Tag Archives: Blog Tour

Guest post by Ian Ross, author of Triumph in Dust

The Twilight of Rome series by Ian Ross has given me such reading pleasure over the last few years. Set during the early years of the 4th century AD, the books provide such a fascinating and thrilling portrait of a divided Roman empire at war, covering the rise to power of one of Rome’s most famous (but perhaps not that well known in fiction) emperors Constantine the Great. The centurion Aurelius Castus, a fantastic hero, is placed at the heart of events and it is gripping stuff. In January, the series comes to a close with the sixth book, Triumph in Dust. This obviously makes me sad as I’ll miss it but I’m really excited to see how it will end – for Rome and for Castus. I’ll be posting a review of the novel closer to its publication in hardback on 10 January but the ebook will be available from 1 December. To celebrate the occasion, I’m delighted to join the blog tour with a guest post by Ian Ross on how he picked this particular period of Roman history to bring alive in the Twilight of Rome series.

War at the Edge of the World by Ian RossGuest post

You decide that you want to write a series of novels, following the adventures of a single character through an epic period of history. You’ve always been fascinated by the ancient Roman world, so that seems the ideal setting; but Rome endured for over half a millennium, and featured a wealth of extraordinary events; how do you narrow it down?

You want to choose a period that will allow you the widest geographical scope. You also need a cast of engaging historical figures, familiar to the educated reader but not over-represented in fiction. You want to steer your stories as close as possible to recorded facts, so you need a well documented era, but one with sufficient breadth of uncertainty to allow your imagination free rein. Lastly, of course, you need to choose a setting with the greatest possible dramatic potential, a time of wars and uprisings, plots and intrigues, a moment when the certainties of the past are being overthrown, and a single man – or woman – can rise from obscurity to take a guiding role in great events.

It’s strange to consider, as I reach the conclusion of my ‘Twilight of Empire’ series – the sixth and final book, Triumph in Dust, is published in January – that I did once ask myself these questions. But for me, there could only have been one answer. Years before, when I lived in Sicily, I had visited the ruins of the Roman villa at Piazza Armerina, and seen the fabulous floor mosaics, dating from the early 4th century AD, showing scenes of daily life: soldiers and hunters, aristocrats and slaves, all in dazzling colour. I soon realised that the thirty-year reign of the Emperor Constantine would provide an ideal framing chronology. From his first acclamation at York in AD306, Constantine’s bloody and dramatic rise to sole power would give me a powerful narrative arc, around which my story could evolve. He was also the first emperor to adopt Christianity, and the revolutionary changes in religion would add an extra social dimension to the turmoil of the era.

Imperial Vengeance by Ian RossBut I did not want to tell the story of Constantine himself; instead I wanted to view his world through the eyes of a figure on the periphery of power, a man who could move freely between the frontiers and the very heart of the empire. And so my protagonist was born: Aurelius Castus begins the first novel as a common soldier, recently promoted to centurion of a legion in northern Britain. His adventurous career will take him through the greatest battles of the age, and right across the Roman world from the barbarian wilderness to the palaces of the emperors, then onward to the distant eastern frontiers, as he scales towards the dangerous summit of power.

Now, even as I consider future projects, and once more ask myself those same questions about setting, I know that the world of the ‘Twilight of Empire’ novels will always endure in my imagination. Historical fiction gives us a way of encountering familiarity in the strangeness of the past.

Reviews and posts
War at the Edge of the World (Twilight of Empire 1)
Swords Around the Throne (Twilight of Empire 2)
Battle for Rome (Twilight of Empire 3) (with interview)
The Mask of Command (Twilight of Empire 4)
Imperial Vengeance (Twilight of Empire 5)

Now You See Her by Heidi Perks

Century | 2018, Pb 2019 | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Now You See Her by Heidi PerksHarriet is a very protective mother. She can’t bear to let her daughter Alice out of her sight. But then one day Harriet gets the chance to go on a course that could potentially transform her future, giving her a life outside the home. And so, with great reluctance, she agrees that her best friend Charlotte can babysit for the day, taking Alice along with her own children to the school fete. Charlotte swears she only took her eyes off the children for a moment and now she must tell Harriet that little Alice is missing. Both Harriet and Charlotte are devastated and Harriet swears she will never speak to Charlotte again for losing her child and not one of her own. But two weeks later both women are being questioned by the police. The truth will not stay buried.

The lost or stolen child is a familiar theme in psychological thrillers but there is something about the way that Heidi Perks treats the theme in Now You See Her that particularly appeals. And I think that this has a great deal to do with Harriet and Charlotte. Each is such an interesting character and the development of their friendship over the previous few years is portrayed with real feeling. Harriet is not an easy woman to warm to, she’s an outsider, and the mums that gather outside the school gates to collect their young can be every bit as unkind as their offspring. Charlotte won’t stand for it. Their friendship is fragile and they have very little in common except their children but it feels very genuine. I warmed to these two, especially Charlotte.

The police investigation, the stories of Charlotte and Harriet, Harriet’s relationship with her husband, the role of the media and society in forming opinions – these all work together to form a psychological thriller that is more original and realistic than most.

There are tantalising hints throughout the novel from the very beginning, in the form of snippets from police interviews, so we know that something serious lies ahead, perhaps even more so than the disappearance of four-year-old Alice, and this keeps the reader on tenterhooks. The narrative also shifts to and fro in time and moves between the stories of Charlotte and Harriet. The structure works well and keeps the pace moving.

I realised quite early on in which way the novel would go and so this did take the edge off it a little for me. Nevertheless, Now You See Her gives us something different in what is a rather crowded shelf. It is well-written and the pace is maintained throughout, driven by the memorable and appealing characters of Harriet and Charlotte whose friendship is here put to the biggest test.

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the Blog Tour to celebrate the publication of Now You See Her. For other stops on the tour, please do take a look at the poster below.

Now You See Her blog tour poster

Gate Crashers by Patrick S. Tomlinson

Tor | 2018 (1 July) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Gate Crashers by Patrick S TomlinsonThe Magellan or ‘Maggie’ is Earth’s first vessel to travel deep out of our solar system. It’s taken decades for them to reach this far, every year out another sacrifice for its captain and crew who will not see their families alive again. The only real time constant they have is a method of communication with Earth that is so advanced, it’s almost beyond their understanding. But otherwise Captain Allison Ridgeway and her crew are on their own. And then they discover the artefact fixed in space. It’s clearly non-human. It has unintelligible inscriptions on it. It’s just what the crew of Maggie has been after – the answer to that question asked by the people of Earth since time began: Are we alone in space? No, we’re not. Oh dear.

The technology of the artefact is extraordinary and, when Earth hears about it, the powers that be want to understand it, to recreate it, to make it their own. And so another vessel joins Maggie, this time using alien technology to reach the Maggie almost at once. As new and old spacefaring technology collide and they all finally realise the significance of this enigmatic, powerful artefact, survival becomes paramount. It appears that Earth has rather annoyed the creators of the artefact, it’s trodden on some toes and kicked off a rumpus that could have catastrophic consequences. The people of Earth might mean well but perhaps the rest of the universe can’t be bothered.

The premise of Gate Crashers is so fantastic, I couldn’t wait to read it. It fully delivers. I love a space romp with mysterious artefacts, even more so when they bring about that first contact with enigmatic aliens. But what makes Gate Crashers unusual and particularly successful is that here we have a science fiction novel that is full of humour and actually makes me laugh. This is really unusual! I’m a huge fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels and any attempt at humour in space since then has fallen flat for me. Gate Crashers clearly has the feel of a homage to Hitchhiker’s, while also going for the fans of the genial and wonderfully easy going spacefaring novels by Becky Chambers, but it also works in its own right. There are plenty of jokes here aimed at those who’ve read a lot of science fiction but, more than that, Gate Crashers is such an entertaining and warm space adventure with moments in it that made me roar with laughter.

The characters are fantastic, whether they’re human or not. Gung-ho Maximus Tiberius isn’t somebody you’d forget in a hurry, however much you might try, while the efforts of ‘Maggie’ to fit in with her crew are poignantly entertaining. It’s just as well that the aliens are in two or three or four minds over what to do with these humans. I really enjoyed the first contact element of the novel, especially when we realise what a bad job the humans are making of it. But the aliens we encounter here are an entertaining mix of species, all with their own issues and concerns, and some downright horrible and frightening. Suddenly the universe feels very big indeed.

There might be humour here but there’s also action and drama and the moments after the artefact is brought inside the Magellan are particularly tense. This is hugely exciting and it becomes even more so when we discover the meaning of the artefact. I think my jaw may have dropped.

Gate Crashers is a hugely entertaining space romp! It’s undoubtedly well-written and witty with some laugh out loud moments to treasure. Humans might be flawed but they’re not the only ones and so the result is a warm, humorous and thrilling look at what might lie in store for mankind once it breaks free of the solar system. I can’t wait!

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the blog tour. You can find other stops on the tour here:

Monday, June 25 Sci Fi Chick
Tuesday, June 26 Books, Bones & Buffy
Tuesday, June 26 Espresso Coco
Wednesday, June 27 Civilian Reader
Thursday, June 28 Bibliosanctum
Friday, June 29 For Winter Nights
Saturday, June 30 Just a World Away

Where the Missing Go by Emma Rowley

Orion | 2018 (14 June) | 313p | Review copy | Buy the book

Where the Missing Go by Emma RowleyKate Harlow volunteers part-time at a missing persons helpline. It’s the sort of place that youngsters can ring, completely anonymously, to pass on a message to worried parents to let them know that they’re safe. Kate has her own personal reasons for working in such a place. Kate’s teenage daughter Sophie vanished a couple of years ago. Sophie had stayed at a friend’s house for the night and then not come home. Her Dad, Mark, was too late to see her note, to go searching in time. Marriages don’t easily survive such a thing and this one hasn’t. And then one night, Kate takes that call in the centre. It’s Sophie, leaving a message for Kate and Mark Harlow, to say she’s safe. But through all of the emotion, Kate can hear that Sophie sounds far from safe. She sounds frightened and alone. Kate is determined to find her daughter and bring her home.

Where the Missing Go is one of the few psychological thrillers that I was drawn to straight away and was determined to read. It’s such a great premise – that a mother hears the voice of her lost child, the child she thought could be dead – and the novel delivers well on its promise.

Much of the novel is delivered from Kate’s point of view as she thinks back over the days, weeks and months that led up to Sophie’s disappearance as well as the painful days that followed it. Kate is an ambiguous narrator. Her feelings for Sophie overwhelm everything and yet, if we pay close attention, we can see through Kate’s eyes to the teenager below. Perhaps the signs were there from the very beginning.

This, though, like many psychological thrillers, is a tale in two parts and so we are also given Sophie’s point of view and then the novel reaches into more familiar psychological thriller territory. While I did prefer the first half of the novel, I found myself caring very much for Sophie and her story gripped me.

Emma Rowley writes very well. She’s created characters here that I wanted to know and it’s the people who drive on Where the Missing go. We feel Kate’s pain. This is one of those pageturning thrillers that are such fun to read. I read it in a day, very pleased to have enjoyed a psychological thriller that stands out from the crowd.

I’m delighted to post my review of Where the Missing Go for the blog tour. For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Where the Missing Go blog tour

The Poison Bed by E.C. Fremantle

Michael Joseph | 2018 (14 June) | 406p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Poison Bed by Elizabeth FremantleIt is Autumn 1615 and the court of James I is swept up in a scandal. Two of its most celebrated and glamorous members, Robert and Frances Carr, the earl and countess of Somerset, are imprisoned in the Tower of London, accused of murder, of poisoning a man who knew far too much about the King, about Robert and about Frances. As a result, his life was forfeit, and now somebody must pay. But for Frances in the Tower, imprisoned with her newborn baby and the wet nurse, this is the time for her to look back on her short and eventful life, on her upbringing among the cruelly ambitious and powerful Howard family, on her unhappy first marriage, and on her passion for the beautiful Robert Carr, himself beloved by the King.

The Poison Bed is a story with two sides if not more and, as a result, it moves back and forth between chapters dedicated to ‘Her’ and to ‘Him’. In this way we get to know both Frances and Robert, although the reader must keep their wits about them. We, after all, were not there at the time. We are merely an audience. And in James I’s court with its love of wit and drama, little should be taken at face value.

This new novel by Elizabeth Fremantle (here published with a slight change of name) marks a little bit of a change by this fine author. Her previous novels have been more conventional works of historical fiction, focused on the Tudor and Jacobean periods, and bringing to life such incredible women as Katherine Parr (Queen’s Gambit), the Grey sisters (Sisters of Treason), Penelope Devereux (Watch the Lady) and Lady Arbella Stuart (The Girl in the Glass Tower). All four are wonderful novels (I love the first two in particular) and have such a powerful, brilliantly evoked historical setting and context. In The Poison Bed, Elizabeth Fremantle picks another formidable and remarkable figure from history, Frances Carr, and gives her story a bit of a psychological twist. The book is being billed as the Jacobean Gone Girl and I can understand why the comparison is being made because it really does have the feel of that novel in several ways.

The murder at the heart of the novel and the ensuing arrest of this most glamorous couple are a perfect subject for historical fiction, not least because it reveals so much about James I’s court. His sexual relationship with Robert Carr is given a significant place here. Frances Carr’s position in the court is ambiguous and curious. So much is hidden by the threat of scandal but it certainly tantalises. Frances dominates the book in a way that James fails to dominate his court and government and it is up to the reader to make up their minds from the stories offered up by both Frances and her husband, Robert.

It’s in the second half of the novel that it takes on more of a psychological thriller feel and, possibly because of that, it’s the first half that’s my favourite for it’s then that Elizabeth Fremantle builds up a vivid painting of life in the early 17th century for the very wealthy and ambitious. The Howard family is outrageous and the little child Frances is very much their pawn. I really enjoyed the depiction of James I and his circle. James isn’t a character that we meet too often in historical fiction but he certainly makes for a fascinating subject and the author does such a fine job of animating a figure that I know mostly from portraits. Robert Carr left me comparatively cold. He is completely out of his depth in James I’s government and he flounders. His devotion to Frances, though, is undoubtedly intense. There are so many richly drawn, larger than life characters in The Poison Bed. I love the way that we flit between them.

Elizabeth Fremantle writes so well. This is sparkly, witty prose, dancing between characters, between past and present. The reader is rewarded for paying attention because it can be a challenge keeping up with some of the figures in the book, not to mention their moods. Personally, I think that the story behind The Poison Bed is intriguing enough (and in such safe hands here) that the psychological thriller element wasn’t needed but it may mean that a wider readership will discover the joys of Elizabeth Fremantle’s historical fiction.

I must mention the cover of this hardback – look how beautiful it is!

Other reviews
Queen’s Gambit
Sisters of Treason
Watch the Lady
The Girl in the Glass Tower

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the blog tour. For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Poison Bed Blog Tour Card

‘The Recent Boom in Space Opera’ – guest post by Gareth L. Powell, author of Embers of War

Embers of War by Gareth L PowellOn 20 February, Titan Books published Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell, a brand new space opera that ticks all of the right boxes. You can read my review here and buy it here. To celebrate the publication, I’m delighted to host a guest post from Gareth in which he discusses the recent boom in space opera. As someone who loves space opera more than chips (how I need my books on spaceships and alien artefacts…), I couldn’t be more thrilled by the prospect of a boom and the next novel in Gareth’s series can’t come soon enough for me.

The Recent Boom In Space Opera

Like it or loathe it, space opera’s always been an important part of science fiction. Maybe even the heart of the genre. Whatever else may be going on, there have always been books about big spaceships, colossal alien artifacts, and vast interstellar wars.

As a sub-genre, space opera went through a bit of a renaissance in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with books by Alastair Reynolds, M. John Harrison, Stephen Baxter, Gwyneth Jones and others. Now, as we approach 2020 (itself an almost unbelievably futuristic-sounding date to those of us raised in the 1980s), it seems to be undergoing another dramatic resurgence.

In 2014, Ann Leckie’s debut novel, Ancillary Justice, won the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke, Locus and BSFA awards—the only novel ever to have achieved such a clean sweep. The sequels Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, and the related novel Provenance have followed it. The fact these books feature dark-skinned main characters in a gender-neutral society seems to have touched a nerve in ways not seen since Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels brought left wing politics into space opera back in the 1980s and 1990s, and opened the way for more diversity in the genre, both in term of subjects and authors.

Becky Chambers’ delightful 2014 novel, The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, explores the complex relationships between a diverse human and non-human starship crew, including love between man and computer, an interspecies lesbian fling, and a creature caught in a symbiotic relationship with a parasitical virus. The sequel A Closed And Common Orbit continues to expand on these themes, and a new book is on its way.

In 2016, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children Of Time won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for its portrayal of the struggle between a starship carrying the last survivors of the human race and a civilisation of uplifted, intelligent spiders. Spanning thousands of years and following the development of spider civilisation, and the rise-and-fall of various human societies, the book has the epic feel of the very best space opera coupled with a visionary examination of what it means to be truly civilised.

Kameron Hurley’s dark and disturbing 2017 novel, The Stars Are Legion, has been jokingly described by its author as, ‘lesbians in space.’ In reality, it’s a savage, epic tale of tragic love, brutal war and revenge set amid a cloud of decaying organic world-ships, in which an amnesiac soldier sets out on a desperate mission that will either save or destroy the fleet.

Mathematician Yoon Ha Lee received the 2017 Locus Award, as well as Hugo, Nebula and Clarke nominations for his novel Ninefox Gambit, which follows the fortunes of a young military officer and the ghost of a disgraced, long-dead commander as they participate in inter-factional conflict in an Empire whose technologies and tactics are determined by consensual acceptance of the Imperial Calendar.

Since the publication in 2011 of Leviathan Wakes, James SA Corey’s ‘Expanse’ series — now on its seventh volume, Persepolis Rising (2017) — has been charting humanity’s rocky progress from being an interplanetary society centered on Earth, Mars and the asteroid belt, to an interstellar society of colonies scattered among fifteen hundred worlds. We see the upheaval through the eyes of the crew of the independent frigate Rocinante. They are drawn from various squabbling planets and ethnicities, but stay together because of the love they have for each other and the ship on which they live.

Taken together, these excellent books show that we’re currently living in something of a golden age for progressive, inclusive space opera. And it’s against this background that I launch my own series, starting with Embers of War, which was published by Titan Books on 20 February.

Embers follows the adventures of the former warship Trouble Dog, and her misfit crew of war veterans and cadets, as they race to rescue a liner that’s been downed in a politically sensitive star system. Featuring strong female leads, ancient alien mysteries, and some full-on space combat, I hope Embers of War can take its place alongside the books I’ve listed above, as part of the recent boom in space opera.

Embers of War by Gareth L Powell is published by Titan Books. You can find Gareth on Twitter @garethlpowell.

For further stops on the blog tour, please do take a look at the poster below.

Embers of War blog tour_Final

Traitor by David Hingley

Allison & Busby | 2018 (18 January) | 382p | Review copy | Buy the book

Traitor by David HingleyIt is May 1665 and Mercia Blackwood, with her child Daniel and manservant Nicholas, is at last returning home to England and London after her adventures in America. Surely now she has done enough to win back the favour of Charles II, the King who executed her father for treason, and all that he has promised. But after weeks at sea, her reception home could hardly be worse. It seems that he will demand more from her.

England is at war with the Dutch. The King, and his mistress Lady Castlemaine, believe that there is a spy at court, spilling secrets to the enemy, stolen straight from the King’s War Council. It is believed that the spy is named Virgo and she is thought to be one of the women in closest association with members of the Council. Who better to hunt the spy out than Mercia? She is, after all, herself adored by one of the Council, Sir William Calde. Mercia’s investigations will take her into the heart of the glorious yet debauched royal court. She will also witness the lives of those who serve the powerful, as servants and, sometimes, as little more than pets.

Traitor is the third novel by David Hingley to feature Mercia Blackwood. At the time of writing this, I have read Birthright, the first, but have yet to read Puritan, the second of the series which moved Mercia from London to America on another mission for the King. The fact that I have yet to read Puritan did nothing to harm my enjoyment of Traitor but it certainly made me want to go back and read it. The fact that I didn’t at the time was because the story had moved from London and King Charles – who is such an appealing element of these books – to the New World. But now I’d like to find out what went on. In this third book we are squarely back in London.

The portrayal of Charles II’s court is full of colour. It also reeks with sin. So soon after the Civil War, with England at war once more, there’s a strong sense of the fragility and vulnerability of Charles II’s reign, especially as his children, though many in number, are all illegitimate. There’s hardly a man at court without a mistress, as well as a wife. It leads to complications. And having to unravel it all is Mercia.

I like Mercia. She’s independent and courageous, doing all she can to get what she needs in what is most definitely a man’s world. Women at court are expected to be mere adornments although one suspects that the women are more influential than their men might suppose. But the emphasis is on Mercia’s mission and drive rather than on her character and so she isn’t especially three-dimensional. But, as I say, I do like her.

I particularly enjoyed the elements of the story that took me out of the oversweet court and into the stench of London’s poorest streets and also onto the ships preparing for battle against the Dutch. The fact that this novel is set in 1665 made me expect the Great Plague and, although it does make a cameo appearance, this is very much about the war with the Dutch. I know very little about this, or about the ships that fought it, and so I found this really interesting. There’s another ogre that raises its head in Traitor and this is slavery. These sections were, for me, the best of the book.

I think it’s quite likely that Charles II isn’t quite done with Mercia Blackwood yet and so I’m intrigued to see what will happen to her next, should David Hingley continue her story. This is one of my very favourite periods in British history to read about so I certainly hope he does.

Other review
Birthright

I’m delighted to post this review as part of the Blog Tour. For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.

Traitor blog tour banner

Shadows by Paul Finch

Avon | 2017 (19 October) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book

Shadows by Paul FinchManchester’s gangsters are no strangers to violence and crime but the tables have been turned. A series of brutal robberies, with criminals as the victims, has the city’s biggest gangs reeling. DC Lucy Clayburn has firsthand experience of just how dangerous these streets can be but she is determined to sweep them clean. It doesn’t matter to her that one of Manchester’s most infamous criminals is her father. That’s nobody’s business but her own. And when she manages to pull off a key arrest, Manchester’s elite Robbery Squad is keen to welcome her among their number. Perhaps now Lucy can really make a name for herself on her own terms. Solving the strange crimes that are shaking the foundations of Manchester’s crime world would be a very good start. But it could also be the end of her…

Shadows is only the second novel by Paul Finch to feature detective Lucy Clayburn but this is already a very strong series indeed. I loved Strangers, immediately falling for Lucy. She is a wonderful heroine – undoubtedly flawed and vulnerable but also courageous, stubborn, determined to stand alone, and resolute. Nobody understands crime like she does – she’s only had to observe her parents to see its effects – and she’s set on defeating it, bit by bit. She’s only a DC and so she does what she can, pounding the streets after insignificant lowlifes, but grabbing every chance she can get to strike higher up the criminal foodchain.

Lucy is fantastic to spend time with and in Shadows, as with Strangers, she’s given a story worthy of her. Much of this novel had me on the edge of my seat and I thoroughly enjoyed the twisty ways in which it developed. But it’s enriched by Lucy’s own unusual background, her self-doubt and her relationships with her family and other detectives. Life isn’t easy for Lucy but you sense that she thrives on this police role that she’s shaping for herself in her own unique way.

The Manchester setting is great! I spent some time in its clubs and neighbourhoods as a teenager and Paul Finch’s portrait of it feels so possible and authentic, frightening yet also alive. The policing is also well done and the investigations – and competition for results – are exhausting. I must admit that I’m normally not a fan of gangster books in the least and so I initially had my doubts about this series but these have proven unfounded. This is largely due to the strong storytelling and Lucy herself. The policing is what dominates here. There is nothing glamorous in the portrayal of Manchester’s controlling bullies.

I’m a big fan of Paul Finch’s other longer-established detective series featuring Heck. But, if it isn’t heresy to say so, I’m starting to think that these Lucy Clayburn books are even better – for their Manchester setting and feel but also for the character of Lucy. She is so well-drawn, unusual and likeable. I hope to spend much more time in her company over the years to come.

Other reviews and features
Strangers
Hunted
Ashes to Ashes
Guest post – ‘What seven things you should know if you want to write crime fiction’

I’m delighted to post this review as part of the blog tour to celebrate the publication of Shadows this month. For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the banner below.

SHadows blog tour banner

An interview with Alex Lake, author of Copycat

Copycat by Alex LakeAlex Lake is one of my favourite authors of psychological thrillers – I loved After Anna and Killing Kate (despite the latter’s title, obviously…). The good news is that this week HarperCollins publishes Alex’s latest thriller, Copycat. A review will follow shortly but, in the meantime, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to interview Alex as part of the blog tour to celebrate Copycat‘s publication.

First, a little of what the book’s about:

Imitation is the most terrifying form of flattery…

Which Sarah Havenant is you?

When an old friend gets in touch, Sarah Havenant discovers that there are two Facebook profiles in her name. One is hers. The other, she has never seen.

But everything in it is accurate. Photos of her friends, her husband, her kids. Photos from the day before. Photos of her new kitchen. Photos taken inside her house.

And this is just the beginning. Because whoever has set up the second profile has been waiting for Sarah to find it. And now that she has, her life will no longer be her own…

Q&A, with thanks to Alex!

Congratulations, Alex, for Copycat! Another excellent psychological thriller. What inspired you to write the story of Sarah Havenant? Where did her story come from?

Thank you – very kind! Sarah’s story came from a number of different ideas that I had floating around – I’d been thinking about identity theft online, I had an idea about meeting your doppelganger and what that might do, I wanted to write about someone – who became Sarah – who had a seemingly stable, solid life, but who had no idea of what was coming to them and how vulnerable they were. And then, one evening, all of the ideas came together: the doppelganger became an online doppelganger, and they were the person who meant Sarah serious harm.

That tends to be how it happens – I have all kinds of scraps and notes and ideas for characters, none of which is, on its own, a book. Then one day they assemble in some way and I think – there it is. That’s a novel.

Did researching the story affect your use of social media, particularly Facebook?

I don’t use social media all that much, although if I did I would probably have stopped after writing Copycat! I read a bunch of stuff on identity theft, and all that someone needs to get access to your bank accounts and tax records and whatever else they want, is your name, birthday, address and a few personal details like your maiden name or the names of your kids. It does seem risky to leave all that out there for the world to see.

You’ve written three psychological thrillers, each is original and also compelling. Do you already have ideas for the next? Does it get harder each time?

I do. I’m working on something now, and I have a rough idea of the one after that. As I mentioned earlier, I also have a drawer full of notebooks and scraps of paper with ideas and sketches on them, some of which will make it into a novel at some point.

I think it gets easier in some ways and harder in others. Easier, because you get better at spotting what isn’t working – a character or scene or plot line – and you become more ruthless – now I don’t hesitate to cut something if I think it is not quite right.

Harder, because you start to worry about becoming repetitive. It’s not the writing itself – it’s the ideas. Other writers may be different but I can’t force ideas to come – all I can do is gather the scraps and wait for them to come into focus. It always feels a bit risky – what if they don’t come?

Do you have the plots of your novels worked out completely before you start writing or do you leave room for character and plot to develop as you write?

I have the characters, the situation they are put into, and the ending. I need all three before I start on a first draft. In particular, I have to have the ending. I have at least two manuscripts in a drawer that I got about 60,000 words into and realised I didn’t have an ending for. So I try to avoid that now.

Once I start I let the characters and plot go where they will. Often a character surprises me by doing or saying something I wasn’t planning, and that can lead to unexpected developments in the plot.

How important is a twist to you as a writer and a reader?

I think it’s important in a psychological thriller because it’s sort of the engine of the book – everything’s going along and then suddenly something happens and our understanding of the characters and events is totally changed – normally we realise that their situation is a lot worse than we thought. The twist is the way we get that understanding. It’s also fun, because readers know it’s coming and try to figure it out. It’s a bit like a whodunit – there’s an element of a game between the reader and writer.

However, the twist alone is not enough. You still need characters you can believe in and sympathise with and a villain who scares you, as well as an original idea for a plot.

Some historical fiction authors avoid reading other historical fiction. Do you read psychological thrillers for pleasure? If you do, do you work them out?

I tend not to read them when I’m writing or they kind of creep into my work, but I do read them at other times. Sometimes I work them out, but not often. I don’t think that being a writer of psychological thrillers necessarily helps – other writers approach the puzzles and problems totally differently. I’m often amazed (and jealous) at what they come up with.

What is your favorite novel of the year so far?

Gosh, it’s hard to choose. If I have to pick one, I’ll go for His Bloody Project. I thought it was really original, and I read it in an afternoon.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben. It’s fascinating – he describes how trees communicate with each other, care for sick trees by providing them sugar and water through interconnected roots, and even have families, of a sort. It’s really changing how I think about my walks in the forest!

Reviews
After Anna
Killing Kate

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‘Historical sources for Another Woman’s Husband’, Guest post by Gill Paul

Another Woman's Husband by Gill PaulEarlier this month, Headline published the latest novel by Gill Paul, Another Woman’s Husband, a novel that brings together the stories of two significant women in 20th-century British royal history – Wallis Simpson and Diana, Princess of Wales. I’ll be posting my review in November for the paperback release, but, in the meantime, I’m delighted to host here a guest post from Gill in which she discusses the historical sources for her novel.

First, a little about what Another Woman’s Husband is about:

Two women, divided by time, bound by a secret…

1911. Aged just fifteen, Mary Kirk and Wallis Warfield meet at summer camp. Their friendship will survive heartbreaks, continents, and the demands of the English crown, until it is shattered by one unforgivable betrayal…

1997. Kendall’s romantic break in Paris with her fiance is interrupted when the taxi in front crashes suddenly. The news soon follows: Princess Diana is dead. Trying to forget what she has witnessed, Kendall returns home, where the discovery of a long-forgotten link to Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, will lead her to the truth of a scandal which shook the world…

Historical Sources

When I decided to write about Wallis Warfield and Diana, Princess of Wales, both of them controversial women, the first choice was which of the dozens of books about them both I could trust. Back when I was studying history at uni, we were taught to question sources. Who wrote it? What audience were they writing for? What were they trying to achieve by writing? What information did they have and what did they not know?

Sometimes it makes sense to read the most recent biographies first, since you can assume their authors have read the preceding ones. Anne Sebba’s That Woman is a brilliant read and highly recommended, although I don’t agree with her assertion, originally proposed in Michael Bloch’s biography, that Wallis suffered from Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. The evidence for this seems flimsy: large hands, male bone structure, deep voice. None of her lovers ever reported that she had male characteristics in her genitalia; she was clearly a sexually confident woman so it seems to me a curious leap to make.

The first-ever biography of Wallis was written in 1937 by a woman called Edwina H. Wilson. Wallis suspected Mary Kirk of having collaborated with the author, but I don’t think she did. There would have been far more detail in the childhood sections if she had, and surely a more negative view of her character, since it was written the year after Wallis and Mary fell out.

Wallis’s autobiography, published in 1956, is fascinating because it allowed me to hear her voice, but it contains a lot of revisionism. For example, according to her, Ernest was present when the Prince sent an on-board telegram just as she embarked for New York in March 1933. He wasn’t, and it was a clear sign of the Prince’s personal interest in her at an early stage. Wallis tries to make out that until the summer of 1935 his friendship was more with Ernest than with her – but I beg to differ.

Mary Kirk is all but written out of Wallis’s autobiography but I managed to find a biography of her, written by her sister and niece. It’s a short, self-published, photocopied transcript of letters that Mary wrote to her sister Anne, and replies that her sister imagines she might have sent, along with interspersed explanations. A strange book altogether, but immensely valuable to let me hear Mary’s voice and the phrases she used, such as “rich as mud” and “I’m on the outs with Wallis”.

When it comes to Diana there is as yet no academic, properly verified and footnoted account of her life, although she richly deserves one. Andrew Morton is the obvious starting place when it comes to biographies, as he is immensely well connected in royal circles even twenty years after Diana’s death. But his bestselling book was secretly based on interviews with Diana herself, was written as her marriage was imploding and had her seal of approval, so it clearly had its own agenda and its own bias.

I decided not to write about Diana as a character but to let her be a ‘ghost’ in the novel, while others investigated the circumstances of her death. My time frame was very tight – 30th August to 28th December 1997 – and I had to be careful not to include information discovered after that date, which Alex in the novel wouldn’t have known about. I watched the Panorama documentary made two weeks after the crash, as well as the ITV and Channel 4 ones made the following year. Martyn Gregory’s account Diana: The Last Days seemed the most trustworthy of dozens of books about her death – not least because he lists his sources in endnotes – and with his help I pieced together a timeline of when information was revealed. I couldn’t include the strange story of James Adanson, a paparazzo who may or may not have been driving the white Fiat and who died soon after the crash in mysterious circumstances… But I think there were already enough anomalies to give Alex plenty of material for his own fictitious documentary.

Other posts
Guest post: Gill Paul, author of No Place for a Lady, ‘on feminism, bereavement and squeamishness’
A review of The Secret Wife

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