Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Sail Away - Celia Imrie

I suppose the leap from successful actress to novelist is not such a big one after all as it’s all about words, isn’t it, and making people believe in them? I’ve loosely watched Celia Imrie’s career evolve over the last few decades and admired her work on stage and on screen, particularly with Victoria Wood. So I jumped at the chance to sample her writing. My thanks to Nudge Books for the opportunity.

It is exactly the kind of book I would have expected her to write! The characterisations, particularly the female ones are roles I could imagine her in! She has also followed the golden rule of writing about what you know so there is much about the acting profession especially the dilemmas faced as actors start to age. And evident from the concluding acknowledgment is Ms. Imrie’s experience of cruising and sea travel so the depictions are authentic and convincing. 

It’s a jolly, easy enough read, bordering on the farce at times and that’s where I do have a little niggle because it was almost as if the book couldn’t make up its mind as to whether it was a labyrinthine mystery or a humorous romp. It tries to strike a balance between the two and there are moments where it works but there are a few tenuous passages were it seems to lose its way a little. There are some genuinly funny and witty moments, some delightful word play from one of the more caricatured characters on board the ship. 

The author makes some things evident to the reader, or at least credits the reader with enough intelligence to work things out, but lets the characters flounder their way to some semblance of the truth. I always think that is a useful device that can bond a reader to the author. But there is much that requires unravelling at the end. It’s not a straightforward plot by any means. 

However it’s an undemanding, easy read perfect for the summer even though it’s set in December!! Will I seek out Celia Imrie’s previous novels? Well, I wouldn’t snatch them out of your hand but they’ll remain on my radar to snaffle should the opportunity arise.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery - Leonard Gribble

I had to keep this book out of sight from a dear friend who is a Spurs fan. So strong is her despite of Arsenal that she won’t allow red in her house! Trouble is I’ve known her for so long that some of that despite has, unreasonably, rubbed off on me so I was - almost - filled with horror when I received the book! But I am happy to report that unless my friend reads this review she will remain ignorant of my turncoat behaviour!

But in reality the football side of things was a sub issue to the main plot. And any affiliation to any football club is not compulsory. It’s almost misleading aside from the fact that it is possibly one of the first football based crime stories and, apparently, the name of the Arsenal players are the actual names of the players at the time including the actual secretary manager of the team at the time, George Allison. It’s an Inspector Slade mystery of which there are several. This is the only one I have read so far but I really enjoyed meeting him. As a mystery the solving is dependent on much brain work and less in the way of forensics but that is always a feature of these crime classics. I marvel at the grey matter somersaulting that goes on for everyone involved! Reader, writer and characters. It’s very much an unravelling as you work alongside Slade to figure out what’s going on, who’s telling the truth. 

The basic premise is that an amateur team is playing Arsenal. One of the players from that team collapses on the pitch and dies before the day is out. Not really a spoiler, given that this is a Crime Classic to state that a murder investigation follows. 

There’s a fair helping of suspense that may seem tame in comparison with today’s crime novels but I think it is essential to read these stories in context of the time in which they were written but also to consider the policing techniques and procedures of that time which differ vastly from today’s. 

I thought the story was well plotted and the narrative was fast flowing without skimping on relevant and necessary detail. The characters are functional and believable if a tad stereotypical on occasions. The male characters seem to fare better than the female characters in terms of development and believability but maybe that’s an historical cultural thing. 

If you grab a copy of this book, and I’m sure you will, there’s an interesting introduction from Martin Edwards which gives some information about a film that was made of the book. 

Once again I offer my thanks to the grand folks at the British Library  who sent me a copy.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Believe Me - JP Delaney

Oh, ho, ho , Mr. JP Delaney. This really shouldn’t be allowed you know. What have innocent readers ever done to you? Do we deserve to be hurled onto this roller coaster of a thriller and thrown from side to side as it twists and turns and races towards its conclusion? Yes we do, indeed we do and please don’t stop!!

I jumped at the chance of a copy of this book having thoroughly enjoyed The Girl before Me. and if I’m honest not expecting that it could be matched. But it can.Some familiar themes endure and I found some character similarities in the main protagonists. I’m not saying it’s formulaic, not at all, rather a feature of this writer’s characterisations. The two main characters are powerful and dominant. Convincing yet flawed. And you have no idea who is telling the truth and who isn’t. The drama theme is key as is the work of Baudelaire. 

in a way, like its predecessor, reviewing is a challenge because you simply don’t want to give away anything. But briefly a struggling UK actress in the US without a green card takes whatever job she can including assisting a divorce lawyer to get evidence on potentially cheating husbands. Easy money? Maybe until one of the potentially cheating husbands becomes the subject of a homicide enquiry. Then all hell is let loose and I’m not going to tell you any more about the plot. 

What I am going to tell you, though, is that this is a credit to its genre, a psychological thriller at its best. One that ties the reader in knots as to who is really who, who did what, who didn’t do what and who might do what!!! It’s tense, it’s intense, it’s suspense. Oh that Hitchcock were still with us and could film it!

Structurally interesting and I’ll admit to begin with I found it irritating where portions of the dialogue were rendered as play script until I ‘got it’. Got what? Oh no. If I’ve learnt one thing from Mr. Delaney it is not to give anything away! But the plot is tight, you might try to find a hole but I doubt you’ll succeed. There is an argument for it being convoluted but I sometimes think that’s a reader excuse for not reading carefully enough! And, believe me (!) it’s easily done here because you just don’t want to put the book down, you race on desperate to find out what happens. The way one thing turns on itself to reveal something unexpected is masterful. 

Whilst covers never really do it for me, I read the book not the cover, I’ll make an exception here because of the colouring of the lettering which is a delightful use of word play. BELIEVE ME.

If you like the psychological thriller genre then ‘believe me’, you’ll love this.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

The White Devil - Domenic Stansberry - BLOG TOUR

Welcome to my slot on the Blog Tour for Domenic Stansberry's The White Devil. My thanks to Alex at Orion Books for the opportunity to read this compelling crime story and for inviting me aboard the tour.

Let's go!!!

Beginning with the blurb..........

A psychological noir set in the shadowy streets of Rome. With echoes of The Talented Mr Ripley and The Flamethrowers - and just a touch of Hitchcock.
Vittoria, as she's known in Italy, is a small-time actress who left behind a dark past in her native Texas and followed her fading writer husband to the Eternal City. 
Guided by her controlling brother Johnny, Vittoria soon enters the upper circles of Roman society, mingling with shady cardinals and corrupt senators. Among them is Paolo Orsini, who quickly falls prey to Vittoria's charms. Too bad he's married; too bad his wife, an aging film icon, is murdered.
From the ravishing beauty of Rome to the pristine beaches of Malibu, Vittoria finds herself at the heart of a lethal chase, spiralling dangerously out of control...

What others say about this book..........

Excellent... Stansberry deserves to be better known... Menace, murder and eroticism lurk. — Marcel Berlins, The Times

A glittering noir triumph... Brilliantly reimagined, fast-moving, aphoristic and recounted in a delirious, shimmering erotic flow, The White Devil is a possessed, fever dream of a book, an unwise third cocktail that proves impossible to resist. — The Irish Times

Freaking incredible — Crimespree

Voluptuous and sharply delineated... the backdrop of sultry and crumbling Rome lends the whole story a hot and crackling ambience — TripFiction.com

And this is what I thought about the book.........

A delicious opening which you can imagine as one of those 40's and 50's film noir narrations and draws the reader right in to this contemporary homage to John Webster's play of the same name.
A large portion of the novel is set in Rome and completely enhances the atmosphere and envelops us in the mystery and intrigue which I doubt would be achieved if the story was set in, say, Lincoln, Nebraska or Bristol, Avon. No offence to the good folk of both those locations but set your story In Rome and it's almost like you have an additional,character. Call your main character Vittoria instead of Vicki and you further the suggestion of something beyond the mere criminal.

You could argue that the similarity between Stansberry's characters and Webster's render the former's into caricatures but that simply doesnt happen in the hands of this competent crime writer. Let's face it you don't win the Hammett Prize for Crime Fiction if you create no more than a pastiche. This story smoulders along with subtle tension that has you turning the pages with eager trepidation. The narrative abounds with implications and insinuations that demand the reader speculate. Nothing is at it seems. 

The plot is not necessarily an original one and the author alludes to his inspiration. But it's a plot that involves the reader and allows them to harbour their suspicions. Several murders take place and we think we know 'whodunnit' but it's neither wholly confirmed nor denied. As a crime tale it is tight with some tense, unexpected moments especially towards the end and a conclusion that it is inevitable and you kinda realise that's where it's all been heading anyway. 

The characterisations are well observed and the Italian society in which they are mingling is well researched and the authenticity complements the quality of the writing. The relationship between brother and sister is suitably ambiguous and you actually abhor Johnny's controlling nature yet understand Vittoria's love for him. 
It's a well paced crime story. And you're wasting time reading this when you could be reading The White Devil! !

However I am not the only port of call on this tour. Check out these other bloggers and what they have to say. 

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

A Sky Painted Gold - Laura Wood

It seems like a very natural progression for an erstwhile writer of children’s stories to progress to the YA market. And that’s what Laura Wood has done. Although there’s plenty in this tale to appeal to readers of the OA market - OA? Older Adults. I found this a genre dipping fiction with it’s toes in historical fiction, romantic fiction, chick lit maybe. And apart from the history side of things not genres that always light me up. But this was an entertaining, undemanding, easy read.

Louise lives in small Cornish village with her parents and several siblings with a penchant for the written word. For some while she has trespassed in the house and grounds of the Cardew family, eating their apples and reading their books even lighting fires in their library! Undisturbed until the day the Cardew brother and sister, Caitlin and Robert, return to their Cornish home for the summer. What follows is a predictable yet charming story of adolescent hopes and dreams as Lou is caught up in a Gatsby type lifestyle of parties of indulgence, and intrigues. There’s no new ground covered here but something in the familiarity of the situations makes for an easy to visualise, comforting read. I was reminded briefly of Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge, any Kate Morton you care to name and other ‘big house’ stories of which there are plenty out there and this novel will hold its head high and takes its place alongside them. 

The novel is inhabited with many well drawn and decent characters. There’s little, if any, unpleasantness in the book from anyone. There’s an attempt to colour Robert in less than rosy hues but that’s mostly from Lou’s perspective. There are flawed characters, quirky characters, stereotypical characters too but they all work.

The writing is natural and easy, well paced, all told in the first person from Lou’s perspective but for the most part I think the readers will reach the same conclusions that she does. And for adolescent girls  - friends and siblings - who enjoy  sharing their confidences, their hopes, their dreams this story will appeal greatly.

I always aver that I am not interested in book covers; I read the book not the cover but I was impressed by the simple elegance of this cover which the image on this blog doesn't do justice to!  It’s a perfect summer read and if we are to pay homage to the Great Gatsby then I give it - the green light!

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Yesterday - Felicia Yap BLOG TOUR

Good day! And welcome aboard the blog tour for Felicia Yap's absorbing debut novel, Yesterday. My slot is the last on this tour so I hope I can add something to all that the other wonderful bloggers have said.


A brilliant high-concept debut thriller - just how do you solve a murder when you only remember yesterday?
There are two types of people in the world: those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before.
You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did.
Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband's mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.
Can you trust the police? 
Can you trust your husband? 
Can you trust yourself?

Plenty of praise for this novel already -

'The thriller of the summer' - Observer
'A 2017 literary event' - Newsweek
'The intrigue of Gone Girl and the drama of Before I Go to Sleep' - iNews
'So hotly tipped it should come with scorch marks... Quite literally mind-bending' - Red
But here's what Felicia, herself, has to say about the book.

And here is what I have to say about the book!

I know that when the hardback edition of this book was published my ‘good book' radar’ activated almost immediately and since then this debut novel from Felicia Yap has been on my periphery. Therefore I was delighted when via Bookbridgr Jenni Leech of Headline Books set me a copy of the paperback to read and review and I’m equally delighted to be part of the Blog Tour for this auspicious debut.

The initial publication seemed to elicit mixed feelings which covered the whole spectrum. I try not to read too much about a book that I’m going to read and review but since this one had already piqued my curiosity it was too late! I had already considered comparisons with S.J.Watson's Before I Sleep and even the film Memento which both deal with deviant memory and recall. But this story explores a more dystopian view of memory with its society structured by the quality of its inhabitant's genetically influenced memories. I am loathe to give anything away even though I’m dying to!! But I’m afraid you’re just going to have to read it for yourselves!

It’s a substantial read with a plot of depth, many twists and turns, some you’ll figure out for yourselves others will have you open mouthed. There are one or two plot holes. So what? It’s a debut novel. Why do some readers expect perfection from the word go? Writers learn and grow. So should Readers!

As with many dystopian works it is sometimes hard to like or even engage with the characters. There’s a kind of detachment almost but I guess it allows the reader to try and be objective when sifting through the plethora of clues and evidence. There is no one here who is an especially nice person. Some of them are downright devious and violent . I quite liked Hans the detective who had his own demons to grapple with. 

It’s an intriguing premise that embraces our digital world, and is it too far fetched to ponder whether the society described in this book has evolved from our dependence on digital communication? As well as spinning a darn good thriller this book has much to say about memory. If dementia is on the rise are the causes to be found within our current over dependence on our digital lives? Or, more thought provokingly, as Felicia suggests in the YouTube clip are we selective about what we choose to remember? 

Whilst there are many arguments for a fiction that seeks to entertain and demand little of its reader there is also an argument for those works that tickle your grey matter and start you thinking. And which of these camps does this book fall into? Oh, no! You’re not going to catch me on that one! Sorry, but you have to find that out for yourself!

Although this is the end of the tour do check out the other blogs if you haven't already done so. If you have no doubt you're already reading the book! But if not I expect you will want to seek out a copy of this absorbing book.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Killing It - Asia Mackay

A debut novel, competently done with a fast paced flowing narrative. It could be seen as a satire about women returning to the work place after maternity leave, it could also be seen as an observation about certain sections of society and their parenting skills and nuances. Or you could just sit back and enjoy a jolly good female spy/assassin romp. And that’s what I decided to do. and on that level it’s a very enjoyable and entertaining read with some action and some humour some of which occasionally had me laughing out loud.

Lex Tyler works for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. She’s an assassin. She’s also a mum. And so she has to balance the two. It’s a convoluted, highly improbable plot! It has twists and turns aplenty. But I daren’t say too much more in case I spoil it!

It’s not a book that covers any new ground. Tye juxtaposition of spy and mother is a good one. Im not sure I’ve come across that before but as for the plot you’ll feel like you’ve read something similar. But it doesn’t matter. It’s engaging enough to satisfy a reader looking for a book to take on the commute or on holiday. 

Monday, 16 July 2018

Testament - Kim Sherwood

This book is immense. In every sense of the word. I fear that my words will not do it justice. And I apologise in advance. My thanks to Ana McLaughlin, Quercus Books and RiverRun books for the opportunity to read this. And I’m sorry I wasn’t in time for the Blog Tour!!

This is a debut novel!! What?! I’ve read a great number of debut novels over the years and I would say this is the least like a debut novel I’ve ever come across! The writing is of the highest quality. You don’t always get this quality of writing from established authors.! It has flow. It has intelligence and integrity. It has depth of language and meaning. It tells a story. It offers us insights and considerations and asks us to think. I enjoyed the arrangement of the book with the sometime enigmatic and almost epigrammatic chapter headings which if you take and run them together are almost poetic.  The chapters and the parts of the book are interspersed  with the questions that are part of the titular testament.

I’ve also read a great number of books about the Holocaust, both factual and fictional, and this story could be neatly compartmentalised into another Holocaust novel. Except that it is very much more. Yes, it tells us the story of two brothers who survived the Holocaust but what it does that seems to go further is that it examines the after effects on future generations putting the event into a contemporary perspective that I can’t recall other books of the genre doing it. That is another aspect that makes this book special. In fact there is a statement from the book that I cannot refrain from quoting ‘We are here because history doesn’t happen in the past tense.’

It’s a dual narrative structure with the historical narrative from the point of view of brothers Laszlo and Jozsef and the present narrative from the point of view of Eva, Joszef’s granddaughter. The brothers survived the atrocities but their attitudes towards their survival are polar opposites and the book delves into those attitudes and the knock on effect on future generations and how we are defined by our pasts and our ancestry. I am unwilling to offer much more in case I unwittingly offer any spoilers. But it does open up considerations of the lingering affects of the Holocaust right here,right now. I have often averred that I regard a writer who deals with a fictional treatment of the subject as brave. It’s not an easy subject. I’ve also always believed that through such books we maintain an awareness of what happened in those camps and on the death marches in the hope it will never happen again. This book ticks both those boxes. But it goes further. Somehow this writer has managed to strike a potent balance between the objective historical facts and a subjective emotional family fiction - a ficumentary if you will. 

And as much as this is story of the Holocaust it is also a story of love and loss, seeking out truths and solving mysteries, dealing with trauma and tragedy and you might think that has to be obvious within the context of a Holocaust novel. But the human spirit endures and strives to deal with whatever tragedy or atrocity is forced upon it. 

It doesn’t really need to be said how spirit crushing knowledge of the Holocaust is and if you’ve ever stood beside that single rail track running under the guard house at Auschwitz Birkenau and wept for those lost souls you find yourself longing for upliftment, for some solitary moment of optimism and I think you can get it from this book. How? Well, read it. And you’ll see.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Taste of Blue Light - Lydia Ruffles

Although I’m too old to get away with being mistaken for a YA ! I do enjoy the genre very much. Maybe it’s because I’ve never really grown up. Guess I’ve left it a bit late now! But this debut fiction from Lydia Ruffles is all about growing up and how. With all the hallmarks of a debut novel, extravagant descriptions and images, the story is Lux’s. She is a seventeen year old at a seemingly exclusive boarding school for artists who haven’t fitted into mainstream education. The school has its own protocols and I saw it as a contemporary, fictional view of Summerhill maybe. As an intern at a gallery Lux has experienced amnesia regarding events following a party she has attended. Or so it seems. The story leads us through Lux’s tortured journey of self discovery and her attempts to recall exactly what happened to her. The twist is unexpected and quite a jolt to the senses. I don’t do spoilers so I can’t divulge it but it adds another dimension to the last quarter of the book which subtly changed the dynamic and opens the book up to a wider audience, less YA than AA - Any Age.

The main character, Lux Langley, is flawed, complex and human. She’s a paradox. There are aspects of her and her behaviour that you don’t like but come to partly understand and there are other aspects which endear her to you. The loyalty and steadfastness of her friends suggest she must be an okay kind of person, but a damaged one. Once the truth is revealed it puts everything in context. The book touches upon that state I guess we all find ourselves in at some point when something big happens and you feel you have lost your real self and long to find the real you again. It’s dealt with very well, and is very poignant and accessible. 

The writing felt honest in its rawness and openness. There was a dreamlike quality to the descriptions at times that I thought was an attempt to verbalise the inner workings of Lux’s mind. She has some recurrent synesthesiac experiences both in her dreams and in her waking world which are vivid and emphatic for the reader and offers a variation to similar fictional self discovery novels. There are other recurrent images too which provide a relevance that unfolds as the story progress. I found the snowdrops especially attractive. 

It’s a promising debut for sure. And if this writer continues to produce YA novels of this quality then we are in for a treat and it’s a good enough reason for me to give up trying to grow up!

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Munmun - Jesse Andrews

Think Borrowers for the 21st century, think Honey I Shrunk the Kids, think Downsizing, think Gulliver's Travels and you might get a vague flavour of this highly original novel from Jesse Andrews. You can enjoy it on a simple level as a tale of trying to succeed when the odds are stacked against you or you can delve a little deeper and see the work as a satirical and quite savage indictment of the age we live in.

Andrews has created a whole dystopian landscape with the city of Lossy Indica in the Yewess where size is proportionate to wealth, i.e. the smaller you are the poorer you are. However it is possible to scale up with the acquisition of more wealth - munmun. Warner and his sister Prayer are Littlepoors who feel their only hope of a safer, securer future is to scale up. But they need……munmun.

Warner is the main protagonist, a complex character and it is through him that our knowledge and understanding of the fantasy landscape is furthered. There is Dreamworld and Lifeanddeathworld. And what goes on in both is pretty mind boggling!! There are parallels with our own contemporary world though which makes the story pretty chilling at times. 

Whilst the author and the setting are American and many of the references are culturally and socially applicable to that nation there are many universal observances here that can resonate with an international audience. It is an inventive and witty book. Andrews has created a unique vernacular by spelling out acronyms and fusing words together, creating verbs from nouns - US becomes Yewess, byanychance, backyarding! Genius! and I haven’t used the best ones as examples for I would consider that to be a spoiler! And then there’s the title itself! But if you love words and word play this aspect of the book will appeal.

I suspect this may be a Marmite book. I can kind of get that it will too much for some people and I’ve already seen some reviews that are calling it ‘weird’.  But those who stick with it and allow themselves and their imaginations to become enveloped by this world will delight in the unusual story and the perceptive observations of  our current society that are given an almost cartoon like or caricatured visual word treatment. I loved it! But then I’m weird!!

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

An Ocean of Minutes - Thea Lim - Blog Tour

Today it is my very great pleasure to take my turn on the Blog Tour for Thea Lim's distinguished and thought provoking debut novel, An Ocean of Minutes.

Of the book David Charirandy says, 'An Ocean of Minutes offers that rare combination of a provocative speculative setting, masterfully elegant writing, and a story that moves and haunts long after the last page. Thea Lim is an enormously talented writer.'

Publishers Weekly says, 'Lim's enthralling novel succeeds on every level: as a love story, an imaginative thriller, and a dystopian narrative.'

And I say.......

I was temporarily thrown by this novel for in most of my dystopian fiction adventures there seems to be a futuristic approach. It’s not always a far distant future to be fair, maybe just a decade or two,  but in Thea Lim’s novel of time travel the travelling is done from one ‘present’ past to another ‘future’ past. I found that initially unsettling. Perhaps that’s because of my age! But as unsettling as it was it was also an intriguing and original premise begging me to read on.

Polly and Frank are a couple living in 1980, a dystopian 1980, when a pandemic hits the country. Frank succumbs to the virus and the only way they can see to save him and their relationship is for Polly to time travel. It sounds far fetched? Yes, but when you’re immersed in the novel it doesn’t seem so. The deal is that if Polly agrees to work for a company  and travel into a 1993 future they will fund the life saving treatment Frank needs in his 1980’s present. The catch is she can only travel forwards in time but not backwards.They vow to try and find each other in twelve years time.

This is an ambitious and complex novel. It’s definitely a story that would benefit from further readings which I believe suggests a book of depth ad integrity. The writing is lyrical in places, yet informative in others and flows as naturally as the passing of the time it describes. The characters are well drawn and believable. Even the ‘B’ characters are developed rather than just functional. You find yourself wanting to know what happens to them as well as the main protagonists.  

The protocols and bureaucracy of the time travel company TimeRaiser offeres an almost Kafka like narrative as Polly tries to navigate her way through the rules and regulations. The ‘future’ Polly finds herself in gives rise to considerations about class structure but the novel encourages us to consider love and time, the relationship between them, about memory and the preservation of memories and their place within time. Is time timeless?

I found the ending unbelievably poignant and sad yet inevitable for,-  *cliche alert* - ‘time waits for no man’ and that curious desire many of us have  to cling on to a particularly beautiful past and make it an enduring present is as far from our reach as, say, time travel!!
The story also much to say about grief and loss and how individuals deal with it. How that resonates with the reader may depend on experience. It certainly struck a chord with me and enhanced my appreciation of the book.

It’s a book that will stay in your head long after you close it. It provokes so many thoughts and considerations. My thanks to Ana McLaughlin at Quercus Books via Bookbridgr for the opportunity to read this elegant and emotional story.

Now let's meet Thea.......

Thea Lim’s writing has been published by the Southampton Review, The Guardian, Salon and others, and she has received multiple awards and fellowships for her work, including artists’ grants from the Canada Council for the Arts. She holds an MFA from the University of Houston and she previously served as nonfiction editor at Gulf Coast.

Thea grew up in Singapore and lives in Toronto with her family.


Having read the book and finding myself absorbed and captivated by the premise I had some questions for Thea.

I've just finished your wonderful novel An Ocean of Minutes. I'm going to jump right in and ask you, do you think time travel will be possible one day? 

Maybe, but I hope not; I don’t think it’s a healthy technology for humanity to possess! Just the thought of Twitter introducing an “edit” feature gives me pause.

I ask that first because I wondered whether that was the starting point for the story? Was it your intention to write a book about time travel or did the idea present itself because of the circumstances, i.e. the pandemic and a solution for Polly and Frank and their love story and maybe the effects of time on a relationship?

Believe it or not, neither time travel, nor the pandemic, nor the love story was my starting point. My ideas for stories usually start with an emotional situation i.e. a set of feelings, rather than a plot or setting. (Note: I would not recommend this, it makes things tricky!) I was thinking about grief: how ubiquitous and chronic it is, despite how little we speak of it. I wanted to write a novel about grief, but to do so I had to make grief exciting (also tricky). I started thinking about how people in mourning are stuck in time – they can’t move forward. I decided to actually strand someone in time, and suddenly, I was writing a time travel novel. 

I found your writing engrossing. There were times I found it was almost Kafkaesque particularly where poor Polly tried to find her way though the bureaucracy of TimeRaiser. Was the creation of this company and their protocols difficult to plot? Did you use any contemporary company research to assist you?

My polestar in the creation of TimeRaiser was that I did not want to write a scheming, malicious evil empire. I was more interested in how much human suffering is caused by incompetence, thoughtlessness, and neglect; harm by absence instead of design. So that gave me a clear schematic to follow. I also read many accounts of migrant work, and took details from places like China’s FoxConn Factories, Canada’s tomato farms, and Dubai’s construction sites. Some aspects – like having to pay for your own tools – were taken from my own experiences of work, which I’m extremely fortunate to say were never near as bad as the Journeymen’s. 

Polly and Frank are the pivotal characters and I thought they were very well observed. I think most people could find something of themselves in them which draws the reader in. Some writers claim that the creation of characters is sometimes taken out of their hands and the characters end up creating themselves almost and the writer’s job is to simply describe them. Was this the case with Polly and Frank? 

To an extent! I used the plot to decide who they were. For example, I had to ask myself what kind of person would do what Polly did? That line of questioning lead me to write her as someone both optimistic and determined, practical and romantic. The characters Norberto, Baird and Cookie were straightforward to write once it occurred to me to use them as mirrors for Polly – some aspect of their lives reflected back a version of Polly’s struggle. Frank was actually the hardest to write. Polly is so close-mouthed, and the story is told through her point of view, so I couldn’t always see Frank clearly. It was not until my editors pushed me to add more flashback chapters (the chapter where Frank meets Chad, and the chapter where Frank’s mother throws an anniversary party) that he solidified. 

An Ocean of Minutes is an ambitious work conceptually. I found it fascinating that Polly time travelled to a year that was her future but is already in our past. Was there ever an inclination to set the story in a future we've not experienced yet? Or is the real point that the numbers don't mean anything? It's what actually happens in time, past, present and future,  that really counts? 

What a beautiful question! I’ve talked elsewhere about the fact that I set it in the past because I wanted to suggest to readers that the treatment of the Journeymen is something that’s already happening, rather than something that’s going to happen. But I love the idea that the past setting somehow suggests that dates don’t matter as much as our experiences. Polly’s physical quest is to find Frank, but her metaphysical quest is to “return to the present,” in that her obsession with finding her lost lover has her living in the past. 

The novel is also a consummate love story. The question that springs to my mind is how many of us would do what Polly did for someone she loved? The assurances of TimeRaiser seemed so nebulous and uncertain. I'm going to ask it! Would you do what Polly did?!

When I was 23, maybe! Now I have a two-year-old and I’d have to think twice about taking her into an unknown future to save my spouse. It’s so distressing that every day, people in our world have to make such choices – not to travel into the future (ha) but to leave their spouses and children or split their families, in search of safety. 

I found the ideas about time resonated quite forcefully with me. I'm a bit like Frank and hang on to artefacts that mark an event, ticket stubs etc. For me it's an attempt to hang on to something, a moment in time I know I can never have again. I want a trophy lest I forget! I've always seen time and memory as close relations. And that seemed ever more pertinent especially towards the conclusion of the book. I found that heartbreaking to read in some respects and I wondered if it was difficult to write, emotionally? 

The truth is that writing was perhaps a way of disassociating from such emotions, just as you hear stories of people in conflict zones filming terrible scenes, in order to manage what’s around them. Creating an artifact out of what haunts us is a means to quarantine it. Does this mean I offloaded my heartbreak onto the reader? Uh oh. 

I found the ending unbelievably sad but inevitable. To go anywhere else might have compromised the integrity of the story. But was there ever a temptation to go for the fairy tale happy ending?

No, not at all. (What a jerk!) That was the one thing I knew from the start. I wanted to (spoiler!) write about how one might survive the loss of a love: what coping mechanisms do we use?; how might they be necessary yet counterproductive?; how do people go on every day, when everyone has lost someone they love? Earlier versions were actually about a mother and child, but because I knew I wanted to talk about the health of letting go, that seemed a little heartless in the context of losing a child.  

How do you approach your writing? By that I am wondering if you have a special place, special time, any special routines and rituals? 

I used to always write in the morning, before I checked my phone or email, and only ever in my home office. But now I have a toddler (and had to turn my office into a nursery) so I’ve had to become a lot more flexible! 

I know that being an avid reader is almost compulsory for a writer so a question I always ask is if you can remember the first book you read that moved you to tears, if any?

I’m not sure about the first book, but rereading Othello as an adult I was so moved by what I didn’t notice as a teen: how tragically trapped Othello was by his desire to be seen (a very modern idea!), how they exploited his desire to control his own story.

And finally what can we expect in the future from you? Do you have another novel in the pipeline?

I’ve been working on something about a grandmother who runs an unlicensed cab company (maybe set in a Neuromancer-like sprawl city), but I’m superstitious and can’t say more! 

My thanks to Thea for her detailed and excellent answers. I found myself thinking of a host more questions!

I am but one stop upon this blog tour. Do take some time and check out what the other excellent bloggers have to say about this enthralling story.

Monday, 2 July 2018

A Necessary Murder - M.J. Tjia

A provocative title if ever there was one ? Especially for those who believe that all murder is unnecessary! What better way to lure a reader in? 

An historical whodunnit that had me thinking of Mr. Whicher at times and E.C.R. Lorac at others, the reader is whisked into a world of oriental Victorian deception and murder. Quite a diverse recipe for crime aficionados. This is the second book to feature Heloise Chancey. I’ve not read the first and whilst this does work as a standalone I feel the experience would have been enhanced by familiarity with the first tale. I sometimes found I had to re read parts to sort out the various relationships in my head that may have been introduced in the first story. (Note to self, add She Be Damned to the ‘Want to Read’ list.) Ms. Chancey is a courtesan and a detective! Not a combination I’ve come across so far in my crime reading but it makes for a good one!

Sub plots and red herrings abound as we are plunged into some brutal murders that may or may not be connected with aspects of Heloise’s past. The historical details appear well researched and authentic and it is easy for the reader to conjure the sights and sounds of two very different social strata of 1863 London. Heloise is a gutsy lady but she never loses touch with her femininity. It’s just as well for that does add a little light relief in what might otherwise be a dark and violent tale. 

The final denouement was largely unexpected although in retrospect the clues were there. I love it when that happens!! It’s a successful fusion of cultures which certainly made me think about Victorian London beyond the mere Dickensian. 

I’m sure that’s not the last of Heloise Chancey? Why stop at two stories?! I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the next one that’s for sure! My thanks to Legend Press for the opportunity to read this intriguing mystery.