Monday, 26 March 2018

The diversity of diversity...

... and why it can be a challenge to please everyone (plus a bit more about the book I’m writing).

This post of mine is based on a comment I made in a Facebook group (for bloggers and authors) in February 2018. We were discussing Lionel Shriver’s article in The Guardian (you can read the Guardian article here), which raised many questions within the group:

  • Should we only write about the life we know?
  • Or should we feel comfortable writing about a life we don’t know?
  • Should we write about topics we haven’t experienced - and may never experience?
  • Or should we only write about topics we have experienced?

I'm writing Jewish-themed crime fiction. I've never committed a murder (you'll be pleased to know), but I do keep many of the Jewish traditions and live in a Jewish area, so to some degree I am writing about what I know. Yet this doesn't make writing a novel any easier. I still need engaging characters, a great plot and a believable setting (and I'm working hard on those, if anyone's interested). It also brings up other challenges for me, as I'm explaining concepts and practices I take for granted to people who know nothing (or very little) about the religion. I'm not ready to share any details about my plot, but my main character is a journalist who is learning about the religion as she investigates some possible crimes - which helps to take the reader on a journey of discovery too.

Many people show interest when I tell them what I'm writing. Comments include:

  • 'Jewish-themed crime fiction is definitely something different.'
  • 'I don't know much about Judaism so would love to learn more.'
  • 'Get on and write it - I can't wait to read it.'

Judaism in the UK
Jews make up only 0.5% of the UK's religious groups - below Christians, those with no religion, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs in the chart. This often surprises people when I tell them this, as Jews seem so prominent within society and we are not considered by many to be an ethnic or religious 'minority group'. Many people tell me they've never met anyone Jewish before - yet, how would they know, as we look and behave like everyone else. Ignorance breeds antisemitism and racism - this is something that needs to be addressed and one of the reasons I'm writing this book. 

My book begins with an antisemitic attack by two teenagers against a Jewish woman. Most people don't realise how much antisemitism occurs in the UK and that it is on the rise, as the incidents often don't make the national news. According to the Campaign Against Antisemitism, one in three British Jews has considered leaving Britain in the past two years due to antisemitism, with concern mounting over failures to tackle antisemitic crime and antisemitism in politics. Universities throughout the country are now a breeding ground for anti-Israel and antisemitic behaviour. According to the Community Security Trust, there were 1,382 antisemitic incidents recorded nationwide in 2017 - a record level in the UK.

Diversity within Judaism
The Facebook group discussion moved on to the concept of diversity and whether it's possible to write books that appeal to diverse readers if you're not part of that group yourself. My point was that it will always be difficult to please everyone but you do have to make sure your book is well researched - and others in the discussion agreed.

Just as there is diversity in the country as a whole, there is diversity within all communities and there isn't (or shouldn't be) such thing as a stereotype. The Jewish population in the UK is an example of this. You have the ultra-religious communities, who may dress and behave in a particular way (and are most easily identified as being Jewish). You may see them in parts of London, Greater London and Manchester, for example. Then you have the non-observant Jews, who don't keep any of the traditions, but are still Jewish because it's in their blood and are proud of their Jewish heritage. And then you have everyone else in between.

My book is set in a fictional town based on where I live, with some more observant Jewish families and some who keep very little of their religion but still identify themselves as being Jewish. Despite living in a fairly Jewish area, many people around here (including us) have experienced antisemitism (some openly, some disguised and some completely shocking).

Next weekend, it is the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover), which is one of the most commonly observed festivals, even by many people who are otherwise normally non-observant. But as with all diverse groups, everyone keeps the festival in their own way - so I'll use this as an example. It's one reason why I've been busy recently and will be for another couple of weeks.

Some Jewish people observe all of the 'rules' and others observe very few - and some in between. Even where I live, members of our Synagogue observe it in different ways, at different levels of religiosity. This is a clear example of diversity within one Jewish community.

What is Pesach?
Pesach, which lasts for eight days, commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The name Pesach (Passover) comes from the miracle when God passed over the houses of the Israelites during the 10th plague  - 'Death of the First Born'. The festival has many different features. It's too complicated to explain in detail, but here's a relatively short summary:

1. We eat special foods. We eat matzah (unleavened bread) rather than bread, reminding us that the Israelites didn't have time to let their bread rise when they left Egypt in a hurry. Matzah is made from flour and water and cooked very quickly. It's flat, like a cracker. I can't say I'm a great fan of it - I think of it as edible cardboard - but other people (including my husband and Dad) like it! Pesach is more complicated than just eating Matzah though, as all of our food (other than fruit, vegetables, meat/poultry and fish) has to be specially made for Pesach - even down to cooking oil, tins of tuna, dairy foods, crisps and chocolate (no Easter eggs!) - to ensure it hasn't been in contact with bread and chametz - see point 2). Some people will just avoid bread and eat matzah during Pesach but won't change any of the other foods they eat. Everyone keeps Pesach in a way that suits them.

2. We prepare for Pesach with the ultimate spring clean. We clear our house of bread and other foods (known as chametz - pronounce the 'ch' as in the Scottish 'loch') before Pesach begins. During Pesach, we can't eat pasta, rice, barley and legumes. We use different crockery, cutlery, pots and pans for those eight days, sealing up our kitchen cupboards (so we don't use our 'normal' items) or swapping them around (our Pesach items are stored in boxes in our garage and loft during the rest of the year). We cover all the kitchen surfaces. It's a bit like moving house (or at least, kitchen), with all the preparations beforehand. And yes, it can be stressful (okay, a nightmare).

3. We have a special family meal on the first two nights. It's called a Seder, which means 'order', because the meal has a special order that we follow, with specific traditional foods (such as parsley dipped in salt water to symbolise tears shed in slavery and raw horseradish to symbolise the bitterness of slavery). The Seder details, and the story of Pesach, are written in a special book called a Haggadah. Some families only do one Seder on the first night - we do both nights.

During the Seder, we sing songs and have discussions. Frogs may be dotted around the table (not real ones, I should add) - as frogs feature in the second plague.

Last year, we had the parting of the Red Sea down the centre of our Seder table - thanks to blue crepe paper, sand-coloured felt, fish stickers, shell-shaped sequins and Playmobil figures (Egyptians and builders etc). I think I enjoyed making it far more than my teenagers enjoyed seeing it. We even have a big Playmobil pyramid stored in the loft from when my boys were younger.

Pesach has many different themes and we do try to relate them to the 'here and now'. One of these is the theme of modern slavery (and not just the obvious - think about how enslaved we are to technology and social media). Then there's the theme of refugee status - as currently seen in Syria. Then finally the theme of antisemitism, which returns to my book. Just as the Jews were persecuted by Pharaoh then, they have been persecuted ever since, with the Holocaust and modern day antisemitic attacks.

So should we be free to write about lives different to our own?
I know that if I do get my novel published, it may come under a lot of scrutiny and I may be more open to antisemitism - I've already experienced antisemitic behaviour on social media, in response to a tweet about Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yes, this does worry me, but I know that I'll rise above it and have a strong support network of people around me.

But I may not only attract criticism from the wider population, and in some ways this worries me more, turning writing this book into more of a challenge to get it right. As already mentioned above, the Jewish community is diverse. So my personal experience of Judaism probably won't be the same as someone else's. The Jewish characters in my book are also diverse, from a Jewish community like my own.

Some Jewish people may disagree with the content of my book if it's ever 'out there', because it's too Jewish, not Jewish enough, tells too much, tells too little, 'we don't do it like that', gives us a bad name... and 'you can't have anyone Jewish committing a crime'. Others may say it's great as it highlights antisemitism, shows that we're like everyone else, raises awareness of Judaism etc - which is exactly what I'm trying to do.

I don't think there's any way to 'win' in terms of writing about diverse groups of people, even if we're part of the community ourselves. When we read books, they touch us in many different ways, based on our nature and nurture, our upbringing, our past experiences, our present situation. No two readers will read a book in the same way or respond to it in the same way.

And that’s the beauty of reading - and writing.

Ultimately, we should be free to write (and read) about what excites us, what motivates us, what challenges us and what drives us.

For me, it's crime fiction with a Jewish theme. 

Watch this space!

Friday, 23 March 2018

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani

By Leïla Slimani
Published by Faber & Faber (4 January 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher.

Publisher's description
When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect caretaker for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cleans the family's chic apartment in Paris's upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint and is able to host enviable birthday parties.
The couple and nanny become more dependent on each other. But as jealousy, resentment and suspicions increase, Myriam and Paul's idyllic tableau is shattered...

My verdict
I had read a lot of mixed views about Lullaby on social media before I started reading it. This is certainly a book that provokes a lot of discussion. I dived in without reading the blurb or any other reviews, determined to read it with an open mind.

Lullaby is an uncomfortable read about an ambitious couple's fragile relationship with their seemingly-perfect nanny. Myriam and Paul rely on Louise to not only look after their young children but also to keep their whole household flowing smoothly. Louise relies on them for her wages. She makes herself indispensable to make sure the family are unlikely to ever let her go - after all, how would they cope without her?

Yet despite spending so much time together, there is a distance between the adults - fuelled by the class divide, poverty versus privilege and the 'us and them' approach. You know from the start that there's no happy ending. In fact quite the opposite. But what makes a conscientious nanny turn on the children in her care?

Lullaby is a short book at only 207 pages but packs a serious punch with its taut sparse prose. The translation is brilliant and the writing flows so smoothly that I found myself reading passages out loud to myself, savouring the natural rhythm of the words. Yet while the style is chatty, the narrative is distanced from the characters, as if the reader is watching their lives through a camera lens. This creates a chilling, disturbing account of a household in crisis, spiralling all the way to disaster.

Lullaby plays on parents' darkest fears and I felt that it read like 'true crime/non-fiction' in places, making it seem very real. The book left me cold, with so many thoughts bounding around in my head and goosebumps up my arms.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, even though I don't feel I should have enjoyed it at all, due to the subject matter. Would I recommend it? Definitely. But maybe not to stressed working parents who rely heavily on their nanny.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

BEST OF CRIME with Teresa Driscoll

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 


to share her BEST OF CRIME ...

I’m going to say Kate Atkinson for her brilliant Jackson Brodie books. I love all Kate’s writing and literally punched the air when she ‘turned to crime’ – setting the bar sooooo high. I read an interview years back in which she said she might one day write another Brodie book. Kate. Please. I’m not proud. I’m prepared to beg…

The Sixth Sense. A little off piste? Sure. It’s technically supernatural horror (I had to Google the genre to be sure!) but it starts with a crime and this film brilliantly demonstrates precisely what I like my ‘crime stories’ to do. Namely…the totally unexpected.  I love a story that widens the lens to explore surprising motive and consequence. The Sixth Sense is pure character-led genius – managing to deliver big shocks as well as deeply touching scenes. It’s also the scariest movie I have managed to watch without passing out. (Whisper this; I’m a bit of a wimp on the quiet.)

Happy Valley. I’m a big fan of Sarah Lancashire who was stunning in this with a brilliant script by Sally Wainwright. I’m also currently enjoying Kiri…

Probably Hannibal Lecter – though I watched most of Silence of the Lambs from behind my hands (see above re wimp/fainting tendencies).

Jackson Brodie. *stops fainting and swoons*

Sorry. Useless on this. I feel a bit of a fraud here but I’m really not that excited by how people get killed. (I’d write my death scenes from behind my hands if it was possible to type that way!) It’s all about the why and the what the hell next for me.

There is stunning use of an icicle in a fabulous book…but I daren’t name it for *spoiler* reasons – though most of you will hopefully know what I mean.

No special favourites; I just roam the net and Google when I’m researching. A lot of readers of my bestseller I Am Watching You asked me if I ever worked as a florist. Nope. I just spent DAYS and DAYS watching YouTube videos by floral designers…(If the writing ever goes pear-shaped, I could probably now do weddings.)

Number one – write what you feel passionate about. (If you try to chase a trend, it’s bound to have passed by the time you finish anyway.)
Write in forward gear so you keep the excitement and the momentum – leave the editing for later. (I thank Stephen King for this crucial tip which changed my writing life.)
Don’t share ideas too early. Even a raised eyebrow can knock confidence in your WIP. Keep the faith. Keep the buzz. And keep it to yourself for as long as you can.

I run on coffee and spend a large part of every hour of every day, trying NOT to think about snacks.

Teresa Driscoll is a former BBC TV news journalist and now bestselling author of psychological thrillers. Her debut I am watching you hit kindle #1 in the UK, USA and Australia on launch and has sold more than 200,000 copies. Teresa also writes women’s fiction and her books have been sold for translation to ten countries. Teresa’s new psychological thriller The Friend is published by Thomas & Mercer in paperback and as an e-book on March 22 2018.

Find Teresa Driscoll on her website, on her Facebook page and on Twitter - @TeresaDriscoll


Publisher's description
On a train with her husband, miles from home and their four-year-old son, Ben, Sophie receives a chilling phone call. Two boys are in hospital after a tragic accident. One of them is Ben.
She thought she could trust Emma, her new friend, to look after her little boy. After all, Emma’s a kindred spirit—someone Sophie was sure she could bare her soul to, despite the village rumours. But Sophie can’t shake the feeling that she’s made an unforgivable mistake and now her whole family is in danger.Because how well does she know Emma, really? Should she have trusted her at all?
Time is running out. Powerless to help her child, still hours from home, Sophie is about to discover the truth. And her life will never be the same.

The Friend is published by Thomaand Mercer on 22 March 2018.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

MY PUBLISHING LIFE with Katherine Armstrong

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 


Editorial Director
Bonnier Zaffre

What and when was your first job in publishing?
My first job in publishing was at Faber & Faber, which I joined as a temporary pre-press assistant in January 2005. I then moved to a six-month position as editorial assistant for Poetry. I chained myself to my desk and (as we all know, possession is 9/10ths of the law) was eventually made permanent, working across the poetry, fiction and non-fiction lists before specialising in crime fiction. In 2008, I became a project editor and, in 2011, I started to commission crime and thriller fiction. I left Faber in September 2015 – quite possibly the longest ‘temporary’ contract ever! 

How long have you been working in your current job/role?
I moved to Bonnier Zaffre in June 2016 as a Senior Editor for their growing crime and thriller list. In February 2017, I was promoted to Editorial Director. 

Which books have you worked on recently/are you working on?
So many good books!! I’m working on a lot of books at the moment, all of which I’m excited about, but I guess to just mention three that are coming up over the summer months: Kiss Me, Kill Me by J. S. Carol – an incredibly tense psychological thriller; The Old Religion by Martyn Waites, which I’m pitching as ‘Peter May meets The Wicker Man’; Killing It by Asia Mackay – a brilliant book about a female assassin who has just had her first child and is now back at work – she puts the ‘sass’ back in ‘assassin’ (attrib. L. S. Hilton). 

Which qualifications/life skills/experience have helped you get to where you are today?
Networking is crucial in this industry, so if you’re starting out go to everything you can and meet people. You also need perseverance, patience, a sharp eye for detail and a passion for reading. I also have an MPhil in Publishing Studies from the University of Stirling where my dissertation was on the influence of female crime fiction writers on the publishing industry in the UK and the US. It was called ‘Deadlier than the Male’! 

How do you relax after a busy working day?
Gym, walking, pub quiz, dinner with friends, movies, rioja, prosecco  . . . 

What was the last book you read for pleasure?
I’m currently enjoying Star of the North by D. B. John. I know the editor and was lucky enough to beg a proof copy. 

Describe your job in 15 words or less...
Wrangler of words, curator of stories and sounding board for writers. 

What have been the highlights of your publishing life so far
It’s genuinely a wonderful industry to be in and I’ve loved every minute so far – from working with amazing authors to amazing colleagues – but if I had to pick specific highlights then:
  • My first acquisition – the fantastic Safe House by Chris Ewan – went on to sell over 500,000 copies in all editions and was shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award.
  • When I did a maternity cover at Sphere (Little, Brown), I was lucky enough to work with a whole host of fantastic authors, but I also found and published a classic crime title, Another Little Christmas Murder (originally published as Another Little Murder) by Lorna Nicholl Morgan – whose identity remains a mystery (in case anyone has info)!
  • At Bonnier Zaffre: I edited and published the fantastic Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear, which was our Richard & Judy Search for a Bestseller competition winner and has sold over 200,000 copies across all editions to date.

If you could try out any other job for one day (with no limits on money, travel etc.), what would you choose?
Got to be a spy! I love to travel and am quite nosy – I want to know the ‘why’ of everything – so would love to know what’s really happening behind the scenes, not just what the government chooses to tell us.  Plus, I want the gadgets . . . 

If your publishing life was a book, what would the title be?
This job requires a lot of juggling of your time, from edits to submissions reading to author events to networking, so I guess if my publishing life was a book it’d be:
Sleep is for the weak 

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.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The Devil's Dice by Roz Watkins

The Devil's Dice 
By Roz Watkins
Published by HQ Stories (8 March 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through Lovereading.

Publisher's description
A lawyer is found dead in a Peak District cave, his face ribboned with scratches.
Amidst rumours of a local curse, DI Meg Dalton is convinced this is cold-blooded murder. There's just one catch – chiselled into the cave wall above the body is an image of the grim reaper and the dead man's initials, and it's been there for over a century.

As Meg battles to solve the increasingly disturbing case, it's clear someone knows her secrets. The murderer is playing games with Meg – and the dice are loaded…

My verdict
On starting The Devil's Dice, I thought the book was going to be a straightforward police procedural. But this is no ordinary case and certainly stands out from the crowd. It involves supernatural curses and the mysterious death of a lawyer, found in a Peak District cave.

DI Meg Dalton is a strong feisty protagonist with lots of attitude. A risk-taker prone to injury and with plenty of flaws, she definitely doesn't play by the rules. And this often gets her into trouble with her superiors and colleagues. As Meg tries to solve the case, everything begins to feel a little too personal, bringing back memories of tragedy in her own family's past.

The Devil's Dice is a very twisty mystery with plenty of cliffhangers, particularly in the last 100 or so pages. I read the final chapters in one sitting, barely moving, and found myself holding my breath as everything was revealed through several action-packed scenes in a very chilling setting.

Overall, I thought The Devil's Dice was fun and easy to read, with a clever thought-provoking plot. I'm looking forward to the next Meg Dalton book.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Mary-Jane Riley's Writing Toolkit

WRITING TOOLKIT gives you an idea of an author's writing process through the tools they use. The tools can be anything (real or virtual) that they think is essential for their writing - serious, fun or even a fetish (that they're willing to own up to)! 

I am delighted to welcome 





Dark Waters was published by Killer Reads on 16 March 2018. 

A room of one's own
It’s not necessary to have a whole room to write in - indeed it can even become a bit of a millstone (husband says ‘you can have the whole day to write in your room’ I freeze and generally find I can’t do much at all) - and I like to be able to write in all sorts of places - the dining room table, the train, an aeroplane, a balcony in Greece overlooking the ocean... but I do love my room and I probably write my best stuff there. I have a lovely view over the Common and see sparrow hawks, kestrels, rabbits, dog walkers and even deer. I keep my handbags in my room, and I often have company in the form of one of my dogs, Reggie, who likes to sleep on the futon (I know, I know, who on earth buys something as uncomfortable as a futon?). Sometimes *whispers* I curl up with him. 

And talking of Reggie, walking him and Bella is a wonderful way to clear my head, untangle plot messes, think about characters and feel that maybe what I’m writing isn’t one hundred percent c***p. I often go up the road to a wonderful area where the dogs run free to sniff and smell and play. The East Anglian sky is wide and beautiful and the sense of space is amazing. The dogs are also very good sounding boards as they always seem pleased to hear about my plots, characters, and so on. They never get bored! Marvellous! 

I have to have silence while I work, but when I want to switch off I love listening to the radio, usually plays I have downloaded from the BBC - Radio Four or Radio Four Extra. I have heard some great stuff over the years, and I particularly like plays that use the medium of radio to its fullest - a recent Jonathan Myerson play was a brilliant example of this. If I can’t sleep at night I listen to Radio Five Live Up All Night, which is full of interesting and informative items, so not great for getting me off to sleep. I am also an out and proud fan of The Archers.... 

Notebooks, notebooks and more notebooks! Of all shapes and sizes! But mostly I like to write in big ones, at least A4 size.... I make notes, write character outlines, doodle, and often write down what has happened so far in the latest book I’m writing - I find if I do that a couple of times it can unlock the next bit... 

Couldn’t do any of this without him. Simple. He is encouraging, he doesn’t yawn when I bore on. And on. And on. He listens and makes great suggestions, tells me I’m great (even though I’m not), whistles when I’m shouting about things not working - computer, ideas, that sort of thing (actually the whistling can be quite annoying). Suggest ways to make my writing tighter. AND HE DOES THE IRONING. ALL OF IT.

The delete button
To take out those clumsy sentences, those rubbish paragraphs, that purple prose, those over-the-top descriptions, those sentences that seem so fine but are far to ‘writerly’, and all those damn ellipses and exclamation marks! 


About Mary-Jane Riley
Mary-Jane wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades. Mary-Jane has three grown-up children and lives in Suffolk with her husband and two golden retrievers.
DARK WATERS is her third crime thriller featuring investigative journalist, Alex Devlin.

Find Mary-Jane Riley on her Facebook page and on Twitter - @mrsmjriley


Published by Killer Reads (16 March 2018)

Publisher's description
DARK WATERS is the third crime thriller in the series featuring journalist Alex Devlin. It begins with a macabre discovery on board a pleasure cruiser on the beautiful Norfolk Broads – the decomposing bodies of two elderly men. It appears the dead men did not know each other and police suspect an internet suicide pact.
Alex’s search for the truth reveals a darker story. She finds a connection between the two men and possible links to other unexplained deaths.
As she investigates further, the stakes rise and her own family becomes embroiled in the mystery. Her inquiries lead her to the University of Cambridge. Could the roots of the puzzle lie there with a tragedy that unfolded amongst a group of carefree students many years before?
Long-buried secrets come to the surface and Alex’s life and the lives of her family are on the line. As the past and the present collide, Alex questions everything she thinks she knows about those she loves.

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Friday, 16 March 2018

The Memory Chamber by Holly Cave

The Memory Chamber
By Holly Cave
Published by Quercus (22 February 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher.

Publisher's description
True death is a thing of the past. Now you can spend the rest of eternity re-living your happiest memories: that first kiss, falling in love, the birth of your children, enjoyed on loop for ever and ever.
Isobel is a Heaven Architect, and she helps dying people create afterlives from these memories. So when she falls for Jarek, one of her terminal - and married - clients, she knows that while she cannot save him, she can create the most beautiful of heavens, just for him.
But when Jarek's wife is found dead, Isobel uncovers a darker side of the world she works within, and she can trust no one with what she finds...

My verdict
The Memory Chamber is an innovative combination of science, murder-mystery and thriller set in an alternative world that's not that different from our own.

It features an interesting and thought-provoking concept - the creation of an artificial afterlife. Following the extraction of certain cells after death, clients can exist within their selected memories forever, inside a heaven that's been tailor-made just for them. The controversial technology is mainly for those who can afford it and choose to have one, but it isn't just for the wealthy. There's a global war going on, and soldiers are able to plan their own heavens, and contemplate their own deaths, before they head to the frontline.

Heaven Architect Isobel combines her knowledge of science and creativity to create amazing heavens for her clients, discussing their needs in advance. She's dedicated to her job, but breaks her professional and ethical code when she falls for a terminally ill married client, Jarek, who becomes a prime suspect in a murder investigation after his death. If Jarek is guilty of murder, his cells will be destroyed, which means he won't live forever in the heaven Isobel created just for him. So she agrees to explore his memories inside his heaven for clues that will prove he wasn't the killer. But that science is still untested, and soon Isobel no longer knows who she can trust.

I raced through The Memory Chamber. It kept me on the edge of my seat, with twists and turns, suspense and thrills, and some tender moments too. With a background in science writing, Holly Cave has explained the scientific concepts well. It all seemed very believable, as she has also explored the ethical and legal issues involved.

The Memory Chamber is a book that will make you question and think - a perfect book club read. Would you want to exist in your own tailor-made afterlife or would you prefer oblivion? Would you want to be part of someone else's afterlife, even if you know little about them? And which of your own memories would you choose to remember for eternity?

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Matt Johnson's Writing Toolkit

WRITING TOOLKIT gives you an idea of an author's writing process through the tools they use. The tools can be anything (real or virtual) that they think is essential for their writing - serious, fun or even a fetish (that they're willing to own up to)! 

I am delighted to welcome 





End Game was published in e-book in February 2018 and is being published in paperback on 31 March 2018 by Orenda Books. 

Peace and quiet
Peace and quiet for fairly obvious reasons. I find it very hard to focus on writing unless I’m on my own with just the computer and my view through the window of my office – the Brecon Beacons. I write in my office with a view over the mountains. As I write the fields are green, the sky blue and the peaks are dusted with snow. I can think or worse places to be.
I listen to classical music sometimes, and I’ve found a website that plays backing sounds – rain, the sound of waves, wind, thunder and others. Having that in the background can be quite helpful when I’m busy with my imaginary friends. 

Where would we be without this facility to answer all manner of questions? From the correct spelling of a word through to the technical specifications of anything you may care to mention – it will provide the answer.

My computer
Old but reliable! I’m a three or four-finger typist, slow but fairly accurate. My handwriting is so poor that I struggle to read it myself so I always write creatively using MS Word. 

My professional network
Most of whom are old friends. They help jog my memory, provide answers to questions and contribute ideas. I’d be lost without them

I don’t imagine there are many former soldiers and policemen who can function without a regular brew. I think it’s a habit we get into during our service that is hard to break. 

Walking with the dogs is a time when I relax and when ideas come to me. If I’m struggling with a section of the book or need to make a decision I find that a walk in the mountains or through the local fields usually produces a solution. If not, I walk again!


About Matt Johnson
Matt Johnson served as a soldier and Metropolitan Police officer for 25 years. Blown off his feet at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1993, and one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent’s Park bombing, Matt was also at the Libyan People’s Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital. Hidden wounds took their toll. In 1999, Matt was discharged from the police with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While undergoing treatment, he was encouraged by his counsellor to write about his career and his experience of murders, shootings and terrorism. One evening, Matt sat at his computer and started to weave these notes into a work of fiction that he described as having a tremendously cathartic effect on his own condition. His bestselling thriller, Wicked Game, which was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger, was the result. Deadly Game and now End Game, the final book in the Robert Finlay series, once again draws on Matt’s experiences and drips with the same raw authenticity of its predecessor.

Find Matt Johnson on his website, on his Facebook page and on Twitter - @Matt_Johnson_UK

About End Game

Published by Orenda Books (31 March 2018)

Publisher's description
Robert Finlay seems to have finally left his SAS past behind him and is settled into his new career as a detective. But when the girlfriend of his former SAS colleague and close friend Kevin Jones is murdered, it's clear that Finlay's troubles are far from over. Jones is arrested for the killing, but soon escapes from jail, and Finlay is held responsible for the breakout. Suspended from duty and sure he's being framed too, our hero teams up with MI5 agent Toni Fellowes to find out who's behind the conspiracy. Their quest soon reveals a plot that goes to the very heart of the UK's security services. End Game, the final part in the critically acclaimed Robert Finlay trilogy, sees our hero in an intricately plotted and terrifyingly fast-paced race to uncover the truth and escape those who'd sooner have him dead than be exposed. 

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