This time around my weekly post will be another book review - 'The Silent Twin', Caroline Mitchell's third release in the Jennifer Knight series. Caroline blends crime fiction with a dash of the supernatural, as the protagonist Jennifer Knight has a dual role in the police force. Besides her more orthodox work, part of her job is to investigate crimes with, as Mitchell puts it, 'an unearthly edge'. Sounds intriguing, and not a plot premise I've encountered before! Here's the description from the back cover:
Nine-year-old twins Abigail and Olivia vow never to be parted. But when Abigail goes missing from Blackwater Farm, DC Jennifer Knight must find her before it’s too late. Twin sister Olivia has been mute since Abigail’s disappearance. But when she whispers in Jennifer’s ear, Jennifer realises it is Abigail’s voice pleading to be found. A damp and decaying house set in acres of desolate scrubland, the farm is a place of secrets, old and new – and Jennifer must unravel them all in order to find the lost girl. But could Olivia’s bond with her twin hold the key to finding Abigail? And can Jennifer break through her silence in time to save her sister’s life?
A detective thriller with a spooky twist
I wasn't sure how well blending a supernatural angle with a detective thriller would work. Also, as 'The Silent Twin' is the third in its series, whether it would also read well as a standalone. (I won my copy in a competition, which is why I've not yet read the first two Jennifer Knight books). My fears were unfounded. The supernatural element adds interest to the plot without becoming obtrusive or forcing the book to sit between two genres. If I'm reading crime fiction, I don't expect overtones of a Stephen King horror story, for example, but that doesn't happen in 'The Silent Twin'. First and foremost, it's a detective thriller, with the supernatural element acting to complement, not hinder, that. The reader is never allowed to forget that a child is missing, with all the horror that entails for her family.
Also, I was relieved to find 'The Silent Twin' works well on its own merits and prior knowledge of the first two books in the series wasn't necessary. Caroline Mitchell does a fantastic job of setting the scene when it comes to creepiness The parents of the missing child live at Blackwater Farm, a dilapidated dwelling set in a remote area and complete with a strong negative energy within its walls. As the wind howls outside, Jennifer Knight hears Abigail whispering in her ear, begging to be found. What exactly is she hearing, though? Is the child still alive and her pleas the product of Jennifer's imagination, or is there a more sinister explanation? Could Abigail be dead and is it her spirit that is desperate for resolution?
Her twin, Olivia, is every bit as enigmatic, refusing to speak immediately after her sister's disappearance but when she does begin to talk again, she drops hints that she knows a lot more than she's willing to tell. For example, what is the awful thing she saw, but promises her father, Nick, not to reveal? What demons is Nick wrestling with? The other characters are equally engrossing. What past traumas have scarred Joanna, the twins' mother? Why has her marriage to Nick turned sour? What part does the mysterious Radcliffe play? And who is the writer of the mysterious diary? As the action progresses, the spotlight turns on each one, revealing dark secrets, past abuses and terrible tragedy.
I read 'The Silent Twin' in one sitting, delighted to have discovered a new author whose books I can enjoy. If the idea of a detective thriller with a spooky twist appeals to you, I heartily recommend this novel.
Want to find out more about Caroline and her books?
You can discover more, including details of Don't Turn Around (Book 1) and Time to Die (Book 2) via Caroline's author page on Amazon: Caroline Mitchell.
I’m delighted to welcome horror and thriller author Iain Rob Wright to my blog today! Iain was born in 1984 and is the author of several novels, including the apocalyptic, critically acclaimed 'The Final Winter' and the deeply disturbing thriller 'ASBO'. Iain is also a member of The Horror Writers Association. So let's start!
Iain, tell us about yourself, please.
A few years ago, I was a phones salesman. Due to being a bit of an emotional wreck during my teen and young adult years, I had dropped out of the Army, university, and pretty much out of life. The one thing and only thing I had going for me was the woman who is now my wife. Her support and belief in me led to her pushing me into doing what I’d always dreamed of. She made me start writing in my spare time more and more, and most importantly she made me stay the course and actually finish a novel in full instead of constantly giving up halfway. Now, two and a bit years later, I have twenty-five novels out and am earning more than twice what I did working nine to five in a job I hated. Self-publishing very literally changed my life – it made me richer, happier, and less stressed (when considering how working in sales used to make me feel).
Have you always wanted to be an author? How did your interest in writing originate?
I would write awful stories as a kid that were pretty much just blatant rip offs of movies, but I enjoyed the act of writing and moved on to poetry as a teen. I’ve been an avid reader and movie watcher my entire life and really wanted to tell stories that moved people the way I had been moved.
What have been the greatest problems you've faced in gaining your success?
It’s difficult riding on the high that I am right now, because I want to plan ahead based on my current fortunes, but the way this business is, next year I could be a failure and having to go get a job. The hardest part of this job is not knowing what the future holds. There’s no contract of employment.
Who or what has helped you the most on your writing journey?
The author Joe Konrath has been instrumental in my success. When I started out, I followed the publishing/writing advice on his blog about pretty much everything. Everything he advised worked for me and I have now reached a point where I am trying new things out for myself and passing on that advice to the new guys coming up. I think if established guys all do their bit to help the newer guys get better then everyone benefits; and Joe Konrath is the absolute embodiment of that philosophy.
Who's your favourite author and what is it that resonates with you about their work?
I don’t really have one as it changes so much. I’m currently enjoying Matthew O’Reilly’s work, but in the past, my favourite authors have been Jeff Strand, Jack Kilborn, Brian Keene, Stephen King, James Herbert, Richard Laymon, J F Gonzalez, Kim Paffenroth, Scott Sigler, Max Brooks, Blake Crouch, Terry Pratchett… The list goes on and on.
Tell us more about your collaboration with Joe Konrath on the novel ‘Straight Up’. How did that come about?
Joe publicly announced that he was looking for collaborators and wanted short stories to be the test for authors to pass in order to work with him on longer projects. I wrote 'Straight Up' specifically to work with him but also used it as an introduction for one of my own characters, Sarah Stone. I have also just finished a full length novel that Joe and I have been working on, which is a sequel to both Joe’s 'Origin' and my own 'Final Winter'. It’s loads of fun.
Tell us more about your thriller series featuring your character Sarah Stone.
She is a broken woman with a painful background. She is also an expert on Middle Eastern terrorist cells, which is why the Major Crimes Unit tracks her down and asks for her help. The only problem is that she’s a complete asshole and doesn’t want to help anybody. Eventually she gets roped in and starts kicking butts and taking names. She is a lot like Jack Bauer but with a very wobbly moral compass. She won’t think twice about killing a bad guy. Eventually all of the hate and hostility inside her will begin to take its toll.
Will you write in other genres besides horror/thriller in the future?
Yes, I switched over to techno-thrillers/terrorism books (featuring Sarah Stone) for a short while, but I imagine horror is where my career will lie for the most part.
Sounds great! While you are writing, do you ever feel as if you are one of the characters?
Not really, but sometimes I do act out scenes at my desk to get the emotion right.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Not wanting to work in a phone shop anymore!
How do you come up with the titles for your books?
Through hours of sitting there trying to think of one. I find naming books really hard. Sometimes I have the title before I even start, but sometimes I am wracking my brains right up to the day it goes live.
What books have most influenced your life most?
Erm…The Rising, World War Z, The Rats, Under The Dome, Contagion. Only in that they made me want to write horror.
And which person?
Joe Konrath, Stephen King, and Joss Whedon.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Need you ask? Joe Konrath.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Just trying to improve with every book. I know I’m not perfect, but I’m trying really hard to be.
Lastly, how do you see the future for self-published authors?
Bright! What still makes me sad, though, is that there are many decent, talented authors out there who have not had the same success. I want to see more of them stuff their unfulfilling day jobs and live their own dreams – because, right now, it is more possible than ever.
Thank you, Iain, for agreeing to appear in my blog!
You can find out more about Iain and his novels from his website, www.iainrobwright.com; on Facebook or on Twitter: @iainrobwright. Iain's novels are all available from Amazon.
Now there's a question!
Being an author is one of the most solitary professions there is, as I know from experience. I work from home, keeping normal office hours, and unless I venture out at lunchtime, I don't see or talk to anyone until the evening. I'm not complaining. As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I've always needed plenty of solitude, and can get a bit stir-crazy if I'm surrounded by people for too long. Before I carry on, let me explode the most persistent myth about introverts: that we're shy people who dislike socialising. Not so! No way do I consider myself shy, because I'm not. Despite my strong need for solitude, I love spending time with my friends and meeting new people. Like other introverts, though, I prefer smaller social gatherings, and not to spend too long at them. Furthermore, loud noisy events or people don't sit well with me. Live music is my idea of torture and I prefer to socialise with fellow introverts.
So how does one define an introvert? The word itself provides the clue; it originates from the Latin 'intro' (inwards) and 'vertere' (to turn). A great definition is this one from Psychology Today: 'Introverts are drained by social encounters and energised by solitary, often creative pursuits. Their disposition is frequently misconstrued as shyness, social phobia, or even avoidant personality disorder, but many introverts socialise easily; they just strongly prefer not to.' Part of this makes me cringe. For anyone to label introverts as having a personality disorder because they're not raving party animals is ridiculous. The perception persists, though, with some dictionaries defining the word as meaning 'shy person,' which neither tallies with its Latin roots nor with reality. As Psychology Today points out, introversion or extroversion has nothing to do with levels of confidence, shyness or social skills. Instead, it relates to how individuals respond to stimuli and replenish their energy. Extroverts thrive on hustle, bustle and social connections, whereas introverts find such situations draining. In contrast, we derive energy from within and by being alone.
We're frequently misunderstood, though. Partly, I suspect, because we're in the minority. Estimates vary, but it seems between 25 - 33% of people fall in the introvert camp. As part of this misunderstanding, introverts can suffer pressure to socialise more by well-meaning friends, which can be very wearing. Some people have postulated that there's a distinct global bias towards extroverts; their traits are perceived as desirable, with job adverts requesting 'bright and bubbly' or 'outgoing' candidates. I think famous introverts such as Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg prove we have much to contribute to the workplace!
Other well-known introverts? How about Albert Einstein, Barack Obama, Stephen Spielberg, Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Buffett or Frederick Chopin?
One of the few professions that's carried out alone
Let's examine how this relates to writing fiction. Whether novelists tend more towards introversion, I can't say, but a Google search on 'famous extrovert novelists' reveals nothing, with most of the search results concentrating on introverted writers instead. Many of my author friends regard themselves as introverts. Given that we need solitude, and creating novels being one of the few professions that's carried out alone, it does seem we may have an advantage. I imagine it would be torture for an extrovert to spend hours at a computer, cut off from human contact, whereas it's entirely natural for introverts. Any extrovert drawn to writing would probably thrive better as a journalist, perhaps. Or maybe they'd be attracted to other forms of creative expression instead, such as acting or the music business.
Not all writers need solitude, of course. I know authors who write in coffee shops, libraries and pubs, places where the hum and bustle of daily life surrounds them. They're probably further along the scale towards extroversion than I am, that's all. Or perhaps they just get cabin fever more easily than I do. One consideration that acts in favour of introverts becoming novelists is the fact that, as Psychology Today says, we're often drawn to creative pursuits during our alone time. Famous introverted writers are plentiful; J K Rowling is said to be one, along with Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, J D Salinger and the entire Brontë family. I'm in good company!
Vive la différence! Each to their own...
Both introverts and extroverts have their strengths and weaknesses, of course, and those strengths can be brought to the writing table. Introverts are often better listeners, and this skill enables them to find great true-life stories that provide great fodder for book ideas. Hand in hand with that goes an increased ability to understand human foibles and behaviour. I've often said on this blog how I'm fascinated by what drives our behaviour, especially when it encroaches into weird and wacky territory. All the time we spend alone gives us time to reflect, explore ourselves, skills we can use when creating our characters. Lastly, of course, we're better able to deal with long periods of solitude, a prerequisite of the writing life.
But we don't hold all the cards. Extroverts meet a wider variety of people and engage more with them, thus providing material for characters and stories from a different angle, as well as from more plentiful sources. I suspect they're also far better at promoting themselves on social media. I love Facebook and Twitter as much as anyone, but don't post that often - it's simply not my style. Neither is better or worse, of course - people are what they are and a mix of extroverts and introverts makes for a more interesting world. I'd prefer the split to be more evenly balanced, but vive la différence, as they say!
Over to you - what do you think?
Do you think introverts are more suited than extroverts to the writing life? Are you an author yourself, and if so, in which camp do you consider yourself, or are you somewhere in between? If you're an introvert, have you experienced misunderstandings about what the word means? Extrovert authors, do you need to write somewhere public, so you get the stimulation you need? Leave a comment and let me know!
For the last thirty years, I've been a travelholic, indulging my passion for globetrotting as often as possible. Recently, I've read some novels set in unusual locations, which inspired this latest post in the 'Five' series. I'm going to examine five novels all set in places that don't often feature in English-language fiction, only one of which I've been to. The other four are on my radar, however, for future trips! So sit back, relax, and let's go globetrotting to some wonderful locations, brought to us in fictional form. We'll travel to Mauritius, Bulgaria, St Vincent, Mongolia and Antarctica. I'll describe a little about each place, and then talk about a novel that's set there. Maybe this will whet your appetite to read the book, travel to the location, or both!
1. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is an island country, part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. It consists of the main island of Saint Vincent and the northern two-thirds of the Grenadines, a chain of smaller islands stretching south from Saint Vincent. The capital and main port is Kingston. Whilst the official language is English, most Vincentians speak Creole, particularly at home and among friends. Saint Vincent is volcanic, and there is little level ground, with the windward side being very rocky and steep. Banana cultivation dominates the economy, although tourism also plays an important part. The latter was boosted by the filing of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies on the island. Look at the photo - isn't that beautiful?
'Deadlight' by Michael Smart
Novelist Michael Smart sets his Bequia mysteries in the Eastern Caribbean, where he spent eight years living and enjoying the sailing. His latest release, 'Deadlight', has now been published and features Saint Vincent. Here's the synopsis:
Commissioner of Police Mike Daniels copes with the political fallout resulting from the scandals uncovered by Superintendent Jolene Johanssen, whilst he investigates the murder of an undercover constable, and completes the task of cleaning up the police force before a new Prime Minister replaces him as Commissioner of Police. Corrupt cops and politicians, and two murders, lead Commissioner Daniels. Superintendent Johanssen and Nicholas Gage to the man behind the conspiracy, and a climactic showdown to save St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Amazon link to 'Deadlight': Deadlight
Mauritius is situated in the Indian Ocean, about 1,200 miles off the coast of Africa. It is an island nation, the capital being Port Louis. The climate is tropical, the terrain mountainous and well-forested in parts. The island is of volcanic origin, and thanks to its isolation, is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including some of the world's rarest plants and animals. The economy is based on tourism and sugar cultivation, with Mauritius being one of the world's top luxury tourist destinations. It possesses a wide range of natural and man-made attractions, as well as its clear sea waters and attractive beaches, Did I mention sugar cultivation? That leads me on nicely to our featured novel based in Mauritius. Drum roll, please...
'Sugar Cane' by E. E. Fry
Half Mauritian, E.E. Fry has a passion for writing about the island. Here's the synopsis for 'Sugar Cane':
Beth Stephens' seemingly normal life is turned upside down when her father, George Labelle, passes away and she finds herself travelling to Mauritius to spread his ashes. Set between England and Mauritius during the sixties to the present day, 'Sugar Cane' follows both of their stories, juxtaposing between Beth in life and George from beyond the grave, father and daughter discovering more than they bargained for, especially wherever the beautiful Sahana is concerned....
'Sugar Cane' has been described as a thriller, a murder mystery, a love story and a travelogue. It challenges the issues of mixed race heritage and identity, providing real characters with real perceptions about how they fit into a world that needs to differentiate one human being from another. 'Sugar Cane' takes you on a journey to a faraway place, where, along with the effects of slavery, Empire and indentured labour, a microcosm has been created over the centuries; the perfect canvas to illustrate what it really means to be free to know who we really are. Welcome to Mauritius.
Amazon link to 'Sugar Cane': Sugar Cane
Bulgaria is a country in south-eastern Europe, the capital being Sofia. Its geography boasts a mixture of mountains and plains, with the Balkans running through the middle of the country. In recent years, Bulgaria has emerged as a tourist destination, offering inexpensive resorts and good beaches. The capital Sofia, the medieval capital Veliko Tarnovo, the coastal resorts of Golden Sands and Sunny Beach, and winter resorts such as Bansko are perenially popular with visitors. Traditional Bulgarian culture is derived from Thracian, Salvic and Bulgar roots. Many sites are of immense historical importance and are on UNESCO's World Heritage list, such as the Thracian tombs in Sveshtari. Another neat segue, leading me to the novel I'm featuring that's based in Bulgaria:
'Valley of Thracians' by Ellis Shuman
Originally from Iowa, Ellis has been living in Israel since the age of fifteen. He served in the Israeli army, was the founding member of a kibbutz, and currently resides on a moshav outside Jerusalem. He lived and worked in Bulgaria during the years 2009 - 2010. Here's the synopsis for 'Valley of Thracians':
A Peace Corps volunteer has gone missing in Bulgaria and everyone assumes he is dead, everyone except his grandfather, who refuses to give up hope. Retired literature professor Simon Matthews launches a desperate search only to be lured into a bizarre quest to retrieve a stolen Thracian artefact—a unique object of immense value others will stop at nothing to recover. Matthews travels through a Balkan landscape dotted with ancient tombs and fortresses, unaware that his grandson has been confined to an isolated mountain cabin, slowly recovering from a severe head injury. Nothing can be taken at face value, as the woman assisting Matthews in his quest and the nurse caring for his injured grandson may have ulterior motives in helping the two reunite. Even when Matthews succeeds in joining up with his grandson, departure from Bulgaria is only possible if the missing relic can be found.
Amazon link to 'Valley of Thracians': Valley of Thracians
Mongolia, home to Ghengis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire, is a landlocked country in Central East Asia. The country is known as 'The Land of the Eternal Blue Sky', because it enjoys over 250 days of sunshine per year. The geography is diverse, including the Gobi Desert and cold, mountainous regions in the north and west. Much of Mongolia consists of steppe landscapes and forests. Mongolia is cold, high and windy; its capital, Ulan Baatar, is the world's coldest, with an annual average temperature of 0 degrees Celsius. Despite being the world's 19th largest country, Mongolia's population is small, being just under 3 million people. That's a lot of room to move! The steppe and desert landscape renders much of the country uninhabitable, however - not even the hardy Bactrian camel can survive in the Mongolian desert wastes. Crime, however, can and does flourish in Mongolia - as evidenced by my featured book:
'The Shadow Walker' by Alex Walters
Set in a country struggling to come to terms with the legacy of its past and the promise of its future, 'The Shadow Walker' is a gripping thriller that introduces Inspector Nergui of the Mongolian Serious Crime squad. As winter's first snow falls on Ulan Baatar, the mutilated body of a British geologist is found in the city's most expensive hotel, apparently the fourth victim of a serial killer. With political pressure to solve the crimes mounting, Negrui, ex-head of the Serious Crime Squad, is ordered back to his former role, building an uneasy working relationship with his successor and protégé, Doripalam, and with Drew McLeish, a senior British CID officer sent out to support the investigation. But the murders continue - leading the officers through the disused factories of the decaying city, out on to the steppes among nomadic herdsmen and illegal gold prospectors, and down into the barren landscapes of the Gobi. And then McLeish himself is kidnapped. With political tensions mounting and time draining away, Nergui and Doripalam piece together a case that encompasses both personal tragedy and shadowy commercial interests in Mongolia's vast mineral and energy reserves. And, finally, in a long-abandoned warehouse amongst the decaying Soviet-era factories of Ulan Baatar, Nergui comes face to face with the only figure who can bring the story to its shattering conclusion.
Amazon link to 'The Shadow Walker': The Shadow Walker
Beautiful and fragile Antarctica had long been on my radar when it came to places to visit, spurred on by one friend who's already been and another who's announced that she's going. I finally got there in 2017 and it was incredible! It's the world's most southerly continent, as well as the coldest, and includes the South Pole. At 5.4 million square miles, Antarctica is big, being nearly twice the size of Australia. Although it's not what most of us think of when we picture a desert, Antarctica only receives about eight inches of rain per year, mostly in coastal areas. Did I mention it's cold? Hell. yeah! The temperature in Antarctica has reached as low as −89 °C (−129 °F). Now that's chilly! Due to the harsh environment, there are no permanent human residents, but between 1,000 to 5,000 people work at the research stations scattered across the continent. Only cold-adapted organisms survive, such as penguins, seals, algae and bacteria. Makes you wonder what scope such an unforgiving, if beautiful, land can offer a novelist. Enter my fifth featured novel:
'Blood and Ice' by Robert Masello
I came across 'Blood and Ice' by accident, attracted by the back blurb when browsing in my local library. At the time, I didn't realise it was a vampire novel, but 'Blood and Ice' doesn't deal with bloodthirsty teenagers chomping on each other's necks. Instead, it's a classy and interesting story, set in a remote Antarctic research station. Here's the synopsis:
When journalist Michael Wilde is commissioned to write a feature about a remote research station deep in the frozen beauty of Antarctica, he is prepared for some extraordinary sights. But on a diving expedition in the polar sea he comes across something so extraordinary to be almost unbelievable - a man and woman chained together, deep in the ice. The doomed lovers are brought to the surface but as the ice begins to thaw the scientists discover the unusual contents of the bottles buried behind the pair, and realise they are all in terrible danger...
Amazon link to 'Blood and Ice': Blood and Ice
I'd love to hear from you!
Can you add to this list? Are there any memorable novels that you've enjoyed that are located in unusual countries? How well did the author portray the country? Did it make you yearn to visit and find out more? Leave me a comment and let me know!
An engrossing 'straight-up' crime thriller from a master wordsmith
It's been a while since I wrote a book review, and 'Mr Mercedes' by Stephen King is a worthy way to resume! The novel is King's venture into straight crime thrillers, the first of a trilogy. Fans of his horror and supernatural titles won't find their familiar fare here. No clowns, no haunted hotels, no Boo'ya Moon. Instead 'Mr Mercedes' recounts the good versus evil battle of Bill Hodges, a retired police officer, and Brady Hartsfield, a computer genius with a bad Oedipal complex and an even worse loathing of humanity. The book begins with a bang, recounting the senseless slaying of eight people by Brady Hartsfield, committed by ploughing a stolen Mercedes into a crowd. Years later, retired detective Bill Hodges's failure to capture the Mercedes Killer haunts him as he drifts through his days on a diet of junk food and daytime television. Then he receives a taunting letter from Mr Mercedes, an attempt to goad him into suicide. Instead, it induces the opposite effect, Hodges is spurred into action, committed to capturing the killer before he strikes again. Let the battle commence....
The novel has more twists and turns than a maze, never failing to thrill. Twice in the book (I'll not say more as I don't want to give plot spoilers) the events had me yelling, 'Oh my God!' at the pages. The way King enables Hartsfield to stalk Hodges without the latter realising is creepy beyond belief. Novelists are often advised to torture their characters to excite readers. In 'Mr Mercedes', Stephen King doesn't hesitate to dispatch the modern day equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition to persecute his players. Speaking of whom, 'Mr Mercedes' introduces a trio of characters that continue through the trilogy. First Bill Hodges, the man who rediscovers his zest for life through hunting Brady Hartsfield. Jerome Robinson, the computer-savvy student, a foil for Hodges's technical ineptitude. Finally, there's Holly Gibney, a seemingly minor character whose demons seem destined to hinder Hodges, not help him. The lesser characters are equally compelling. Deborah Hartsfield, Brady's alcoholic mother, inspires empathy as we learn the reason for her drinking. At the same time, her unorthodox relationship with her disturbed son won't win her a 'Mother of the Year' award. Aunt Charlotte is a master study of a self-absorbed whiner engorged with entitlement issues. The only character I disliked (although she's one of the 'good guys') is Janelle Patterson. Her condescending attitude towards Hodges warrants a kick up the backside. She dispenses sexual favours his way as though rewarding a well-trained dog with a ham bone. Yuk.
A dash of humour, and less is not always more...
Unlike many straight-up crime thrillers, the novel is laced with humour. Take our introduction to Bill Hodges. He's at a point in his life when blowing his brains out holds increasing appeal. We witness his ennui via the daytime television shows with which he self-medicates. King's descriptions of a trashy reality TV programme are hilarious, yet provide a not-so-subtle commentary on modern life. His books have often been criticised for being long-winded. By comparison to some of his work ('Under the Dome', 'The Stand', etc.), 'Mr Mercedes', at 405 pages, is a short read. Yet it still contains much that critics might say could be axed without interfering with the plot. Take the description of the reality TV show. The fighting between Knockout Bods One and Two and their shared lover doesn't add to the action, reveals nothing about the book's characters. Yet somehow it works. Those passages inject humour, a counterpoint to the awfulness of Hodges's life post-retirement.
Yes, King is prone to lengthy prose, some of which doesn't add to his books. With a master wordsmith like him, though, it doesn't detract either. The man is probably capable of rewriting the phone book and making it thrilling. His wizardry with words ensures that, no matter what tangent he zooms off on, it'll be entertaining.
'Mr Mercedes' is the first in a trilogy, and the second and third books, 'Finders Keepers' and 'End of Watch', have already been published. Our heroic trio of Hodges, Robinson and Gibney continue their crime-fighting spree, this time tackling an obsessive fan whose preoccupation with a famous writer goes too far. Wait - haven't we been there before? Annie Wilkes in 'Misery'? King seems to enjoy examining the trials and tribulations of a novelist ('Misery', 'Lisey's Story', 'Bag of Bones', etc.). 'Finders Keepers', however, in King's capable hands, spins an original twist on a familiar theme. And 'End of Watch' delves into what appears to be a murder-suicide. Except that matters aren't, of course, what they seem...
Back to 'Mr Mercedes'. I devoured this book, loving the ride on which King takes the reader. The only part that didn't gel for me was the final scene, which I thought stretched credibility too far. On the other hand, in its own way it's oddly humorous. Given how I loved the rest of the book, it's a minor issue. And now, thanks to Messrs King and Mercedes, I know what a crush freak is. Believe me, if I could erase that particular piece of knowledge from my brain, I would!
Have you read 'Mr Mercedes'?
I hope you enjoyed this book review! Have you read 'Mr Mercedes'? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Thoughts, opinions? Leave a comment and let me know!
The fulfilment of a long-held dream
Five years ago, in December 2014, I wound up my dog walking business that had enabled me to write part-time, and became a full-time novelist. Delighted by the realisation of my most cherished ambition, I celebrated by touring Thailand and Cambodia for two months. (Those of you who know me well understand how badly I've been bitten by the travel bug!) When I returned, I settled down to my new life, and since then I've written a further three novels and my novella, 'Blackwater Lake'. The latest is 'Silent Winter', a dark story of how the mind responds to solitary confinement. I've enjoyed every minute. No regrets. None at all.
So far I've written and had published seven novels, one novella and a 'how-to' guide for newbie writers. I've also collated three of my titles into a box set, and made them available in audio and paperback formats. Along the way I've signed publishing contracts with Lake Union, Bloodhound Books, and set up my own publishing imprint, Orelia Publishing. I've no plans to stop writing novels any time soon, or to switch genre. I love what I do, and meeting lots of other authors forms a big part of that.
Many people have been very supportive
What have I learned over the last five years? A lot about my fellow humans. I've made big changes, and this can be hard for other people to deal with. In general I've been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement I've received, including from other novelists, but some people have responded negatively. A few have chosen to ignore my new career, others have treated it as a joke - a nice hobby, perhaps, but not something to take seriously. That's a shame, but to be expected - some individuals feel threatened by other people's lifestyle changes. Such reactions have been greatly outweighed by the encouragement I've garnered elsewhere. I've also received wonderful support from unexpected sources, and that's been a pleasant surprise.
Every book is a new challenge
I've also learned a huge amount about writing. I've streamlined my processes, particularly plotting and editing, so they're much more efficient. As for book marketing and promotion, I'm still getting to grips with this area - it's not my natural forte! The geeky side of me has enjoyed setting up my blog and website, as well as getting the hang of the wonderful software that is Scrivener.
I continue to learn more about my particular writing quirks. In common with other novelists, certain motifs often crop up in my fiction - for example, my characters tend to clench their guts a lot in tense situations. (Stay close to a toilet, guys!) I've noticed this with other writers' books; it can be a hard habit to break. I'm working on it...
I'll continue to set myself a new challenge with every novel; so far it's proved both interesting and beneficial. For example, with 'The Second Captive' I explored writing in scenes and using a two-part novel structure. I'd been sceptical before about this, preferring to write in whole chapters, but I discovered I enjoyed that way of working. I'm delighted to report that book won the 'best novel' category in the 2015 Bards and Sages annual awards!
With my next book, I want to plot more deeply than I've ever done before, and see how that affects the editing process. I don't doubt that I'll carry on developing and growing along my writing journey.
It's been a fantastic five years, and I've never regretted my decision to pursue my novel-writing dreams. I shudder to think what I'd be doing now if I hadn't made that change. Life is about learning, growing and expanding, in my opinion, and I want to be doing that until I die.
What do I want to achieve in the next five years?
By 2024, I hope to have at least twelve published titles, and to continue combining writing with my perpetual wanderlust. I'd like to be able to produce my novels more quickly, but I get so hung up on the editing stage it doesn't seem to happen. So maybe I'll content myself with a book a year. Whatever happens, I'm buckling up for an incredible ride! Will you join me?
What makes a reader ditch a novel?
It's rare for me not to read all the way to the end of a novel. I choose my fiction carefully, avoiding genres that I don't enjoy, such as romances. After a lifetime of reading, I know what appeals to me and what doesn't. (Not always, as you'll discover below - sometimes I get it wrong). The other night, though, I gave up on a book after finding some of the content offensive. It got me thinking. What might make a reader ditch a novel? As part of my 'Five' series, I'll be discussing some possible reasons. Let's go!
1. It's badly written
Some novels, whether traditionally or indie published, simply aren't well-written. Poor character development, a failure to round off the narrative properly, plot threads left hanging... the list goes on. Nobody wants to read such books.
Dialogue is a common problem. Some authors struggle with getting it right; their characters' conversations fall flat. Not to mention my favourite bugbear - inappropriate and excessive speech tags. I gave up on one novel partly because the main character rarely said anything. Instead, she chirped and mumbled her sentences, reminding me by turns of a songbird or a sulky teenager. As she was supposed to be a feisty, kick-ass kind of gal, this irritated me. There were other reasons I abandoned the book, but when I read one chirp too many, it was game over.
Speech tags are often unnecessary anyway; if an author has given his/her characters strong enough voices and the dialogue flows well, it should be obvious who's speaking.
2. Bad grammar, spelling and punctuation
A criticism often aimed at self-published novels is that they're full of typos and poor grammar. Not always, of course, but there's some truth in the allegation. Whilst I love what self-publishing has done for the industry, I agree that too many novelists present their work with a disregard for the English language. However, it's also a trend I'm noticing with traditionally published books. It's not unusual nowadays to find typos and even plot errors in novels from big-name publishers. I'm told it's because many publishing houses are axing editors and proof-readers in a bid to cut costs. Whether that's true, I can't say, but it's no longer just self-published authors who have to defend themselves from criticism on this score.
Some people, of course, believe it's not important. They say that as long as the plot flows well and the characters engage the reader, then typos and poor grammar don't matter. I say they do. Language is the medium through which writers create their work; shouldn't they be able to employ it correctly? If a musician plays a wrong note, it grates on the ear. The principle's no different with books. Typos jar on the reader, distracting from the narrative - hardly what the author intended. Would you rather be kissed or pissed?
As for punctuation errors, as Lynne Truss so ably demonstrates in 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves', they can alter the entire meaning of a sentence. Correct punctuation can save lives. Take the following example: 'Let's eat, grandpa.' Miss out the comma, and cannibalism enters the picture - not a happy scenario for our aged relative: 'Let's eat grandpa.' Call the cops, someone!
3. The terrible trio - sex, swearing and violence
I've lumped these together because they all turn off any reader who's sensitive to such issues. Some people don't care for brutality, profanity or sex scenes in novels. As I'll explain later, I ditched one book partly because of its violence. I'm not unduly squeamish, but what I was reading was a step too far for me. When it comes to swearing, I've been told the use of the F-word in my novels has upset some people, and I understand that. I rarely, if ever, swear. Often, though, profanity is necessary in fiction. It would be inauthentic for me to create a character like Adam Campbell in 'Guilty Innocence', and for him not to curse. He's a murderous psychopath - bad language goes with the territory. In contrast, my fourth novel, 'The Second Captive', contains little profanity. It simply wouldn't be right for the characters.
As for sexual content, I love a good bit of smut! I may well write erotica one day. Some people cringe when fictional characters get down and dirty, however, and that's their preference. Each to their own.
4. The novel doesn't get with the reader
Sometimes a novel can be well-written, a popular success, and yet something about it doesn't sit well with the reader. I experienced this with a certain novel, which I won't name as I dislike posting negatively about books or their authors. The book has 53 five-star and 18 four-star reviews on Amazon UK, and has clearly been well received. But I simply couldn't get into it, failing to engage with the characters or the storyline. The author's writing style didn't appeal, either. I read some reviews of the book after I abandoned it, and I'm glad I didn't continue. The book contains scenes of sexual torture along with animal abuse - definitely not my thing. By all accounts, the novel is very well written and has garnered critical acclaim, but for me it wasn't a good fit. My fault - I should have read the back blurb more carefully.
5. When an author promotes his/her own agenda
Sometimes when I read a novel, I sense a personal agenda on the part of the author. This sometimes happens with political or religious issues, and I find it off-putting. As the novelist Iain Rob Wright mentioned in a blog post: 'I would never make my own views entirely obvious through my work, because then I am not creating fiction, I am writing propaganda.' I agree. It's usually easy to spot this one. Typically, a character will espouse a viewpoint that has no bearing on the plot, expanding at length via unnecessary dialogue or narrative. If axing such material wouldn't affect the storyline, then it's likely a spot of personal propaganda on behalf of the author is being deployed. Like many people, I resent being preached at. It may not mean I ditch the book altogether, but it does colour my view of it.
What about you? What would make you ditch a novel?
Apart from the five reasons above, are there any reasons you'd abandon a novel? Does sex, swearing or violence put you off a book? Do typos bother you? Leave me a comment and let me know!
Today marks the release of my seventh novel, 'Silent Winter', which makes me very happy! For the first week of publication, 'Silent Winter' is available for just 99c/p in the US/UK (Kindle version). Either click/tap the image or this link: Silent Winter.
'Silent Winter' is currently available as an e-book from Amazon, and the paperback version should be published within a day. I'm also working on an audio version, but that's a project for 2020. In the meantime, here's a taster of 'Silent Winter' is about:
On an icy November night, Drew Blackmore is beaten unconscious, then abducted. He awakes to find himself in total darkness, naked and chained to the floor. Fed just enough to keep him alive, Drew is unable to identify his captor, or the reason for his incarceration. As reality fades, hallucinations take over. Can Drew escape his prison before madness claims him?
Meanwhile Drew's wife, Holly, despairing of ever seeing him again, turns to his brother for comfort. As the worst winter in decades sweeps the UK, she learns of Drew's tragic past. Could his disappearance be connected with that of a prostitute years before?
A story of how the mind responds to solitary confinement, 'Silent Winter' examines one man's desperate attempt to survive the unthinkable.
A selection of comments from my ARC readers and from Goodreads reviews:
'Excellent storytelling from Maggie James.'
'Blew my mind away… the story kept me at the edge of my seat.'
'Great characters in a complex plot… an amazing read.'
You can watch the video trailer here:
Either click/tap the image or this link: Silent Winter.
Buy your copy from Amazon via this link! Silent Winter
I'm delighted to welcome novelist Peter James to my blog today! Peter is the author of the best-selling crime thrillers featuring Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, which have sold 18 million copies worldwide. Peter also writes supernatural fiction, such as 'The House on Cold Hill', a book I enjoyed very much. Welcome to my blog, Peter! With no further ado, let's proceed with the interview.
To what extent does DS Roy Grace reflect aspects of your own personality?
Roy Grace is based very loosely on former Chief Superintendent David Gaylor of Sussex CID. I was lucky enough to shadow David for many weeks over several years, during which he rose from Detective Inspector to Detective Superintendent. His office is Roy Grace’s office, and one of his areas of specialization was cold cases – also shared by Grace. But there the similarity ends – David is happily married and has no particular interest in the occult – although he is very open minded. I like Roy Grace the most of any character I have created, and there is a lot of myself in him. I’m in some ways quite a loner, too. I have a fascination for the paranormal. I share his views when he attacks bigots, when he attacks horrible architecture, or when, in ‘Not Dead Enough’, he launches into a tirade at the terrible state of our hospital in Brighton, the Sussex County. Roy Grace is a man who believes that we all have an obligation, with our lives, to try to leave the world a slightly better place than when we first came into it. That’s my view and it is partly why I write, to examine and try to understand better the world we live in and why people do the things they go. But I do also love the terrible Norman Potting. He is able to say all kinds of politically incorrect things that can no longer be said!
Out of all your antagonists, who’s been the most fun for you to create, and why?
Jodie in ‘Love You Dead’, and Dr Crisp in ‘You Are Dead’. Jodie is inspired by a woman I met in a prison, who murdered her husband and mother-in-law; she is so evil she makes you smile at her audacity. Similarly, I like Doctor Edward Crisp’s combination of charm, quirkiness and utter evil – modelled on someone I know who is in a different profession.
What’s been your most challenging novel when it comes to plotting, and why?
‘Dead Like You’ because it took place in two different time periods which was very complicated.
How does your writing day shape up? Lark or Owl? Plotter or Pantser?
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