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Book Review: TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH by Gilly Macmillan

📚Suspense fans—read this now!📚

By day, I edit crime, suspense and thriller, and by night, well, I read crime, suspense and thriller. It’s a genre that I have always loved; there is something about a complex, changing narrative of intrigue and mystery and a bloody good twist that I just can’t resist.

And an author who delivers on this level with every single book is the masterful Gilly Macmillan. Her latest novel To Tell You the Truth is my favourite yet (and I actually helped edit her previous book THE NANNY, so that’s saying something). Gilly has created a complex and fascinating character in Lucy – a novelist whose talent for imagination may have gone too far. She narrates a dark and multi-layered tale of deception, death and lies – or so you think. With twists at every turn, I was compelled to read the novel late into the night, desperate to uncover the truth.

Set in Gilly’s hometown of Bristol, I was transported back to my university days in a city that I loved, but this also added an extra level of intrigue as much of the action takes place on the other side of the Suspension Bridge from the city, which I actually only visited a couple of times. This created an otherworldy sense for me in a, which was unnerving and built on Lucy Harper’s complex world that Gilly has weaved together so well. (On an aside, this book is also a delight for those who work in the world of books and publishing; I couldn’t help but smile at Lucy’s interactions with her publishers – everyone loves a treat hamper!)

To Tell You the Truth by Gilly Macmillan publishes on 25th June 2020 in ebook and hardback. But if I were you, I’d preorder it now…

Thanks to the author and publishers for this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review, crime reading month

Crime and Thriller Month: The single most important piece of advice for aspiring authors and writers

The single most important piece of advice I can give an author is to READ. Step into the mind of your customer – your readers! – and devour as much as you can. What do you like as a reader? What don’t you like? Which characters make you smile, frown? Which characters are you compelled to read on about even though you don’t like them? What plots have been done to death? What plots can you do differently? What books are winning prizes, what books are flying off shelves – and a lot of the time they aren’t the same!

Researching your reader isn’t just for the marketers, but for the author too – and if you’re an indie author, you’ll be wearing both hats anyway! – as knowledge of the market is invaluable.
Not only will you find out about your fellow authors and your readers, you’ll also find ouy so much about yourself as a writer.

So why wait to start your education? I have the perfect thriller to kick you off!

Continue reading “Crime and Thriller Month: The single most important piece of advice for aspiring authors and writers”
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Fiction in the Time of Corona: How the global pandemic may have messed up your plot, and why that’s not always a bad thing

Yesterday, I read a fascinating article by American novelist Ben Winters. I had the pleasure of working with Winters briefly whilst I was at Penguin Random House and found his unique predicament intriguing.

The article, published on Slate.com, is discussing how the global pandemic of coronavirus and COVID-19 has basically screwed the plot of his new book, The Quiet Boy. It begins in January 2020 and hurtles towards a finale in July 2020 – in a music festival. Well, that’s not happening any more . . .

So it got me wondering how writers and namely the plots of fiction novels have been affected by the pandemic. It must be soul-destroying to have worked so hard, giving up months if not years of your life to curate the perfect plot line, create the characters that you need and finesse the timeline just so until you have a novel that you’re truly happy with . . . for a global pandemic to make it no longer relevant.

But my question is, does it matter? The role of fiction isn’t about facts. As the dictionary defines it, fiction is ‘the type of book or story that is written about imaginary characters and events and not based on real people and facts’. Of course, the best inspiration comes from the world around us – and no doubt the market will be flooded with coronavirus diaries, novels, etc. (Although I question whether there will be a market for them after we emerge blinking in the sunlight post-lockdown – we don’t want to go through that again *shudders*.) But, what better excuse than the world going a bit bananas around us to make use of this fantastic tool that we have hidden deep in our brains: the imagination. There is no better time to let our minds wonder and think of what-if and how-about.

Winters has a point when he says that ‘Right now, we are in the middle of total and utter upheaval. What reader will accept that my characters blithely go about their business in Los Angeles in the spring and summer of this year we’re in?’ Perhaps we should have more faith in our readers. Every day, fiction asks us to suspend our disbelief and fall headlong into a world that isn’t real, not based on fact, the product of the workings of someone’s mind. Yes, it looks a little like the world we live in, but the fiction form is prism not a mirror, twisting the light of the real world into a kaleidoscope of colour – otherwise the sci-fi and fantasy genres would already be in deep water!

With this in mind, over the weekend, I had the delightful experience of kicking my heels up and devouring Rebecca Serle’s smash-hit novel In Five Years. The whole concept of the novel taking a classic interview question – ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ – and twisting it on its head. The novel is all about how no matter how much we try to plan our ideal lives and how we see ourselves in five, ten, even twenty years time, life has a funny habit of getting in the way. Serle’s characters begin in 2020 and happily work, live, love their way through to 2025 (when it starts getting a little pear-shaped), no mention of pandemic in sight. Of course, when Serle wrote her manuscript, COVID-19 hadn’t reared its ugly head, but the novel is no worse off for it. In fact, it might even be an added strength as it reminds us that although the world looks less than peachy at the moment, we’ll get through it, whatever happens.

Admittedly, there might be a new couple of new courses on the syllabus for future literature students – Pre, Post and COVID Literature – but I’m excited to see what new writing this situation brings us, and whether authors choose to engage or not – some already having voiced their claims of not touching the topic with a barge pole, Anne Tyler and Harlan Coben being among their number. I feel for Winters, who has decided to push the events of his novel back to 2019, but whether you choose to set your next writing project in a world affected by COVID or not, I think the readers are willing to welcome you with open arms. To be honest, we’re just thankful for something to read!

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Book Review: CAN YOU HEAR ME? by Jake Jones – and a plea to #stayhome

Many of us in the UK woke up this morning to a changed world. We are now effectively in lockdown with restrictions imposed on our travels, work and exercise. They are tough measures, but necessary because it seems that far too many people aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously. Rather than angry, this just makes me sad that in a time when the country needs to come together to help stop the spread of this nasty virus, there is still a lot of selfishness out there. I know these are scary and strange times but we need to think of others as well as ourselves at this time, and namely our precious but precarious NHS.

Can You Hear Me? seems to be an all the more poignant read right now as the UK health services are coming under unprecedented pressure as they struggle to cope with the impact of COVID-19. Jake Jones’s memoir talks about what it’s like to be on the frontline as a paramedic, the first responders to many callouts, large and small, minor and emergency. It’s a fascinating insight into the daily lives of just one of the pillars of our amazing healthcare system, and, alongside This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay, it is an essential read that demonstrates just how important our healthcare staff are.

As someone whose partner is a healthcare front-liners, please follow the government guidelines to do your part in fighting the coronavirus outbreak. Our healthcare front-liners aren’t superhuman; they are giving the best they can to help us, so the least we can do is help them by staying at home.

If you’re fighting the cabin fever, I am running my daily writing prompts in my stories to help keep you inspired. I’ll also be pulling together some more material in the coming days and weeks and creating a newsletter so that inspiration can be delivered directly to your inbox. Drop me a line if you’d like to be included, but I’ll be popping a link on my website in due course.

Thank you to Quercus Books for this gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: THE KEEPER by Jessica Moor

Death?
Seen him. Loads of times.
Death’s just a bloke.’

I’d already heard lots of good things about it by the time The Keeper by Jessica Moor dropped through my letterbox courtesy of Viking Books. But this is no ordinary thriller. As much as it is compelling to read, it’s also incredibly comfortable for the simple reason it’s so well written.

Moor has succeeded in writing both a gripping crime thriller – with one helluva sick twist! – but also raises awareness of the incredibly important issue of domestic violence. For this reason, although I appreciated the writing, The Keeper is also hard-going at times in that you read in sickening detail about the abuse, both physical and psychological, that the women in the narrative suffer. My God, it was tough reading at times. But in this case, this is no criticism but heartfelt praise as it forces the reader to exam the structure of the human psyche and psyche that allows such tragedies to occur in the first place.

Happy Publication Day to an important book about an issue all too often hidden behind closed doors and masked behind make-up. Congratulations to Jessica on her powerful debut!

Book Review, Meet the Editor

Book Review: Going Under – Sonia Henry

IMG_6034One of my – nay – my *favourite* book of recent years, and perhaps of all time, is Adam Kay’s THIS IS GOING TO HURT, a humorous and heartbreaking account of the life of a doctor on the NHS. It details, in no uncertain terms, why doctors are leaving a seemingly crumbling yet pivotal organisation because of a system that seems to have a finger permanently on a self-destruct button, running itself but more importantly its medical staff into the ground. (But I shall not talk politics here…)

It’s one of the reasons I’m in Australia at this very moment, having come out with my medic boyfriend, who is taking some time out before his specialist training back in the NHS, to experience life in the medical profession down under. So, it is with interest that I picked up Sonia Henry’s GOING UNDER, which I assumed to be an Australian version.

And although unexpectedly written in the format of the novel, I would say that Henry is saying much the same thing. Medics are seen – and treated – as superhuman, not just on the NHS, but across the world. But they simply aren’t. And although there are moments of recognition and hilarity – reading out loud brilliant anecdotes from Dr Kitty’s hectic life as an intern at Holy Innocents hospital to my boyfriend – it highlights a real issue. The pressures of a profession that not only asks of its members to hold the very life of their patients in their hands, but also juggle the circus of professional development, hospital politics, endless exams and abuse, all whilst running solely on caffeine, a crust of a sandwich eaten twelve hours ago and a running total of about five hours sleep that week, can unsurprisingly be too much. Adam Kay felt he had to leave a profession he worked so hard to enter and Sonia Henry’s whistleblower article a few years ago about the number of suicides in junior doctors is testament to this.

Saying all this, those going into medicine know it isn’t going to be a walk in the park, but in the darkest moments, 3 a.m. on a night shift, where it seems that every patient is crashing, you’re the only doctor on the ward and you’ve had no sleep, just having someone ask if you’re okay, or the smallest of kind words or gestures is enough to help you see the light at the end of the tunnel. As I’m not a medic myself, I can’t speak for the medical colleagues out there, but as a member of the public, I have never seen the point of those who think shouting or abusing our healthcare staff is going to help. Admittedly, when you’re in a hospital A&E department at 3 a.m. in the morning as a patient, the situation isn’t likely to be good for you either, but perhaps taking a moment to think about those who are toiling to look after you wouldn’t hurt (and if it does, you’re probably in a lot of pain anyway to be in A&E at that time of night!)

As a book, Henry’s novel is both a hilarious example of contemporary fiction with a strong heroine and a brilliant supporting cast, but it’s also an eye-opening expose at what life in our hospitals is really like. The writing is fun and quick-witted, making it an easy read to begin with but as the harsh reality starts to hit, the tone changes and I found myself moved by the events of the novel. But the thing is, this may be fictionalised, but, for many, it is real life. Although not quite as broadly appealing as THIS IS GOING TO HURT – my boyfriend started to read GOING UNDER, intrigued by the subject but then put-off a little bit by the slightly women’s fiction vibe – this is well worth a read.

This issue is personal to me, having two medics in my family who I have seen struggle with the strains of the profession, so I apologise for waffling on, but also revoke that apology because it needs to be talked about and it needs to be discussed.

In my opinion, not all heroes wear capes – sometimes they wear scrubs.

Book Review

Book Review: THE TRICK TO TIME by Kit de Waal

image-6Kit De Waal’s THE TRICK TO TIME is an exploration of life, love and loyalty. We meet Mona, an older woman who runs a doll shop in a coastal town in the UK. She is dedicated to her work, showing love, care and attention to the dolls, helping others through her work. However, we learn that part of this springs from a tragic incident that happened when she was young and newly arrived in Birmingham from her native London. The trick of time for Mona is how fast and slow is passes, how her life has been concertinaed by tragedy, so much so that she doesn’t know where her life has gone.

De Waal has written a gorgeous character in Mona, complex and also incredibly likeable. I found her unrelenting loyalty in the face of tragedy endearing but I also wanted her to break free, cheering her on from the sidelines. This made me feel confused about the ending, struggling with myself as to whether it was the conclusion I wanted or the one that Mona deserved.

THE TRICK TO TIME is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, where our outlooks on time, reminiscing, living in the moment and day-dreaming about the future all swirl together into that beautiful and yet cruel whirligig of time. It is a novel that causes you to value what is important in life, as we just don’t realise how fragile the present is.

Thank you to the author and publisher for this free copy in exchange for a review.