The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise

Emperor of Shoes Cover Image

I had been sent a copy of Spencer Wise’s The Emperor of Shoes by lovely Katherine Sunderland of No Exit Press in return for an honest review and then when I was asked if I would like to participate in the launch celebrations with Anne Cater‘s Random Things Tours I jumped at the chance.

The Emperor of Shoes is available for pre-order through these links.

The Emperor of Shoes

Emperor of Shoes Cover Image

Alex Cohen, a twenty-six-year-old Jewish Bostonian, is living in southern China, where his father runs their family-owned shoe factory. Alex reluctantly assumes the helm of the company, but as he explores the plant’s vast floors and assembly lines, he comes to a grim realization: employees are exploited, regulatory systems are corrupt and Alex’s own father is engaging in bribes to protect the bottom line. When Alex meets a seamstress named Ivy, his sympathies begin to shift. She is an embedded organizer of a pro-democratic Chinese party, secretly sowing dissonance among her fellow labourers. Will Alex remain loyal to his father and his heritage? Or will the sparks of revolution ignite?

My Review of The Emperor of Shoes

Alex Cohen lives in the shadow of his overbearing father as they manufacture shoes in China.

I am going to find it hard to define The Emperor of Shoes because it is partly a love story, partly a social commentary and partly a terrifyingly truthful examination of identity at all levels from the very personal to racial and national. Wherever a reader might want to place The Emperor of Shoes, it is a prodigious example of affecting and effective writing. I can’t believe this is a debut novel and although it initially took me a short while to attune myself to the writing, once I got into its rhythms I thought it was wonderful.

The Emperor of Shoes is a remarkable book. Spencer Wise conveys with razor sharp accuracy the ways in which corruption and exploitation lead to our Western products so that I have to admit to feeling very uncomfortable at times as I read. I loved the way the book is grounded in the author’s personal knowledge through the Jewish and shoemaking elements and the social and political history of China so that there is complete and convincing authenticity. The blatant corruption of officialdom and the bullying nature of Alex’s father are truly awful, but at the same time, Spencer Wise manages to convey humour and vulnerability so that what should be quite a bleak read is tempered by love and integrity.

The quality of the prose is so good. Every sense is catered for and the variety of sentence structure creates the perfect emotion in every scene. There are apposite expletives that work in giving a vibrancy and immediacy to the story. This is particularly the case with the direct speech which I could hear totally clearly and naturally in my head as I read.

I loved the plot of The Emperor of Shoes too. It reverberates with deception at all kinds of levels making for a tense and taut narrative. I always felt as if everything could implode at any moment so that I felt as alien and anxious reading the book as Alex seems to feel in China under the control of his father. It takes incredible skill for a writer to create such a response.

I’m not really doing justice to the Emperor of Shoes. I found it complex, multilayered, totally absorbing and, sometimes, uncomfortably fascinating. I would urge you to read the book and see for yourself.

About Spencer Wise

Spencer Wise

Spencer Wise’s family has been in the shoemaking business for five generations. In addition to working at a shoe factory in South China, Wise has professional experience ranging from gutting chickens and selling ginsu knives to editorial work at Sports Illustrated and Time Out New York. His writing has appeared in Narrative magazine, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Florida Review, and New Ohio Review. He is the recipient of the 2017 Gulf Coast Prize in nonfiction and a Vermont Studio Center fellowship. He has a PhD from Florida State University in creative writing and teaches at Augusta University.

You can follow Spencer Wise on Twitter @SpencerWise10 and visit his website for more information.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

FINAL Emperor of Shoes B T Poster (1)

Staying in with Sally Brandle


I’m so pleased to welcome Sally Brandle to Linda’s Book Bag today as Sally has a philosophy of equality behind her writing that I think we sadly still need!

Staying in with Sally Brandle

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Sally. 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?


I’ve brought The Hitman’s Mistake, my debut novel and the first of seven I’ve written. It’s recently published (June 2018) and I’m hopeful it encourages hesitant women to draw on their inner strengths to become equal partners with men in their lives.

(Now that’s a philosophy I can endorse whole-heartedly Sally!)

My heroine has faced the loss of her family by becoming inconspicuous while tending plants in downtown Seattle office buildings. Witnessing an attempted mob hit throws her into a deadly spotlight directed by a crooked policeman affiliated with the wealthy mobster. Once her escape begins, I’m not responsible for a reader’s actions. My dental hygienist scolded me. She’d planned to start the story and then be in bed by eleven o’clock to face work and kids off to school the next morning. At three AM, she finished reading the book. Warning given!

(That sounds the kind of book Linda’s Book Bag readers will really enjoy.)

What can we expect from an evening in with The Hitman’s Mistake?

Miranda Whitley lost the bright colors from her life when she lost her family. Grant, the FBI agent she turns to for help, brings much more than pale shades to her palette. Sanctuary in a gray world loses appeal once she’s discovered the fuchsia shades of attraction and golden gleam of family. Add that to the autumn colors of Montana and Big Red, a smart mule, and her world’s been painted with possibility.

Here’s the opening:

Frissons of apprehension raised the fine hairs on her forearms. A shadow moved near the stairwell.

Stepping inside the elevator car, she hit the button for the lobby with her fist, refusing to allow the reminder of her heartbreaking mistake to take hold in her head. Must be weird evening lights playing tricks in the empty building.

(Sounds brilliant Sally, and not a little disconcerting from the off!)

The Hitman’s Mistake won and finaled in several contests (under the former title, A Mule, A Mob Hit, and A Mountain of Trouble). Many judges were complimentary and offered great suggestions. Here’s a quote from one, “Keep up the good work! Seriously, I don’t know how you can with judging being hidden, but make sure you announce when this book is done. I want to read it!” I truly appreciated the encouragement and try to provide similar praise when I judge.

(That’s my philosophy of my blog. I review the books I enjoy and those I don’t like so much I keep quiet about!)

What else have you brought along and why? 


I’ve brought along two photos. The first is my garden, which I look upon while I write. From the lake, my trees provide privacy, not unlike Miranda’s row of plants in the Seattle Justice Building.

(What a fantastic view. So much better than mine – just take a look out of the conservatory at the back…)


The second photo is the four-legged and beloved equine in my life. My husband and sons are wonderful, but this twenty-eight year old gentleman takes me on wonderful trail rides and helps me revisit fond memories of childhood. Owning my first horse as a mature adult is akin to stepping into a delightful new chapter in a favorite book.

(I’m sure your husband doesn’t mind that you have a younger man in your life – as long as he has four legs Sally!)

Soul Mate Publishing purchased the second book in this series, Virtue and Vengeance, in which the heroine is afraid of horses. A miniature colt helps her overcome her fear. Each of my books in this series has an equine as a secondary character. I firmly believe animals provide the unquestionable love we need at the right moment. The next series I’m working on is romantic suspense, but with a scientific twist. I’d love to hear if readers are interested in that realm. It’s not futuristic, but poses the ‘what if’ question of good science gone bad.

While a witness and FBI agent escape mobsters, they can’t escape falling in love.

It sounds as if your writing and horses are going to be keeping you busy Sally. Thanks so much for sparing an evening to stay in and tell me all about The Hitman’s Mistake. I’ve really enjoyed finding out about it.

The Hitman’s Mistake


She needs his trust, he needs the truth. After Miranda Whitley stops crooked cops from assassinating a prominent Seattle judge, she’s next on the hit list, and her survival depends on the man she’s had one awkward encounter with—buff FBI Agent, Grant Morley. But can she find him in time?

The last person Grant expects to discover on his annual horseback trip delivering supplies to a Montana mountain hermit is alluring Miranda Whitley, nearly dead from a bullet wound in her side. An accidental witness or the cold-blooded accomplice to would-be assassins?

Miranda must convince Grant of her innocence, evade the killers intent on preventing her testimony, and fight her unwanted attraction for the agent…an attraction which seems to be mutual. Fortunately, love thrives in Emma Springs.

If you love sizzling chemistry, determined assassins, and Montana scenery, then you’ll love Sally Brandle’s galloping thriller.

The Hitman’s Mistake is available for purchase on Amazon.

About Sally Brandle

2013-10-28 sallyheadshot

Multiple award-winning author Sally Brandle writes clean, contemporary, romantic suspense stories. She left a career as an industrial baking instructor so that she could bring to life her stories of courageous women supporting one another while they discover men who deserve their love.

A member of Romance Writers of America, Greater Seattle RWA, Eastside RWA, and She Writes, Sally’s current series, Love Thrives in Emma Springs, is set in rural Montana. You can find out more by visiting Sally’s website, finding her on Facebook, Goodreads and Pinterest and by following Sally on Twitter @sallybrandle.

Staying in with Tony J Forder

Scream Blue Murder

I’m just delighted that I have author Tony J Forder staying in with me today because I count Tony as a friend, and he has been so generous with features for Linda’s Book Bag in the past.

When Bad to the Bone was published, Tony wrote an inspirational post about becoming a writer here.

Tony also wrote about writing outside his comfort zone here and he allowed his characters Bliss and Chandler from The Scent of Guilt to introduce one another here.

Staying in with Tony J Forder

Thank you so much for staying in with me Tony and welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?


There are several reason why I decided to bring along my third book, Scream Blue Murder. The idea for this book came to me during a period when I was hardly doing any writing at all. I was working very hard, and my physical condition wasn’t great (like my crime series character, DI Bliss, I have Meniere’s Disease), and I barely had the mental wherewithal to write, let alone find the time. But I scratched and shaped the book to about the halfway stage and then did not know where to go with it next, so I shelved it.

(I’m sorry to hear that Tony. I have tinnitus and having spent last summer with nausea and passing out you have my sympathy.)


When I was made redundant in December 2016 and decided to take my writing seriously again, I already had both Bad to the Bone and Degrees of Darkness written, and needed something new to write. I thought Scream Blue Murder was ideal to get my teeth back into, as I had always liked the storyline. There was another, more personal reason for finishing the book, but I’ll save that for later.

(Oh – tantalising.)

I have to say that once I got started on this again I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, and for the first time I allowed the characters to unfold and dictate the flow. There are a couple of villains here whose parts were supposed to be much smaller, yet they ended up playing significant roles in the story. This is also the book I was writing when I got my first publishing deal with Bloodhound Books, so it means a great deal to me for that reason alone.

I imagine it does. So, what can we expect from an evening in with Scream Blue Murder?

Scream Blue Murder is an action-adventure book, fast-paced and hopefully thrilling. This represented a challenge for me, because my other books are written in the third person from a central character’s point of view. This featured a first person POV narrative for the main character, plus many scenes from the POV of other characters. It was a test, and I changed my mind three times whilst writing it, but it was the right POV to use and I could not have been happier with the final result.

(I know many writers struggle with POV Tony so I imagine this was quite a challenge.)

The book was critically well-received, and I got the following quotes from fellow authors whose work I admire:

“Forder didn’t spare the horses when writing Scream Blue Murder. This book rockets along, a breathless action-packed ride. Perfect reading for fans of Simon Kernick and Jeff Abbott.” Matt Hilton, author of the Joe Hunter thrillers. 

“An action packed, twisty thriller. Great stuff.” Mason Cross, author of the Carter Blake thriller series.

“I would urge you to buy this book – there’s something special about it, and it’s a full five stars from me.” Anita Waller, bestselling author of 34 Days.

(My goodness. You must be so proud of those responses.)

The other thing about the book is that it was only ever intended to be a stand-alone. However, I became so involved with and engaged by the characters, that by the time I entered the final quarter of the writing stage I knew I had to write a sequel. I deliberately made the lead character, Mike Lynch, a man the reader wouldn’t immediately take to. There’s a danger in doing that, because some people might stop reading because they can’t buy into the character. But I wanted a man who was down on his luck, a man who was depressed and veering towards drink again, and then have his luck get even worse. Only this time he has two people to protect along the way, and so he is forced to dig deep and become the man he once was. I realised that to counteract the way some might feel about Mike early on, I had to ensure the early scenes compelled the reader to continue despite their feelings towards Mike. Given some of the nice things reviewers have said about Mike, I think I was largely successful.

(It sounds as if Mike has become genuinely human through your writing. I really want to meet him now and must read Scream Blue Murder as soon as I can.)

The sequel I had already started even before Scream Blue Murder was sold, is now completed. Cold Winter Sun is a part mystery, part suspense, part thriller, part fun novel, most of which takes place in New Mexico. Once again it features a large range of characters, and I hope to have it released later on this year.

(Then you must come back to the blog to tell us more about it. You’d be very welcome Tony.)

What else have you brought along to share and why?


The book has a simple dedication to my father. Sadly, he passed away before I managed to get my first novel published. But one of the other reasons why I felt compelled to finish Scream Blue Murder was because I actually started writing it back when my father was still with us, and a major reason why I chose to write an action-adventure book was because, though my dad had once loved those kind of books, especially from the likes of Alistair McLean, he had lost his love of reading in recent years. I began writing Scream Blue Murder because I hoped he would enjoy it, and more so that it would get him back on the path of reading books again. He never got to read it, but I like to think he would have enjoyed it. I’ve never told anyone that, and I know when my step-mother reads this part she’ll be blubbing.

(Just like I am now. Pass me a tissue from that box on the windowsill. Your Dad would have been so proud of you. Your comments feel really emotional to me as it’s two years tomorrow when my Dad had the massive stroke that took 17 weeks to kill him and I was feeling a bit tearful already…)


But it really was for him. So, I’ve brought along a photo of us together, and also a photo of a band he and I absolutely loved. My dad and I mostly talked sport together, but music was also a passion we shared, and our love of Steely Dan was something we could discuss all night long if you let us. Though there were many greats songs to choose from, our favourite (which was played at his cremation ceremony) was Reelin’ In The Years, off the band’s first album, Can’t Buy A Thrill. Here’s a link to the song.


Oh Tony! I’m in pieces. Thank you so, so much for such a personal insight into Scream Blue Murder. This has been a wonderful evening and my absolute privilege to host you here.

Many thanks, Linda, for the opportunity to provide this insight into one of my books.

Scream Blue Murder

Scream Blue Murder

Mike Lynch is going through hard times. But things get much worse when he witnesses a murder in a lay-by. Snatching the victim’s car in order to get away, Mike soon makes a shocking discovery – the victim’s young daughter and her nanny are hiding in the rear footwell. This is when the real trouble begins.

Mike wants to go to the police, but the nanny, Melissa, wants to delay until the daughter, Charlie, is somewhere safe. Mike agrees to this request before finding out the seriousness of the situation, and just how much danger they are really in.

Who exactly was the man he saw murdered? And who is the man he saw pulling the trigger?

In a situation where nothing is what it seems, Mike will have to fight for his life to protect a woman and a child he doesn’t know. And when the death count rises, he will discover what kind of man he really is.

When you can’t identify the victim, how can you find the killer?

Scream Blue Murder is available for purchase here.

About Tony J Forder

Tony and display

Tony J Forder is the author of the critically acclaimed crime thriller Bad to the Bone, the first in a series featuring DI Jimmy Bliss and DC Penny Chandler. The second book in the series, The Scent of Guilt, was released in March 2018.

Some years ago, Tony won a short story competition judged by an editor from Pan Books. The story, Gino’s Bar and Grille, went on to be published in Dark Voices 2, part of the celebrated Pan Book of Horror series. Three further short story sales followed: Book End, published in Dark Voices 4Character Role, in FEAR magazine, and finally A Grim Story, which featured in A Rattler’s Tale. It was the start of Tony’s publishing journey.

On 19 September 2017, Tony’s dark, psychological crime thriller, Degrees of Darkness, featuring ex-detective Frank Rogers, was also published by Bloodhound Books.

Now a highly successful crime writer, all Tony’s books can be found here.

You can follow Tony on Twitter @TonyJForder, visit his website and find him on Facebook.

The Adventures of Milo and Elvis: Little Paws Journey Begins by John Fogarty

milo and elvis

You are all probably aware that I’m simply not taking on new books or joining new blog tous at the moment as life is a tad ‘busy’. However, when John Fogarty asked me if I’d like a copy of The Adventures of Milo and Elvis: Little Paws Journey Begins in return for an honest review I simply couldn’t resist. Anyone who knows me knows I am a real cat fan…

The Adventures of Milo and Elvis: Little Paws Journey Begins is available for purchase here.

The Adventures of Milo and Elvis: Little Paws Journey Begins

milo and elvis

This story is based on the adventures of two kittens who are brothers from the same litter. The pair join a small family home, where in particular they find a friend in 6-year-old Jack. They enjoy the adventures of learning about their new surroundings, inseparable throughout their journey.

My Review of The Adventures of Milo and Elvis

Kittens Milo and Elvis are off on some adventures.

The Adventures of Milo and Elvis is a charming children’s book. I think children aged 6 or 7 could easily read it independently. There is a sufficient level of difficulty to expand their vocabulary too so that there are educational elements as well as an engaging story, particularly through the onomatopoeic buzzing and hissing of the swans for example. The Adventures of Milo and Elvis would also make an accessible story to share at bed times as there are distinct sections to read over several sessions.

The adventures of the two kittens are exciting and there is sufficient peril and danger to appeal to children without frightening them. I especially liked the inclusion of other animals that children will enjoy. The travel elements give extra pace and entertainment too. All the different escapades provide lots to discuss with children making this a really fun read.

There’s a very good balance of text to picture and the photographs of the kittens are extremely appealing so that even very young children will enjoy this book, even if they can only look at the pictures.

I really liked The Adventures of Milo and Elvis and I think children will too. I do have a word of warning for adults though – children seeing this book are going to pester and pester for a couple of kittens just like Milo and Elvis too and I don’t blame them!

About John Fogarty

john fogarty

John Fogarty was born in Birmingham, UK and has worked in the travel industry where he continues to do so, as well as working within the learning sector. John has utilised this experience in creating his first children’s book.

John took his inspiration from his very own two cats and produced this adventure story to share with children and families alike to entertain and enjoy reading.

John has just joined Twitter @JohnFog06236590 if you’d like to give him a follow.

The Yellow Bills by Michelle McKenna

Yellow Bills Cover

I frequently review children’s books on Linda’s Book Bag and was delighted to be invited by Anne Cater to take part in the tour for The Yellow Bills by Michelle McKenna.

The Yellow Bills is published by Matador and is available for purchase here.

The Yellow Bills

Yellow Bills Cover

Mya loves planes and wants to be a pilot when she grows up. As luck would have it she comes across a flying school run by lieutenant Drake who awards his pupils splendid pilot hats when they graduate. Mya wants to join the class but there’s just one problem. She’s not a duck! Could Goose the little duckling with big flying ambitions be the key to Mya getting her pilot’s hat? Or will Mr Sour the teacher who never quite made the grade have other ideas…

Inspired by authors such as Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl and Angela Sommer-Bodenburg, Michelle weaves a story with the humour and invention of Nick Ward’s ‘Charlie Small’ series meets Dick King Smith’s wonder of the animal world.

My Review of The Yellow Bills

Mya loves planes and wants to fly, but it’s not easy when you’re only 8.

The Yellow Bills is a smashing book for children because it manages to blend fantasy with talking ducks and control towers hidden in trees, for example, with real themes and issues of importance to children today.

Mya is a mixed race child which gives much needed status to similar children. The fact that she is a girl making model aircraft, wanting to fly and having exciting adventures challenges gender stereotyping without the young reader actually realising. I loved that approach because it feels natural and uncontrived. Similarly, Officer Peacock’s status despite her physical disability sends exactly the right messages that we are all worthy of success and respect regardless of our physical abilities.

There’s a highly satisfying plot for young children and I thought the language of the writing was perfectly pitched. There’s sufficient challenge in some of the vocabulary so that children can learn as they read or are read to, but the whole story is completely accessible too.

However, Michelle McKenna prevents The Yellow Bills from being too idealistic and sachharine through her excellent portrayal of character. Mya is by no means perfect. She sulks and gets cross, often doing things she knows her Mum wouldn’t like. Mr Sour is vindictive and a bully. These characteristics afford the opportunity to discuss similar aspects in a child’s life as a result of the reading so that I think The Yellow Bills offers more than just a great story to share.

The Yellow Bills is a really good children’s book with smashing themes and a great storyline and I really recommend it.

About Michelle McKenna

Michelle McKenna

During the day Michelle works part time in an office in London and then gets home to her full time job looking after two little fab ones. Michelle has been writing stories on and off for years but The Yellow Bills is the first time she’s had the confidence to put her children’s story into print. She finds her inspiration for writing is on the train journey to and from work. When she was younger one of her favourite stories to read was (still is) Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In fact she loved it so much she used to try and think of ways to see how she could change her name to Alice. She was about seven so had to listen to her Mum, who said she couldn’t change her name until she left home. By the time that day came she decided she didn’t mind being called Michelle after all. Michelle’s other favourite’s are Roald Dahl’s, The BFG and The Little Vampire by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg.

You can  follow Michelle on Twitter @michellemckenna or visit her website. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Yellow Bills Blog Tour Poster

At Home with Rosie Howard, Author of The Homecoming, with UK Giveaway

the homecoming

A little while ago I reviewed The Homecoming by Rosie Howard and thought it was a wonderful book. You can read my review here.

Today, it’s paperback publication day for The Homecoming and I’m absolutely delighted that Rosie is allowing me to give away three signed paperback copies of The Homecoming to lucky UK readers. Even better for me, I have been hosting a regular ‘staying in with…’ feature here on Linda’s Book Bag but Rosie has turned the tables and invited me over to Havenbury to spend an evening with her for a change!

The Homecoming is published by Allison and Busby and is available for purchase here.

The Homecoming

the homecoming

Maddy fled the idyllic market town of Havenbury Magna three years ago, the scene of a traumatic incident she revisits most clearly in her dreams. Even so, when she is called back to help at the Havenbury Arms when her godfather Patrick suffers a heart attack, she is unprepared for the welter of emotions her return provokes.

Psychologist and ex-army officer Ben is sure he can help Maddy to resolve her fears, until he finds himself falling for her, and struggling with a recently uncovered family secret of which Maddy is blissfully unaware.

Then Maddy’s mother, Helen, arrives and Patrick himself must confront a few uncomfortable truths about his history and the pub’s future.

An Evening in Havenbury with Rosie Howard

Hi Linda, thanks so much for joining me this evening. What fun to have company, and what could be better than to be here at home, talking about Havenbury– a world which feels more like my home than anywhere I have ever been.

Hi Rosie, thank you so much for inviting me!

I would almost always rather stay in, than go out, wouldn’t you?


Normally I’m a great fan of a roaring fire a comfy chaise longue with lots of cushions and a large glass of red, but that hardly feels appropriate in all this heat. So here we are instead, lounging on a couple of steamer chairs, enjoying the last of the sun in a garden filled with roses, honeysuckle and pots of lavender with the sound of the church bells from a country wedding, competing with the pigeons cooing on the chimney stacks. Heaven!

Especially with a well-iced negroni in hand. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m more of a negroni girl than a G &T girl nowadays, because there’s nothing better than gin diluted with – well – yet more alcohol and if it makes memories of the evening before a bit hazy then sometimes that can be a good thing can’t it?

Actually, any alcohol makes everything hazy for me Rosie. I don’t drink much so it has a quick effect!

So, no, I don’t go out much nowadays, especially when I’m writing, but luckily the characters in my books are a bit more adventurous or nothing would ever happen. That said – I have made sure my Havenbury series – set in idyllic rural Sussex – is packed with homes you would never want to leave. The Homecoming is the first in the series, and the central theme is what ‘home’ really means to my central character, Maddy. When we meet her, she has been dragged back to Havenbury by a crisis and she struggling to stay where she really needs to be because of a terrible and mysterious past event. Not being able to remember it makes her feel she wants to run away, which – of course – doesn’t solve anything. My hope is that readers will be intrigued by the mystery of this and other secrets that emerge from the past. All ends well though – perhaps not in the way readers think it might – but it centres on whether Maddy will be able to recognise and accept where she truly belongs. Her mother Helen has a similar challenge in being forced to try and make sense of past mistakes and perhaps putting them right at last and there are other characters who have their story to tell too.

Oh, I am so pleased to hear The Homecoming is the first in the series as I loved it Rosie. Do you read much?

I read a lot myself; I adore books by writers such as Veronica Henry, Jill Mansell and Carole Mathews and one of the many features I love about them, is the way they create a complete world you want to inhabit. That means – among other things – giving readers the chance to bond with several characters across a wider age range. Nowadays I am a little dissatisfied by books where you would imagine no-one other than girls in their late twenties and men in their early thirties even existed.

As a woman approaching 60 rapidly I couldn’t agree more!

Of course, there are so many stories out there set in pretty areas of the country such as the Cotswolds, Devon and Cornwall and I love them all. There have been quite a few though… I live in a community much like Havenbury and I adore the idea of seducing readers with a world inspired by my own life near Arundel in Sussex. In Havenbury there is the river Haven, growing from an icy trickle on the chalk Downs to a wide, majestic river, flowing through the port of Havenbury Magna and then weaving its way across the coastal plain to the sea. Nestled side by side in the Downs are the villages of Little Havenbury and Havenbury Green with cosy cottages, a duck pond and cricket pitch. This is where Serena and Giles live with their two boys. They are the hosts of the Bespoke Consortium, a group of local craftspeople who Maddy – with her commercial brain – takes in hand. In contrast is the bustling market town of Havenbury Magna. The Havenbury Arms pub is halfway up the cobbled High Street, right in the centre of town. It is threatened with destruction by the evil pub companies but to lose it would be a disaster for the characters in the community who want to see it remain. Some of these characters have their time in the spotlight in future stories, so I hope readers enjoy meeting them. Our hero Ben, an ex-army psychology lecturer lives in his own little gem of a home – a converted wooden boathouse on the river at the foot of town – and his house was one I particularly enjoyed imagining and bringing to life. In fact, the building that inspired it is real. There is a café on the river in Arundel where I often sit and drink coffee, looking at the houses on the opposite bank. Ben’s is one of those, – although I have no idea what it really looks like inside…

Maybe we’ll find out in the next book?

I admit, there are days, when the world of Havenbury feels more real to my than my own, but don’t we all like to escape sometimes?

Yes we do!

The irony is that so many of us – like Maddy – are trying to run away, but really we are trying to return to our own sense of ‘home’ – our place, where we feel we belong. With this admitted compulsion to create a sense of ‘home’ in my stories I sometimes wonder whether I am some damaged soul trying to heal myself of my past. It is not that I had a terrible childhood, but I did feel rootless; I was largely educated in a series of Convent boarding schools – raised by nuns – whilst my parents were living abroad because of my father’s work. My parents eventually bought a house in the little village where I live now with my family. Sadly my parents are no longer living there, but we have firm friends in the community and are bringing up our family in a little brick and flint house with roses around the door.

I am home at last. Now Linda, are you ready for a top up?

Oh, yes please. And whilst we let UK readers enter the giveaway for The Homecoming, maybe you can give me a sneak preview of the next Havenbury book…

About Rosie Howard

rosie howard


With a father in the forces and the diplomatic corps, Rosie Howard spent much of her childhood in UK boarding schools, joining her parents in exotic destinations during holidays. After obtaining a degree in music she pursued a career in public relations, campaigning, political lobbying and freelance journalism but realized her preference for making things up and switched to writing novels instead. She lives in a West Sussex village with her husband and two children in a cottage with roses around the door.

Follow her on Twitter: @RosieHowardBook and visit her website. You’ll also find Rosie Howard on Facebook.

UK Signed Paperback Giveaway of The Homecoming

the homecoming

For your chance to win one of three signed paperback copies of The Homecoming by Rosie Howard, click here.

UK only. Giveaway closes at UK midnight on Sunday 22nd July. Good luck!

The War In The Dark – The Original Soundtrack: A Guest Post by Nick Setchfield

War_in_the_Dark cover

With truth being stranger than fiction in recent months in the UK The War in the Dark by Nick Setchfield seems to me the perfect book for us all to read and I am delighted to be part of its launch celebrations. I’d like to thank Lydia Gittings at Titan for inviting me to participate, especially as I have a fabulous guest post from Nick all about the soundtrack that inspired his writing of The War in the Dark.

Published by Titan on 17th July 2018, The War in the Dark is available for purchase here.

The War in the Dark

War_in_the_Dark cover

A genre-defying page turner that fuses thriller and speculative fiction with dark fantasy in a hidden world in the heart of Cold War Europe.

Europe. 1963. And the true Cold War is fought on the borders of this world, at the edges of the light.

When the assassination of a traitor trading with the enemy goes terribly wrong, British Intelligence agent Christopher Winter must flee London. In a tense alliance with a lethal, mysterious woman named Karina Lazarova, he’s caught in a quest for hidden knowledge from centuries before, an occult secret written in a language of fire. A secret that will give supremacy to the nation that possesses it.

Racing against the Russians, the chase takes them from the demon-haunted Hungarian border to treasure-laden tunnels beneath Berlin, from an impossible house in Vienna to a bomb-blasted ruin in Bavaria where something unholy waits, born of the power of white fire and black glass . . .

It’s a world of treachery, blood and magic. A world at war in the dark.

The War In The Dark – The Original Soundtrack

A Guest Post by Nick Setchfield

I suspect all books have soundtracks and all writers are their own Tarantinos, raiding crates of vinyl to match music to the images in their head. Some of these playlists will be deliberately curated as writing triggers: tracks that cue action beats or conjure mood or bring your emotions just a little closer to the page. Others will be the unconscious playlists we all accumulate: the music that seeped into our bones across the years, shaping the stories we tell and the way we tell them, maybe without us ever quite realising their impact on our choices. If writers are sensory vampires then music is one of life’s great blood banks.

I found music endlessly inspiring when I was writing The War in the Dark. Given it’s a ‘60s espionage tale – albeit one with bone magic and rather more demons than is entirely healthy for national security purposes – it’s no wonder that the sound of John Barry was a key inspiration. Barry’s scores for the classic James Bond movies capture the romance of shadows and the glamour of secrets like no other composer. They can be lush and heart-filling – Flight Into Space from Moonraker belongs in a cathedral, frankly – or coiling with serpentine menace (much of the Thunderball soundtrack sounds like a sinister, globe-threatening masterplan in orchestral form). I would listen to Barry’s sweeping, scene-setting cues and the places I’d created in my mind would begin to feel more real, more resonant, cities and landscapes I could touch and inhale and explore. If I played a faster, more pulse-troubling piece then my action sequences seemed to edit themselves.

Barry also scored The Ipcress File, another ‘60s spy film but one that was very much the inverse of Bond. Its nicotine-stained world of surveillance and street corners was also a big influence on The War in the Dark, and there’s a pinch of Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer in my hero, Christopher Winter. If I listen to the title theme I’m standing there in a charcoal-shaded post-war London, keeping watch as dusk falls, just like Winter on page one. The very DNA of spycraft is in that piece of music – and I hope it transferred to the page.

It’s not only movie soundtracks that fuelled my story. Pop music was just as vital. My lifelong god David Bowie inevitably casts a skinny but significant shadow across the book. “Heroes” – his true, essential Berlin album – helped to ground the scenes set in that city, bringing its nervy gloom of border guards and bombed-out buildings into focus. Sons of the Silent Age – track four on “Heroes” – was especially inspiring, with its eerie, oblique lyrics about men who “just glide in and out of life” so pregnant with secret meanings that the code-breakers of Bletchley Park would have had a field day.

Bowie’s dissolute warlock persona from the mid-‘70s was also an influence on the character of Hart, another fey Englishman dabbling in the darkest of arts. Listen to Station To Station – the majestically ominous opening to the album of the same name – and you’ll catch a little of Mr Hart’s chill and power (“Here are we, one magical moment, such is the stuff from where dreams are woven”…). In fact there’s so much Bowie embedded in the book that I ended up anticipating him for the only time in my life: the Blackstar video has a bejeweled saint’s skull, just like the one that plays a crucial role in a later chapter.

Beyond Bowie I took inspiration from Kate Bush, whose song Hounds of Love took inspiration in turn from Jacques Tourneur’s horror-noir Night of the Demon (“It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”), a tale of tweed suits and demonic runes that fed directly into The War in the Dark. Inspirations are cannibals, that’s the beauty of them. John Foxx’s Europe After The Rain – which I stole the word “colonnades” from – and Ultravox’s Vienna were also fixtures on my internal playlist, both songs in thrall to that deeply early ‘80s idea of Europe as some glamorous, marble-cool fantasy land, the perfect backdrop, perhaps, to a tale of spies and magic…

And finally: Michael Caine by Madness. The song that rose to the top of my Most Played list as I wrote the book. There’s the obvious Harry Palmer connection, of course, but it’s a glorious, underrated song that nails the loneliness and melancholy of espionage as much as it hymns the tight-suited cool of The Ipcress File. If Hart’s embedded in Station To Station then you’ll find Christopher Winter within its heroic chords and paranoid words.

But this is my soundtrack to The War in the Dark. Inevitably you will have your own, just as you’ll conjure your own faces for Christopher Winter and Karina Lazarova and the mysterious Mr Hart, just as you’ll explore your own Berlin and Vienna and Skeleton Coast.

I’d love to hear your playlist.

Nick Setchfield

(Oh. I do hope blog readers will come back and tell us after they’ve read The War in the Dark, Nick.)


Flight Into Space by John Barry

Search for the Vulcan by John Barry

The Ipcress File by John Barry

Sons of the Silent Age by David Bowie

Station To Station by David Bowie

Blackstar by David Bowie

Hounds of Love by Kate Bush

Europe After The Rain by John Foxx

Vienna by Ultravox

Michael Caine by Madness

About Nick Setchfield


Nick Setchfield is a writer and features editor for SFX, Britain’s best-selling magazine of genre entertainment in film, TV and books. A regular contributing writer to Total Film, he’s also been a movie reviewer for the BBC and a scriptwriter for ITV’s Spitting Image. The War in the Dark is his first novel. He lives in Bath.

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