Staying in with Miles Montague

Carbon Game

There’s a bit of an irony in today’s blog post as I welcome Miles Montague to Linda’s Book Bag. I’ve been ‘staying in’ with authors in a virtual world for a couple of years but little did I realise how prescient an activity that might be as we’re all pretty much staying in at the moment. Indeed, I should be off to India as we speak, but world events have had other ideas.

My thanks to Ben Cameron for putting Miles in touch with me and providing a copy of Miles’ book for me to read in the future.

Staying in with Miles Montague

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

Thank you for inviting me.

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

Carbon Game

I’ve chosen Carbon Game, a political crime thriller set in the mid 1980’s.

Oo. That’s my era. I’d finished university and got married in 1983. So, what can we expect from an evening in with Carbon Game?

Carbon Game is a fast paced political, cat and mouse crime thriller set in the mid 1980’s in both Britain and South Africa. This was a time of great domestic and international, social and political upheaval.  We are taken into a world of diamond smuggling, the anti-Apartheid movement, the IRA troubles in Britain and the involvement of the Soviet Union in Angola during that period.

That sounds thrilling. I love South Africa and remember the IRA threat only too well. How did you get the idea for Carbon Game?

The idea for Carbon Game came about when I worked for a major international diamond company in London as a valuer. During that time I was told a story by a diamond buyer which really got my imagination going.

He told me that in Western Africa there was a great deal of diamond smuggling from the alluvial deposits, primarily because of the civil war in Angola.  This theme is partially shown in the film Blood Diamonds starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  The buyer went on to say that there were agents or buyers from all over the world located there and their task was to buy the best stones they could. He went on to describe how the smugglers would buy brand new 4×4 vehicles, often Land Rovers.  They would bag up their diamonds and hide them in the engine oil sump.  However, often some diamonds would escape and get into the engine mechanism which would wreak havoc.  One way the buyers would know that the smugglers were coming was the loud rattling noises coming from those broken engines.  After the smugglers had got the diamonds out from the engine sump they would often just leave the vehicle in the middle of nowhere and go buy another one.

Crikey!

These highly valuable alluvial diamonds are the best in the world.  They are quite literally beautiful as they are eroded so they have a smooth skin and when they trickle through your fingers they give a sensation that you will never forget.

They sound wonderful Miles.

I wanted Carbon Game to encapsulate that dynamic period of the 80’s. For me, it was important for the plot to be fast paced, authentic and exciting, with strong plausible characters. Two of my favourite writers, Alistair Maclean and Frederick Forsyth achieve this.  Although I carefully planned the plot,along the way I was pleasantly surprised by new ideas that came out of the blue, and new characters that stepped onto the stage. For instance, I changed the ending of the finished book in the middle of the night.  I was lying in bed in that grey zone between being awake and asleep, and at 4am a new ending came to me.  I remember thinking, ‘stay in bed, you will remember it’, but I forced myself to get up and change it.  I often get ideas during my sleep.

Gosh! That’s just as well, as you might have forgotten by the time you got up!

An unexpected dilemma I faced in re-creating the 1980’s, was how I should portray the social interactions of that time, as since that period tremendous social advancements have been made.  I chose to be truthful to the 1980’s. I get the impression from the reviews I have received that readers appreciate the authenticity of the characters.

That must be very gratifying.

What else have you brought along and why?

I’ve brought some photos which are linked to the Carbon Game‘s plot and show the area in Central London where the main event happens…

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Cranmer ‘s viewing point. Charterhouse Street to the right and Hatton Gardens straight ahead.

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Lloyds bank from which Janet Bromsgrove exits and gives the ‘Go’ signal.

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Shoe Lane where the DTC staff are evacuated to.

Now of course, you’ve intrigued me Miles and made me want to know more about Carbon Game. I’m thrilled that I have a copy on my TBR awaiting review. Thanks so much for staying in with me and telling me all about it.

Carbon Game

Carbon Game

Ex-military operative Michael Cranmer is instructed by his far Right-wing political leaders in South Africa to return to London where he has infiltrated an extremist faction within MASA, a British Left-wing movement.

A violent diamond robbery gone wrong gives Cranmer the opportunity to implement his plan to realise his party’s ambitions. He manipulates the MASA faction into carrying out his plan, little realising their leader, Janet Bromsgrove, has no intention of playing by his rules.

Meanwhile, following a tip-off from an informant, a crack team of MI5 officers closes in on the extremists.

Can MI5 prevent a bloody catastrophe on the streets of London and the downfall of governments on opposite sides of the world?

Set against the backdrop of the international anti-apartheid movement of the mid-1980s, Carbon Game is a political crime thriller that will keep you gripped right to the last page.

Published on 16th February 2020, Carbon Game is available for purchase through the links here, where you can also read the first chapter of the book.

About Miles Montague

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Miles Montague worked in London as a valuer in the diamond industry in the 1980’s.  His first thriller, Carbon Game, is set during this period.  His work taught him a great deal about the international diamond business. He has a deep interest in international politics and economics, and loves the challenge of complex plot and deep character creation required of thriller writing.

He was born in Kenya and lived there until his family, like many other colonials, returned to England in the mid 1960s.  He can still remember, as a young boy, watching the severe storm at sea when they rounded the South African coast on their way home and the swimming pool almost emptying of water as the liner lurched to the battering of waves. This gave him a love of nature and drama. So it is no surprise that today, he is turning a rundown, hilltop Italian wine-producing property into a sanctuary for nature where he can watch the storms rolling in and writing his second thriller, which is also partially set in Africa.

For more information, follow Miles on Twitter @MrMilesMontague, or visit his website.

The Power of Fiction: A Guest Post by Jo Jackson, Author of Beyond the Margin

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Jo Jackson, author of Beyond the Margin, has been a fantastic supporter of Linda’s Book Bag over the years, sharing my posts and being incredibly generous and it suddenly occurred to me that I had never actually invited Jo onto the blog. With Jo’s latest book, Beyond the Margin, on my TBR pile and sounding fantastic, now seems be a good time to ask Jo to tell me her thoughts about the power of fiction, especially as we’re living in times when escaping with a good book is more beneficial than ever.

Beyond the Margin is available for purchase here or directly from Jo here.

Beyond the Margin

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Is living on the edge of society a choice? Or is choice a luxury of thefortunate?

Joe, fighting drug addiction, runs until the sea halts his progress. His is a faltering search for meaningful relationships.

‘Let luck be a friend,’Nuala is told but it had never felt that way. Abandoned at five years old, survival means learning not to care. Her only hope is to take control of her own destiny.

The intertwining of their lives makes a compelling story of darkness and light, trauma, loss and second chances.

The Power of Fiction

A Guest Post by Jo Jackson

My latest book Beyond the Margin follows the lives of two people who live on the edge of society, one through choice, the other, a child, through circumstance. I have been struck by the profound impact it has had on readers. I quote, ‘I couldn’t put it down. I’ve had tears, smiles, bits I’ve struggled with because of the unbelievable sadness – full rollercoaster of emotions. It’s not an easy read but a brilliant one.’

It has made me think about my emotions whilst writing it and of the power of fiction. As a family psychotherapist I worked with young people in care. Stories such as those found in my novel were not unusual. Do those who work in the caring professions become immune to what they hear? From experience I know that is not true, but they do develop internal mechanisms which help them to cope. Over time nothing surprises them.

Harrowing is a word that has been used to describe my recent book. I didn’t find it harrowing to write because I was simply telling how it is for many young people. What I hadn’t stopped to appreciate was that the events would be out of the immediate experience of many readers who would find it uncomfortable and disturbing though ultimately uplifting.

Do we read fiction to be entertained, or to escape, or to explore and explain aspects of life beyond our own experience in order to develop empathy and understanding? Do we want to read about different lives, or do we choose books that mirror our own? Where a novel reflects difference does it help those people to feel understood and included? Of course there is a range of answers, no one more right than another.

But what about authors? What is their responsibility? Might there be unintended consequences of what they write? Should they have a purpose other than to write a bestseller? To educate, to shock, to fantasize, to soothe, to amuse. I never sat down and thought about my books in that way. They were vague ideas that I allowed the characters to write. I trusted them to take me on their journey and they did.

Crime novels and psychological thrillers have been popular amongst readers for a long time and consequently amongst agents and publishers. A circle of supply and demand. These books often describe violent acts, in graphic detail, including sexual violence. The television series with the highest ratings reflect the same genre and, in my opinion have become ever more violent. The soaps display conflict, argument, betrayal. The recent trailer of one champions, ‘Family is everything’. That’s not about kindness and love but about fighting to the death. What happens when your ‘family’ is a gang, an ethnic or a religious group or one that holds extreme views, right or left?

What is the effect on readers or viewers? I worry that many young people are growing up thinking conflict and violence in relationships is the norm. I can offer no evidence of this, other than anecdotal. Beliefs are influenced by what we see and read, and behaviours are learned through a slow process of absorption. By the same means I was writing what I knew, about situations that had become familiar to me and then was surprised when readers described my book as harrowing.

It may be a false perception but recently I have become aware of what appears to be a growing popularity for romantic novels. More being written, more being read. There may be a gender bias here or an age demographic. I wonder if it is a reaction to the challenging world we live in and an ever greater need to find something more gentle where love and happy endings provide joy. An interesting PhD for a literature student perhaps.

I describe my books as contemporary literary novels because they don’t fit into any specific genre. It’s also what I like to read. I love stories about other cultures. I prefer character driven narratives rather than fast moving plots. Amongst my favourite authors are Marilynne Robinson and Gerbrand Backer. My favourite book is ‘God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy. All are writers who paint pictures with words.

What’s important is that everyone likes something different but it’s good to occasionally stop, reflect and ask why.

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Thank you so much Jo, for such a thought provoking guest post. In the difficult times we find ourselves in I suspect many of us will be turning more and more to books for company of all kinds.

About Jo Jackson

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Jo Jackson reads books and writes them too. Having worked with some of the most vulnerable people in society she has a unique voice apparent in her second novel Beyond the Margin.

She was a nurse, midwife and family psychotherapist and now lives in rural Shropshire with her husband. She loves travelling and walking as well as gardening, philosophy and art.

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Her first novel Too Loud a Silence is set in Egypt where Jo lived for a few years with her husband and three children. Events there were the inspiration for her book which she describes as ‘a story she had to write’.

You can follow Jo on Twitter @JoJackson589 or visit her website for more information. You’ll also find Jo on Facebook.

Don’t Think A Single Thought by Diana Cambridge

Don't think a single thought

I love literary fiction and I’d been hearing lots of wonderful things about Don’t Think A Single Thought by Diana Cambridge so when publisher Louise Walters offered me a copy in return for an honest review I was delighted to accept. I had intended to post this review on my return from India in April, but with world events as they are and India having nullified our visas and closed its borders we’re obviously not going this week!

Published by Louise Walters Books, Don’t Think A Single Thought is available for purchase here.

Don’t Think A Single Thought

Don't think a single thought

1960s New York, and Emma Bowden seems to have it all – a glamorous Manhattan apartment, a loving husband, and a successful writing career.

But while Emma and her husband Jonathan are on vacation at the Hamptons, a child drowns in the sea, and suspicion falls on Emma. As her picture-perfect life spirals out of control, and old wounds resurface, a persistent and monotonous voice in Emma’s head threatens to destroy all that she has worked for…

Taut, elegant and mesmerising, Don’t Think a Single Thought lays bare a marriage, and a woman, and examines the decisions – and mistakes – that shape all of our lives.

My Review of Don’t Think A Single Thought

Emma Bowden epitomises glamour and a perfect life, but appearances can be deceiving.

More of a novella than full length novel, Don’t Think A Single Thought packs a powerful punch as Diana Cambridge shows the reader into Emma’s mind with unnerving precision. Emma is a woman who appears to have everything and yet is haunted by her past, by the voices in her dreams and her present fears, so that I found her equally distasteful, hypnotic and disturbing. Indeed, Emma could be said to represent something rotten in the heart of modern society.

Emma is so very obviously shaped by her past, and the drip feeding of information about her is quite creepy and shocking. Her refusal to think about previous events illustrates perfectly how we redefine ourselves, create false memories and delineate our identities. The psychology behind Emma’s character is very unsettling and made Don’t Think A Single Thought feel quite Hitchcock thriller like in many ways, especially as some of the events are seen through the prism of Emma’s depression so that we are unsure how guilty or innocent she is.

However, Emma is also created partly by the patriarchal society in which she lives. I found her therapist’s and her husband Jonathan’s behaviour towards her quite insidious but pitch perfect in describing the wealthy American life of the 1960s and the role women had – or rather, were given. Diana Cambridge generated swirling feelings in me as I read. I didn’t like Emma and Jonathan, but as their relationship was explored and uncovered I was compelled to observe them until I felt as complicit in their behaviours as they are. From finding Emma superficial initially, I realised how brilliantly I was being manipulated by Diana Cambridge’s writing, making me respond to Emma much as Johathan does, until I was shocked and saddened by Emma’s life and rather contemptuous of my own early reactions. Diana Cambridge controlled my responses through intelligent prose that is sparse, sharp and sinister.

Don’t Think A Single Thought explores self-deception, guilt and truth hugely effectively. The balance of power in marriage, the nature of love, family and parenthood and the fickle world of society make this book utterly fascinating. Emma’s mental health seemed to me to be a universal theme that might apply to any one of us in any situation, making for a salutary and affecting reading experience.

Don’t Think A Single Thought is an intelligent and captivating insight into modern life, mental health and marriage. I found it absorbing, fascinating and very unsettling. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

About Diana Cambridge

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Diana Cambridge is an award-winning journalist. She has written for many national newspapers and magazines, gives regular writing workshops, and is a Writer-in-Residence at Sherborne, Dorset. She is Agony Aunt to Writing Magazine. She lives in Bath. Don’t Think a Single Thought is her first novel.

You can follow Diana on Twitter @DianaCambridge for more information.

Endless Silent Scream by Tony J Forder

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My enormous thanks to Sarah at Book on the Bright Side for inviting me to participate in this blog tour for Tony J Forder’s latest book, Endless Silent Scream, the sixth book in his DI Bliss series.

It’s been my pleasure to host Tony J Forder here on Linda’s Book Bag several times. I was lucky enough to ‘stay in’ with Tony to discuss Scream Blue Murder in a post you can read here and I shared my review of that book here.

Other posts include a guest piece from Tony about The Cold Winter Sun imperative you will find here, an inspirational post about becoming a writer here when Bad to the Bone was published, and Tony also told us about writing outside his comfort zone here and he allowed his characters Bliss and Chandler from The Scent of Guilt to introduce each other here.

Published on 9th March 2020, Endless Silent Scream is available for purchase here.

Endless Silent Scream

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From the author of the bestselling DI Bliss crime series comes another gripping police procedural thriller that will have readers hooked from the stunning first page to the very last.

He saved her once. Can he do it again?

When DI Bliss prevents fifteen-year-old Molly from jumping from a hotel roof, he has no idea their paths will cross again. A county lines mule, Molly is questioned by the drugs squad, but Bliss becomes convinced she is in danger and attempts to have her relocated. A local drug dealer and a London-based enforcer have other ideas.

Meanwhile, the remains of a freelance journalist are discovered alongside an archaeological find, which brings an old flame back into Bliss’s life. It’s only a matter of time before reports emerge linking the murdered journalist with the police, putting pressure on the Major Crimes team to find the killer.

Bliss is torn between the two investigations. Desperate to move Molly to safety before she can be reached by those who want her silenced, he is blinded to other dangers.

The stunning DI Bliss series of fast-paced police thrillers will appeal to fans of authors like Michael Connelly, Joy Ellis, Peter James, Robert Bryndza and Angela Marsons. Tony J Forder is also the bestselling author of Degrees of DarknessScream Blue Murder and Cold Winter Sun.

My Review of Endless Silent Scream

When DI Bliss rescues Molly from the roof top, a chain of events he couldn’t have foreseen ensues.

I thoroughly enjoyed Endless Silent Scream. Interestingly, during the time I was was reading the book there was a television programme about a murder and how it was solved. So many features of that programme were echoed by Tony J Forder’s writing that I was astounded by the authenticity and insight this book has. Although this is the sixth book in the DI Bliss series, the fact I haven’t read all the others made no difference. Bliss’s back story is woven in to Endless Silent Scream naturally so that I had enough information fully to understand his personality and reactions in this story.

The plot has all the elements that make for a fast paced and intriguing crime thriller and give a fascinating insight into the murky world of crime I’m glad I only have to read about. With themes and events linked to drugs, ethnicity, sex, violence, the media and everyday policing in twists and turns there’s something for every crime reader. Alongside the compelling and multi-layered plot there is such a warm underpinning of humanity through the protagonist that I thought elevated Endless Silent Scream above some other police procedurals I have read. I thoroughly enjoyed being shown the inner person behind Jimmy Bliss and the way in which his experiences in the job affected him. I felt Tony J Forder did this with such sensitivity and grace that he really brought home how human those we rely on to keep us safe truly are. Indeed, I felt quite emotional about Jimmy Bliss as the book came to a close!

I found the Peterborough setting fascinating. Although it wouldn’t have affected my view, Peterborough is my nearest city and I recognised the place so vividly through the writing. This enhanced my enjoyment further, but again, it wouldn’t matter if I’d had no knowledge of the area either because the sense of place is brilliantly created through Tony J Forder’s excellent writing.

Endless Silent Scream is a hugely entertaining crime story with enormous heart that is carefully crafted. Reading it has made me want to catch up with the entire series. I really recommend it.

About Tony J Forder

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Tony J Forder is the author of the bestselling crime thriller series featuring detectives Jimmy Bliss and Penny Chandler. The first four books, Bad to the Bone, The Scent of GuiltIf Fear Wins, and The Reach of Shadows, were joined by The Death of Justice, on 9 September 2019 with book number six, Endless Silent Scream, on 9 March 2020.

Tony’s dark, psychological crime thriller, Degrees of Darkness, featuring ex-detective Frank Rogers, was also published by Bloodhound Books. This is a stand-alone serial-killer novel. Scream Blue Murderan action-adventure thrillerwas published in November 2017, and received praise from many, including fellow authors Mason Cross, Matt Hilton and Anita Waller. The sequel, Cold Winter Sunwas published in November 2018.

Tony lives with his wife in Peterborough, UK, and is now a full-time author. He is currently editing a new novel, and has also started on Bliss number 7, Slow Slicing.

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

You’ll find all Tony’s books here and he’s also on Goodreads and Fantastic Fiction.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

BLOG TOUR (2)

Staying In With Alison Layland

Riverflow

Way back in 2015 when I’d first begun blogging and my posts were pretty poorly designed (sorry Alison), I had the privilege of interviewing Alison Layland all about her novel Someone Else’s Conflict. You can read that interview and my review of Someone Else’s Conflict here.

Today, in what I hope will be a much more visually appealing post, I’m delighted to be staying in with Alison to hear about another of her books.

Staying in with Alison Layland

Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag, Alison. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me after the awful looking post I gave you before!

My pleasure; it’s lovely to be back here – you’ve supported me since the beginning of my journey as a published author. And there’s nothing I enjoy more than a cosy evening in, talking about books and stories in such lovely company!

You’re most welcome Alison. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

Riverflow

I’ve brought along my second novel, Riverflow – because it’s my latest and because it plays out against a background of environmental issues, which are incredibly important to me.

And to me Alison. I’m delighted to have a copy of Riverflow on my TBR awaiting reading. What can we expect from an evening in with Riverflow?

I was thrilled when Waterstones picked Riverflow as their Welsh book of the month in August 2019, with the description: “The devastating effects of climate change are brought terrifyingly close to home in a gripping psychological novel exploring family, community and loss.”

Gosh. Congratulations and tell me more.

Those family secrets, and the mystery revealed as the plot progresses, mean I won’t want to give away too much about the content. However, it unfolds against a background of rural life, including my central characters’ off-grid smallholding, and environmental protest, so there will still be plenty to talk about, from the flood-prone local riverside pub that inspired the location, through to my own growing involvement in environmental activism. This began with a visit to the Preston New Road anti-fracking protests, both to lend my support and as a bit of hands-on research for the novel.

Now I am intrigued. I can’t wait to read Riverflow and see what happens!

What else have you brought along and why?

As well as a nice bottle of wine, I’ve brought a couple of my home-made cordials – rosehip and elderberry – for you to try.

I’m not so good with wine, but I love the sound of those cordials. Rosehip takes me back to my childhood!

Over the last couple of years I’ve really got into foraging and getting food and drink from plants many of us know as weeds, thanks to our lovely local forest school, Woodland Classroom, who have expanded to run bushcraft, wild food and foraging days for adults. Who knows, if it’s a mild night, maybe we can buck the “staying in” trend and go outside for a while to enjoy a campfire (I’ll bring our portable firepit if necessary!) – just the kind of evening my central characters, Bede and Elin, would enjoy.

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That would suit me perfectly. I’d much rather be outside than in if I can!

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And if you fancy it, we could round off the evening with a wee dram of Riverflow whisky – not made especially for the book, I’m afraid, but I was delighted to discover it, nevertheless!

Riverflow whisky

That’s brilliant. What a happy coincidence!

You’ll notice I’m wearing an Extinction Rebellion badge.

I wondered about that. Why Extinction Rebellion?

Despite my central character Bede’s growing disillusionment with the effectiveness of protest, as I wrote about past and present environmental campaigns in Riverflow, which are fictional but loosely based on real events, it increasingly made me want to get more directly involved myself.

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As  Extinction Rebellion emerged in late 2018, I joined my lovely local group and have never looked back. Like the activist community portrayed in the novel, XR groups are warm, friendly communities – far from the antisocial extremists they are sometimes portrayed to be. Here in Oswestry & Borders, as well as protest we do a lot of practical work for the community, such as repair cafes and tree planting.

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I do have some entertaining stories from the spring and autumn actions in London as well, though!

I bet! That takes me back to my university days when I was in environmental groups.

Hawthornden Castle

I’ve also brought some photos of various places I stayed while writing the novel. My writing process includes occasionally going away for a few days at a time to immerse myself in the world of my book. I was very lucky to be awarded a fellowship at the beautiful Hawthornden Castle in Scotland, which involved a whole month’s writing retreat together with five other authors and poets in the wonderful setting of the castle and its surrounding woodland; I wrote a substantial part of the first draft of Riverflow there. However, that was an exception; my writing retreats are usually a bit more down-to-earth. As well as house-sitting for friends, a couple of my AirBnB stays have included a permaculture farm, and a gypsy caravan on an offgrid smallholding, which my daughter and I later revisited when looking for settings for the book trailer video she made for Riverflow. I think she captured the atmosphere brilliantly, and I’m very proud of her and her film-making skills!

I loved that trailer video. It’s hugely atmospheric and made me want to read Riverflow even more. What a talented daughter you have.

Alison, it’s been lovely hearing all about Riverflow and I am very much looking forward to reading it. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat all about it. You pour us a glass of something and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag Readers the information they need about Riverflow.

Riverflow

Riverflow

Deep water. Dark secrets. Dangerous neighbours.

After a beloved family member is drowned in a devastating flood, Bede and Elin Sherwell want nothing more than to be left in peace to pursue their off-grid life. But when the very real prospect of fracking hits their village, they are drawn in to the frontline protests. During a spring of relentless rain, a series of mysterious threats and suspicious accidents put friendships on the line and the Sherwells’ marriage under unbearable tension. Is there a connection with their uncle’s death? As the river rises under torrential rain, pressure mounts, Bede’s sense of self begins to crumble and Elin is no longer sure who to believe or what to believe in.

Published by Honno, Riverflow is available for purchase in all the usual places, including directly from the publisher here.

About Alison Layland

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Alison Layland is a writer and translator who has told herself stories for as long as she can remember. She first started writing them down for others to share when she moved to Wales in 1997 and a Welsh language course led the way to creative writing classes. She won the short story competition at the National Eisteddfod in 2002.

She studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge University, and after a brief spell as a taxi driver worked for several years as a chartered surveyor before returning to her first love – language. She translates from German, French and Welsh into English, and her published translations include a number of award-winning and best-selling novels. She also writes fiction, published by Honno Press.

Someone Else’s Conflict, her debut novel, was a Debut of the Month for January 2015 on the Lovereading website. Her second novel, eco-themed psychological thriller Riverflow, was chosen as Welsh book of the month for August 2019 by Waterstones.

You can find out more by visiting Alison’s website, following her on Twitter @AlisonLayland and finding her on Facebook.

You Never Told Me by Sarah Jasmon

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With Sarah Jasmon’s The Summer of Secrets one of my earliest reviews here on Linda’s Book Bag, I was thrilled when Sarah got in touch to see if I’d like to read her latest book You Never Told Me. I loved the quality of The Summer of Secrets (even if I hadn’t a clue then how to set out a blog post) and jumped at the chance to read You never Told Me. My enormous thanks to Sarah and Black Swan for my very early copy.

You Never Told Me will be published on 19th March by Transworld and is available for pre-order here.

You Never Told Me

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A year ago, Charlie’s life seemed to be following a plan: she had a beautiful house, a lovable dog and an upcoming wedding. But she felt trapped. A few months before the big day, ignoring the warnings from her family, she abandoned her life and fled to the other side of the world in a bid for freedom.

But when her mother unexpectedly falls ill, Charlie has to cut her trip short. She flies home, but by the time she gets to the hospital, it’s too late.

Her mother is gone, but she’s left a mystery behind. Why did she buy a canal boat, and where did the money for it come from? As Charlie attempts to work through her grief and pick up the pieces of her life, she follows the threads of her mother’s secret past – but has she missed her chance to learn the truth?

My Review of You Never Told Me

Charlie’s on her way home – if only she knew what that meant.

I just loved You Never Told Me. It’s not a fast paced visceral thriller or a bright and breezy uplit, but rather a mature, thoughtful, luxurious and beautifully written exploration of identity and belonging that I found utterly convincing and affecting. It may sound a strange way of articulating it, but You Never Told Me feels like a high quality, enduring, product in a throwaway world.

Sarah Jasmon writes with such persuasive authority. Her descriptions appeal to the senses so that reading You Never Told Me is a very visual experience. Her personal boating experience means that every aspect relating to the canal and the boat is exquisitely defined with the effect that the reader feels transported to her settings so vividly. The boat and its surrounds are every bit as important as the people in this story. I loved too the natural direct speech and the extended, integral and organic metaphor of water and life. There’s a richness here that is so satisfying as it underpins an intense, claustrophobic atmosphere that made me feel quite wistful.

Initially I thought Charlie was reckless, selfish and immature, but as Sarah Jasmon gradually uncovered Charlie’s personality, her background and her thoughts, I found her an incredibly human, flawed and believable character whom I cared about without question. Charlie embodies what so many women think and feel, as she struggles not only with her own identity, but that of her mother. Since I finished reading the book I have been thinking about her, wondering how she is getting on!

Indeed, it is the theme of identity that makes You never Told Me so absorbing. Sarah Jasmon explores how well or little we know ourselves, let alone others, how we make assumptions about others and how we never really ask the right questions until it is too late. It is through this exploration of identity that the mystery of Britta and the past is so skilfully portrayed. I found it mesmerising.

I thoroughly enjoyed You never Told Me. It is the kind of book that slides deeper and deeper into the reader’s mind the more it is read until it is impossible to put down or to forget once it is read. It’s moving, atmospheric and elegantly written and I really recommend it. It’s fabulous.

About Sarah Jasmon

Sarah Jasmon lives on a canal boat in Lancashire, which is also the setting for her two novels – The Summer of Secrets and You Never Told Me. She has written short stories for a wide selection of publications and in 2018 was shortlisted for the Harper’s Bazaar short story competition. She is an Associate Tutor in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, and is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Geography.

You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahontheboat. You can also visit Sarah’s website for more information.

The Blessed Rita by Tommy Wieringa for #Boekenweek2020

blessed rita cover

Last year I was away touring Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia and I wasn’t able to participate in Boekenweek so I’m delighted to take part again this year and would like to thank Ruth Killick for inviting me. If you’d like to see which book I featured in 2018, please click here! Boekenweek has been celebrating Dutch fiction since 1935 and with so much wonderful writing in translation I knew I had to be part of this year’s celebrations.

Today, alongside my review, I have the opening to share with you from The Blessed Rita by Tommy Wieringa, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett, so that you can see the poetic quality of the writing for yourself.

Published by Atlantic imprint Scribe on 12th March, The Blessed Rita is available for purchase here.

The Blessed Rita

blessed rita cover

In a certain sense, nothing had changed two men in a house and a half-century passing without a ripple but seen with the light from a different angle, none of it had remained the same.

What is the purpose of a man? Living in a disused farmhouse with his elderly father, Paul Krüzen is not sure he knows anymore. The mill his grandfather toiled in is closed, the glory of the Great Wars is long past, and it has been many years since his mother escaped in the arms of a Russian pilot, never once looking back. What do they have to look forward to now?

Saint Rita, the patron saint of lost causes, watches over Paul and his best friend Horseradish Hedwig, two misfits at odds with the modern world, while Paul takes comfort in his own Blessed Rita, a prostitute from Quezon. But even she cannot protect them from the tragedy that is about to unfold.

In this darkly funny novel about life on the margins of society, Dutch sensation Tommy Wieringa asks what happens to those left behind.

An Extract from The Blessed Rita

Paul Krüzen spat on his hands, seized the handle, and swung the axe over his head. The log on the chopping block burst open, but didn’t cleave. Birds seeking evening shelter in the trees fled into the dusk. Furiously twittering blackbirds burst through the undergrowth. Paul Krüzen brought the axe down, again and again, until the chunk of oak parted. Then it got easier. The pieces flew. Woodchips everywhere, spots of light on the forest soil. Let the axe do the work, his father had taught him long ago, but what he liked was to put some power behind it.

A few pale stars appeared in the sky. Deep below that, in the clearing in the woods, the demon swung his axe. He made it crack like a whip. Blocks tumbled through the air. The beeches all around, strong and smooth as a young man’s arms, shivered with each blow.

This was his life: he put wood on the block and he split it. His shirt stuck to his body. Jabs of pain in his lower back. Each blow found its mark. He had been doing this for so long, all with measured, controlled haste. He had to sweat; it had to hurt.

He swiped his armpits with roll-on and put on a clean check shirt. ‘I’m off,’ he told his father, who was reading in his chair beneath the lamp.

The evening air was chilly, with a whiff of celery above the grass. With the car window open, he drove to the village. Three jarring speedbumps. Speed ramps and roundabouts were a mark of progress, of a jacked-up pace of living that had to be slowed down, even in Mariënveen, where the clodhoppers tended to get themselves killed at the weekend. Once every couple of years, Paul Krüzen would sit straight up in bed, awakened by the impact, the sirens, and the whine of chainsaws a little later, the play of phantom light on the oaks along the curve. The next morning, he would see that yet another wedge had been ripped from the bark. In recent years, the bereaved sometimes placed flowers and photographs beside the tree.

Paul pulled up in front of Hedwig Geerdink’s place. He rang the bell and went back to wait in the car, the door open. He had no thoughts at all. Early June, the last light on the western horizon. A little later, Hedwig slid in beside him. ‘Good evening, one and all,’ his friend said in his high voice. Hedwig had two voices: the high squeaky voice, or his low, hoarse, chesty one. Anyone hearing him for the first time immediately saw him split in two: the high Hedwig and the low Hedwig. Horseradish Hedwig, as they called him in the village.

Paul pulled his legs into the car, closed the door, and drove into the village.

My Review of The Blessed Rita

Paul Krüzen’s small village life contains more than he might imagine.

I so enjoyed The Blessed Rita. It’s rare outside the crime or thriller genres that I read books with a male protagonist and I found The Blessed Rita an evocative and moving portrait of a man in middle age. I don’t often make comparisons with other books, but The Blessed Rita felt rather like Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, but more literary in style.

I thought the writing was super. The book’s structure, as it moves between past and present events, needs concentration and I would recommend reading The Blessed Rita in a sustained way, but it is such a worthwhile narrative. Poetic language, frequent humour and bleak atmosphere make the story thrum with emotion. The translation by Sam Garrett has retained an authentic and particularly Dutch atmosphere, so that the entire reading experience is of quality and depth. Each chapter seems to end with a quiet poignancy that is actually curiously piercing too. I found this hugely effective and affecting. Admittedly, I found some of the sexual and racial viewpoints expressed by some of the minor characters uncomfortable, but Tommy  Wieringa is displaying all too clearly the attitudes of so many against those who are different. There are a few sexually explicit scenes too, but I thought they were sensitively handled as a means to show Paul’s loneliness and longing and they are never gratuitous.

Paul’s story has a poetic and moving understanding from Tommy Wieringa. His character shows how the complex patterns of the past make us who we are now. Personal, geographical, political and historical aspects layer into Paul’s personality making him a fascinating person. Friendship, loyalty and the almost physical pull of home underpin who Paul is and make the reader long for him to achieve a better and more fulfilled life. His relationships with his parents and Hedwig are desperately sad and because the book ends rather ambiguously, I haven’t been able to stop wondering what is happening to Paul now. I so want him to be happy.

The Blessed Rita is literary, engaging and atmospheric. It takes the reader into the heart both of a Dutch community as well as an ordinary man with scalpel sharp precision. I really enjoyed reading it.

About Tommy Wieringa

tommy

Tommy Wieringa was born in 1967 and grew up partly in the Netherlands, and partly in the tropics. He began his writing career with travel stories and journalism, and is the author of several internationally bestselling novels. His fiction has been longlisted for the Booker International Prize, shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Oxford/Weidenfeld Prize, and has won Holland’s Libris Literature Prize.

About Sam Garrett

sam

Sam Garrett has translated some fifty novels and works of nonfiction. He has won prizes and appeared on shortlists for some of the world’s most prestigious literary awards, and is the only translator to have twice won the British Society of Authors’ Vondel Prize for Dutch–English translation.

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