A Publication Day Interview with Paul Mathews, Author of We Have Lost the Pelicans

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Once again the wonderful Book Connectors on Facebook has brought me into contact with an author – this time Paul Mathews whose latest comedy thriller We Have Lost the Pelicans is published today, 28th December 2016. We Have Lost the Pelicans is available for purchase in e-book here.

As 2016 seems to have been a pretty dreadful year for so many, including me, it’s wonderful to be ending the year on Linda’s Book Bag with an interview with Paul to tell me all about this latest comedy thriller.

We Have Lost the Pelicans

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London, 2044. The St James’ Park pelicans have gone missing – the day before the Republic’s new pelican flag is unveiled. At the same time, British intelligence uncovers coded e-comms about possible anti-Government activity. Who are the bird-nappers and what do they want? And who is behind the secret messages?

Agent Howie Pond – licence to lunch – reluctantly agrees to try and find out. Howie’s fiancée Britt has a secret mission of her own – to identify the mysterious owner of Windsor Castle.

And to add to the chaos, Howie and Britt are supposed to be getting married tomorrow…

There’s a super trailer for We Have Lost the Pelicans here.

An Interview with Paul Mathews

Hi Paul. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and your novel We Have Lost the Pelicans that is published today. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

Thanks, Linda. It’s great to be here. Okay. I’m a 44-year-old British guy, who’s given up the 9-to-5 to become a full-time indie author. I self-publish my comedy-thriller e-books on Amazon, with the help of an editor and graphic designer. In my previous life, I was a UK Government press officer for 16 years. So, I know a bit about PR and marketing, which comes in handy. Before that, in the dim and distant pre-internet days, I was an accountant. But we don’t talk about that. And delving even deeper into the past, I somehow ended up studying philosophy at Cambridge University. What else? Oh, yes. I love cheese. And Marmite. Sometimes together. That’s the kind of crazy world we authors live in.

And tell us a little about We Have Lost the Pelicans too.

It’s the second book in my We Have Lost comedy-thriller series, which is set in a British Republic in the year 2044. There are two main characters: Howie Pond, the president’s spokesperson and rookie secret agent; and his journalist girlfriend Britt. In the first book, We Have Lost The President, the nation’s leader goes missing. In the second book, the St James’ Park pelicans disappear overnight – the day before a big presidential announcement in the park – and Howie is asked to investigate. Meanwhile, Britt is trying to find out who owns Windsor Castle. Oh, and it’s very funny. Mustn’t forget to mention that.

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(Find out more about We Have Lost the President here.)

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

When I was 11 years-old, I was writing adventure books and producing my own comics, so I always had that creative urge. I won a local playwriting competition aged 18 and I would’ve loved to pursue it more actively after that. But that was back in 1990, when the internet didn’t exist and it was harder to find opportunities. I only got back into it in 2006 when an old school friend asked me to write her school’s pantomime. I wrote more plays and found an online publisher (Lazy Bee Scripts) who accepted my work. And then I progressed to novels. It’s taken more than three decades to become a full-time writer. But definitely worth the wait.

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

I was an amateur actor for several years and was attracted to professional acting as a possible career change. But it’s expensive to train, I didn’t fancy the idea of having to pretend I’m a tree with a bunch of 20-somethings, and work is sparse. If I’d been brave enough, I think I could have become a stand-up comedian. I might give it a go at one of those ‘open mic’ nights soon. Or maybe not!

You gave up ‘real’ work to become an author full time. How did you make that decision and what impact has it had on your life?

By the time I’d hit the magical age of 42, I’d had enough of working long hours in London. And while some press office work is creative, the vast majority isn’t. I decided that being stuck in an office, using about 10% of my creative talents, was not where I wanted to be. It wasn’t that difficult a decision to make because I’d been thinking about a career change for a while.

The main impact is that, in these early days, I am investing a lot of time and money, with the rewards coming later. In other words, I no longer have an income! But luckily I saved for years, my wife has a good job and the cost of living in Poland – where I do lots of my writing – is much cheaper than the UK. Another consequence is that my cat sees a lot more of me at home now, which I think she’s happy about. I’m never quite sure.

Your books are comedy thrillers. How difficult is it to balance those elements?

I’ve always written comedy, so that’s the easy part. Plotting a good thriller is the hard work. I try to make each chapter an adventure in itself, which keeps the reader engaged. Chapters switching between the two main characters is one way I build tension. The important thing is that the humour should flow from the characters and their actions, and not be forced upon the reader e.g. with lots of unnecessary one-liners.

Are you naturally funny in real life?

Yes, I’m hilarious. But I would say that!

(Well I suppose you would!)

Your Mum likes your author photo. What does she think of your books?

I think she enjoys them. She’s an author herself – but a totally different genre (paranormal fiction). She writes as Carolyn Mathews (sorry, had to get a plug in there for my Mum!).

You’ve written quite a few plays. Why did you decide to write in another genre?

Playwriting simply doesn’t offer the same creative rewards in terms of audience. Amateur drama groups tend to go with established playwrights and it can take years for an amateur play to receive its first performance. For example, my full-length comedy Happiness was premiered in June by the St Mary’s Players in Welling – five years after it was published. E-books are a much more immediate way for my work to be enjoyed by people who love a good story and a good laugh. People who read your blog, for example..!

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

It’s not really the writing – it’s what comes before and after it. I don’t enjoy the preparation work; it drags on over many weeks, as ideas come to me. Also, the endless re-reading of full-length drafts (my first novel was 100,000 words) can turn your brain to mush after a while. I never have an actual problem with writing – unless I have a hangover or I’m ill, when I’m not quite so productive.

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

We have a second bedroom that has been turned into my office – I do all my writing there on a laptop. I usually set myself a 2,000-word daily target (equivalent roughly to one of my chapters). When I’m in full writing mode, I write Sunday to Thursday and do social media on Friday. I treat it much more like a job than I used to. Routine is important. And so are periods when you just chill out and let the editor do all the hard work.

I know that you’re often distracted by social media. How far do you think it’s a benefit or a curse for authors?

It’s useful for keeping friends, family and hardcore fans updated about your work. And I found my editor and graphic designer through it. But it sells a fraction of the books that well-targeted advertising can shift. Spend too much time on Facebook or Twitter, and your productivity suffers. When I’m writing, I have short social media breaks which work well.

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

I read comedy fiction and, in the past, I read a lot of science fiction. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series is a big influence on me and several Amazon reviewers have noticed similarities between myself and Douglas Adams, which are the kind of comments that make it all worthwhile. I find it helpful to see how other comedy writers structure their work, so reading their novels is both work and pleasure. I’m reading The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax by Christopher Shevlin at the moment which, coincidentally, involves a scene with a pelican in St James’ Park!

You studied Philosophy at university. How has that helped or hindered your writing?

Philosophy wasn’t a proactive choice of subject – it was the only option after I changed my mind about studying mathematics. So, I guess, in a way, going in the wrong direction as a young man made me more determined to go in the right direction in later life. And my main characters do have their philosophical moments, so it comes in useful.

If you could choose to be a character from one of your books, who would you be and why?

Brian the auto-tech is a funny robot who features in the series. I would enjoy not being human for a while, so I’ll go with him.

If We Have Lost the Pelicans became a film, who would you like to play the main characters of Howie and Britt?  

I’m not sure about Howie – he is a grumpy 40-something. Me, maybe, as I’ve done a bit of acting?!  Britt is quite a steely, no-nonsense character, so I could easily see Gwyneth Paltrow in that role.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that We Have Lost the Pelicans should be their next read, what would you say?

If the book is made into a film, you can be one of the extras!

Thank you so much, Paul, for your time in answering my questions.

About Paul Mathews

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Paul Mathews is a 44-year-old British guy who’s given up his 9-to-5 job in London to become a full-time novelist. Why did he make this bold step? Well, he’d had enough of crazy managers and printers that didn’t work properly. So one afternoon, he shut down his computer, deleted all his emails and escaped the office – never to return.

Now he does what he loves . . . sits at a laptop, spends hours on social media and occasionally does a bit of writing. Before becoming a poverty-stricken writer, he was a Government press officer and PR guy. He’s even been an accountant. But he doesn’t like to talk about that. And going back further, he went to Cambridge University and studied philosophy. The internet didn’t exist then. And the internet doesn’t exist in his debut novel. So that makes him feel less old than he really is.

You can follow Paul on Twitter and find out more about him on his website.

Cover Reveal: It Started With A List by Lindsey Paley

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One of the pleasures of blogging is supporting authors who don’t have big publicity budgets behind them and so I’m delighted to be helping to reveal the new romantic comedy It Started With A Kiss by Lindsey Paley today. It Started With A Kiss is available for purchase in e-book here.

It Started With A List

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When life delivers lemons, make a list!

Even better, make three!

Becky Mathews is obsessed with making lists – she has a daily ‘To Do’ list, a Wish List and a meticulously researched Bucket List to end all lists. She loves to be organised and her favourite kind of day is when she can strike an item from one of her lists. But all her avid list-making has got her so far is an ex-husband and a tiny flat in Hammersmith. And now she’s lost her job!

Can Becky learn to ditch her lists and fly solo – without a safety net?

It Started With A List is a romantic comedy that will warm your heart and maybe deliver a few golden coins of happiness…

About Lindsey Paley

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Lindsey Paley is the author of contemporary romance novels and a series of MG/YA fantasy adventure novel entitled Star Jumpers. When not scribbling away in her peppermint and cream writer’s retreat (shed) she loves baking cakes and going for country walks (sometimes with a golf club). Her first novel The Wish List Addiction and her second The Wedding Yarn are both available with all of Lindsey’s books here.

You can follow Lindsey on Twitter and find her on Facebook.

My 2016 Favourite Books: Or, Why I Haven’t Read Your Book Yet…

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I only began blogging in February 2015 so 2016 was going to be THE YEAR. I would read at least three or four books a week and get the blog really buzzing with reviews.

Well, you know what they say about the road to Hell, and what a hellish year it’s been. I wasn’t even going to compile an annual round up, but then I thought that wasn’t fair to the wonderful authors I have met and read this year, so this blog post is a celebration of the books that have affected me most along with an explanation of why I probably haven’t got round to your book yet, for which apologies. There are so many books I wish I’d read that are sitting on my TBR, but life hasn’t allowed it.

January

So, the Hill household began 2016 anxiously awaiting the lymph node biopsy results from my husband’s cancer surgery on 10th December 2015. We couldn’t settle to anything much and reading took a back seat. However, there were two books I thought were outstanding. The first was In A Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca MacKenzie, reviewed here and Amanda Prowse’s Another Love, reviewed here. Both took me on emotional journeys. It was my privilege to interview Amanda later in the year too.

February

After a couple more anxious weeks we finally got the results we wanted. Steve’s biopsies were all clear and he was cancer free. With that huge relief I felt able to read a bit more and my favourite book that month was The Ballroom by Anna Hope which I raved about here and which almost became my Book of the Year. I loved the sense of history behind the prose.

The Ballroom

March

So, life was back on track and all was going to be fine after all. Wrong. Having been quite ill all the second week my Dad was rushed into hospital on 11th with life threatening sepsis as his gall stones hadn’t been diagnosed. We were told that ‘Anyone else his age would have succumbed by now’ and not to expect him to live. However, he survived and spent several weeks in hospital.

Whilst Dad was recovering we had the awful task of telling him that, on 17th March, our much anticipated great niece Emma Faith was still born at full term. Our (emotionally and geographically) close knit family was devastated. With an inquiry to be carried out we couldn’t have Emma’s funeral, so again I found settling to reading difficult. Luckily I had already been thoroughly entranced by The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace and had reviewed it here.

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April

Once we got through Emma Faith’s funeral on 15th April, and leaving aside the terrible car accident my cousin had where he was lucky passers-by pulled him clear before his car went up in flames, I was able to read a bit. I found Lyn G Farrell’s The Wacky Man absolutely stunning. You can see why here.

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When I’m not reading I love to travel but as life kept getting in the way at least I was able to do so vicariously through Isabelle Broom’s wonderful My Map of You, reviewed here.

My Map of You

May

Well, well. 2016 wasn’t all bad after all. Off to Japan and Taiwan on holiday so there was little chance to catch up on reading as we were so busy. However, I’d previously loved Amy Snow (reviewed here) by Tracy Rees and was delighted when I found her follow up novel Florence Grace was just as good and I reviewed it here. Tracy also wrote a guest post for the blog you can read here.

Florence Grace

June

At last, a month where we were at home, no-one was taken ill with life threatening injuries or illnesses and I could read. Read I did! It was back to my normal reading habits for a whole month, devouring several books a week. I was intending on choosing a book of the month, but there were so many stunning books read that month I’ll simply list my favourites with links to their reviews:

lying in wait

The fabulous psychological thriller Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent reviewed here. Having so loved the book I was excited to interview Liz too here.

Valentina

Another fantastic thriller, the debut Valentina by S.E Lynes reviewed here. Once again I was so excited to interview the author here and I’ve since met Susie who is a real star.

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A gorgeous trip to Cuba with Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley reviewed here and a dip into history as well as passion.

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The amazingly well researched and written The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs reviewed here along with a fascinating guest post. I had no idea about James Joyce’s daughter until this fantastic book.

Also in June as I was sitting in a field at Burghley House waiting to see my idol, Bryan Ferry, in concert for the umpteenth time, a message came through to say that I had won the Best Book Review Blog in the Bloggers Bash Awards. I was amazed and very proud.

July

Having been proud of my Bloggers Bash award I was thrilled to find in July that I had posted 500 blogs on Linda’s Book Bag in 14 months of blogging. Well, you know what pride comes before don’t you?

We’d been in Valencia for a few days and returned home to find my wonderful Dad had had a massive stroke the evening before. He was completely paralysed except for his left forearm, left thumb and two fingers. He could swallow only pureed food and thickened liquids, seemed unable to see properly, he was doubly incontinent and couldn’t speak. He was also in terrible pain. Sometimes he appeared to know us and sometimes he didn’t. We spent between three and six hours a day supporting Mum and visiting him in hospital which was going to be our daily routine for the next 17 weeks. All reading time pretty much disappeared but I had read the fabulous The Trouble With Henry and Zoe by Andy Jones on holiday so reviewed it here.

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Before I’d gone away I had read Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney ready for the blog tour and that was another of my favourite books in 2016 that almost became a Book of the Year. Here is my review.

Owl Song

There was another book that really spoke to my soul this month; The Day I Lost You by Fionnuala Kearney – but more of that later.

The day I Lost You

August

Life had its pattern now. Visit Dad, support Mum (especially as it was her birthday month too) and deal with the hospital and authorities. I found it almost impossible to find time to read and only really picked up the wonderful Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley because it was thin and looked like a quick read! It was brilliant and I reviewed it here.

Lily and the Octopus

September

Dad still wasn’t improving and neither was life or the time I had to devote to reading and blogging. Steve had another, thankfully benign, growth removed and we waited anxiously for the results. That said, two of the books I read in September were amazing. One is ostensibly a children’s book, Fir For Luck by Barbara Henderson but which is an enthralling historical read for all ages, reviewed here, and the other was also an historical story, this time by William Ryan, The Constant Soldier, reviewed here. Barbara also wrote a smashing guest post for Linda’s Book Bag about publication day that you can read here.

fir-for-luck Constant Soldier

October

What an emotional month. My niece shares her birthday with my Dad on 1st so not only had she and her husband lost their little girl, there was the reminder on this day of the link between birth and family. Also in October, my parents had their 65th wedding anniversary, having first met when Mum was 4 and Dad 8 was and he gave her his teddy because she was upset. With Dad still in decline this was not easy.

However, I was beginning to get used to the daily routines now and reading a little more with two books really standing out for me this month. I loved Lily’s House by Cassandra Parkin, reviewed here and Sue Moorcroft’s The Christmas Promise, reviewed here because both had an emotional pull. I’d been highly entertained by an interview with Sue in which she told me about her ‘compost heap’ approach to planning and you can read more about that here.

lilys-house-cover christmass-promise

November

I haven’t catalogued all the deaths of family and friends this year in this blog post, but I began the month with a funeral which kind of summed up how the year had been. It was to get worse. On 9th November at 12.38 PM my Dad died with me and my sister with him. His funeral was on 24th with another friend dying that very day. Dad’s passing was a relief as he was no longer suffering and at last time was regained for some reading.

Two books really stood out for me in November. The first was a wonderful homage to Shakespeare, For the Love of Shakespeare by Beth Miller which has such a lively style it cheered me up considerably and which I reviewed here. The second was another brilliant historically based novel from Cesca Major, The Last Night, reviewed here along with an interview with Cesca. I had previously loved Cesca’s The Silent Hours my review of which can be found here.

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December

So, another funeral over this month, the third in four weeks, and I’m ending the year with a book of the month by an author I featured at the beginning of the year – Amanda Prowse. This time it is The Food of Love and another highly charged emotional read, reviewed here.

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In Summary

So, whilst I read very little in 2016 compared with my normal habits, the books kept arriving – sent by hopeful self-published authors via email, by post from publishers and established authors whom I’ve read or featured before and the pile has grown to well over 700 awaiting reading. This is why I probably haven’t read your book. And I’m sorry. I understand the importance of reviews. But life took over this year as you can see – and I haven’t told you all the people we’ve lost, mostly to cancer, this year. I’m aiming to get back on track and read as many of these books as possible in 2017.

Authors are always welcome to a guest post or interview whilst they are waiting for a review that may, or may not, ever happen.

Despite 2016 genuinely being the worst year of my life, I want to finish this blog post with a positive – my Book of the Year 2016.

Book of the Year

The day I Lost You

There were many contenders for my Book of the Year. I think 2016 has seen some exceptional texts published and I’m only sorry I haven’t read them all. But there is one book that has resonated with me so captivatingly it has to be my book of the year, and that is The Day I Lost You by Fionnuala Kearney. It isn’t my favourite psychological or historical genre. It isn’t the most literary book I read. It isn’t even the most entertaining book I read. But The Day I Lost You is the book that most touched my soul – and that’s what makes a great book for me.

Thank heavens I read, and reviewed here, The Day I Lost You by Fionnuala Kearney in the first half of July. I’d never have coped had it come later in the year. I read this with tears streaming down my face almost from beginning to end. Its emotion touched me and I have thought about The Day I Lost You almost continuously throughout all the events that have happened this year. It is heartbreaking and matched my life in 2016 perfectly.

I would like to thank the fantastic blogging community for all your wonderful support this year. I hope you had a better 2016 than I did and that 2017 is a gloriously happy, healthy and bookish year for us all.

Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year

A Year and a Day by Isabelle Broom

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My enormously grateful thanks to Sarah Harwood at Penguin Random House for a copy of A Year and a Day by Isabelle Broom in return for an honest review. A Year and a Day was published by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin, on 17th November 2016 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback through the publisher links here.

My Map of You

I loved Isabelle Broom’s previous novel My Map of You and you can read my review here.

A Year and a Day

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Welcome to a city where wishes are everywhere

For Megan, a winter escape to Prague with her friend Ollie is a chance to find some inspiration for her upcoming photography exhibition. But she’s determined to keep their friendship from becoming anything more. Because if Megan lets Ollie find out about her past, she risks losing everything – and she won’t let that happen again . . .

For Hope, the trip is a surprise treat from Charlie, her new partner. But she’s struggling to enjoy the beauty of the city when she knows how angry her daughter is back home. And that it’s all her fault . . .

For Sophie, the city has always been a magical place. This time she can’t stop counting down the moments until her boyfriend Robin joins her. But in historic Prague you can never escape the past . . .

Three different women.

Three intertwining love stories.

One unforgettable, timeless city.

My Review of A Year and a Day

Three different women, Sophie, Megan and Hope find Prague is the catalyst for change in their lives.

I see myself as an emotional reader, but I have never before encountered the emotion of jealousy in my reading. Isabelle Brooms evokes and describes the magical quality of Prague so effectively that, not only is it a character in its own right, but I wanted desperately to be back there. There was such vibrancy to the descriptions that I could recognise so many of the places I’ve visited and loved but I was also introduced to others that I’ve missed, so that I feel compelled to return. I was genuinely jealous of the characters exploring the city.

I think it’s Isabelle Broom’s appeal to the senses that makes her writing so satisfying to read. She conveys the elements of her settings so effectively that it’s more like being there than reading about them.

A Year and a Day has a depth and sumptuousness that makes it such a satisfying read. The plot is deceptively simple – a set of people exploring Prague – but the profound exploration of relationships, emotions, fears and desires is outstanding. I didn’t always agree with how the characters behaved, Megan especially, but I understood and empathised fully their reasons. It felt a bit like reading about family members you know are flawed but you love them anyway.

It’s this quality of Isabelle Broom’s writing that makes her books so special. She seems to have an innate ability to express almost poetically what her characters, and indeed her readers, are feeling. I loved the way the relationships ebbed and flowed, with the three strands of the story intertwining so smoothly. Although I felt less invested in Hope as a person, my heart went out fully to Sophie and to Megan and Ollie. I have to confess to shedding a tear or two along the way.

If you haven’t encountered Isabelle Broom yet, I urge you to do so. A Year and a Day is a perfect winter read.

About Isabelle Broom

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Isabelle Broom was born in Cambridge nine days before the 1980s began and studied Media Arts at the University of West London before starting a career first in local newspapers and then as a junior sub-editor at Heat magazine. She travelled through Europe during her gap year and went to live on the Greek island of Zakynthos for an unforgettable and life-shaping six months after completing her degree. Since then, she has travelled to Canada, Sri Lanka, Sicily, New York, LA, the Canary Islands, Spain and lots more of Greece, but her wanderlust was reined in when she met Max, a fluffy little Bolognese puppy desperate for a home. When she’s not writing novels set in far-flung locations, Isabelle spends her time being the Book Reviews Editor at Heat magazine and walking her beloved dog round the parks of north London.

You can follow Isabelle on Twitter and find her on Facebook.

An Interview with John Nightingale, author of The Appearance of Murder

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Soon I’ll be putting out a blog post explaining why I’ve failed to read as many books as I would have liked in 2016. One of those books that I haven’t had chance to read yet is The Appearance of Murder by John Nightingale. The Appearance of Murder was published by Spider Monkey Books and is available for purchase in e-book, hardback and paperback here.

As this thriller looks so much the kind of read I’d enjoy, I had to invite John onto Linda’s Book Bag to tell me a little more about it and you can read that interview below.

The Appearance of Murder

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Crime writer David Knight is dragged back into a past in which it seems he might have fathered a child or even committed murder. Neither possibility is going to be popular with his wife Kate.

The trouble is that David hasn’t a clue about what actually happened…

An Interview with John Nightingale

Hi John. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and The Appearance of Murder in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

We were sort of nouveau poor. My father’s family had once owned a fertiliser business but all that was left when I was born was a large car park where the factory had once been. My uncle had been a racing driver famous for racing on even though he had been hit on the head by a bonnet that had become detached from a car in front of him. I never met my maternal grandfather until just before he died because he had run off thirty years before with a younger woman and when we finally met he was blind and had to reach up and feel the top of my shoulders to find out how tall I was – all very Dickensian.

(Goodness –  there sounds to be plenty of material there for many future novels!)

And tell us a bit about The Appearance of Murder (though don’t give away the plot!)

It’s about a crime writer who is dragged back into a past in which it seems he might have fathered a child or even committed murder. He needs to sort things out before events become out of control. The trouble is he hasn’t a clue about whether he is guilty or not as he is suffering memory loss for the time in question. So he faces the dilemma that as his investigation proceeds the guilty party he may be exposing is himself but he hasn’t really got any other option than to get to the truth.

(I think this sounds fabulous and can’t wait to read The Appearance of Murder)

How far has your writing acted as a foil to your previous careers in the civil service and pensions and how far have those roles been an inspiration?

I had a lot of very interesting jobs in the civil service. When I was helping sort out the Maxwell pensions scandal I did a lot of work with Sir John Cuckney who had been a spy in MI5. He used to go round with loads of cash that he would put into money clips and then deposit in various pockets in his coat and jacket. He also normally didn’t commit anything much to paper but would run through quite complicated topics verbally until he was sure he covered every angle. I think he just didn’t like leaving too much of a trail!

My wife was the first woman Private Secretary in 10 Downing Street that meant that I got invited to events at No 10 and Chequers. It was great – particularly as a writer – to be able to observe what was going on. My other series character is a high-flying early thirties Treasury civil servant, Jane Charles, who I’m hoping to return to once I’ve finished the follow up David Knight novel. People found the setting of the first Jane Charles book The Sky Blue Parcel (available as an ebook here) particularly authentic. I’m sure that’s because I’ve been inside the process.

sky-blue-parcel

Your protagonist in The Appearance of Murder is David Knight. I wondered how you chose his name and created him, as Knight reminds me of the age of chivalry and an Everyman type character. How far was this your intention?

That’s a very perceptive question. Knight certainly has echoes of chivalry and quest about it. David Knight is also Everyman in the sense that he simply doesn’t know what he’s done (or, in a sense, what he is capable of). That’s a predicament that could affect anyone. So all those echoes are  there although I suspect they came about instinctively when I was choosing the names.

I know you’re interested in the sense of the surreal. How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your writing is realistic whilst maintaining the layers of intrigue?

You can almost always find useful information – at least to start you off – on the net. I tend to print stuff off and index it. I remember one day I was doing a list that ran – Counter surveillance; Decomposition (of bodies); Open verdict; Repressed memory; Body bags; Female desire; DNA; Difference between male and female skeletons; Finding buried bodies etc and suddenly thinking I’m sure somebody can read this remotely and having a paranoid few seconds waiting for a tap on the shoulder! One safer way forward is simply to buy a book about the subject. Sleep and dreams feature a bit in The Appearance of Murder and I found a book called Sleepfaring by Jim Horne very interesting! Books also have the advantage that you can suddenly come across something that you were previously unaware of that may suggest a way to keep writing realistic while pushing the plot forward. To quote John Major ‘I don’t know what I don’t know.’ With a book you have a much better chance of finding out what that is. In The Appearance of Murder I push a bit into theoretical possibilities for sleep and dreams but I always try to ensure that any conjecture is soundly based.

As there are conceits and layers in The Appearance of Murder, how did you manage to keep on top of the threads of your writing? 

I started off The Appearance of Murder as an organic process without too many notes and then got a long way into the book before finding it didn’t work as well as I wanted it to. Eventually I had one of those ‘Eureka!’ moments when I suddenly saw a simple change in the plot would sort everything out. Unfortunately that meant whole that most the book had to be re-written! For the follow up David Knight The Direction of Murder I did much more work upfront in getting the plot sorted before I stated the wring process. So for this book I had a detailed plot, notes on all the characters, general notes, and a time frame all in place before the writing process began. I also find it useful to briefly summarise the main events in a chapter once I’m happy with it so I have a ‘log’ to refer to.

So, which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

I think the most difficult thing is ensuring the plot and characters are well developed before you start. This doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind or that characters won’t suddenly surprise you but you’ve got to be sure that you have a sufficiently robust structure available to explore the basic idea or inspiration for the book. Once that is done I find dialogue comes more easily than description because there always seems to be a next sentence available.

When you write, how aware are you of your intended readership?

I don’t think what I write is quite like anything else out there. One reviewer called it ‘a genuinely original mystery which is unlike everything else I’ve read from the genre’. My ideal imaginary reader is probably somebody who has had a hard day at the office and has decided to curl up somewhere comfortable with a glass of wine and a book for company and who is looking to be entertained and have some fun.  Ideally the book will linger on after they have finished it.

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

When I’m researching or planning a book I don’t really have a set routine. When I’ve started writing the book itself I usually set targets – say a 1,000 words a day. That means that you get something down. I review what I’ve written the next day – and sometimes start again! I don’t like finishing a day’s work at the end of a chapter so I’ll always write a few lines of the next chapter at least. I try to have a comfortable chair and a desk or table and to have a window to one side so I can glance out – preferably at something green. I like a few books around and a printer. I work mostly on the screen but sometimes simply have to print stuff off and work on hard copy.  I sometimes listen to music as a background but on other days only silence will do music. I don’t know why and I can’t predict how I’m going to feel in advance. If it is a music day I don’t really recall what I’ve listened to but hopefully my subconscious does!

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

I have one or two favourite novelists like Jonathan Coe and I always read their next book when it appears. At the moment I’m reading lots of crime short stories. I’ve also just started a book called Reality Is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli that is a sort of potted history of humankind’s various theories of what the universe is made out of and how it works written in a really clear and lucid way.

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

I’ve always been interested in the nature of ‘reality’ in the sense of how thinks work (hence the Rovelli book) and just how the human mind functions. I’m also interested in history and what people are prepared to do and the circumstances in which they are prepared to do it. Crime fiction is an obvious genre to explore both ideas.

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

I also write plays and when I’m not writing plays or novels I find myself setting quizzes. My crisp tasting round matching crisps to their description is surprisingly difficult!

There’s quite a lot of light and shade on the cover image for The Appearance of Murder which suggests a level of obfuscation to me. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

We had been trying out various ideas that were OK but not as visually striking as we wanted. We  came across this photograph that was both an interesting image and seemed to fit with the basic proposition that faces David and that is captured in the strapline ‘If you can’t remember – how do you know what you’ve done’. The white light in the foreground and the golden light in the background have been intensified by the designer to deepen the difference between light and darkness and the possible fates that await David…

If you could choose to be a character from The Appearance of Murder, who would you be and why?

It’s a first person narrative so it would be difficult to be anyone other than David Knight. I also like David’s friend, the gadget obsessed Jerry, and it would be great to be able to mend anything and have the right piece of equipment for any job!

If The Appearance of Murder became a film, who would you like to play David Knight?

A lot of the plot relates to the actions of a group of university friends twenty-five years in the past. A younger Bill Nighy would be perfect but Benedict Cumberbatch would do an excellent job. He would also be good with the surreal aspects of the plot. One of the things I’m trying to do for my readers is to give them situations which seem inexplicable and then give a logical explanation. From seeing him on ‘Sherlock’ I think he’s be good at conveying that mental stretch. There’s also a slight Holmes/Watson echo in the relationship between David and his friend Jerry although I think Martine Freeman would be better cast as the children’s entertainer Peter Parchment who is one of the main characters  in the book!

(That answer made me smile as we use this question in my book group and we ALWAYS try to give Bill Nighy a role!)

And finally, John, if you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The Appearance of Murder should be their next read, what would you say?

If you like classic crime and a witty and entertaining plot this is for you!

Thank you so much, John, for your time in answering my questions.

About John Nightingale

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John Nightingale is a thriller writer and creator of the David Knight and Jane Charles series. Before becoming a full-time novelist, John worked as a civil servant in a number of different roles, including as  an expert on pensions, playing a leading role in sorting out the Maxwell pension scandal.  He lives and writes in London and Suffolk and is married and has two daughters.

You can find out more by visiting John’s website and you can follow him on Twitter.

Truth is Stranger than Fiction, a Guest Post by David Bethel, author of Blood Moon

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It gives me great pleasure to welcome David Bethel, author of Blood Moon to Linda’s Book Bag today to answer a few questions I had about truth and fiction as David’s writing mixes real life situations and total fiction.

Blood Moon was published by Tell Tale on 4th December 2016 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback from your local Amazon site.

Blood Moon

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On a hot, steamy afternoon in Miami, Cuban-American businessman Recidio Suarez is brutally beaten and abducted. Handcuffed, shackled and blindfolded, he has no idea why he has been targeted. What he discovers is heart-stopping. What he endures during almost a month of captivity compares only to the most horrendous stories of prisoners of war. He is tortured, and under the threat of death, and worse – the rape of his wife and torture of his children – Suarez is forced to hand over his multi-million dollar holdings to his captors.

Suarez survives and then spends the next few months staying one step ahead of the murderous pack. During this time, he and his lawyer, Nolan Stevens – a former Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Office of the FBI – are having difficulties convincing the Miami-Dade Police Department that a crime has been committed. Their efforts are complicated by Steven’s difficult history with the head of the MDPD Special Investigations Division, who is not interested in pursuing the case.

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

A Guest Post by David Bethel

David, what draws you to writing fiction as well as non-fiction?

A good story draws me to writing fiction.  That story can be either one based on fact, as is my novel Blood Moon, or one conjured up entirely by my imagination, as is my novel Evil Town.

In both instances, the story is so compelling that it draws me to the keyboard and won’t let me loose until I complete telling the tale.

In general, writing non-fiction is more an intellectual exercise.  I become intrigued with a bit of information and find myself drawn to researching the issue…person, place or thing.  If what I find is interesting to me, I usually decide it would be so to others, and I share it.

What do you think an aspiring writer could gain from fictionalizing factual events?

In the case of Blood Moon I found that translating this true crime story into fiction forced me to tap into a dark side of myself that I usually do not mine in such depth.  In the process, I discovered that I had the ability to describe aspects of this disturbing story in a way that most have found believable, and by “believable” I mean readers find the story unsettling.

That said, being in control – being the creator of this world – allowed me to bring justice (some will see it as vigilantism) to the psychopaths who ruined the lives of a number of good people.

What can an aspiring writer gain?  Another perspective on events and polishing their talent to bring that perspective to life.

Which is likely to be more shocking – fact or fiction in your view?

Without the true events that informed Blood Moon, I might never have been able to conjure up such a situation, but without my imagination, which allowed me to take the tale to another level, the novel might not have been quite so appealing to many readers.

In the end, there is probably nothing truly “new” on the face of the earth.  All writers borrow from our experiences to create, shocking and otherwise.  Bottom line I suppose, without fact there would be no fiction.

Have you had to rein in your fiction because of your background, or has it been a rich source of material?

To write Evil Town I mined 30-plus years in politics to deliver a world that is believable and compelling to the reader – or so I’ve been told — and accurate in all aspects that relate to how the system works in Washington.  Far from reining in anything, I have embellished on what I know and what I have experienced.

There are writers who are so blessed with talent that they can produce works of fiction merely by conjuring up stories and worlds without having the benefit of life experience.  F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote This Side of Paradise when he was only 21 and had yet to fully experience many of emotions he so skillfully wove into this classic novel.

Unlike Fitzgerald, and some others, I am not so gifted.  I use every bit of my “background” to write.  Without it, I would be barren.

Well I think your books look fascinating, David so thank you for explaining a bit more about them. 

About David Bethel

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John David Bethel spent a career in politics and government. He currently lives in Miami with his wife and two very spoiled dogs and writes novels, the first of which, Evil Town, was also published by Tell- Tale Publishing.

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You can follow David on Twitter and find him on Facebook.

Time Travel, a Guest Post by Louise Wise, Author of Wide Awake Asleep

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It’s my very great pleasure to be helping Louise Wise celebrate her latest novel, Wide Awake Asleep, a paranormal, time travel romance. Wide Awake Asleep is published today, 16th December 2016, and is available for purchase here.

Today, I have an extract from Wide Awake Asleep for you to enjoy as well as a guest post from Louise.

Wide Awake Asleep

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‘Past events can be changed but one must be careful of how one does it because it’ll impact on the rest of one’s life.’—Dáire Quin, Modify your Destiny if you Must, 2003

No one saw Julie’s car leave the road, no one saw her crash into the watery ditch, no one saw the gnarled tree branch pierce through the window screen and impale her to her seat.
No one heard her screams.

Yet, this was the beginning of Julie’s life.

Julie Compton, is a forty-something woman, striving for success in a male dominated business world. She thinks she’s made it. She thinks she has it all. Trouble is, her destiny has been travelling in the wrong direction and Julie is now forced to relive her life by occupying people’s bodies from her past in a time-travel, paranormal adventure.

For readers who enjoyed books like ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ and ‘The Lovely Bones’.

The Paradox of Time Travel

A Guest Post by Louise Wise

If I had a time machine, I’d love to travel to events of tragedy and save the day! A superhero I am most definitely not, but who wouldn’t want to save the lives of those lost on the Titanic or those from the World Trade Centre?

But I also believe in the inconsistency of time-travel (the meet-and-kill-your-grandparent-and-you’ll-not-exist paradox).

If I went back to Henry VIII’s time and visited the gorgeous Anne Boleyn I’d warn her not to be so flirtatious with the men around her because she was executed for having ‘relationships’. But then what would have happened?

Henry VIII would probably have become Henry II—not the same, is it? Besides we’ve already had a Henry II in 1133! And then Anne Boleyn wouldn’t have become the household name that she is today. She’d have been remembered like Catherine of Aragon—who? Exactly!

Would I change anything from my own past? I can honestly say, no. Small things, maybe, like the time a so-called friend told me to scrump apples knowing the owner of the apple tree was lying in wait and who would clip my ear! Back in the 70s ears were frequently clipped!

And then there are bigger things, like warning my aunt not to take her family swimming that fatal day where my six-year old cousin lost his life. Had I been able to save him then his younger brother would probably not have been around.

Paradox.

An Extract from Wide Awake Asleep

Disorientated, I looked around at my surroundings. I had the strange feeling that I wasn’t here at all. I thought I heard a voice, and I cocked my head, but it was carried away on a gust of wind. The feeling of hands touching my body subsided and I was left in this paradox universe where I was me inside someone else’s body.

I looked down at myself and the first thing I saw was a plaid skirt, and thick tights, which sagged at the knees and ankles.

My heart began to beat in horror. No, no. Please, God, no.

My hands touched the stained cardigan over my large droopy breasts. Up further to my face…

My hands recoiled.

I felt a moustache!

I gasped in horror. I was ‘Auntie’ Iris Grimshaw!

It was bad enough being goofy Sarah Marshall, but now I had a moustache! And a bloody monobrow!

Iris began to walk, and I felt a sharp pain in my hip. I slowed, but the pain persisted. It shot down my left leg every time my foot touched the ground. No wonder the old sod was grouchy.

About Louise Wise

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Louise Wise is a British author. She lives in the Midlands with her husband and four sons, and works as a pharmacy technician.

Her debut novel is the acclaimed sci-fi romance Eden, which was followed by its sequel Hunted in 2013.

Her other works include A Proper Charlie (romantic comedy), Oh No, I’ve Fallen In Love! (dark, comedy romance), and Scruffy Trainers (a collection of short stories). She has written numerous short stories for women’s magazines including Women’s Own and Take a Break.

Her latest novel, Wide Awake Asleep, is out December 16th 2016 and, along with all Louise’s books is available here. In this novel, she has mixed time travel and romance with her on-going theme of isolation and loneliness.

You can follow Louise on Twitter and visit her website.