Welcome to another blog tour review post. This week I am excited to tell you about Devil’s Cauldron by Alasdair Wham. This book has been described as ‘a belter of a story…dramatically entertaining’.
What would you do if you saw your father murdered and no one believed you? When he was twelve Finn McAdam, saw his father, a scientist, murdered. No one believed him. Now he has returned to his native Galloway to discover the truth. Wherever it leads him. Whatever it costs. But the conspiracy he discovers exposes a cover-up involving leading political figures and places his life in great danger. Some people are determined that the truth must not get out.
This is the first book I’ve read by this author, so I wasn’t certain what to expect. But I was quickly drawn into the story, which turned out to be a tense, pacy read, with main characters who were desperate for answers.
It was action-packed, a thriller that kept the momentum going and I just had to keep reading to reach the end and find out what had happened. the story launches very quickly from one situation to the next, and you may well find you are afraid of missing something vital if you put it down. I also enjoyed the ‘local colour’ as there are descriptions of places in Scotland I know well, and plenty of interesting information if you want to make your own trip, or if you are, like me, mainly an armchair traveller.
I would award this book 5 stars.
5 Bonus points for mentioning Banchory a couple of times, too! 😉
I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys an intriguing puzzle to unravel.
I’d classify the book as a ‘clean’ thriller, there is some violence, but it’s not too frequent and there is occasional mild bad language, and no sex scenes.
Want to know more? Read on for a ‘sneak peek’:
Chapter One – Part 2
I couldn’t believe it. I felt vindicated, others would have to believe me now. Sis would be alarmed, of course, especially after last year, worried about what I was going to do. Strangely, the wrath I had nurtured for all those years was not my main emotion. I was in shock. I gripped the railings, knuckles white, steadying myself. My mind was a whirl, planning my next move. Obviously, I couldn’t just run after him and attack him – first I needed to know more about him, find a place for interrogation, get answers to my questions, but then what? Soon the familiar rage kicked in, barely suppressed trauma erupting as memories seared in my mind flickered into consciousness. Time for action. This was my opportunity, unexpected as it was, and I couldn’t risk losing him. Already he was about a hundred yards away, strolling down the main shopping street in the town – King Street. I crossed over the road and started to trail him, keeping in the shadows, dodging into shop doorways in my amateurish attempts to follow him without being seen. I was a few yards behind as he reached the local Post Office. He strolled, steady pace, not a care. I could change that. I desperately wanted to. Then he disappeared into a newsagent’s. My breathing was laboured as I stopped outside the shop, pretending to gaze at the display of local books in the window but trying to peer inside. And there he was, paying for a newspaper, smiling at the shop assistant. She seemed charmed, oblivious to what he had done to my family. I leant against the shop window, my head on the cool glass. My breath pulsed against it forming dancing patches of condensation that quickly evaporated. He emerged a minute later and headed down the street, a copy of The Times neatly folded under his left arm. He gave no signs of noticing me, only ten feet behind him, and then he stopped at the kerb, weaved between two parked cars and headed across the street to a cafe. I watched him for a minute and then followed. He stepped inside and by the time I reached it, he was being shown to a table by a wooden-slatted wall under a display of pictures of local scenes. There were several empty spaces and I followed him inside. The waitress smiled, a young girl neat in her black trousers and white shirt, and I pointed towards a seat in the corner a few tables away from him. I sat down, the chair scraping on the tiled floor, but he didn’t look up. I grasped the laminated menu from its perch between the salt and pepper pots and looked at it trying to control my shaking hands.
Alasdair first two two novels were set in Islay and Mull (islands on the west coast of Scotland) and have proved very successful, rich in local detail with interesting plots.
His third novel, Devil’s Cauldron, is set in Galloway which is in south-west Scotland. He likes to write about places that he knows the best.
Before he turned to fiction, he produced a series of books exploring Scotland’s lost railways, a hobby that he enjoys with his sons and that took him all over Scotland.
This week, I want to share with you the third in a series of three mystery/crime-genre blog tours to celebrate new books. This week I was honoured to be asked to take part in the blog tour for Marsali Taylor’s new novel The Shetland Sea Murders.This worked very well for me as I’d been planning to read some of Marsali’s work for quite some time.
Here’s a little bit of what her book is about:
Marsali Taylor returns with the ninth gripping mystery in her Shetland Sailing Mystery series.
While onboard her last chartered sailing trip of the season, Cass Lynch is awoken in the middle of the night by a Mayday call to the Shetland coastguard. A fishing vessel has become trapped on the rocks off the coast of one of the islands.
In the days that follow, there’s both a shocking murder and a baffling death. On the surface there’s no link, but when Cass becomes involved it is soon clear that her life is also in danger.
Convinced that someone sinister is at work in these Shetland waters, Cass is determined to find and stop them. But uncovering the truth could prove to be deadly…
Other reviewers said:
‘Definitely the best of the Cass Lynch series yet!’ 5* Reader Review
‘The beautiful descriptions of Shetland life, traditions, it’s landscape and even language bring everything to life.’ 5* Reader Review
‘This series gets better and better’ 5* Reader Review
‘A beautifully written story, with descriptions so vivid you can smell the sea and beautiful countryside.’ 5* Reader Review
‘The perfect lockdown read for anyone who longs to be back on the sea.’ 5* Reader Review
As I said, I’ve been aware of Marsali’s books and planning to read them for some time now. So this was my first experience of this series, and I wasn’t too sure what to expect.
I was a bit worried to begin with because of the boating stuff. A lot of the story takes place or a boat, or has information to do with boats or things like weather and tides etc. I’m a confirmed landlubber. I like to be on a boat, on a nice sunny day, when all I have to do is stand on the deck and daydream, I’m not a ‘storm’s a-coming, haul in the mainsheet’ kind of boater… So I was concerned I would either find the references to boating or shipping or whatever it is (please excuse my ignorance) too complicated or well, boring, actually. But I’m happy to report that when the boating bits became ‘hardcore’ – towards the end of the book – I was gripping my lines and staring into the mist like a true-born shipping type person. It was tense, let me tell you. And I was right there in the midst of it with the spray on my face, hanging on to every word.
This is an absorbing mystery, and chock full of a sense of place. The story is set, as the series title and this book’s title suggest, in and around the Shetland Isles. Everything is described with affection and an attention to detail that just brings it to life. It also helps that there is a glossary of Shetland linguistic phrases at the back of the book. There is also history, and Girl Power.
The story is also an immersive experience. As the events of the story unfold, you as the reader are drawn into not just the minds of the characters but their lives and relationships too. When you’ve finished, there is that time lapse sense of unreality when you look up and realise you’re not out on the ocean or on a Shetland isle, but in your sitting room snug at home.
I give this book an unhesitating five stars. Highly recommended.
You can find out more about Marsali Taylor and her work on her website:
Yes folks, I’m doing it again! This is a great time of year for releasing a new murder mystery, it seems, and this week I’m really happy to share my review of Miriam Drori’s mystery novel Style and The Solitary.
Here is a short blurb to get you in the mood:
An unexpected murder. A suspect with a reason. The power of unwavering belief.
A murder has been committed in an office in Jerusalem. That’s for sure. The rest is not as clear-cut as it might seem.
Asaf languishes in his cell, unable to tell his story even to himself. How can he tell it to someone who elicits such fear within him?
His colleague, Nathalie, has studied Beauty and the Beast. She understands its moral. Maybe that’s why she’s the only one who believes in Asaf, the suspect. But she’s new in the company – and in the country. Would anyone take her opinion seriously?
She coerces her flatmates, Yarden and Tehila, into helping her investigate. As they uncover new trails, will they be able to reverse popular opinion?
In the end, will Beauty’s belief be strong enough to waken the Beast? Or, in this case, can Style waken the Solitary?
The characters: Asaf hasn’t got any friends. Even at work, hardly anyone knows him. Asaf is struggling to cope with social interactions and just wants to get on with his work and be left alone. In spite of this, he goes to work on this particular day carrying a note as a reminder to himself that things are about to change.
Unfortunately when Asaf is discovered with a dead body in his office building at the start of the working day, that note of his doesn’t help at all.
As he gets caught up in what surely has to be the worst situation you can imagine, the reader is able to know Asaf’s thoughts. We know that he is not the bad guy he’s believed to be, and it’s so easy to develop a sense of empathy for him.
And it’s not only the reader who has sympathy for Asaf’s plight. Co-worker Nathalie also passionately and completely has faith in his innocence. And she is determined to prove him innocent. Her flatmates are roped into helping Nathalie in her quest to find out the truth and exonerate Asaf.
This is a gentle, humorous and compassionate story about people and how they are. It is a book that embraces difference and encourages acceptance and respect. The mystery is almost secondary to the development of the relationships in the book.
The backdrop: I think this is the first novel I’ve ever read set in Jerusalem, so this was new and exciting for me, a kind of travelogue wrapped into the story. Although the details of the setting do not overwhelm, the location makes a welcome extra character, complementing and reflecting the many layers of history, culture and social interaction that come together to make the story.
I recommend this book.
Quick note: with no graphic violence, no bad language and no graphic sexual content, this book would make a great read for mid-teens and up, or anyone who enjoys a ‘clean’, gentle romantic mystery.
Miriam has a website, do click the link below for news and views, I know Miriam would love to hear from you.
Here’s a bit of what it’s about, then I’ll tell you what I thought.
Incarcerated in the gloom of a Highland asylum, a young mother finds illicit love. And death.
Kate Sharp’s family is a mystery. Her mother, Ellen, disappeared into the shadows of Craig Dunain psychiatric hospital when Kate was a child. When her grandmother dies, Kate is desperate for answers. What were the circumstances of her mother’s life and death? Who is her father?
Kate’s not the only one trying to uncover the truth. The remains of two bodies with murderous injuries have been found buried in the forest next to the former hospital.
And someone else is searching for answers, and he will stop at nothing to find them.
As the tale of Ellen’s tragic unravelling unfolds, the secrets that led to her death are exposed, along with the shocking truth about Kate’s father.
Unaware of the danger stalking her, Kate continues her search.
Will she find the answers? And can she save her own life?
If this was on a popular online store, I’d give Unravelling five stars.
First of all let me just say, I’m not very good with writing reviews – I tend towards the brief, so I’m trying to be more expansive here.
I read it in three sittings: session one was out of mild curiosity – was this a book I felt I could get into, was it the kind of the thing I would enjoy? I find it hard to take part in a blog tour if I haven’t genuinely engaged with the material – I don’t want to lie to my readers. So I quickly read the opening 30 or 40 pages.
The second reading session was a panicked, ‘Eek I almost forgot and there’s only four more days until my post is due out…’ so I read another 50 or so pages, thinking, I like how this is unfolding, I’m definitely intrigued, I’m confident I am going to love this book.
The third sitting, with 250+ pages to go was one of those, ‘I don’t care how long it takes, I am not putting this book down for anything except Rege-John Page or Theo James.’ I mean, I was hooked.
Reader, I devoured it.
And this is my conclusion:
Unravelling by Helen Forbes is an engrossing, claustrophobic psychological thriller. It was tense at times, and sorrowful. The insights into serious mental illness were so emotive, and I admit I blubbed. It was compulsive too – as I said, I just hadto read on, I had to know.
The ending was swift and satisfying, and hopeful.
For me, I felt that Kate’s story was in a way a – not redemption exactly – more a second chance for Ellen. I can’t explain (words are my job too! Rolls eyes.) It was the pay-off that we the reader got after the long personal journey of self-discovery of both Ellen and Kate.
I enjoyed the style. To begin with I was a little confuzzled by the shift in points of view, but got used to it, you can identify the narrators easily enough. I think it was a bold move to separate Kate’s story into two halves and put Ellen’s story in the middle. I’m not sure I’d have made that choice myself, but I think it works, though when I came back to the second part of Kate’s story I had to quickly ‘revise’ what had happened in the first part. But I think it worked, and as I say, I was hooked – it was definitely an unputdownable, engrossing read, and I highly recommend this book!
Do check out Helen Forbes’ website – link here – to find out about the DI Joe Galbraith books, also set in Scotland, and about the author herself.
You can also catch up with Helen and all her news on the following social media:
And please review the book if you love it – let other readers know what’s good! You don’t have to write an essay – just a quick comment of ‘Loved it’ or ‘highly recommended’ – it’s okay to be brief, because every little helps as they say. Thanks!
Kim, welcome. Thank you so much for allowing yourself to be bullied persuaded into answering a few questions for all the readers of fantasy books out there. I would say fantasy is one of the top three if not the top genre in terms of popularity these days, so I know there will be a lot of people eager to find out what makes you tick.
Let’s crack on, shall we?
Q1. What kind of books do you write?
I mainly write fantasy, essentially the kind known as ‘epic fantasy’ set in imaginary worlds where magic is possible and my characters are forced to go on perilous journeys in search of some goal (or themselves). There may be some romantic interest, or some humour, but this is generally secondary to the main story. The later books have an increasingly political content with neither of the warring factions being totally good or totally bad. The Plain Girl’s Earrings is about a young nobleman who naively gets involved in trying to defend the weak, and is soon over his head in trouble.
The Witch’s Box is the story of Maihara, Imperial Princess (with magical powers) in a troubled empire that is collapsing around her. She has high ambitions, but might not the rebels make a better job of running things?
Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?
I remember reading all of the CS Lewis ‘Narnia’ novels, and a lot of Gollancz SF which at the time came in books with yellow jackets. Also various juvenile adventure novels. All of which came from the local library, a resource which unfortunately seems to becoming harder for kids to access these days. Later I continued to read a lot of SF but in later years grew weary of SF and turned to reading general fiction, and fantasy, because the characters were more interesting.
I’m with you on the C S Lewis stuff, and I remember those Gollancz jackets too. I also completely agree with you about libraries – they are a wonderful, and lest we forget, free resource (in the UK at least) which are seemingly used less and less.
Q3. What are you working on at the moment?
I am finishing the final revisions of the third volume of my The Witch’s Box trilogy.
Q4. What can we look forward to in the future from you?
A story about a young woman who, when searching for her missing sister, finds herself in a parallel world where customs and technology differ radically from those of our own world. In other words, this is a ‘portal fantasy’. After that, possibly a high fantasy with lots of magic, with people turning into birds or animals, a battle with an evil magician, an Arctic quest, and stuff. Interest has been expressed in a fourth volume of The Witch’s Boxbut that may be some way off.
Sounds like you are extremely busy, and prolific. Q5. Who are your favourite authors?
GRR Martin, Kate Elliott, Brandon Sanderson, Michael Moorcock, Louis de Bernieres, Robin Hobb, Joe Abercrombie, Alison Spedding, Patrick Rothfuss.
Q6. What do you do when you’re not reading?
I also spend some time on amateur astronomy, gardening, and before the pandemic used to visit National Trust and English Heritage properties, and various museums and galleries, and the cinema. When too tired to do anything else, I watch TV.
Q7. What is your writing process?
Generally I start with an idea and an outline, and work it up to a first draft, which may be revised, lengthened and shown to a select group of critiquers. The process may be repeated several times before I arrive at a final version which could differ substantially from the first draft. I have used the Storyweaversoftware to plan out several of my novels, and it prompts me to think about the plot and overall structure, the characters, the theme and any genre elements. It’s not a magic bullet but it does prompt one to jot down some necessary details. I have tried writing one or two things in ‘pantster’ mode without a detailed plan, and it has generally been a disaster.
I know what you mean about the perils of pantser mode! I am a reformed pantser msyelf, working with only a very skeletal ‘plan’ in my head. Otherwise I usually find that if I make too many or too detailed a plan, I lose all interest in writing my book. I haven’t tried Storyweaver, though I’ve heard good things about it.
Thank you so much, Kim, for coming along to chat about your work. I’m sure your work will continue to make you proud, and good luck with the next book. I hope you will come back and give us an update in a few months.
In the meanwhile, where can readers find out more about you and your books, and where can they buy them?
Kim Cowie has worked as a technician and as a technical author, and has sold articles to non-fiction magazines, as well as two short stories. Kim has always enjoyed reading and writing SF and fantasy stories. Currently he is working on a series of fantasy novels.
This week I’d like to welcome Debaleena Mukherjee to my blog.
Debaleena and I go way back. We’ve never met (who knows, maybe one day?) but have been friends for years. We first met online through a shared love of murder mysteries. Talking about books led to talking about family, work and cake. The important things in life! Debaleena has also been a staunch supporter of my writing, and I am proud now to be able to do the same. Debaleena writes poetry, the first volume of which was published a few months ago by Blue Rose Publishers.
Debaleena, welcome. It’s amazing to have this conversation with you! Congratulations on publishing your first book of poems, I’m sure there will be many more. I wasn’t entirely surprised when you announced the book was coming out – you’ve always shared such lively and passionate posts on Facebook and Instagram. Your powers of description are so vivid that I often feel as if I’m there with you. I particularly love your posts about the various festivals you celebrate.
But let’s move on. My first question is, What do you write?
I write poems; and I am now experimenting with short stories. It started with Facebook posts, Book Club reviews: that’s how we met, remember! I would write little notes about my day; like little letters to myself . Then I translated a Bengali poem for someone very close. And I could do it, although I’d been very hesitant and nervous about poetry. Poetry has always been “the impossible dream”. After that little translation, I got a bit braver. One night I started out very very tentatively. And I saw I could do it: very rough and cobbled together; but I could feel my thoughts in my words. My writing is just as the title suggests – Ink smudged dreams: by the reading light. All written in the later hours of the night when I would drowse, browse and write. They are not about any coherent thoughts or convictions. They are more of inarticulate thoughts, emotions: ramblings you could say. So the poems were written.
There is a strong observational thread in your writing, so lovingly shared, that marks you out as a great writer. Question two, What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?
I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer; the cobwebs in my mind have never been swept away. As a child I remember, I would sit quietly for hours together, playing in my head. Now this head game was very interesting. I would imagine different scenarios- people, families, foreign countries I’d seen in photographs. I would spin stories in my head about people and places. Then I would imagine myself in castles and mansions. But it all had to be happy. This head game continued and I loved it. Later I would look at houses ; especially old houses; distant windows, silhouettes of people through the windows and concoct stories about their daily lives.
I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t read. Before I learnt to read, I would love looking at illustrated books, magazines. I remember I had a book on dolls and I would look at it all day long. Then, once I learnt my ABC: I found the Ladybird series of fairy tales. Let me tell you the enchantment still remains as fresh as ever. Those covers! My favourite was The Beauty and The Beast. That started my life long enchantment with fairy tales. By the time I was ten, the Enid Blyton world became my world. I simply lived in those books. They were like a perpetual picnic life for me. Of course Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, school stories, they kept appearing in my life, and my head was a lovely place to visit. Then of course Mr. Rochester entered my life when I was twelve or thirteen – all ready to fall in love. By fifteen I got to know Mr. Darcy, whom – I know you’ll be shocked – I did not love. Mr. Knightley was my hero! Then came Charlotte Bronte’s books- Shirley, Villette. And Louisa May Alcott. I used to imagine myself as Jo. We all do. I decided that Professor Bhaer would be my love for life. Until I read about some other character the next day, that is! Isn’t it delightful: to fall in love with so many heroes all at once! And I have a macabre taste for horror. So I wallowed in gruesome murder mysteries. Then I was given an Agatha Christie book: The Man in the Brown Suit. After that there was no looking back. Christie led me to Victoria Holt, Bram Stoker, Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown. As well as a wide range of Bengali literature of all genres. I am also a fan of romantic fiction, esp the mean and moody hunks that are Mills and Boon heroes!
We read very similar things as children and young people, it seems, I was into all those books too. I’ve already touched on this next question a bit, but, next question, do you believe your culture influences your writing, and if so, how?
Oh yes! My culture has a profound influence on my writing, as you can see in my poems. They are imbued with a sense of belonging to my land and my people in every which way. This is more pronounced in the sections in my book, The Prayer and Hymn to the Earth. I am writing about my way of life. I realised that I’ve chosen colours, comparisons, ambience that are totally inherent to my culture. I’ve grown up reading our mythological stories, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as my parent tongue-Bengali literature- folk tales, fairy stories, poems. For me Gitanjali by Tagore is the ultimate prayer book.
I think culture can often be an almost hidden extra character in our writing. But looking ahead, what can we look forward to in the future from you?
Now that my mind block is gone, and I’ve tested the waters, I have become quite adventurous. Poems definitely. I’ve discovered this about myself that as I grow older, poetry grows more appealing. I find that I now can interpret life and emotions better through poetry. It is an instinctive response.
Like I told you – short stories. I am trying my hand at those. It’s very challenging but extremely interesting. And intriguing. Writing in someone else’s skin, creating another individual, different points of view: I find it extremely fascinating. I have to construct a short story, not just pour it out. So it is a constant process of study too. I have to keep going back to little research, references to literary devices, unity of time, place and action; and above all keep a firm track of all the threads.
Oh short stories are the slippery slope to novels! That’s exciting news for us! We’ve talked a bit about the books that influenced you, but who are your favourite authors? Do you have certain favourite books you return to again and again?
I am glad you asked “authors” and not “author”? You know we cannot have just one favourite. Ever. I of course love re reading the classics like Jane Eyre, Emma, the Little Women series, Rose in Bloom. My comfort and enchantment lies in Mary Stewart’s books. I read them whenever I need a holiday of the heart. Elizabeth Peters is another favourite. I started reading Georgette Heyer pretty late in life, but I find her delightful. What shall I say about Patricia Wentworth! I adore Miss Silver and I still pine for Frank Abbot. One author who is a verbal illumination is Eva Ibbotson. I find her books poetic prose. I simply love medieval mysteries, and I keep discovering authors in this genre. Even more, I like the thrillers based on archaeological mysteries, religious relics, and mythological mysteries. And now: there’s Dottie Manderson. I am loving this return to the cozy mystery genre, very exciting and warmly familiar. Like I said, and I know you too agree: that one cannot have just one favourite.
Absolutely – and I know that like mine, your to-be-read pile is very substantial! What do you do when you are not writing or reading?
I am a homemaker. And not a very efficient one at that please! But I try. I do try! I cook. I cook traditional meals every day. Very often there are kitchen secrets that I dare not share. Of splattered oil, exploding blender. But yes, I prepare our Indian, especially Bengali cuisine ( that sounds so much more impressive than “food”). I enjoy baking, more so because I eat most of the cake myself. Music! That is my soul balm. I love to listen to oldies goldies: English, Hindi and Bengali. Instrumentals are my ‘go to’ solace when I am tired of words. And as I’ve been told “I have the spirit of enquiry”. Do you think it’s a polite way of saying I am nosy? I love people watching. My best pastime is to sit in a cafe and watch the world go by. As I watch people, I make stories about the passerby in my head. Another thing is that I haunt bookstores; especially old books, pre-loved books. All the obscure, dusty corners: I am very good at finding treasures there. Long drives with music in the car. I sit absolutely silent in the car and I soak up the peace and the purr of the car.
I’ve often heard you talking about the meals you prepare – your descriptions make the mouth water. But I remember that you used to be a teacher. How has that inspired you or helped you with your writing?
It gave me insight. That’s the crux of my teaching experience. I’ve learnt to probe into people’s minds and see stories there. Teaching young teenagers and college students made me more receptive and absolutely non- judgmental. That helps when I write. I learnt from students and colleagues, that as a teacher I am not dealing with folders that you open at 9.am and shut at 5 pm. Everyday I found something new in my work. And that influenced my writing . Most of all it heightened my sense of humour as well as the perception of the Absurd in life. Not to forget teaching made me quite tech savvy about which I love preening and boasting.
Debaleena, it’s been an absolute delight and I’d love to talk more about these things. In the meanwhile, where can readers find your book?
Thank you so much Caron for this wonderful and warm interaction. And for giving me this opportunity to talk to you. You’ve always been an inspiration. You encouraged me all the way. But I still envy you Dottie. Thanks so much for helping me reach out to readers with my Ink- Smudged Dreams: by the Reading Light. They’re just that- dreams, that as I penned down, the ink was not candid and clear; but smudged in places with tears, and vivid in places with smiles.
Debaleena, my pleasure xx
ABOUT DEBALEENA MUKHERJEE
Debaleena is a homemaker, who has also been a teacher and college lecturer over the course of years. She grew up in Jamshedpur and did her schooling at Sacred Heart Convent School,Jamshedpur, and Rajendra Vidyalaya, Jamshedpur. She has done her Masters and M.Phil in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata.She lives with her husband in Bangalore, and she has a twenty four year old daughter. Reading is Debaleena’s way of life. That’s what she is always doing. She enjoys the moonlight and roses kind of music. She loves travelling to places from the pages of history text books. Haunting bookstores is her pastime. She loves going on shopping expeditions for shoes, bags, and bling. Observing people as they go about their lives, fascinates her. At the end of the day she needs her recliner, her books, and coffee. With some cake.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Ink-Smudged Dreams: by the Reading Light is a collection of poems. Poems that reflect the many facets of my life: maybe any woman’s life. Certain moments, fleeting experiences, lasting impressions, unknown anxieties, silly apprehensions, humble realisations, intense joys and every hurt felt; these are the poems’ moods . And above all a growing perception that life is not about tomorrow: it is about today. But all these are not my consciously addressed ideas. Each day, they have gently enfolded me. Then in the quiet of the night, I would sit down and pour my heart out on paper. Drowsy, blurred, and very close to my heart. These are those ink-smudged dreams by the reading light.
You can find Debaleena on Facebook as Debaleena Mukherjee from Bangalore, and on Instagram as m.debaleena
This week I have the honour of interviewing an author who is new to me but who recently made my acquaintance, and so I am pleased to be able to share some insights into this lady’s work, and hopefully readers will spread the word and rush to buy her books. Vonnie Winslow Crist, a warm welcome, and let’s dive straight in.
Q1. What kind of books do you write?
I write story collections, novels, children’s books, and poetry collections. What my books have in common, is almost everything I write is based on folklore, fairy tales, myths, or legends. Plus, everything I write, even when it’s written with adults in mind, is Young Adult friendly.
Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?
I taught myself to read at age 3 using old, 12-page fairy tale booklets published in the 1930s by Platt & Munk Co. The illustrations were lovely and the stories were simplified, though not simple. On the back page, there was a short poem which summarized the tale. I think those booklets influenced me to become first an illustrator, next a poet, and finally a fiction writer. I quickly graduated to all sorts of other books. Early favourites were the My Father’s Dragon middle grade series by Ruth Stiles Gannett and The Borrowers by Mary Norton.
I loved the Borrowers books when I was a child, and I think I still have a copy or two somewhere… Moving on,
Q3. What are you working on at the moment?
I’m promoting my latest story collection, Beneath Raven’s Wing. Here’s a link to a free story, “Lady Raven,” which is included in the book: FS January (flipbuilder.com) I’m scrambling to finish a novel before I need to work through the editing process of my next story collection, Dragon Rain. Plus, I’m scribbling a few stories for anthologies I’d like to be a part of.
“Raven holds the secrets of night
beneath her wings,
guards that knowledge
with claw and blood.”
—Vonnie Winslow Crist, River of Stars
Q4. What can we look forward to in the future from you?
Lots of short stories appearing in various speculative anthologies, a collection of dragon stories, a collection of horse stories, several non-fiction books, and another novel or two. I try to keep busy!
Q5. What writing groups do you belong to and why?
I’m a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, National League of American Pen Women, and a couple of other groups. Each of these groups requires professional sales for membership, and they have resources for their members which save time when looking for markets, writing advice, and problem solving. But the most important thing they offer is an opportunity to network with other writers at a similar stage in their writing careers. Writing is a lonely business. It’s nice to be able to interact with others going through the same ups and downs.
Absolutely. I think writers need input and support from others in the same field, as you say, it can be a lonely business.
Q6. Who are your favourite authors?
JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, George RR Martin, Andre Norton, Deborah Harkness, Suzanne Collins, Kristin Cashore, Marissa Meyer, Sharyn McCrumb… (this list could go on).
Q7. What do you do when you’re not reading or writing?
I enjoy sewing (I cut, stitched, then donated over 600 masks to eldercare & school facilities this past year), gardening, knitting, crocheting, embroidering, baking, sketching & painting, and travelling.
Wow you really are creative! I’m so in awe of your productivity. I mainly plan to do creative projects then forget about it.
Q8. What is your writing process?
Something inspires me. Then, I come up with a story idea and think about it. Often in the beginning stages, I’ll do some research on the science, geography, folklore, etc. that inspired me. By the time I sit down to write, the story has come together in my mind. The writing part is easy, because I’m just putting to paper a tale I’ve already written in my imagination.
Q9. How hard is it to keep writing in these strange times?
Life presents obstacles for writers all of the time. I decided the covid-19 pandemic was one of 2020’s obstacles, and I wouldn’t let it stop me from writing. I used anthology submission calls as inspiration. If a long story seemed too big a hill to climb, I wrote poems or drabbles. (A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words, not counting title and byline). When writing something new seemed overwhelming, I revised older work. When writing anything seemed difficult, I organized my stories (both published and unpublished) into several thematic collections and sent those off to publishers. That is how my story collection, Beneath Raven’s Wing, came to be published January 30, 2021 by Fae Corps Publishing. It’s also why a different publisher has offered to publish Dragon Rain.
Q10. What single piece of advice do you wish someone had given you 30 years ago?
Stay focused and persist!
I completely agree. If I could talk to my 30-years younger self I would say, don’t procrastinate, don’t doubt yourself, just get on with it!
Q11. I have many old favourites that I read over and over again. What books do you regularly reread?
See Q6 for my list of favourite authors. Most of what I re-read was written by them.
Q10. lastly, before we say goodbye, where can readers find you and your work?
Thank you, Caron, for hosting me. It was fun to answer your questions. I hope your readers enjoyed the interview and will take a look at the free story.
You’re so welcome, and thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us, and I’m sure you’re going to find many new readers for your wonderful work.
Vonnie Winslow Crist is author of Beneath Raven’s Wing, The Enchanted Dagger, Owl Light, The Greener Forest, Murder on Marawa Prime, and other award-winning books. A member of SFWA and HWA, her writing appears in publications in Australia, Japan, India, Pakistan, Italy, Spain, Germany, Finland, Canada, the UK, and USA. Believing the world is still filled with mystery, magic, and miracles, Vonnie strives to celebrate the power of myth in her writing.
You might have noticed I sometimes get stuck for ideas for a blog post. When that happens, I usually sneakily use an old one and hope you won’t notice, or I put in an interview, or a short piece about my books etc.
BUT… (and you’ll be proud of me for this) I actually decided to research ‘what to write about on your blog’ and hey presto: Write about ‘If I could spend a month writing anywhere in the world, where would it be?’
I love to write in cafes. But with lockdown the way it is, I’ve become a stranger to that. And I do have an office where I do most of my writing (picture the smallest bedroom in the house, no longer needed after the children grow up) and I sometimes write at the dining room table, or in the sitting room, snug on the sofa complete with snoring cat.
Many years ago, we lived in Australia, in Brisbane. It’s hot and sticky there, but I enjoyed it. And our first house there was an absolute hovel (sorry Aussies, but it was, honest), but when the kids had gone to school, I used to sit on the front steps with my morning coffee, a few dozen tiny lizards around half the size of a pencil, a couple of plants in pots, and my notebook and pen.
These little guys just need the water from your flower pots!
I could sit there for around two hours until the sun was so hot, I had to go inside. I used to water the plants in the pots, and the lizards would come and drink the water that ran out of the bottom of the pots onto the wooden steps. The lizards were so shy, I had to keep really still so they thought I was a tree or something. Occasionally a kookaburra would sit on the fence and stare at me, but usually it was just a pigeon or a magpie. I’ve searched my photos but can’t find the one I can picture in my mind that shows the steps and the plant pots. You’ll just have to conjure up your own image of front-step perfection, and write there.
Whereas these guys want to lie on your compost heap in the sun and stuff themselves with leftover fruit and veg
The road was called Farm Street, but I’m guessing that was to commemorate where the farm used to be before it was bulldozed to make way for the street. Neighbours would go by and wave or stop to chat. Gradually they got to know the new Brits at number 12. One guy was very sweet and kind when we were afraid to go past something that looked like quite a large snake in the storm drain by the pavement, but the neighbour explained it was a blue-tongued skink, and nothing to be afraid of. We were still pretty nervous to begin with, I can tell you.
Anyway, so I had two hours of writing most weekdays, sitting on the front steps. I can picture myself there, writing three novels in the time we were in that house, only one of which has been published (Easy Living) and the other two are very much still in the ‘I don’t know what to do’ stage of development. One was called Baby Girl and is about a well-known actress whose adoptive mother passes away and so the actress embarks on a search for her birth mother and finds a killer instead. The other one, referencing the new millennium we were about to go into (so a while ago now) was about a pensioner who goes on the run to avoid being legally euthanised because of the growth of population. Both these books were set in Australia and contain long, slightly wistful passages about my favourite cafes – Jimmy’s Uptown, Jimmy’s Downtown, and Jimmy’s On The Mall, all on the same long street in the city centre.
Life changes, and we weren’t really happy with where we were living, and we moved away. But the times of sitting on the steps and writing were as close to perfect as we could get. It was ‘very heaven’.
Jimmy’s On The Mall: It’s a lot more glamorous now than it was when we were in Brisbane over 20 years ago, they’ve added a whole top floor! If we go back, this is the first place I’ll want to go.
I’ve always loved the glamour of Golden Age mysteries, and so I wanted to try my hand at something like that. But I wanted to have a young protagonist as most of the books I’d read had older, spinster ladies as detectives. But I didn’t want to write anything too sweet, or too separate from the real world. So in my books, yes, there is glamour and romance, and the bad guy or gal always gets caught (though sometimes not immediately) but there is also heartbreak and the harsh reality of life not being easy, especially as my chosen era of the 1930s is so close to the war.
What is the hardest part of your writing career?
I suppose it’s juggling all the different aspects of being a writer in today’s world – the social media, obviously, I know everyone says they struggle with that, but also all the technical things – covers and document formatting, creating promotional materials, then remembering to share them, setting up a blog and remembering to create something new most weeks. And then remembering to do actual writing too, and stick to my deadlines. So much to do!
Would you ever use a pseudonym?
I always use a pseudonym. In fact have have several, but the only one that I’m using at the moment is Caron Allan. I wanted to use a pen name because to begin with, it gave me the space and privacy to completely mess up without feeling ‘exposed’. And also, I felt my real name was dreary and unromantic!
When writing a series how do you determine where a book should end and it’s sequel should start?
It’s not always easy, and I’m not very good at it, but fortunately because I write mysteries, that kind of gives a natural end, when the perpetrator of whatever dastardly deed is unmasked and taken away in handcuffs, or however they exit the story, it seems right to just have a short wrap-up and end the book. Though I do have ongoing story-lines – mainly the romantic side of things – that continue through the books and aren’t resolved immediately. In book 1 Dottie, my protagonist, is only 19. I think 19 in the 1930s was a lot younger than 19 today in many ways, and so we see her growing and maturing through the books, coming to understand the world, and relationships, but she is very idealistic and so she can be led by her emotions, and is sometimes bruised by life. She’s not perfect, she’s on a journey, and I like that about her. I don’t want to read about or write about a heroine who doesn’t change, and especially one who doesn’t have depth and dimensions to her character.
Who were your biggest critics and cheerleaders in writing this series?
My family are a huge support, my daughter especially is a massive practical help as well as my cheerleader, as writer herself she knows where I’m coming from. I have a couple of very special friends who are also writers and who are so helpful and encouraging.
If you could go back in time which historical figure would you like to meet?
Oh dear, that’s quite hard. I know we’re always supposed to say Marie Curie or someone incredible like that, but maybe just meet my great great grandmother? How did she cope in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with all the domestic responsibilities and none of the labour-saving devices we have today? Plus she had six kids, and i only had two, so I am in awe of the women of that era. I’d like to meet Agatha Christie, and Patricia Wentworth when they were in their story-writing heyday, and get as many tips as I could, and also express my admiration for their work.
What should we expect from your upcoming series?
Well I will continue my Dottie Manderson mysteries: Book 7, Rose Petals and White Lace will be out around November 2021. In this book, we will see Dottie trying to find out who wants to get a local tea-shop closed down, and why. It’ll be a gentler mystery for Dottie after the previous couple, but nevertheless there will be at least one fatality, and if you’re not a fan of creepy-crawlies, this might not be for you! I also will be launching a new series, set in the 1960s this time, and featuring the daughter of Dottie’s sister as the detective-protagonist – these will be the Miss Gascoigne mysteries, and begins with A Meeting With Murder. Diana Gascoigne has been ill and goes to the coast for some good sea air to recover, but obviously there are dire doings afoot and she will want to find out who killed an elderly disabled woman. the Diana books will be a little different to the Dottie books, as we know, the 60s were a time of growing freedoms especially for women, and Diana is not an ingenue like Dottie, but a little older, a little wiser and more aware of the difficulties that a woman can face, and she wants independence and more autonomy in her life. But she has the same determination to seek justice and truth.
Would you ever consider writing a biography of your life?
LOL, that would be so boring! I’m not adventurous or glamorous and I’ve done very little with my life other than sit with cats reading or writing. I really don’t think it would sell!
Do you ever experience writer’s block? Sometimes. I don’t agree that it’s not a real thing. I usually find it stems from discouragement, fear or being overtired. I tend to push myself, and I’m always thinking of plots and story ideas, so I get quite mentally tired, and don’t always remember it’s okay to just do nothing and relax. Maybe I need to watch my cats even more than I do! I find rest, music and mundane chores help.
How can your fans reach you and connect with you?
I can be found on twitter: @caron_allan or instagram: @caronsbooks or through my blog, caronallanfiction.com and I’m also on Facebook, but I have to confess I don’t go on there very much, I’m more of a Twitter person.
I’d like to thank Judith Cranswick, murder mystery author, for sharing her writing world with us. Hi Judith, thank you so much for coming along and allowing yourself to be tortured in this way! I understand you’ve got some great news to share with mystery book lovers?
Yes Caron that’s right. I’ve got a new book coming out TODAY! Blood Follows Jane Austenis a Fiona Mason Mystery. This time Fiona stays in England and takes her party on a tour of sites associated with Jane and her novels. Fiona’s problems include an antagonistic guest lecturer, a difficult passenger intent on upsetting all and sundry plus the usual dead body. Fiona’s relationship with MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones has once again become strained. He is busy dealing with the repercussions following the assassination of a central African leader, but she needs his help to prevent the wrong person from being arrested. Although it is the 7th in the series, it can be read as a standalone.
Q1. In case anyone hasn’t figured this out by now, tell us what kind of books you write, Judith?
The quick answer is the kind I like reading. I love whodunits in the Agatha Christie style, lots of hidden clues, red herrings and a relatively small number of suspects.
I tend to call my two series travel mysteries, and they probably come under the cozy umbrella because you won’t find any excessive violence, bad language or sex in them. A touch of romance for Fiona but that’s it.
Having said that, my first published books were standalone psychological suspense novels. I enjoy writing them (I have a couple of ideas I’d love to tackle if only I had the time), but my readers are always telling me they can’t wait for the next Fiona or Harry and Aunt Jessica story.
Q2. What first drew you to writing mysteries rather than, for example, romance or fantasy/sci-fi?
The first novel I wrote was an historical novel, ‘The Tribune’ about a 4th century Romano-British soldier inspired by a trip to Chedworth Roman Villa. The second book was ‘Magic for a Magician’. I entered a fantasy short story competition, fell in love with my 7’2” magician and the story became chapter one. I couldn’t get a publisher interested in either of them.
In the early 2000s, I was reading a great many psychological suspense novels – writers like Nikki French, Barbara Vine, Minette Walters and Val McDermid. I loved the edginess of their novels. That gave rise to my ‘All in the Mind’ and ‘Watcher in the Shadows’ both of which won awards.
My then agent, suggested I try writing books with a series character which led to the first Fiona Mystery – ‘Blood on the Bulb Fields.’
Q3. What comes first for you, plot or characters?
Neither. I start with a scene such as a woman being mugged in an underpass (as in ‘All in the Mind’). How the main character reacts to the situation influences what happens next. I’m not a plotter and for me the fun of writing is discovering how the story line and the characters develop on the journey. Rather like Minette Walters, I never decide on my murderer until the final few chapters. I may have a vague idea who it will be midway through the book but then often change it right at the end.
Obviously, with my series books I do have my small core of main characters (who I hope continue to grow with each book) plus the country where the tour will take place, but from then on it’s just start writing. By halfway, I probably have some idea of where I want to end up, but it’s all very fluid.
Q4. Do you buy books as gifts at Christmas? Can you tell us about any surprises in the Christmas stockings this year? (we promise not to blab)
Choosing books for other people is difficult. I did when family members were small but then changed to book tokens. Only my son has a long wish list of books on Amazon and most of those are reference books.
Q5. What do you do when you’re not writing or reading?
I teach yoga and tai chi and in a usual year I would probably be doing several cruises as a guest lecturer. I began running writing workshops on board ship, then went to giving talks on writing, became a port lecturer and in recent years I’ve been asked to give history lectures. Ancient history is another of my passions.
My husband and I also take several holidays each year, mostly as research for my novels of course. (Well that’s my excuse.)
I spend my mornings either at the gym teaching or doing Pilates or Zumba, and two mornings line-dancing.
Q6. What’s next for your writing?
My next project is another Harry and Aunt Jessica novel set in Persia. Our last holiday, back in November 2019,was to Iran. It’s an amazing country, full of breath-taking architecture, Persian palaces and sumptuous mosques, and a fascinating history. Accompanying our trip was the same history lecturer who came on our Morocco holiday which is what gave me the idea for my first Aunt Jessica Mystery.
Q7. If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you do?
I became a published writer when I retired. I taught geography and eventually became a headteacher.
Q8. What’s the biggest challenge for you as a writer? What can be a struggle at times?
Even though I’m retired, finding time to actually write can be difficult. I don’t write quickly and on average it takes me a whole year to produce a book. Starting a book is never a problem but I’m not a plotter and I do tend to languish in the middle before I get to the final rush at the end. This last year, by far my biggest problem has been research. Long before I even work out the story line, I visit the area as a passenger on an organised tour, which forms the basic framework on which to develop the plot. This year, that just wasn’t possible.
Q9. Do you have a set routine when you’re writing? Do you set yourself a daily word count to achieve?
My best writing time is probably early in the day but, in normal times, I’m out every weekday and life does tend to take over. I may need to stop everything to research and prepare PowerPoint presentations for a lecture cruise. I spend on average six weeks at sea, but preparing the lectures takes at least as long. My overall plan is to write a book a year. The actual writing – first draft – stage takes five to eight months, then comes four major rewrites, then to my editor, major rewrite, beta readers, more rewrites then proof-reader. During the intensive writing stage, I probably have a daily word count of around 500 to 800, but nothing is set in stone.
Judith, it’s been so lovely to catch up with you and good luck with the new book.
Readers who want to know more about Judith and her books can follow this link to Judith’s blogwhere she posts a lot of insights into her books and especially, the journeys that inspire her highly popular books.