Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Tin Man
By Sarah Winman
Published by Tinder Press (27 July 2017)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher.


Publisher's description
It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things.
And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael,
who are inseparable.
And the boys become men,
and then Annie walks into their lives,
and it changes nothing and everything.

My verdict
Tin Man is only a short book but it packs a powerful punch and is filled with emotion. It's packaged beautifully, inside and out.

This book was clearly written to be read slowly and savoured at every sentence - with its stunning poetic writing and the compelling haunting tale. It's a book about love, loss, loneliness, desire, friendships, sexuality and relationships. There are no speech marks, which means all of the writing flows into one, taking you on a journey through the characters' lives.

It's a melancholy book, though it made me smile in places, and certainly made me think - about what's important in life and how to hold on to those friendships that mean the most. I cared about each of the characters, and they seemed very real. I felt as if I knew them by the end - their hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes.

I don't think Tin Man will appeal to everyone, but I think many people will be reaching for the tissues. I think it helps if you know what to expect before you dive inside. This isn't a book of action or fast-paced plotting. This is very much a book about thoughts and emotions, how different people belong together and how the right or wrong choices can influence our future.

A highly moving book about that 'what might have been' feeling that touches so many people.

Monday, 30 October 2017

MY PUBLISHING LIFE with Jonathan Ruppin

Welcome to my latest MY PUBLISHING LIFE feature, an interview with a literary agent, publisher, publicist or editor about their publishing career to date. Some serious questions, and some just for fun!


Today I'm delighted to welcome 

JONATHAN RUPPIN

Founder (& Literary Agent)
of
The Ruppin Agency



What and when was your first job in publishing?
A Christmas temp at Dillons – a chain swallowed by Waterstones at the end of the 90s, for those too young to remember it. I got called up for jury service the week I was supposed to start, but the manager was patient enough to let me start a few days late, and I loved it. I was running the Fiction section by New Year.
Booksellers are wonderful people. It’s the only job – apart from perhaps librarian or primary school teacher – where people can ask you a question about literally anything and expect you to know what they’re talking about.
How long have you been working in your current job/role?
The agency launched at the beginning of September although it was in the works for a long time before. 

I am sure your inbox is overflowing with submissions. What is most likely to grab your attention at present?
The submissions that have stood out for me so far have had scope, ambition, boldness of imagination. I want something that resonates, that lives beyond the page. I don’t just want novels with plot and character or non-fiction that’s well-informed – I want a perspective on life, on the world around us.
I’d really like to find fiction that has something to say about the state of society today. British fiction can be very stuck in the past, and at a time when Brexit has shown many of us that we live alongside people whose lives we know little about, there’s an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that people do explore the world vicariously through fiction. Non-fiction projects that put their topic in the context of the human experience would be very welcome too.
I’m building contacts to try to find more writing from underrepresented voices – working-class, BAME, LGBT, writers with disabilities, writers from beyond the book world’s south-east bubble – many of whom can offer new perspectives, although I certainly wouldn’t turn down a talented writer who happened to come from a background similar to my own. 

Which qualifications/life skills/experience have helped you get to where you are today?
I’ve done a lot of different things in the book world. My retail experience covers the shopfloor, head office and online for indies and chains. I’ve bought for just about every adult trade category and I’ve done events and marketing and social media. I’ve worked for agents and a publisher and a digital publishing start-up. I’ve interviewed authors on the stage and the page, stood on committees for a whole range of literary organisations, written and edited, judged awards, consulted hither and yon, popped up all over the trade and national press.
But most of all, I’ve spent over two decades reading new titles constantly and watching the way every category of trade publishing had ebbed and flowed, flourished, folded and reinvented itself anew. That and the inspiration of working with and learning from so many other passionate book-lovers who’ve managed to turn their passion into a career, especially my partner, Emma. 

How do you relax after a busy working day?
Music. I don’t stream – I still believe in albums and I seem to buy as many as ever. My taste is pretty catholic, but the 70s is the decade I couldn’t do without; David Bowie is my guiding star.

What was the last book you read for pleasure?
Croatian War Nocturnal by Spomenka Štimec, translated by Sebastian Schulman. Its Croatian author is a major figure in Esperanto literature and the novella consists of poignant fictional sketches of the devastation and trauma caused by the Balkan Wars.
I’m also making my way through Know Your Place, a crowdfunded anthology of essays on British working-class life and identity by working-class writers, including Kit de Waal, Catherine O’Flynn and Andrew McMillan. 

Describe your job in 15 words or less...
Reading, networking, research, editing, email, communication, negotiation, pedantry, tea and more reading. 

What have been the highlights of your publishing life so far
The best part of my job at Foyles was looking after all the authors who came into sign their books, so I met thousands of them. I’ve also had the chance to interview a few of my favourites on stage: talking with David Mitchell about The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was about as much fun as I’ve ever had at work. Being a literary prize judge has also always been fun: it’s a chance to read dozens of new books and recommend the best to loads of people at once. 

If you could try out any other job for one day (with no limits on money, travel etc.), what would you choose?
This question seems to have brought out my inner five-year-old: a train driver. Looking out of the front window while the train races past goods yards, through valleys and over bridges would be a thrill. 

If your publishing life was a book, what would the title be?
Have You Read This? I’m always interested in what people are reading and which books they especially love, and it always gets me wondering what I can recommend. Once a bookseller, always a bookseller.


Thanks so much for taking part, Jonathan!


Look out for more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features coming soon.

Click here to read more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features.

If any literary agents, publishers, publicists or editors would like to take part, please contact me through my blog or Twitter for the full list of questions.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

MY PUBLISHING LIFE with Phoebe Morgan

Welcome to my latest MY PUBLISHING LIFE feature, an interview with a literary agent, publisher, publicist or editor about their publishing career to date. Some serious questions, and some just for fun!




Today I'm delighted to welcome 

PHOEBE MORGAN

Commissioning Editor
at
HarperCollins



What and when was your first job in publishing?
My first job in publishing was as a Publishing Assistant at Octopus Books, specialising in non-fiction. I was working across children’s and adult, and my job involved editorial and administrative duties as well as some special sales tasks. Octopus is a really lovely company and I remember being so excited on the day I got the job, as I’d had quite a few interviews by that stage and kept losing out! Getting into publishing can be hard but once you have a foot in the door it’s such a rewarding, welcoming industry. 

How long have you been working in your current job/role?
I’ve been working at HarperCollins for coming up to a year and a half, and I’ve been a Commissioning Editor for the past few months. Prior to that I was an Editor, and I now work across a range of crime, thriller, saga and women’s fiction, buying books from agents and taking them through the editorial process to publication. 

Which books have you worked on recently/are you working on?
I’m very lucky to have a wonderful list of authors including Sunday Times bestsellers Katerina Diamond, who writes crime, and Kitty Neale who writes saga. I’ve just started working on C.L Taylor’s psychological thrillers too, which get more brilliant with every book. Her latest, The Fear, will be out in 2018. The first book I acquired for HarperCollins was called Obsession by Amanda Robson, which was so much fun to work on, and the second was 99 Red Balloons by Elisabeth Carpenter which has one of the cleverest plot twists I’ve ever read. 

Which qualifications/life skills/experience have helped you get to where you are today?
I actually trained as a journalist which gave me a good grounding in the skills needed for publishing, particularly meeting tight deadlines, writing short, snappy copy and liaising with other people. I’ve also done several proof reading courses, and of course, I’m a huge reader – my Kindle is my prized possession and I think you have to read an awful lot in order to get a feel for what will and won’t sell in the competitive commercial market. I’m part of the events team for the Society of Young Publishers and that has been very helpful too; I’ve met so many wonderful, inspiring people through the SYP who have all helped to get me where I am today. 

How do you relax after a busy working day?
It can be hard to relax in my job because it does spill over into my home life because I’ve always got submissions to read and several books on the go, but to switch off I love a good drama, something like The Affair or Happy Valley. I’m a writer as well and at times, that can be relaxing – if the book is going well, that is! Otherwise, it’s essentially wine… 

What was the last book you read for pleasure?
I read and thoroughly enjoyed Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, a more literary novel about relationships, friendship and the confusion of being a young woman. I absolutely loved it from beginning to end and would highly recommend. I also devoured Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir, I Am I Am I Am, which tells the story of her seventeen brushes with death – a really fascinating read with her trademark beautiful writing style. 

Describe your job in 15 words or less...
Getting paid to read and drink lots of tea! 

What have been the highlights of your publishing life so far
Ooh, I think probably getting the job at HarperCollins, as I’d always wanted to make the move into fiction and it was just so exciting to finally do so. And acquiring my first book was a moment I’ll never forget, I went across the road with a colleague afterwards and had a celebratory glass of wine! I’m incredibly proud of all of my authors and their books and it is amazing seeing them fly up the charts and into readers’ hands. I’m also very proud of everything the SYP have achieved – I worked on our London Conference in 2016 and seeing it all come together after months of planning was brilliant. 

If you could try out any other job for one day (with no limits on money, travel etc.), what would you choose?
I’ve always wanted to see what being a lawyer would be like – but I’m essentially too lazy to spend so much time on paperwork! I’d only want to do the exciting parts, like arguing in court in an Ally McBeal-esque outfit…a bit unrealistic, I’m sure, but it always looked so much fun to build a case and convince a jury of the truth. 

If your publishing life was a book, what would the title be?

Hmm, probably something like Fake It Til You Make It – I always felt like such an imposter when I was first starting out in publishing, and it’s only recently that I’ve started to feel more confident and I think that’s a sensation a lot of people deal with too. But it is true – if you keep going at something and pretend you’re confident even when you’re not, eventually, true confidence will come.


Thanks so much for taking part, Phoebe!


Look out for more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features coming soon.

Click here to read more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features.

If any literary agents, publishers, publicists or editors would like to take part, please contact me through my blog or Twitter for the full list of questions.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Before It's Too Late by Sara Driscoll

Before It's Too Late
By Sara Driscoll
Published by Kensington Books (26 September 2017)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley.


Publisher's description
In this powerful K-9 crime thriller, FBI Special Agent Meg Jennings and her trusted search-and-rescue Labrador, Hawk, must race against the clock before a diabolical killer strikes again
Somewhere in the Washington, D.C., area, a woman lies helpless in a box. Beneath the earth. Barely breathing. Buried alive. In Quantico, the FBI receives a coded message from the woman’s abductor. He wants to play a game with them: decipher the clues, find the grave, save the girl. The FBI’s top cryptanalysts crack the code and Special Agent Meg Jennings and her K-9 partner, Hawk, scramble to the scene of the crime. Cryptic clues lead them astray and by the time they solve the puzzle, it’s too late. But the killer’s game is far from over . . .
Soon another message arrives. Another victim is taken, and the deadly pattern is repeated—again and again. Each kidnapping triggers another desperate race against time, each with the possibility of another senseless death. That’s when Meg decides to try something drastic. Break the Bureau’s protocol. Bring in her brilliant sister, Cara, a genius at word games, to decipher the kidnapper’s twisted clues. Meg knows she’s risking her career to do it, but she’s determined not to let one more person die under her and Hawk’s watch. If the plan fails, it could bite them in the end. And if it leads to the killer, it could bury them forever . . .

My verdict
I loved Lone Wolf, Sara Driscoll's first FBI K9 crime thriller. I found that to be a fast-paced read and a great start to the series. I couldn't put Before It's Too Late down either.

This is an emotional book from the outset. A woman is buried alive somewhere in Washington, D.C. On receiving a coded message, Special Agent Meg Jenning and her dog Hawk have a race against the clock to find the victim, but unfortunately it's too late. Then another woman goes missing and another coded message arrives...

Before It's Too Late is a great lesson in pacing and plotting. It's well-researched too, though the references to American history did pass me by - I'm not great on British history, let alone US history - but that didn't detract from the plot at all. The book is filled with thrills, action and suspense, and I'm sure I barely took a breath for most of it.

This crime thriller has plenty of heart, featuring some great teamwork, not just between the human characters but also between the humans and their canine partners (especially Meg with Hawk, her Labrador). So pleased that helpful journalist McCord back is back - journalists are often depicted very negatively in crime fiction. Love the return of Todd, Meg's firefighter boyfriend, too.

You get to know a lot about Meg's family life and background - she even involves her sister Cara (a whizz at codes and puzzles), which puts Meg's career on the line. As she embarks on this cat-and-mouse chase, she realises this is personal - and her past is coming back to haunt her.

While I'm sure Before It's Too Late could be read as a standalone, I still think it's a good idea to read Lone Wolf first - partly because you'll be missing out on another good book if you don't. This is turning out to be a favourite series of mine - and I can't wait for the next book!

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Witch Dust by Marilyn Messik

Witch Dust
By Marilyn Messik
Published by Matador (12 June 2017)
I received a copy from the author.


Publisher's description
A red gash of a mouth rimmed with impossibly tiny, razor-sharp teeth yawned wide, then swift as a snake, she bent and struck…
For Sandra, daughter of illusionists, Adam and Ophelia, life’s never been run of the mill! But when Adam’s wandering eye lights on yet another conquest, it proves a chorus girl too far, and Sandra’s caught in the reverberations of her parents acrimonious parting. Coerced into restoring her depressed Mother to the bosom of a family Sandra never knew existed, she’s sucked into a situation that even for her is unnerving.
From being without a single relative, she suddenly acquires several she’d rather do without, and learns a few home truths she’d prefer not to know. Ophelia, it appears, has not been entirely honest about any number of things. There’s no doubt in Sandra’s mind, the sooner she puts as much distance as possible between herself, her newly discovered nearest and dearest, their peculiar tendencies and their failing hotel business, the happier she’s going to be.
Dire straits call for desperate measures and Sandra reluctantly rises to the occasion. A hanged housemaid, a fly-on-the-wall documentary, The Psychic Society and a quasi co-operative journalist all handled correctly should, she reckons, get the family business up and running, which will allow her to do the same – as fast as she can, and in the opposite direction. Things unfortunately move swiftly from bad to farce and then get a hell of a lot darker. One moment Sandra’s struggling to save the family’s income, the next, she’s battling to save their lives. Turns out, some darknesses, once buried, are best left undisturbed.

My verdict
Witch Dust was great fun to read. It's about a hotel in financial crisis, a completely unconventional upbringing and, literally, life-changing family secrets.

Sandra has very dysfunctional parents - there's no other way to describe them. But it's only when she agrees to help her mother, Ophelia, recover from depression that she discovers her parents are just the tip of a very wobbly iceberg. When her mother leads her to a failing hotel filled with eccentric relatives (a family Sandra didn't even know existed), Sandra soon learns that there's no such thing as 'normal'.

This book is a combination of Bewitched and Harry Potter, filled with magic, as Sandra discovers her family's talents - and some of her own. I laughed my way through most of it - plenty of dark humour in here. And the characters were so brilliantly described that they felt very real - whether I grew to love them or hate them. I think this book cast a spell on me as I raced through most of it, loving the rollercoaster story and the diversity of the people in it. I found myself willing good to win the battle against evil yet again.

Witch Dust is certainly something a little different. A great Halloween read, especially if you love paranormal and fantasy.

Monday, 23 October 2017

MY PUBLISHING LIFE with Katherine Sunderland

Welcome to my latest MY PUBLISHING LIFE feature, an interview with a literary agent, publisher, publicist or editor about their publishing career to date. Some serious questions, and some just for fun!



Today I'm delighted to welcome 

KATHERINE SUNDERLAND

Publicity, marketing and social media assistant
at
Oldcastle Books/No Exit Press



What and when was your first job in publishing?
This is my first job in publishing! I have been a book blogger for just over 18 months and then following conversations with friends about my reviews and recommendations- and a life long love of books- I had the idea to run author panel events in Harpenden. When I started looking for authors to come along and take part, I contacted Oldcastle Books as they are also based in Harpenden. They were incredibly supportive, not only by providing a few authors but also with helpful tips, advice and suggestions as I put together my first few events. From then on, we have stayed in contact and this summer I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to become part of the team, focussing on the publicity and marketing for their No Exit Press titles. 
How long have you been working in your current job/role?
I am totally brand new to this role and job! I have only officially started working here since the beginning of September! 

Which books have you worked on recently/are you working on?
I have been involved with The Ashes of Berlin by Luke McCallin, The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan, Jon Michelet’s The Frozen Woman and Robert B Parker’s Debt to Pay. Now I am looking forward to working with Leigh Russell’s tenth book in the Geraldine Steel series, Class Murder

Which qualifications/life skills/experience have helped you get to where you are today?
I have a degree in English Literature and I did work as a Secondary School English Teacher for many years before I had my family. Recently though, my only really relevant experience has been an absolute passion for books and being a voracious reader! I’m sure writing reviews on my blogs and having a good understanding of social media has been an advantage. Book blogging also means that I’m very aware of the latest titles making headlines which are creating a buzz in the book blogging community. 

How do you relax after a busy working day?
Reading! Even after a day of talking and thinking about books, all I really want to do is get back to my current read! I usually have something to prepare for my blog or next author event and I also spend quite a lot of time on twitter too…..! 

What was the last book you read for pleasure?
I have just finished The Doll House by Phoebe Morgan which I highly recommend and I loved Maria on the Moon which was published by Orenda Books this September. 

Describe your job in 15 words or less...
Planning and promoting our authors and up and coming titles, arranging events and author appearances at writing festivals. 

What have been the highlights of your publishing life so far
Interviewing Bill Beverly at Crime Fest. 
If you could try out any other job for one day (with no limits on money, travel etc.), what would you choose?
To be honest, this – my desk at No Exit Press - is where I’ve always wanted to be – working with books and authors! Perhaps the only other dream job would be living in a cottage overlooking the sea and penning the next blockbuster! 

If your publishing life was a book, what would the title be?
Just One More Page

Because that’s my catch phrase, and you never know what adventure’s coming in the next chapter!


Thanks so much for taking part, Katherine!


Look out for more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features coming soon.

Click here to read more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features.

If any literary agents, publishers, publicists or editors would like to take part, please contact me through my blog or Twitter for the full list of questions.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

BEST OF CRIME with Isabelle Grey

Welcome to my latest BEST OF CRIME feature, looking at crime writers' top picks, from their favourite author and fictional detective to their best writing tip. 



Today I'm delighted to welcome 

ISABELLE GREY


to share her BEST OF CRIME ...




... AUTHORS
Daphne du Maurier, especially for Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, both masterpieces of unreliable narration, jealousy and sexual tension. Each time I re-read Rebecca I find the second Mrs de Winter even more sinister.


... FILMS/MOVIES
All The President’s Men and its recent successor Spotlight. The first made me want to be a journalist and the second added invaluable insight to the writing of The Special Girls.


... TV DRAMAS
It’s deeply flawed, but I still loved the first season of True Detective for the range of its ambition. It used the format of long-form drama to play with chronology and point of view, had great performances and, in rural Louisiana, a brilliantly gothic backdrop.


... FICTIONAL KILLERS
Although Count Fosco stops short of actual murder in Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, he is morally responsible for the death of Anne Catherick after her escape from the asylum. A cruel and fascinating villain, he is surely a prototype for many of the charmingly psychopathic fictional killers that followed. 


... FICTIONAL DETECTIVES 
For me it will always have to be Philip Marlowe, for slang so perfect that few guessed Raymond Chandler invented it, for his cynical sense of honour, and his deep and tragic vulnerability. Even if the plots sometimes don’t make sense, I want to know what Marlowe is going to make of it all.


... MURDER WEAPONS
I wrote an episode of Midsomer Murders in which someone was pushed under the turning wheel of a watermill. I spoke on the phone to someone at a National Trust watermill to find out how such a killing might occur. He had no proof of who I really was yet enthusiastically explained in great detail how easily I could murder someone. Perhaps one of us should have been more suspicious.
    

... DEATH SCENES
Dr Watson peering through the keyhole of the door to Bartholomew Sholto’s chamber and seeing by moonlight his bloodless countenance, a ghastly, inscrutable smile upon his face, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of the Four.
  

... BLOGS/WEBSITES
The College of Policing There is a huge amount of forensic expertise online about everything from knots and maggots to cadaver dogs, but the best for lending an air of authenticity is the College of Policing website which is packed with useful procedural detail. https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/


... WRITING TIPS
Keep asking yourself why you are writing this book, why this is a book that no one else could ever write.


... WRITING SNACKS
When I first started writing it was black coffee and cigarettes, but now it is green tea and chocolate.


About ISABELLE GREY

Isabelle Grey is a crime novelist and former journalist who has also written for film, radio and television, including many popular crime dramas. Her crime series - Good Girls Don't Die, Shot Through The Heart and The Special Girls - are set in Essex and feature Detective Inspector Grace Fisher and the veteran tabloid crime reporter Ivo Sweatman. She has also written two earlier novels of psychological suspense.

Find Isabelle Grey on her website and on Twitter - @IsabelleGrey


About THE SPECIAL GIRLS



Publisher's description
'A white trainer caught the light, and Grace tracked the beam along khaki chinos and a smeared sweatshirt to short brown hair glistening with blood.'

DI Grace Fisher investigates the murder of a young doctor working at a summer camp for young girls with eating disorders. Professor Ned Chesham, the man behind the camp deep in the Essex countryside, is hailed as a miracle worker, but the murder of one of his team throws a spotlight on his work and the 'special girls' under his care.
Grace Fisher is pulled from the murder investigation to head up a cold case review involving Chesham himself. She must tread carefully: Chesham has just been knighted, he has friends in high places and any suspicion about his work risks damaging his patients even further. But the deeper Grace probes, the clearer it becomes that there is something rotten at the heart of his treatment programme.

As Grace peels away the lies that led to the young doctor's murder and uncovers the extent of the damage done to Chesham's patients, she realises how few people want her to get to the truth. Is there anyone she can trust with the horrifying secret of the special girls?

The Special Girls was published by Quercus on 6 April 2017.


Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.