Friday, 30 October 2015

Being Patricia Cornwell's Editor - Depraved Heart BLOG TOUR

I am delighted to be today's stop on the BLOG TOUR for Patricia Cornwell's Depraved Heart, which was published on 22nd October 2015 by HarperCollins.

I would like to welcome Julia Wisdom, publisher at HarperCollins to tell us what it's like to be Patricia Cornwell's editor.

Being Patricia Cornwell’s Editor
By Julia Wisdom, Publisher, HarperCollins

Back in the 20th century – 1990, to be precise – when I was a young, impressionable and inexperienced editor, I read a debut thriller by an author called Patricia Cornwell.  The title was POST MORTEM and it was quite unlike anything I’d read before.  The central character, Medical Examiner Dr Kay Scarpetta, was completely original and I found her fascinating; the forensic detail felt precise and totally believable (in fact, as I’ve subsequently learnt, the forensics in all Cornwell’s books are 100% accurate); the story held me in a vicelike grip … And most of all it terrified me. No other thriller I’d read before had had such a powerful effect.  It channelled my scariest nightmare and it made me change two of the ways I behaved (to this day I still follow those practices). 

Patricia went on to become a household name and a global phenomenon.  I couldn’t even begin to guess how many millions of copies she’s sold worldwide, but I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t heard of her. Or her remarkable creation, Dr Kay Scarpetta. 

It seemed unlikely I’d ever become her editor but two years ago that’s exactly what happened.  Well, OK, that was quite a scary prospect. How to edit and successfully publish Patricia Cornwell?  Fortunately I’m surrounded by a highly professional, imaginative team of people from all the publishing disciplines – marketing and publicity through to design through to sales – and we had great fun brainstorming ‘the essence of Patricia Cornwell’. We decided she was the First and the Best in the field of Forensic-based thrillers; that she was the ‘Expert in Death’. I learnt all sorts of things about Patricia, perhaps most interestingly that she practises what she writes: she road-tests the forensics technologies in her books; she can fly helicopters, scuba dive, shoot; she is a forensic consultant and much more.

So far it’s been a blast.  The challenge has been to grow her already considerable readership, to reach those places not previously reached before, to be creative around the sorts of marketing employed – in both our hardback campaigns so far we’ve tried to use truly innovative digital advertising  – and our cover approaches.   

And most importantly the books remain powerful and disturbing, clever and suspenseful, surprising and twisty.  I’m not so inexperienced now, and I’ve read a great many thrillers since first opening POST MORTEM but the ending of DEPRAVED HEART still had the power to frighten me out of my wits. 

Your chance to meet Patricia Cornwell

This November, there are two events to meet Patricia Cornwell…. One in Manchester and one in London. Follow these links to buy tickets:


Depraved Heart
By Patricia Cornwell
Published by Harper Collins (22 October 2015)
ISBN: 978-0007552467

Publisher's description
Dr. Kay Scarpetta is working a suspicious death scene in Cambridge, Massachusetts when an emergency alert sounds on her phone with a surveillance film of her genius niece Lucy taken almost twenty years ago. The film clip and then others sent soon after raise dangerous legal implications that increasingly isolate Scarpetta and leave her not knowing where to turn – not to her FBI husband Benton Wesley or her investigative partner Pete Marino. Not even Lucy.
Scarpetta is now launched into intensely psychological odyssey that includes the mysterious death of a Hollywood mogul’s daughter, aircraft wreckage on the bottom of the sea in the Bermuda Triangle, a grisly gift left in the back of a crime scene truck, and videos from the past that threaten to destroy Scarpetta’s entire world and everyone she loves.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Sisters by Claire Douglas

The Sisters
By Claire Douglas
Published by Harper (13 August 2015)
ISBN: 978-0007594412

Publisher's description
One lied. One died.
When one sister dies, the other must go to desperate lengths to survive
After a tragic accident, still haunted by her twin sister’s death, Abi is making a fresh start in Bath. But when she meets siblings Bea and Ben, she is quickly drawn into their privileged and unsettling circle.
When one sister lies, she must protect her secret at all costs
As Abi tries to keep up with the demands of her fickle friends, strange things start to happen – precious letters go missing and threatening messages are left in her room. Is this the work of the beautiful and capricious Bea? Or is Abi willing to go to any lengths to get attention?

When the truth outs, will either sister survive?

My verdict
The Sisters is a fantastic psychological thriller. I admit that I wasn't sure about it at first, as it had a slow start. But gradually the layers unfolded and I couldn't put it down. By the end, I realised that the slow start actually builds the atmosphere and leads you into a false sense of security.

This book seriously plays with your mind and messes with your head in true psychological thriller-style. It's cleverly plotted, very dark and intriguing - everyone seems so normal on the surface, but there are some highly menacing undertones.

The chapters switch between the thoughts of Abi and Bea. Characters you thought you had sussed out are not necessarily what they seem. You switch between trusting one, then the other, then the first one again. But then the cycle continues.

There are so many twists and turns, right up until the final page. This gave me a serious book hangover.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015


I am delighted that HELEN MACKINVEN is joining me on my blog today, as part of her Blog Tour. Helen's book - The Talk of the Toun - is being published by Thunderpoint on 29 October 2015. 

So Helen, what inspired you to write fiction in the first place?
I’ve always been a natural storyteller and prone to exaggeration so fiction lent itself to my love of sharing a good tale.

What gave you the idea for Talk in the Toun?
While studying for an MLitt in Creative Writing one of the assignments was to write an A to Z on any subject. My classmates wrote about their interests such as music but I was initially stumped over what my ‘Mastermind’ specialist subject would be. Then I realised that I had no trouble writing about my childhood memories so I used this theme to complete the assignment. The piece received my highest grade and I felt it reflected my writing ‘voice’ so I decided to use it as a springboard into a fictional scenario of growing up in 1980s central Scotland in a working class environment.

Describe your writing style in 10 words or less?
I try to capture an authentic voice using Scots dialect.

Do you have any strange writing habits?
Each to their own madness so I wouldn’t describe this as particularly strange but most of my creative writing is done at night. I like to have a bath, get my jammies on, climb into bed with my dog Jess lying by my side and tap away on my laptop in silence.

Are you a plotter or a pantser  Do you plot out the whole book before you start or just start writing and see where it leads you?
A bit of both. I start with a rough idea of where I would like to go but I’m flexible with the plotting and happy to follow the characters down new paths as the story unfolds.

What do you consider to be the hardest part of your writing?
Staying focused and avoiding the distractions of social media.

Who are your favourite authors?
I enjoy reading Scottish contemporary writers and admire the work of Jackie Kay, Anne Donovan, Janice Galloway and Karen Campbell.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would be the title?
A Game of Two Halves in reference to the first 35 years of my life and with hopefully 35 more still to play out…

What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Be more adventurous, travel more and don’t believe you’re fat – you’ll wish you were still that ‘fat’ one day!

What are your plans for your book's publication day?
The publication day is also the date of my launch in the Argyle Street branch of Waterstones in Glasgow so I will be there celebrating with family and friends who I hope will join me in a nearby pub after the event for a drink or two…

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Do your own thing – there are no rules! But I’d recommend having an insatiable appetite for reading as research to develop your own writing, connecting with other writers online and in person, taking notes of ideas and conversations overheard, reading your work aloud to check for rhythm and to weed out clunky phrases and not binning your teenage diaries like I did!

And lastly, why should people read The Talk of the Toun?
If you remember the angst of being a teenager at the stage in life where big decisions can shape your destiny then you’ll enjoy reliving the emotional turmoil of growing up and exploring who you are and where you belong. It’s also great for wallowing in 80s nostalgia in the decade that style forgot. If you once danced to Spandau Ballet while wearing pixie boots, a frilly white shirt with huge shoulder pads, had your hair backcombed and wore electric blue mascara then be warned - you’ll experience flashbacks!
About Helen MacKinven

Helen MacKinven writes contemporary Scottish fiction, with a particular interest in exploring themes such as social class and identity, using black comedy and featuring Scots dialect. She graduated with merit from Stirling University with an MLitt in Creative Writing in 2012.
In her day job Helen MacKinven works with numbers, travelling all over Scotland to deliver teacher training in maths. By night, she plays with words writing short stories and developing ideas for her next novel. Helen's short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and literary journals, such as Gutter magazine.
Originally from the Falkirk area, Helen now lives in a small rural village in North Lanarkshire with her husband. She has two grown- up sons but has filled her empty nest with two dogs, two pygmy goats and an ever-changing number of chickens.

Find Helen MacKinven on her official Facebook page and follow Helen on Twitter - @HelenMacKinven

The Talk of the Toun
Published by Thunderpoint (29 October 2015)

An uplifting black comedy of love, family life and friendship, Talk of the Toun is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale set in the summer of 1985, in working class, central belt Scotland.
Lifelong friends Angela and Lorraine are two very different girls, with a growing divide in their aspirations and ambitions putting their friendship under increasing strain.
Artistically gifted Angela has her sights set on art school, but lassies like Angela, from a small town council scheme, are expected to settle for a nice wee secretarial job at the local factory. Her only ally is her gallus gran, Senga, the pet psychic, who firmly believes that her granddaughter can be whatever she wants.
Though Lorraine’s ambitions are focused closer to home Angela has plans for her too, and a caravan holiday to Filey with Angela’s family tests the dynamics of their relationship and has lifelong consequences for them both.
Effortlessly capturing the religious and social intricacies of 1980's Scotland, Talk of the Toun is the perfect mix of pathos and humour as the two girls wrestle with the complications of growing up and exploring who they really are.

Read my review here.

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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Time to Die by Caroline Mitchell

Time to Die
By Caroline Mitchell
Published by Bookouture (24 September 2015)
ISBN: 978-1910751428

Publisher's description
He will predict your life… and your death.

Don’t ever cross his palm with silver.
He will reveal your most shameful secrets.
He will predict your death.
He is hiding a secret.
He is hiding a monster.

And all his predictions come true.

Investigating a series of chilling murders, Detective Jennifer Knight finds herself tracking a mysterious tarot card reader known only as The Raven.

As the death toll rises, Jennifer and her team build a picture of a serial killer on the edge of sanity, driven by dark forces. But these are not random killings. And the method behind the madness could be the most terrifying thing of all …

Especially when it seems the death of one of their own is on the cards.

My verdict
Time to Die is even better than Caroline Mitchell's first novel. You could read it as a standalone, but you will probably enjoy it more if you read Don't Turn Around first.

A tarot card reader calling himself 'The Raven' is correctly predicting people's deaths, and the body count is rising. But are these deaths driven by supernatural forces or is an evil serial killer on the loose? DC Jennifer Knight investigates as The Raven closes in and the victim choices become more personal.

In Time to Die, it was a pleasure to return to familiar characters - Jennifer and her police partner Will. They're well-developed, likeable and believable, which makes the book so easy to read.  There's also a love interest, which provides some humour and a softer side to Jennifer's character, but I won't give away any spoilers here. The Raven is suitably creepy.

I love the supernatural angle. Jennifer has psychic abilities herself and soon develops a link with The Raven. This becomes a gripping cat and mouse game that's full of surprises. What could be a standard crime novel turns into something quite dark. Caroline Mitchell is certainly knowledgeable about police procedures, but also has first-hand experience of the paranormal too (see her book Paranormal Intruder).

The descriptions tackle all of your senses. It's just as well I don't get nightmares as this certainly keeps your heart racing. I would say it's perfect bedtime reading, but maybe not for the faint-hearted (read it with the lights on)!

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 25 October 2015


I am delighted that SD SYKES is joining me on my blog today for her blog tour. Her latest book - The Butcher Bird - was published by Hodder & Stoughton on 22 October 2015. 

Your first book – Plague Land – was published in September 2014. What inspired you to write a crime novel set in the 14th century?
I’ve always been drawn to medieval history. There’s something mysterious and magical about the architecture, literature and general beliefs of those times.  I also love historical crime fiction, particularly the books of CJ Samson and Ariana Franklin – the idea of solving a murder, before the existence of forensics and the police force, when only deduction and examination could provide the solution.  But, if I could pin down my inspiration to one moment, then it was watching a TV series called ‘Inside the Medieval Mind.’  The presenter, Professor Robert Bartlett, showed us a fourteenth century map, the ‘Mappa Mundi’, that is now held in Hereford Cathedral. In one corner was the image of a man with the head of a dog. A ‘Cynocephalus.’ A creature believed to live in the unmapped parts of the world. A physical representation of the unknown. The ‘other.’ When I saw this, the idea to connect a crime with medieval superstition just leapt into my imagination.

The Butcher Bird continues Oswald de Lacy’s story. When you wrote Plague Land, did you always intend for it to be the first in a series?
I did.  Oswald is not the usual type of detective. In fact, he begins his career in Plague Land by being rather inept and reluctant, representing those situations that we all face, where we feel out of our depth, but must soldier on. But Oswald has inner strengths.  He shows courage, when courage doesn’t come easily to him, which makes him more of a hero to my mind. I would like to follow Oswald as he grows older, into a more seasoned and worldly detective – though I don’t intend for him to ever completely lose that inner vulnerability.

How difficult has it been to research this time period and make your books as authentic as possible?
The chroniclers and historians of the fourteenth century tended to forget about the lives of ordinary people.  Equally, most ordinary people were illiterate, so did not leave their mark on the world. But there have been some sources that have been invaluable for filling these gaps about everyday life, and making my writing as authentic as possible.  Firstly, the Canterbury Tales – written in the 1380s.  Wonderful bawdy tales of fourteenth century society. The Travels of Sir John Mandeville were also very useful – as Sir John recounts the trip he apparently made to China (though it is doubtful he did, given some of his descriptions of foreign lands.) But my greatest source has been an illuminated manuscript ‘The Luttrell psalter.’  Created for a rich family in the 1340s, this prayer book is decorated with images of everyday rural life in remarkable detail. Drawn about the margins are kitchens, dining halls, watermills, farmers herding sheep, horse carriages, bear-baiting etc, etc.  It’s like being transported back 680 years.

Describe your writing style in 10 words or less?
Pithy, pungent stories with energy and heart.

Do you have any strange writing habits?
I can only write the first draft of my novels in the mornings, between 9am and 1pm. And I must have strong coffee!

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plot out the whole book before you start or just start writing to see where it leads you?
I am a plotter. In the past, I’ve written more scripts than novels – and a screenplay or radio play usually starts with a ‘treatment’. This is where the story is dissected in detail, to ensure that the plot works. So, I always start my novels with this ‘treatment’ which is a long, chapter by chapter document. But I should also say that I don’t follow it slavishly. If better ideas come to me as I write – and they often do – then I absolutely use them.

Who are your favourite authors?
I love (in no particular order): C J Sansom, Sarah Waters, Ariana Franklin, Anne Tyler, Karen Maitland, John Steinbeck, Antonia Hodgson, Martine Bailey, Jo Nesbo.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
Ha! I’ve no idea. Actually, maybe that could be the title?

How has your life changed since becoming a published author?
My ‘writing time’ is much more easily defended than in the past. These days, when I say I’m going into my office and I do not want to be disturbed – my family seem to listen! Other than that, my life is pretty much the same as ever.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
It is simply this. Persevere. Keep writing. Every day. It’s like anything in life – the more you do something, the better you get.

And lastly, why should people read The Butcher Bird?
I’d like people to read The Butcher Bird, not because it’s about history, but because it’s about people.  It’s a crime thriller, that just happens to be set in 1351. There are murders, lies, jealousies, love, sex and intrigue. As you follow Oswald and his investigation, you will be transported back to the Kent of 1351 in the aftermath of the Black Death – as society tries to find its feet after one of the greatest plagues of all time. You will also visit the medieval walled city of London, and join the hoards as they cross London bridge. You will go into castles and hovels. You will drink ale and eat pottage. But most of all, as you take this journey you will recognise these people as being just like you and me.

About SD Sykes
SD Sykes lives in Kent with her family and various animals. She has done everything from professional dog-walking to co-founding her own successful business. She is a graduate from Manchester University and has an MA in Writing from Sheffield Hallam. She attended the novel writing course at literary agents Curtis Brown where she was inspired to finish her first novel. She has also written for radio and has developed screenplays with Arts Council funding.

Find SD Sykes on her website and Twitter - @SD_Sykes

The Butcher Bird
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 22 October 2015

Oswald de Lacy is growing up fast in his new position as Lord of Somershill Manor. The Black Death changed many things, and just as it took away his father and elder brothers, leaving Oswald to be recalled from the monastery where he expected to spend his life, so it has taken many of his villagers and servants. However, there is still the same amount of work to be done in the farms and fields, and the few people left to do it think they should be paid more - something the King himself has forbidden.
Just as anger begins to spread, the story of the Butcher Bird takes flight. People claim to have witnessed a huge creature in the skies. A new-born baby is found impaled on a thorn bush. And then more children disappear.
Convinced the bird is just a superstitious rumour, Oswald must discover what is really happening. He can expect no help from his snobbish mother and his scheming sister Clemence, who is determined to protect her own child, but happy to neglect her step-daughters.

From the plague-ruined villages of Kent to the thief-infested streets of London and the luxurious bedchamber of a bewitching lady, Oswald's journey is full of danger, dark intrigue and shocking revelations.

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