Blog Tour – Sealskin by Su Bristow

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Book Blurb:

Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous… and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives – not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence? Based on the legend of the selkies – seals who can transform into people – Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice. With exquisite grace, Su Bristow transports us to a different world, subtly and beautifully exploring what it means to be an outsider, and our innate capacity for forgiveness and acceptance.

My review:

Sometimes, it’s good to have a break from reading crime books. Sealskin did indeed transport me away from the gritty reality of crime as Su Bristow conjured up the sights, sounds and smells of the Scottish coast. Cleverly, there isn’t a set time period for this book so that, although we know it’s not recent history, we’re not bogged down by historical accuracies – we’re simply captivated by the story. And what a story! And what a storyteller! Short chapters kept the pace going and enticed me to read late into the night. Beautiful descriptions gave me a clear sense of place and authentic characters spoke with Scottish accents in my head (always a good sign). A deeply atmospheric novel.

I didn’t actually need the tissues that were sent with this book but I was very moved and had a great sense of peace. Just as Mairhi eases Donald and the others that she meets, so this book was a chance to have some calm in my otherwise chaotic life. And as I head back to the world of crime genre, I do so feeling as though I’ve had a little holiday by the sea, with the sound of waves crashing on the rocks and the smell of salt on the air. I am refreshed.

 

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Su Bristow is a consultant medical herbalist by day. She’s the author of two books on herbal medicine: The Herbal Medicine Chest and The Herb Handbook; and two on relationship skills: The Courage to Love and Falling in Love, Staying in Love, co-written with psychotherapist, Malcom Stern. Her published fiction includes ‘Troll Steps’ (in the anthology, Barcelona to Bihar) and ‘Changes’, which came second in the 2010 CreativeWritingMatters flash fiction competition. Sealskin is Su’s debut novel, and it won the Exeter Novel Prize in 2013. Her writing has been described as ‘magic realism; Angela Carter meets Eowyn Ivey’.

 

To buy Sealskin click here.

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And now for something completely different…

I’m a little bit behind on my reading so I don’t have a review for you today but on Thursday it will be my turn on the Sealskin tour. This is a wonderful book by Su Bristow and I absolutely loved it, so look out for that later in the week. For today though, I thought I would be brave and finally share a bit more about my own writing. I haven’t done this since my first blog post so, eek, here it goes!

Last week, over half-term, I dragged my husband and children round Wiltshire for a couple of days so I could do some research. I had already done a lot of stuff online, even finding a place, via Google Earth, that was suitable for a crime scene. It’s a small wood near a railway line and there appeared to be a track from the main road that would take us there. We found it and my husband, very expertly, drove us down a pot-holed and very muddy track. Suddenly the views I’d seen online became very real and the storyline now seemed possible. I could imagine my police officers walking the same pathway as me, hearing the same birds (including a woodpecker) and the fast train that whizzed by on its way to Cornwall. We met a really lovely lady who was walking her dogs and she gave us some fascinating information about the area. The wood is called Wroughton’s Folly (and also, I discovered later, Maggot’s Wood – very apt for finding a body) and the track itself is reputed to be haunted. Seymour Wroughton was killed in 1789 when he drove his carriage and horses down the lane too recklessly one night. Legend has it that you can hear the noise of the horses and carriage at night. This is all great information for the book I’m writing now, currently titled ‘Falling’ which is the second book in my DI Bernie Noel series.

 

The first book is called ‘Missing’ and is about a child that goes missing from a playground in a local village. Although I have Bernie and her team based in Devizes, the villages in my books are fictional. It was great to drive around and spend some time in Devizes itself to get a feel for the place. Devizes is a quiet market town in Wiltshire that has the Kennet and Avon canal running through it. It’s also home to the Wiltshire Police Headquarters. One key shop in my stories is a baker’s and we managed to find a great bakery called Reeve the Baker. It exactly fits the bill for the books and I think their giant ring doughnut is going to have to be mentioned at some point! (Sadly I didn’t take a photo).

 

The last place that I really wanted to visit is from a scene in ‘Missing’. The White Horse is to the north of Devizes and thankfully, was accessible by road (our car was a bit of a mess by the end of the day). Again, using Google Earth, I had seen that there was a small woodland not far from the White Horse. By driving up there, we discovered that it’s called Leipzig Plantation and is owned by Wiltshire Council. Due to lack of suitable footwear and some grumbling children, we didn’t manage to go in but I found the pathway that leads into it. When I come to edit that scene, I’ll do it with more knowledgeable eyes now. Yes, I saw a lot of it through Google Earth, but that doesn’t give a sense of place – the sounds, the smells, the people who live there. It’s made me realise how important it is to go and visit the places you write about. In ‘Falling’, part of the story happens in Florence…

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The only slight downside to all this, is that I don’t have a contact in Wiltshire Police to find out if I have my police procedure set up correctly for Wiltshire. Without realising it, we actually parked in a car park next to Devizes Police Station. So one thing I have found out, is that they have  4×4 vehicle for the Rural Crime Team. That’s definitely going to be needed for that bumpy track! So a plea to Wiltshire Police – is there anyone who can answer a few questions for me please? And just to encourage you, my 7 year old has decided he wants to illustrate my books. Here’s one of his drawings.

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Dare To Remember by Susanna Beard

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Book Blurb:

Reeling from a brutal attack that leaves her flatmate dead and her badly injured, Lisa Fulbrook flees to the countryside to recuperate. With only vague memories of the event, she isolates herself from her friends and family, content to spend her days wandering the hills with her dog, Riley.

However, Lisa is soon plagued, not only by vivid flashbacks, but questions too: how did their assailant know them? Why were they attacked? And what really happened that night?

As she desperately tries to piece together the memories, Lisa realises that there’s another truth still hidden to her, a truth she can’t escape from. A truth that may have been right in front of her all along.

 

 

 

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My review

Dare To Remember is a slow burn but it needs to be. It would be unrealistic to expect Lisa to suddenly recall the trauma she has pushed down so deeply into her sub-conscious. Susanna Beard skilfully takes us with Lisa on her journey, as the clouds over her memory begin to break, revealing the truth, as splinters of light, ever so slowly. During this time, Lisa gradually learns to live again, helped by her new dog, Riley. He originally belonged to Lisa’s neighbour, John but he’s too old to take care of him properly. Lisa and John strike up a friendship and it isn’t long before she’s running a few errands for him. The other friend that Lisa makes is Jessica. She’s also new to the area.  On the surface, Jessica seems to have it all – a nice house, a loving husband and she doesn’t have to work. In reality though, Jessica is lonely and abused by her husband. These two friendships help to bring down the wall that Lisa has built around herself but also opens up her memories.

Dare To Remember is an intriguing read as it explores the effects of trauma and looks at how restorative justice can help both victim and offender. The narrative is both uplifting and disquieting as Lisa pushes against her past attack, and dares not just to remember, but to hope as well.  An impressive debut for Susanna Beard.

 

About the author

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Susanna Beard was part of the 2015 Faber Academy Anthology. She studied Linguistics before embarking on a career in PR and marketing. She has helped a multitude of clients promote everything from tourist detinations to Californian wine to cuddly toys. This is her first novel.

You can follow Susanna on Twitter @SusannaBeard25 and you can buy the book here.

 

First Monday Crime – February

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L-R Sheena Kamal, David Young, Steph Broadribb and Matthew Hall

 

Having had a little break in January (none of us were going to turn up on a Bank Holiday Monday), First Monday Crime started the new year with a bang at The Judges Court. Two debut novelists – Steph Broadribb and Sheena Kamal, one second book author – David Young and one very experienced author – M.R. Hall, who from henceforth, will be known as Matthew Hall. Keeping order over the proceedings was Barry Forshaw.

Barry asked the authors to tell us a little something about their current books.

Steph Broadribb – Deep Down Dead. Lori Anderson is a bounty hunter in Florida. Her daughter Dakota, has leukemia and the hospital bills are racking up so Lori has no choice but to take on a high bond job. She has to bring in her former mentor and lover, J.T.

David Young – Stasi Wolf is the follow up to the very successful Stasi Child. Set in East Germany in the mid 70s, Young’s female protagonist is Karin Müller, an officer in the Peoples Police. She’s sent to a new town to investigate the disappearance of twin infants.

Sheena Kamal is Canadian and her debut novel, Eyes Like Mine, is set on the west coast of Canada – a stunning but bleak and harsh environment. Nora Watts gave her baby up for adoption but 15 years on, her daughter has gone missing. Her adoptive parents turn to Nora for help in finding her.

Matthew Hall’s A Life To Kill is his seventh book with his female protagonist Jenny Cooper, a coroner. The focus this time is on the army and the final days for the last British combat soldiers in Helmand.

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So what are the authors reading themselves?

Steph – Bone Dust White by Karin Salvalaggio

Matthew – an Inspector Montalbano novel [but I’m not sure which one!]

David – The Cleaner by Elisabeth Herrmann

Sheena – Cut To The Bone by Alex Caan [she really liked it, Alex!]

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From the audience, Rod Reynolds asked a question – what’s the most unusual thing that you’ve taken from previous jobs into writing?

Matthew – as a former criminal barrister, he’s taken lots of ideas from cases. In particular, when you meet a murderer and expect him or her to be a monster but find he or she to be quite ordinary – it can throw you.

Steph – nothing so much from her current day job in a university but has family in the US and had previously worked on a remote ranch in West Virginia. This helped with creating a sense of place for Deep Down Dead.

David – worked at the BBC for 27 years. ‘When writing about the Stasi, working at the BBC is an education’. [I’m not going to expand on that one!]

Sheena – has worked as an actress, a stunt double and a researcher on TV shows. She thinks the latter has helped her best as a writer, being able to find out information and find people who can help her.

 

First Monday Crime will be back on Monday 6th March with… I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say… maybe if I give you some clues…

A former graphic designer now the Queen of Domestic Noir

A writer who has had a book adapted for TV and in turn, has adapted a TV series into books

A debut novelist who is more than used to flashing lights and the sound of sirens

A very experienced author who has worked on, written for and produced some of the best crime dramas on TV

Any ideas? It’s going to be a corker! Keep an eye on https://www.goldsborobooks.com/ for more details.

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To find out more about the authors from the February panel and buy their books:

Steph Broadribb click here

David Young click here

Sheena Kamal click here

Matthew Hall click here

The Book Of Mirrors by E.O. Chirovici

‘One Man’s Truth is Another Man’s Lie’

When Peter Katz, a literary agent, receives a submission from a Richard Flynn, he has no idea the impact that the first few chapters will have on him. Once read, Katz knows that he needs to see the rest of the book, titled The Book Of Mirrors. But there’s a problem. The submission had been sitting on Katz’s desk for a while and the author is now gravely ill. Before Katz can find out more, Richard Flynn dies. His partner claims to have no knowledge of the manuscript. If The Book of Mirrors had been a work of fiction then maybe Peter Katz could have left it alone but Flynn claimed that the book was a memoir that examined an unsolved murder. Determined to find out the truth, Katz hires an investigative journalist to solve The Book Of Mirrors.

Since reading Gone Girl, I’ve found myself always wondering how reliable a narrator is in a novel. The Book Of Mirrors serves up a veritable feast of characters that cause us to doubt their words and actions. Told from four different viewpoints – Peter Katz, Richard Flynn, John Keller and Roy Freeman, each compelling in their own way, the story skilfully flits in and out of possible murderers and motives before we finally learn the truth. My favourite narrator was John Keller, the young investigative journalist who becomes so embroiled in the case, that he doesn’t notice his life imploding around him. The case becomes obsessive for whoever takes it on. Chirovici describes this as a whydunnit rather than a whodunit and indeed, the motive becomes key. Find that and you have your killer. In some ways, it reminded me of Agatha Christie and although we don’t have the classic  Christie denouement at the end, with everyone gathered, the killer is confronted.

But what I found most interesting, is the actual story of how the book came to be published. Although he’s written other books, this is Chirovici’s first book in English (he’s Romanian). Having been rejected by agents, he tried a small publishing house. The owner met with him and explained that the book was just too big a project for them and he encouraged Chirovici to submit again to agents. He did so and PFD took him on. I’m so glad they did. Now sold in 36 territories, Chirovici has succeeded where his fictional author failed.

You can buy The Book of Mirrors here.