Write It And They Will Come? A Guest Post by Melvyn Small, author of The Darlington Substitution

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Since I began Linda’s Book Bag just over three years ago I’ve realised that smaller independent publishers have a huge task in getting their books in front of readers and the blog has evolved to try to help them do just that.

Today I’m delighted to welcome Melvyn Small of indie publishers Indipenned and author of The Darlington Substitution to the blog with a great guest post looking at how smaller publishers can work.

The Darlington Substitution is being serialised and can be read for free now on the Indipenned website or via the Indipenned Facebook page.

The Darlington Substitution

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With Watson’s literary career going from strength to strength, he secures a slot on local radio to publicise his new book.  Uncertain as how to well it went, he is still a little surprised when the recording isn’t broadcast. Although disappointed, he disregards this snub to his confidence as a peculiar but unimportant bend in the path of his literary career.

Sherlock Holmes is not so dismissive. He seizes upon the event, certain that there is more to this rebuff than meets the eye. He grills Watson to the content of his interview, convinced a key fact will reveal all. There is nothing. Watson is sure off that. An investigation ensues that takes Holmes to the end of the known world, a place just near Thirsk.

The Darlington Substitution is a retrospective account, occurring during the same time as the adventures chronicled in Holmes Volume 2. It sees Holmes at the height of his wisecracking, foulmouthed, law disregarding deductive brilliance.

Write It And They Will Come?

A Guest Post by Melvyn Small

Over the years I have had numerous ideas for novels. I thought the only things that stood in my way were my ability to eke seventy or eighty thousand words from those ideas and having no experience whatsoever as writer of fiction. If I could circumnavigate those minor hurdles, then I would have a bestseller on my hands. Following that, the likelihood was that scores of Hollywood producers would be ringing my phone off the hook. Easy!

A few years ago, yet another idea struck. As I lay slumped on my settee with the familiar companion of a glass of Hardy’s Crest (other Australian red wines are available) I had a thought. My televisual delectation that particular evening was the CBS show Elementary starring Jonny Lee Millar as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Doctor Joan Watson. I liked it. At least, I liked the idea of it. They’d taken the original work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and moved it somewhere else. My overriding thought was that they could have gone further with it.

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As it transpired, this idea for a literary masterpiece was different from all those that proceeded it. It was peculiar in that I actually got on with it and wrote the book. Actually, two books. Given I was uncertain if I could turn an idea into seventy thousand words, there is a little irony in that I managed to find one hundred and sixty thousand across the two volumes. In the interests of full disclosure, I should point that I cheated a little by writing a series of short stories. That said, I’m told the books read very much like a novel, as there is a story arc running across the piece. One reviewer described the books as an “episodic novel”. Which, in hindsight, makes sense.

If I park the reserve of my Englishness for a moment, I can tell you that these books are actually bloody good. I’m not aware of anyone who has read it and said differently. Apart from my brother who read the first page and objected to my prose. Hey-ho.

The tale that tells the story from red wine-lipped idea to paperback is a little longer than that. The story of conversations in pubs and bizarre synchronicity is well documented elsewhere, and I will therefore spare you. Suffice to say, I hooked up with an independent publishing company who helped me turn my manuscripts into very professional-looking ebooks and paperbacks.

The independently published route was very good. It got a paperback with my name on into my hand pretty rapidly. It also gave me complete freedom with respect to what I did with my books. I had a copy of the ebook to send to reviewers and a box full of paperbacks to tout around the local bookshops and send off to movers and shakers in the world of film and television. The success of the latter is still a bit of a TBC. What this freedom and independence also means is you are on your own. It means you don’t have the backing of a marketing department and the advantages of the connections of a large publishing company. The world is awash with books, some good, some not so. Therefore, it is very difficult to get the word out about a new book. It would be nice to think that if a book was good enough then the rest would be easy. I’m pretty sure that isn’t the case.

The question therefore is: Should I have explored a more traditional route to publishing? The answer is: I don’t think so. I’m quite confident that I would have spent a lot of time sending out manuscripts and received a disproportionately small number of rejection letters. The Holmes books are a cult thing. People really like them. Whether the marketing machine of a large publishing company could scale that popularity is debateable. Although the books have received good feedback from around the world, the popularity they have achieved does tend to focus around the Northeast of England. This is from where I originate and is where the stories are set.

Personally, my honest assessment is that they could gain popularity across a wider audience. I’ve seen the reviews… several times. Whether I could convince a London-based publishing company that, I will probably never know. I somehow imagine a working-class Sherlock Holmes from Middlesbrough might not be their thing.

Let’s be realistic. A publishing company isn’t going to publish a book that they don’t think will sell in large numbers. Why would they? They are a business and in they are in the business of selling books. The problem is what they think might sell is largely down to their experience of what they have already sold. They work within the world as the perceive it. You can’t blame them. We all have bills to pay. No one wants to hang their hat on a flop. However, literature is an art and art is about taking chances and stressing the boundaries of what’s gone before.

The traditional publishing route is harder than that for someone with an original idea. Many publishing companies, large and small, have stopped taking submissions from new authors. Consequently, to get your masterpiece onto the desk of a publishing company you must first convince a literary agent, with bills to pay, to see outside the established norm. This shift in how things work has resulted in literary agents facing a deluge of manuscripts to wade through. As a result of this, the agents have found a new way of working and are now looking for new authors from within the ranks of those enrolled on creative writing courses. The point here is that there are a few hurdles to cross and those involved in this process don’t appear to have an interest in expanding the artform.

This may all seem very anti the traditional publishing route. It’s not meant to be. They fulfil a need. There’s as much a place for fast food as there is gourmet restaurants. Things can happily coexist. I’ll leave it to you to decide which part of that analogy is working with the big five and which is independent publishing. If somebody starts their writing career as an indie author before getting snapped up by one of the big boys, then good on them. Let’s just hope they don’t forget us indie renegades when they do. Personally, I’d be more than happy to kick around the idea of a six-figure advance. I’m also not too adverse to moving a few things around to talk about a TV or film deal.

Failing that, I think there is a massive opportunity for both indie authors and book lovers to band together and extol the virtues of some of the great literature being created outside the mainstream. To that ends, I created Indipenned, a corner of the internet exclusive to independent literature. At the core of this is that thought the most effective form of promotion is word of mouth. If we can get enough authors, poets, small presses, book reviewers and independent bookshops to start extolling the virtues of independently-written literature, we can give indie authors a real chance. The plan is to make books more about merit and less about marketing budgets. We want to lend a hand to those working outside the world of the big corporations.

Indipenned is still in its first year. This initial period has been all about getting some of the great indie authors that are out there to join us. We’re really happy with how this has gone. Although we are still looking for authors, the focus has now shifted to letting book lovers to know about us. One of the ways in which we are doing this is by publishing a brand-new Holmes novella in the short stories section of the Indipenned website. This story has just completed a blog tour, which included some of the web’s leading book reviewers. The reviews have been brilliant.

“An interesting and enjoyable take on one of my favourite classics.”

“I giggled from start to finish with the dry humour that rolled off of each page.”

“The best novella I have ever read.”

(And if this guest post is anything to go by Mel, you deserve every success.)

About Mel Small

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Melvyn Small is the founder of Indepenned and an author of several books who also writes under the name Michael R.N. Jones.

Mel dislikes turnip and beetroot which he calls ‘the Devil’s fruit’ and is pretty pleased he no longer works in sewerage.

You can find out more by following Indepenned on Twitter @indipenned and Facebook as well as visiting the website. Mel also has a personal author website and you can follow him on Twitter @northernholmes or find him on Facebook.

Staying in with Jane Davis

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I’m always intrigued where and how authors get the inspiration for their writing so I’m delighted to have Jane Davis staying in with me today to explain a little about her latest book.

If you’re an author who’d also like to stay in with me to tell me about one of your books, please click here for more details.

Staying in with Jane Davis

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

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

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I’ve brought along my new novel, Smash all the Windows. Hot off the press, its release date is actually tomorrow.

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(How exciting. Congratulations and happy publication day for tomorrow Jane.)

You can probably sense from the title that the novel began with outrage. I was infuriated by the press’s reaction to the outcome of the second Hillsborough inquest. Microphones were thrust at family members as they emerged from the courtroom. It was put them that, now that it was all over, they could get on with their lives. ‘What lives?’ I yelled at the television.

(I can fully understand that as a catalyst for writing. It insenses me when the first thing anyone is asked is, ‘How do you feel?’ regardless of whatever news they’ve just received.)

For those who don’t know about Hillsborough, a crush occurred during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, killing 96 fans. A single lie was told about the cause of the disaster: In that moment, Liverpool fans became scapegoats. It would be twenty-seven years before the record was set straight.

It’s an incident that lives on in the nation’s collective consciousness. Many people have very distinctive memories about where they were when they heard the news. Of course, my disaster, and the miscarriage of justice that followed, is fictional. I combined two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators, and as I’ve learned from my beta readers and advance readers, there seem to be a huge number of people with escalator stories to share. I’m amassing quite a collection.

(As someone who is very claustrophobic I can identify with that totally Jane. I have to force myself onto the underground.)

What can we expect from an evening in with Smash all the Windows?

We have characters you’ll fall in love with, a structure and pace my copy editor described as ‘just fricking divine!’ and plenty of snippets that you’ll want to discuss at the water cooler.

(Sounds great!)

Whilst we have all of the drama of the disaster, the quieter scenes are among my favourites, Donovan’s in particular. That fateful day wiped out two generations of Donovan’s family. Not only his daughter and future son-in-law, but his unborn grandson. He has another source of pain, one he cannot discuss. Ever since the funeral, his wife Helene has turned her back on the world, refusing to leave the house. But surely, if he can raise money to build a monument, she might be persuaded… Donovan’s a big-hearted man, but he finds it difficult to express his emotions. There’s is a moment when he discovers a pair of his daughter’s swimming goggles in the garage. They’ve lain there, undisturbed for over thirty years, but he comes across them just after he makes the decision to allow Jules Roche to have the pieces of wood from the unfinished crib he was making for his unborn grandson. (Jules is a sculptor and his idea is to take mementos from the families and use them to create new works of art.) Donovan translates this as his daughter’s way of letting him know it’s OK.

(This sounds incredibly poignant. We readers definitely need light and shade in our reading.)

I also like the moment that lent itself to the cover image: the starling. I borrowed a snippet from one of my city walks. I was taking the stairs from the Riverside Path to London Bridge when I saw a starling sitting on a steel railing, singing its heart out. Hearing birdsong when surrounded by the traffic roar and the clang of building works is quite special and so I stood and watched. I used this moment for my character Maggie, who’s the mother of the young station supervisor who was in charge when the disaster happened. She feels her daughter is sending her a message. In fact, I find the whole issue of how people manage to stay feeling connected to their loved ones very interesting.

(Fascinating. There are certain pieces of music I can’t listen to without my wonderful Dad being right there with me. It’s amazing how our senses make connections for us isn’t it?)

What else have you brought along and why?

My guest is Jules Roche. He was the unwitting poster boy for the disaster. He has a reputation as being something of an enfant terrible, because he has a fiery temper and feeds journalists the soundbites they’re so desperate for. He reluctantly found fame after he found that the way to deal with his grief was to translate all that energy into art, in his case, sculptures. He doesn’t have an artistic background and there’s no consensus on whether the work he creates is any good. But his intention to honour the memory of his wife is pure, and integrity like that has enormous appeal. In celebration of the verdict, Tate Modern wants to stage an exhibition of his work. Jules accepts – but only on his terms. He collaborates with the families of the victims to create a series of new pieces from their mementos. For some, it becomes part of the process of letting go.

On the outside, he’s a passionate, energetic and intriguing individual, quite anti-authoritarian, unafraid what people think of him, someone who makes you feel flattered when he unlatches the door to his world and invites you in. But like many artists, it’s what’s behind the show of energy that is most interesting. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know him, even if he does try to sell you a ticket for the exhibition.

On the subject of which, you’ll have noticed that I’m wearing my Victim Thirty-four T-shirt. The families chose a blank Facebook profile as the image to the victim whose identity was never established. In a city the size of London, there are always those who slip through the cracks. In 2017, the charity Shelter estimated that one in every fifty-nine Londoners is homeless. That’s a shocking statistic – and it doesn’t include sofa surfers and what is known as the ‘hidden five per cent’ – those who don’t appear on any official registers. This is the families’ small way of acknowledging that somewhere, someone is missing those people.

(As someone who has always had a very comfortable roof over my head I find this so shocking.)

As for music, I’ve brought Donovan’s party mix – African, reggae, jazz and blues, ska and not forgetting a little Aretha. Before the disaster, he and his wife Helene used to throw the most amazing open house nights when the volume was edged up, notch by notch. Wine flowed, and when new neighbours came to the front door to ask if they could please turn down the volume, Helene would inveigle them inside. Do you get on with your neighbours?

(Ha! I do indeed and we all get together annually for a party so I’m sure a little music won’t faze them. Thank you so much, Jane, for staying in with me to introduce Smash all the Windows. I hope you enjoy tomorrow’s publication day. )

Smash all the Windows

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It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.

It will take courage to learn how to live again.

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

Smash all the Windows will be released on 12 April 2018 and is available for purchase through the links here.

About Jane Davis

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Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of eight novels.

Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.

Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Of her subsequent three novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless’. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and has been shortlisted for two further awards.

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Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.

Half-truths & White Lies

I Stopped Time

These Fragile Things

A Funeral for an Owl

An Unchoreographed Life

An Unknown Woman

My Counterfeit Self

You can find out more on Jane’s website, on Facebook and Pinterest and you can follow Jane on Twitter @janedavisauthor.

An Extract from Beautiful Liars by Isabel Ashdown

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I love a twisty thriller and am delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for Beautiful Liars by Isabel Ashdown. My grateful thanks to Tracy Fenton and Sam Eades for asking me to participate. I have a corker of an extract from Beautiful Liars to share with you today.

Published by Trapeze, part of the Orion Publishing Group, Beautiful Liars is available for purchase through the links here.

Beautiful Liars

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Eighteen years ago Martha said goodbye to best friend Juliet on a moonlit London towpath.

The next morning Juliet’s bike was found abandoned at the waterside.

She was never seen again.

Nearly two decades later Martha is a TV celebrity, preparing to host a new crime show… and the first case will be that of missing student Juliet Sherman. After all these years Martha must reach out to old friends and try to piece together the final moments of Juliet’s life.

But what happens when your perfect friends turn out to be perfect strangers…?

An Extract from Beautiful Liars

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I had been sitting on that wooden bench for a while by the time the two girls came strolling along the darkened canal path, wheeling their bicycles between them, flawless in the fractured shades of evening. I strained to tune into their conversation as their soft tones drifted towards me on the winter air, tried to make out their features as the flash of lamplight illuminated their young skin and flowing hair. Silently I left the bench to disappear myself into the shadows of the hedgerow, where I might remain unseen, invisible as a ghost. Look at them! I marvelled. They glide with the carelessness of creatures accustomed to their own beauty, for they’ve never known anything different, have they? Since their first breath, one imagines they have been told it. What a beautiful baby, strangers would have said. What a beautiful little girl. What a beautiful young woman. The one I had my eye on reminded me so much of another I’d once known, a lifetime ago, in a different place, a different time altogether. It occurred to me in that moment, as I tracked those unsuspecting fawns, that beauty is surely the strongest currency – the most potent of lures. What unsightly man or woman in possession of a great fortune wouldn’t readily swap a large part of it for just a little of that magic?

Before long, the girls paused where the footpath opens out on to the main street beyond, now only a short distance from me, continuing to speak in hushed tones.

‘It must be more than that,’ the girl in the striped hat said, turning her bike wheels towards the exit path. The elegant lines of their bodies, the juxtaposition of the two bicycles at opposing angles, seemed almost balletic in its arrangement. ‘It’s not like Liv to lose the plot so easily. Me, yes – but not Liv.’

The taller girl lifted one delicate wrist, pushing back her thick hair, a swirl of white breath drifting from her mouth like mist. ‘Honestly, I haven’t got a clue. It isn’t just you she’s been funny with lately.’ She tugged at the white tabard she wore over her winter coat, readjusting its hem to bring the Square Wheels logo into clear view.

‘She even had a go at Tom earlier,’ said the other. ‘I still reckon she’s got a thing for him. She seems to be hanging round your house a lot more lately.’

The Square Wheels girl laughed raucously, betraying her real self, and I swear I saw the brightness of her sputter like a flame in a draught. ‘No, I already asked her. She said she’d never be interested in Tom – and anyway, he’s just started seeing some girl at uni.’

It was strangely exhilarating to listen in, unseen, to hear them talk of boys in this casual, disposable fashion. I almost forgot why I was there, what it was that I came to the waterside to do. To my irritation a rush of traffic passed beyond the hedgerow, drowning out their words, though it was clear to me there was tension between them when their voices drifted back into my earshot. The striped hat girl turned her bike around to face back the way they’ve just come.

‘Can’t you leave it until tomorrow?’ asked the other. It sounded like a complaint.

‘No – the café doesn’t open up until mid-morning, does it?’ There was impatience in her voice now, her words slurred. They’d been drinking, that much was clear. ‘Anyway, I don’t want to risk someone nicking it.’

Another cyclist zipped by, going one way; a dog walker passed along the path in the other. The girls lowered their voices and I could feel the strained atmosphere between them as I struggled to listen in. But all I could make out was ‘tomorrow’, delivered with resignation in its tone. ‘Promise?’ the other one said in reply, and they embraced stiffly before the girl in the hat cycled away, her figure disappearing into the night.

For just a brief moment, the lone girl paused on the frosty path, her eyes resting on the gently rippling surface of the water, and I saw something shift in her expression. What was it? Sadness? Regret? Whatever it was, it was fleeting, vanishing entirely as she mounted her bicycle and pushed away, sailing past me, flaxen locks streaming behind her like spun gold.

‘Oh, hello!’ I called after her, feeling a surge of panic rising as I stepped out on to the path and adrenaline flooded my veins. ‘Hi!’

She came to a stop, jerkily hopping on one foot as she twisted to look back at me, her mouth breaking into a broad, gleaming smile. ‘Hi!’ she called back lightly, and she seemed pleased to see me. She had the power to paralyse, that one. ‘I’m late, aren’t I? Has everyone else headed off?’

‘No, you’re fine,’ I replied, beckoning her over. ‘Actually, I’m glad you’re here,’ I said as she approached, indicating towards the shadows at the foot of the bench. ‘I’m having a bit of trouble with this—’

As she bent to take a closer look I glanced up and down the empty towpath and hooked the fishing rope beneath her beautiful chin, tugging her up and towards me, crossing my wrists to close up the circle and shut off her breath.

Right up until that moment, I believe I had only meant to talk with her. Of course the rope was coiled and ready in my pocket, and one might gather from that alone that I had waited on the path with the sole intention of extinguishing that girl’s life. But that wasn’t how it was: the rope was merely a precaution – something I’d picked up in the cabin earlier that same evening, sliding it into my pocket without malice or plan. Even as the girl took her last gasp, as her mittened hands fumbled to gain purchase on mine, her writhing legs slowing to a weak judder, I regretted not talking to her as I had planned. If I’d just spoken with her, as I’d intended, things could have worked out quite differently. I know that now; I know now that I got a few things wrong. A little mixed up, you might say.

But I’ve always been somewhat rash; it’s a curse.

(Oh my goodness. What an extract from Beautiful Liars. I can’t wait to read the rest now.)

About Isabel Ashdown

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Isabel Ashdown was born in London and grew up on the Sussex coast. Her award-winning debut Glasshopper (Myriad, 2009) was twice named as one of the best books of the year, and she now writes full-time, walks daily, and volunteers in a local school for the charity Pets as Therapy. She is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Chichester.

You can find out more on Facebook, on Isabel’s website and by following her on Twitter @IsabelAshdown.

There is more with these other bloggers too:

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Staying in with Jackson Ellis

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In the four months since I began this Staying in with… feature on Linda’s Book Bag I have been delighted to find a whole range of newly published or new to me authors. Today I’m delighted to welcome another of those writers, Jackson Ellis.

If you’re an author who’d also like to stay in with me to tell me about one of your books, please click here for more details.

Staying in with Jackson Ellis

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

Thank you for asking!

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

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I’ve brought my debut novel, Lords of St. Thomas, which was awarded the Howard Frank Mosher First Novel Prize, and will be published on April 10, 2018 by New England-based Green Writers Press.

(Oh! That’s today. Happy publication day and congratulations on your award too. I love that cover. It reminds me of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men or Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.)

What can we expect from an evening in with Lords of St. Thomas?

Well, hopefully you will find it to be an engaging read — who knows, you may even be able to finish it in one evening!

Lords of St. Thomas is based on a real place, and one of the main characters was inspired by a real person. Allow me to explain…

(Oh, please do!)

From 2011 to 2013, I lived in Las Vegas. During this time, I visited the ghost town of St. Thomas, Nevada, on several occasions. It is a fascinating place, and the story as to why it was abandoned is really interesting as well.

During the 1930s, during construction of the Hoover Dam, the federal government bought out the residents of St. Thomas, as the town sat 70 miles northeast of the dam. It was foreseen that, within a few years of completion of the dam, the newly created Lake Mead would flood St. Thomas. Almost every resident of St. Thomas accepted the money and moved to higher ground.

One man, however, did not. His name was Hugh Lord, and he was the local auto mechanic (and also a lifelong bachelor). He remained in his home until the day the waters of Lake Mead flooded his living room. He paddled away from his porch in a rowboat, setting his house on fire in a final act of defiance.

Eventually St. Thomas was covered by as much as 70 feet of water. But finally, by 2002, the ongoing drought in the Southwest caused Lake Mead to recede, and the ruins of St. Thomas have been exposed ever since.

(What a fascinating story. I live not far from Rutland Water in the UK and all that is left of the village that was flooded for the reservoir is Normanton Church.)

It is so strange to walk through the town (now part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, administered by the National Park Service) and see old home foundations and roads, as well as sun-bleached mussel shells and rusted boat anchors scattered all around.

(I’d love to see that. I can feel one of our trips coming on…)

My novel features a character named Henry Lord, based on the real-life Hugh Lord. Only in my story, Henry Lord has a family, and a grandson, “Little” Henry, who narrates the book. “Little” Henry, narrating as an old man, details his life — and his family’s terrifying (and, of course, highly fictionalized) escape from the flood waters.

It also shows him returning to St. Thomas more than 60 years after he left to retrieve something he left behind.

(This sounds right up my street. I might just have to find a place for Lords of St Thomas amongst the other 900+ books on my TBR.)

 What else have you brought along and why?

A cup of water. After living in the desert for a couple of years, I’ll never take water for granted again.

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I grew up in New England, where water is plentiful and precipitation is common, and it rarely falls violently enough to make you feel threatened by it. In Nevada, it rains only a few inches a year — but when it comes, it storms hard, and it was viewing these insane desert storms and flash floods from my apartment balcony that inspired the escape scene in my book.

Most of the year though? It often tops ninety or a hundred degrees, and rain scarcely falls.

(Sounds like my kind of place. I love the heat. Though even I might find the continuous heat too much.)

Hiking in the desert means you have to be well prepared with a huge amount of water, and you have to listen to your body — drink when you need it (never hesitate!), and turn back as soon as you start to feel fatigued. I did solo hikes in places like Death Valley and Valley of Fire where if I’d pushed myself too hard or accidentally spilled my water, I don’t think I’d have made it out alive.

Brilliant! I think so many of us in the Western world take water too much for granted.

Thanks so much for staying in with me Jackson, to introduce Lords of St Thomas to us. I’ve found it a fascinating story.

Lords of St Thomas

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Winner of the 2017 Howard Frank Mosher First Novel Prize

Shortlisted for the 2016 Plaza Literary Prize

In the Mojave Desert, at the southern end of the isolated Moapa Valley, sat the town of St. Thomas, Nevada. A small community that thrived despite scorching temperatures and scarce water, St. Thomas was home to hardy railroad workers, farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, and a lone auto mechanic named Henry Lord.
Born and raised in St. Thomas, Lord lived in a small home beside his garage with his son, Thomas, his daughter-in-law, Ellen, and his grandson, “Little” Henry. All lived happily until the stroke of a pen by President Coolidge authorizing the construction of the Boulder (Hoover) Dam. Within a decade, more than 250 square miles of desert floor would become flooded by the waters of the Colorado River, and St. Thomas would be no more.
In the early 1930s, the federal government began buying out the residents of St. Thomas, yet the hardheaded Henry Lord, believing the water would never reach his home, refused to sell. It was a mistake that would cost him―and his family―dearly.Lords of St. Thomas details the tragedies and conflicts endured by a family fighting an unwinnable battle, and their hectic and terrifying escape from the flood waters that finally surge across the threshold of their front door. Surprisingly, it also shows that, sometimes, you can go home again, as Little Henry returns to St. Thomas 60 years later, after Lake Mead recedes, to retrieve a treasure he left behind―and to fulfill a promise he made as a child.

Lords of St. Thomas is available for purchase through the links here.

About Jackson Ellis

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Jackson Ellis is a writer and editor from Vermont who has also spent time living in Nevada and Montana. His short fiction has appeared in The Vermont Literary ReviewSheepshead ReviewBroken PencilThe Birmingham Arts JournalEast Coast Literary ReviewMidwest Literary Magazine, and The Journal of Microliterature. He is the co-publisher of VerbicideMagazine.com, which he founded as a print periodical in 1999.

You can follow Jackson on Twitter @jackson_ellis and visit his website.

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

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It’s a slightly older, non-fiction, book for review for me today and one I have read for my Deepings U3A Monday Reading Group: Do No Harm by Henry Marsh.

Do No Harm was published by Weidenfield and Nicholson, an imprint of Orion and is available for purchase through the publisher links.

Do No Harm

do no harm

What is it like to be a brain surgeon?

How does it feel to hold someone’s life in your hands, to cut through the stuff that creates thought, feeling and reason?

How do you live with the consequences when it all goes wrong?

Do No Harm offers an unforgettable insight into the highs and lows of a life dedicated to operating on the human brain, in all its exquisite complexity. With astonishing candour and compassion, Henry Marsh reveals the exhilarating drama of surgery, the chaos and confusion of a busy modern hospital, and above all the need for hope when faced with life’s most agonising decisions.

My Review of Do No Harm

A factual memoir about the life of an eminent brain surgeon, Henry Marsh.

Do No Harm opens with a fairly graphic description of brain surgery and initially I had the feeling I was going to be too squeamish to read this memoir. However, Henry Marsh writes with such eloquence that I was drawn in within a couple of pages and found myself completely held in his thrall.

What works so well in this book is the balance of factual and medical detail, explanation of procedures, hospital administration and insight into the personality of the author. Henry Marsh does not spare himself or the reader from his triumphs and disasters, his generosity and his embarrassments, so that there is a true sense of the man behind the surgical mask. I must admit I found some of the passages referring to the bureaucracy and inadequate systems our doctors and nurses have to work within made my blood boil.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the people Henry Marsh worked on and with, and have to admire the way in which he dealt with them. I’m not at all certain I could have behaved with many of them as equitably as did the author. I got a vivid sense of the people and personalities and felt that I had encountered their experiences with them because the writing is so skilful. Indeed, it is quite poetic at times. Although Henry Marsh sees himself as an ordinary man I have to disagree. He is a fantastic surgeon, a magnificent writer and a thoroughly compassionate and wonderful, if flawed, human being. It is those flaws and human frailties that make reading Do No Harm so mesmerising.

I thought Do No Harm was written with honesty, humility, humour and, above all, a real feeling of humanity. It’s a fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking read that I recommend most highly. I could not tear myself away from its pages.

About Henry Marsh

henry marsh

Henry Marsh read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University before studying medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London, graduating in 1979. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1984 and was appointed Consultant Neurosurgeon at Atkinson Morley’s/St.George’s in 1987, where he still works full time.

He has been the subject of two major documentary films: Your Life in their Hands (BBC 2003 ) which won the Royal Television Society Gold Medal and The English Surgeon (2009) which won an Emmy. He has lectured widely on the subject of hospital architecture and design, keeps bees and makes furniture in his spare time. He was made a CBE by HM the Queen in 2010. He is married to the best-selling anthropologist and writer Kate Fox.

You can find out more by visiting Henry Marsh’s website.

Staying in with Amber Elby

Cauldron's Bubble

I really enjoy young adult fiction and am always on the look out for something new so I’m thrilled Amber Elby has agreed to stay in with me to tell me about one of her YA books.

If you’re an author who’d also like to stay in with me to tell me about one of your books, please click here for more details.

Staying in with Amber Elby

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

Thank you for hosting me, Linda.  You have a lovely space for a bookworm, and I am honored to share it with you this evening.

(That’s very kind of you – though you might have to move a few books to find space to be seated!)

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

Photo Cauldron's Bubble

I brought my debut YA fantasy novel, Cauldron’s Bubble.  This is a fast-paced narrative that appeals equally to those who have carefully studied Shakespeare, such as professional educators, as well as students who have yet to be introduced to his classic tales.  The novel also seeks to empower some of Shakespeare’s weaker female characters and expand on his secondary characters as it opens new doors into his plays and introduces twenty-first century readers to his stories.

(What an utterly brilliant premise for a novel Amber. I love the concept of  Cauldron’s Bubble.)

What can we expect from an evening in with Cauldron’s Bubble?

You should expect to stay up rather late because Cauldron’s Bubble has enough suspense to keep you up past the witching hour!

Imagine that Shakespeare’s characters could interact off-stage and that their adventures could span beyond the bounds of the Bard’s fiction: Hamlet deviously escapes from the pirates who capture him on the way to England; Macbeth’s witches perform their magic on unsuspecting victims; and Sycorax awakes from the shadowy backstory of The Tempest, bent on revenge against those who stole her island.  These stories and more come to life in Cauldron’s Bubble as readers follow two new protagonists, an orphan named Alda and a cabin boy called Dreng, as they each search for something lost.

The novel alternates between their limited third-person perspectives as Alda discovers a magical bubble that transports her to Macbeth’s witches on the moor.  Dreng, meanwhile, helps Prince Hamlet escape from pirates en route to England.  The two protagonists come together on Prospero’s enchanted island, where Alda is on a quest to free Ariel, and Dreng is smitten with the mysterious Miranda.  Ultimately, Alda must find powers she gained in a forgotten realm called Netherfeld to defeat a summoner, and Dreng must awake to the realities around him before he is consumed by powerful magic.

(This sounds so exciting – and what a brilliant way to draw in readers to Shakespeare.)

After you finish Cauldron’s Bubble, you may even want to brush up on Shakespeare’s plays, so it is helpful if you have some copies on hand if you want to explore further.

(If you look above you at the book case Amber, you’ll see all of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets – I studied and taught them for years.)

What else have you brought along and why? 

Photo Tea

I brought some of my favorite tea, Yorkshire Gold, to share with you this evening.  I even brought a mug that was painted by my two daughters, but it is probably best that we not all share that.

(Brilliant mug and anyone who is a tea drinker is always a welcome guest here Amber.)

Photo Golden Hind

My two daughters are also with me.  They love to travel and explore, so I brought of a photograph of them below deck on the Golden Hind in London last March and a more recent photograph of them at the aquarium in Epcot at Walt Disney World.  Their curiosity helped motivate me to write Cauldron’s Bubble, and I derived Alda’s name from a combination of their two names; their feistiness is evident in Alda’s personality, too.

Photo Aquarium

(How wonderful. Your girls must be so proud of you and Cauldron’s Bubble.) 

My husband sends his regrets as he is home doing housework and making dinner for all of us, but I suspect he is reading a science fiction novel as well, perhaps with one of our cats on his lap.  He promised that he would clean and do chores as long as I spend my free time writing, so I plan to write a great deal and to continue to do so for the rest of my life (don’t tell him that I do it to avoid vacuuming).  My husband and I met in fifth grade and started dating when we were seventeen, and he has always been encouraging, so I am lucky to have him as my biggest fan.

(Your husband sounds a great deal like my own who does all the cooking and shopping alongside a very great deal of the housework!)

Finally, I brought an old copy of Macbeth tucked away in my purse.  I taught it many years ago at Austin’s Liberal Arts and Science Academy, which is where I first got the inspiration for Cauldron’s Bubble.  I realized then that my students had no prior exposure to Shakespeare’s plays and that they needed a bridge text to introduce them to his characters and conflicts.  Many of my students read the Percy Jackson series during the previous summer and used it to better understand The Odyssey, so I decided that a YA fantasy novel would be a wonderful introduction into the worlds of Shakespeare.  That’s how Cauldron’s Bubble came into creation!

(My old copy of Macbeth is falling apart so we can compare editions Amber.)

Thanks so much for staying in with me to tell me all about Cauldron’s Bubble Amber. I’ve really enjoyed being transported back to my teaching days.

Cauldron’s Bubble

Cauldron's Bubble

A magical bubble transports Alda through time and place to a realm of witches and curses, pirates and princes, and the lost worlds of Shakespeare. She, along with a cabin boy called Dreng, must navigate the conflicts and characters of Macbeth, Hamlet, and The Tempest. But will they escape with their lives? Or will they become lost and forgotten?

Cauldron’s Bubble is available for purchase from your local Amazon site.

About Amber Elby

amber

Amber Elby was born in Grand Ledge, Michigan but spent much of her childhood in the United Kingdom.  She began writing when she was three years old and created miniature books by asking her family how to spell every, single, word.

Several years later, she saw her first Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, in London.

Many years later, she studied Creative Writing at Michigan State University’s Honors College before earning her Master of Fine Arts degree in Screenwriting at the University of Texas at Austin.

She currently resides in Texas with her husband and two daughters and spends her time teaching, traveling, and getting lost in imaginary worlds.

You can find Amber on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter @amberelby. Amber also has a super website.

The Man On The Middle Floor by Elizabeth S. Moore

The Man On the Middle Floor

My grateful thanks to Anna Burt and the team at Red Door Publishing for inviting me to be part of the launch celebrations for The Man On The Middle Floor by Elizabeth S. Moore and for providing an advanced reader copy in return for an honest review.

Published by Red Door on 12th April 2018, The Man On The Middle Floor is available for pre-order here.

The Man On The Middle Floor

The Man On the Middle Floor

Despite living in the same three-flat house in the suburbs of London, the residents are strangers to one another. The bottom floor is home to Tam, a recent ex-cop who spends his days drowning his sorrows in whisky. On the middle floor is Nick, a young man with Asperger’s that likes to stick to his schedules and routines. The top floor belongs to Karen, a doctor and researcher that has spent her life trying to understand the rising rates of autism.

They have lived their lives separately, until now, when an unsolved murder and the man on the middle floor connect them all together.

Told from three points of view, The Man on the Middle Floor is about disconnection in all its forms; sexual, physical, parental and emotional. It questions whether society is meeting the needs of the fast growing autistic section of society, or exacerbating it.

Thought-provoking and thrilling, The Man on the Middle Floor will leave readers talking.

My Review of The Man On The Middle Floor

Tam, Nick and Karen live totally separate lives in the same house, but their lives are going to be interwoven in ways they couldn’t possibly imagine.

Well, The Man On The Middle Floor was NOT what I was expecting. I had somehow convinced myself I would be reading a fairly simplistic and entertaining humorous crime thriller. Whilst The Man On The Middle Floor is certainly entertaining, it confounded my expectations completely. I found this book disturbing, compelling and actually quite upsetting in many ways.

Readers can simply enjoy The Man On The Middle Floor as a straightforward narrative and there’s a cracking murder plot that is very satisfying. However, it is Elizabeth Moore’s exploration of who we are, of the norms of society and what places us inside or outside the boundaries of so-called normality that is so brilliantly handled. The debate between nature and nurture, about mental health and its treatment within the pages of The Man On The Middle Floor make for a frequently unsettling and always though-provoking reading.

I think some readers will be shocked and possibly offended by the frequent use of the F-word and by the sexual references, but even whilst they made me occasionally uncomfortable as a reader, I felt they did exactly what was intended. They engendered a reaction and shook me out of my complacency as a reader. In fact, so skilled is the writing that I experienced Nick’s tensions and anxieties as I read and actually loathed Karen, so that even when I understood her I couldn’t bring myself to forgive her. I actually felt the kind of uncontrollable emotions towards Karen that Nick experienced when under stress. The interconnectedness of the three main characters provides an almost claustrophobic feeling that again enhances the quality of the book. Giving Nick a first person narrative is a stroke of genius. It allows the reader to see so clearly into his mind, but also gives status to the most vulnerable and ‘abnormal’ of the characters which felt to me like Elizabeth Moore was illustrating those like Nick in society have at least equal status with everyone else, even though society may wish to treat them differently.

My heart went out to Nick completely. He reminded me of Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and by the end of the novel I felt quite emotional about him and his life.

I’m not sure if I enjoyed reading The Man On The Middle Floor as it made me feel quite voyeuristic and troubled. Elisabeth Moore took me well out of my comfort zone and that is a very good thing. I was forced to confront my own perceptions of mental health and so-called normality. Would I recommend The Man On The Middle Floor? Absolutely. Without hesitation. I think The Man On The Middle Floor is a book we should all read and talk about.

About Elizabeth S. Moore

elizabeth S moore

Elizabeth Moore has worked as a journalist since she won the Decanter Young Wine Writer of the Year at seventeen. She has written columns and articles on restaurants, politics, South Africa and all things foodie. She comes from a family that has given her a lot of writing material and is currently finishing up her second book, having written the first after completing the Faber Write a Novel course and being approached by fourteen agents after reading an excerpt of her novel to industry professionals. Elizabeth lives in London with her South African husband and has three daughters and a son as well as two lazy Labradors.

You can follow Elizabeth Moore on Twitter @LizzyMoore19 and visit her website. You’ll also find her on Facebook.

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the man on the middle floor tour poster