by Australian writer Kathryn Gossow. Kathryn writes across genres (yay! a fellow genre-hopper!) and I’ve previously reviewed her mythical fiction book Cassandra.
Her new entry into the realm of Australian rural noir is pitch-perfect.
Neglected five-year-old Bree-Anna decides to walk into town to her friend’s party, wheeling her precious doll Baby in a toy stroller. That’s easier than getting her older brother to take notice, or waking her mum up after a big night.
It’s hot and humid as small town Queensland builds up to Christmas, and Bree-Anna is easy pickings for a sociopathic misfit. Kidnapped, terrified, locked in and beaten, with her beloved Baby imprisoned in a suitcase on top a wardrobe and so, so far out of reach, Bree-Anna has nobody to rely on but herself.
In so many ways, that’s always been the case.
The pacing in this thriller is awesome. You won’t be able to put it down.
We meet Bree-Anna’s family and the rest of the townspeople of Stinky Gully, named for the small Queensland town of Fernvale, formerly called Stinking Gully, in the Brisbane River valley, about 60km west of Brisbane.
Stand-out characters Eloise and Jake get dragged into the mystery, while Bree’s mother Amber struggles under her loss.
This is a dark story, especially because Bree is only 5 years old, but the story – unfortunately – well within the realms of reality. I was reminded of true life cases that have haunted me for years.
This book would make a fantastic TV series – real Australian noir with loads of atmosphere and a few well-defined, strong roles. Bring it on! I can even assign roles … although lovely Aaron Pederson is possibly a bit old now to play Jake. But put Aaron in any terrifying thriller and I’ll watch it.
What is most refreshing about this story is Bree herself.
What a character! Bree’s five year old voice rings very true, and so does her growing reliance on herself, her inbuilt resilience and instinctive resistance to every horrible aspect of her life. Bree is a fighter, courageous without being rash, and readers can’t help but be drawn into her battle for survival.
Take a deep breath. Be courageous. Be inspired by Bree-Anna and Baby.
Read this now.
And if you know anyone who likes mystery, thrillers, and suspense, this is the perfect Christmas present you need for them!
Drawing on her days as a divorce and professional indemnity lawyer, Caroline creates ordinary, relatable characters caught up in extraordinary situations, pressures, dilemmas or crime. She admits to a slight obsession with the human psyche, what goes on behind closed doors and beneath people’s façades. She also enjoys performing a literary sleight of hand in her novels and hopefully surprising her readers!
Caroline has also written Convictions and Confessions, a legal drama under the pen name Caro Land.
Let’s find out what inspires Caroline’s work
Caroline: My Secret Inspiration!
Everybody has a secret.
Yes you do! A study revealed that the average person keeps thirteen secrets, five of which he or she has never shared with anyone. Go on, count them. They can range from the little things that some people don’t feel are too bad, such as not mentioning too much change at the supermarket or exaggerating mileage at work. Or they might be major crimes such as a hit and run, robbery or even murder! Then there are affairs, betrayals and hidden relationships which can have devastating consequences, to easy small lies to cover looking for another job or concealing the early weeks of pregnancy. Or perhaps a person’s secret is simply unhappiness. Don’t we all do it at times? Put on our bright facade for the Facebook posts and Instagram photos to hide the the sorrow inside?
What about family secrets? Ones which only come out when Grandma has a few too many sherries on Christmas Eve: your great uncle was a bigamist; your parents married when you were two; your aunty was arrested for shoplifting a Rampant Rabbit.
Then there are the deadly secrets in my domestic suspense novels… Those which are so dark and deeply hidden that they’ve almost been forgotten. Almost…
My fourth psychological thriller, TRUTH GAMES, revolves around Ellie Wilson. Outwardly her life seems good – she has friends, her partner Cam and three boys. But when Sean Walsh, Cam’s old university friend, comes back into their lives, she becomes tormented by fragments of the past, and deep shame, which come back to haunt her. It’s time for Ellie to confront the layers of secrets and lies to reveal the devastating and destructive truth…
OK, I admit it; I’m a tad obsessed with secrets and lies and the human condition. Indeed, one reviewer described me as a ‘specialist in stories of secrets, lies and revelations.’ So I guess I am an amateur psychologist who drives my family bonkers with my interpretations of people’s behaviour, what they tell us and what they don’t. But isn’t it fascinating to find out what goes on behind closed doors – or indeed, inside the pages of a gripping crime suspense novel? Do secrets burrow into our psyche and poison us? Or are they sexy, powerful and make us strong?
I probably have thirteen secrets; maybe there are five I haven’t told anyone. Come on, spill the beans – what are yours?
Well, there’s a challenge for us all. Now here’s an intriguing extract from Caroline’s novel for you.
An extract from Truth Games
‘It has to be the truth, the honest truth. Everyone agree?’
‘But what is truth?’
‘It’s only a game, man. Besides, another slug and we’ll know.’
Six young adults in the high-ceilinged room, two cuddled on the sofa and four on the floor. A girl and two guys sit around a candlelit coffee table. Though late, it’s still balmy, the leaded windows ajar. They’re drinking Jack Daniel’s from shot glasses.
The girl snaps open the second bottle and pours. Her nails are bitten, her nose pierced, her short hair dyed black. Her attention is focused on the man stretched out on the floor.
Lifting his dark head, he glances at her. ‘Isn’t there anything other than that American shit?’ he asks, his accent distinct. He goes back to his spliff and takes a deep drag. ‘OK. Then we’ll use the correspondence theory of truth,’ he says. ‘A belief is true if there exists an appropriate entity – a fact – to which it corresponds. If there’s no such entity, the belief is false.’
The fair-haired boy laughs. ‘OK, genius, I’ll start.’ Blue-eyed and neat featured, he looks younger than his twenty-years. ‘A secret. A true secret . . . ’ He knocks back the whiskey. ‘I’m in love with somebody in this room.’
The girl whips up her head, her stark make-up barely hiding her shock.
‘Tell us something we don’t already know!’ This man is huge, his voice booms Home Counties. ‘Come on, old chap. What did you say? The honest truth. Something you haven’t told anyone before.’
‘Right; here’s one. My mum tried to snog me once,’ he says.
Everyone but the girl laughs.
‘No, it’s true, I’m not joking. Dad had buggered off, so she spent all the time drinking and crying—’
‘And snogging you?’
‘Yes, Your Honour.’ He guffaws. ‘The truth and the whole fucking truth, eh? Only the once, thank God, when she got close enough. I can’t do needy. Fucking disgusting.’
A silence of drunk embarrassment, then the eloquent voice again: ‘Are you two lovebirds playing?’
They turn to the couple on the sofa. The young woman is asleep. ‘We’re living our secret,’ her boyfriend says. ‘But one you don’t know . . . Let me think. My brother and me, we used to spit in the take-outs. Special treat for the racists we knew from school.’
‘Nah. Good try, but it won’t put me off your delicious—’
‘I saw my father beat up my mum.’ The man on the floor looks fixedly at the ceiling. ‘Badly. Watched the blood spurt from her nose. Did nothing to stop him.’
The Goth girl stares, but doesn’t speak.
The blond boy leans over. ‘Fuck,’ he says. ‘How old were you?’
‘Still a kid. But I blamed her. Probably still do.’ He sits up and throws back his shot. Then he squints through the smoke at the girl, still sitting cross-legged and silent. ‘What about you, nice middle-class miss? You’re not saying much. What’s your secret?’
Everyone is watching, all eyes are on her. ‘A secret truth?’ she asks, turning to him. ‘With an actual fact to which it corresponds?’
The man snorts. ‘Yeah. Come on, then; try me.’
She opens her inky lips—
What a place to finish! Thank you so much Caroline for sharing your inspirations, and especially for the enthralling extract!
Philippa East is a fiction writer with HQ/HarperCollins and she also works as a clinical psychologist, which I guess can come in pretty handy for writing thrillers.
Philippa grew up in Scotland before moving to Oxford and then London to complete her clinical training. A few years ago, she left the NHS to set up her own part-time practice and dedicate more hours to writing. The result was her debut novel LITTLE WHITE LIES, which was long-listed for The Guardian’s Not-The-Booker Prize and shortlisted for the CWA “New Blood” Award 2020.
Philippa’s next book SAFE AND SOUND is another twisty and compelling tale. For a fun preview, check out the video trailer on Philippa’s Amazon Author page (best with sound on!).
Philippa now lives in the beautiful Lincolnshire countryside with her husband and cat. She loves reading (of course!) and long country walks, and she also performs in a local folk duo called The Miracle Cure. Alongside her writing, Philippa continues to work as a psychologist and therapist.
I’m excited to have Philippa as my guest today, as she tells us about what inspires her. Philippa also shares an extract from SAFE AND SOUND, which you’ll find below.
Phillippa: It’s a funny question, isn’t it? ‘Where do your ideas come from?’
For me, a book often comes alive when two (or even better, three) different ideas come together in my head. That’s generally how I know I might have enough material for a whole 90,000-word novel!
I write in the psychological suspense genre, and actually get a lot of my ideas – full disclosure! – from watching true-crime documentaries on TV. At heart, I’m fascinated by what people are capable of and why they do the things they do. This also overlaps with my day job as a clinical psychologist.
More specifically, individual plot ideas, character motivations or story twists can get sparked for me in various ways: reading other books in the genre can help get my brain in ‘thriller’ mode; I also often go for long walks around the Lincolnshire countryside to get the brain wheels turning, plus sometimes I just have to pin down a friend and brainstorm relentlessly with (at!) them until the pieces finally fall into place.
The inspiration for my latest book, SAFE AND SOUND, was actually the true-life story of Joyce Vincent, a woman in her thirties who died at home in North London in late 2003. Her body was only discovered in 2006. Around 2013, I found myself watching ‘Dreams of a Life’, the incredibly moving docu-drama produced by filmmaker Carol Morley about Joyce’s life and death. The film stayed with me for years, itching away at my brain, until I was compelled to write my own version of this heart-breaking story.
Thank you so much Philippa for sharing that with us, and especially for the (rather scary) extract. All the best for your work and your writing.
Extract from SAFE AND SOUND
Before I started in this job, I used to picture bailiffs bashing in people’s doors and dragging furniture out into the street.
Of course, it isn’t like that really. We’ve sent this tenant a letter to let her know we’re coming, all correct protocol with the London Housing Association that I work for. I have two bailiffs with me but, really, all we want to do today is to ensure that this tenant, Ms Jones, knows about her debts, and hopefully sort out a means for her to pay them. That’s why I’m here: as her Housing Manager. Hopefully, I can agree a payment plan with her, something to help her out of this mess.
The bailiff with the kind face takes a deep breath and knocks hard on the door. ‘Ms Jones? Ms Jones, we are here about your unpaid rent.’
I think I can make out voices coming from inside the flat, but as I lean closer I hear someone saying Capital FM!, and I realise it’s just the radio playing. If the radio is on though, I can be pretty sure she’s in there.
The bailiff knocks again, thump thump.
A song comes on a moment later: ‘Everywhere’ by Fleetwood Mac. We’ll keep knocking and hope that eventually she will come to the door, even if she doesn’t open it. She has a right not to open it to us, but I really hope we can speak to her today. That way I have a chance to help. We can let things go for a while – the longest I can remember was four months – but we can’t just let it go on forever. Ms Jones is already three months behind. We’ve sent half a dozen letters already, but she didn’t reply to any of them, so now it’s come to this. If we can’t arrange some kind of payment schedule today, the next step is an eviction notice and I would really hate for it to come to that.
‘Ms Jones?’ the bailiff calls again.
There are footsteps on the stairs above. I step back and look up to see who’s coming. A neighbour from upstairs, nobody that I recognise, a black woman, smartly dressed, probably on her way out to work. There are dozens of people living in this block but now I wonder how many of them speak to each other or even know their neighbours’ names. But she must pass this way at least, most days. ‘Excuse me,’ I call out to her. ‘Do you know the tenant in this flat? Is she usually home at this time?’
The woman comes down the last few stairs.
‘She’s got the radio on,’ I say. ‘We’re assuming she’s in.’
The woman pauses next to us and shrugs. ‘Her radio is always on,’ she says. ‘I hear it every time I go by.’
She loiters for another moment between the staircase and the doors to the outside, sizing us up. But she is busy, she has her own life to be getting on with, and no doubt she’s learnt that it’s best in a big city like this not to get involved. ‘Sorry,’ she offers as she hitches her handbag more securely onto her shoulder and makes her way through the heavy door to the lobby.
We turn back to the flat and the other bailiff knocks this time, his fist bigger, his knock that bit louder. I look down at the file of papers I am still holding against my chest. I’ve been in this flat before; I checked the last tenant out. I can still picture it: the tiny apartment is only a bedsit really, tucked away on the ground floor, hidden under the stairs so you could quite easily miss it. The living room and bedroom are one and the same, the sofa tucked behind the front door doubling as a bed, and there is a kitchen, but only an archway divides the two, so you could hardly even call them separate rooms. There’s a tiny toilet, with a shower attachment that hangs, a little bit crooked, above a plastic bath. And that’s it.
The last tenant, I remember, only stayed a few months. They complained about the commercial waste bins that always somehow ended up against the rear wall of this block, even though they belonged to the restaurant twenty yards away. Then the flat was empty for a good while, until this tenant moved in a year ago. Into this flat, now allocated to me.
The song has flipped over and it’s another tune that’s playing now. I recognise this one too: ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2. Out of nowhere I get a sort of roiling feeling in my stomach and a prickling up the base of my spine. I hand my file of papers to the bailiff with the plain, kind face and walk right up to the door. I bend my knees so that my eyes are level with the letterbox and lift up the flap. With my cheek against the flaky wood of the door I look through the slat of a gap that has opened up.
I see all the post, a slithering pile of it silting up the floor on the other side of the door. No doubt the letters we sent are among it. The strangest smell reaches me in thin wisps from inside, and suddenly I find myself thinking back to last year and the annual inspection I was supposed to carry out. I let the flap of the letterbox fall and straighten back up. My chest has gone tight. I can’t seem to speak.
Now both bailiffs are looking at me, but I can’t find a way to tell them what’s wrong. The older one leans down, copying what I have just done and sees for himself what’s through that narrow space.
He puts a palm on the door, as though to steady himself.
He manages to say something and he says: ‘Holy shit.
Oh my goodness! What a great beginning. Thank you Philippa for sharing.
I’m pleased to say that my mind has been more enjoyably occupied with a Good Book!
Marianne Holmes has returned with an engrossing thriller called All Your Little Lies. This is the story of a woman who wants to help, but is so enmeshed in the lies at the heart of her life that she becomes hopelessly entangled in the investigation of a child’s disappearance.
Annie seems incapable of telling the truth. Socially awkward, she live alone and clings on to her one friend in a leech-like manner, terrified of being completely isolated from the rest of the world.
Annie is unable to form close relationships, and everything she says comes out wrong. Excruciatingly so! At first I wondered whether this was simply an awkward personality trait of hers, but I later discovered that her personal history has just as much impact on how she relates to the world. This story’s a fascinating look into the effects of crime on personal relationships and emotional health.
When Annie seems to be the last person who might have seen a child who has disappeared, her own secrets muddy the truth about what she does know and what she should admit.
This novel starts dramatically, and to me grippingly, with Annie inside her boss’s flat. At first I thought she was looking at her partner’s things. No! Stalker-like, she moves around Paul’s place touching everything and generally pretending that she lives there.
That’s the start.
Events get much more complicated from then on, as we learn more and more about the Annie of today, and also her hidden past.
I found this book an intriguing exploration of a complex case and the after effects of tragedy on lives many years down the track. The events past and present are literally life-changing and gave me much to think about. I’ll be reflecting on this story for a long time.
A wonderfully engrossing read.
Thank you to Agora Books for the opportunity to read and advanced copy, and congratulations to Marianne Holmes on this excellent follow up to her first novel A Little Bird Told Me (see my review here).
About the Book
ALL YOUR LITTLE LIES
When everything you say is a lie, can you even remember the truth?
Annie lives a quiet, contained, content life. She goes to work. She meets her friend. She’s kind of in a relationship. She’s happy. Not lonely at all.
If only more people could see how friendly she is — how eager to help and please. Then she could tick “Full Happy Life” off her list. But no one sees that side of Annie, and she can’t understand why.
That all changes the night Chloe Hills disappears. And Annie is the last person to see her.
This is her chance to prove to everybody that she’s worth something. That is, until she becomes a suspect.
Drenched in atmosphere and taut with tension, All Your Little Lies takes a hard look at why good people do bad things.
English writer Alec Marsh writes dramatic thrillers set in the 1930s. He’s the author of the new soon-to-be-classic Drabble & Harris adventure series. Ernest Drabble is a mountaineering Cambridge historian and his partner Harris is an old school friend and press reporter. These two have all the dash and wit they need to solve mysteries and throws spanners into the works of bad folks.
Alec started his writing career on the Western Morning News in Cornwall, and then went on to write for titles including the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Times and London Evening Standard. In 2008 he was named an editor of the year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. He is now the editor of Spear’s Magazine, a title focused on luxury lifestyle. He is married and lives with his family in west London.
Alec’s debut novel RULE BRITANNIA was released in 2019 and the second novel in the series, ENEMY OF THE RAJ, will be published this September.
Welcome to last Word of the Week, Alec, and thank you for coming along to chat about your books and your writing. Looking at your bio, I can see that you have been writing all your life. Why is writing important to you?
Alec: I can only imagine that it’s the same for a lot of writers and most people on some level. But since the earliest time I can remember I’ve been telling stories – either to myself or others, but mostly I would think to myself. And it becomes a habit that drives an urge that leads decades later to hard-drives being filled with words. So I think for me it’s pretty hard-wired.
A born storyteller! That usually goes with voracious reading. What was your favourite book as a child?
I adored Hornblower; CS Forester’s nautical series set during the Napoleonic war; I also loved – perhaps more and in very much the same vein – the Richard Bolitho series written by Douglas Reeman, under his ‘other’ name of Alexander Kent. Years later I had the pleasure of interviewing Reeman. He was exceptionally generous with his time, clearly spotted me as a fan, too, and was quietly inspirational: he told me how he would get into his car during his lunchbreaks as a young man and write with his typewriter on his knees. I’ve often thought of him since, when I’ve been sitting in Pret-a-Manger with my laptop, eating a sandwich…
Do you think that creative writing courses are valuable?
Absolutely. I did a one day screen-writing course in Newcastle when I was a student there and learnt a huge amount in just a few hours. I still remember being terrified. Later on I was tempted by the Creative Writing MA at East Anglia university but in the end I decided I would keep working and writing around work. With my first published novel, RULE BRITANNIA, I got some advice from a literary consultancy. Books like EM Forster’s Aspects of the Novel offer important advice and insight for writers. Arguably just reading the best that’s out there is the most important thing.
What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?
I asked Martin Amis for his advice once at a literary festival. ‘Just keep writing,’ he said. It didn’t seem very profound in the moment he said it, or repeated it. But it was – and it worked for me. I once asked Sir John Mortimer, creator of the Rumpole of Bailey series, what the secret to a great comic novel was. ‘Making people laugh!’ he roared, laughing. Then he added an important point – words to the effect of: ‘If you can make yourself laugh while you’re doing it then you’ve got half a chance.’ And that’s true for any emotion you’re trying to generate, really.
I love your anecdotes of such great writers! Do you have a go-to routine for writing?
Not really. I work fulltime and have a young family so a great deal of my second novel, ENEMY OF THE RAJ, was actually written on the London Underground on my commute to and from work. A crowded Tube carriage is not ideal, but fortunately the book was not harmed. I’ve written in lunchbreaks, or after the kids have gone to bed. Quite often, on a Saturday morning I’ll get up early and head to a local café when it opens at 8am, and get in two hours then. That’s the best time.
How do you feel about reviews?
Be grateful for good ones and listen to the bad ones. Sometimes people go too far and make it personal. That can be upsetting. As a journalist it has made me think harder about the impact of what I write upon my subjects.
Yes, it does have that effect, which I think is a good thing. Whatever we write, we can think about the effect on readers. Has your work been compared to other writers?
The author most referenced by reviewers of RULE BRITANNIA is John Buchan. Stanley Johnson remarked that with the Drabble and Harris series Buchan ‘must be stirring uneasily in his grave’. It’s without doubt true that Buchan was something of an influence – The 39 Steps, Greenmantle; these are tales of personal hazard and adventure that generate an excitement for the reader that I very much wanted to ape.
Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?
When I was 17 or18 I went on a school theatre trip to see Arcadia, Tom Stoppard’s then new play. I had no idea how much of a big deal it was to see it (the first run with a star cast) but I came away thinking that I would very much like to do that. I also loved Oscar Wilde’s plays as a kid – anything really that demonstrated such verbal dexterity and wit. I was also fascinated by plays like Look Back in Anger, which are really very different. As a result my first efforts as a writer when I was at university were plays. One of these won a student competition which made me think there might be something in it. I switched to fiction after reading Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. I realised that you could bring the essential freshness of dialogue to life without the need of a theatre, and perhaps therefore have a more direct relationship with the reader.
Did you always plan to write historic fiction?
No, never. In fact I set out write the next great English novel. Eventually, after several failures, I listened to an old friend of mine who had been advising me for years to write historic fiction. ‘Alec,’ he would say, ‘you’re obsessed with the past, you should write about it.’ He was absolutely right. When I began writing what would become RULE BRITANNIA I knew immediately that I was on to something.
Is writer’s block a thing for you?
Absolutely. Knowing what comes next can be difficult. Quite often you run out of track and I often find my mind needs time to catch up. When this happens I go for a run, or more likely read around the topic or setting – tangential research – is the answer. Before you know it you’re raring to go again. The secret, if there is one, is to keep thinking ahead as you are writing, but that’s easier said than done.
True! Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Alec. Congratulations in the publication of Rule Britannia, and good fortune to you for Eneemy of the Raj!
Isobel Blackthorn writes great stories. She’s one of those accomplished authors who won’t be put in a box. Think thrilling mysteries, dark and dangerous romances, eerie occult tales and more. Every time I pick up one of Isobel’s books, I know I am about to be transported into an exotic location where I will meet intriguing characters who wrestle with particular circumstances…and I will have to read as quickly as I can to the end!
Hi Isobel, it’s wonderful to have you as today’s guest on the Last Word of the Week Q&A. Can you tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer?
Isobel: When I was eighteen, I developed a thirst for literature. I had uni friends studying English literature and I asked them for lists. That was how I feasted on Austen and Hardy, and then Zola and Flaubert and Kafka and Hesse. A little Sartre. I devoured those books and as I did, something in me stirred. I wrote little bits of poetry and song lyrics. I had not an iota of confidence, just a deep urge or impulse that would rise up in me every now and then. I heard the narrative voices of those books in my mind and I began to develop a narrative voice of my own, which proved to be a lot like Hesse at first. This was in the 1980s. It took decades before I had the time and space and self-belief to apply myself to learning the craft.
A great way to enter the world of writing, indeed. As a writer, do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?
Ideas for new works emerge as if from nowhere. Little aha moments. It is rare that a whole novel will emerge at once. Sometimes many years go by before the initial impulse is developed into a book-length work. I do as little planning as possible. Too much planning can kill the creative spark. I prefer to let things flow as much as possible. Although writing mysteries and thrillers, there is always an element of plotting. And I usually know how a story will end so I have something to work towards. I am forever mindful of balancing the story elements and I am always fixated on the word count.
Story ideas are delicate creatures, I agree. I think you wrangle them very well. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Finding myself shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Prose Prize. I have long coveted winning a prize or even just reaching the long or short list. A prize is a rubber stamp that tells the world you are really quite good at what you do. In a fiercely competitive and swamped marketplace, we need to stand out somehow.
Congratulations! Yes, wonderful to have that stamp! What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
That is a big secret.
Oh, how marvellous! Now you have me guessing. If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Don’t give up. Writing is an all-consuming activity that will stretch you in unexpected ways. Enjoy the creative process and do not be defeated by rejection. It can take ten years and many books before you feel you have climbed more than a rung of the ladder. Above all, support your fellow writers. We are a vast community, published and unpublished and we can help each other progress in many ways.
Lovely, thank you! And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character?
Here is that curly question at the end of the exam! Just when you feel you are ahead and passing is assured, along it comes and dashes your hopes. Who would I be? I used to think I would be Cathy in Wuthering Heights. No more. But I can think of no single character. I am that woman who sits by her upstairs window and gazes out at the world. An artist, probably, and very solitary. Who is she? I am a lot like, or want to be a lot like the protagonist in The Oblique Place by Caterina Pascual Soderbaum. I urge all literary fiction fans to read that book.
It sounds intriguing – very suitable! Thank you so much for talking with me today, Isobel.
Trev Lince, today’s guest on Last Word of the Week, originates from Marske-by-the-Sea on the North East coast of England, but now lives in Darlington with his wife, Claire. A keen golfer and frustrated Middlesbrough FC fan, Trev gets to as many matches as work and leisure time allow. He writes in what little spare time he has. Room 119 – The Whitby Trader was Trev’s first book but he may have a few more stories bursting to get out of his head…
LWOTW: So pleased to meet you, Trev. I won’t mention Middlesborough, or golf come to that 🙂
Thanks for talking with me about your writing. Can you tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer. I gather you started quite late?
Trev: I attained an ‘e’ in English and am borderline dyslexic and only read 11 books in my entire life before I had the crazy idea of writing Room 119.
So I guess I am not your stereotypical author. I had a dream, told a few people and after a year or so banging on about it my lovely wife said
‘Well why don’t you write it Trev, you never finish anything you start EVER.’
Next day was 2 Jan 2017, 4 months later I wrote The End.
Good for you! Nothing like a spousal challenge, eh? Do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?
Room 119 and Funicular were both born from dreams, or at least the idea and out line was.
I generally sort of know what’s next as I type. I never really have moments looking for inspiration. I can write 5 or 6k words every sitting when I’m in the mood.
I have, on both books, had a couple of nights after a heavy writing session gone to bed and had 6 or 7 dreams the continue the plot.
It’s actually hard to explain as you’re not asleep but not quite awake and I have to get up for water every hour, frustrating and tiring when it happens, but I’m glad it does.
That’s wonderful. Such a creative process. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Seeing Room 119 – The Whitby Trader arrive in paperback in a box from amazon. That might be eclipsed if it becomes a film!
Screenplay done and I’m in talks with a few directors.
Wow that’s impressive. Congratulations! What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
It’s all about the next book, which I have been neglecting due to a new job and working hard to get Funicular out as an audiobook. Now that’s done I’m back on it.
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t do it, if I can, you can.
Also when you get a bad review (I’ve only had one so far) then take it with a pinch of salt.
Equally don’t go overboard with your good ones, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
It is nice when you get a good one though!
And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?
Of my characters I would probably like to be Benjie the clown because I love him, it’s funny how you can make someone up and then they end up so real in your head.
When people say they hate clowns in books I end up sticking up for him like an old friend.
If not mine, then I said earlier I’ve only read 11 well 15 now, probably DEATH in Terry Pratchett books, quite a cool bloke, he’s just got a dodgy job.
That’s wonderful. Thank you so much for speaking with me. Your writing process is very inspirational. More power to you!
Laura Laakso, my fabulous guest today on Last Word of the Week, is a Finn who has spent most of her adult life in England. She currently lives in Hertfordshire with her two dogs (and you know I love dog people). Books and storytelling have always been a big part of Laura’s life, from writing fanfiction to running tabletop roleplaying games and now writing original fiction. When she is not writing, editing or plotting, Laura works as an accountant. With two degrees in archaeology, she possesses frighteningly useful skills for disposing of or digging up bodies, and if her internet search history is anything to go by, she is on several international watch lists.
Laura’s debut novel, Fallible Justice, was published last November by the excellent Louise Walters Books and her next two books in the Wilde Investigations series, Echo Murder and Roots of Corruption are due for publication in June 2019 and March 2020. Laura’s Wilde Investigations are paranormal crime novels set in modern day London, but with magic, murder and general mayhem.
LWOTW: Laura, it’s wonderful to meet you! Tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer.
Laura: Probably back at university, when I was preparing a Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying campaign. I got completely carried away with the world I’d created and suddenly realised that I cared more about the back story of my supporting characters than what my players were going to do in the present. Naturally, I had to write everything down. Many years later, I began dabbling in fanfiction, until an extraordinary beta reader showed that I have the skills to write original fiction and told me that I should do just that. My debut novel, Fallible Justice, was dedicated to him as a thank you.
That’s a great story! These days, do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?
Dreams and imagination are the greatest tools a writer has. Daring to dream big and imagine a different world, and then putting them into words is what makes writing so exciting. You never know what your mind creates, both awake and asleep!
That said, I’m a big fan of planning these days, given that I write paranormal crime novels. Having a detailed plan in place before I start writing not only helps me remember all the details, but gives me confidence in the story arcs and red herrings. If I draw up a story progression and it looks more like a tree than a straight line, I know I’m off to a good start. About half the time, my characters ignore the plans completely, but I feel better knowing I at least tried to plan the story.
I love characters who ignore plans! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Having readers contact me to say how much they loved one or more of my characters. It’s one thing for me to adore the people I’ve made up, but for others to share those feelings is simply extraordinary. My first reader even wrote me a fanfiction drabble about one of my characters, which I will always treasure. I recently dropped a few hints about my evil plans for future books and made people very anxious. I even received a few threats were I to start hurting their favourite characters.
Oh, that’s a sure sign of success! What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
You mean aside from the good night’s sleep? My publisher and I are about to start work on Roots of Corruption, the third book in my Wilde Investigations series. I absolutely adored writing the story and I can’t wait to see how the editing process turns it into a beautiful novel. I’m also ridiculously excited to see what our talented cover designer Jennie Rawlings will come up with for this book.
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Dream boldly. The world is full of rules and restrictions, both in terms of writing and in general, and you need believe that you can do the things that keep you going. Be ambitions, but write with self-compassion.
And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?
I’d love to be Miss Marple’s regular sidekick!
You’d be perfect in the role. And all those cups of tea and biscuits, how fabulous :-). Thank you so much for sharing with me today. Go Wilde!
Rachel Sargeant is the author of Kindle Top Ten bestseller The Perfect Neighbours. She is a previous winner of Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been placed or shortlisted in various competitions, including the Bristol Short Story Prize. Her stories have appeared in My Weekly and the Accent Press Saucy Shorts series. Rachel grew up in Lincolnshire, spent several years living in Germany and now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children. It’s wonderful to have Rachel here on Last Word of the Week. Here she is!
Hello, everyone and a big thank you to Clare for hosting me here.
LWOTW: My pleasure! Lovely to meet you. Rachel, when did you write your first story?
I wrote my first short story about sixteen years ago and was overwhelmed when it won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition. This story has now become the basis for my latest novel The Good Teacher.
That’s completely awesome, congratulations! What about your writing process – what do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Ideas for scenes sometimes come to me when I’m swimming, but I don’t very often dream about my writing. I suppose planning is the most important to me. I’ll come up with an idea and need to plot it out to build it into something worthwhile. Sadly, I don’t have boundless imagination so I have to work at it.
When you’re swimming? Interesting! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
The success of The Perfect Neighbours has been very special. I got a real buzz out of seeing it at WHSmith in Waterloo Station next to the Booker Prize winner. And it was lovely to get a bouquet of flowers from HarperCollins when it reached 100,000 sales. They are great to work with.
That’s fabulous, congratulations Rachel. What a winner. What are you most busy with at the moment?
I’m working on the fourth draft of a serial killer thriller that features a new character, a forty-three year old detective inspector called Steph. I’m also gearing up for the promotional tour of The Roommates, a psychological thriller set in a university freshers’ week which comes out later this year.
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Never give up. Despite beginner’s luck with my first story, it took me another fourteen years to improve my writing technique enough to attract an agent and a mainstream publisher. Just write, write and keep writing.
And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
More about The Good Teacher by Rachel Sargeant
Even the good have to die.
A beloved teacher is murdered and left in a ditch beside a country lane. His wife is found beaten and gagged in their suburban home.
Even the best schools have secrets.
New detective Pippa Adams learns that the teacher ran a homework club for vulnerable pupils. But what did he really teach them?
Even the perfect family has something to hide.
When Pippa scratches the surface of the school community, she meets families who’ve learned a shattering lesson. And finally uncovers the good teacher’s darkest secrets…
Fiona Morgan writes ‘thriller romances’ and lives in the small town of Airdrie near Glasgow with her husband and their two daughters. Fiona’s works include the gripping novels Free and What’s Mine. What a fabulous genre!
LWOTW: Welcome, Fiona. Tell me, when did you write your first story?
Fiona: Three years ago.
You’ve been very busy since! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Love them. Although a lot of my writing isn’t always planned, the story writes it for me.
That’s great! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
People reading and loving my books!
That is really affirming, isn’t it? What are you most busy with at the moment?
Book number 3, cleverly titled number 3.
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
If you don’t do it it will never get done!
I agree: nobody else can write YOUR book. And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?