter of days Kate is landed with the job of campaigning the council to turn the green into a community garden, meanwhile all the residents of Nightingale Square are horrified to discover that the Victorian mansion house on the other side of the square has been bought by developers. But when all hope is lost, the arrival of a handsome stranger is sure to turn things around!

Heidi Swain is the perfect summer read - you'll want to find your own green space, stretch out in the sun and dive into life at Nightingale Square.

Holly Hepburn (Starry Skies at Castle Court) (1 May 2018)

Sadie is a single mum, nursing a broken heart. Cat is burned out from working long hours as a chef. They decide to invest in their dream – running their own handmade biscuit shop in gorgeous Castle Court, a three-storey food court tucked away behind Chester's bustling streets.
They soon discover that Castle Court has its own community – a little haven of delight against the stresses of the outside world. But not everyone welcomes the new business; the patisserie owner is less than pleased by what she sees as direct competition and Greg, who runs the fancy bistro that dominates one end of the courtyard, doesn't think Sadie and Cat have the talent or business acumen to succeed. Luckily, there's support in the form of the delectable Jaren, who owns the Dutch waffle house opposite Smart Cookies, and Swiss chocolate-shop owner, Elin. And if all else fails, the friends can drown their sorrows in the cocktail bar that overlooks the court.

Juliet Ashton (The Sunday Lunch Club) (19 April 2018)

The first rule of Sunday Lunch Club is … don't make any afternoon plans.
Every few Sundays, Anna and her extended family and friends get together for lunch. They talk, they laugh, they bicker, they eat too much. Sometimes the important stuff is left unsaid, other times it's said in the wrong way. 
Sitting between her ex-husband and her new lover, Anna is coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy at the age of forty. Also at the table are her ageing grandmother, her promiscuous sister, her flamboyantly gay brother and a memory too terrible to contemplate.
Until, that is, a letter arrives from the person Anna scarred all those years ago. Can Anna reconcile her painful past with her uncertain future?
Juliet Ashton weaves a story of love, friendship and community that will move you to laughter and to tears. Think Cold Feet meets David Nicholls, with a dash of the joy of Jill Mansell added for good measure.

Louise Candlish (Our House)  (5 April 2018)

When Fi Lawson arrives home to find strangers moving into her house, she is plunged into terror and confusion. She and her husband Bram have owned their home on Trinity Avenue for years and have no intention of selling. How can this other family possibly think the house is theirs? And why has Bram disappeared when she needs him most?

Bram has made a catastrophic mistake and now he is paying. Unable to see his wife, his children or his home, he has nothing left but to settle scores. As the nightmare takes grip, both Bram and Fi try to make sense of the events that led to a devastating crime. What has he hidden from her – and what has she hidden from him? And will either survive the chilling truth – that there are far worse things you can lose than your house?


Paige Toon (Five Years From Now) (17 May 2018)

What happens if you meet the RIGHT person at the WRONG time?
Nell and Van meet as children when their parents fall in love, but soon they are forced worlds apart.
Five years later, they find each other. Their bond is rekindled and new feelings take hold, but once again they have to separate.
For the next two decades, fate brings Nell and Van together every five years, as life and circumstance continue to divide them. Will they ever find true happiness? And will it be together?
‘One day, maybe five years from now, you’ll look back and understand why this happened…’

Penny Parkes (Best Practice) (22nd February 2018)

Dr Alice Walker has become accomplished at presenting a façade to the world – to anyone watching, she is the epitome of style, composure and professionalism. But perhaps it was to be expected that the cracks might begin to show at some point. Thankfully Grace is on hand to offer both friendship and support when it’s needed most.
Meanwhile, Dr Holly Graham has her hands full both professionally and personally. Planning a wedding with Taffy Jones is challenging enough, even before some surprising news changes everything. At least beloved Larkford resident, Elsie, still has a few tricks left up her sleeve!
Dr Dan Carter, on the other hand, has decided to throw himself into his career – the best antidote he’s found to unrequited love. When tragedy strikes in the heart of Larkford, Dan makes it his mission to help the community.


Santa Montefiore (The Temptation of Gracie) (12 July 2018)

Never give up on your dreams, no matter how long you hold on to them . . .
When Gracie Burton stumbles upon an advertisement for a weeklong cookery course in the heart of the Tuscan countryside,
she cannot resist, and ploughs her life savings into the trip.
Her only family – daughter Carina and granddaughter Anastasia – are hesitant about what has prompted this seemingly random venture.
But they have no sense of Gracie’s past; of what could possibly be calling her to Italy. They have no idea that Gracie is harbouring the secret
of an extraordinary life that preceded them . . .
Bestselling author, Santa Montefiore, returns with an unforgettable tale of love lost and rediscovered,
set across the beautiful landscape of Italy


Victoria Walters (Random Acts of Kindness Part 3: Crossroads) (2 April 2018)

Welcome to Littlewood, a small town community with a big heart. 
Abbie and her boyfriend Jack are about to start their own PR company in London, but there are so many unanswered questions about their past and Abbie begins to question her decision to leave Littlewood... Will Thomas manage to hold onto Huntley Manor without her, or has her departure ruined his chances...?
After a shaky start, Eszter is determined to show her daughter Zoe that it doesn't matter where you are from, that we are all the same. With a little help from Brew cafe, they decide to run a cake baking class for the local children to help her make some friends. But as the summer goes on, their return to Hungary looms over them... Will they go back and leave Zoe's granny, Anne, all on her own? Or is life in Littlewood the perfect fit for their newly formed family...?
Having pushed Alex away, Louise finds herself battling with jealousy when she sees him with her colleague. But when tragedy strikes, Louise is confronted with how precious and short life can be... Is she ready to tell Alex how she really feels or will she lose him for good?

Packed full of love and kindness, this heart-warming story will reaffirm your faith in humanity!


My photos are not the best because I was trying to avoid taking pictures of the heads in front of me! but I hope these give a flavour of the evening.  The BATC goody bags are always fabulous and one of the items included a bound Chapter Sampler, containing extracts of all 10 author’s books.  Tightly holding my glass of Prosecco, I queued up with many others for the authors to sign their individual extracts – a really nice idea and a lovely momento of the evening to keep.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the same without those famous cupcakes!


and now the goody bag – and I have to admit to being just a little (ok, a BIG bit!) excited by the proof copies…..

I have been lucky enough to already receive proof copies of some of these books, some of which were already signed but I did take Santa’s bound hardback proof with me in the hope that I could nab a signature.  I did!


As ever, it was a lovely evening, the author’s chats were very entertaining and they were each allowed one minute to read an excerpt from their book.    It’s always a great opportunity at events like these to be able catch up with other bloggers, many of whom I don’t see from one year to the next.

My thanks to SJV for the invite and the BATC team and all the authors for a fun and entertaining evening.


Published by Zaffre (8 March 2018)

Available in ebook and paperback

319 pages

Source: Review copy


Earlier this month I had the pleasure of posting on paperback publication day, a guest post by T M Logan (which you can see here) as part of the publisher blog tour for 29 Seconds.  At the time I hadn’t quite finished the book so rather belatedly, here’s my review!


Give me one name. One person. And I will make them disappear . . .

When Sarah rescues a young girl in trouble, she expects nothing in return. But her act of bravery puts a powerful and dangerous man in her debt. He lives by his own brutal code, and all debts must be repaid – in the only way he knows how.

He offers Sarah a way to solve a desperate situation with her intolerable boss. A once-in-a-lifetime deal that will make all her problems disappear.

No consequences. No comeback. No chance of being found out.

All it takes is a 29 second phone call.



|   My Thoughts  |


Having really enjoyed Lies, the author’s debut novel, I was super keen to read this. 29 Seconds is a very timely and topical novel featuring an odious sexual predator who makes women’s lives a misery.

Our main protagonist, Sarah, is a busy mum with a flaky husband, who is currently out of the picture. She has a job as an academic that she loves and is keen to proceed further with her career however her boss, Professor Alan Lovelock is the only fly in the ointment. Complaints have been made against him previously by other women but have got nowhere. Unfortunately he seems to be Teflon coated and is protected by all senior management. His reputation is such that her female university colleagues have devised a set of ‘Rules’ for dealing with him – don’t be alone with him if you can avoid it, don’t do or say anything to encourage him, don’t get into a car or a lift with him – and never do any of these things when he was drunk! Break any of these rules at your peril.

Whilst driving one day, Sarah bravely intervenes during a rather bizarre incident. This is where all the cloak and dagger stuff then comes in – by way of repayment of a debt, she is given once in a lifetime opportunity to give a name and that person will disappear – forever. However once she gives a name, there is no going back.

“You give me one name. One person. And I will make them disappear. For you”

Well, here’s the thing. Whose name would you give in her situation? I love stories that have a moral dilemma element to them. You don’t have to be a genius to work out what Sarah will do but her decision brings her a whole load of problems which she didn’t foresee.

I started off feeling huge sympathy for Sarah having to cope with veiled threats and unwanted advances from her awful boss and I hate to say this as it feels very unsisterly and unsupportive but as the story went on she began to irritate me and I found myself shouting at the pages in frustration (silently of course – not out loud, that would be weird!). I wanted her to stand up to him and to tell the vile creep exactly where to go. And yes, I know that her career was at stake but no-one should have put up with what she did. It’s a sad indictment of our times that this happens at all.

29 Seconds has those addictive short chapters that leave you hanging, just to make sure you keep reading on. So, perhaps the plot was a little far-fetched at times – but I just went along with the story and enjoyed it for the suspenseful read that ensued. My only slight disappointment was with the denouement. Just my personal opinion but I felt the way that it was structured meant that it was all over too quickly and I felt slightly cheated.

29 Seconds is another entertaining and tense read from T M Logan with a thought provoking premise. Would you do something if you thought you could get away with it and with no repercussions? I’m looking forward to seeing what the author comes up with next and would definitely recommend 29 Seconds to anyone who enjoys a fast paced and twisted thriller.

My thanks to the publisher for the ARC copy.

* * * *


At the time of this post, 29 Seconds can be downloaded from Amazon UK for 98p


Related Posts:

LiesReview & Author Guest Post

29 SecondsAuthor Guest Post



Published by Harper Collins (22 March 2018)

available in ebook and paperback

400 pages


The One will be available on 22 March and is published by HarperImpulse. My thanks to Heidi at Blandpr for the offer of a review copy. Unfortunately I couldn’t fit in a review but instead I have an extract to share.


|   About the Book   |


Fall in love with this beautiful love story. A must read for fans of Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You and Cecelia Ahern’s PS I Love You.

Lizzie Sparkes should be the happiest girl in the world – she’s three months away from marrying The One in the wedding of her dreams! But then The One before the One walks back in to her life with a bombshell.

Alex’s unexpected return changes everything and now Lizzie faces an impossible dilemma. Because how can you leave the past behind you, when it’s standing right in front of you…asking you for one more chance?



From Chapter 1


13 weeks to go . . .

Finally, I’ve found The One! Lizzie Sparkes gazed at the full-length mirror in the changing room, hardly daring to believe that it was her own reflection staring back. The Grecian gown was perfect, with tiny beads twinkling along the asymmetric strap, and a delicate train skimming the carpet as though it was practising for the Oscars. It wasn’t too tight, it wasn’t scratchy and it didn’t make her look like a human doily. The only downside was the eye- wateringly expensive price, but she had decided to overlook that part. It’ll be worth it when Josh sees me walking down the aisle, she reassured herself, a lump rising in her throat. I look almost . . . beautiful.

She was afraid to step out from the safety of the cubicle, in case the look on her mum’s face – or Megan’s – betrayed the fact that they didn’t feel the same. They were both polite when it came to watching her try on wedding gowns, and had patiently sat through some 30 or so now, but she knew them well enough to read the signs. When her mum wasn’t keen on a dress, she blinked three or four times in quick succession, while Megan pulled a weird half-smile that made her look as though she’d had a dodgy facelift. It was a total giveaway, every time.

Lizzie drew a deep breath and swept back the purple velvet curtain. She took a slow step out into the centre of the boutique, her dark hair swishing loosely behind her like a glossy veil. ‘W-O-W,’ said Megan.

Her mum promptly burst into tears, which was a more confusing reaction.

‘Mum? Don’t you like it?’

There was a long pause while Lynda Sparkes rummaged through her overcrowded handbag, before pulling out a crumpled tissue and nearly poking herself in her right eye. ‘Oh, Elizabeth,’ she sniffed, mascara smudging into her crows’ feet. ‘You look like a movie star.’

Yep, this is definitely The One . . .

The store manager tottered over in her nude skyscraper heels, clearly anticipating a hefty commission. ‘That dress looks amazing on you,’ she gushed. ‘It fits so well, you’d hardly need any alterations. We could maybe just take it up an inch or two.’ She bent down and folded the hem with her hands by way of demonstration, though it didn’t seem to make a great deal of difference. ‘What do you think?’

‘I’ll take it.’ The words popped out of Lizzie’s mouth before she had a chance to peek again at the price tag.

‘Excellent!’ The manager clapped her manicured hands loudly and two blonde minions, one tall and one tiny, raced over. ‘Let’s open some champagne, please, for Ms . . .’

‘Sparkes. Soon to be Cooper.’

‘Of course. I assume we’re all having some bubbly?’ ‘You assume right,’ said Megan. She was not the kind of girl to turn down champagne at any hour, especially if it was on the house.

‘Marvellous.’ Moments later the two blondes reappeared, one bearing a tray of glasses and the other carrying a bottle of fizz. The manager made an elaborate show of popping the cork and pouring it out with a flourish. ‘Well, congratulations!’

‘Thank you,’ smiled Lizzie, edging away from the drinks so as not to spill anything down the pristine white silk. After six long months of searching, she was still in shock that she had found the dress of her dreams. Everyone kept telling her that she would know the right one when she saw it, but she’d been starting to suspect that might be a bridal myth. Last week she’d had a nightmare that she arrived at the wedding in a gown made from loo roll, which began to unravel in front of all their guests. She’d woken up covered in sweat and couldn’t get back to sleep, but Josh thought it was hilarious when she relayed the story the next morning. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll still marry you if you turn up in Andrex,’ he joked. ‘And think how much money we’d save . . .’

It was easy for him to laugh, of course; he’d chosen his suit after just two shopping trips and looked like a male model in it, the slimline cut complementing his lean, athletic build. ‘You’re not supposed to upstage the bride,’ she’d only half-joked when he tried it on, feeling the pressure to pick an equally special outfit increase tenfold. It was a huge relief to have finally found something so perfect. ‘I can’t believe you’re getting married!’ squealed Megan, the bubbliness of the champers already kicking in. ‘And in that fabulous dress.’ She glanced over at Mrs Sparkes, who had finally managed to stop sobbing long enough to take a sip of her drink. ‘Mrs S, we’re really going to have
to get you some waterproof eye make-up.’

‘Oh, I don’t think I can manage anything else today, love. I’m completely shopped out.’

‘Fair enough, but you’ll want some for the wedding. I’ll see what I can find at work.’ Megan was a journalist for a popular style website, and was sent so many samples that her bathroom was starting to resemble the cosmetics hall at Harrods. The retail worth of her monthly beauty booty was probably twice her modest salary.

She turned her attention back to her friend. ‘You’ll need to start thinking about bridal make-up too, Lizzie – plus there’s hair, underwear, shoes, not to mention my brides- maid’s outfit . . .’

‘I think I’d better get out of this dress first,’ said Lizzie. ‘Can you give me a hand, Meg?’

‘Sure, no problem. As long as I don’t have to help you to the loo on the day.’

Just then Megan’s mobile squawked like a melodramatic duck, and they both burst out laughing. ‘What on earth is that?’ asked Lizzie.

‘It’s my new email alert,’ grinned Megan, reaching for her phone. ‘It quacks me up.’

‘Oh, please stop. I swear your jokes are getting worse.’ She waited for the witty riposte, but suddenly realised her friend was no longer smiling. In fact, all the colour had flooded from her face, leaving her skin whiter than the row of wedding dresses behind her. ‘Megan? What’s wrong?’

The sound of her name seemed to snap Megan out of her trance, and she shook her curly blonde bob. ‘Nothing. It’s not important. Now, where were we?’ She put on her most lopsided smile, and Lizzie knew she was lying.

‘You were about to stop being weird and tell me what’s going on. Is everything OK?’

‘Yes, everything’s fine. I’ll fill you in later.’

‘Please fill me in now. You’re starting to freak me out.’ Megan looked around nervously, as if hoping someone might interrupt this awkward exchange, but Mrs Sparkes was deep in conversation with the manager, waffling on about her own 1980s bridal gown. ‘Megan! What’s going on?’

‘Alright, I’ll tell you, but promise you won’t stress out, OK?’

‘Stress out about what?’

There was an uncomfortable pause. ‘Alex is back.’

* * * *


If the Extract has tempted you, The One, is available to pre-order on download from Amazon UK at 99p


|   Author Bio   |

Since graduating with a degree in multi-media journalism, Maria Realf has worked for many of the UK’s best-known magazines, including The Mail on Sunday’s YOU Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Cosmopolitan Bride, Fabulous, Marie Claire, Now and You & Your Wedding. In her spare time, Maria is also an all-round movie obsessive, theatre lover and karaoke enthusiast. Find out more at


Author Links:    Twitter   |   Amazon UK  |   Goodreads  


It’s a pleasure to welcome Rebecca Muddiman to the blog with a guest post.  Rebecca’s latest crime thriller Murder in Slow Motion (Gardner and Freeman Book 4)  was published in February and is available in both ebook and paperback.


How I Write

by Rebecca Muddiman


Thanks to Karen for inviting me to write a guest post. Here are my ten steps to writing a book.


1. Find an idea

My first book, Stolen, was inspired by some of the child abduction cases that have been in the news in recent years. Murder in Slow Motion came from a personal experience. One night I heard my neighbours arguing and it sounded like things had turned nasty. My neighbours were generally noisy, but not like this. I lay awake wondering whether I should do something. Should I go up there and knock on the door? Or should I call the police? In the end, the noise stopped and a few days later the usual karaoke party took its place. But it still bothered me. Should I have intervened?

2. Develop the idea

Once I know my theme and inciting incident, I start to map out the rest of the story. Who are the characters? What’s going on behind those closed doors? What happens next? When I have some ideas of what I want to do, I start to research and this adds layers to the story.

3. Accept you won’t sleep for some time

The plotting stage is a mixture of excitement and frustration. Not being able to come up with ideas keeps me awake. But having ideas also keeps me awake. I annoy my boyfriend by switching the light on several times a night to write something down. (Writing in the dark doesn’t work. I’m more likely to have written on the bedside cabinet than the notebook on the bedside cabinet.)

4. Create a mess worthy of a serial killer

I used to be quite messy with my notes, scribbling ideas on any available surface. I now devote a notebook (or two) to each project and try to keep it all together. Over time it builds into something resembling a plot and once I have the bare bones I like to write down each plot point or piece of information on an index card (or, more likely, a torn up bit of paper) and spread them across the floor. I’ve been told this is something a serial killer would do, but I find it helpful to see everything laid out in front of me. I can see if there’s something missing – how to get from A to B. I can see how it flows and whether a scene needs to be added or moved around.


5. Don’t allow anyone into your crazy killer’s lair (especially naughty dogs)

Because I spread these cards across the floor, it means no one can go into the room until I’m done (which can be a while) in case any of the cards are accidentally moved. I have now invested in a large notice board to avoid any breeze based incidents but there’s something more satisfying about using the floor.


6. Create an outline

Once I’m happy with that, I type up a chapter by chapter outline. Sometimes it’s just one line per chapter – a vague description of what needs to happen. Other times it’s longer, incorporating bits of dialogue or things vital to the chapter. The outline is generally quite short. I like to know where I’m going, and having a prompt for each chapter makes it easier when I sit down to write. But I like some freedom too.

7. Write a first draft (but expect it to be rubbish)

Writing the first draft is my favourite part, mainly because at the end of each day the word count had grown and I feel like I’m progressing. Usually first drafts don’t take too long to write as long as I’ve prepared enough. Three months is about average.

8. Edit

Of course, first drafts are mostly nonsense, so once I get to the end, then the real work begins. In a lot of ways I like editing. I like refining things and seeing connections I hadn’t seen before. I like collaborating with an editor. What I find frustrating is that it often feels like I’m getting nowhere. I try to aim for a certain number of chapters to edit a week, but without that word count ticking away, it can sometimes feel like treading water.

9. Rinse and repeat

I try to leave a gap of at least a few weeks before going back and reading a draft. Having some distance lets me see things more clearly. The amount of drafts I do changes from book to book. With Murder in Slow Motion it was about six. I’m often amazed by writers who only do one draft, who just work on each chapter until it’s right and they can move on. I could never work that way. My books evolve as I write. What I think the story is about when I begin can often be very different by the end.

10. And relax

When it’s finally done, I give myself a couple of days off to catch up on reading other people’s books and then go out and buy more books just in case I run out. (I won’t. Ever. I have more books than my local library.)


Thank you so much for the post Rebecca. Your dogs look adorable, I couldn’t be cross with them for long!


|   About the Book   |



Katy Jackson is missing, last seen at her neighbour’s house.
DI Gardner and DS Freeman think Katy’s boyfriend, Andrew, is overreacting. She’s been gone just a few hours. But next door there’s evidence of a struggle and blood throughout the house.
When they realise Katy’s neighbour is police officer Dawn Lawton, and that Dawn is missing too, it becomes impossible for Gardner to put his personal feelings aside, driving him to put his own career on the line as he tries to find his friend.
As Gardner and Freeman unravel both Katy and Dawn’s secrets, they discover neither woman’s life is what it seems. And when everyone has something to hide, how do you know who to trust?


|   Author Bio   |


Rebecca Muddiman was born and raised in Redcar. She has lived and worked in Holland and London, and travelled across America on a Greyhound bus. She won a Northern Writers’ Award in 2010 and the Northern Crime Competition in 2012. When not writing she spends her time watching Game of Thrones and dealing with her two unruly dogs.




Author Links:

Website   |   Twitter   |   Facebook  |   Amazon UK   |   Goodreads 





Publisher: Atlantic Books; Main edition (1 Mar. 2018)
Available in ebook and paperback (448 pages)
ISBN-10: 1786493543
ISBN-13: 978-1786493545


|   About the Book |


A hot summer. A shocking murder. A town of secrets, waiting to explode…A beautiful young teacher has been murdered, her body found in the lake, strewn with red roses. Local policewoman Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock pushes to be assigned to the case, concealing the fact that she knew the murdered woman in high school years before. But that’s not all Gemma’s trying to hide. As the investigation digs deeper into the victim’s past, other secrets threaten to come to light, secrets that were supposed to remain buried. The lake holds the key to solving the murder, but it also has the power to drag Gemma down into its dark depths…


I have a confession to make.  For no other reason other than a catastrophic diary fail (and me being an utter numpty for forgetting to make a note of the date!), I missed my spot on this blog tour last week.  My sincere apologies to Sarah, tour organiser Anne Cater and the publisher.  Lesson learnt; I am now double checking all my blog tour dates!

As I am now unofficially extending the blog tour, I’m delighted to host Sarah with this guest post.


To like or not to like

by Sarah Bailey


A few months ago I received an email.

‘I understand you are writing a sequel to The Dark Lake,’ the sender wrote, ‘and I suggest that you make Gemma a little bit less problematic in the next book. She is not very likeable and it’s hard for a reader to warm to her.’

I have received quite a lot of emails about my debut novel over the past few months and at least fifty percent of them echo this sentiment. This short email excerpt is on the tame end of the scale. Some of the correspondence has been far more, ah, blunt. Some emails have been downright abusive. It seems that Gemma, the fictional character I dreamed up in my head, certainly got a few people all riled up in real life.

The Dark Lake, was published in Australia and the US in 2017. It has, as you would imagine, been the most incredible experience, a little bit terrifying but mostly wonderful. I have absolutely loved receiving feedback from readers and hearing what they think about the book – good and bad. I think my career in advertising has prepared me well for criticism and subjectivity and I feel quite privileged every single time someone makes the effort to let me know what they thought of my story. But perhaps naively, I did not expect to receive such a robust feedback loop about the likeability of the main character.

The Dark Lake opens with the discovery of a body. Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is assigned to the case which turns out to be the murder of an old high school class mate in the small regional town of Smithson, Australia. Gemma is young and ambitious and when we meet her, she is in the midst of a personal crisis and readers spend the majority of the story in her head as she navigates both the homicide and her complicated relationships. Gemma is unashamedly flawed and doesn’t always make the best decisions, but she is deliciously layered and real, or at least that was my intention in creating her.

There has been a lot of talk lately about how important it is that characters are likeable and I think it’s an interesting discussion. Over the years I have certainly liked a lot of fictional characters. Possibly I have even fallen in love with one or two. There have been others that I have loved to hate, and many that have shocked and disappointed me. I think it’s nice when I discover a character that I like but I don’t think that the likeability of the main characters dictates whether I enjoy a book. For me, it always comes down to empathy.

I might not like a character, I might not agree with what they say or what they do but if I can understand where they are coming from, and can see why they are the way they are, then bam, I can relate. I have compassion. And I think it is this understanding that is a critical ingredient in the relationship between reader and character.

When I wrote The Dark Lake I was in a happy little bubble of pre-published creative freedom. I crafted Gemma from scratch with no expectations from others. I barely dared to hope I would be published. Writing the sequel was a completely different experience. By that stage, a lot of people had told me what they liked and didn’t like about Gemma, and how they wanted her to evolve. What they thought should happen next.

I appreciate that every story needs to depict a journey and that we enjoy witnessing a transformation. We like to see people change their ways, give up the booze, get a haircut etc. Redeem themselves. The thing is, just like in real life, change is rarely dramatic. People learn lessons, mature and hopefully evolve and grow but they tend not to perform total black-flips and turn into completely different people. While I understand that Gemma is not everyone’s cup of tea, it is clear to me that I have a responsibility to her develop her character in a realistic way and this outweighs any other responsibility.

So, Gemma remains ‘problematic’ in the sequel to The Dark Lake but for me this is how it should be. She is not a cardboard cut-out, she is a product of her past and the world around her. She wears many hats: detective, mother, daughter and lover. She struggles with expectations and responsibilities. She is human. I’m not sure we would be best friends but I definitely think she is interesting. And most of the time I understand where she is coming from.

I can’t wait for you all to meet her.


Sarah’s debut book, The Dark Lake, is out in the UK now
The sequel, Into The Night, will be published in the UK in 2018



|  Author Bio  |

Sarah’s first novel, The Dark Lake, was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in May 2017 and in the USA and Canada in October.
Sarah lives in Melbourne, Australia and has two young sons.
She has fifteen years experience in the advertising industry and is currently a director at creative projects company Mr Smith.
Sarah’s second book, Into The Night, featuring Detective Gemma Woodstock, will be published in 2018.



Author Links:  Website   |   Twitter   |   Amazon UK   |   Goodreads