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Thursday, 31 August 2017

Reading Round-Up: July/August 2017

Summer 2017 is drawing to a close and the lure of autumn is starting to creep into the air. As the curtains close on summer for another year, it's time for my fourth reading round-up of 2017.

If you missed the last edition, you can catch up with that here.

What is reading round-up?

Reading round-up is a simple way for me to keep track of everything book-related, and a fun way to show my readers what I've been reading over the last few months!

Out are the books I've read in July and August.

In are the books I've acquired during that time.

And wishlist are the books I've found out about and want to buy but haven't managed to get my hands on yet!

A post shared by Lorna Holland (@themaxdog) on


In
  • The Time Machine and Other Stories by H.G. Wells
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  • I Know Where She Is by S.B. Caves
  • Holding by Graham Norton
  • The Linebacker by Gregory S.T. Charlton
  • There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins
  • Outsourced by Eric J. Gates
  • So Near the Horizon by Jessica Koch
Out
Wishlist
  • Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moira Fowley-Doyle

What have you been reading recently? Have you read a book I should know about? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Interview: Roxie Cooper

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Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Law of Attraction by the lovely Roxie Cooper. To celebrate, I sat down for a chat and a catch-up with Roxie, ready to share the juicy gossip with you all!

Hi Roxie! Would you like to introduce yourself? 
Hello! Thanks so much for having me on your blog! Well, my name is Roxie and I live in Yarm, which is a little market town in the North East. I come from Middlesbrough and studied Classics at Newcastle University (yeah, Latin and Ancient Greek – you can imagine how useful that’s been). After that, I worked as a dancer for a few years (a bit like Coyote Ugly – literally the best job I ever had), went travelling for a while, lived in Australia, came back, went to law school and became a barrister! The Law of Attraction is the first novel I’ve written and I completed it in 16 months.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I’m not one of these people who had a burning desire to write from a young age. After practising at the Bar for a few years and experiencing the absurdity of it all as a Northern working-class peroxide blonde with a big personality, I got fed up of people saying to me “Oh! You really don’t look like a barrister!” so I decided to start writing a book about a girl like me just going into this world and coping with it all.
Tell me about The Law of Attraction.
It’s about a girl called Amanda Bentley who comes from a council estate in Teesside. She’s smart, sassy and doesn’t take any nonsense. After winning a prestigious pupillage at the best set of barristers’ Chambers in the northeast, she’s got one year to prove she’s got what it takes to be offered a tenancy there…but she’s up against her smarmy law school nemesis, Marty Gregg.
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Image: Neverland Blog Tours
She also struggles to resist the sexy barrister Sid Ryder who she absolutely cannot go anywhere near if she wants to retain her professional dignity (or potentially risk the wrath of his venomous ex, Clarinda). But she’s also hiding a big secret which could jeopardise everything if her colleagues find out about it. Essentially, Amanda is that girl who makes the wrong choices, is in the wrong place at the wrong time, says the wrong thing – she’s raw and real…she could be any of us.
How do you get inspiration?
I’m really interested in human emotions and more specifically, secret or forbidden emotions – feeling things we shouldn’t. Although The Law Of Attraction is humorous in the main part, it has a darker side running through it, dealing with these issues. It essentially explains why Amanda acts the way she does, so threads the whole story together. Ultimately, I am inspired writing about flawed characters – I find them fascinating because they’re human and complex – just like we all are.
What draws you to writing contemporary fiction?
The subject matter of my first novel fell naturally into this genre. Most of the books I read are here, too. It’s funny because everyone assumes I write legal thrillers or domestic noir because of the job I do – I can’t imagine anything worse! I’d feel like I was at work. I’d also get far too bogged down in detail, insisting everything was 100% accurate in terms of legal procedure/court scenes etc and that would be tedious for the reader. I had to be really strict with myself for some of the court scenes in The Law of Attraction and give myself poetic licence to bend the rules, knowing that if I wrote it as it actually would be in court, people would stop reading after 2 minutes! Trials are rarely exciting.
What’s your writing process?
Well, I’m initially struck by an idea as explained above. Once I’ve written a few notes down and formed a plot in my head and committed to it, I set about putting it on a planner on my laptop to see if it can work as a full novel. I am an absolutely meticulous planner! I need to (roughly) plan a book out scene by scene before I start writing it otherwise it turns into a big old mess and I get stressed. I don’t write it in sequence though, I jump about all over the place, depending on what I feel like writing on that particular day. The worst part of this is that I’m deprived of writing ‘The End’ and Instagramming it! Once I think I’m close-ish to word count, I’ll read it from the beginning to make sure it’s not completely rubbish and the structure is right, then I’ll work on edits, which will get finer and smaller as the weeks go by.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
The hardest thing is translating what’s in your head to the page. Often, I’ll be walking along with my iPod on (I do that a lot to get ideas) and you’ll plan this amazing scene with brilliant dialogue and incredible scenery description. You’ll then sit down to write it and it’s terrible. Then, other days, the words flow tremendously and you can’t quite believe you wrote this magnificent opus. Bizarre.
Roxie-Cooper, author
Image: Roxie Cooper / Neverland Blog Tours
Which authors inspire you?
Adele Parks. She comes from Teesside, where I’m from so she showed me that it could be done. I absolutely love her books and find her brave, bold style of writing wonderfully inspirational. I think any author who covers controversial or brave topics are fantastic.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
The best tip (which took me a while to put into effect) is leave editing until the end. I wasted MONTHS in the beginning on those important first few chapters when I changed them after a year anyway. You will never reach the end of your book if you edit along the way. Write now – even if it’s complete rubbish – and edit at the end.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
This is going to sound horribly nerdy, but I have to stay true to my Classicist roots and say The Odyssey by Homer. Despite being thousands of years old it’s an absolute masterclass in storytelling. It’s got everything you need; a swoony hero, action, rising tension, great villains and an amazing, climatic ending. I also love Wuthering Heights – so much so, I have the entire novel printed out and framed, hanging in my living room. It’s such a centrepiece and people are always wowed by it.
What are your ambitions for your writing career? 
I don’t want to become too comfortable in anything I do. I always want to push myself and try something new and different. At the same time, I’d like to build up a platform of readers who enjoy reading my books, love my style of writing and can’t wait for the next one to come out – that’s the absolute dream!
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I absolutely adore anything to do with musicals! My favourite thing to do is watch them – I think I probably own every single one on DVD! I also love going to the theatre and very recently went to see Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes which was visually stunning. He’s my favourite choreographer and it was incredible to see one of his shows again. I adore losing myself in the world of theatre.
What are you currently working on?
My second novel is an unconventional love story. I had the option between writing an ‘easy’ second book and this one, but I chose this one for two reasons; Firstly, I wanted to challenge myself as a writer and this one truly has. Secondly, it’s a really interesting, bold story with raw, emotional characters. I’ve really enjoyed writing it. It’s now finished and I’m currently editing it. 
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m currently reading two books, actually – both very different. This Beautiful Life by Katie Marsh – a truly gorgeous, emotional novel which you definitely need a box of tissues for. The other is The Flower Shop on Foxley Street by Rachel Dove – an uplifting, fun read by a wonderful author.
If you want to know more about Roxie, you can follow her on Twitter. The Law of Attraction is available to buy now.

What do you think? Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Theatre Review: The Book of Mormon

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Image: Wikimedia Commons
Funny, entertaining, yet with a strong message to share - on the surface, The Book of Mormon may seem like any other run-of-the-mill musical. However, there is much more to this story than may originally meet the eye.

Last Wednesday, 16th August, I headed down to London with a friend to catch the day's matinee performance of the show. Going to see Mormon had been his choice, yet being the theatre junkie that I am, I was more than happy to tag along. Unusually for me, I didn't have very much background knowledge of the show at all. To tell the truth, I barely knew the songs, let alone the storyline. This actually made for quite a refreshing change as I was able to fully take in the show and judge it entirely on its own merits rather than having to bow down to prior influence and a preconceived notion of the performance.

However, this being the show that it is, my ignorance meant that I was guaranteed to be in with a lot of surprises as the afternoon wore on.

Satire with a Dash of Humour

The Book of Mormon tells the story of two young Mormons, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, who are dispatched to Africa to complete their religious mission and preach to the local people. Of course, nothing goes to plan, and the pair soon find themselves on a journey of discovery alongside the very people they have been sent to try and convert.

However, satire and stereotypes are the order of the day when it comes to establishing humour within the story, meaning that there is barely a stone left unturned when it comes to satirising people, places, culture and much more. The humour walks a thin tightrope between funny and offensive, at times see-sawing between the two. As you would expect from the knowledge that Mormon was dreamed up by the creators of South Park, some of the humour is quite crass and crude. Luckily, though, the cheap laughs are interspersed with some great lines and moments of real laugh-out-loud fun.

Songs, Characters and More

Although the storyline is rather predictable, this doesn't take away from the fact that this is a great piece of theatre for many other reasons. Aside from the humour and fantastic script, the variety and depth of characters are also great. From the polar opposites of Elders Price and Cunningham to the desperation of the villagers and Nabulungi's hopes and dreams, each character has their own individual story to tell.

In addition, as a fully-fledged musical in its own right, the songs definitely don't disappoint either. Whether it is the inherent catchiness of 'Turn it Off' or the satire of 'Hasa Diga Eebowai', the songs, lyrics and accompanying music are all perfectly suited to the story. However, the stand-out performance of the night went to the big number 'Spooky Mormon Hell Dream'. The staging, choreography, set and costumes all added up to create a memorable showpiece which was more than worthy of being crowned the number of the night.

If it's entertainment you're looking for, then you have definitely come to the right place. Say goodbye to the era of family-friendly musicals and instead, welcome Mormon into your life for an afternoon (or evening) of refreshingly non-PC fun.

If you would like to go along and see the show for yourself, you can buy tickets here directly from the official website.

Have you seen The Book of Mormon? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Interview: R.S. Williams

the-collective, rs-williams, blog-tour

This morning I'm pleased to welcome author R.S. Williams to the blog for my stop on the blog tour for her novel The Collective. Read on to find out all about her thoughts on writing, Harry Potter, and, of course, the book.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
My name is Rhianne, I’m a pretty ordinary introvert working a normal office day job, and by night I create stories inside my head.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I’ve always loved reading and the amount of different emotions that come with the stories. I wanted to create something that could re-create the same reaction I have when I read books. Started when I was 16, and apart from a short break, I have been writing every day since.
Tell me about The Collective. 
The Collective is two different things. The title of my book and a secret society guarding time from dangerous artefacts and wrong choices. We meet Tilly who is studying at university, and Jenny who is part of the society and wants to move up through the ranks. Tilly then gets kidnapped and taken on an adventure. Jenny is sent to get her back.
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Image: Neverland Blog Tours
How do you get inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere. I get it from Pinterest, things people say and do. Movies, books, TV shows, and games.
What draws you to writing fantasy?
It’s my favourite genre to read and therefore it’s easy for me to write. There are fewer rules as you make them all up yourself.
What’s your writing process?
My process is different for every book. Some books get plotted out, some get written in order, some don’t. I like the variety. For The Collective it was all done my the seat of my pants. The idea just appeared and grew. I usually sit down and write in the morning for about 30 minutes before work and 1.5 hours on the weekend.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Writing. My career choice is possibly the hardest one out there but it’s so fulfilling.
What do you love most about writing?
Writing. Creating new stories and putting the words to paper is an amazing feeling.
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Image: R.S. Williams
Which authors inspire you?
Sarah J. Maas, V.E. Schwab, and of course my writing friends; Laura Teagen, Ashley Carlson, Briana Morgan, Rachael Tulipano, Liz Meldon and Sarina Langer.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
TRY EVERYTHING. Honestly. The only way you’ll find whats best for your writing style is to try everything a see what fits best.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
OH. What a difficult question. I love so many books. However, the only books I’ve re-read are the Harry Potter ones.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To continue to write and publish stories. I hope to be traditionally published one day and walk into a bookstore, and see someone picking up my book, then deciding to buy it. Life Made.
If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing?
Probably watching FAR too much TV in my spare time. As it is I probably do that too much anyway. Probably the same thing that I am doing now at the day job, living a half-life.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
TV, Netflix, I go to the cinema a lot with my friends and my mum. My boyfriend and I like to go for walks too. Pokemon Go.
What are you currently working on?
Three different stories.1. The Sequel to The Collective, 2. A new trilogy idea, but only book one and 3. A romance.
What are you reading at the moment?
I usually always have about 3 novels on the go, a paperback, kindle and kindle fire book. Currently, it’s Empire of Storms (I know I’m late to the party).

The Collective is available to buy now. For more information about R.S. Williams, you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

What do you think? Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Is Online Dating Worth the While?

* This is a sponsored post.

love, relationships, online-dating
Image: publicdomainpictures.net
In the past, dating used to be an act of courtship, a dance of stolen glances and careful flirtation. A couple would find one another through work, mutual friends or a chance meeting at a bar.

Nowadays, however, the increasing dominance of technology and the internet has meant that dating and finding a partner has taken a whole new turn - welcome to the age of the online dating phenomenon.

There used to be a pretty big stigma attached to online dating, but as the available apps and websites have become more sophisticated and far more accessible, this has lessened. Today, online dating is seen by many as a great new way to meet like-minded people and, if you're lucky, maybe even get a date or two into the bargain. If you're really lucky, maybe one day in the future you might even hear the chime of wedding bells!

Benefits and Drawbacks

Of course, however, online dating isn't for everyone. Some people are more traditional, others prefer to get to know someone in person rather than befriending an online persona. But while digital dating does have its drawbacks, can it actually work?

One of the biggest draws is that many dating sites allow you to easily set your profile and preferences to suit what you are looking for. From Gwent dating to Grampian dating, you can adjust your profile to be as local or as widespread as you want. This can also be great if you are looking to meet new people, as the wider your area, statistically, the more people you have the potential to meet.

On the flipside, online dating also gives you the freedom and flexibility to be really picky about your potential pool of partners through niche sites. Over 50s dating may be one thing, but if you then add a specific location like County Down dating to the mix, for instance, you are instantly narrowing down the field to include only the people you think you will connect with best.

Sharing My Thoughts

From my own experience, I've only ever used one online dating site - Tinder. It's one of the most popular dating sites out there, especially among teens and younger adults, and the quick and easy swiping method which allows you to get matches has surely contributed to its success.

I've actually been incredibly lucky with Tinder. I've met some great people and, even though I was only on there for a very short time, I was still lucky enough to meet both of my last two boyfriends on the app. Despite starting off a little too optimistic when it came to the location radius (it turns out Nottinghamshire dating doesn't work out so well when you don't actually live in the same county as your match!) I soon found my feet with the app.

Even though I matched with both and exchanged messages yet obviously never had a 'first impressions' face-to-face meeting with either, I can now say that it is thanks to Tinder that I met two amazing people - one of my closest friends and the man I hope to spend the rest of my life with.

Bearing this in mind, my opinions of online dating should be pretty clear to see. From a personal point of view, I've had far more success with it than I ever imagined I would - for an introvert like me, online dating offers the perfect opportunity to virtually get out there and meet new people.

If you're single and thinking of giving online dating a try, I'd say to pluck up the courage and go for it. After all, you never know who could be waiting just around the corner!

Have you tried online dating? Do you think it's worthwhile? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Event Review, Prom 30, 2017

* This article was originally published here by Kettle Mag.

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Image: Pexels.com
There’s nothing quite like a cultured evening spent in the company of classical music, a historical venue, and your closest family and friends. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the BBC Proms remain so popular, showcasing the very best of the genre and bringing lovers of classical music together year after year.

The 2017 Proms season marks the fourth year in a row that I have attended a performance; each year the sheer variety and selection of shows on offer only grow further. It is this versatility that ensures the timeless tradition of the Proms manages to remain current in this day and age, effortlessly mixing classic pieces with exciting themes and often adding a contemporary twist.

This year’s Prom 30 was certainly no exception. On Monday 7th August, on an evening that was surprisingly cold and wet for what is supposed to be the middle of the summer, the day’s performance marked an evening of fairytale-inspired musical pieces.

Beethoven and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Kicking off with an involving rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No.1 in C major, the evening got off to a flying start. Our main performers were the outstanding Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, visiting for their annual slot at the Proms, led by their excellent conductor Kirill Karabits. Later on, they were also joined by the ranks of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, providing a rich vocal addition to the sound of the pieces after the interval.

More than worthy of a slot in the Prom, this was Beethoven’s first symphony, helping one of the classical greats to make his name in the world of music. The piece begins with a striking ‘off-key’ opening, before moving into the more familiar territories you would expect from the key of C major. Despite being such an early example of Beethoven’s music, it is still characteristic of his work – while perhaps not being one of his finest compositions, it is still a delight to listen to.

The second piece was my favourite performance from the night. Richard Strauss’ Symphonic Fantasy, Die Frau ohne Schatten, was a truly whimsical composition, evoking thoughts of magic, fairytales and wonder. Performed expertly by the orchestra, the story of the piece is a tale that more than befits its tone. The symphony was originally created for an opera then later adapted for the concert hall, offering a unique perspective on a classic concept.

Memorable and Dramatic

After the interval, we were treated to a memorable yet intense performance of Seven, They Are Seven, by Prokofiev. Although this was by far the shortest piece of the evening, it definitely pulled its weight, adding an element of powerful urgency to the tone of the night. Bordering on the edges of primitiveness and flirting with a frightened, panicky tale, the cantata’s story is told by a single tenor soloist and backed up by the chanting of a full chorus.

Moving on to the final performance of the night, the orchestra then settled in for an epic rendition of Belshazzar’s Feast by Walton. Accompanied once again by the choir, with the addition of booming bass-baritone soloist James Rutherford, this was a true example of musical storytelling at its finest. The full orchestra pays homage to the dramatic nature of the piece, mounting a spectacular tale on a grandiose scale, reaching the climax of the piece before settling back into a more carefully-paced rhythm, finally resulting in a glorious, triumphant rush towards the close of the work.

The perfect end to an inspiring evening of great music, this was certainly a night to remember. Many people mistakenly perceive classical music as dated and boring, but performances like these are the ideal way to show these people that, in actual fact, classical music is often quite the opposite.

Are you a fan of classical music? Have you ever attended a Prom? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Why You Should Enrich Your Life with Music Lessons

* This is a collaborative post.

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Image: Bidvine
I've always been a firm believer in the power of music and the benefits that it can bring. From the instant mood lift you get after listening to your favourite song to the rush when you finally nail a particularly tricky piece of music, the universal language of music is one that is firmly rooted in our hearts.

As well as being a massive music lover, I've also tried my hand at several different (and surprisingly varied) musical instruments throughout my life. Like most kids, my musical journey began with the obligatory recorder in primary school. Since I apparently showed prowess at the recorder, I was then offered the chance to take up the flute.

I loved the flute, but the flute definitely didn't love me. Despite diligently practising for several years, I never managed to properly get the hang of it and my woodwind teacher eventually recommended I try my hand at another woodwind instrument - the oboe.

Finding the Right Instrument for You

Even though it is a relatively unusual instrument (and often described as one of the hardest to learn), I instantly clicked with the oboe, finding it far easier to play than my ill-fated flute. Admittedly, my previous attempts at other instruments probably made things easier as I was already a proficient sight-reader and many of the basic keys were in a similar location, but I was still impressed.

Later on, I also tried my hand at the drum kit (a bit of a drastic change, I know) and have had various half-hearted attempts at self-teaching myself to play the piano on my bog-standard Argos keyboard over the years. However, it was always the oboe that really captured my musical heart.

I ended up taking oboe lessons throughout a good chunk of my school career, only ending once I started sixth form, passed my Grade 5 oboe exam and realised that taking any further gradings would require a significantly larger amount of effort and practice time than I had or was willing to put in.

Despite this, I remain grateful to my teachers and proud of myself for at least semi-mastering such a notoriously tricky instrument. Learning the oboe provided me with a whole host of benefits, many of which extended far beyond the confines of the music room - some are still with me today, years later.

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Image: Bidvine
Since the music lessons I received were so beneficial to me, it pretty much goes without saying that I'm always ready to champion any way that spreads the word and gets more people interested in learning music. One major drawback of learning an instrument is that once you leave the confines of the educational system, finding decent tutors at an affordable price can become insanely tricky. Guitar teachers, for example, can be found ten-to-the-dozen, but for rarer and more specialist instruments, finding a good teacher is often a pure stroke of luck.

So when I was recently introduced to Bidvine, naturally I was intrigued.

Bidvine is a start-up offering services to those in need - connecting professionals and consumers through an effective, innovative platform. Although they offer many different services (literally encompassing everything from wedding photographers to a local handyman), I was understandably most interested to check out their range when it came to music.

Luckily, there were certainly no disappointments there. Even the most unusual of instruments are covered, with tutors for as wide a range of instruments as you could ever dream of learning to play! To my great delight, the service also offers oboe lessons - a real boost for musical diversity.

The best part? Bidvine offers the perfect opportunity to connect with professional, knowledge music tutors in a convenient and accessible manner.

A couple of months ago I actually bought myself a second-hand oboe so I could play again for the first time in about five years. While my memory had lost the finer points of musical intricacy, my fingers retained the muscle memory and it wasn't too much of a stretch before it all came flooding back once again.

Learning to play a musical instrument really is a thrill like no other - it's one of those bucket list items that I strongly recommend everyone should try at least once in their lifetime.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Book Review: I Know Where She Is by S.B. Caves

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

i-know-where-she-is, sb-caves, book, blog-tour

On the tenth anniversary of her daughter Autumn's abduction, Francine receives an anonymous note containing just five words: I KNOW WHERE SHE IS

When a young woman approaches her the next day claiming to have sent the letter Francine wants to dismiss it as a cruel, twisted joke.

But the stranger knows things that only Autumn would know.

It soon becomes clear that Francine must go to dark places in order to learn the truth about her child’s kidnapping.

She will discover that danger comes from unexpected sources. She will do things she never imagined herself capable of.

But will Francine get her daughter back – or is it too late?


I-Know-Where-She-Is, SB-Caves, blog-tour, banner

A good thriller has the power to leave you breathless on the edge of your seat, gripping the book with whitened knuckles as your eyes frantically skim through page after tense page. Thrillers are all about involving you with the story, connecting reader, writer and characters in an exciting web of words that always keeps you coming back for more. And it is precisely this delicately balanced relationship that only the most proficient of wordsmiths have the ability to successfully pull off, making the reader watch with bated breath as the different threads of the story are expertly weaved together. 

Such is the life of the expert thriller writer; such is the experience the reader gets from this book.

I Know Where She Is is a thriller of the highest order, an excellent example of writing which offers the perfect blend of setting, storyline and fully-fledged characters. Many other books in this genre often find themselves struggling to achieve this equilibrium, with the writer spending so much time focusing on one or two aspects that the all-important third point gets overlooked. However, all three are balanced beautifully within this novel.

S.B. Caves' writing is perfectly suited to tell the story of these characters, keeping the plot going at a steady pace as we learn more and more throughout. It's interesting, it's involving, but most of all, it's engaging. Put simply, this book is everything that you want to read when you pick a thriller up off the shelf. 

Twisting, turning, and most definitely packing a killer punch, I Know Where She Is makes the perfect read to get stuck into this summer. Whether you are relaxing poolside, sunning it up in an exotic destination or simply looking for the ideal accompaniment to your morning coffee on a rainy Sunday back home in the great British summer, this is sure to be the book for you.

I Know Where She Is is available to buy now.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 11 August 2017

#Blogival Interview: Monika Jephcott-Thomas

Today I am pleased to welcome author Monika Jephcott-Thomas to the blog for my second offering as part of Clink Street Publishing's 2017 summer Blogival.

Blogival-Clink-Street-Publishing

Good morning, Monika! Could you begin by telling me a little about your background?
I grew up in Dortmund Mengede, north-west Germany. In 1966, I moved to the UK, married and raised three wonderful children. After a thirty-year career in education, I moved into the therapeutic world. 
By 1998, along with my partner Jeff, we had established the Academy of Play & Child Psychotherapy, became founder members of Play Therapy UK and in 2002, I was elected President of Play Therapy International. Our work together culminated in the official recognition of the play therapy profession by 2013, an endorsement of our devotion to help the twenty percent of children in the world who have emotional, behavioural, social and mental health problems by using play and the creative Arts. I have published various papers on strategies of psychological support for children for the likes of UNICEF, but Fifteen Words is my first foray into fiction.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I was doing some research into my family history, as most of us do at some stage of our lives and, also as most of us do whose parents grew up during the world wars, I felt their stories were the stuff of novels. My parents were both German. They met during the Second World War and were eventually separated by it, as Max and Erika are in the novel – my father having to go off and serve as a doctor in the German army, not because he wanted to (he was not a supporter of the Nazi party), but because he was conscripted, like so many young men across the globe in the early ’40s.
Tell me about Fifteen Words.
The novel is heavily inspired by the real-life trials and tribulations of my parents’ early married lives – simply because they are so inherently dramatic – whilst allowing me to depict the complexity of growing up in Nazi Germany among the potent forces of religion and fascism competing for young souls. It is also an exploration of the strength of human relationships, which the war tested greatly, in an age when letter writing was one of the few long distance forms of communication available to most; when the fighting separated husbands and wives, children and parents for extensive periods of time and over vast distances. 
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Image: Authoright PR
In the book, Max is a POW in a Russian labour camp on the edge of the Arctic for four long and painful years. I was shocked to find out, during my research for this novel, that German POWs in those Soviet labour camps were only allowed to send letters home if they contained a maximum of fifteen words. So, in the novel, Max struggles over how to express everything he wants to tell Erika with such limitations. He enlists the help of his more artistic friends to help him. But finally in despair he writes something damning. It becomes one of the themes of the book: how we can say so much in so few words to beautiful or destructive effect.
Writing historical fiction must require a lot of research. How do you go about the research process?
One difficulty with researching history is the history books themselves. As we all know, history can be a very subjective thing, open to interpretation and manipulation by historians, depending on their political and cultural bias. Every few decades, top secret documents are released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, the 30 year rule, etc and we find ourselves a little closer to the truth; a little more aware of how history is not as black and white as we might have thought. 
That’s why I think some of the greatest tools for research are photographs. During the research for Fifteen Words, I would pore for hours over photos found in archives, on the internet and in my families own collections. Luckily, the age of photography was still reasonably young in the early-mid twentieth century, so the photos I saw could not have been doctored; and as such they are often the most honest and objective interpretation of the past we can find. Photos are so full of stuff to inspire your imagination; full of details that can populate a writer’s descriptions.

Private letters are similarly useful, as they can help you imagine the voices of your characters, the vocabulary they might use, the turns of phrase they might employ. Letters often can tell us what kind of issues occupied the minds of people during the eras you are writing about. For example, nearly all of the letters in my novel Fifteen Words are near transcriptions of genuine ones I found in archives. I would match a letter to the appropriate character, or sometimes a letter I stumbled across inspired a whole new turn of events in the book.
Monika-Jephcott-Thomas, author
Image: Monika Jephcott-Thomas / Authoright PR
What made you decide to tell the story of the German experience of the war?
There are not many books written in English about the German experience of WW2. Many early readers of the manuscript of Fifteen Words found it an eye-opener, informing them about the war in a way they never thought of before, without it being a text which tries to rewrite history. In no way does it attempt to say the Nazis weren’t to blame for the atrocities of the war, but it merely points out that not all Germans were Nazis. As with any war, which we see all too often today, there are many civilian casualties, from all strata of society. In this very human story I hope I have been able to reaffirm how all of us, from whatever nation, for all our differences, still suffer and rejoice in remarkably similar ways.
What’s your writing process?
Most of my best work is done in the morning. I am a very early riser. I have to be to get everything done as I am still heavily involved in Play Therapy International full time.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
One of the main difficulties of writing historical fiction is the research – or more specifically getting bogged down in the research. Research is important of course and reality is so often stranger than fiction, which is why history provides such good fodder for novelists, but at the end of the day we are writing historical fiction.  
As a reader, if you want to read a history book, I would suggest you don’t pick up a novel. As a writer, I would suggest, that as soon as something you research sparks your imagination, get writing and stop researching. I often have blank spaces in the pages I write; spaces where a fact or detail needs to be added, but it is not so vital to keep me from actually writing the drama my characters are going through. Later on, after the writing is done, I can go back and fill in the blanks. The internet, being just a click away, is a very tempting and useful tool, but it can lead you down labyrinths that are a massive distraction sometimes. It’s better not to go there until after or before your actual writing time.
What are you currently working on?
The sequel to Fifteen Words is coming soon. It is called The Watcher.
Fifteen Words is available to buy now. To find out more about Monika and her projects, you can visit her website

What do you think? Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

#Blogival Interview: Matthew Redford

clink-street-publishing-summer-blogival

Welcome to the first day of the Clink Street Publishing summer Blogival 2017! To kick things off, I sat down for a chat with author Matthew Redford about his life, his writing, and his novel Addicted to Death.

Tell me a little about your background?
I was born in Bermondsey, south-east London and was raised on a council estate by my parents and my elder brother. And it is only right that I start with my family because they mean the world to me. If it wasn’t for their support and encouragement I doubt very much that I would be sitting here responding to your questions.
They introduced me to the wonderful world of literature, a place where one can be transported to a new world or be challenged to look at the existing world in a completely new light.
They supported me when I broke the news to them that I was going to study to be an accountant and I like to think that while my finance work requires me to follow rules and prescribed standards, the fact that I can throw off that rigidity when I write means I can create a written world which is more abstract, obscure and quirky.
How did you become interested in writing?
From a young age, I was interested in literature and part of me has always wanted to take up the challenge to see if I could write a book which could hold a reader from start to finish. I placed the thought on hold while I was training to become an accountant - my career came first - and it was when I felt my career was on track that I could resurrect the idea of writing a book.
And the genre of crime fiction has always appealed - the dark side of my personality must be coming through in some form.
Tell me about Addicted to Death.
I should start by saying that I like to laugh. Humour is important to me. The world is a serious enough place at the best of times and so we need to make sure that we can at least have some fun. With that in mind, I knew I would not be able to write a serious crime fiction book like a Patricia Cornwell for example. So I needed to create a world which allowed me to tell a crime story but which allowed my quirky sense of humour to evolve. Which naturally leads to Food Sapiens. 
addicted-to-death, matthew-redford, book
Image: Matthew Redford / Clink Street Publishing
You do know what I mean when I say Food Sapiens, don’t you? Walking, talking, breathing food items which live and work alongside everyday Homo Sapiens.
Well, I decided that I wanted to champion the Food Sapiens community and this meant I needed to report on the work of the leading Food Sapiens detective, Willie Wortel.
In Addicted to Death, we pick up the story of Benedict and Darcy Blacktail, two happy eggs who are brutally murdered, beaten to death, by a fedora wearing assailant. And it would seem that their deaths are in some way linked to the murder of a Government minister, Professor Perry Partridge, a pear found dead in suspicious circumstances at the Strawberry Strip Club. It is up to Wortel and his band of misfits to try and solve the murders.
Do you find that writing crime fiction is difficult?
Not so far. My advice would be to get the plot organised first. Once that is in place and you have a sense of the characters involved then writing the story should be more straightforward.
What draws you to writing murder mysteries?
My star sign is Scorpio so we have something of the night about us anyway. I would much rather sit down with a dark, creepy, murder mystery than a light fluffy love story. Everyone has a dark side to them, I’m just happy sharing mine through my quirky crime fiction writing.
What’s your writing style?
Haphazard! I know how I want the plot to develop. I know the characters I want involved and the arc that they should go on through the story. And then I begin by writing the last chapter, i.e. I write the ending first.

I find that by being clear on how the story should conclude I know my direction of travel. I then start at the beginning but give myself licence to write any part of the story in any order. I just need to make sure that the story flows and that the threads hold together.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Not having enough time to write. Like most people, the day job takes up a lot of time so writing during the week is nigh on impossible for me. Weekends are also busy so it is challenging finding some quiet time to think about writing as well as actually putting words down on paper.
matthew-redford, author
Image: Matthew Redford
What do you love most about writing?
Knowing that my book, my ideas, my writing, could be enjoyed by just one person is satisfaction enough.
Which authors inspire you?
I have always been a huge fan of Roald Dahl, someone who could create these wonderful worlds in which children and adults can find enjoyment. And in terms of crime fiction, one of the first series of books I really enjoyed was by Ian Harvey and his character of Detective Resnick. A character who was so real you felt you knew someone just like him.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Trust yourself. Don’t be afraid to be different. 
And find your voice. Don’t try to copy another style or another author. You alone are unique. If you have a story you want to tell, then tell it in your voice, your style.
What’s your all time favourite book?
Wow, that is a hard question. I’m not going to give you a wishy-washy answer and say it depends on the genre etc, so if I needed to stick my neck out and pick I would say To Kill a Mockingbird.
What are your interests outside of writing?
I am a big chess player and enjoy participating in online events/tournaments, and I also enjoy watching my local football team although they tend to lose more than they win sadly.
What are you currently working on?
At the moment I have a number of short stories at the planning stage, so I would like to flesh those out a bit more. So maybe book 3 will consist of a number of short Food Sapien crime mysteries.
What are you reading at the moment?
I have just finished a really enjoyable book called The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin. He has another book coming out in October so I have set a reminder on my phone for the publishing date.
Addicted to Death is available to buy now. To find out more about Matthew and his books, you can visit his website.

Don't forget that the Clink Street Blogival is running throughout the entirety of August - keep checking back here for more content and don't miss the great posts coming from other bloggers during the month!

What do you think of the concept of 'Food Sapiens?' Let me know in the comments below!