Untouchable Author Ava Marsh Guest Post

Untouchable

Published on 13th August 2015 in paperback, Ava Marsh’s novel ‘Untouchable’ is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Set in the sex trade with a high class call girl as a protagonist ‘Untouchable’ raises some important questions and I was delighted to be able to ask Ava about how she came to write a story based on what can be a socially taboo subject. I think you’ll agree, there are some interesting answers:

This is a socially difficult topic. Why did you choose to write about the sex trade?

I’m intrigued by people who live outside the normal parameters of society, I suppose; people whose perspective on the world differs from most of ours. I was curious, too, about what insights they would have, as high-class escorts, into the hidden worlds of the rich and powerful.

I’m also interested in society’s attitude to sex work – why are we so judgemental about it? I think a lot of it is still largely to do with the taboo around female promiscuity. In many ways Untouchable explores whether someone can be a ‘bad girl’ in the eyes of wider society, but fundamentally a very good, moral person. That’s the paradox we live with: we can have very corrupt people in positions of great power – just look at all the recent accusations of sexual abuse by celebrities and politicians – and very decent, kind people who are written off as debauched and immoral because they work in a profession we don’t approve of.

How did you carry out your research for the book?

I’m an ex-journalist, so very used to digging up info on all sorts of things. There’s plenty out there – escorts can be quite a loquacious bunch. Many are actually proud of what they do, and pleased to talk about it, online or otherwise. And yes, I have known people in the business and they’ve been very open with me about their experiences.

Was there a particular message you hope readers would get from reading ‘Untouchable?’

Absolutely. I hope they would see that most of the women – and indeed the male clients – are just ordinary people. They’re not necessarily bad or depraved. A lot of women who go into sex work have come to the eminently practical decision that they enjoy sex and need money, so why not combine the two?

Grace/Stella is a highly educated woman. How important was it to you to show the variety of women within the sex trade?

Very important. The escorts I’ve met are all intelligent, university-educated women who’ve taken it up for sound reasons. I was chatting about this once to a male psychotherapist, who said, ‘yeah, I know another therapist who escorts on the side.’ It’s more common than people realise because, quite understandably, women tend to keep it quiet.

I also wanted to combat the idea that all women involved in escorting are drug-dependent, trafficked, have a history of sexual abuse, or are controlled by pimps. Yes, that might well be more true at the lower end, but it is only one perspective on sex work. Happy hookers are not entirely a myth.

This is very much a book from a female perspective. Do you think a male writer would have taken a different approach and how might they have written Grace’s story? 

Very difficult for me to say. Men tend to be consumers in the sex trade equation, though of course there are male escorts as well. (Actually a story from that perspective could be very interesting too *makes notes*) I guess male writers might be more tempted to portray prostitutes simply as desperate victims, rather than intelligent women with agency over their own lives, but I’m wary of generalising.

The story is multilayered. How did you go about plotting it? Did you have everything organised before you wrote, or did some of the narrative evolve naturally?

Half and half. I planned the main plot elements, then set about writing, which inevitably threw up different ideas or problems, so I had to go back to the drawing board every now and then and rethink things.

I was always clear on Grace’s perspective on the world, but it took me a while to dig down to her backstory. I remember the idea for her former career – forensic psychologist –popping into my head from nowhere. I had to Google it to make sure there was such a thing, and if so, what exactly they did. It’s very odd when things happen like that; I can’t even begin to explain it rationally.

You don’t flinch from sexual detail. What was it like to write those scenes?

I know a lot of writers struggle with sex scenes, but I don’t mind them. Sex is like anything else, as far as I’m concerned – just something people do and you can describe. But I guess it helps to be in the mindset of a character who sees sex as completely ordinary and everyday – it takes away the embarrassment factor.

I suppose the most difficult thing is judging where to stop. You don’t want to go too far. The sex in Untouchable isn’t meant to be erotic, so I don’t want it to feel gratuitous.

Do you have other challenging themes that you will be writing about in the future?

Yes! My next book, Exposure, focuses on the porn industry – another closed, taboo, and in many ways much darker world. I’ve been reading a lot of ‘porn memoirs’, getting a feel for what it must be like working in adult films. As a writer, inhabiting the head of a porn star is much more challenging, because most of the girls working in porn are very young and in many respects have a far more naïve world view than Grace in Untouchable.

Huge thanks to Ava for providing such detailed responses.

I can’t wait to read Ava’s next novel, ‘Exposure’.

If you would like to read my review of ‘Untouchable’ you can find it here.

You can follow Ava on Twitter or her website and there is more about Ava’s brilliant book here:

UntouchableBlogTour (2)

Sheila O’Flanagan Guest Post

image

Shelia O’Flanagan is one of my favourite novelists so having loved Sheila’s ‘My Mother’s Secret’ I am delighted to help celebrate her 20th novel by bringing you a guest post from Sheila about the inspiration behind the story.

Sheila O Flanagan

Inspiration for My Mother’s Secret

As my regular readers already know, I’m very interested in families and the dynamics of family relationships. ‘My Mother’s Secret’ deals with how well we think we know the people close to us. Children especially tend not to think of their parents’ lives before they were born and forget that they too were young and foolish.

I also wondered about how keeping a secret from those closest to you can influence your life and everyone else’s and what happens when eventually it comes to light.

I wanted to write about all of these things in an extended family setting and that’s how I came up with the idea of a surprise party where the surprise is bigger than anyone expected. And I loved delving into the past to show the impact that the decisions made had on family members over the years, and especially on the day of the party. My Mother’s Secret has more characters than most of my books and it was fun to have to many different voices and personalities to deal with – just like at a real party!

You can read my review of ‘My Mother’s Secret’  here:

https://lindasbookbag.com/2015/05/03/my-mothers-secret-by-sheila-oflanagan/

You can follow the rest of the anniversary celebrations here:

sheila-blog-tour banner

Sheila is on Facebook and on Twitter 

Untouchable by Ava Marsh

Untouchable

I was delighted to receive a copy of ‘Untouchable’ for review from Sophie Christopher at Penguin Random House. It is published today in paperback by Corgi.

Stella, whose real name is Grace, is a high class call girl with wealthy clients and a seemingly good life. But Grace has a past and when a fellow prostitute is murdered she finds the past has a nasty habit of creeping up and mingling with a dangerous present.

I found ‘Untouchable’ completely compelling reading. At times my heart was genuinely racing as I didn’t know what the outcome would be in several of the situations. The plot is so skilfully constructed that it surprises and wriggles away from the reader just as you think you have an understanding of what exactly is happening. References to Grace’s past build throughout the text in a subplot of intrigue that adds layers of interest to what is, already, a gripping read.

Highly explicit at times, the sexual nature of the writing never feels gratuitous, but rather essential to comprehending Stella’s world. It is highly erotic and effective.

I thought all the characters, even the most minor ones, had depth and detail so that they became real people and not mere tools to progress a plot. Grace/Stella made me question my own attitudes and expectations of those working within the sex trade. Her first person voice is so strong and compelling and yet she has a vulnerability that is not entirely uncovered and explained until the very end of the book, making for an amazingly good read.

I thought ‘Untouchable’ could be enjoyed on many levels. It is an excellent erotic crime thriller but there are philosophical themes to ponder too. Reading Ava Marsh’s work made me wonder about the nature of guilt and blame, about what really happens in the corridors of power and who actually holds the key to our own happiness. ‘Untouchable’ may be totally entertaining, but it is also thought provoking.

For me, ‘Untouchable’ is one of the best thrillers I have read and, indeed, one of the best books I have come across in a long time.

Having read ‘Untouchable’ I am thrilled to be bringing an interview with Ava Marsh here on the blog on 20th August.

Share the Moon by Sharon Struth

 share_the_moon_banner

It is my very great pleasure to bring you Sharon Struth’s book ‘Share the Moon’. You can find out about the book, about Sharon, read two excerpts and enter to win a $10 Amazon voucher here:

“Heart-tugging small town romance with real emotion. Struth is an author to watch!” — Laura Drake, author of RITA-award winning The Sweet Spot

Sometimes trust is the toughest lesson to learn.

Sophie Shaw is days away from signing a contract that will fulfill her dream of owning a vineyard. For her, it’s a chance to restart her life and put past tragedies to rest. But Duncan Jamieson’s counter offer blows hers out to sea.

Duncan still finds Sophie as appealing as he had during boyhood vacations to the lake. Older and wiser now, he has his own reasons for wanting the land. His offer, however, hinges on a zoning change approval.

Bribery rumors threaten the deal and make Sophie wary of Duncan, yet she cannot deny his appeal. When her journalistic research uncovers a Jamieson family secret, trust becomes the hardest lesson for them both.

About the Author:

“Sharon Struth has woven a tale of suspicion, mystery and the complete emotional breakdown of two people searching for love and restoration of their past lives. The plot is refreshing and will definitely keep the reader turning page after page. SHARE THE MOON is a book that restores faith in human nature and the ability to again find love.” –Fresh Fiction

sharon

Sharon Struth is an award-winning author who believes it’s never too late for a second chance in love or life. When she’s not writing, she and her husband happily sip their way through the scenic towns of the Connecticut Wine Trail. Sharon writes from the small town of Bethel, Connecticut, the friendliest place she’s ever lived.

sharethemoon

I’m delighted to be able to share two excerpts from Sharon with you:

Excerpt Number 1:

“Now, gently swirl the wine.” A slight twist of Sophie’s wrist rotated the glass.

Duncan copied her moves, realizing she made the gesture fluid, easier than his attempts.

“This gives the molecules a little nudge to entertain us. I mean, who doesn’t like to be entertained.” She waved a playful brow. “Once you get them moving, stick your nose up close and take a whiff.”

Sophie brought her straight nose close to the rim. Her lids dropped, as if prepared to receive a scent from heaven. She inhaled. Passion-filled concentration dominated her expression, leaving him mesmerized, unable to stop watching even as he lifted his own glass. He copied her movements, contemplating the aroma in a way he’d never done before.

When he opened his eyes, she’d been watching. “Anything stand out?”

He took a second, shorter whiff. “Pepper, I think.”

Her mouth turned into a half-surprised, half-pleased smile. “Very good.”

A sensation fluttered in his gut, her approval an unexpected joy.

 ”I smelled some kind of berry too. Now take a decent taste. Let the liquid coat your entire mouth. It’ll feel different on your tongue versus the roof of your mouth or the inside of your cheeks. There are all kinds of hidden flavors. Some bold, others more subtle.”

She brought the glass to her lips then stopped, leaned across the counter, and placed her soft palm over the hand where he held the glass. A sweet floral scent drifted from her hair. She dropped her voice, now low and sexy. “A ready guy like you should take your time with this one.” She cocked a loaded brow. “Really work hard and you’ll detect the wine’s secrets.”

Heat crept up his neck again.

The microwave buzzer sounded but she kept her gaze on him as she tipped back her goblet. Her full lips brushed the rim with the delicate touch of a first kiss.

 Excerpt Number 2:

“I treat reporting the old-fashioned way. I only got your story in the first place because—”

He raised his palm. “My accusation wasn’t fair. Listen, I’m sorry to have outbid you on the land so close to the closing date. A pure business decision and not personal.”

“I never thought it was. Besides, the land isn’t yours yet.” Her brows arched.

“Point taken.”

“For the record, though, I write news. Not opinion pieces. I want to clear up any misconceptions since Mr. Steiner requested we put together a favorable piece.”

“I didn’t request special treatment.” He squirmed in his seat. “Write the story as you see fit.”

“Trust me. I will.”

Once again, she’d left him as winded as if he’d hit the bottom of a huge crest on a roller coaster. Her stare burned through him.

“May I switch gears?” Duncan ached to reclaim control.

“Sure.” She crossed her shapely legs.

“The other night, in the parking lot, you told me I’d never understand why you wanted the area to remain unchanged. It’s understandable you’d be unhappy about my bid. Is there something else I need to know?”

Her dark gaze averted to the tip of her jiggling foot and she blinked, making her long lashes flutter. He wanted to look, too, but didn’t want to appear as if he were checking her out again. His earlier trip past her pleasing calves and nicely rounded bottom had given him the urge to unpin her knotted hair and do something that would earn him a slap across the face. Instead, he watched her expression, now more sad than angry.

Her hand lifted to her slender neck, where her fingers slowly massaged beneath her chin. “No. Just the vineyards.” She met his gaze, but a story rested in the pain behind her empty stare.

Sophie switched topics, but the need to understand her overwhelmed him in the most unsettling way.

SHARE THE MOON, book one in the Blue Moon Lake Romances, is a finalist for a RONE Award and a Chatelaine Award for Romantic Fiction!

For more information, including where to find buy links to her novels and published essays, please visit her at the following places:

Amazon   /   Barnes & Noble   /   Kobo   /   GoogleBooks   /   iBooks​   / Amazon UK

Website

Musings from the Middle Ages

Facebook

Twitter

Enter to win a $10 Amazon voucher

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b0c1a5ad53/

Anything For Her by Jack Jordan

Anything for Her

I was delighted to be offered a copy of ‘Anything For Her’ by the author, via Book Connectors on Facebook, in return for an honest review .

The Leighton family is in melt down. After ‘that night’ which is at the core of this book, Louise and her daughter Brooke have a secret they cannot share with anyone. Michael Leighton has problems of his own as his shady behaviour is rapidly catching up with him and when Louise discovers he’s been having an affair they think this is the end of their world. They’re wrong, there is much worse to come.

Firstly, let me say that this novel isn’t quite perfect – but it comes close. It is an absolutely brilliant first novel by a young writer who deserves to be a writing star.

From the attention grabbing opening ‘Louise has never wanted her husband to die. Until now.’ to the very end, this is a fast paced, twisting and exciting story. In fact I had something else I was supposed to be reviewing next, read the first page of ‘Anything For Her’ and had to continue because Jack Jordan’s writng was so good. Each short chapter adds to that feeling of speed and breathlessness with super hooks at the end of every one so that it is impossible not to want to read on.

The characters are well defined, humanly flawed and make the reader care about them so that the plot shocks and surprises throughout as they find themselves at the centre of a taut thriller. Descriptions make use of all the senses creating genuine scene painting. I could easily see this book as a film or television series.

The whole narrative is cleverly constructed so that what actually happened ‘that night’ between Louise and Brooke is gradually revealed as their own danger increases. Jack Jordan builds their fear so skilfully that I was desperate to know what happened next and truly shocked in places.

‘Anything For Her’ is a stunning debut novel – a fabulous book. I can’t recommend it highly enough and am desperate to read more from this writer.

You can find out more about Jack Jordan here:

Website: http://www.jackjordanofficial.co.uk

Twitter: @_JackJordan_

Summer Flings and Dancing Dreams by Sue Watson

Summer flings

My sincere thanks to Kim Nash at Bookouture Publishers for sending me a review copy of Sue Watson’s ‘Summer Flings and Dancing Dreams’ which was published in paperback on 3rd July 2015 and is also available as an e-book.

At 44, Laura’s life has passed her by so that she spends it watching ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ on television whilst consuming her own body weight in chocolates and cakes. When her daughter is jilted at the church and takes off around the world, Laura realises that it’s time she stopped living through Sophie and started her own life.

I have to be honest and say that had I not received a review copy of this I would not have read it as the title simply did not appeal to me and I thought it sounded lightweight and insubstantial. It just goes to show how wrong you can be.

‘Summer Flings and Dancing Dreams’ is a delight of a story that I think any woman (and plenty of men) would read and enjoy because there is an Everywoman quality to Laura. She has self doubts, she lives through her daughter about whom she is over protective and she feels constrained by needing her mother’s approval. A single mum who is reduced to working on a checkout in a job she hates, her life is simply on hold. I honestly thought Sue Watson had got inside the head of so many women perfectly to epitomise their thoughts through Laura.

It is Laura’s progression and development through the narrative that works so well. There are not cliched resolutions for her, but she has to learn how to take responsibility for her own happiness. Tony, another well defined character, helps her, but you’ll have to read the book to find out how.

In this romp of a plot I found a real poignancy and underlying sadness belied by the quirky and occasionally bizarre chapter titles. All of the story is extremely well written, but some passages are just a triumph. I literally laughed until I cried at the description of Laura in the Zumba class, but similarly I cried in sympathy with her later in the story. It takes a real skill to be able to evoke such extreme emotions in a reader.

The iterative theme of dancing is masterful. I’d defy anyone reading Sue Watson’s ‘Summer Flings and Dancing Dreams’ not to want to ‘dance like no-one is watching’ at the end of reading this book. I hate epithets like ‘uplifting’ and ‘hilarious’ as I rarely agree with them, but in this case any praise of that nature is totally deserved.

I loved it.

What Milo Saw by Virginia MacGregor

What Milo Saw

I am so grateful to Goodreads and @littlebookcafe for my copy of ‘What Milo Saw’. It is out in paperback on 13th August 2015, published by Sphere.

Nine year old Milo has retinitis pigmentosa so that he only has pin prick vision, but this doesn’t prevent him from seeing what most people miss. He also has a dad who has run off with his Tart and a new baby, a mum Sandy who is eating Hobnobs as if they are going out of fashion, a supposedly tea cup pig, Hamlet, and a great gran Lou who needs serious looking after. When Lou has to go in a home, Milo’s world shifts beyond his control. But Milo is not like other children and fights back.

‘What Milo Saw’ is a terrific book. Apart from one or two passages referring to sexual activity, initially I though it was a more of a young adult novel (and that’s not a criticism), but soon realised the simplicity of the language is artfully designed to convey life from Milo’s child-like perspective and to present surprisingly difficult themes in a completely accessible way. Despite loads of humour, ‘What Milo Saw’ is actually a terrifying portrait of how we sometimes treat our elderly and what may lie ahead for all of us. It also makes us question our responses to children, marriage, relationships and people who are different or from different countries. The nature of authority is brought into sharp focus from Milo’s point of view.

All the characters are completely believable, even the villainous Nurse Thornhill, so that they are more like people we know rather than characters in a novel. Milo is so well portrayed I wanted to hug him. I don’t much like children and often find them written badly or inconvincingly, but Milo is perfect. He is bright, sulky and devious but with a heart very firmly in the right place. He reminds me so much of a boy I used to teach who had tunnel vision. Given that I have eye problems myself, I think this might be why I found Virginia MacGregor’s writing so affecting and effective. I could empathise totally with Milo. I also have elderly relatives determined not to go into a care home so that reading ‘What Milo Saw’ felt utterly real and convincing.

There is a fast paced plot which is extremely well resolved. Without giving it away, it is as if Milo is let down by almost every adult he meets and this is what makes him such a glorious character – he doesn’t give in.

I am finding it hard to define exactly why, but I found Virginia MacGregor’s writing touching, emotional and wonderful. I laughed and cried along with Milo. I’d defy anyone reading ‘What Milo Saw’ not to love this little boy and his attempts to rescue Gran from her inadequate care home. It feels as if Milo is a little bit like Fredrik Backman’s Ove, but as he might have been as a boy. I loved them both.