In this week's post, I continue my 'Five' series, examining novels that proved highly controversial on their release. I'm a firm believer in adults being able to read whatever they choose. In my view, just because a book offends some people (usually because of sex or religion, those perennially divisive subjects!) it's no reason to deny it to others. The difficulty for this post was, of course, narrowing my selection down to five! Authors have frequently challenged prevailing social attitudes, giving me a deep pool from which to make my selection. Eventually I chose the following novels.
1. 'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley wrote 'Brave New World' in 1931, with publication taking place in 1932. From the start, the novel sparked controversy, being banned in Ireland on the grounds of offensive language and anti-religious themes. Not much has changed in the decades since, with the novel becoming one of the most hotly debated books in America. Readers have been infuriated by its sexually explicit scenes and bad language. It has also been banned in India due to its sexual content. As if that weren't enough, in 1982 Polish author Antoni Smuszkiewicz accused Huxley of plagiarism, citing two Polish novels written in the 1920s. According to him, their similarity to 'Brave New World' was so great that Huxley must have poached their plots. It's definitely a controversial book!
Here's a synopsis: Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress... Sounds fascinating! I can't believe I've not yet read this classic novel, so it's going on my list.
2. 'Ulysses' by James Joyce
'Ulysses' first appeared in serial form and was then published as a novel in 1922 in Paris. Why France, when Joyce was Irish and the serialisation took place in an American journal? Controversial from the start, the book was banned in Ireland, the United States and Britain because it was considered obscene. As well as sexual imagery, 'Ulysses' includes detailed descriptions of bodily functions such as masturbation, menstruation and defecation. The Parisian publishing house clearly wasn't fazed by such matters. The book recounts the various events which befall Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus in Dublin on 16 June 1904, including Bloom's wife, Molly, committing adultery. Hailed by critics such as T S Eliot yet reviled by others, e.g. Virginia Woolf, the serialised version was the subject of an obscenity trial in the US, leading to the novel being banned in that country. Copies were burned and incoming shipments were seized by customs officials. In the 1930s a US court ruling overturned the obscenity charge, making America the first English-speaking country to allow the book.
What fascinates me is the unusual structure. Joyce divided 'Ulysses' into eighteen chapters called episodes, saying he had "put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant". The characters and theme of each episode correspond to those in Homer's 'Odyssey'. Sounds intriguing - another one for my reading list!
3. 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' by D H Lawrence
First published in Italy in 1928, the full version of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' didn't appear in the UK until 1960. Upon its release, the publishers, Penguin Books, were tried under The Obscene Publications Act 1959, making this an important test case for the new law. The book had become notorious for its story of the relationship between two individuals from different social classes, explicit descriptions of sex and profanity. The verdict, a triumph for common sense and literary freedom in my opinion, was a 'not guilty' one. To twenty-first century readers, the book won't deliver the same kind of shock it did in the nineteen twenties. Back then, the sexual content and swearing held far more power to offend, but I suspect the main reason for the disapproval it generated was the story's crossing of class divisions. The book has also been banned and featured in obscenity trials in Australia, America, Japan, India and Canada.
Here's a synopsis: Constance Reid marries Sir Clifford Chatterley, who becomes paralysed from the waist down after the First World War. Desperate for an heir and embarrassed by his inability to satisfy his wife sexually, Clifford gives the go-ahead for her to have an affair, envisaging she will choose someone from their immediate social circle. Instead, Constance begins a passionate relationship with their married gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, inciting Clifford's ingrained class prejudices. The story ends with Mellors working on a farm, waiting for his divorce, with Connie, now pregnant, living with her sister. The expectation is that, eventually, they will be together.
4. 'Tropic of Cancer' by Henry Miller
Henry Miller wrote 'Tropic of Cancer' in the early 1930s, and it was originally published in Paris in 1934. The book was banned in the US for more than thirty years because it was considered pornographic. Grove Press published it in America in 1961, leading to more than sixty obscenity trials until (finally!) the Supreme Court ruled it a work of literature in 1964. Other English-speaking countries, such as Canada and the UK, banned 'Tropic of Cancer'. Only smuggled copies of the book were available in the United Kingdom from 1934 onwards. Scotland Yard contemplated banning its publication in Britain in the 1960s, but decided against the move because people like T S Eliot were ready to defend the book publicly. Another victory for literary freedom!
So what was all the fuss about? Set in Paris in the 1930s, the book is largely autobiographical, featuring a starving American writer who lives a bohemian life among prostitutes, pimps, and artists. Meaning lots of sex - oh, the horror! Miller gave the following explanation of the book's unusual title. "To me cancer symbolises the disease of civilisation, the endpoint of the wrong path, the necessity to change course radically, to start completely over from scratch.” Yet another one to add to my reading list!
5. 'Lolita' by Vladimir Nabokov
'Lolita' was written in English by its Russian author, Vladimir Nabokov, and first published in Paris in 1955. It seems French attitudes to controversial subjects are more relaxed than those of the US and UK. I can't help noticing how the books I'm featuring in this post often gained acceptance first in Paris. American and English versions followed in 1958 and 1959. The initial reaction was mixed. Graham Greene, in the Sunday Times, called it one of the three best books of 1955, whereas John Gordon, editor of the Sunday Express, dubbed it the filthiest book he had ever read. The Home Office promptly seized all copies entering the UK, and in 1956 France banned 'Lolita' for two years, thus blotting their liberal copybook. The US, however, reacted differently, and the book has never been banned there. A novel about a man who marries a woman so he can embark upon a relationship with her twelve-year-old daughter is bound to be controversial.
The furore rumbles on today; recent sex abuse cases coming to light have ensured the book remains a source of debate. Critics disagree as to whether Lolita was a victim or a willing participant in her sexual relationship with the protagonist Humbert Humbert. Some have interpreted their liaison not as the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child. Others have labelled Humbert a rapist and paedophile. The book's influence is such that the name Lolita has passed into common usage to describe a sexually provocative young girl.
Let's hear from you!
Have you read any of the books I've featured in this post? Do any of them offend you? Or perhaps you consider them victims of outmoded thinking? Leave a comment and let me know!
In this week's post I'd like to examine the stereotype of writers as tortured geniuses. It's a cliché, but one backed up by life. Examples of tormented authors abound; take Sylvia Plath, author of 'The Bell Jar', who was clinically depressed for most of her adult life and committed suicide in 1963. Or Ernest Hemingway, renowned for his hard drinking and womanising, who shot and killed himself. Jack London, Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell - the list goes on, and it's a long and unhappy one.
A recent study found that, with the exception of bipolar disorder, creative types are no more likely to suffer psychiatric problems than anyone else. Apart from writers, that is. We're more disposed, it seems, towards depression and schizophrenia. More prone to committing suicide, too. Here's the link to an NHS report on the study: Study looks at creativity link with mental illness.
As someone interested in the workings of the brain, I find this fascinating, and frustrating that the study didn't identify possible reasons. I'm fortunate in that I've always enjoyed good mental health; I've blogged before about how I don't use my fiction as a catharsis for my demons, because those pesky little devils are few and far between. I'm aware, though, that other authors are different. Take my writing idol, Stephen King. I can't find the link, but I remember reading that he uses his fiction, especially his earlier works, to resolve childhood issues. He's also a writer who has battled alcoholism and drug addiction. In addition, at least one writer friend uses her books to resolve personal angst.
I suspect certain genres lend themselves as avenues for exploring one's malaise. It's no coincidence that not many emotionally tortured writers have penned light romances or children's books. King's preference for writing horror and supernatural fiction is a great example. My own genre, psychological suspense, certainly lends itself to examining the darker side of life, but (thank God!) the events in my books have never featured in my own experience. If writing is cathartic, though, shouldn't authors be less, not more, prone to mental health issues? Or perhaps, for some people, it helps a little but their issues run deeper than fiction can heal. Who knows?
My conviction is that our minds are far more complex than we can understand, at present anyway. And other creative professions, such as art and music, are by no means exempt - Van Gogh and Nick Drake, anyone? Take a recent study conducted by Help Musicians UK, which found that over 60% of musicians suffer some form of mental health issue. Such problems can affect anyone, at any age, whatever their profession. Despite what the survey found, I'm not sure they're linked to creativity.
What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know!
I'm delighted to welcome novelist Patrick Parker, who has written three intriguing novels so far, to my blog. Welcome, Patrick!
Thank you, Maggie, for your time and giving me the opportunity to talk with you.
Tell us about yourself and your life to date.
I retired from the US Army, then worked in the defense industry for fifteen years. My duty assignments took me to Italy, Germany, Panama, as well as the United States. My corporate work took me to Europe, across the United States and England. I am now settled in Texas, writing full time. I enjoy scuba diving, sailing, going to the beach, and astronomy.
A challenge issued by your wife led to you writing 'Treasures of the Fourth Reich' - can you elaborate?
I picked up a suspense book to read on the plane for a trip. This particular book, by one of the large publishing houses, was hyped as a “must read” and had several endorsements. I thought I couldn’t go wrong. However, I found numerous errors and holes in the plot. In some instances, the story line was not believable. When I returned home, in a conversation, my wife asked how I liked the book. I told her about it, and that I was disappointed. I made an offhanded comment that I could write a better book. She said flat out, “Why don’t you?”
Time passed and I began thinking of her comment, but doubt filled my head. A few travel excursions later, I bought another suspense book and it too, disappointed me. Then I was sent to Panama on a classified assignment. I stopped in at an art gallery hoping to buy a painting as a memento. The owner of the shop was active in the resistance against Manuel Noriega and looked to the United States to rescue her country. She told me at length, about the situation in the country. I found her fascinating. My trip to the isthmus did have many tense and exhilarating moments. Soon after I returned, in one conversation, my wife asked me again if I was going to write a book. “It is harder than you think,” she said. I think she was just tired of me complaining of the quality of some books. Her comment was all it took. Panama was still fresh in my head and I thought the art dealer would make a very interesting character in a book. The idea took shape and 'Treasures of the Fourth Reich' was born.
How far is the character of Maria Conner based on that art dealer you met in Panama?
Maria Conner is based on a real person in Panama. That person, I’ll call her Mary (not her real name), did own an art gallery. Mary was very vocal in her opposition to the Noriega regime. She intrigued me, although it was a bit frightening. Almost immediately, she asked me if I was going to save them. She began to tell me of the atrocities occurring there. She even told me she and a number of others were organized against the government. Her flat out statements were alarming. If we were overheard, I probably wouldn’t be here. Mary is about the same age as Maria Conner and, probably, much the same personality. Mary did have tragedy in her life as well. Yes, I did buy a watercolor painting from her.
From where did you get the inspiration for the character of Dydre Rowyn in 'War Merchant'?
Dydre Rowyn is a combination of several women I knew from my work in the defense industry. I took from their personalities, traits, and background. Usually, the protagonist in a book like War Merchant is male. I thought a female would not only be a better twist but also add to the suspense. I didn’t want to have the usual stereotypical book. I knew it would be a challenge to maintain her femininity and it was. This character had to be smart, cunning, attractive, not cower when faced with danger, and deadly. I have known some female soldiers that were tougher than woodpecker lips. A female is more deadly than a male. So, after all that, Dydre came to life. The excellent reviews and comments on my female protagonist, from women, tell me that I accomplished my goal with her.
Tell us about your latest book, 'Six Minutes Early'.
Your books so far have focused on issues of war. Will you write about other themes and in different genres in the future?
Yes, they have but I don’t want people to think they are war books. I have been asked many times if some of my characters will return in another story. I would like to bring them back and have a few ideas to do just that. For the time being, I think I will stay in the suspense genre. Yes, that is a broad area and one I like and enjoy writing. I may bring a character(s) back for a crime story or mystery. For now, I have several ideas that incorporate politics, history, and current events. There is so much going on in the world now that you can’t make up. It is ripe for storytelling!
How does your writing fit in with your non-writing life?
That is a good question. If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you it infringes too much. I look at it as a full-time job and I am focused on the story at hand. It is time consuming, but if you want a good product, you must devote the time. I do get involved in a story and probably do drive everyone nuts until it is finished. How do you see your writing career progressing?
What are your literary aims and ambitions?
What's been the most joyful part to date of being a novelist?
The most joyful is getting my books published and reading the reviews. My mother, wife, and daughters are very proud of my accomplishments. That in itself is very gratifying. Some of my old friends and classmates are not only astounded that I am published but elated as well. I guess I just surprised everyone.
What are your top three strengths (as a person, not just as a writer)? Your top three weaknesses?
My top three strengths are: I am very tenacious; I have great attention to detail; and I am disciplined. I want to produce quality work. Sometimes my tenaciousness and attention to detail consume too much time. My three weaknesses are: I get impatient at times; I fret too much over the small things, which I have no control over; and incompetence drives me crazy. I do work on these weaknesses and try to keep them in check.
Thanks, Patrick! It's been a pleasure interviewing you.
Wow, those strengths and weaknesses mirror my own! Want to know more about Patrick and his books? Visit his website at http://patrickparkerbooks.wixsite.com/author
My fifth novel, 'After She's Gone', has a strong theme of arson throughout the narrative. In my opinion, arson lends itself well to novel plots, as authors can use the crime to cover up other nefarious deeds such as murder. The research I needed to do for my book was fascinating and at times quite unnerving! As part of my 'Five' series, I thought it would be fun to examine five novels that have also used arson or fire as their dominant theme. Here goes!
1. 'The Arsonist' by Sue Miller
2. 'Death du Jour' by Kathy Reichs
3. 'Blue Smoke' by Nora Roberts
4. 'Afterwards' by Rosamund Lupton
5. 'Fahrenheit 451' by Ray Bradbury
A novel told backwards!
A while back, I wrote a post about novels with unusual structures (you can read it here), examining books such as B S Johnson's 'The Unfortunates', which consists of twenty-seven chapters that can be read in any order. As a novelist, I'm fascinated by examples of authors stretching the boundaries of what's possible with fiction. Last week, I picked up from the library another novel with an intriguing premise: Jeffery Deaver's 'The October List'.
What's unusual about it? Well, the story is told in reverse - sounds weird, I know! The index begins with chapter thirty-six, the story working back through time over the last two days to the first chapter. In his foreword, Deaver explains that he became captivated with the idea of reverse chronology after listening to a radio discussion about Stephen Sondheim's musical 'Merrily We Roll Along', which uses the same idea. Deaver says: 'I began to wonder if it was possible for a thriller writer to pull off a backward-told story that was filled with the cliff-hangers, surprises and twists and turns that are, to me, the epitome of good crime fiction. The task of course, is to present the twist before giving the facts that lead up to it and still make the surprise thrilling. It's like telling a joke's punch line first, yet still making the audience laugh as hard as if they'd heard the gag in its proper order.'
Part brilliance, part ho-hum
So does Deaver succeed? Yes and no, and that reflects the range of reviews I've read about the book on Amazon. For the majority of the novel I wasn't that impressed. The characters lacked depth, Deaver giving only the barest details about them, and the writing failed to grab me. Along the way, there are surprises, but no major thrills or twists. In addition, the ending of the opening chapter (number thirty-six, which appears first in the book as this is a story told in reverse) would have been weak had the plot been conventionally ordered, not delivering the final punch thriller readers expect. Whoever reviewed the book for The Sunday Times appears to have the same reaction, saying: 'Even halfway through, it seems possible that Deaver has been defeated by the mind-boggling technical challenge of delivering surprises in back-to-front time.'
Towards the end, however, everything changes, and I found myself gripped by the twists that Deaver throws into the mix. So does our friend from The Sunday Times: 'After the reverse journey reaches the couple's first meeting, his (Deaver's) gamble is thoroughly vindicated by a series of twists in which he resembles a conjuror who each time seems to have performed his final trick, but then tops it.'
My reaction as well! The final two chapters are particularly gripping, delivering surprises that perhaps I should have seen coming but didn't. By the end, the last part of the book left me thinking, 'Wow!', as well as unsure how to sum it up as a whole. 'The October List' is, by its very nature, plot-driven yet that's no excuse for poorly drawn characters or pedestrian writing. Yet I'm filled with admiration for any novelist who attempts such an ambitious task. Could you conceive of writing a novel backwards?! Deaver says in his foreword that 'The October List' was more challenging than anything he'd previously written - hardly surprising!
Have you read 'The October List'?
I'd be interested to hear what other people think. What's your opinion of 'The October List'? Do you, like one five-star Amazon reviewer, consider it 'brilliantly executed' with 'more surprises than you can shake a stick at'? Or do you side with the one-star reviewer who says, cuttingly, 'An intriguing idea wasted'? Leave a comment and let me know!
If you've considered doing this, then read on...
As an author, I benefit greatly from being a member of various Facebook book groups. The better ones ban spam posts, concentrating on encouraging a great mix of readers, book bloggers and authors. It's a wonderful way to grow connections and engage with readers. My favourite is UK Crime Book Club. It's friendly, supportive, and packed with fellow authors, readers and bloggers. At present, it has over 9,300 members and is growing steadily. In this post, I interview the lovely David Gilchrist and Caroline Maston, leading lights behind UK Crime Book Club , about running the group and what they have planned for its future. So what makes it so special? Over to you, David and Caroline!
Tell us how UK Crime Book Club got started.
DG: We wanted to have a group that works for UK-based crime writers, to help promote them and give them a platform to speak to readers and writers both. I would love to have the group be something of a UK crime fiction magazine to keep everyone interested.
CM: I am lucky in that i was bought up in a book loving household; we’ve always been our own kind of mini book group. Then we discovered groups on Facebook and me and my dad got involved in some and thought we could run our own, that focussed on the kind of stuff we like to read and was a place to help authors, bloggers and readers as well as being full of interesting stuff.
How broad is your definition of ‘crime book’? Do your members read thrillers and suspense novels as well?
CM: As broad as it needs to be; I used to mainly like forensic based ones, The thing I love about this group is it pushes you to try new things; in the year we’ve been running I’ve read high octane thrillers (with spies), books featuring no policemen or investigators, forensic thrillers and everything in between, all by group authors. I would say our members are willing to give most things a go including thrillers and suspense; personally I’d like to see a bit more paranormal crime/urban fantasy crime in the group.
How do you maintain member interest and engagement?
DG: This is the difficult area, trying to think up topics for discussion, posting about the authors that are members of the group, the occasional quiz, posting details of new books coming out. Member participation is quite difficult to maintain, but we are working at it.
CM: We try to keep the group going by having active admin and posting discussion topics, having events etc. It can be hard but we have a fab group of regulars that keep us going.
What plans have you got in store for the group?
DG: I would like to set up an award equal to that of the CWA, an Online Crime Writers award. In conjunction with Crime Fiction Addict (another Facebook group) we will be working towards that this year. Last year we ran our own monthly Author of the month awards, this year it is to be the Online CWA with polls on both groups at the same time, with the monthly winners to be in the votes. I have felt for some time the CWA do not give the credit to indies and self-published authors that they deserve. The fightback starts here. (Good to hear it! - MJ). Down the line the hope is for other groups to join us in this.
CM: I'm in total agreement with my dad here. I’d also like to encourage the support that is already there so authors know who to ask for expert help in the group and to help put people in contact with each other. If we keep spreading the word about our authors and helping them out then we are doing something worthwhile with the group.
Tell us about the regular online author chats you host.
CM: I arrange the chats. Any group author member can take part; all they have to do is drop me a message or ask in the group and I’ll arrange one for them. They run on Wednesday evenings between 7-8pm and have proven to be a lot of fun in the past. There have been some real highlights, yourself amongst them. (Thanks, Caroline! - MJ).
Can authors promote their books in the group?
CM: we try to keep promotion to a minimum as we have seen groups that get flooded by it and that can spoil the enjoyment for people as well as inducing a sort of promotion blindness. However we recognise that authors need to promote their books so every week we have an author promotion thread. Anyone can post book offers on it and it has a clear picture so you know which one it is. In addition the admins will post some offers or reminders of books, especially if a publication date is looming. We are always happy to help an author out and share their book.
How do you attract new members?
DG: This is no longer a key factor for us. It's more about having existing members engage in the group.
CM: I’m not sure we ever really thought about having a massive group. To be honest we are just two massive book geeks running a group, so I would honestly say we have never really set out to draw in members. We’re happy to see new people but as my dad says we are all about member engagement.
What useful stuff do you offer for authors?
CM: We have a 'useful people' file that lets you know all the people with expert knowledge in the group who could give you advice on a tricky research point. We also have a list of bloggers who will read and review for people. In addition to that we run author chats and offer promotions as well as running the author of the month poll. We have also in the past distributed review copies for authors and are happy to offer that service again if it was required. What useful stuff do you offer for readers and bloggers?
DG: For bloggers we are a platform for them to post their blogs. We run an author promotion thread where authors can post details of offers, and readers can quickly browse to find books that interest them. CM: We have a file for bloggers and as we have lots of member authors we have posted opportunities for bloggers to join blog tours as well as offering review copies of novels. We have had book group chats in the past for readers and offer author chats as well which is a great way to get all those tricky questions about your latest read answered.
What do you enjoy most about running UK Crime Book Club?
CM: For me its the chance to have real interactions with the people whose books I enjoy, as well as having the sheer privilege at times to see careers blossom and to help get books off the ground and running. I think we have a fab bunch of people in the group who I love chatting to. (I agree - it's a great group, made special by the hard work of David, Caroline and the other admin people - MJ).
What advice would you offer to anyone setting up a Facebook Book Club?
DG: There are many groups that are only a platform for authors to promote books. I do not believe this works; I do monitor them and the member participation seems to be very low. To set up a new group, clearly define the parameters and try to find its USP (Unique selling point).
CM: They take a lot of running. Only commit if you have people who will help you run it. I think the best groups have a niche to meet people's interests and are run by people passionate about the group's subject. Book groups can stagnate if they are over controlled but at the same time I see way too many groups that are just places where people are mean to each other. You should be prepared to monitor group activity and make sure your group is a pleasant place to be.
What’s been the most fun thing to happen in the club?
CM: For me it was meeting some of the authors in person, and the very first author chat we ever did was a lot of fun too, mostly because we learnt a lot from it about how to make the chats run more smoothly. The author who did that one is returning for a follow-up performance soon.
Thanks, Caroline and David! It's been great talking with you.
I can vouch for the commitment that David and Caroline show in running UK Crime Book Club. The group is friendly, engaged, and without the constant promotional posts that spoil some other book groups. It's a good place to interact with bloggers, readers and other authors.
Interested in joining UK Crime Book Club? You can find out more via this link: UK Crime Book Club.
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!
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