Friday 24 February 2017

A Conversation with Sam Blake

Sam Blake is a pseudonym for Vanessa Fox O'Loughlin, the founder of The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and the hugely popular national writing resources website She is Ireland's leading literary scout who has assisted many award winning and bestselling authors to publication. Vanessa has been writing fiction since her husband set sail across the Atlantic for eight weeks and she had an idea for a book.

For fans of Alex Barclay and Niamh O'Connor, Little Bones introduces Detective Cathy Connolly, a bright young heroine set to take the world of crime fiction by storm. The book has been shortlisted for the Bord Gais Energy Irish book awards crime novel of the year award. No.1 Irish bestseller for eight weeks. Bestselling Irish crime debut of 2016.

Twenty-four-year-old Garda Cathy Connolly might be a fearless kick-boxing champion but when she discovers a baby's bones concealed in the hem of a wedding dress, the case becomes personal.

For artist Zoe Grant, the bones are another mysterious twist in her mother's disappearance. Then her grandmother, head of the Grant Valentine department store empire is found dead, and a trail of secrets is uncovered that threatens to shake a dynasty.

It's always a delight when fiction provides women with depth and personality . . . a deliberately paced, character driver mystery coupled with some genuinely creepy moments and labyrinthine twists makes Little Bones a worthwhile summer read. - The Irish Times

In a story that moves from London's East End to the Las Vegas mafia, one thing is certain - for Cat, life will never be the same again. We'd like to thank Sam, for taking part in A Conversation With...and wish her much success with Little Bones, the first of an exciting new crime series.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I started writing in 1999 when my husband went sailing across the Atlantic for 8 weeks and I had an idea for a book – obviously I was convinced it was going to be a bestseller, so I sent it out to everyone everywhere, and it was duly rejected by everyone, everywhere. It really wasn’t great – the opening chapter had no dialogue because I wasn’t confident about writing it, and it focused on a Doctor who was returning to Dublin to commit suicide but who was dead for the entire book. I didn’t know about rewriting then!

Despite being whole heartedly rejected, the bug had bitten and I kept going – by book 3 I was getting better and got interest from a publisher, but after some time working on it, that publisher was taken over by a bigger company who decided not to publish any more fiction in Ireland.

While all this was happening I’d realised I needed to know more about writing. I couldn’t get to workshops or courses because by then I had two small children and my husband worked very irregular hours as a member of the Irish police force, so I decided to organise my own. I had friends who were authors who helped connect me and I’d been working in corporate event management so it was easy to bring those things together. I wanted to hear from bestselling authors and I wanted one day intensive workshops, so I set up Inkwell and it turned out that lots of other people needed those things too!

Inkwell because internationally successful and led me to create Writing; ie – one of Europe’s leading writing resources websites and the world’s only national one – all the time I was learning and making connections and writing myself. Then one day I was having coffee with one of the agents I scout for, Simon Trewin, and we realised that although I’d known him for several years, I’d forgotten to mention that I wrote books too (I sort of assumed he knew) He wanted to see Little Bones immediately and hounded me to send it to him that weekend. It had been in a drawer for a while and I didn’t want to send until I’d read it over again  - in case it was totally awful and I needed to fix any terrible bits –but  thankfully there weren’t any and bizarrely I’d totally forgotten what happened at the end. I’d done what I’m always telling authors to do – put the book away and come back to it, as Jonathan Stroud said in one of my workshops, with a reader’s eyes rather than a writer’s eyes. Thankfully Simon loved it and so did Mark Smith in Bonnier.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I love writing more than anything – I’m on both sides of the publishing fence so I understand lots about the business side, but being able to turn on my headphones, leave my businesses behind and get into a fictional world is the best thing ever. It also gives me huge insight into the writer’s experience – that sounds obvious but understanding being a writer helps me help the writers myself and my team at Inkwell work with.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Totally – she’s in the next Cat Connolly book though, so I can’t say anything about her here!

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I’m really interested in characters, their backstories and motivation – what makes them the way they are, so I spent a lot of time getting that right. To understand Tony’s character in Little Bones, I worked out who his parents were, where he’d lived as a child, where he went to school , who his friends were. I needed to know how Boston legal families worked and what impact coming from a half Jewish family would have had on him – and I found a fabulous lawyer in Boston who was writing a thesis on exactly that. I want to feel like my characters are real people who live down the road. Tony’s mother is brilliant – she had to be cut from an early draft though because she wasn’t in the slightest bit part of the story and she kept trying to take over (she’s very bossy!)

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I can write anywhere but I need constant interaction to feed my writing mind – I love writing where we holiday every year, in Helford Passage, in Cornwall. There are loads of people coming and going and everyone has a story – as well as that, it’s an idyllic location where my whole family are happy to leave me undisturbed to write as they all have plenty to do!

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, it is quite brilliant in every possible way – it’s multi layered, a thriller, a romance, and it has some incredible twists you do NOT see coming.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Just keep writing – the best advice I was every given by author Sarah Webb very early on in my writing life. I’d say too, finish your book and keep writing, rewriting and writing more – it’s the only way you will find your own voice and learn the craft.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m currently writing the third book in the Cat Connolly series which is very exciting. I love writing Cat, she feels like one of those best friends you have that live on the other side of the world, so you don’t see them often, but you know them really well.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I love Maria Merryweather in Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse. It’s a fabulous fairytale of a book that I read when I was very young and can still vividly remember scenes from. I think I’ve always wanted to be her! (I also love Jack Reacher but for different reasons!)

Thank you to Bonnier Zaffre for the review copy.

Follow Sam on Twitter: @samblakebooks

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Wait for me, Jack by Addison Jones

Book Review by Greenacre Writer, Carol Sampson

Wait for me, Jack is the latest novel by Addison Jones which follows Milly and Jack through a sixty year span of their marriage.

We first meet them (then known as Billie and Jacko) in 1950 living and working in San Francisco, both looking for excitement and adventure; both looking for a better life than that of their parents.

Billie at 21 has left behind her life in the valley and “can almost see the bridge she’s burned. She can smell it. A thrilling, charred smell.She is working as a secretary at Perkins Petroleum Products and meets Jacko on his first day there as a copywriter.

Jacko – “His dad was Jack; he is not, and never will be” – doesn’t like anything about his work, or the people, at Perkins Petroleum. At 24 he cannot see himself stuck in a dead end job for years on end and considers not returning after lunch. He does return and is introduced to Billie.

She thinks he is cocky and “reminds her a little of James Dean” and Jacko finds Billie sexy with hair “just like Marilyn Monroe”.  

Desperate to better himself and, with clear aspirations for his future, Jacko has no desire to date any girl from the valleys. When, at the end of the working day, he asks Billie out to dinner he detects “something unpleasantly familiar” about her and cannot work out quite what it is but after some reflection on her appearance and clothing, convinces himself there is nothing wrong with her.

Billie declines Jacko’s offer of dinner, then changes her mind. The initial attraction between these two young people, desperate to escape their simple upbringing, is strong. Life for them is unpredictable, exciting and full of promises.
The story then catapults to 2014. Somewhere along the way Billie has become Milly and Jacko is now Jack. They are dealing with the challenges that inevitably come with old age, where illness and senility has slowly crept up on them. They are now well into their 80’s where they muddle along through the day, each irritated by the other.

Jack had “been in a bad mood for so long, he couldn’t remember not wanting to strangle his wife,’ and Milly knew “her husband was so lazy, so selfish”. Despite this, they both knew they loved each other.

By the end of the second chapter I was captivated and already felt I knew Jack and Milly. I could not wait to find out what had happened in the intervening years, taking them from the first flush of love to the descent of old age.
The story works backwards from 2014, told from both Milly’s and Jack’s perspective, to when they first met in 1950.  I wondered the reasoning for not working forward chronologically but as the story progressed I found it fascinating to see who they were before discovering some time later the events that had defined their characters. The story follows their joys and the disappointments and how their characters change in response to these experiences.

Addison Jones has told the story with sensitivity and understanding along with some thoughtful insights, such as Jack’s selfish realisation that very few would miss him when he was gone and Milly’s more pragmatic view that marriage requires a lot of hours.

There is humour too. Jack refers to Milly’s sightings of imaginary people in the house as “urinary infection hallucinations” and makes the observation that “those pillow lines used to last a minute – now sometimes she kept them till lunch”.

There is a lovely descriptive piece when jack sums up his life so far – now in his early 40’s - in an imaginary abstract painting, revealing his emotions. “black smudges, grey at the edges” when his dad and Glen Miller died. College – an exciting time with wonderful new experiences - were “an alizarin crimson explosion, running vertically right off the canvas. Yards and yards of Lizbeth’s breasts”. There are many superbly written pieces throughout the novel.

Jones has skilfully conveyed how life drifts from one experience to the next, changing us along the way. It shows the reality of life and the love that often runs so deep that it may appear non-existent but is still there, humming in the background. The story also shows that despite being married and having a family there are times when loneliness can be acute.

Wait for me, Jack is a very entertaining and thought provoking novel which many will find resonates, in part at least, with their own lives. It explores the roles each partner plays in the family unit in an effort to keep it whole and the sacrifices and selfishness that are individual to each.
A very enjoyable read.

Thank you to Sandstone Press for the review copy

You can follow Addison on Twitter: @cynthiarogerson

Monday 20 February 2017

Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

He’s sitting opposite me, arms folded, legs stretched out beneath the table. Waiting. In this windowless box it’s impossible to tell how much time has passed. Still, I can’t look at him, not yet, so I focus just below his eyes, where the dark shadows lie. My heart’s racing, a voice in my head screams, run, just run. I want to, I surely do, but I can’t. For all that’s gone down, someone has to pay. It’s time for me to pony up.
‘You lookin’ at me now? Good. So answer the question.’

Lori Anderson knows her life depends on how good her answers are. Convincing ‘him’ is another problem.

From the word go, Deep Down Dead grips readers with its adrenalin-packed plot. Steph Broadribb’s digs into the topsy-turvy world of a female bounty hunter; her heroine is a single mother of a nine-year-old daughter with cancer. If she wants Dakota’s much-needed treatment to continue, she has to act fast. She’s three months behind with the payment, so time’s running out. There is one job that can settle the arrears, but the one she would avoid most. No sooner has she seen the brief than she realises she should walk away. But, what other choice does she have to find $15,000 within a week?

Wrestling with emotions, she prepares the journey to West Virginia with one heavy burden in mind: she must bring Dakota with her to pick up JT. The last time she saw him was ten years ago, on a bloody night that makes Lori swear never to fire a gun ever again in her life. What’s more, JT is far from being a stranger: he was her mentor and once a lover.

What seems to be a calculated-risk job with the big reward turns into a huge calamity. Moments after she gets Dakota out of a farmhouse where he’s been kept, police are after him for three homicide charges. The games changes when Dakota is kidnapped shortly afterwards. Defying her boss to hand over JT to the police, Lori knows that he’s her ticket to save Dakota. Yet she learns that it’s not just an exchange; the same people who take away her daughter will kill JT, as soon as they get proof of the crime. Can she let that happen?

Broadribb’s training as a bounty hunter no doubt has inspired this smashing debut novel. Good looking and savvy, Lori is not an ordinary working momma; her profession scorns the gender stereotype with a lucid portrayal of difficulties and dilemmas faced by every mother.  
There’s no holding back in exposing Lori’s vulnerability as a victim of childhood abuse and an erstwhile battered wife. Broadribb paces Lori’s opening of her Pandora’s Box well amidst the disastrous scenes filled with kick-ass actions and guilt in every turn. The ebb and flow of her old feelings to JT surge in a fleeting moment that feel like a necessity to move forward the plot than a romance re-told. It’s little surprise that JT becomes an unprecedented sidekick despite her golden rule to never trust anyone. Yet shadowing by the thoughts of how she feels about Dakota in the hands of her captors, is the deeper mess of the night ten years ago.  
In creating Lori Broadribb has done a great job in her meticulous study of characters. It’s noticeable that Lori has lived in Broadribb’s head long enough before being morphed into the imperfect but resourceful girl. For Lori’s viewpoint is clear and consistent throughout, although she ought to mull things in her mind less. I hope in the next book there’ll be more about JT in his own voice.
I take a sip of the raspberry-flavoured water. Look up, and meet the gaze of the man sitting opposite me. It’s the first time I’ve looked at him since I began to tell my story. ‘That’s it. You know the rest. I called you, you came here, we’re talking.
Special Agent Monroe nods. ‘I believe you. Sounds a hell of a three days.’
‘Sure was. Do we have a deal?’

Broadribb is one ‘hell’ of a writer to watch for. I am looking forward to reading the Deep Down Trouble, being excited for Lori’s next mission and how she has to corroborate with the authority. Has she more enemies? Make or break with JT? Will Monroe be a sidekick?

Thank you to Orenda Books for the review copy.

Follow Steph on Twitter: @crimethrillgirl

Saturday 18 February 2017

A Conversation With Dreda Say Mitchell

Dreda Say Mitchell was born and bred in the East End of London, Mitchell has seen it all from the inside. After a string of jobs as a waitress, chambermaid and catering assistant she realised her dream of becoming a teacher. During this time she saw a new generation of East Enders grappling with the same problems she had but in an even more violent and unforgiving world. She has worked as an education consultant and a teacher in both primary and secondary schools. She has a degree in African history from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and a MA in Education Studies. Her first novel, Running Hot, was published in 2004 by the Maia Press and won the Crime Writers’ Association’s John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for best first novel. Dreda's books are inspired by the gritty, tough and criminal world she grew up in. She still lives in London's East End. In 2016, she became a Reading Ambassador for the Reading Agency to promote literacy and libraries. She is also the author of the Quick Reads, One False Move.

She loves to travel, with her hot feet taking her as far a field as Cambodia and Laos to the Lebanon and Ethiopia. She especially loves to relax in Grenada where her family are from. She continues to live in east London with her partner, Tony.

The second novel in The Flesh and Blood Trilogy, from the iconic author of London’s East End, following one family over forty years on an East London estate. Blood Mother goes back to the 70s to tell the next story.

An extremely well written fast-moving chase thriller, violent yet at the same time intelligently confronting the issues of loyalties and betrayals inevitably raised by undercover activities. Mitchell improves with every book                                                                                  - The Times

1970s London has stopped swinging, but it's not staying still. Babs thought she had all the world ahead of her. Then she got pregnant and the father did a runner. Salvation comes in the form of a man who'll look after her. Or so she thinks. But Stan Miller is the devil in disguise...and over the next twenty years, Babs will have reason to regret she ever met him. Can she protect her family - or will he get the better of her? Blood Mother is the second thrilling book in the Flesh and Blood series, capturing a world very different from today but where some things still hold true: be careful what you wish for, and watch out for who you trust...

We'd like to thank Dreda for taking part in A Conversation's really interesting hearing how she became a writer and why she writes about 'her people'. We look forward to hearing more about her adventures as Reading Ambassador for the Reading Agency, her experiences of writing about about diverse characters and, we wish Dreda much success in the future.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I loved reading and hearing stories when I was a kid, but I wasn’t one of those writers who dreamed of being a writer as a child. I decided to write in response to the world around me and at the time I wanted to use the written word to try and figure out how I ended up at university and a teacher while many of the young men I grew up with had ended up in prison…and so the CWA John Creasey Dagger award-winner, Running Hot was born. I kickstarted my writing career by going on a creative writing course three years on I’d completed my debut novel. What a feeling!

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I’m a storyteller. I write about things that matter to me. That’s one of the things that makes writing so brill is that you can use it as a way to try to figure out the world your living in. As a way to highlight to the world the issues that matter to you. So, for example, Geezer Girls takes the reader smack bang into the horror that can be the care system, my latest Blood Mother drags us back to the 1970s when people had high hopes of the promise of living on freshly built housing estates, but women’s lives were still very limited. As well as making the story as entertaining as possible I adored writing about what I call, ‘my people’, the characters. It’s the people populated on the page that make a novel standout.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Well. being black, a woman, growing up an East Ender having a range of characters is very important to me. I often write about London and, as far as I’m concerned, you can’t write about our great capital city if you don’t truly reflect the different type of people who live there. I could go on and on and on about this…

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

Just finishing off the final book in my Flesh and Blood Trilogy, Blood Daughter. The Flesh and Blood series is tells the story of three generations of women from one family over forty years. It hits the shelves in August. Can’t wait….

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I read so many books when I was young that it would be so hard to choose, but my mum would send me and my siblings off to Whitechapel Library. I will never forget the day I stumbled across the crime novels of African American writer Chester Himes and was transported back to an age when Harlem was hip, cool and, of course, dangerous. The standout leads are two cops called Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones. Dedicated to their jobs but as their nicknames suggest they have their own ways and style about getting to the truth.

Blood Mother is published by Hodder Paperbacks

Follow Dreda on twitter: @DredaMitchell