The Faithful by Juliet West

the faithful

My enormous thanks to Jess Duffy at Pan Macmillan for a copy of The Faithful by Juliet West in return for an honest review and my apologies that it has taken so long to read it!

The Faithful was published by Mantle, an imprint of Pan Macmillan on 15th June 2017 and is available for purchase through these links.

The Faithful

the faithful

July 1935. In the village of Aldwick on the Sussex coast, sixteen-year-old Hazel faces a long, dull summer with just her self-centred mother Francine for company. But then Francine decamps to London with her lover Charles, Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts arrive in Aldwick, and Hazel’s summer suddenly becomes more interesting. She finds herself befriended by two very different people: Lucia, an upper-class blackshirt, passionate about the cause; and Tom, a young working-class boy, increasingly scornful of Mosley’s rhetoric. In the end, though, it is Tom who wins Hazel’s heart – and Hazel who breaks his.

Autumn 1936. Now living in London, Hazel has grown up fast over the past year. But an encounter with Tom sends her into freefall. He must never know why she cut off all contact last summer, betraying the promises they’d made. Yet Hazel isn’t the only one with secrets. Nor is she the only one with a reason to keep the two of them apart . . .

From the beaches of Sussex to the battlefields of civil war Spain, The Faithful is a rich and gripping tale of love, deception and desire.

My Review of The Faithful

It’s the mid 1930s and the fascists and communists are on the rise so when Hazel and Tom’s lives collide there will be reverberations.

Oh my goodness. The Faithful is exactly my kind of read. Firstly, there’s an era I didn’t know too much about so that reading The Faithful enriched my understanding of British history just prior to the Second World War. The balance of brilliantly researched authentic detail and wonderful fiction is spot on. Every syllable adds depth and nuance to the narrative so that I felt the tensions and the passions just as much as the characters did.

I thought Juliet West’s writing was so skilful. I loved the prophetic imagery so that, at times, The Faithful feels almost Shakespearean in its quality and I kept thinking of Macbeth with the portents woven throughout. It’s difficult to say too much without spoiling the superb plot.

The narrative is taut and affecting. I slowed down my reading towards the end as I knew how I wanted the story to end but until the last few pages I didn’t know if Juliet West had the same ideas for Hazel as I did and you’ll have to read The Faithful for yourself to see what I mean! Revelations reverberate and shock throughout and the layers of deceit pervading everything from the most mundane through the political to characters’ self-deceptions are realistic and disturbing. I hated Bea’s actions, for example, but her desperate need to belong and to maintain her family makes them completely understandable.

Indeed, I am slightly in awe of the way in which Juliet West manipulated me as a reader when it came to character. Francine is quite vile, but she’s equally vulnerable and pitiful so that although I wanted to loathe her, she had my sympathy instead. Even the louche Charles had my grudging understanding. This is characterisation at its most sophisticated.

The Faithful is a book about love and deceit, about the personal and the political and about how we convince ourselves of truths that have no basis in reality. This makes The Faithful a book about humanity and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

About Juliet West

Juliet West

Juliet West worked as a journalist before taking an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University, where she won the Kate Betts’ Memorial Prize. Before The Fall, her debut novel, was shortlisted for the Myriad Editions novel writing competition in 2012. Juliet also writes short stories and poetry, and won the H E Bates short story prize in 2009. She lives in West Sussex with her husband and three children.

You can follow Juliet on Twitter @JulietWest14 and visit her website.

Home is Nearby by Magdalena McGuire

Print

A little while ago, as part of the launch celebrations for Home is Nearby I was lucky enough to host an interview with Magadalena McGuire that you can read here. Today I’m thrilled to be sharing my review of Home is Nearby.

Published by Impress Books on 1st November 2017, Home is Nearby is available for preorder in e-book and paperback through the publisher links here.

Home is Nearby

Print

1980: the beginning of the Polish Crisis. Brought up in a small village, country-girl Ania arrives in the university city of Wroclaw to pursue her career as a sculptor. Here she falls in love with Dominik, an enigmatic writer at the centre of a group of bohemians and avant-garde artists who throw wild parties. When martial law is declared, their lives change overnight: military tanks appear on the street, curfews are introduced and the artists are driven underground. Together, Ania and Dominik fight back, pushing against the boundaries imposed by the authoritarian communist government. But at what cost? ‘Home Is Nearby’ is a vivid and intimate exploration of the struggle to find your place in the world no matter where you are.

My Review of Home is Nearby

Country born Ania is off to start a new life as an art student, but events in Poland mean her life won’t be quite as she expects.

I have a confession. Initially I didn’t like Home is Nearby at all because I picked it up and started it three times, getting interrupted and not getting into the swing of reading it. However, I finally found a stretch of time where I could concentrate and as soon as that happened I was completely drawn in to the narrative and totally absorbed in every element of this beautifully layered and compelling tale.

Although I was aware at the time of the events happening in Poland around which the narrative is based, I had never really considered them from an individual perspective. Magdalena McGuire drills down through the layers of society so that the political, cultural and historical settings come alive from Ania’s viewpoint making everything personal, vivid and actually quite disturbing. Reading Home is Nearby narrowed that distance I think we have when we see things through the media and gave me an intense and immediate look into the lives of those affected. As a result I ended the book feeling moved and included.

Indeed, the characters were all so authentic and realistic so that I felt I knew them personally. I don’t want to spoil the plot but one small action from one of them (and you’ll have to read Home is Nearby for yourself to see if you know what I mean…) left me almost breathless with rage. I found myself talking to the characters, Ania and Dominik in particular, and giving them both advice and admonitions.

The quality of the writing is excellent. I have always considered art to be slightly pretentious and ’emperor’s new clothes’ but Magdalena McGuire’s writing helped me appreciate and understand what art’s various forms can add to our lives. I thought the exploration of the links between art and life was incredibly interesting.

However, it was the themes of loyalty, love, country, identity and, of course, what home is, that I found so affecting. The emotion I felt at the end of the book was physical so that the experience of reading Home is Nearby will stay with me for a considerable time.

Having begun not particularly engaged with Home is Nearby, I ended my read feeling as if I am a changed person as a result of Magdalena McGuire’s skilful, beautiful prose. What more can we ask of a book than that it changes our lives?

About Magdalena McGuire

magdalena mcguire

Magdalena McGuire was born in Poland, grew up in Darwin, and now lives in Melbourne. Her short stories have been published in the UK and Australia by The Big Issue and The Bristol Prize, and by Margaret River Press respectively. She has published widely on human rights topics, including women’s rights and the rights of people with disabilities. She is an avid reader and particularly enjoys reading books about girls who like reading books. Her first novel, Home Is Nearby, is set in Poland, Australia and the United Kingdom, in the eventful period of the 1980s. She is also working on a collection of short stories that focus on questions of place, identity and unbelonging, particularly in cross-cultural contexts, as well as another historical fiction novel.

You can follow Magdalena on Twitter @Magdalena_McG and visit her website.

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Home Is Nearby by Magdalena McGuire winner of the Impress Prize blog tou...

An Extract from Christmas at Woolworths by Elaine Everest

Christmas at Woolworths

I’m delighted to be sharing an extract from Christmas at Woolworths by Elaine Everest with you today. I’m just disappointed I didn’t have chance to read the book ready for today’s post. However, I do also have an extract from another of Elaine’s books, The Butlins Girls, that you might like to read here.

Christmas at Woolworths will be published by Pan on 2nd November 2017 and is available for pre-order here.

Christmas at Woolworths

Christmas at Woolworths

Even though there was a war on, the Woolworths girls brought Christmas cheer to their customers…

Best friends Sarah, Maisie and Freda are brought together by their jobs at Woolworths. With their loved ones away on the front line, their bonds of friendship strengthen each day. Betty Billington is the manager at Woolworths, and a rock for the girls, having given up on love . . . Until a mysterious stranger turns up one day – could he reignite a spark in Betty?

As the year draws to a close, and Christmas approaches, the girls must rely on each other to navigate the dark days that lie ahead . . .

With so much change, can their friendship survive the war?

An Extract From Christmas At Woolworths

Prologue

June 1942

Sitting astride the powerful motorbike, Freda Smith removed a large leather gauntlet from her hand in order to pull tight-fitting goggles from her eyes. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand and yawned. Although only the first day of June, the air was sultry and not a day for being covered from head to toe in a heavyweight motorcycle uniform. Freda felt sweaty and would have loved nothing more than to pull off her jacket and feel the wind on her skin as she sped through Kent towards her destination. It had been a long day and no doubt many hours lay ahead before she would see her bed. Gazing towards an angry orange glow that could be seen even in the afternoon sky, she knew her journey was almost at an end. She was close to Canterbury.

Freda had always thought the notion of travelling to Canterbury appealing and she’d planned to visit this famous city just as the pilgrims had done centuries before her. Never in a million years did she believe her trip would be to carry important orders to the Fire Service when Canterbury was under threat from the Luftwaffe. Ahead of her now was a city decimated by enemy action. As a volunteer dispatch rider for the Aux­iliary Fire Service Freda had longed for excitement, but she now realized that what lay ahead was death and destruction for this beautiful Kentish city and many of the people who lived there. After nearly three years would this terrible war never end?

Freda fervently wished she was back behind her coun­ter at Erith Woolworths, selling the popular Mighty Midget books and Lumar jigsaws that not only enter­tained the families but gave youngsters something to concentrate on during long nights when the country was under fire from the enemy. Life seemed so much easier then, even though she was often on fire-watch duties and had to sleep in her landlady’s Anderson shelter on many occasions. Knowing how lucky she was had made Freda yearn to do more to help this beastly war come to an end. She wondered what she’d discover when she reached the city walls. How would she find the fire sta­tion, where she was supposed to report once she reached Canterbury? Fear urged Freda to turn back and not get any closer to the burning city.

(And now I definitely have to bump Christmas at Woolworths up my TBR!)

About Elaine Everest

Elaine Everest updated author photo 2017.jpg

Elaine Everest, author of Bestselling novel The Woolworths Girls and The Butlins Girls was born and brought up in North West Kent, where many of her books are set. She has been a freelance writer for twenty years and has written widely for women’s magazines and national newspapers, with both short stories and features. Her non-fiction books for dog owners have been very popular and led to broadcasting on radio about our four legged friends. Elaine has been heard discussing many topics on radio from canine subjects to living with a husband under her feet when redundancy looms.

When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school at The Howard Venue in Hextable, Kent and has a long list of published students.

Elaine lives with her husband, Michael, and their Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry, in Swanley, Kent and is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Crime Writers Association, The Society of Women Writers & Journalists and The Society of Authors as well as Slimming World where she can been sitting in the naughty corner.

Elaine Everest lives in Kent and is the author of bestseller, The Woolworth GirlsShe has written widely for various women’s magazines and when she isn’t writing, she  in Dartford, Kent, and the blog for the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

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

You’ll find all Elaine’s lovely books here.

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Poster

The Winter’s Child by Cassandra Parkin

The Winter's Child cover

Having so loved Lily’s House by Cassandra Parkin, my review of which you can read here with an interview with Cassandra, and which was one of my favourite reads last year, I was thrilled to be asked to join in the launch celebrations for The Winter’s Child too. I also met Cassandra Parkin at a wonderful event you can read about here, Oceans of Words. Today, I’m re-interviewing her to find out more about her latest book The Winter’s Child and am delighted to share this latest Q+A as well as my review. As not all blog followers will know Cassandra I’m repeating a couple of questions!

The Winter’s Child was published by Legend Press on 15th October 2017 and is available for purchase here.

The Winter’s Child

 The Winter's Child cover

Five years ago, Susannah Harper’s son Joel went missing without trace. Bereft of her son and then of her husband, Susannah tries to accept that she may never know for certain what has happened to her lost loved ones. She has rebuilt her life around a simple selfless mission: to help others who, like her, must learn to live without hope.

But then, on the last night of Hull Fair, a fortune-teller makes an eerie prediction. She tells her that this Christmas Eve, Joel will finally come back to her.

As her carefully-constructed life begins to unravel, Susannah is drawn into a world of psychics and charlatans, half-truths and hauntings, friendships and betrayals, forcing her to confront the buried truths of her family’s past, where nothing and no one are quite as they seem.

A ghostly winter read with a modern gothic flavour. A tale of twisted love, family secrets and hauntings.

An Interview with Cassandra Parkin

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Cassandra. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and The Winter’s Child in particular. I know you’ve been on the blog before but not all readers will know that so firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

I’m a Yorkshire-based writer with Cornish roots and a passion for fairy-tales. I write contemporary fiction with a strong magical flavour. The Winter’s Child is my fourth novel, and it’s set in my home city of Hull, in our City of Culture year.

Why do you write?

It’s the thing that makes me happiest. Even on the days it’s like wading through treacle and I know that every word I write will end up being deleted later, I still love it. I’d still be writing even if I hadn’t found a publisher.

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

I think most people who know me feel quite strongly that I took a stupidly long time to catch on! I spent literally years writing novels in secret, and short stories as Christmas presents, and volunteering for every single work-related writing project I could find. Everyone around me kept saying, “You’re supposed to be writing for a living. You are aware of this about yourself, right? Why are you still messing around pretending you want to be in marketing?” And to my shame, I completely ignored them for about fifteen years. (Sorry, everyone. I know I was annoying.)

I finally caught on when all my friends ganged up on me and made me enter a collection of unpublished short stories for Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize. I found out I’d won and my book was going to be published when I was unpacking yoghurts in the kitchen. I burst into tears, and called my mother and told her I was going to be a writer.

(I suspect you were a ‘writer’ long before that moment actually!)

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

I love all of it, so it’s difficult to say! I love writing beginnings, and endings. I love the moment when I start to find my way through the strange blank darkness of the middle section. I love editing – that feeling of taking the shambling mess of the first draft and starting to turn it into something worthwhile. I love talking to readers, and meeting other writers. I love it when my author copies arrive in the post and I open the wrapping and there’s that beautiful new-book smell and I can hold it in my hand and know it’s real. I love the friendliness and generosity of the writing and blogging community, and the support that everyone offers whenever someone needs it.

In fact, I think the only part I don’t like is pressing “send” when turning in a manuscript to my editor. It seems so final and terrifying. Sometimes I have to get someone else to do it for me while I hide under the duvet. Then I spend hours fantasising about how I might invent a way to climb inside my computer and somehow claw the email back again.

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

I tend to write in the mornings, at my dining-table. Left to myself, I prefer to write in my pyjamas, but my kids’ friends call for them on the way to the bus-stop and I don’t think it’s fair to make them look at me in all my scruffy un-brushed un-showered glory just before a long day at school, so I only do the pyjama thing at weekends. I have a sort of little tray-table thingy that balances on the table so I can write standing up, and the cats come in and out and yell for cat-treats / for attention / to tell me it’s raining / because they want me to look at a dead bird. The window looks out onto the village main street, so I still feel connected to the outside world.

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about The Winter’s Child?

On the last night of Hull Fair, Susannah Harper visits a fortune-teller who gives her an unusually specific prediction: her son Joel, who has been missing without trace for five years, will come back to her by Christmas Eve. Haunted by this prediction, Susannah is gradually drawn back into a world she’d sworn to leave long ago – the world of psychics and mediums, who claim their supernatural powers will help her to bring her son home again.

I thought the way you portrayed what happens when teenage child goes missing was so absorbing and realistic. How did you go about researching detail and ensuring The Winter’s Child was realistic?

To start with, I read as many true-crime accounts of missing person investigations as I could get my hands on. (I think most writers probably have internet search histories that makes us look like serial killers.) I’m also lucky enough to have a close friend who’s a police officer, so she very kindly lent me her expertise whenever I needed it. It was the hardest part to get right, because of course every investigation is different, and technology and police work are changing all the time.

Of course, once you’ve done your research, you then have to bury it as well as possible, because fiction is never improved by the author standing in the corner yelling THINGS I KNOW ABOUT POLICE WORK LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THEM. I hope I’ve got the balance right. And of course, any mistakes about the procedural aspects of the book are totally my own.

(You most certainly have got that balance spot on.)

Having read Lily’s House, I found The Winter’s Child was quite a bit darker. How do you think your writing has developed over time and to what extent did you set out to create a more disturbing read.

I absolutely love the tradition of the Christmas Eve ghost story. One of my favourite Christmas memories is being scared to death by a creepy film about a man who sold seven years of his life to the Devil, which my dad let my brother and I watch on Christmas Eve. I wanted The Winter’s Child to be worthy of that tradition. So it was important to me that it was a really dark and unsettling story.

As for the way my writing has developed over time…I’d love to say I’ve got more confident and skilled, but I think the main thing I notice is that I’ve discovered new and different things to worry about! For my first novel, I was thinking the whole time, Can I even do this? What if I get halfway through and dry up? What if I get to the end and hate it? What if I’m just fooling myself that this is ever going anywhere? What if it’s all a colossal waste of time? These days, I worry just as much, but about different things – Is this too similar? Too different? Am I challenging myself enough? Am I challenging myself too much? Is it okay for me to write about this subject? Oh my God how will I ever hit my deadline? Which I suppose is progress, in a way.

The Winter’s Child contains some very weighty themes including mental health issues, spiritualism and marriage. How far did you plan to write about them and how far did they arise naturally as the plot progressed?

That’s a great question! I knew from the start that the theme of spiritualism was going to be central, but I think all the others just naturally came out of the process of writing.

I was overwhelmed at times by the emotion of The Winter’s Child. How were you affected by writing about Susannah and Jackie’s situations?

It was very, very hard to write, because the idea of anything happening to my son – the idea that he could just vanish without trace, and I’d never know what had happened to him – was so close to the bone for me. I honestly felt as if I was tempting fate just by letting myself think about it. And I was really aware that there are many families who are still living through this experience. I wanted to do justice to the reality of their experiences, and not exploit them.

(You have done so magnificently.)

My view of John changed dramatically several times as I read. How do you create your characters when you’re writing?

This is going to sound so unbearably pretentious, but it’s true – at the start of a project, all I know about my characters is what they’re called, and a little bit about what’s going to happen to them. Everything else emerges as I write.

With the relationship between John and Susannah, I think my breakthrough moment was through one of those would-you-rather questions. If your spouse and child were drowning, who would you save first? I realised that this was the problem at the heart of John and Susannah’s relationship: Susannah would save Joel, but John would save Susannah.

There’s often an exploration or undercurrent of the supernatural in your writing. Why is this?

I think it’s because I’m fascinated by the possibilities. Like most people, I’ve had events in my life that I experienced at the time as supernatural. I’ve dreamed the future. I’ve encountered ghosts. I’ve known in advance when close family members were going to be in danger. I once saw a family of black panthers – a mother and her litter of cubs – in broad daylight, in a field next to the M5 motorway.

Of course, I do know that “I saw them” isn’t the same as “so that means they were definitely there”. But nonetheless…

I honestly don’t know what I find more exciting – the idea that there might actually be ghosts, telepathy, Alien Big Cats, predictive dreams and psychics who can make contact with the dead, or the idea that we can be fooled by our own minds into seeing these things when they aren’t there. If we can’t trust what we experience, how can we ever know what’s real? I love playing with that ambiguity in my writing.

I was enthralled when I came to hear you read and answer questions at the Oceans of Word event. How important are events where you work with other writers and get to meet readers for your work?

I absolutely love them and I feel so lucky whenever I have the chance to take part. Writing can be quite a lonely job, so it’s lovely to make contact with other writers and share stories and experiences. And talking to readers is just a huge joy. There’s nothing more special to me than finding that people have read what I’ve written and enjoyed it.

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

Whatever I can get my hands on! I love recommendations from bloggers, and I’ve discovered so many books I’ve loved and would never have found otherwise. I’m usually reading at least two books that are new to me (currently The White City by Karolina Ramkvist and A Boy Made Of Blocks by Keith Stewart) and then a couple that I’ve loved for years (at the moment that’s Persuasion by Jane Austen and The Summer Book by Tove Jansson).

If you could choose to be a character from The Winter’s Child, who would you be and why?

It’s quite a dark story, so I don’t know that I’d want to be any of them really! I’d be one of the minor characters – probably one of the customers in the book shop.

If The Winter’s Child  became a film, who would you like to play Susannah and why would you choose them?  

It would have to be Joely Richardson. I’ve loved her in everything I’ve seen her in.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The Winter’s Child should be their next read, what would you say?

It’s a darkly gothic story, written to make a cold night feel a little colder.

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

My Review of The Winter’s Child

Susannah’s grief when her teenage son, Joel, goes missing is all consuming.

Oh! The Winter’s Child really took me by surprise. I was expecting gorgeous writing with a magical element. I got it. I was expecting deep emotion. I got that too, but I wasn’t expecting the darker side of the narrative which took me by surprise and held me enthralled.

The Winter’s Child is a darkly disturbing tale of what happens when a child goes missing. It is an insightful and hugely affecting look inside the mind of a grief stricken mother whose life has been utterly devastated and who can no longer separate truth from fiction. It is also a psychological tale and a thriller so that it is multi-layered , intricate and a fabulous read.

The quality of the writing is such that I was brought up short on several occasions by the plot and found that sometimes I was as much deluded as Susannah is by the so-called psychics she visits in her desperate bid to find Joel. I couldn’t always separate fact and fiction. Indeed, Susannah is a triumphant creation. I felt every moment of her grief with her. She’s selfish, single minded and frequently quite unpleasant or unreasonable and yet she had every ounce of my sympathy and empathy. All the characters in The Winter’s Child are incredibly realistic.

I love the use of the senses in Cassandra Parkin’s writing to create setting and atmosphere but also to convey emotion. Her writing is textured and affecting so that reading The Winter’s Child was like being immersed in an experience I couldn’t control. The depth of research that has gone in to The Winter’s Child is also totally impressive. I felt as if Cassandra Parkin must have experienced the same events as Susannah to be able to translate them onto the page so magnificently.

I loved The Winter’s Child. I found it puzzling, complex and totally absorbing. It’s a wonderful read.

About Cassandra Parkin

cass

Cassandra Parkin grew up in Hull, and now lives in East Yorkshire. Her short story collection, New World Fairy Tales (Salt Publishing, 2011), won the 2011 Scott Prize for Short Stories. Her work has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies.
The Summer We All Ran Away (Legend Press, 2013) was Cassandra’s debut novel and nominated for the Amazon Rising Stars 2014. The Beach Hut (Legend Press, 2015) was her second novel, followed by Lily’s House.

You’ll find all Cassandra Parkin’s books here.

You can find out more by following Cassandra on Twitter and visiting her website.

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winters child poster

 

No police. No private eye. No murder. A Guest Post by Robert Crouch, Author of No Bodies

No Bodies - Robert Crouch - Book Cover

It’s a welcome return for No Bodies author Robert Crouch today. Robert previously wrote a smashing guest post for Linda’s Book Bag, all about how his own blog helped his writing, that you can read here. Today’s post is a fascinating insight into how Robert has created his Kent Fisher Mysteries.

No Bodies was published on 19th October 2017 and is available for purchase here.

No Bodies

No Bodies - Robert Crouch - Book Cover

No motive. No connection.

Why would environmental health officer, Kent Fisher, show any interest in finding Daphne Witherington, the missing wife of a longstanding family friend?

The police believe she ran off with Colin Miller, a rather dubious caterer, and Kent has problems of his own when a young girl who visits his animal sanctuary is rushed to hospital.

When enquiries into Colin Miller reveal a second missing wife, Kent picks up a trail that went cold over a year ago. But he’s struggling to find a connection between the women, even when he discovers a third missing wife.

Is there a killer on the loose in Downland?

With no motive, no connection and no bodies, Kent may never uncover the truth.

No police. No private eye. No murder.

A Guest Post by Robert Crouch

No police. No private eye. No murder.

It’s hardly the most obvious way to break into today’s busy crime fiction market, but then again a grey-haired spinster from St Mary Mead was hardly conventional, was she?

When you’re faced with shelf after shelf of police procedurals, serial killer thrillers and private eye novels, you know it’s going to be difficult to come up with something fresh and original.

Inspired by the likes of Miss Marple and Inspector Morse, the urge to write a crime series gripped me so tight, I spent most of my waking hours thinking about devilish plots and the elusive protagonist who would unravel them.

It didn’t take long to realise I knew next to nothing about how the police went about solving crimes. Having worked with the police in my job as an environmental health officer (EHO), I had a reasonable understanding of the conventions and rules that governed them, but little else.

“The police would never do that!” I would shout at the TV when procedures were broken or ignored in crime dramas.

Such transgressions might be good for the story, but credibility’s crucial. Without it, how can authors expect readers to trust them?

Authors like Peter James spend a lot of time with the police to understand how they work, to discover the atmosphere and nature of the people who protect us and solve crimes. Ex-police officers who write crime stories can bring the telling details and insights that I could never hope to produce.

No, if I was going to write crime, there could be no police.

Enter Sue Grafton. After following her feisty private eye, Kinsey Millhone, through much of the alphabet, starting with A is for Alibi, the answer seemed clear. Crime fiction and drama had produced many private detectives across the decades, from the iconic Sherlock Holmes to the curious Dirk Gently.

Surely there was room for another.

The thought prompted me to develop characters who were ex-army or ex-police, people who could handle themselves in a brawl or under pressure. But after writing a few drafts these gung-ho, macho heroes seemed empty and uninteresting. And authors more talented than me had already populated crime fiction with enough cynical, world weary detectives.

Sadly, I had to say no to private eyes, despite my fondness for Kinsey.

That left me with murders. I’d watched enough crime dramas to know it was almost impossible to have a murder that didn’t involve the police. The thought of having ponderous police officers arresting the wrong suspect, as often happened in Murder She Wrote, didn’t appeal. Police officers do a difficult and complex enough job without authors tarnishing their abilities.

That left the tried and trusted plots, like a wrongly imprisoned person, a suicide that was really murder, or a historical crime that had never been solved. While these offered opportunities, I wondered if these scenarios had become a little clichéd over the years.

With a weary sigh, I turned off the computer. My determination to bring something fresh and original to crime fiction left me with no police, no private eye and no murder.

Perhaps not the finest start to my crime writing career.

Then one evening, as I reflected on a gruelling and emotional day, investigating a workplace accident that resulted in the death of an employee, an idea crept out of my subconscious.

What if someone could disguise a murder as a fatal work accident?

The police would attend, as the national protocol demands, but if the inspector in charge dismisses corporate manslaughter, an EHO would then carry out the investigation.

Cue Kent Fisher and my first murder mystery, No Accident.

No Accident

After the first few pages, it had no police, no private detective and on the surface no murder. But would readers find the story and characters credible? Could an EHO, with no training or experience in investigating crime, solve a complex and baffling murder?

To start with I couldn’t find a way to solve the case. Maybe I’d created the perfect murder. Then a publisher took an interest in the idea. This gave me the spur to find a solution, which thankfully I did.

When No Accident was published, I held my breath, worried what readers would make of the story. Fortunately, readers liked the fresh and original approach. It provided a welcome change from the usual police procedural.

One reviewer said, ‘I was fascinated by the way Robert Crouch demonstrated how a seemingly ordinary member of the public could become what is best described as a Private Eye.’

It made my day.

It meant environmental health officer, Kent Fisher, could go out and solve more cases. He could also offer readers a glimpse into his world, both as an environmentalist and someone who works to protect and improve public health.

In No Bodies, the second novel, a devastating case of E coli O157 threatens to destroy Kent Fisher’s animal sanctuary, his reputation, and derail his struggle to find the missing wife of a longstanding family friend. The evidence suggests she ran off with a younger man, a rather dubious caterer, it seems.

 ‘Do I look like Hercule Poirot?’ Kent asks, initially refusing to take the case.

No, but he knows about catering, and it isn’t long before he senses foul play.

About Robert Crouch

robert

Inspired by Miss Marple, Inspector Morse and Columbo, Robert Crouch wanted to write entertaining crime fiction the whole family could enjoy.

At their heart is Kent Fisher, an environmental health officer with more baggage than an airport carousel. Passionate about the environment, justice and fair play, he’s soon embroiled in murder.

Drawing on his experiences as an environmental health officer, Robert has created a new kind of detective who brings a unique and fresh twist to the traditional murder mystery. With complex plots, topical issues and a liberal dash of irreverent humour, the Kent Fisher mysteries offer an alternative to the standard police procedural.

Robert now writes full time and lives on the South Coast of England with his wife and their West Highland White Terrier, Harvey, who appears in the novels as Kent’s sidekick, Columbo.

You can find Robert on Facebook and visit his website. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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People and Places: A Guest Post by Claire Baldry, Author of Different Genes

Different genes

It gives me enormous pleasure to welcome Claire Baldry, author of Different Genes to Linda’s Book Bag today, not only to support Claire’s writing and Different Genes in particular, but because Claire does such a lot for charity that I feel she deserves recognition herself.

In today’s guest post, written especially for Linda’s Book Bag, Claire reflects on the how her own life experiences have helped her to create the characters and setting for her debut novel.

Published by Matador, Different Genes is available for purchase here.

Different Genes

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Sixty-one year old Louise finally learns she is adopted after the death of her mother. She embarks on a quest to reveal the secrets of her past, helped by new companion and lover, Simon, whom she meets after joining an Internet dating site.

The reader is reminded of the changing values of the post-war years, while Simon and Louise visit places from Louise’s past and meet people who knew her mother and grandmother. Together, they begin to unlock the forgotten secrets of Louise’s past – but in the face of so much change and uncertainty, can Louise let her relationship flourish?

The story is set mainly in the author’s home county of East Sussex, but finishes in Kent, when Louise and Simon finally visit her birth mother’s grave at a convent in Chatham. This journey of discovery is a charming and bittersweet mixture of romance, sadness and genuine suspense.

People and Places

A Guest Post by Claire Baldry

Although the people in Different Genes are entirely fictional, I have used much of my own life experience in the writing of this novel. Both the main characters, Simon and Louise, are in their early sixties and have been married before. They meet on the internet and, as well as embarking on a quest to find out about Louise’s past, their relationship needs to come to terms with their previous experiences in order to thrive.

I am in my early sixties and met my second husband on the internet about fifteen years ago. I well remember the way we each had to adjust our own slightly entrenched values and routines when we finally moved in together. I also think that I have included some of my own character in both Louise and Simon’s personality. I am an ex-teacher, like Louise, with a lot of experience of supporting pupils with challenging behaviour. Without wishing to give too much of the plot away, this is a skill which Louise uses when building a relationship with Simon’s younger son, Oliver. I am also a bit of a control freak, like Simon. In fact, now the book is written I see a lot of myself in him.

As regards the setting, I have only used places which are familiar to me, as I found this helped me to focus my writing. I was born in Bishop’s Stortford, and went to the Herts and Essex School which is mentioned in the novel. I moved to East Sussex in my late twenties, living in Hastings, Bexhill and Brighton and have worked in or visited all of the locations mentioned in the book. I have changed many names of roads or businesses, but most local readers say they recognise the venues.

The secrets of Louise’s past, which cannot be disclosed here, or I will reveal too much of the plot, are not part of my own experience, so required far more research. However, having worked in education for well over thirty years, I have watched the way childhood experiences impact on people’s emotions and behaviour, and this understanding was invaluable in writing the novel. If, having read the book, anyone wants to know more, please feel free to contact me via my website www.clairebaldry.co.uk.

About Claire Baldry

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In her hometown of Bexhill on Sea Claire Baldry is known as the local poet. She writes and performs lighthearted ‘Pam Ayres’ style poetry and donates the fees to charity. Her poems sometimes appear in the local paper or on local radio, and she is frequently invited to clubs, such as the WI, to read her work and talk about her writing. Earlier this year Claire and her husband Chris won the Diabetes UK South East Inspire Award for innovative ways of fundraising.

In 2016 Claire fulfilled a lifetime writing ambition and finally completed a novel. She describes it as an ‘easy read’ tale about love in later life, combined with a gripping mystery. The title of the book is Different Genes.

You can follow Claire on Twitter @ClaiBal and visit her website. You’ll also find Claire on Facebook.

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Fashion Fads and Fantasies: Three Decades of Outrageous Dressing by Lorraine Geiger

Fashion Fads

I get offered all kinds of books for review, and with literally hundreds on my TBR pile I’ve been turning down far more than I’ve been accepting of late, but when Fashion Fads and Fantasies: Three Decades of Outrageous Dressing by Lorraine Geiger popped up in return for an honest review I couldn’t resist.

Published by Albert, an imprint of Wisdom House Books on 14th August 2017, Fashion Fads and Fantasies: Three Decades of Outrageous Dressing is available for purchase from your local Amazon site.

Fashion Fads and Fantasies: Three Decades of Outrageous Dressing

Fashion Fads

A marvelous array of fashion sketches from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. None is imaginings but each is a real person in their true mode of dress as observed on the streets by Lorraine Geiger’s keen eye, and recorded in detail with artful flair. The sketches are framed by essays about the decades they appeared in, and are accompanied by original captions describing the ensembles and the context of their appearance during this era of “fashion revolt.” A great resource for students of fashion, costume designers, and anyone with a love of outrageous fashion.

My Review of Fashion Fads and Fantasies: Three Decades of Outrageous Dressing

With scores of illustrations, Fashion Fads and Fantasies: Three Decades of Outrageous Dressing gives an insight into over thirty years of fashion.

Fashion Fads and Fantasies: Three Decades of Outrageous Dressing isn’t a book I’d normally pick up but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’m not heavily into fashion and I think those who are might appreciate the illustrations and their descriptions in Fashion Fads and Fantasies: Three Decades of Outrageous Dressing with a much more discerning eye than I have. However, I was fascinated by the paintings and sketches from Lorraine Geiger over the decades. I found her style quite naive in a way which felt far more accessible and less elitist than the high fashion artwork I’ve sometimes seen. It was interesting that as the decades progressed and society changed, there were more images of men included too.

Most interesting to me, however, was less the fashion than the social history of the twentieth century that has been explored. There’s so much here from the move away from real furs, for example, to the consideration of how women’s attitudes to their own sexuality have evolved too. Reading, or perhaps it’s better to say viewing, Fashion Fads and Fantasies: Three Decades of Outrageous Dressing took me back to my 13th birthday in the 1970s and the denim trouser suit I wore so proudly and the big coats of the 1980s placed me very firmly back at university with the nylon ‘fur’ coat I got from a charity shop and am sure an old lady had died in. I’d defy anyone who lived through those decades and turning the pages of Fashion Fads and Fantasies: Three Decades of Outrageous Dressing not to be reminded of their own lives in some way.

The text that accompanies the opening to each of the three decades, as well as the explanations of the images, gives a real insight into western life at the time alongside the influences of the east. As well as igniting memories for me, I found myself wondering what had happened to those depicted as these are all real people whom Lorraine Geiger had seen.

Fashion Fads and Fantasies: Three Decades of Outrageous Dressing is both interesting and entertaining.  Never mind readers,  I think it would be a smashing book to stimulate characters for authors and to help them create novels set in the more recent past. I enjoyed it.

About Lorraine Geiger

Lorraine

Lorraine Geiger was a painter, fashion designer, and illustrator who was passionate about the visual arts. She painted in an array of mediums, and her work has been exhibited in New York City, the Hamptons, and Chapel Hill. Her earliest artistic memories were of drawing paper dolls and designing wardrobes for them. In her late teens she pursued that interest by attending the New York School of Fine Arts and Applied Design and Parson’s School of Design. In the late forties she married Albert Geiger, a custom milliner who was to become a leading designer of women’s clothes.

Lorraine worked with her husband on design and publicity. She was also involved with her husband’s freelance design projects which took them to Europe, especially Paris, Rome, and London. She loved Paris and returned as often as possible. During this period she was inspired to do quick sketches in her notebook of people on the streets who were outrageously dressed in one way or another. Over the years this led to her documenting those modes of dress in the US and abroad from the seventies until the present, by developing her rough sketches into finished illustrations.

Near the end of the eighties Lorraine and Bert retired from fashion and moved to East Hampton, NY, where Lorraine pursued her artistic endeavors, and painted at the Art Barge in Napeague. They customarily traveled to San Miguel de Allende, a well known artist colony for the winter, and Lorraine painted there at the Instituto Allende and at private studios.

In 1993 the Geigers moved to Chapel Hill. She studied figure drawing at UNC and also at the Art Center in Carrboro and continued to work on her illustrations up until her death.

She was also passionate and outspoken about social issues, and led a legal battle in New York City over the reversal of Andrew Carnegie’s wishes that Carnegie Hall remain a place for artists to live and work. She was a great inspiration to her children and grandchildren, and to all her family and friends. Her creativity, her strength, and her sense of humor strongly influenced their lives.