Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

When Simon Van der Velde got in touch about his new collection Backstories I was so intrigued that I broke my self imposed rule NOT to take any further books for review and accepted a copy, not least because 30% of all profits from the sale of Backstories will be shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth. My thanks to Simon for providing a copy of Backstories in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Backstories is published by Smoke & Mirrors Press on 25th March 2021 and is available for purchase here.


Dreamers, singers, talkers and killers; they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, but inside themselves they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth? These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see.

Backstories is a unique collection of stories each told from the point of view of a famous (or notorious) person at a pivotal moment in their lives. The writing is literary but accessible and the voices vividly real. The settings are mostly 60 ‘s and 70 ‘s UK and USA, and the driving themes are inclusion, social justice and of course, nostalgia – but the real key to these stories is that the protagonists ‘ identities are withheld. This means that your job is to find them, leading to that Eureka moment when you realise whose mind you’ve been inhabiting for the last twenty minutes.

My Review of Backstories

A collection of fourteen short stories.

Backstories is a little cracker of a book. It is a quirky and fascinating concept which, as the title obviously implies, provides the possible back stories of well known people. One of the joys of Simon Van der Velde’s writing for the reader is building the picture from the layered information and clues to try to work out exactly who he’s writing about before any reveal.

I can’t say too much about the characters as I don’t want to spoil the intrinsic enjoyment of Backstories by revealing who is between its covers, but there are, amongst others, musicians and murderers, political activists and artists, whose tales illustrate the depth of research Simon Van der Velde must have gone to in order to tell their back stories with his compelling blend of fact and fiction. Small, intimate details really bring them alive. I thought Backstories was a work of genius.

That said, every story here is a small jewel in its own right and can be enjoyed and appreciated individually because of the gorgeous quality of the writing in Backstories. With both first and third person perspectives there is variety of voice that is so compelling. It wouldn’t matter whether the reader had full knowledge of the person behind each story to bring to their reading, or whether they had no idea at all because every story is a work of art that can be appreciated as a stand alone narrative.

In Backstories, Simon Van der Velde doesn’t shy away from racism, violence, bullying and all manner of social elements that make the characters in these stories come alive on the page. But there’s a tenderness behind them that helps uncover human frailty, and makes the reader understand why a mass murderer might turn to such brutality for example. Through Simon Van der Velde’s surprising moral compass the reader considers the homeless, the abused, the downtrodden and those on the edge of society because of their background, sexuality, race or experiences. I found this element very moving and affecting.

Backstories is a slim volume that belies its interest and depth. It genuinely packs a punch  – literally in some of the stories. Written in an elegant and frequently raw style, it thrums with life and meaning. Well crafted, accessible and entertaining, I thought Backstories really was fabulous.

About Simon Van der Velde

Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, labourer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as travelling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters and insights for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Shortstory Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition – establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.

Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, Nicola, their labradoodle, Barney and two tyrannical children.

You can follow Simon on Twitter @SimonVdVwriter or visit his website for more information. You’ll also find Simon on Instagram and Facebook.

Staying in with John Fullerton on Spy Game Publication Day

Yet again another brilliant sounding book crosses my path and I simply don’t have time to fit in reading it. However, that doesn’t stop me hearing more about it and today I’m delighted that John Fullerton is staying in with me to chat about his brand new thriller.

Staying in with John Fullerton

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag John. Thank you for staying in with me. I rather think I know, but which of your books have you brought along this evening and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought my new novel Spy Game as it’s published today by independent publisher Burning Chair.

Congratulations John and Happy Publication Day. What can we expect from an evening in with Spy Game?

It’s a thriller about a rather naive young man – someone who unquestioningly believes in Queen and Country and wants to do his bit in the Cold War – who volunteers as a ‘head agent’ for the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) on the Afghan-Pakistan frontier shortly after the Soviet invasion. But Richard Brodick soon discovers that the Great Game has a dark side. Ordered to kill his best friend who’s suspected of being a Soviet asset, he faces a grim dilemma.

Crikey! that sounds dramatic. How is Spy Game being received by readers?

I’m delighted that veteran crime novelist Russell James was the first to review Spy Game for Shots Crime and Thriller Ezine and he has this to say:

‘Fullerton is unmatchable at the details of the frontline spy game, the very believable characters engaged in it, and the cold-eyed, cold-hearted decisions that those who intend to win the game have to take. It is not a game for the faint-hearted.’

That’s quite some praise. You must be delighted with it. How did you come to write Spy Game?

Spy Game is based on my failure as a spook. I did work as an SIS ‘contract labourer’ in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I too was somewhat naïve and wanted to become a full-time intelligence officer but was turned down, rightly so, as I wasn’t entirely comfortable with authority of any kind and had a tendency, as they said, of rushing off and doing stuff I thought needed doing without authorisation. ‘John, we think you’d chafe at the bureaucratic restrictions of a peacetime service,’ I was told. Fortunately, I turned out to be a better journalist than spy, eventually living or working in 40 countries and covering a dozen wars, most of them for Reuters. I now live in Scotland.

That sounds like an exciting lifestyle though. So, what else have you brought along?

I’ve brought along an old snapshot of me in my Afghan rig from my spying days taken by a friend of mine, photographer and former Royal Marine Ken Guest, on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second city and former royal capital, in 1982.

Oo. Very mysterious. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about Spy Game John. It sounds brilliant. Are there any more books planned? 

I’m thrilled that Burning Chair will publish the second novel, Spy Dragon, in which Brodick – older, wiser and far more self-interested – heads off to war-torn Beirut to help locate a kidnapped CIA officer. I’m pretty sure that it has more twists than your average corkscrew. Now I’m working on the third in the series.

I think they all sound fantastic. Good luck with the series. Let me tell blog readers more about Spy Game:

Spy Game

February 1981. The Cold War is in full swing. Richard Brodick decides to follow in his father’s footsteps and seeks an exciting role in what used to be called the Great Game, only to find that it turns out to be less of an adventure and more brutal betrayal.

As a contract ‘head agent’ for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service based in Pakistan, Brodick’s job is to train Afghans to capture video of the war against the Soviets. He is expected to follow orders, toe the line, keep Mrs T happy back in London. However, what he finds on the ground-in both Pakistan and Afghanistan-is a murky world of blurred lines and conflicting stories. He quickly realises he cannot trust anything he has been told, by anyone.

What he had thought would be an adventure spying on the Soviets and their Afghan communist allies turns sour when he’s ordered to kill his best friend.

Will he betray his country or his friend? What side will he choose?

Published by Burning Chair, today, 8th March 2021, Spy Game is available for purchase here.

About John Fullerton

During the Cold War John Fullerton was, for a time, a “contract labourer” for the British Secret Intelligence Service, in the role of head agent on the Afghan-Pakistan frontier. This experience forms the basis of his latest novel, provisionally entitled Spy Game, to be published in March 2021 by Burning Chair.

All told, he’s lived or worked in 40 countries as a journalist and covered a dozen wars. For 20 years he was employed by Reuters as a correspondent and editor with postings in Hong Kong, Delhi, Beirut, Nicosia, Cairo, and London.

His home is in Scotland.

For more information, follow John on Twitter @fictionarrative or visit his website. You’ll also find John on Facebook.

Staying in with Gemma Levine

Well, it’s been nearly a year since the first lockdown started and Covid has played a huge, sometimes devastating, role in all our lives. Consequently, when I discovered that there was positivity to be had too, I had to invite Gemma Levine onto the blog to tell me about one of her books. My thanks to Grace Pilkington for putting us in touch with one another.

Staying in with Gemma Levine

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Gemma and thank you for staying in with me. Which of your books have you brought along to tell me about today?

During this lockdown period , I brought out and published 3 books . This one I give you today, is called COVID THOUGHTS. All the book’s proceeds got to Lymphoedema Research Charity.

Gosh, three books during lockdown is very impressive. Tell me more about COVID THOUGHTS.

I asked 40 famous personalities to write for me in 200 words their thoughts during this period . I have photographed each one of them. One page their text, the opposite page their photograph. Dame Judi Dench supports everything I am doing to raise awareness for Lymphoedema and has written the Preface. Professor Mortimer has written the Foreword and myself the Introduction.

That’s quite a cast. Who else is involved? 

A few people I will mention that have contributed . Nicki Aitkin MP, Baroness Joan Bakewell, Sir Geoffrey Boycott, Dame Joan Collins, William Boyd, Simon Callow, the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Baron Richard Harries, Prue Leith, Joanna Lumley, Priti Patel, Bryan Robson, Dr Miriam Stoppard, Terry Waite and many others including Covid hospital staff and ITU nurses and even a fisherman!

I think there’s someone of interest for any reader there Gemma! I understand the proceeds from COVID Thoughts support the Lymphoedema Research Charity so that’s wonderful.

What else have you brought along? 


I think COVID THOUGHTS sounds such a positive and inspiring book Gemma. Thank you for introducing it here. Let me give Linda’s Book Bag readers a little more information:


This book is a thought-provoking exploration of the challenges, lessons learnt and personal experiences of the global pandemic communicated through the eyes of some of the influential public figures in society.

It features contributions from 30 personalities and politicians including the UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, Bryan Robson, Prue Leith, Sir David Suchet, Joanna Lumley, William Boyd, Dame Maureen Lipman, and Terry Waite.

As well as raising funds for Lymphoedema research, Covid Thoughts is a compelling collection of the real accounts of people from across a diverse range of backgrounds offering a humbling and insightful glimpse into their Covid journeys.

Introduction by GEMMA LEVINE FRSA

COVID THOUGHTS is available for purchase here.

About Gemma Levine FRSA

Gemma Levine is a photographer of over half a century. But her artistry was brought to a halt 12 years ago when she developed LYMPHOEDEMA . Gemma is semi disabled with her right arm. It does not allow her to use heavy cameras, carry, cook efficiently etc. Gemma now uses a light iPhone and iPad only for her work.

Her ‘famous people’ ARCHIVES are held with Getty Images UK. Her photographs of Princess Diana, are shown in a permanent exhibition at Kensington Palace. The palace chose Gemma’s photograph of Princess Diana as the photograph of the year in 1994. Gemma has published 25 books and had over 80 exhibitions.

For more information about Gemma, visit her website.

The Tragedy Behind The Dedication In ‘The Girl In The Missing Poster’: A Guest Post by Author Barbara Copperthwaite

Barbara Copperthwaite is one of the loveliest authors I know and it was a real pleasure last November to help reveal her latest book The Girl in the Missing Poster. It seems a very long time since I last saw Barbara at the Deepings Literary Festival in 2019 and then at one of our author and blogger meetings in Birmingham, but she has featured on the blog in interview here, and again here when Flowers for the Dead had its book birthday. I reviewed Barbara’s The Darkest Lies here and Barbara provided a wonderful letter to herself in a guest post when Her Last Secret was released. You’ll find that letter here.

Today I’m thrilled that Barbara is sharing a guest post with Linda’s Book Bag readers all about the the tragedy behind The Girl in the Missing Poster.

Published by Bookouture on 23rd February 2021, The Girl in the Missing Poster is available for purchase here, and on Apple and Kobo.

The Girl in the Missing Poster

24 June, 1994 – Nineteen-year-old Leila Hawkins runs from her father’s birthday party into the stormy night wearing her sister Stella’s long red coat. Some say she was crying, others swear they saw her get into a passing car. Nobody ever saw her again.

Present – This time every year, on the anniversary of that fateful night, Stella decorates the small seaside town she grew up in with pictures of her beautiful missing sister. But after twenty-five years, is it even worth hoping someone will come forward? Perhaps the upcoming documentary will spark people’s memories by reuniting all the guests who were there the night Leila went missing.

As old friends gather and long-buried secrets begin to surface, the last thing Stella ever expects is a direct response from someone claiming they took Leila. They want private details of Stella’s life in return for answers. But as the true events of the night of the party play out once again, who is lying? And who is next?

The Tragedy Behind The Dedication In ‘The Girl In The Missing Poster’

A Guest Post by Barbara Copperthwaite

I’m always fascinated by book dedications. I find myself wondering who Aunt Bessie was and the influence she had over the author, or who ‘you know who and why’ actually refers to… My latest book is dedicated in part to Julieanne, who has been my best friend since school, and knows where all the metaphorical bodies are buried, but it also reads: For all the missing – and those who are left behind. Why? Let me explain…

The idea for The Girl In The Missing Poster was initially sparked while watching a documentary on the unsolved murder of well-known BBC presenter and journalist Jill Dando. She was killed with a single gunshot on the steps of her London home, and although someone was convicted, he was later acquitted. During the programme, her brother, Nigel, said: ‘I just wish someone could explain to me – or a judge and jury – and tell me why they killed her. It makes no sense to me. It will never make sense to me.’

I tried putting myself in his shoes and started crying at the enormity of it. I rewound the documentary, grabbed a notebook and jotted the line down. I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if the killer were watching – and were moved to get in touch to explain. That was only the beginning though…

On the surface, The Girl In The Missing Poster is about Leila Hawkins, a police cadet who disappeared aged 19, after leaving her dad’s birthday party during a storm. But really at the heart of it lies Stella, the identical twin left behind, who has spent the last 25 years unable to stop searching for answers. She is haunted by endless scenarios – not only her own, but also the countless ones on social media, as people discuss the case and seem almost to forget that they are talking about a person.

For 25 years Stella has wished someone would give her answers. Then one day, her wish comes true – someone claiming to be Leila’s killer contacts her. Can she trust what they say? What does this person truly want? And how much is Stella willing to give up in order to find out the truth?

All the way through writing The Girl In The Missing Poster I was haunted, just like Stella; constantly imagining how I would feel if a member of my own family were to go missing. I began researching Missing Persons cases. Someone goes missing every ninety seconds in the UK. It rarely makes the news.

Imagine not knowing where someone you loved was. Imagine waving goodbye to them – and never knowing what happened to them after that. Every 90 seconds, someone in the UK experiences that.

Personally, I can deal with pretty much any truth, but not knowing… It is something I absolutely can’t handle. It’s probably why I became a journalist, and is also why I now love to explore questions in my fictional books. The thought of so many people going through the hell of constantly wondering and never knowing broke my heart. One of the many stories I came across during my research was that of Renee MacRae, 36, and her three-year-old son, Andrew, who disappeared in 1976. It is Britain’s longest-running missing persons’ inquiry.

The pair were last seen leaving Inverness in November 1976. Renee’s BMW was later spotted by a passing train driver in a remote lay-by on the A9, near Dalmagarry. A rug stained with blood matching Renee’s blood type was found.

Last year, detectives carried out an extensive forensic search of Leanach Quarry, near Culloden Battlefield. About 13 million litres of water was drained from the flooded quarry, and sediment and silt were removed for detailed forensic examination. Still, no trace of Renee or her son were found.

For 44 years her family have had nothing more concrete than their own imaginations to fill in the blanks of what happened to the mother and son.

There’s nothing I can do to help them or the thousands of other people going through this torture. A dedication in my book won’t ease their suffering, but it’s the only thing I can offer. So for them, for all those who have gone missing and may never be found, for those who are trying to find their way back home, and for those who are left at home, waiting, wondering, I dedicate my book. I hope that one day all of them can find peace.

*In the time it’s taken you to read this post, two people have gone missing in the UK.


My word Barbara, that’s powerful stuff. I hope this doesn’t sound ridiculous, but we lost a cat without a trace once and we’ve never stopped wondering what happened to him. For that same thing to happen to a human being must be unbearable. I think The Girl in the Missing Poster is an absolute MUST read. I’m so glad it’s on my TBR.

About Barbara Copperthwaite

Barbara is the Amazon, Kobo and USA Today bestselling author of psychological thrillers InvisibleFlowers for the DeadThe Darkest LiesHer Last Secret and The Perfect Friend. Barbara’s latest book is The Girl in the Missing Poster.

Her writing career started in journalism, writing for national newspapers and magazines. During a career spanning over twenty years Barbara interviewed the real victims of crime – and also those who have carried those crimes out. She is fascinated by creating realistic, complex characters, and taking them apart before the readers’ eyes in order to discover just how much it takes to push a person over a line.

Her first book, Invisible, was ‘totally gripping, and scarily believable’ according to Bella magazine. Its success was followed by Flowers For The Dead, which was the Sunday Mirror’s Choice Read, beating Lee Child’s latest offering. ‘Will have you looking over your shoulder and under your bed… Original, gripping, with a deep psychological impact,’ their review read.

The Darkest Lies came next, published by Bookouture, and became a USA Today bestseller. The follow-up, Her Last Secret, hit the Number 1 spot on Kobo. The Perfect Friend is a No 1 Kobo and Amazon best seller.

When not writing feverishly at her home in Birmingham, Barbara is often found walking her two dogs, Scamp and Buddy, or hiding behind a camera to take wildlife photographs.

For more information about Barbara, you can visit her website or her blog, find her on Facebook and Instagram or follow her on Twitter @BCoppethwait.

Celebrating Paperback Publication Day for The Women Who Ran Away by Sheila O’Flanagan

It’s almost exactly a year since the lovely Sheila O’Flanagan featured on Linda’s Book Bag when we stayed in together here to chat about Her Husband’s Mistake. Today we’re celebrating the paperback publication day for The Women Who Ran Away, a book sitting waiting for me on my TBR. My enormous thanks to Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to participate today. It has been my pleasure to listen to Sheila speak about her writing on several occasions both virtually and in real life and I’m thrilled to have an extract from The Women Who Ran Away to share with you.

Also on the blog Sheila previously told me all about her inspiration for another of her books My Mother’s Secret in a guest post that you can read here. I reviewed My Mother’s Secret here.

Published in paperback today, 4th March 2021 by Headline, The Women Who Ran Away is available in all the usual places including Amazon UK, Amazon US and Waterstones.

The Women Who Ran Away


‘One of my favourite authors’ Marian Keyes

‘If you’ve had to cancel your holiday plans this summer, don’t worry – this beautiful new novel will transport you to sunnier climes…’ – HEAT‘S READ OF THE WEEK

In Sheila O’Flanagan’s stunning new novel, two women face up to shocking truths about the men they’ve loved – and start to make their own decisions about what to do next…

Deira isn’t the kind of woman to steal a car. Or drive to France alone with no plan. But then, Deira didn’t expect to be single. Or to suddenly realise that the only way she can get the one thing she wants most is to start breaking every rule she lives by.

Grace has been sent on a journey by her late husband, Ken. She doesn’t really want to be on it but she’s following his instructions, as always. She can only hope that the trip will help her to forgive him. And then – finally – she’ll be able to let him go.

Brought together by unexpected circumstances, Grace and Deira find that it’s easier to share secrets with a stranger, especially in the shimmering sunny countryside of Spain and France. But they soon find that there’s no escaping the truth, whether you’re running away from it or racing towards it . . .


‘Didn’t want it to end’ *****

‘I would have given this 6 stars if I could’

‘Within the first chapter, I had left reality and social distancing behind and joined two amazing women on a life-changing adventure’ *****

‘A great summer read’

‘Five stars all the way!’ *****

‘Sheila O’Flanagan never disappoints’ *****

‘Fantastic read!’

‘Couldn’t put this book down!’

An Extract from The Women Who Ran Away

Chapter 16

Nantes to La Rochelle: 136 km


‘Tell me,’ said Grace. ‘I told you my story. You have to tell me yours.’

Deira hesitated. ‘It’s not a story like yours. It’s not some- thing you can sympathise with me over.’

‘Let me be the judge of that.’ ‘Seriously . . .’

‘Oh for heaven’s sake, Deira. Just tell me.’

Deira took a deep breath, then brought Grace up to speed with how she’d first met Gavin.

‘I felt guilty about Marilyn and the girls, of course,’ she said. ‘Especially Mae and Suzy; I didn’t want them to have a bad relationship with their father and I encouraged him to see them as much as possible, but I was absolutely a hundred per cent convinced that the marriage itself was over and that Gavin and I were forever. I’d never loved anyone the way I loved him.’

Grace nodded.

‘We were blissfully happy,’ Deira continued. ‘It was a bit awkward initially at work, but eventually that evened itself out. Nobody else was bothered by it and our business relationship evolved over time anyhow. The company’s corporate responsibility strategy expanded and I took control of that; meantime he grew more involved in the pensions side of things. We were specialising in different areas so our work and private lives didn’t clash. We both moved ahead and it was great.’

‘A power couple,’ observed Grace.

‘Sometimes I thought that,’ agreed Deira. ‘We bought a mews house near the canal, we spent a lot of time out at functions, we lived a kind of glamour life.’

‘You said before that you bought the house, not both of you,’ Grace reminded her.

‘Well, yes, I took out the mortgage. It would’ve been messy otherwise, especially as it took so long for him to get the divorce. We didn’t want the house to get mixed up in it all. Afterwards, he said it was right that it should be my place. I thought it meant that he was a good person. I loved him.’

‘You were happy,’ said Grace. ‘Why didn’t you marry?’ ‘Mainly because of the girls,’ said Deira. ‘They hated the

idea of their dad marrying again. If it had only been Marilyn, I’d have done it like a shot simply to annoy her. She was so bloody difficult about it all. I know it was hard for her, I do, truly, but she never let up.’

‘You mean she wanted him back?’

‘Actually, no,’ said Deira. ‘I don’t think she did. But she didn’t want to make it easy for him either. She was forever phoning up, complaining about things, asking for more money for either Mae or Suzy – for essentials, she’d say.’

‘But surely the divorce settlement dealt with all that?’ ‘Eventually it did,’ Deira conceded. ‘But prior to it, she was relentless. Even afterwards she kept demanding things, and he wasn’t willing to get into a battle with her because he didn’t want to antagonise the girls.’

‘You said you wanted him to have a good relationship with them. Does he?’

‘On and off,’ replied Deira. ‘They’re certainly in a better place now than they were at the start, but it’s been tough. At first Marilyn wouldn’t let them visit the house, but after a while Gavin managed to persuade her to allow them to come if I wasn’t there. I used to stay with my friend Tillie those times. Sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for a weekend.’

‘That must have been difficult.’

‘I didn’t mind initially, but afterwards I came to resent it,’ said Deira. ‘When I’d get home, I’d find things had been moved around or hidden away. Occasionally they’d have squeezed out the contents of my make-up into tissues that I’d find in the bathroom waste bin. Once they mashed up a brand-new Bobbi Brown palette I’d been silly enough to leave behind. They pulled the heels off a pair of Prada shoes too.’

‘Oh Deira! That’s awful.’

‘They were angry,’ said Deira. ‘They blamed me. I under- stood.’

‘Didn’t Gavin say anything? Do anything?’

‘I never told him,’ said Deira. ‘I didn’t want them to have a row. I reckoned they’d grow out of it.’

‘Did they?’

‘Eventually. The visits became less fraught and we got on better, although we never really became close. That’s partly why . . .’ She broke off and closed her eyes.

Grace recognised the signs of someone trying to keep herself under control. She’d had to do it often enough over the last few months, not wanting to burst into tears in front of Aline or Fionn or Regan. She’d had to be strong for them.

About Sheila O’Flanagan

Sheila O’Flanagan is the author of bestselling chart-toppers, including Her Husband’s Mistake, The Hideaway, What Happened That Night, The Missing Wife, My Mother’s Secret and All For You (winner of the Irish Independent Popular Fiction Book of the Year Award). After working in banking and finance for a number of years, Sheila’s love for writing blossomed into curating stories about relationships in all their many forms.

You can follow Sheila on Twitter @sheilaoflanagan, or find her on Facebook and visit her website for more details.

Staying in with Gerald Hogg

It’s almost exactly a year since the spare room was festooned with packing cubes ready for our month long trip to India. Sadly, Covid put paid to that! However, it doesn’t mean I can’t travel vicariously through books and I’m delighted to welcome Gerald Hogg to Linda’s Book Bag today to take me what sounds as if it could be an exciting adventure as he tells me about his latest book.

Staying in with Gerald Hogg

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Gerald. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Hi Linda thank you for inviting me for a night in with you, I am sure that we will have a great evening.

I hope so. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

The book that I have decided to share with you tonight is the first book in the Thai Died Series of books that I wrote; Murder in Paradise…Coronavirus Has Arrived in Koh Samui But So Has Another Killer.

Gosh! That’s quite a title. I like the word play! What can we expect from an evening in with Thai Died: Murder in Paradise?

The book features Lieutenant Chai Son Sinuan of the Royal Thailand Police an incorruptible policeman in a police force that is deep rooted in corruption.

The book is set on the Paradise Island of Koh Samui, where a young English girl’s body is found posed looking out to sea on Bophut Beach. Her throat has been cut to near decapitation and Lieutenant Sinuan is handed the toughest murder case of his career. At the same time, Covid-19 has devastated Koh Samui’s and Thailand’s tourist industry and the government is putting pressure on Son to solve the case to save face with the international community. Son is in a race against time to solve the murder, but with most businesses, hotels, massage parlours, restaurants and bars now closed and with many potential witnesses having already left the island to return to their home countries or provinces around Thailand there are very few leads to follow. The investigation takes Son to Ko Pha-Ngan and the Island of Phuket and then back to Koh Samui as he untangles a crime with links back to the notorious gangsters the Kray twins the most feared, most ruthless gangsters in London during the 1950 and 1960s.

What a plot! How is the book being received?

The book has received some great reviews such as this one from Crime Fiction Lover:

Thai Died… Murder in Paradise by Gerald Hogg

Quite a few crime fiction lovers decide to write a crime novel when they retire, and Gerald Hogg is one of them. Thai Died is one of the first COVID-era crime novels we’ve come across and is set during lockdown in Koh Samui, a popular Thai beach resort. A young woman’s body has been found, and police lieutenant Chai Son Sinuan is on the case. In a police force that is often corrupt, Sinuan is an honest man swimming against the current. Carrying out an investigation with COVID restrictions is one challenge. Another is the strange link he discovers between the murder and organised crime in London during the 50s and 60s, including the Kray twins. See what you think, Thai Died is out now.

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

Before I retired to Thailand I was a chef and I travelled the world working in hotels in countries including Jamaica, Bermuda, Singapore, Australia and Papua New Guinea and I also worked on cruise ships for a good portion of my life. I’ve brought a couple of pages (Gazette and Gazette 2) your blog readers might like to see.

How exciting. I love travel and I’m pretty partial to a cruise too. Papua New Guinea was on our list but sadly Covid has put paid to that for now although we have visited the other countries you mention. I wonder if you’ve ever cooked for us?

Two years after I retired in Thailand I met a lovely Thai lady called Noy, who has taught me many of the secrets of Thai cooking so I have prepared Tom Yum Goong a Spicy Shrimp Soup cooked in coconut cream, with straw mushrooms, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, chillies, garlic and galangal. I lived much of my life in Australia and I consider Australian wines to be far superior to French wines so I have bought a bottle of ILR Reserve Semillon.

Oh, you can visit again. I love Thai food. It’s far too long since I’ve been there.

I was not sure what your taste in music might be but growing up in England in the mid-1960s I was lucky enough to be leaving school when groups like The Beatles The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Small Faces were at the pinnacle of their musical careers so I was quiet spoiled for choice and I now find much of the music of today quite bland. I have brought a self titled LP of my favourite band of around that time a band called Free. The reason that it’s my favourite is I went to school in my home town of Middlesbrough with the lead singer of Free, Paul Rogers, who in my opinion is the finest rock and roll singer ever to walk up to a microphone. So I hope that you have an old fashioned record player that plays 33rpm so that you can listen to it.

I think there’s one in the loft. I’ll get my husband to get it down.

I have brought a photo album as well and if we have the time I will go through some of my favourite photos with you.

That’s brilliant Gerald. Thanks so much for staying in with me. You serve up the Tom Yum Goong and I’ll give blog readers a bit of information about Thai Died… Murder in Paradise.

Thai Died… Murder in Paradise

On the Paradise Island of Koh Samui a young English girl’s body is found posed looking out to sea on Bophut Beach. Her throat has been cut to near decapitation and Police Lieutenant Chai Son Sinuan of the Royal Thailand Police is handed the toughest murder case of his career. At the same time, Covid-19 has devastated Koh Samuis and Thailand’s tourist industry and the government is putting pressure on Son to solve the case to save face with the international community. Son is in a race against time to solve the murder, but with most businesses, hotels, massage parlours, restaurants and bars now closed and with many potential witnesses having already left the island to return to their home countries or provinces around Thailand there are very few leads to follow. The investigation takes Son to Ko Pha-Ngan and to the Island of Phuket and then back to Koh Samui as he untangles a crime with links back to the notorious gangsters the Kray twins the most feared, most ruthless gangsters in London during the 1950 and 1960s.

Thai Died… Murder in Paradise is available for purchase here.

About Gerald Hogg

Originally from the UK, Gerald migrated to Australia in 1974. Since then he has travelled the world working in hotels and restaurants, gold mines, cruise ships, Antarctic supply ships, custom patrol vessels, rig tenders, and oil tankers. In the capacity of his work as a chef Gerald has also lived in Jamaica, Bermuda, Singapore, the Falkland Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the USA.

Gerald has now retired to Thailand where he lives on the island of Koh Samui and travels extensively throughout South-East Asia doing research for his travel books. To keep active and to pursue his love of travel he has written five travel books in his Retirees Travel Guide Series of books which are aimed at retiree and baby boomer market. Gerald has also written The Deptford Mask Murders and has recently published his first book in the Thai Died Series of books, Murder in Paradise. Gerald also self published his biography; You Will Never Amount to Anything. He is now finalising the second book in the Thai Died Series of books…Bar-Girl.

You’ll find all of Gerald’s books here and his blog about retiring in Thailand here. Gerald has just joined Twitter @GeraldHogg3 and you’ll also find him on Facebook and can visit his website.

Magic Marmalade by Petra Quelch

Having thoroughly enjoyed Petra Quelch’s children’s book Lottie Sparkles’ Magical Discovery, reviewed here, I am delighted to participate in the blog tour for Petra’s latest book, Magic Marmalade. I’m sharing my review today. My thanks to Petra for inviting me to take part.

Published by Austin Macauley, Magic Marmalade is available for purchase in all the usual places including Amazon UK, Amazon US, Waterstones and directly from the publisher.

Magic Marmalade

Imagine you didn’t have to travel the ordinary way of transport. You could get from one place to the other quickly and without any delays. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

Mabel Bloom doesn’t like to travel the ordinary way. She dislikes buses, cars, trains or even planes. But one day she receives a very important invitation from the Other Side of the world, so she turns to her grandpa for help. Grandpa sends Mabel a recipe which, when made correctly, will give her the power to travel a very unusual way. And Mabel’s extraordinary adventure begins.

My Review of Magic Marmalade

Mabel has an invitation, but how will she get to the event?

In the interests of complete honesty, I’ve one small quibble to get out of the way before my review proper – I personally prefer left, rather than centrally, justified text in children’s books!

That small detail aside I loved Magic Marmalade. It’s a lovely, exciting story with an important underlying message that if we believe in ourselves with a little bit of luck we can achieve anything. Mabel overcomes her difficulties and reaps the rewards in doing so, so that children can have faith in themselves as a result of this story. I liked the structure of the story over a week too.

With Mabel, Battina and Grandpa as central characters, Magic Marmalade encourages links between generations that I think are so incredibly important in the current world. This would make a fantastic bedtime story for a grandparent to share with a grandchild via Zoom. There’s adventure, and a little sprinkle of magic that makes Magic Marmalade very entertaining.

I thought the balance of text to image was perfect with language accessible enough for independent readers, but with sufficiently unusual words too, to enhance a child’s vocabulary. I especially liked the use of onomatopoeia.

The images in Magic Marmalade support the text brilliantly, helping less confident young readers gather meaning. They have a naïve charm that will appeal to children with plenty to look at as the story progresses.

Magic Marmalade is a charming story that has a lovely message.

About Petra Quelch

Authors photo

Petra Quelch is the author of Magic Marmalade and Lottie Sparkles Magical Discovery. Petra loves everything sparkly, glittery, magical and mysterious.

Aside from all the glitz and glamour, she is a collector of books, pens, tea sets and a huge fan of chocolate.

Petra has two little girls, also known as “The Little Book-Fairies with a BIG imagination.

Most days, she findsherself conjuring up stories for children or reading books in her favourite spot by the window.

You can find out more by following Petra on Twitter @ACaseOfBooks and Instagram and finding her on Facebook.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Watery Through The Gaps by Emma Blas

My enormous thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for the poetry anthology Watery Through The Gaps by Emma Blas. I’m delighted to share my review today.

Watery Through The Gaps is available for purchase here.

Watery Through The Gaps

“A compelling collection that slips between the crevices of the skin and buries itself into your bones.”

Watery Through the Gaps is a book for those waking to the realisation that there is more outside than just us. It is for those of us who long to bridge the chasm between the human and earth experience. These poems are stepping stones leading us through the water. Following the river will lead us home and we will never be alone again.

In Emma Blas’ second collection of poems, she invites you into dialogue with the sea, taking you into the depths and leaving you wondering whether you can trust the current. Despite the terrifying tug of the undertow, we are exactly where we are meant to be.

If you like poetry that ripples through the depths of the self, against the mirror of the natural world, this book is for you.

“This book is as arresting as it is elegantly carved. There’s a power behind Emma Blas’ words. That power is Gaia.” Atulya K Bingham, author of Dirt Witch.

“Emma Blas writes poetry that is all power and poise. It is precise and poignant. Beauty bathed in something both soft and still, yet capable of leaving you breathless. She is a master of using nature themes to evoke emotion that you didn’t even know you were capable of feeling. In her second book, watery between the gaps, she once again delivers a compelling collection that slips between the crevices of the skin and buries itself into your bones. It is both dark and light, brilliantly weaving the two into a masterpiece that leaves you wanting more of her exquisite lines.” Ashley Jane, author of All Darkness and Dahlias.

My Review of Watery Through The Gaps

A collection of watery poems.

Watery Through the Gaps is an intense, textured and captivating collection that I really enjoyed. It’s not actually an easy read, making Emma Blas’ words all the more powerful because the reader needs to concentrate, to read and reread just to scratch the surface of these multi-layered and beautifully written poems. Images and meanings swirl like the sea’s tides and I have no idea if my interpretation and responses are what the author intended, but I found this entire collection utterly fascinating. I think Watery Through the Gaps epitomises the power of poetry as the reader can bring their own meanings to the work, making it a very personal reading experience.

As Watery Through the Gaps might suggest, water, and especially the sea, is a recurring image in the writing. It’s frequently destructive or obfuscating as the poet comes to terms with her identity and sense of loss, but water here also reminded me of birth, creation and possibility so that amongst the bleakness there is hope in wonderful writing. Similarly, there are iterative images of burning and conflagration so that Watery Through The Gaps feels nuanced and balanced.

I loved the physical representation of many of the poems on the page because that representation illustrated meaning so effectively. The lack of upper case letters, especially a capital I, suggested to me the poet’s loss of, and search for, identity, as did the fragmentation of some of the work on the page. That said, I was also reminded of the patterns of the ocean and the boundless nature of the sea where poems meandered across the white space in wavelike patterns. I also found a disturbing sense of suffocation, as if the poet feels she is unable to express her innermost thoughts and emotions, displayed through images of stopping up a mouth. At the same time, Emma Blas explores the relentless and voracious appetite of humanity as it consumes the natural world. Emma Blas employs natural images with sensitivity so that even something small like an ant becomes an effective metaphor for life – or indeed, for destruction, as one of the themes in Watery Through the Gaps is the impact humans have on the planet.

I’m not entirely sure I’ve done justice to Watery Through the Gaps as a reader. I found the collection affecting, moving and thought-provoking, but I fear I have only scratched the surface of the collection’s potential. This is no criticism of the writer, but of my own inability fully to appreciate the nuances of the writing and the range of themes to discover. I shall be returning to Watery Through the Gaps on many occasions in the future as I thought it was excellent and it keeps calling to me.

About Emma Blas

emma blas lives near gijón in spain. her poetry explores transitions, shifts of phase and form in the natural world. you will find her at the beach, walking through the dramatic landscape of asturias, or with her hands in the soil, trying to learn from the earth. it is these crossing points between the physical, psychological and imagined states of life that are painted in her poetry.

You can find Emma on Instagram or visit her website for further information and there’s more with these other bloggers:

Staying in with Suzanne Harrison

One of the joys of blogging is being in at the start of an author’s journey and supporting smaller publishers as well as the big hitters. I have always loved every book I’ve read from Legend Times imprint Legend Press and am delighted to welcome their debut author Suzanne Harrison to stay in with me today to tell me about her brand new book.

Staying in with Suzanne Harrison

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Suzanne and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

Firstly, thank you for staying in to talk books.

It’s my pleasure. What could be better than a bookish evening?

Secondly, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t bring along my debut novel, The Colour of Thunder, released by Legend Times on February 1 after a brief delay due to Covid.

Congratulations on your debut Suzanne. That’s a stunning cover. So, what can we expect from an evening in with The Colour of Thunder.

I wanted to write something that I wanted to read, something fast-paced and a little edgy with colourful characters. I was living temporarily back in Australia when I started writing this a few years ago, and that’s what drove me to explore the Hong Kong I know and love.

Oo. I’m so glad to have The Colour of Thunder on my TBR. I was due to go to Hong Kong on my way back from the Philippines but the typhoon scuppered us and we were unable to go. What kind of book is it?

To put it into a genre, the novel is a modern-day thriller set in Hong Kong featuring a diverse cast of troubled characters from around the world, all seeking to solve mysteries from their past, either by running from it or digging deep into what really happened. At times, their lives intersect – and not always in a particularly pleasant way. At the final hour, there’s a violent anti-government protest staged during what becomes the storm of the century. Conversely, the truth is starting to emerge and tempers are flaring.

It sounds brilliant Suzanne.

One reviewer said this: “It is a story in which the main characters are working through issues from their past and it is this intrigue and the flowing style of the narrative that I found most absorbing. I felt gripped from the first page and as the mystery unravelled.”

That’s a great comment and makes me think The Colour of Thunder will be exactly my kind of read.

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

One of the best things about Hong Kong – where I have lived for 20 years – is the food. So, let’s start with a steaming plate of Har Gao, my favourite prawn dumplings. Fantastic comfort food. Of course, I’d like to polish that off with a bottle of Tsingtao beer and perhaps we could add in a plate of clams with black bean sauce, my favourite dish at the Po Toi Island restaurant off Hong Kong and the setting for a romantic scene between Wang and Alice, two main characters in the book.

If you’re going to bring food like that Suzanne, you are welcome back at any time!

I’ve also got an old Nokia phone – you have to read the book to understand that one, as without those phones, the crime may never have been solved – and a photo of Shek O Village, where I have lived since 2000. This is also a regular setting in the novel.

Last but not least, I have brought a yellow umbrella with me, in case it rains on the way home. If you know about the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, you will also know that yellow ones became a symbol of the protestor’s fight for full democracy in Hong Kong. This is a fight still raging, although with many arrests and Covid there now, protests have all but stopped.

Indeed. I wonder if I’ll ever make it to Hong Kong now Susanne but at least I have The Colour of Thunder to take me there vicariously. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat all about it. 

The Colour of Thunder

One small island, six troubled lives, and the storm of the century is on its way.

In one of the world’s most vibrant international cities, present day Hong Kong, the lives of six people become irreversibly intertwined. The past is catching up with those running from it, while the futures of others hangs dangerously in the balance. But who knows the most? And what will they do to keep it that way?

Published by Legend Press on 1st February 2021, The Colour of Thunder is available for purchase here.

About Suzanne Harrison

Suzanne Harrison is a journalist who has worked for the South China Morning Post since 1999. Originally from Australia, she has lived and worked in the media in the US, London and mostly Hong Kong, writing everything from business to news, lifestyle features and most recently, an investigative piece about an alleged Hong Kong-based con woman. Suzanne is now working on another novel and hopes to have that up and running by mid-year.

For more information, follow Suzanne on Twitter @suzannej123. You’ll find a podcast with Susanne here and can find her on Instagram too.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? by Fran Hill

It is some months since I stayed in with Fran Hill to chat all about Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? in a post you can read here. After our conversation I knew I’d enjoy reading the book and was delighted when Fran sent me a copy, but as ever, my TBR got the better of me. With fewer blog tours accepted and a short lull in books I need to read for them, I finally got round to Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? and I’m so glad I did.

Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? is available for purchase in most large book shops, on Amazon in paperback and ebook and from the publisher directly.

Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?

thumbnail_Miss_What Does Inc_Mean Final

A funny, life-affirming memoir, in diary form. Set in the manic world of a busy teacher, and based on real experiences, Fran Hill’s account of one typical year shows it’s not just the pupils who misbehave.

English teacher ‘Miss’ starts the Autumn term beleaguered by self-doubts. She’s mid-menopause, insomniac, and Mirror and Bathroom Scales are blisteringly unsympathetic. Her pupils make her laugh, weep, fume and despair, often in the same lesson. Her unremitting workload blights family time and she feels guilty for missing church events to catch up on marking. After all, God-lady is watching.

Meanwhile, the new Head of Department seems unreachable, an Ofsted inspection looms, her sixth formers (against school policy) insist on sitting in rows, and there’s a school magazine to produce …

When childhood secrets demand attention Miss doesn’t want to give them, life gets complicated.

My Review of Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?

A year in the life of a secondary school English teacher.

Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? is an absolute cracker of a book written in the form of a term time diary. I loved every moment of being immersed in its pages and I was so entertained by Fran Hill’s writing that I simply gave up my plans for the day and read it in one sitting, right through my meals – rather like the author does with her marking in the book.

Reading Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? like having Victoria Wood, Miranda Hart and Dawn French in my sitting room for a private stand-up gig. It’s a long time since I have laughed so hard and so long and reading this book was exactly the tonic I needed in these trying times. I genuinely felt as if Fran Hill had somehow inhabited my body and it was me returning to the classroom to teach Wilfred Owen’s poetry or Shakespeare. The author’s self-deprecating style, her wrangles with Mirror and Bathroom Scales, her love of Bailey’s, the never ending plie of marking, the threat of OfSTED, all resonated so completely that I felt as if I’d made a new best friend through my reading.

Fran Hill’s writing style makes for an effortless read. Her ability to convey meaning in the briefest of sentences, balanced against longer passages is just wonderful. Direct speech is natural and engaging and I genuinely cried with laughter at some of Mirror’s comments. If I say that I kept my husband awake the night after reading Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? because I kept giggling over some of the phrases I’d read I hope it will convey how brilliant this book is.

But Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? is more than just hilarious. It’s a realistic and tender insight into the narrator’s life, her difficult past and her humane, sensitive understanding of those in her care. I confess to a lump in my throat when Zak read his Christmas story and the faces of vulnerable youngsters from my own teaching career came flooding back. Fran Hill explores challenging themes of over ambition, long term guilt, excessive diffidence, stress, and others that will reveal themselves should you read the book with subtlety so that they only really hit home when reflecting on the back after reading. The skill in writing this way is astonishing.

Utterly joyous, sensitive, witty, hugely funny and the perfect tonic for anyone needing a boost but with a serious undertow, Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? is glorious. I absolutely adored it, and could not have enjoyed it more.  Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? has gone straight on my Books of the Year list.

About Fran Hill

August 2018 new glasses

Fran Hill is a writer, blogger and English tutor from Warwickshire, England. She has written and published many stories, poems and articles over the past 20 years and was selected for the 2016-17 prestigious Writing West Midlands emerging writers’ development programme. She sometimes performs her work on stage and, more recently, since public stages became not so popular, on Facebook Live.

For more information, visit Fran’s website, or her blog, find her on Facebook or follow Fran on Twitter @franhill123.