A thrilling Q&A with M.J. Arlidge

To say I was excited when Angela (@angelaontour) got in touch earlier this month would be an understatement – after all, she was giving me the opportunity to do a Q&A with one of my favourite crime-authors, M.J. Arlidge! Since my friend Melissa (yes, the very same one that first recommended Sophie Hannah to me – what can I say? She’s got great taste in books!) lent me Eeny Meeny I’ve been hooked.

I devoured the first book in the Helen Grace series within a couple of days and since then I’ve been thrilled with every new release. Number seven in the series, Love Me Not,  has just been released in paperback and can be ordered here.

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Originally this was set to be a Q&A about one of my favourites, The Doll’s House, but I couldn’t resist asking Matt about the whole series! One of the reasons I love The Doll’s House so much is because of the tension and suspense; the ending is also great and it feels much more of a pyschological thriller than the first two. I always love it when a book really delves into the mind of a criminal.

I’m sure you’ll agree there’s some interesting answers and make sure you keep reading ’til the end to find out what Matt is up to next!

MJArlidge

Helen Grace is so well developed and complex as a character – with every novel you surprise us, unveiling a little more about her. Where did you get your inspiration for such a strong, yet sensitive, female? 
When creating a protagonist for Eeny Meeny, I was desperate to avoid cliches. A male copper, with a drink problem, marital issues etc was not for me. I wanted Helen to be different – so I created a tea-total biker girl with an aversion to relationships. I wanted her to be tough and resourceful, but I also knew she needed a pressure release, something to turn to when life became too much. Hence her predilection for BDSM – Helen uses pain to manage her emotions, to dispel those dark moods. Right from the off, I thought it would be interesting if the person Helen is closest to is the person she pays to beat her.

What compelled you to have a woman as the star of the show?
Three reasons. First, because I think women are more interesting than men both in life and fiction. Men are predictable and relatively simple in their desires, women are much more complex and nuanced – and thus more interesting to write. Second, because life is harder for women, which is good in terms of creating an interesting protagonist – you want to be able to throw as many rocks as possible at your main characters. And lastly, because it just feels like the hour of the woman in crime fiction. All the interesting crime fighters of recent years – Lisbeth Salander, Sarah Lund, Saga Noren – have been female.

In The Doll’s House you created such a vivid, dark and atmospheric world, particularly in the cellar. How do you approach research for your novels to keep them and the world’s within them feeling authentic? 

Doll'sHouseThe amount of research I do differs massively for each novel. If it’s set in a particular place (Hide and Seek, Holloway Prison) or is based on specific cases (Liar Liar) then I really go to town on the research, as it can throw up really interesting story material. For Doll’s House, I read Natascha Kampusch’s biography and a few other abductee accounts but actually it was one of the least researched novels I’ve written, because I had no problems just dreaming it all up. The inspiration for the book actually came from my daughter. We were on holiday with another family and she always wanted to sleep in with the other kids. Fearing they would wake each other up in the middle of the night, I would sneak in once she was asleep and carry her back to her own bed. After a while, I realised that each night she went to sleep in one bed, but woke up in another. And I wondered what that would be like for an adult? How weird and disorienting it would be. And the novel just grew from there.

Why did you set the series in Southampton?

Southampton portMostly because I love port cities. The whole world comes and goes through ports, bringing all sorts of stories (and criminality) with it. As a result, port cities have a unique, occasionally unsettling atmosphere. But it was also because Southampton reflects Helen’s identity. Southampton was, I think, the most bombed city in Britain during WWII. It suffered terribly, but rebuilt itself and prospered. Much like Helen.

What has been your favourite Helen Grace book to write and why?
That’s a super tough question. Eeny Meeny is a contender, obviously, as you always love your first. Also, Little Boy Blue as it’s so personal to Helen and possibly Hide and Seek too, because I love the concept – a serial killer at large in a prison. But they all have unique qualities and virtues. What I love about about Doll’s House is that no-one actually dies in the book, until the denouement at least. This was a great challenge for, especially after the gore fest that was Pop goes the Weasel!

Who was your favourite character to write?
Another tough question. Helen, obviously, and Charlie too, as she is the light to Helen’s darkness. I always enjoy creating surprising, twisted killers and I really enjoy writing Emilia. She has all of Helen’s toughness and determination, but none of her morality.

Is there anything you would change about your characters or stories if so, what?
Not really, to be honest. Not because everything I write is great, but because I never flinch from making tough decisions. There have been times during the writing of the novels, when editors have said “Are you sure you want to kill that character? People really like them.”, but I have generally ignored them, favouring the honest, logical conclusion of a story, rather than a fudged decision made for the wrong reasons.

You’ve managed to keep readers hooked throughout the whole series – do you feel pressure to keep delivering storylines? What keeps you motivated when writing?Yes, there is always pressure – to make the latest good book as good as the one before and also to keep innovating, to make sure each book feels unique. But it’s a great pressure, one I thrive on, because at the end of the day making up stories is a great job. My motivation to keep writing? Simple, I want Helen Grace to join Reacher, Rebus and others in passing the 20 novel mark.

You started your career writing scripts for Eastenders – how has this experience influenced your writing now?
It influenced me a lot and not in just in my love of a good cliffhanger! Like a lot of TV drama, soap opera works by intercutting a lot different storylines to generate pace. This is exactly the technique I use in my books – multiple POVs, short, punchy scenes, a relentless driving narrative. And it seems to work!

What made you want to make the change from writing for television to writing novels?
To be honest, the novel writing came before the TV writing. Previous to Eeny Meeny, I was a TV producer, which is a great job, but is all about collaboration, about combining lots of different people’s talents and vision. In a novel, it is your vision and yours alone, which is tremendously satisfying. I found that once I’d written that first novel, I didn’t want to stop.

What’s your favourite book?
The Silence of the Lambs or anything by Patricia Highsmith. I love all her classics – Strangers on a Train, Ripley etc, but also lesser known ones like Deep Water and The Cry of the Owl.

I understand that the Helen Grace series is on hold for a year or two. What’s next for you and what can we expect from your next standalone novel?
Helen is having a well-earned breather! But she will be back, perhaps end of 2017 or early 2018. In the meantime, I am writing (and have nearly finished!) my first standalone novel, The Last Rites. It’s entirely US-set, a twisty turny serial killer thriller set in and around modern day Chicago. All the usual thrills and spills, but this time with a slight supernatural flavour. I’m hugely excited – the Last Rites to be out summer 2018.

A BIG thank you to Angela McMahon for making this happen, and needless to say also to Matt for taking time out to chat. Bring on The Last Rites!

You can see other Q&As and posts, which are part of the Helen Grace blog tour here:

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Blog Tour: The House by Simon Lelic (Penguin UK/ Viking)

Hello, welcome to my stop on The House blog tour – I’m very excited today to be able to share what I thought of the book with you today!

About the book:

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What if your perfect home turned out to be the scene of the perfect crime?

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake. Because someone has just been murdered. Right outside their back door.

And now the police are watching them…  

Author: Simon Lelic
Paperback: 340 pages, Penguin UK (Viking) – published 3rd November 2017, available to pre-order here.
E-Book: Published 17th August, available here

My thoughts:

For some reason I was expecting The House to be full of supernatural mystery, with a ghost story linked to it. Spoiler: It isn’t. Looking back at the blurb I’ve got absolutely no idea where I got that from as it definitely sounds like a thriller, which is exactly what it is!

First of all, I love the way The House is narrated – I tend to gravitate toward books that are told through multiple perspectives and The House unfolds from both Jack and Syd’s points of view, so this immediately got a big tick from me. They recount the story to us, the reader, through their written account of what had happened at The House; the way they’ve documented the weird goings on is used cleverly as a plot device later in the book as we find out why they wanted to write everything down.

There are moments of extreme tension in The House; at times I had to read a couple of chapters more to a) find out what was happening because I was hooked and b) it creeped me out and I didn’t want to switch my light off! There was one section in particular that had me listening out for every sound in my house. The themes running through The House are dark and brooding, touching on family, love, trust and revenge.

Simon Lelic’s writing is great, every chapter reels you in inch by inch. As each layer peels away, we learn the truth – or deceit – behind The House, however every time I thought I had it sussed, I was wrong. I hadn’t heard of Simon before, but I’ve now added some of his other books to my TBR and I’m excited to see what he does next.

I massively enjoyed The House and raced through it in a couple of evenings – I highly recommend giving it a read if you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller full of suspense.

About the author:

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Simon Lelic was born in 1976 and has worked as a journalist in the UK and currently runs his own business in Brighton, England, where he lives with his wife and two sons.

You can read the other posts on the blog tour here:

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Blog Tour: Wychwood by George Mann (Titan Books)

Good morning, or afternoon, depending on what time of time of day you end up reading this, and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Wychwood, by George Mann. 

About the book:

Wychwood_Cover

After losing her job and her partner in one fell swoop, journalist Elspeth Reeves is back in her mother’s house in the sleepy village of Wilsby-under-Wychwood, wondering where it all went wrong. Then a body is found in the neighbouring Wychwoods: a woman ritually slaughtered, with cryptic symbols scattered around her corpse.

Elspeth recognises these from a local myth of the Carrion King, a Saxon magician who once held a malevolent court deep in the forest. As more murders follow, Elspeth joins her childhood friend DS Peter Shaw to investigate, and the two discover sinister village secrets harking back decades.

Paperback: 400 pages, published 12 September 2017
Published by:
Titan Books
Author:
George Mann

You can order a copy of Wychwood here.

My thoughts:

Wychwood is a small-town cosy crime, with complex but likeable characters; it’s intimate, intriguing and had me gripped from the get-go. Initially I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure if I was going to love Wychwood, due to the inclusion of supernatural/ cryptic elements, but they complemented the story brilliantly and the plot around the Carrion King was fascinating. Throughout, the book is peppered with elements of old-English folklore and myth, which helps bring the mystery to life.

The setting of the woods is eery, adding atmosphere and tension to the story, which continued to build as the narrative progressed. As characters, Elspeth and DS Peter Shaw are a great pair and work well together as a journalist and detective, making it more than just your average ‘police procedural’. At times Wychwood is gory, dark and chilling – it is a fantastic read, immersive and thrilling.

It’s an ideal read for crime, horror and mystery fans! Mann has done a great job of leaving this open for a series of books, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for what’s next!

About the author:

George Mann is the author of the Newbury and Hobbes and The Ghost series of novels, as well as numerous short stories, novellas and audiobooks. He has written fiction and audio scripts for the BBC s Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes. He is also a respected anthologist and has edited The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction and The Solaris Book of New Fantasy. He lives near Grantham, UK.

You can read more of the blog posts on the blog tour here: 

Wychwood

Birthday Books

At the end of August it was my birthday and I was lucky enough to be given some books – which are always some of my favourite presents. This year all of the books I was given were non-fiction – it’s quite an eclectic mix, but gives you a good insight to my mind, interests and weird fascinations… I’ve included the blurb for each of the books below.

Grow Your Own Vegetables in Pots and Containers: A practical guide to growing food in small spaces by Paul Peacock

Grow Pots

This book is aimed at the majority of us who live in terraced houses, high rise flats, town houses and semi-detached properties with a small garden and often nowhere to grow but the patio. It shows how to make the most of pots and planters; how to plan for a reasonable yield; and how never to run out of at least something to special eat.

You might not have all the space in the world, but you can enjoy all the flavour in the world. With the step-by-step instructions in this book you will be able to grow, nurture and harvest your own fruit, vegetables and herbs in a range of pots and containers, including recycled ones such as plastic milk bottles, and kitchen sinks.

Eat Live Go – Fresh Food Fast by Donal Skehan

EatLiveGo

EAT.LIVE.GO – Fresh Food Fast is a collection of quick and easy recipes for busy and energetic lifestyles. Donal’s healthy approach to eating provides big flavour, the optimum nutrition the body needs, plus delicious treats.

Donal offers up brilliant recipes to cook at home, from everyday eating with family and friends, to restorative meals to nurture and nourish, including dishes from Donal’s travels in Europe and South East Asia. EAT.LIVE.GO – Fresh Food Fast is a cookbook for anyone who loves good food and eating well.

The Women Who Flew For Hitler by Clare Mulley

WomenWhoFle

Hanna Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg were talented, courageous and strikingly attractive women who fought convention to make their names in the male-dominated field of flight in 1930s Germany. With the war, both became pioneering test pilots and both were awarded the Iron Cross for service to the Third Reich. But they could not have been more different and neither woman had a good word to say for the other.

Hanna was middle-class, vivacious and distinctly Aryan, while the darker, more self-effacing Melitta, came from an aristocratic Prussian family. Both were driven by deeply held convictions about honour and patriotism but ultimately while Hanna tried to save Hitler’s life, begging him to let her fly him to safety in April 1945, Melitta covertly supported the most famous attempt to assassinate the Führer. Their interwoven lives provide a vivid insight into Nazi Germany and its attitudes to women, class and race.

Acclaimed biographer Clare Mulley gets under the skin of these two distinctive and unconventional women, giving a full – and as yet largely unknown – account of their contrasting yet strangely parallel lives, against a changing backdrop of the 1936 Olympics, the Eastern Front, the Berlin Air Club, and Hitler’s bunker. Told with brio and great narrative flair, The Women Who Flew for Hitler is an extraordinary true story, with all the excitement and colour of the best fiction.

Spaceman by Mike Massimo

MassimoSpaceman

Mike Massimino’s compelling memoir takes us on a brilliant journey where the nerdiest science meets the most thrilling adventure to reveal what ‘the right stuff’ truly is. Many children dream of becoming an astronaut when they grow up, but when NASA rejected him, he kept on trying. Even being told his poor eyesigh would mean he could never make it didn’t stop him; he simply trained his eyes to be better. Finally, at the third time of asking, NASA accepted him.

So began Massimino’s 18-year career as an astronaut, and the extraordinary lengths he went to to get accepted was only the beginning. In this awe-inspiring memoir, he reveals the hard work, camaraderie and sheer guts involved in the life of an astronaut; he vividly describes what it is like to strap yourself into the Space Shuttle and blast off into space, or the sensation of walking in space, as he did when he embarked on an emergency repair of the Hubble telescope. He also talks movingly about the Columbia tragedy, and how it felt to step into the Space Shuttle again in the aftermath of that disaster.

Massimino was inspired by the film The Right Stuff, and this book is not only a tribute to those fellow astronauts he worked with, but also a stunning example of someone who had exactly those attributes himself.

Ian Brady: The Untold Story of the Moors Murders by Alan Keightley

IanBrady

Since May 1966 when Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were sentenced to life imprisonment at Chester Assizes the British public has been absorbed and horrified by the Moors Murders. Ian Brady has often been aptly described as `the most evil man alive’ or `the Daddy of the Devils’, while Myra Hindley, Britain’s first female serial killer, became the most hated woman in Britain. Here is the definitive account, drawing on exclusive, never-before-seen material. It changes forever our understanding of the Moors couple and their heinous crimes.

Why did they do it? What actually happened? Unlikely as it may appear to those detectives, psychiatrists, authors, criminologists, journalists and the victims’ families, who have all sought in their own ways for decades to discover it, this book is possibly as near as we shall ever get to understanding how the victims died. It proves beyond question that the parents of the victims were right all along in their claims about Hindley’s part in the murders. Did Brady give an account to anyone of his life, Myra Hindley and their crimes before he died? Yes, he did – here it is.

 

 

August Summer Reads

One day I’ll actually get my monthly wrap-up written and published on time, but for now this will have to do (I promise to try harder next month, I promise!).

I always find I read fewer books during Summer due to me wanting to be outdoors – coupling that with being super busy at work and it being really hot outside I managed a pathetic total (compared to my usual reading tally!) of three books in August…Anyway, enough of the boring excuses!

Did You See Melody by Sophie Hannah (Hodder & Stoughton)

DidYouSeeMelody

I am a huge fan of Sophie Hannah, so was super excited to receive an advanced copy of her newest psychological thriller. This is such a compelling read, full of dark humour and twists – I highly recommend this for an easy Summer read. A full review is here.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman (Tinder Press)

Tin Man

This hit me right in the heart – it has had marmite reviews on Good Reads,  however I think that’s because it has been so hyped up. For me, it lived up to that hype and I thought it was such a tender book – my full review is here.

Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole (Allison & Busby)
 WomanEnters

Set in the 1950s, movie star Louise Wilde is caught between an unfulfilling acting career and a shaky marriage when she receives an out-of-the-blue phone call: she has inherited the estate of a woman she doesn’t know. What unfolds is a tale of friendship, love and family. I picked this up to read on a whim and was so pleasantly surprised – it was a cosy, happy read that left me feeling warm and fuzzy. One of the many things I enjoyed about Woman Enters Left was the format – it was split perspective, over two timeframes and was peppered with letters and diary entries.

Hopefully this month, thanks to the colder weather and autumnal vibes, I’ll manage to ramp up my reading again!

Tin Man by Sarah Winman (Tinder Press)

How do I even begin to explain how beautiful Tin Man by Sarah Winman is? It feels cliché to call it beautiful, but it really is. At its heart, Tin Man is a tale about the complexities and longings of friendship and love; how the lines between the two blur so easily and are never clear cut. Not only that, but it’s also an explosive study of sexuality, illness and grief; let me tell you, it’s heart-wrenching and raw in such an understated and simple way. It is a book that made me feel so much, in an incredibly short amount of pages.

Tin Man

I can’t say much more, not because I don’t want to, but because I’m lost for words at how to describe such a wonderful piece of writing. I only wish I had the opportunity to read it for the first time again – with the type of open eyes, heart and mind that you have when opening a book at its first page, full of expectation and hope.

This deserves to be on many book bloggers’ top books of the year list; I’ll be amazed if it gets knocked out of my top five!

Publisher: Tinder Press
Author: Sarah Winman

My Man Booker Prize plans

Each year I usually give myself the ambitious challenge of reading all of the books on The Man Booker longlist. This year, I’m cutting myself some slack. I’ve taken a look through the longlist and only a small handful jump out at me. One of the things I love about literary prizes is discovering new authors and fantastic stories, but this year I want to focus on the ones that excite me, because after all life is too short to spend time reading books that I know I won’t enjoy…

Out of the thirteen books, I’ve already read two: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry and Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, both of which I’ve written mini reviews on. There are eleven books left to pick from and my Man Booker picks are:

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton)

Ministry

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on a journey of many years-the story spooling outwards from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi into the burgeoning new metropolis and beyond, to the Valley of Kashmir and the forests of Central India, where war is peace and peace is war, and where, from time to time, ‘normalcy’ is declared.

Anjum, who used to be Aftab, unrolls a threadbare carpet in a city graveyard that she calls home. A baby appears quite suddenly on a pavement, a little after midnight, in a crib of litter. The enigmatic S. Tilottama is as much of a presence as she is an absence in the lives of the three men who loved her.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once an aching love story and a decisive remonstration. It is told in a whisper, in a shout, through tears and sometimes with a laugh. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, mended by love-and by hope. For this reason, they are as steely as they are fragile, and they never surrender. This ravishing, magnificent book reinvents what a novel can do and can be. And it demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.

Autumn by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)

Autumn

Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.

Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever . . .

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton)

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Two brown girls dream of being dancers – but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, black bodies and black music, what it means to belong, what it means to be free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten either.

Bursting with energy, rhythm and movement, Swing Time is Zadie Smith’s most ambitious novel yet. It is a story about music and identity, race and class, those who follow the dance and those who lead it . . .

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Fleet)

UndergroundRailroad

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.

Out of the longlist, which ones are you most excited for? Do you think I’ve missed some essential reading off my list?

  • 4 3 2 1by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
  • Days Without Endby Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
  • History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Solar Bonesby Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
  • Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4thEstate)
  • Elmetby Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
  • The Ministry Of Utmost Happinessby Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Lincoln in the Bardoby George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Home Fireby Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)