An Interview with Steven Hayward, author of the Debt Goes Bad Series

Jammed Up

Today it’s my pleasure to be featuring another author I’ve ‘met’ through various online book groups, Steven Hayward. Steven’s latest book Jammed Up is published today 28th May 2016. Jammed Up is a novella that complements Steven’s first novel Mickey Take and is available to buy here, but if you read Steven’s interview you’ll find out how to get it for FREE by signing up to Steven’s newsletter.

To celebrate this latest publication, Steven kindly agreed to an interview on Linda’s Book Bag.

Jammed Up

Jammed Up

Loyalty. Betrayal. Injustice.

A rudeboy never forgets. It’s been ten long years and ‘Jam’ has been working his way through a list of men who tormented his best-friend, Jabba. Now there’s only one name left to cross off…

When he takes an easy lookout job for criminal entrepreneur, Herbert Long, he knows something’s not quite right. Knock-off gear and bent coppers have never been his bag, but the money’s good and he doesn’t want to live with his aunt forever. All he has to do is get down to the depot, watch a handover and report back what he sees. Little does he know what he’s getting himself and Jabba in to.

He’s not the only one nervous about the deal, DI Terence Pinner needs this to go off smoothly to settle a debt that has him enslaved to South London gangster Raymond Riggs. But with so many people involved and serious money at stake, things get messy very quickly.

Out of his depth and up against an organised criminal gang, Jam has to learn fast to stay alive. But if there’s one thing that keeps him going, it’s thoughts of sweet revenge…

An Interview with Steven Hayward

Hello Steven. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing.

Hello Linda, thank you for having me. I’m absolutely thrilled to be your guest today.

Firstly, please could you tell readers a little about yourself?

I suppose I could begin by telling you what a wild child I was and about all the crazy stuff I did as a youngster, and how my completely dysfunctional life led me to the creative place I now inhabit… But no, the truth of it is, I’m a (fairly) quiet, studious guy from a working class background and a close and happy family. I grew up on the coast in Dorset, became the black sheep only by virtue of going to grammar school, joined a bank, and (quickly glossing over the permed hair and highlights phase during the Duran Duran years) moved to London at the age of 22. I met my wife Helen and we’ve been married a long, long time. I travelled quite a lot for various banks, living and working in a few different places, ending up as the Head of Anti-Financial Crime at a US bank in Canary Wharf.

I’ve run the London Marathon twice and helped raise over half a million pounds for New Ways as the financial controller of its annual advent ball. I now divide my time between consulting for banks on their anti-money laundering controls, experimenting with book marketing strategies, being easily distracted on Facebook and Twitter, and occasionally writing crime fiction.

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

Looking back there was a point in time in all of that where I lost something that had burned within me as a child. While grammar school nurtured my right brain preferences for Art and English, to a greater extent it channelled me unwittingly along a more academic route. The rational left brain took over and sent me into a career that was to sustain me financially, but not creatively. It’s ironic that Economics was the subject I did least well in at school only to spend the next 25 years thinking about little else! It was 11 years ago that I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical and, as well as raising a beagle puppy (my muse, Ella), I went back to explore those creative preferences. Three years later, I quit the full-time job with the long-term aim of becoming a published author.

Today we’re celebrating Jammed Up, the novella prequel to your novel Mickey Take. Why did you decide a prequel was needed?

When I started writing Mickey Take, I had such a lot to learn. But, of course, it’s one of those situations where you know what you know (or at least think you know), but you don’t know what you don’t know! I now know that you can’t anonymously drop a new novel into the ocean of Amazon and expect anyone to notice – whether it’s any good or not. And you can’t spend months building support for that novel and then not reward your readers with something of a similar ilk – we all know how successful series are. And then a year ago I discovered Ian Sutherland. He’s the London-based writer of the Brody Taylor thriller stories, but also something of a Twitter guru. What struck me most about my first interaction with Ian was that he was offering me his book for free. In fact, he was offering his first book to everyone for free. Once I understood his strategy, I realised I had a problem. I didn’t have a series and I wasn’t about to give away the only book I’d published for free!

With my readers seemingly keen to read more about Mickey, I’d already been persuaded of the merits of a sequel and that was to be the priority when my most recent consulting contract ended last Summer. But first, Helen and I headed to Rome to celebrate our 25th (OMG, I must have been a cradle-snatcher!) and I came back with an idea for a short prequel with the common thread of a debt gone bad, which was the by-line of Mickey Take.

You may have heard of National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo. It’s like marathon running for writers! Well, I sat down on 1st November with a rough plan and a goal to write 50,000 words by the 30th. I failed. But unlike most who fail, it was words that I ran out of rather than days. By the 24th, I had 39,000 words and the first draft of Jammed Up finished. Now that it’s been through beta-readers, several re-writes, professional editing and proofreading, I no longer think of it as a marketing funnel, even though I will still be offering it for free. It’s both a prequel and an introduction to Mickey Take, albeit with one major difference.

What are the challenges of writing a prequel to another work?

In order to achieve its objectives, Jammed Up had to be capable of standing alone on its own merits, being enjoyed by readers of Mickey Take as a true prequel, whilst also offering completely new readers that introduction I was talking about, without spoiling their subsequent enjoyment of the original. The first challenge this presented was that I felt the existing lead characters, Michael Field and Grace de Manton, who are introduced and tell their stories in Mickey Take, couldn’t appear in this earlier tale. That led me to conclude that in addition to a debt going bad, the consistent theme had to be the backdrop and the antagonists rather than the main character – hence a prequel with a difference! I then saw an opportunity to take a relatively minor exposition in Mickey Take about the collapsed murder trial of the ruthless gangster, Raymond Riggs, and tell the story leading up to the death of his business partner. Not only did that act as a bridge between the two books, it also gave me a solid destination to write towards.

The next challenge was to create a new central character who was as flawed as Mickey, but at the same time very different, and pitch him equally, if not further outside his comfort zone within the corrupt world of Riggs, Herb Long and DI Terence Pinner. For inspiration, I looked to Croydon (five miles from where I live) with all its issues and diversity. From there the confrontational, but staunchly loyal and significantly more desirable (than Mickey, so I’m told) Kingston Michaels, aka rudeboy “Jam”, was born. That decision had the added appeal of giving this story a more urban feel and I had a lot of fun, and more than a little local help, giving Jam an authentic voice. I also gave him a young lady, but far from being just a love interest, Siobhan Jennings has a heart-breaking story of her own that acts as another link into Mickey Take.

Finally, several people have said that Mickey Take is a very complex thriller – and let’s be fair, there is a sociopathic serial killer lurking in the shadows that I haven’t even mentioned yet! So, I guess the other big challenge was to add sufficient layers into the novella (it now comes close to 50,000 words) that would do justice to the characters without disclosing any of the big secrets that a new reader would then still appreciate in the original novel. The hardest part was giving Jammed Up enough similarity in terms of style, characterisation and sub-plots without giving too much away about Mickey Take.

Have I achieved all of these objectives? As Mickey would say, you’ll be the judge of that!

You say the similarities between you and Michael stop when Michael ‘throws in the towel’ in the city, but how much of his character is like your own?

Confession time! Isn’t it the first trap every debut author falls into? You’re told to write about what you know, yeah? And then you can’t help transplanting your own personality onto the first protagonist to come along. I got so far into the first draft of Mickey Take before realising he had turned into me! I then went about reversing everything to make him the antithesis of me, by sharing my personality traits in a given situation around the other characters (for example, Mickey’s boss and his mum) or by having Mickey do the exact opposite to what I would do. That said, he does still have a moral compass; his problem is that he allows himself to get too close to too many magnets. Boy, I wish I’d thought of that line when I was writing Mickey Take!

Grace is also a strong character. How did you go about creating her? Is she based on someone real?

Show me a straight male author who hasn’t created a character to represents his ideal woman! No, seriously, I suppose there are one or two people I’ve known who might be lurking somewhere behind the character of Grace de Manton. And maybe I’ve always been in thrall to petite women with imposing personalities! Grace starts out as a single-minded predator with her own agenda, but that soon changes. I think what makes her different is that a challenging upbringing has left her streetwise, but she remains very self-aware. She has self-confidence and she’s nobody’s fool, but her drive to find the truth about her past is directing her towards a more settled life. ‘I soon came to realise,’ she says, ‘happy families is just a card game.’

Siobhan Jennings in Jammed Up is physically very different, has a normal background – you might even say, privileged – but she’s equally assertive when the men around her show their weakness. And she has also known tragedy. It would be interesting to see how the two might get along in future…

You’ve had some amazing reviews for Mickey Take. What is it, do you think, that draws readers to psychological thrillers like yours so readily?

Thank you. Yes, I’ve been bowled over by the positive response. I think what makes people intrigued by psychological thrillers is the fine line that often exist between our perception of good and evil and the seemingly subtle differences that can lead some people to do the things that others would never dream of doing. Also, I think, like me, people are intrigued by the ease with which these “evil” people assimilate into society and often excel in authoritative positions. In researching for Mickey Take, I wanted to understand the distinction between psychopaths and sociopaths. Some argue the terms are interchangeable and I accept this is a highly complex area with a whole spectrum of characteristics, but I liked the simplicity of the definition that equates the terms with nature and nurture. It suggests that a psychopath is born bad, whereas a sociopath is conditioned by their environment to do bad things. What I find scary is that society often highly values many of the traits of psychopaths, which makes it both easier and more rewarding for them to integrate. The unknown element is what makes these ruthless, manipulative people kill, and I think that’s the part that fascinates readers the most.

If Mickey Take became a film, which actor would you choose to play Michael Field and why?

I used to say Danny Dyer… but in recent years that has become a little clichéd, given that it seems Danny Dyer only ever plays… Danny Dyer! Right now I’m looking at a picture online of Tom Hardy – and I know that would be a popular choice with the ladies. He seems to be about the right age, five foot nine, unruly crop of slicked back hair, has a slightly used look about his face, and in the suit and tie he’s wearing, he could certainly pass for a non-conformist failing to impersonate a banker!

I know you haven’t entirely left city life behind. Which persona – author or financial crime consultant – is your preferred role and why?

I absolutely love the writing persona. I am a bit of a control freak so I’m happiest being my own boss. I’m also naturally introverted and enjoy my own company. Writing is a very solitary process but I never feel lonely. I’m also never not busy. The only thing missing by comparison is the income! As a consultant, I enjoy working with others and solving problems and I’ve always enjoyed the recognition that has come with my professional career. So, if there’s one thing that would make my writing life complete, it would be to one day earn that same level of respect as an author.

If I wanted to commit a financial crime, what three things might catch me out?

Great question, if slightly compromising! I could quote the criminal offence provisions for tipping off under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, but I won’t!

  1. Don’t use awful spelling, grammar and Edwardian salutations when operating your so-called boiler-room email scam. We used to have hours of fun reading them all. But beware, these are getting better all the time. I’m sure that’s not a mistake you would ever make, Linda!
  2. Never turn up at Border Control with a case full of €500 notes. Their large denomination makes them the banknote of choice for traffickers. Previously nicknamed Bin Ladens; you knew what they looked like, that they were out there somewhere, and they moved around a lot. But no-one ever saw one!
  3. Don’t run your small retail business with a low turnover, and then start making regular large deposits of cash. Even if they are below the regulatory threshold for monitoring, the bank is obliged to know its customer’s business sufficiently to discover if the amounts bear any resemblance to its actual turnover.

Hmm – I think I’ll stick to blogging!

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Mickey Take and Jammed Up should be their next reads, what would you say?

Discover the next hapless victim in the longstanding feud between Herb Long and Raymond Riggs.

15 words exactly – well done!

On a different note, you’re a strong supporter of the New Ways charity which works to improve life for those in Africa. Why this particular charity?

In a previous bank role, I ran the relationship management team serving UK pension clients. One of my major relationships was with Unilever where I met Angela Docherty who was the senior investment advisor. In her spare time, Angela had established the charity New Ways which was, and remains, the UK fund-raising arm for various missionary-led activities in Kenya, Ethiopia and Malawi. I volunteered on the annual ball committee and, even after we had both moved on from the jobs that brought us together, Angela and I remain close friends and I continued as financial controller for ten years.

What I love about New Ways is the positive and direct impact it has on the lives of a large number of people, but through a philosophy of empowerment. In Turkana, Kenya, for example, it initially targeted the most vulnerable within the semi-nomadic pastoral communities – pregnant women and children under five – but now provides healthcare, education and nutrition to thousands of children on a daily basis. And by encouraging the drilling and damming for water, the growing of crops and the catching of fish abundant in Lake Turkana, gradually, and with sensitivity towards an ancient culture, it has facilitated a better and more sustainable way of living.

The vast majority of New Ways fundraising efforts are derived through volunteers giving the charity an incredibly low cost base (less than 5%) when compared with all the large well-known charities you might donate your time or money to. There’s a real sense that your ten pounds, or whatever it is, is actually being spent on things that make a real difference. And when you hear that New Ways can feed a child for a year for less than £50, it really is a no-brainer!

Since first publishing Mickey Take, I have and will continue to donate 5% of all royalties to New Ways on an annual basis.

That sounds amazing. If blog readers would like to find out more about New Ways, they can click here

Finally, Steven, is there anything else you would have liked to be asked?

I’d just like to say something about covers. I’m one of those risk-taking (foolish?) indie authors who create their own. The big challenge with that is getting an objective viewpoint on whether they stand up to scrutiny in a highly competitive marketplace. I love playing with graphics and am always open to honest feedback and I’m hugely grateful to a whole host of people for helping me find the right look for both books. In thinking about what to do for the cover of Jammed Up, and to allow a more consistent style across what has become the “Debt Goes Bad” series, I decided to subtly alter the e-book cover for Mickey Take to the greyscale version you see today. I’d like to give a shout-out to a young lady on Facebook who I’ve never met, who came up with the idea for keeping the eyes blue. I’m hugely grateful to her. Take a bow, Regan Lockhart!

Steven Hayward (2)

One last thing, that strategy I was talking about… well it’s now live, so Jammed Up is available for free to everyone, via my website. So please click the link here and claim your copy!

About Steven Hayward

Steve

Steven is a financial crime consultant who suddenly decided some time ago, his dream was to write fiction. His debut novel, Mickey Take: When a debt goes bad…, features an ex-banker who throws in the towel on his “big” City job, but that’s where the similarity ends. Between writing crime thrillers and volunteering as the financial controller of the annual New Ways Advent Ball, Steven periodically ventures back into the ranks of London commuters. In contrast, Michael Field, the protagonist and primary narrator of Mickey Take, is perhaps less likely to resume his career in financial services anytime soon!

You’ll find Steven on Facebook and Goodreads and you can follow him on Twitter.

Mickey Take

Mickey Take

Murder. Corruption. Revenge.

For hapless ex-banker, Mickey Field, losing his City job and beautiful wife is just the beginning. The proposition from one-time friend and small-time gangster, Herbert Long, is non-negotiable. Pay-back for that little cover-up years ago, from which young Mickey emerged unscathed, to climb the corporate ladder. But this time, there’s no easy way out.

If you like your heroes conflicted and outwitted at every turn, and your heroines strong and manipulative, you’re going to love Mickey and Grace. And if you enjoy being teased by the dark threat of an evil force lurking in the shadows, you won’t want to stop reading Mickey Take until you’ve discovered the identity of the cold-blooded killer.

Readers are calling Steven Hayward’s impressive debut a gripping, edge of your seat, psychological thriller, expertly written, full of twists and turns. Grab the paperback or download the ebook today. Go on, Take the Mickey!

To buy Mickey Take, click here!

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

britt marie

I am hugely indebted to Nikki Barrow at Hodder for a copy of Britt-Marie Was Here in return for an honest review. Britt-Marie Was Here is published in hardback and e-book by Scepetre and is available for purchase on Amazon, from Waterstones, WH Smith and all good bookshops.

Britt-Marie Was Here

For as long as anyone can remember, Britt-Marie has been an acquired taste. It’s not that she’s judgemental, or fussy, or difficult – she just expects things to be done in a certain way. A cutlery drawer should be arranged in the right order, for example (forks, knives, then spoons). We’re not animals, are we?

But behind the passive-aggressive, socially awkward, absurdly pedantic busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams and a warmer heart than anyone around her realizes.

So when Britt-Marie finds herself unemployed, separated from her husband of 20 years, left to fend for herself in the miserable provincial backwater that is Borg – of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it – and somehow tasked with running the local football team, she is a little unprepared. But she will learn that life may have more to offer her that she’s ever realised, and love might be found in the most unexpected of places.

My Review of Britt-Marie Was Here

my grandmother

Oh my goodness, the tension as I approached reading Britt-Marie Was Here. I adored the first two books by Fredrik Backman and was so worried that a third might be too great a possibility to live up to the charms of My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises (my review here) and A Man Called Ove (my review here).

Ove

I had also met the author too so it was even more nerve wracking as Fredrik Backman is such a charming and entertaining man that I was desperate not to be disappointed in this third novel. You can see what happened when I met Fredrik Backman by clicking here.

britt marie

What a relief Britt-Marie Was Here turned out to be. I adored every single word of it. Whilst some readers might find the style too similar to the other books, for me it was like encountering an old friend and finding I still loved them.

Fredrik Backman has such a perfect turn of phrase so that every nuance of emotion and meaning is accessible even though the book is in translation. Credit and congratulations must also be given to Hennig Kock for translating the original manuscript. I think what makes the writing so successful is the balance of sentence length and style as well as the present tense narrative so that there is a vivacity and liveliness that is totally captivating.

I laughed aloud and shed several tears reading Britt-Marie Was Here. Indeed I enjoyed it as much as A Man Called Ove and more than My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises. Fredrik Backman has the uncanny knack of being able to delve inside a person’s soul and convey exactly what they are thinking. He achieves this as much by what he doesn’t write as by what he does – he knows how to convey meaning through a character’s glance as well as by what they say, for example.

It is the desire to belong, the sense of loneliness and the ultimately uplifting emotions that make Britt-Marie Was Here so fantastic. There is also such lovely gentle humour that entertains and delights. So too do the small illustrations at the start of every chapter, the meanings of which become clear as you read.

In a sense there isn’t a complicated plot. Britt-Marie needs a job and gets one in Borg, a run down and small provincial town. That said, I couldn’t stop reading without pause, so intent was I in wanting to know what happened to Britt Marie and the inhabitants of Borg. Almost incidentally Fredrik Backman drops in burgeoning homosexuality, small time crime, murder and violence which you wouldn’t expect and which add depth to the plot. There is also tenderness and humanity that touches the soul.

The characters are wonderful. Even the bell above the door to the shop/ post office/ pizzeria/ garage has a personality. Britt-Marie is a fantastic creation and I found her as compelling as Ove. She is revealed as much to herself as to the reader as the story progresses and I thought the ending of the novel was totally apt and fitting.

It wouldn’t matter whether readers have read the other novels by Fredrik Backman. Each works as a stand alone and some might enjoy Britt-Marie Was Here more if they haven’t read the others, but I thought it was truly gorgeous. I thoroughly enjoyed every word and thought that Britt-Marie Was Here was perfect.

You can follow Fredrik Backman on Twitter and visit the blog where his writing began (I find Google Translate helps!)

French Kisses by Jan Ellis

French Kisses

My grateful thanks to Jan Ellis for sending me a copy of French Kisses in return for an honest review. French Kisses was published by Endeavour on 27th July 2015 and is available in ebook from Amazon and you’ll find more from Jan here.

French Kisses

To the outside world, Rachel Thompson has it made: a wealthy husband, a successful career as an artist, and a to-die-for house in the middle of rural France.

That is until her husband Michael hits 40, discovers his inner love-rat and runs off with the kids’ young, skinny dance teacher.

Determined to ignore her friends’ advice to up-sticks and move back to England with her children, Rachel decides to turn their crumbly stone farmhouse into a bijou hotel.

As Rachel strives to create a new life for herself, friends and family rally around to give her a Christmas and New Year with plenty of surprises.

With help – and some hindrance – from her loved ones, Rachel transforms their home into a cosy guest house for an eclectic collection of visitors, including Josh Perry, a handsome American academic.

Although Rachel is getting plenty of attention from local admirers, her husband Michael is never far away…

Will Rachel and Michael rekindle their love affair?

Or will she be sharing French Kisses with someone else…?

‘French Kisses’ is a fun romance about starting again and learning what really matters.

French Kisses

My Review of French Kisses

When artist Rachel’s ex Michael has a baby with his new and much younger partner, the whole of the French village where Rachel lives think it’s time to give her a new project, preferably with a new man and so Rachel opens Tournesol Guest House.

French Kisses is a lovely light, romantic novella just perfect for the beach or, as I did, for reading on a long haul flight.

Alongside characters to care about with Rachel as a down to earth person anyone would be pleased to have as a friend, there’s humour and wit with spiders and ragged trousers playing their part fully. Given that this is a novella, I thought the depth of Rachel’s character was incredibly well presented. Her natural dialogue and the emotions and thought processes she displays are all very clearly and carefully depicted so that she comes across as a highly plausible ‘real’ woman.

What Jan Ellis does so well though, is evoke the setting. She provides a feast for all the reader’s senses from the texture of a cat’s fur to the shades of red in a print for the wall. The creation of a typically French village is perfect without being cliched and I could picture the blue serge suits of middle aged men and almost taste and smell the delicious pastries, cheeses and Christmas dinner.

The plot is fairly simple but still gives plenty of interest with life not always running smoothly for Rachel and the story is well thought out so that it is a hugely satisfying to read. I wasn’t entirely sure if Rachel would get her man – or if she did, which one it might be! You’ll have to read French Kisses for yourself to see what happens!

I really enjoyed the escapism of French Kisses and I want to book my stay at Tournesol Guest House immediately.

You can find out more about Jan Ellis by following her on Twitter, and by visiting her Facebook page and her website.

Spotlight on Reflection Pond by Kacey Vanderkarr

ReflectionPondTourBanner

It’s always a pleasure to find a new to me author and today it’s Kacey Vanderkarr and her Reflection Pond series. I’m delighted to be supporting Brook Cottage Books in bringing you a spotlight on Reflection Pond with an opportunity for you to enter to win a $25 Amazon giftcard, or equivalent, at the bottom of this blog post.

Reflection Pond

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This Young Adult Fantasy book was originally released by Urban Fey Press on April 1, 2014

Sometimes you find home, sometimes it comes looking for you.

Callie knows a lot more about pain than she does about family. She’s never belonged, at least, not until she falls through a portal into her true home. The beautiful faerie city of Eirensae doesn’t come free. Callie must find her amulet and bind herself to the city, and most importantly, avoid the Fallen fae who seek her life. Seems like a small price to pay for the family she’s always wanted.

Then she meets cynical and gorgeous Rowan, who reads the darkness of her past in her eyes. He becomes Callie’s part-time protector and full-time pain in the ass. He has secrets of his own for Callie to unravel. What they don’t know is that the future of Eirensae lies with them, and the once peaceful city is about to become a battleground for power.

There are also other books in the series you might like to read too.

Poison Tree – Book 2

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 The road to the City of War is dangerous.

With their home in ruins, Callie and Rowan are Eirensae’s last hope of stealing the cauldron back from Fraeburdh. They must travel into the human world where the Fallen hide. The banished fae wait for Callie, desperate to sacrifice her before she comes of age.

If Callie and Rowan survive the journey, something worse looms in Fraeburdh. Rowan is destined for a dark family legacy too horrifying to accept, and his father is anxious to welcome him home. Once the truth is revealed, will Callie ever look at Rowan the same way?

Trapped between feuding cities lost in a centuries-old war, Callie and Rowan will face their biggest rivals yet, and neither of them will make it out unscathed.

 Torch Rock – Book 3

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War is coming, and she takes no prisoners. Faced with an impending battle Eirensae cannot win alone, Rowan journeys to Macántacht to seek allegiance from its leader. The City of Honor is beautiful, still untouched by conflict, and full of surprises that bring Callie’s darkest experiences to the surface.

With her friends’ lives at stake, Callie must confront her past, and accept help from a faerie whose face torments her memories. Reconciling the power beneath her skin has never been more painful.

Amid persistent threats from Fraeburdh, an old enemy reemerges with deadly force. Even with Macántacht fighting beside her and Rowan at her back, the odds are insurmountable. Callie’s biggest trial will come not on a blood-soaked battlefield, but in the quiet moments when she must choose.

You can buy Kacey’s books by clicking the links: 

Reflection Pond

Poison Tree

Torch Rock

 About Kacey Vanderkarrr

Kacey Vanderkarr

KACEY VANDERKARR has a penchant for fantasy and frequently listens to the voices in her head–most of whom are teenagers. Her favorite place to write is an old salon chair in her kitchen, with coffee in one hand and adoring cats sprawled across her arms. She prefers her music loud and her skeptics quiet. When she’s not writing, Kacey coaches winterguard, works as a sonographer, and hangs out with other weirdos like her at the Flint Area Writer’s club. In addition to her novels, The Reflection Pond Series, Antithesis, and The Stone Series, Kacey’s short fiction is featured in Sucker Literary Vol III, Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things, and Out of the Green: Tales from Fairyland.

You will find Kacey on FacebookTwitterGoodreads and her website.

Enter to win a $25 (or equivalent) gift card by clicking here.

Florence Grace by Tracy Rees

Florence Grace

My enormous thanks to LoveReading for an advanced reader copy of Florence Grace by Tracy Rees in return for an honest review. Florence Grace is published by Quercus on 30th June 2016 and is available to order on Amazon and directly from Quercus.

Florence Grace

Florrie Buckley is an orphan, living on the wind-blasted moors of Cornwall. It’s a hard existence but Florrie is content; she runs wild in the mysterious landscape. She thinks her destiny is set in stone. But when Florrie is fourteen, she inherits a never-imagined secret. She is related to a wealthy and notorious London family, the Graces. Overnight, Florrie’s life changes and she moves from country to city, from poverty to wealth. Cut off from everyone she has ever known, Florrie struggles to learn the rules of this strange new world. And then she must try to fathom her destructive pull towards the enigmatic and troubled Turlington Grace, a man with many dark secrets of his own.

My Review of Florence Grace

Living a wild existence with Nan, Florrie Buckley’s glimpse into a grander life is about to become a reality.

I so loved Amy Snow by Tracy Rees that I felt almost afraid to read Florence Grace in case I was disappointed, but I honestly think I have enjoyed it even more than Tracy Rees’s debut. You can read my review of Amy Snow here.

I just adored this story. From the opening line to the last word I felt transported to the world of Florrie Buckley as she transforms into Florence Grace.

The quality of writing is perfect. Just right to convey the era of the mid C19th with its fashions and conventions, the language is still totally accessible to a modern readership so that reading the story is completely effortless. I found the descriptions wonderfully balanced to give not just setting, but to provide layer upon layer of character too. Tracy Rees has a cinematic ease to her writing that conjures up the qualities of a Cornish landscape and the contrasting wealth and squalor of London with every phrase. The variety of sentence structure gives a gorgeous flow to the story and draws the reader into the events.

This is most definitely a character driven novel and Florence Grace is an absolute triumph. Tracy Rees somehow manages to convey Florence’s life, emotions and the passion of her love with such clarity and realism that I felt as if I had become Florence and wasn’t just reading about her. It was as if I felt the pain and joy she felt too. I am certain Florence’s first person account helped make me feel this way. There’s almost a sense of the primeval in Florence. She’s certainly no insipid wallflower!

I think having a relatively constrained palette of characters means that each is completely knowable in all their faults and human frailties. This makes for such satisfying reading. I especially liked the troubled and imperfect Turlington Grace and the somewhat mystical Old Rilla.

In a sense, the plot is relatively simple with few major events, but Tracy Rees rather explores the nature of identity, what makes us who we are and how we find a sense of belonging. Above all else though, she conveys an understanding of what it is to love – even when that love is out of our control. Florence Grace is a fabulous tale of identity, longing and love with a heroine for everyone to believe in. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You can follow Tracy Rees on Twitter (and I think you should!)

Defining Paranormal Romance: A Guest Post by Caroline Cairn

Forever and one week

I read and review a wide variety of genres on Linda’s Book Bag but I have never been attracted to paranormal romance. When I discovered that Caroline Cairn writes in this genre I had to invite her on the blog to tell me all about it. Caroline has written such a compelling guest blog below that she’s completely converted me!

Caroline’s latest novel Forever and One Week was published on 23rd April 2016 and, although it is the second in the Spirits of Saorodh books, is also a stand alone read. You can buy Forever and One Week on Amazon US, Amazon UK, on ITunes, from B&N and Kobo.

Introducing Paranormal Romance

A Guest Post by Caroline Cairn

What did you immediately think of? A strong, insanely gorgeous Alpha male with supernatural powers, and enough muscles to be a hand to hand combat fighter extraordinaire. He fights evil. He’s a sex God. He’s got self-confidence, arrogance, and women throw themselves at him, but he hasn’t found one who ticks all his boxes. The one who will discover the fluff hidden inside.

Enter average heroine. She might start as a mouse, but she always has a fiery side that will reveal itself because of the hero. She’s his destined mate, you see. The one who will put him in danger, the one who will be in danger and will have to be rescued, despite the fact that she’ll deny needing help, since she is a modern, witty, head strong woman. How dare he believe she can’t defend herself?

And if you thought of the Young Adult genre, I’ll bet you’d have screamed Love Triangle! before I had time to wipe the drool of my bored face. Thank you, Twilight.

So yes, you are right. Most paranormal romance stories follow a clear cut formula. The winning clichés have turned countless books into best sellers. Readers have lapped up the relationships resembling that of our primitive ancestors, with a powerful male asserting his dominance, sorry, protection, over a female who lets him do it. Sometimes with reluctance. But who could resist the six-pack and the chiselled cheekbones for more than half a book. Especially if they’re met with a jealous streak. “You’re mine,” the hero will whisper in heroine’s ear.

Also, the paranormal aspect is usually pushed to the extreme. Very few main characters are average Joes, working nine to five stocking supermarket shelves and driving a nine-year-old car. Good or bad, they’re all special, and normal humans are unaware of their existence, despite a war raging under their noses. Silly humans.

Cue some readers who maybe enjoyed the genre to start with (like yours truly), but now find themselves rolling their eyes upwards more often than an actress asked to read a script written by the producer’s fifteen-year-old nephew. To me, our world offers natural complexities without the need for hordes of shifters or vampires pushing aside every single human character. Bar our heroine of course. But even she doesn’t usually remain average for long.

More than anything, I don’t want perfect characters. No one is perfect in real life. We all have our quirks, hangs up and pet peeves. We’re not brave all the time, or weak all the time. We don’t always think of a clever comeback on the spot, or know which words our friends and family want to hear. We’re not heroes. We’re humans.

And even the non-humans should show their own multi-faceted personality.

So like a few other authors, I am trying to break the mould and explore a more “realistic” approach to paranormal romance, where those stereotypes are limited. No battle against evil. No flawless characters. No destined mate or love at first sight. Instead, expect drama, mystery, and a dash of humour.

Yes, the supernatural elements might put off some readers, but if the romantics at heart are open to step out of their comfort zone and search around, they might be pleasantly surprised at what they find.

Forever and One Week

Spirits of Saoradh Book 2

Forever and one week

The Spirits of Saoradh, who carry the guilt of a crime they committed when they were alive, now spend their ghostly days in the Void, dark nothingness where time and space are distorted. Until they get bound to a human. As often as needed, that human can call them to the real world, ask them to grant a wish, then send them back to the Void. The Spirits also have to follow strict rules or be punished, unaware that they can earn their redemption through a selfless sacrifice.

Spirit Logan despises the obedience he has to show to his humans, and prefers the enjoyable solitude of the Void. For three years, he has managed to threaten them into severing their bond, thus having his memory wiped of their existence. Except his latest human, an emotionless woman with a secret past, isn’t scared of him. Worse, she doesn’t care about his ability to make wishes come true.

Tessa, a twenty-six-year-old nursery teacher in Fort William, Scotland, doesn’t expect a sullen ghost only she can see and touch to burst through her solid defences. Both dismayed and intrigued, she offers Logan a deal he can’t refuse: to live with her in the human world for one week, at the end of which she will agree to release him.

Slowly, Tessa braves through the safety of her detachment towards people to show Logan some kindness. But the more her feelings deepen, the more Logan increases his distance…

Forever Hers

Spirits of Saoradh Book 1

Forever hers

Feisty twenty-four year old Holly, or Miss Greedy as her friends call her, receives a wooden cube as a gift from an enigmatic elderly lady, who happens to be her mother’s new neighbour in Lossiemouth, a small Scottish fishing town.

What she doesn’t expect, is for the cube to contain Blayne, a Spirit of Saoradh only she can see and touch. Blayne is a playful, headstrong ghost with no recollection of his human past and an ability to grant Holly’s wishes whenever she calls for him — as long as said wishes don’t raise any questions from the public that is. So a shiny new car might be out of the question, but the possibility of a flat stomach, a consistently spotless house or a perfect daily hairstyle more than make up for it.

Through their incessant banter, Holly and Blayne grow closer while fighting against their mutual attraction since they have no possible future together.

But when the painful reality of Blayne’s existence is revealed, Holly will realize that it’s not always the girl who needs to be saved.

Warning: contains mature scenes not intended for young readers.

About Caroline

Born in France, Caroline studied hotel management before spending a couple of years in England, Ireland and Belgium.

In 2001, she and her husband settled close to the Loch Ness monster in the Highlands of Scotland, and soon, two children and about thirteen fish joined them.

Dramatic scenes are her favourite to work on, which is perhaps a reminiscence of those teenage years when every single ones of her stories had to end in epic tragedy (Shakespeare had nothing on her). Thankfully, these days, she veers towards the happy-ever-after finale in a glorious orange and red sunset.

You can find out more about Caroline on her website and you can follow her on Twitter. She’s also on Facebook and Goodreads.

An Interview with Catherine Ryan Howard, author of Distress Signals

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I’m so excited to be featuring an interview with Catherine Ryan Howard to celebrate the publication of her debut thriller Distress Signals which is out today May 5th 2016, published by Corvus/Atlantic in Ireland and the UK, and out on June 2nd 2016 in Australia and New Zealand. Distress Signals is available to buy on AmazonFoyles, Waterstones and all good bookshops.

Distress Signals

Did she leave, or was she taken?

The day Adam Dunne’s girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads ‘I’m sorry – S’ sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her.

Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate – and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before. To get the answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground…

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Praise for Distress Signals

“Pacey, suspenseful and intriguing … [A] top class, page turning read. Catherine Ryan Howard is an astonishing new voice in thriller writing.” — Liz Nugent, author of 2014 IBA Crime Novel of the Year Unravelling Oliver

“An exhilarating debut thriller from a hugely talented author. Distress Signals is fast-paced, twisty and an absolute joy to read.” — Mark Edwards, #1 bestselling author of The Magpies and Follow You Home

Read a preview of the first three chapters here.

An Interview with Catherine Ryan Howard

Hi Catherine. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your book  ‘Distress Signals’ which is out today. How does that feel?

Very surreal. I’m still waiting for it to hit me, but at the same time it’s probably a good thing that it hasn’t yet. It’s very, very weird to have wanted something so bad for the best part of three decades – I’ve wanted to be a published novelist since I was eight years old or so – and now for it to be here.

Would you mind telling blog readers a little bit about yourself please?

I’m from Cork in Ireland but I live in Dublin, because I’m currently studying for a BA in English Literature at Trinity College. Over the past few years I’ve self-published non-fiction and been very involved in that side of things, and I’ve also worked freelance for Penguin Ireland, helping their authors with their social media platforms. My great loves are Jurassic Park, coffee, Paris, good TV and shopping for unnecessary stationery. And writing and reading, of course!

How have you managed to balance your studies and your writing?

Everyone is asking me that but the truth is, I haven’t really! My exam results are out in July, so only time will tell.

We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you!

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

One of my earliest memories is being in Senior Infants (age 6) and the teacher sitting up on her desk reading aloud to us from a book, holding the book towards us so we could see the pictures. I used to go home and line up all my teddy-bears and Barbie dolls on my bed, hoist myself up onto my dressing table, open a book and “read” to them in the same way. I think I was on the path to becoming a writer before I even realised what that was.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

I used to make and sell handmade cards, so probably something like that. I love a bit of crafting, not least because before you do it, you have to do some stationery shopping…

I think we all like a bit of stationery!

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

I think the advice to “write what you know” is great, but I don’t interpret it as “if you’re a lawyer, write a legal thriller”. I think you should use as much of what you know as you can in your book. So although I never worked on a cruise ship, I was a housekeeping supervisor in a 2,000 room resort hotel, and the principles of cleaning rooms and cleaning cabins and running both those housekeeping departments are the same. I’d also spent a lot of time in Nice, France, and so that’s where the cruise ship has a port day. As for all the maritime law stuff, I fell down a rabbit hole online – much like my main character, Adam, does in the book.

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

Easiest: plotting. I love plotting. (I use Post-Its, so again with the stationery shopping!) Difficult: writing the first draft. You have 400 or so blank virtual pages and you have to murder them all one by one. The pressure’s on.

What a fabulous description of writing – murdering your pages!

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I have no routine really; I tend to write in binges. I almost always write at home, at my desk.

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When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

I read widely, but mostly crime/thrillers and non-fiction. Right now at the top of my TBR pile are Liz Nugent’s new book (out July), Lying in Wait, and Into the Black: The Extraordinary Untold Story of the First Flight of the Space Shuttle and the Men Who Flew Her by Rowland White. (After all the stuff I’ve to re-read for my exams, of course!)

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

I travel a lot, so that certainly gives rise to lots of ideas about locations, etc.

To what extent did your experience at Penguin Random House prepare you for the realities of getting a book published?

Well, I think I was quite realistic about what was going to happen, what wasn’t going to happen, etc. It really taught me that while you, the author, might be at home clicking Refresh on your Gmail every five minutes waiting for someone in the publishing house to send you some love because you have nothing else on your mind except for your novel which is coming out six months from now, the people at your publisher have about 100 books to worry about and most of them are coming out way before yours, and that’s why they’re not stroking your ego every five minutes – they don’t have time! (And it isn’t time to yet.) It also made me see that really, the ideal set-up, the best chance of a bestseller, is a partnership between the publisher and the author – both sides ready and willing to work hard, and with lots of ideas about how they can reach readers with this book. It also prepared me for what a challenge that is – the average reader has no idea how much work goes into just getting the book on the shelf, let alone trying to promote it.

Which of the characters in ‘Distress Signals’ is most like you?

I’m not like Adam – the main character/narrator – but at the beginning of the book he’s just sold his first screenplay after trying to make it happen for years. He describes this realisation of his dream, this sort of validation of his talent, as having an invisible friend that everyone else can suddenly see. So we do kind of have that in common – for years and years I would tell people I was going to get published, not because I necessarily believed I would but because I couldn’t face having to imagine an alternative – and I know that as more and more time passed, they were probably thinking, “Hmm, okay. But maybe now you should forget the daydreaming and go get a proper job?” I think that’s why, when I got the deal, my biggest emotion was relief.

If  ‘Distress Signals’  became a film, who would you like to play Adam?  

Distress Signals has actually been optioned for TV – they’re hoping to make a miniseries. My pick would be Jamie Dornan. He’d have to let the abs go soft because Adam is NOT a gym-goer (or cover them up, at least – shame, I know!) but stick a pair of glasses on him, and he looks quite like I imagine Adam does. Plus, he did a Cork accent on Jimmy Fallon a while back so we know he can.

My goodness – how exciting – congratulations.

What challenges were there as a female writing from a male perspective?

Well, I wasn’t sure I was doing it right! That’s where your editors come in. But you have to be so careful, because just one little wrong move can give the game away. There is a famous, bestselling thriller written by a man in the voice of a female first person narration, and it is almost perfect – except for one scene in which she puts woollen tights on UNDER a pair of trousers. Now, I can’t speak on behalf of all womankind, but personally I know that what he was describing was essentially a static storm of excruciating discomfort. Clearly he’d never worn wool tights under wool trousers – and that misstep is the detail I remember now, years later.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that ‘Distress Signals’ should be their next read, what would you say?

What a challenge! Well, assuming that “Because I will send you loads of chocolate and coffee if you buy it” (which I think is just 13…?) is out, I would say: A gripping thriller with a huge twist exploring the fact there’s no police at sea.

(And it’s all based on real-world law, operations, etc. – there really are no police at sea, essentially. Would you go on holiday to a country with no police?)

(I know that brackets bit is totally cheating – sorry!)

You’re forgiven!

And finally – will you be signing up to the first commercial flights into space?

I’m already saving up.

Thank you so much, Catherine, for your time in answering my questions and the very best of luck with Distress Signals.

About Catherine Ryan Howard

Catherine Ryan Howard

Catherine Ryan Howard by City Headshots Dublin

Catherine Ryan Howard was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Prior to writing full-time, Catherine worked as a campsite courier in France and a front desk agent in Walt Disney World, Florida, and most recently was a social media marketer for a major publisher. She is currently studying for a BA in English at Trinity College Dublin.

You can follow Catherine on Twitter and find her on Facebook. She also has a website.