Holiday reading

This week, I’m being spoiled rotten by another kind author’s contribution of a blog post. So I shall immediately, and with gratitude, hand over the reins to Gordon Lawrie:

Gordon Lawrie was a secondary teacher in his native Edinburgh for 36 years until he could no longer resist the challenge of writing a novel. His first awful attempt remains buried undiscovered in a safe place, but a couple of romantic comedies followed before his first crime novel, The Midnight Visitor, appeared in March 2022. In addition, he is the Founding Director of Dean Park Press, which provides services for self-publishing authors, and the editor of the online publication Friday Flash Fiction.

 He has his own website, www.lawrie.info  where you can find lots more embarrassing information about him, as well as a great deal of free stuff to read. He also has a Twitter account: @thesaucers where he sometimes says more than he should about the government of the day, golf, birdwatching and his beloved Hearts football club.

 I’m pretty addicted to crime fiction. I think it might my need for escapism, but I also enjoy being challenged in a non-confrontational sort of way. I’m addicted to Wordle, too.

I’ve written a handful of novels now, some of which have been better than others. What seemed to work best for me was romantic comedy, but there’s little money in romcoms unless Danny Boyle or someone equally famous decides to turn your novel into a smash hit starring Hugh Grant. No, crime fiction is the way to go if you’re trying to make a living from your writing. Crime – whether it’s a detective thriller or a courtroom drama – not only holds out the prospect of a modest income; there’s half a chance someone will try to use the characters to turn your stories into a TV series. That’s why I started to write my DI John Knox/Sister Mary Maxwell-Hume mysteries. Shameless, I admit it.

But be under no illusion, crime writing is hard. There are so many strands to keep track of: the plot, of course; the characters; the pace; maintaining the general suspense; and of course the reader has to feel satisfied by the eventual solution. Ideally, the reader should end up feeling like the detective’s sidekick, wondering how they managed to be so stupid as to miss the giveaway clues that were the key to solving the mystery. Keep your Booker or Nobel Prizes. Writing a crime novel is the true Everest of literature.

Crime writing, though, is far from homogeneous. Readers of Caron’s blog will be familiar with her cosy country-house whodunnits (that’s an official term, not an insult, by the way). Or perhaps you prefer Raymond Chandler-style hard-boiled thrillers, usually told in the first person to allow the writer to make acerbic observations on the social circles in which he – it’s almost invariably a ‘he’ – moves. There’s a whole genre of historical crime fiction, whether it’s Brother Cadfael in a monastery, or the exceptional Bernie Gunther series mostly set during and in the aftermath of Nazi Germany. There are any number of “noir” crime thrillers: Nordic noir, tartan noir, Icelandic noir and so on. Recently, Richard Osman and others have written successful crime novels with comedy overtones. My fellow Edinburgh author Olga Wojtas is currently having lots of success with a bonkers time-travel comedy crime series. Her librarian protagonist is sent back in time to solve assorted mysteries (the latest being to exonerate MacBeth and discover who really killed King Duncan). Janice Hallett’s The Appeal is written entirely in emails and texts. There’s plenty of choice.

But although I’ll read virtually anything, my all-time favourite crime genre is what I’d term “holiday crime”. Set in some lovely location that I’m either familiar with, or would like to go to, I’m transported there as I turn the pages. I particularly like the ones set in Italy – Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series set in Sicily; Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen set in various cities; but above all Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti series set in Venice.

Venice is a city I think I know fairly well, and each of Leon’s novels takes me there on another holiday. An American, she was a Professor of English Literature at Venice University, and she clearly casts herself as Paola, Guido’s wife. What we end up with is a series of novels where the plot is almost secondary, sometimes even thin, but the reader doesn’t mind because there are so many other things to enjoy – the interplay between familiar characters; the politics and society of Venice; Guido and Paola’s own literary preferences; Venetian cuisine; but above all the city itself. There’s even a book of walks called Brunetti’s Venice where you can trace the steps of the great man for yourself. (I’ve done a couple. How sad is that?)

Living in a tourist hot-spot like Edinburgh, you’d think I’d find it easy to weave the city into my books. But there are so many outstanding crime writers who also live here – Kate Atkinson, Ian Rankin and Alexander McColl-Smith to name just three – that I feel rather in awe of their skills. And because writers still have to concentrate on plot, characters, pacing and all the other aspects of a novel, they also have to be careful that describing ‘scene’ isn’t perceived by the reader to be mere padding. That’s especially dangerous if your reader is from your own home city; they probably don’t need to be given a guided tour.

You might not even have heard of Donna Leon, because the only TV series that’s ever been made of Commissario Brunetti’s mysteries was in German. More surprising still, Leon has expressly forbidden her novels ever to be translated into Italian – she’s completely unknown in Venice itself. That might be the secret. The reader needs to feel they’re off on holiday, and it’s not much fun trying to escape in your own town. I think we all learned that during the pandemic.

Thank you so much, Gordon, for this fascinating tour of Italian crime!

Also by Gordon Lawrie:

Self-Publishing: The Total Beginner’s Guide

The Midnight Visitor

The Discreet Charm Of Mary Maxwell-Hume

Four Old Geezers And A Valkyrie

100 Not Out

and more! All available from Amazon and good book shops.

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Unravelling by Helen Forbes: welcome to the blog tour!

This week I’m excited to tell you about a newly released book by Scottish crime writer Helen Forbes: Unravelling.

To celebrate the release of her new book, Helen is undergoing the trauma exciting challenge of a blog tour. There will be loads of things happening to promote Helen’s new book Unravelling, including reviews, news and freebie giveaway – get in quick for that one!

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?

Inverness District Asylum (former Craig Dunain Hospital) | Historic Hospitals

My review:

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 had to 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’ websitelink hereto 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:

Facebook 

and

Twitter

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!

@https://www.facebook.com/Helen-Forbes-Author-457783327732599

 

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Catching up with romance and fantasy author Emma Baird

Hi Emma, it’s great to have this chance to find out a bit more about you. Thanks for allowing yourself to be bullied in this way. Let’s jump straight in to my not very exacting interview! I’ve read most of your books, and love them, I’m not just saying that because we’re pals.

I’d advise readers who love romance to get started NOW on book 1 of the Highland Books: Highland Fling, where we meet Gaby and go with her to the perfect setting for romance: a little village in Scotland where she meets a variety of brilliant characters, and of course, the love of her life – her cat! (kidding)

Q1. What kind of books do you write?

Women’s fiction – which is a broad church, thankfully. So, I can write romantic comedies in the main, but also chick lit, young adult and I’m currently trying my hand at urban fantasy stroke paranormal romance.

Women, luckily, are very open-minded about what they read. And they tend to read voraciously. I think that gives writers so much freedom.

Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?

I just read. And read. Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens and a lot of Greek mythology which meant I was useful for crossword clues.

 

I remember loving Judy Blume. She tapped into the 80s child psyche so well. Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret and Forever are the two books I remember the most, the latter for obvious reasons… Though I did have to figure out what the British equivalent was for the food mentioned in those books—Graham Crackers for digestives and jelly for jam.

And er… my mum had a copy of a Jackie Collins book, and a friend and I used to sneak into her bedroom and read it. Now, that was educational.

Lol I bet it was. My parents used to go through my books quite carefully to check they were suitable. I’m glad to say a few things slipped through! They didn’t realise I read their books too!

Q3. I know you’ve recently released a boxset of the three books so far in your Highland Books romantic comedy series, so what are you working on at the moment?

What can we look forward to in the future from you?

Oof. I went through this mad writing phase in the last four years and finished quite a few books. They are not yet fit to be unleashed. Re-writing and revising is the really important bit of the book process. I wish I could find a way to stop procrastinating about it. My way of dealing with rewriting is to start another story instead!

However, I’ve finished the fourth book in my Highland Books series, Highland Chances and hope to have it out by the summer. And I thought I’d fling in a final one, Highland Christmas to finish it all off.

I started a novella on Wattpad recently—A Leap of Faith, a COVID-19 lockdown love story. Not sure if that proves I’m overambitious, stupid or what.

Q4. Who are your favourite authors? What are you reading now?

I re-read my way through Barbara Pym’s books a couple of years ago, and I really enjoyed Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop. I love their observational skills, and the way they make the ‘ordinary’ so interesting. I’m a big fan of crime (cosy mysteries are such fun!) and big sagas. I’m re-reading James Mitchener’s The Source at the moment.

Special mention too, to Fiona Walker and Marion Keyes (women’s fiction experts extraordinaire). I’ve read all their books – and Marion Keyes is vastly entertaining to follow on Twitter.

Q5. What do you do when you’re not reading?

Cook. I love cooking. I don’t do anything else while doing it, but prep and cook, so it feels mindful. I walk a lot, as it’s easy exercise. Kind of fond of drinking wine too… (interestingly, you can drink and write, but you can’t drink and read!) Also, I’m very much into the 21st Century habit de jour – Netflix binge watching. What the flip did we do before Netflix?!

Q6. What is your writing process?

Boringly prosaic. A word count per day. The day job helps with that too. I get a percentage of my income through copywriting – blogs, website content, product descriptions, e-books, video scripts, etc. The usual deal is you get paid by word count, so that discipline makes writing for yourself a lot easier.

At least you’ve got a process that works for you! Emma, thanks so much for ‘popping along’, and I wish you every success with the Highland Books, and with your future projects.

To find out more about Emma and her work, please follow the links below:

Links:

Blog: https://emmabaird.com/

Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/user/SavvyDunn

Twitter: @EmmaCBaird

Amazon author page: Emma Baird

Emma Baird and I nervously pose just before our talk at a library in Scotland easily two years ago now.

Emma Baird and I nervously pose just before our talk at a library in Scotland easily two years ago now.

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Author Interview – Nancy Jardine

ccnancyjardine

This week I’m honoured to be interviewing massively successful multi-genre writer  Nancy Jardine.

Q1. Nancy, welcome and thank you so much for agreeing to be victimised interviewed. Congrats on the upcoming publication of your latest book, The Taexali Game which will be out soon. Could you please tell us a little more about the kind of books you write?

I write in a variety of fiction sub-genres which include historical romantic  adventure; contemporary romantic mysteries; time travel historical adventures for  Middle Grade/YA; and I’ve also written a couple of historical non-fiction books.

Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?

I devoured everything I could get my hands on. My grandfather helped me read the comic strips on the children’s page of his Sunday newspaper before I went to  school. My father was a great reader and he was delighted to take me to the Public  Library when he went to borrow books every week. I had to wait till I was 7 years old to get my own junior ticket, but I’d been using my older sister’s ticket for a while  before then. She wasn’t so interested in reading except for her weekly comics.  Between us, we got 8 comics a week, and I read them all. I got the girlie ones like the  Bunty, Judy, Diana and June & Schoolfriend and she got the Beano, Dandy, Beezer  and Topper. I acquired books from my much older cousins like Biggles; Boys Own  annuals and my very first Enid Blyton book came secondhand from a cousin.  Between the ages of around 6 and 10, I read almost every book Enid Blyton wrote (a  slight exaggeration since she wrote some 150 books).  Waiting for a ‘reserved’ book  to be lent to me was sometimes agonising, if it was a popular one. By the age of 12, I  was reading a lot of the classics. Reading was a passion but the time for it was squeezed into a very busy evening and weekend schedule since I was a Brownie, then a Girl Guide; I was in a choir and played a lot of sports as well.

MonogamyTwistNancyJardine x360

Q3. I remember quite a few of those books and comics myself, and I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton and also Malcolm Savile.  Now, I know you’re a very busy woman, what are you working on at the moment?

I’ve too many WIPS on the go and soon need to make a major decision about which to  focus on. I’ve  started Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series of historical romantic  adventures set in Celtic/Roman  Britain in late first century AD.  Every now and then,  I’ve been adding a little to a family saga set in  Scotland which starts in 1850. I’ve also  partially plotted out Book 2 of my Rubidium Time Travel  Series for Middle Grade/YA  readers —this historical time travel is set in Victorian Glasgow,  Scotland. 

Q4. What can we look forward to in the future from you?

By the end of April I’ll have self-published The Taexali Game, Book 1 of my  Rubidium Time Travel Series for a younger audience, though anyone who loves a good  adventure will love it, too! Crooked Cat Publishing will also be publishing Take Me  Now, a contemporary romantic mystery, probably before the summer, though I’ve no  date yet for that.

Q5. What are your favourite authors?

I have so many authors whom I admire immensely and truly don’t have any favourites. I read across many genres so I’ve authors I like for many different reasons. Dickens and Tolkein are so different from Jane Austen but I like them equally as well as Phillip Pullman, or Rick Riordan, or Lewis Carroll.  I’m mostly drawn to historical fiction but even there I find that a new author might seem like my new best favourite but they are likely to be supplanted by another when I read the work of a new author.

Q6. What do you do when you’re not reading?

My daytime is swallowed up with grandchild-minding duties, gardening and household chores—with a 1 year old and 3 year old they are constant! That means I only write or read on days when the kids are with their other ‘granny’, or their mum when she’s not at work. I tend to write and read from around 9pm to midnight—though that’s also when I try to catch up with the news of the day. Before the grandkids appeared, I was managing to do a lot of ancestry research, which I find fascinating, but that’s not been easy to keep up with recently. I get easily sidetracked when doing research but love finding some really useful information. Facebook can be a lovely diversion: it’s lovely to keep up with readers and friends on FB.

Final Nancy Jardine x 488

Q7. What is your writing process?

I’m a natural ‘pantser’ who has gradually learned the value of pre-planning in my novel writing – so I’m now a bit of ‘pantser’ with a good dollop of ‘plotter’. I’ve now 7 published novels, some of which have been planned more than others. Books 2 & 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series of historical adventures took a lot of plotting out, after intensive research. The timelines for the historical events that I used in those stories took a bit of tweaking since historical records (written by Greek or Roman historians) don’t necessarily match up time-wise with more recent archaeological interpretations. I had to do a bit of re-jigging before I sent Books 2 & 3 to my publisher. Book 1 of the series was much more ‘pantser’ driven. Topaz Eyes, a contemporary mystery thriller, took a lot of plotting and planning. The family tree I created for my cast of characters needed a lot of checking to get the dates and relationships correct, but it was such great fun to do. In Topaz Eyes, my research was mainly about Mughal emerald jewellery collections—something I knew little about. Lots of charting of who found what and where happened before and during the writing process, to ensure the ‘treasure hunt’ aspects of the story all fell into place properly.

I loved Topaz Eyes – it was so fast-paced and I loved the European setting, not to mention the passion! Nancy, thank you so much for coming along and talking to me today. Can’t wait to read your new book.

Nancy Jardine lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. She currently shares a home with her husband, daughter, son-in-law, 3 year old granddaughter and 1 year old grandson. It’ll continue to be a busy household till late summer of 2015 when the new build home will be completed for the young ‘uns on what was Nancy’s former back garden. The loss of that part of the garden won’t be missed since there should now be more writing time available this spring and summer! Childminding is intermittent over the day and any writing time is precious.

All matters historical are a passion; Ancestry research a lovely time-suck. Nancy regularly blogs and loves to have guests visit her blog. Facebooking is a habit she’s trying to keep within reasonable bounds! Any time left in a day is for leisure reading and the occasional historical series on TV.