Here and Now by Santa Montefiore

It’s been my absolute pleasure to attend several wonderful evenings at Simon and Schuster thanks to Sara-Jade Virtue and TeamBATC where I’ve had the privilege of hearing Santa Montefiore speak and read from her books, but until now I’ve never got round to reading one. I’m delighted to rectify that omission today by sharing my review of Here and Now. My grateful thanks to SJV for providing me with a copy of Here and Now in return for an honest review.

Here and Now is published by Simon and Schuster and is available for purchase here.

Here and Now

Peopled with wonderful characters, it’s funny, sad, poignant and heart-warming, a tough subject tenderly handled. Have some tissues handy’ Choice Magazine

Faced with losing everything, all that matters is Here and Now . . .


Marigold has spent her life taking care of those around her, juggling family life with the running of the local shop, and being an all-round leader in her quiet yet welcoming community. When she finds herself forgetting things, everyone quickly puts it down to her age. But something about Marigold isn’t quite right, and it’s becoming harder for people to ignore.

As Marigold’s condition worsens, for the first time in their lives her family must find ways to care for the woman who has always cared for them. Desperate to show their support, the local community come together to celebrate Marigold, and to show her that losing your memories doesn’t matter, when there are people who will remember them for you . . .

My Review of Here and Now

Marigold keeps forgetting things.

I am absolutely furious with myself for not having read Santa Montefiore before because Here and Now is an absolutely perfect example of women’s fiction and it brought me total joy to read it.

The plot is so deftly handled that each strand combines into a wonderful read. I loved Daisy’s secondary story particularly and was desperate for her to have a happy life of her own but it is Marigold’s narrative that is the most affecting. Touching upon a difficult and emotive subject as Marigold’s condition worsens, Santa Montefiore gives absolute control to Marigold by presenting her thoughts and experiences directly to the reader. We do find how Marigold’s memory loss impacts others, but instead of diluting her experience or presenting it only from the perspective of those around Marigold, instead we get a humane and sensitive insight into how it affects her from her individual experience. I found this approach incredibly touching, very realistic and enlightening. Not only is Here and Now an entertaining story, I think it would bring solace to those whose lives are similarly affected because it allows those like Marigold to retain their dignity and identity and provides some practical tips for their loved ones woven subtly into the story.

There’s a smashing set of characters. I often find community based reads quite tricky to retain each individual in my mind but in Here and Now, each was clear and recognisable. The small feuds that arise in such a setting, the larger (and smaller) than life characters, the gossips and nags, all reminded me so much of the small, landed gentry controlled, villages where I grew up that reading Here and Now, ironically, reignited my own memories. 

I loved Marigold’s family. Nan could quite easily be my own mother and I laughed aloud at some of her comments. Dennis was so like my own Dad that I loved him from the very first moment I met him and although it took me a while to warm to Suze, I thoroughly enjoyed her development through the plot. Again, however, it was both Daisy and Marigold who held my attention and my heart throughout.

The theme of duty versus independence in Here and Now had particular resonance for me and I felt comforted and inspired by Santa Montefiore’s words. Marigold’s Dad had a phrase that appears iteratively throughout the story which hit me like a bullet, giving the title of the book incredible resonance. It was as if Santa Montefiore had given me a gift that will take me through my life. Equally affecting were the themes of love and family, friendship, grief and loss. It felt to me as it Hear and Now was a rich, textured read that brought incredible satisfaction.

I found Here and Now an emotional read that touched me deeply. It’s one of those books that those scorning or eschewing women’s fiction should read because Santa Montefiore presents life and humanity with empathy and skill that warms the heart and touches the soul. I loved it and recommend it most highly. 

About Santa Montefiore

Born in England in 1970, Santa Montefiore grew up in Hampshire. She is married to writer Simon Sebag Montefiore. They live with their two children, Lily and Sasha, in London.

Santa Montefiore’s books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages and have sold more than six million copies in England and Europe. 

You can follow Santa Montefiore on Twitter @SantaMontefiore and visit her website for further information. You’ll also find her on Facebook and Instagram.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

My enormous thanks to the folk at Viper Books for sending me a surprise copy of The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward in return for an honest review.

Published by Sceptre imprint Viper on 18th March 2021, The Last House on Needless Street is available for pre-order here.

The Last House on Needless Street

This is the story of a murderer. A stolen child. Revenge. This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter Lauren and his cat Olivia in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies.

You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, something lies buried. But it’s not what you think…

My Review of The Last House on Needless Street

Good gracious me. I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to review The Last House on Needless Street because I’m not quite sure what it is I’ve just read! Part horror story, part thriller, part psychological exploration, this is a book that defies categorisation but that is utterly spellbinding. I thought it was stunning. Indeed, I found it such a mind blowing concept that reading it felt like being on some kind of fairground ride where you don’t quite know where you are or what perspective you’re viewing. I had to keep pausing so that my brain could catch up with my eyes as I read. Catriona Ward’s writing is so brilliant that The Last House on Needless Street is a book that feels like a malevolent, sentient being in its own right and yet it has compassion and empathy threaded throughout it in a heady blend.

The plot in The Last House on Needless Street is astonishing. Akin to the Russian dolls on Ted’s mantlepiece that have many layers, in the narrative strata and meanings are complex and varied, adding layer upon layer of interest and captivating the reader completely. There is a linear timeline, especially through Dee’s subplot as she searches for her sister, but it is interspersed with elements that make it kaleidoscopic, shifting perceptions and providing an absolutely mesmerising reading experience. Much of the time I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, which meant I was compelled to continue reading to see if my theories were correct and to find out how the book might be resolved. This illustrates real power in the writing and I have a feeling The Last House on Needless Street will resonate with me for a very long time.

Ted’s character is so well drawn. He exemplifies a horrifying potential in all of us. It’s not possible to say too much about him as this would uncover too much of the heart of the book and spoil the read for others. If I say I hated him, I loved him, I feared him, I wanted to protect him and rail against him you’ll perhaps get some idea of the complexity of human nature Catriona Ward builds into him.

Similarly, it isn’t fair to other readers to articulate too much about theme, but identity, love, guilt, truth, loyalty, fear, control and so much more are woven by Catriona Ward into this complex, touching and enlightening story. The Last House on Needless Street is not so much a book to read as one to experience. It left me stunned.

Aware that I have hardly scratched the surface of The Last House on Needless Street because I don’t want to give away too much, I must mention the overall quality of the writing. It is beautiful. Even at its most brutal or horrific it is exquisite. The senses zing from the page so that the reader is transported into Ted’s world and particularly Olivia’s. There’s a visual quality that is filmic too so that The Last House on Needless Street can be experienced by the reader in many ways.

I thought The Last House on Needless Street was original, hypnotic and, for a story that is quite brutal, incredibly tender too. I loved it and really recommend that you read it to discover its secrets for yourself!

About Catriona Ward

Image courtesy of Robert Hollingworth

Catriona Ward was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the US, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. Her debut Rawblood won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, and was a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Little Eve won the Shirley Jackson Award, was a Guardian best book of 2018 and won the Best Horror Novel at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards. She lives in London and Devon.

You can follow Catriona on Twitter @Catrionaward. You’ll also find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Yield by Claire Dyer

I so loved interviewing Claire Dyer and sharing my review of her novel The Last Day in a post you can read here, that I was delighted to be asked by Anne Nolan at Two Rivers Press to help launch Claire’s latest poetry collection Yield on publication day. I’m very much looking forward to the online launch for Yield later today. My enormous thanks to Anne for sending me a copy of Yield in return for an honest review.

Published by Two Rivers Press today, 21st February 2021, Yield is available for purchase here.

Yield

  • Born from the poet’s own experience this collection charts the journey, from a mother’s perspective, of the transition of her younger child from boy to girl
  • A powerful blend of poetic and narrative art from an accomplished storyteller
  • Three senses of the word ‘yield’ underpin the poetry: to bring forth, to give way, and to gain something valuable

Three definitions of the word Yield give meaning to the odyssey undergone in Claire Dyers third collection: a journey which sees a son become a daughter, and a mother a poet for both of them.

Charting these transitions, the poems take us through territories known and familiar landscapes of childhood, family and home into further regions where inner lives alter, outer ones are reimagined. Whether evoking clinic visits, throwing away old boyhood clothes, grieving over what’s lost, these honest and unashamed poems build to celebrate that place at the heart of motherhood where gender is no differentiator and love the gain.

My Review of Yield

A collection of personal poems.

Yield is an intimate, intense portrait of a mother’s profound, unconditional love for her child, even when circumstances are challenging. I found this multi-faceted collection interesting, beautifully written and utterly inspiring. Claire Dyer writes poetry that tackles a modern concept – a son transitioning into a daughter – with freshness and innovation whilst drawing on the traditions of poetry that give the entire work gravitas and depth. So many times when reading Yield I was reminded of the poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson or Dylan Thomas, because of the intricately crafted lines, the natural references and the depth of feeling behind the poems.

I don’t know whether Claire Dyer paints as well as writes, but I found Yield a highly visual collection. Blues and yellows abound and there is a painterly eye for detail that makes the poems vibrate with meaning. In Saturday, for example the lines read akin to setting detail in a play so that I could envisage Claire Dyer moving through her day so vividly. I loved the iterative references to foxes in many of the poems, representing, to me, depth of colour, pain, fierce protection, man’s intolerance and cruelty – all the elements that the writer experiences in her own life.

As the son transitions to become a daughter, all manner of emotions are conveyed through Yield. Claire Dyer is unafraid to express her sense of loss and grief as well as her sense of pride and intense love. Images of shattering, blood and pain reveal the ways she comes to terms with her child’s life and, although I don’t have a maternal element in my body, the final couple of lines of Bearded moved me to tears which I think is testament to the power of the writing. Similarly, the physical structure of the poems represents so magnificently the meaning conveyed. Fractured lines and words, the use of enjambment, compound adjectives alongside images of prosaic reality all show the swirling, sometimes difficult emotions Claire Dyer is feeling.

I confess to having read Yield several times and every time I have found new aspects to admire. I loved the way Easter Break, for example, unites male and female identities at a time we usually associate with death and rebirth. I have a feeling that Yield, taken with the first meaning Claire Dyer presents in her collection, will give up more and more, the more times I read it.

Yield is a magnificent anthology. It is a multi-layered, emotive and resonant presentation of what it means to be a mother. Reading Yield feels as if I have been given privileged access to the innermost thoughts and emotions of a hugely talented writer. I feel privileged to have read it.

About Claire Dyer

Claire Dyer

Claire Dyer’s novels The Moment and The Perfect Affair, and her short story, Falling For Gatsby, are published by Quercus. The Last Day is published by The Dome Press.

Her poetry collections, Interference Effects and Eleven Rooms are published by Two Rivers Press. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London and teaches creative writing for Bracknell & Wokingham College.

She also runs Fresh Eyes, an editorial and critiquing service.

You can follow Claire on Twitter @ClaireDyer1 and visit her website. You’ll also find Claire on Facebook and Instagram.

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Staying in with Jennie Ensor

It’s far too long since I featured Jennie Ensor here on Linda’s Book Bag when I reviewed her novel The Girl in His Eyes. Today I’m delighted to stay in with Jennie to find out about another of her books that she is currently relaunching. As well as sharing this ‘staying in’ post, I’m delighted to pass on details of a prize draw Jennie is running. You’ll find information after our chat.

Staying in with Jennie Ensor

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Jennie. Thanks so much for staying in with me. Tell me, which of your books have you brought this evening and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought along my third book, Not Having It All: a hilarious comedy about love, lies and middle age. In a fearless moment I decided to get the rights back from the publisher and re-launch the book with a new cover, blurb and subtitle.

Gosh! That was brave. As I’m someone firmly in middle age, tell me what can we expect from an evening in with Not Having It All?

The novel is about love and relationships in middle age, and the difficulties of fully trusting those we are close to, or want to get close to… something I think that many will relate to. Not Having It All is a feel-good read with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, so readers have said. But there’s also a serious side. For example, the sense of sadness and loss that can come from not having children, especially as a woman. There’s also alcohol abuse, the stress and the emotional turmoil of combining a hectic career with one’s family and home life…

Although I’ve never wanted children, I think there are many readers who will relate to this Jennie. Tell me more…

Bea, the main character in Not Having It All, is a neuropsychology researcher who’s at struggling to keep her research career going while looking after her badly behaved dog Big Ears and five-year-old daughter Fran (‘the naughtiest little girl in Godalming’), as well as cope with the insecurity of her corporate high-flyer husband (who has no similarities whatsoever to any real persons, living or dead).

I think Not Having It All sounds exactly my kind of read! What else have you brought and why?

As my guest this evening I’ve brought along Mr Rowley, the elderly Jungian psychotherapist who’s consulted by Bea’s friend Maddie after she fantasises about running off with Fran. He’ll enjoy analysing our dreams – and may even be tempted to provide a few anecdotes about his patients 🙂

He could be interesting! I see you’ve other things too. What are they?

Getting some objects ready for this evening has been a challenge, but I’ve done my best. First up, here’s our hound, the inspiration for Big Ears.

As a puppy

Just gorgeous!

In the recent snow

That is so cute Jennie! How did that inspiration come about?

The idea for Not Having It All came to me at a time when my husband was away for long hours every day running his business, leaving me to look after our Airedale terrier. Every time I took the dog out for a walk, invariably he’d try to chase/hump/flatten another dog, or run off and not come back for ages…

At least it’s the dog you’re describing and not your husband – I hope! What else are you holding?

To enliven the walls over dinner, I’ve brought along some art. Maddie, Bea’s artist friend makes unusual objects out of household rubbish. She was inspired by several talented artist friends (and my husband’s niece, who once made a grass sofa in the back garden). Here are some of their artworks:

Untitled sketch by Maria Burberry (@burberry.maria on Instagram)

Untitled sketch by Maria Burberry

I Wish by Caroline Burgess

Eagle’s Head – fired clay – work in progress by Runilla Chiltern

Parrot – acrylic painting by Runilla Chiltern

Owl brooch by Runilla Chiltern

My goodness Jennie. What talented friends you have. No wonder they inspired you.

Katie, Bea’s ex-au pair, was inspired by a cleaner I had a while back. She was always telling me stories, like how she was once prematurely buried then woke up and leapt out of her coffin, yelling that she was still alive. (Unfortunately she wasn’t so good at cleaning as telling stories!)

That reminds me of my brother-in-law. As an undertaker he pulled up outside a bereaved lady’s house in his black car. The back door opened, a woman got in and said, ‘Where the bloody hell do you think you’ve been? You’re 20 minutes late!’ He replied. ‘I rather think you’ll hope I’m too early. I’m not a taxi, I’m an undertaker.’ He said she leapt from the car without another word…

A variety of food and drink is consumed in the novel – more drink than food, probably. Pushed beyond her limit by the antics of Fran and Big Ears, Katie resorts to drinking Bea’s ‘orange drink’ – a strong alcohol that one shouldn’t over-indulge in:

I think we might join Katie in a glass or too in a while!

On the theme of looking after dogs/children, the trip to Brighton in the book, in which Fran throws stones at a woman relaxing on the beach, was inspired by visits to my brother’s family. I once offered to look after my niece and nephews for the day (they were quite young at the time) and took them all to the beach. They tested me to the limit! No pictures, sadly.

And probably little good temper or hair left I imagine! It’s been great fun hearing about Not Having It All Jennie. Thanks so much for staying in with me and good luck with the relaunch.

Not Having It All

This is the story of four middle-aged people who are definitely NOT having it all. Meet Bea, Kurt, Maddie and Colin.

Senior lecturer Bea Hudson juggles her job at the ‘Psycho Lab’ with looking after her demanding five-year-old daughter, badly-behaved dog and next-to-useless au pair. When her chief exec husband is sent overseas and she’s left without childcare, Bea turns to best friend Maddie for help.

Kurt, downing whiskies in his hotel room as he imagines what his wife is up to, is convinced that Bea is becoming a little too friendly with Maddie. With characteristic obsession he enlists his neighbour’s help in a secret surveillance operation.

Found-object artist Maddie longs for a child of her own with a man she can trust – and he must love cats.

Divorced, risk-averse Colin is a senior manager at ‘the nation’s number one pussy insurer’. When he meets Maddie in a lift he’s smitten, and resolves to displace Maddie’s feline companions on her sofa. But he starts to fear that Maddie sees him only as ‘a handy stud with a fat wallet’.

Can Bea and Kurt find happiness again? Can Maddie and Colin risk falling in love?

Not Having It All is available for purchase here.

About Jennie Ensor

A Londoner with Irish heritage, Jennie Ensor began her writing career as a journalist, obtaining a Masters in Journalism (winning two awards) and covering topics from forced marriage to accidents in the mining industry. She isn’t afraid to tackle controversial issues in her novels, either: Islamic terrorism, Russian gangsters and war crimes in her debut Blind Side (a psychological mystery blended with a love story), domestic abuse and sexual exploitation in her second, The Girl In His Eyes.

Her third novel Not Having It All , a relationship comedy, is an excursion to the brighter side of life. A new edition was published in January 2021.

Ms Ensor’s poetry has appeared in many publications including Poetry Salzburg Review, Ink Sweat and Tears. Her poem Lost Connection placed second in the Breakout Prose category of the Fish Lockdown Prize in 2020.

In her spare time(?) she reads, walks and attempts twice-weekly yoga. She regularly cycles the punishing hills of north London and at the end of the day enjoys collapsing with a bar of chocolate/glass of strong alcohol in front of a TV crime drama.

You can find out more by following Jennie on Twitter @Jennie_Ensor, finding her on Facebook or Instagram and visiting her website.

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Not Having It All Prize Draw

A prize draw to celebrate the relaunch will be held at 6pm on 23 February on Jennie’s Facebook page.

First prize: £20 National Book Tokens gift card (if winner lives in the UK) or a $25 Amazon.com eGift Card (if outside the UK), a signed paperback copy of Not Having It All plus a box of Guylian Finest Belgian Chocolates with Hazelnut Praliné Filling to enhance your reading experience.

Runner-up prize: A signed paperback copy of Not Having It All and a bar of chocolate.

Sounds good to me!

Ruthless Women by Melanie Blake

Having so enjoyed Melanie Blake’s debut The Thunder Girls, my review of which you’ll find here, I was delighted to be invited by Bei at Midas RP to review Ruthless Women and to participate in the launch celebrations.

Ruthless Women is published by Head of Zeus today, 18th February 2021, and is available for purchase here.

Ruthless Women

Ambition can be deadly

Broadcast to millions from its picturesque location off the coast of Jersey, Falcon Bay was once the world’s most popular soap opera. But with ratings at an all-time low, a new network owner, the malevolent Madeline Kane, arrives on the private island determined to do whatever it takes to get the show back to the number 1 slot.

Director Farrah, leading lady Catherine and producer Amanda are the driven, ambitious women who’ve been trying to hold the production together. But thanks to their handsome but corrupt boss, Jake Monroe, Farrah is losing episodes to male colleagues, seventy-year-old Catherine is terrified of losing the public’s adoration, and Amanda is battling her desire for a forbidden affair with a handsome new employee.

As Madeline’s pressure to revive the show intensifies, she unleashes a true battle of the sexes where the women will do anything to stay in the jobs they love and on the island they call home. Can they team up to bring down their rivals? Or will jealousy, betrayal and revenge rip their friendships apart? As the story reaches its shocking climax, one thing is for certain: only the most ruthless woman will survive…

Everyone’s talking about Ruthless Women

My Review of Ruthless Women

Falcon Bay television drama needs a boost!

I have to be completely honest and say that initially I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy Ruthless Women because I don’t watch television soap operas (or continuing dramas as I now understand they are called) and it seemed to take a while for me to work out exactly who was who and what their relationships were. I definitely needed the list of players and the beginning – and ‘players’ is definitely the right term in all its meanings for many of them! What a cast! However, it didn’t take long before I was entirely caught up in this hugely entertaining narrative. Melanie Blake writes about show business and the Machiavellian machinations therein with absolute authority. At times I felt a bit like a rabbit in the headlights, reading with my mouth open and a look of total surprise on my face because, although I couldn’t believe people behaved quite as they do in Ruthless Women, the author presents the narrative with such command and knowledge that I knew I was finding out about a world totally alien to me. It was utterly fascinating and curiously addictive. I do also have to say that I found Melanie Blake’s writing style in Ruthless Women more sophisticated than her first book, The Thunder Girls, too, as if she has been perfecting her craft. The descriptions particularly were vivid and clear.

Aside from being a sexy romp in the cut throat world of television ratings where personal and professional relationships whirl and settle in mesmerising patterns, Ruthless Women is actually a somewhat disturbing insight into the production world. I actually learnt quite a lot about what goes into a programme, both on and off the set through the presentation of Falcon Bay. Indeed, reading Ruthless Women convinced me completely that I’d never want to be part of such an environment.

Indeed, I felt quite sorry for many of the characters. So many in Ruthless Women have lost sight of their true identity or their honest selves and are having to exist in a cut throat world that they made me feel quite sad in spite of the acerbic humour and sexy romps they feature in. Ruthless Women illustrated that those desperate for their 15 minutes of fame might be better being careful what they wish for! That said, I thoroughly appreciated the manner in which so many of these ruthless women got the better of the men in their world so that Ruthless Women might have much of the action predicated on sexual relationships and female rivalry, but it is surprisingly feminist.

There are also some weighty themes between the pages of Ruthless Women. With addiction, mental health, stress, attraction and love among them, I can’t uncover them all as it would spoil the plot but I was very much taken by surprise as some were finally revealed. This added a depth that I hadn’t anticipated and I very much appreciated.

Ruthless Women is not my usual genre. After what felt like a slightly slow start, Ruthless Women became a cracking, escapist read with a dramatic, heart stopping finale that I thought was brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed into a very different world. Whilst holidays seem very far away, I think Melanie Blake’s Ruthless Women could be just the escapism so many are seeking. Why not dive in – but take care!

About Melanie Blake

As one as the UK’s most successful agents, managers and publicists for music stars and TV actresses, Melanie Blake has represented some of the most famous faces on British television and international screens.

Where her debut novel, the No. 1 bestseller The Thunder Girls, was inspired by the early years of her career  spent working in the music industry, her follow up novel Ruthless Women is heavily influenced by the last 15 years Melanie has spent representing more female actresses than any other agent in her genre. Her clients have included Patsy Kensit, Beverley Callard, Michelle Collins, Stephanie Beacham, Emily Lloyd, Denise Welch, Jennie McAlpine, Claire King, Gaynor Faye, Laila Morse, Danniella Westbrook, Sherrie Hewson, Amanda Barrie, Gillian Taylforth and Nadia Sawalha, to name just a few. Nicknamed The Queen Of Soaps, there is no one better placed to write a novel based around a continuing drama and its leading ladies.

As one of the UK’s most successful female entrepreneurs, over the years Melanie has had two careers at the top tier of the entertainment industry. Her first 10 years were as a music manager with a roster of award-winning artists who sold over 100 million records and the second decade as one of the UK’s leading acting agents representing some of the most famous faces on British television. The Thunder Girls is inspired by her time in the music business and Ruthless Women which is out in 2021 is inspired by her years in the world of soap opera and drama. Her own management company, which has covered both genres, has turned over more than 30 million.

With no formal education herself, Melanie is a true champion for working class women who are so often overlooked in our society. The Thunder Girls is a celebration of women from diverse demographics and all the lead characters in the novel are over 40 and working class. As well as having written the book, Melanie has penned The Thunder Girls the play which embarks on a nationwide tour in 2021. Melanie Blake might just be the world’s biggest Jackie Collins fan. She first read Rock Star aged 9, after smuggling the copy out of the library by telling the librarian it was for her mum!  Melanie was dazzled by Jackie Collin’s world where women clawed themselves from poverty into glamorous, moneyed lives. In Jackie Collins’ novels, women were bosses and winners who achieved everything they wanted and it was these novels that inspired Melanie to become her own boss and a lady entrepreneur.  In 2017 Melanie’s connection with Jackie Collins came full circle, when after Jackie’s sad death she bought five pieces of Jackie’s jewellery at auction – two rings and three necklaces inlayed with morganite, citrines and diamonds – which she wears every day.

For the first time, Melanie reveals her biggest secret – that her career actually started as an ‘extra’ on the set of Coronation Street and EastEnders. It was there she began clawing her way from the bottom of the ‘Soap Opera ladder’ to the very top, going on to represent the leading ladies of the very shows she was hired to stand in the background of. It’s a one in a million story, by a uniquely determined woman. From extra to celebrity agent, she’s seen it all and that journey enabled her to write ‘the must read book of 2021’. During the promotion, she’ll be sharing more of her own unique journey as well as some of the celebrity bombshells, which inspired her to write her new novel.

You can find out more by following Melanie on Instagram and Twitter @MelanieBlakeUK

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A Publication Day Extract from It’s A Mad World by Susie Kelly

On the day my mother-in-law died, we had my blind in one eye, deaf, unable to speak properly and disabled as a result of a stoke, father-in-law staying with us, my dad was rushed into intensive care with a suspected heart attack and my mother passed out on the floor next to his bed. At that point I realised life wasn’t always going to be easy! Consequently, I’m delighted to help launch It’s a Mad World: Travels Through A Muddled Life by Susie Kelly today, because I think it’s a book I’d very much enjoy and relate to. I’ve an extract to share with you that I think explains why I’m so keen to read It’s a Mad World.

It’s a Mad World: Travels Through A Muddled Life is published by Blackbird Books, today, 17th February 2021 and is available for purchase here.

It’s A Mad World: Travels Through a Muddled Life

‘Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.’ Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Unlike her daredevil husband, Susie Kelly is afraid of water, elevators, heights, skiing and flying upside down and she hates being in the spotlight.

No matter how hard she tries, things seem to go wrong more often than they go right. Fortunately she can see the funny side of most things, even her cancer diagnosis. However, snoring transforms her from a sweet little thing into a pitiless monster.

These often funny and sometimes poignant tales of travels through Susie’s muddled life confirm that, as Simon Reeve writes in his autobiography Step by Step, ‘…it is always worth remembering that some of the most memorable times can happen when things go a bit wrong.’

An Extract from

It’s A Mad World: Travels Through a Muddled Life

Introduction

There are two basic types of people.

Those whose lives run smoothly. Their horses never sneeze and deposit green snort on their clean white shirts just as they are due to enter the ring. The heel of their shoe does not snap off on their way to an important interview. They do not arrive at work still wearing bedroom slippers. Their holidays always go exactly as planned and expected. They never lock themselves out of their own car. Their printer never breaks down without warning when it is most urgently needed. They never arrive at friends’ for dinner a day early. Their cakes always rise and their dogs never jump up on the mayor covering him with mud. Neither does the mayor arrive unexpectedly when they are still wearing their pyjamas at lunchtime.

I am not one of those people. I never have been and by now I accept that I never will be. It is not that I don’t try. I really do. I prepare carefully and plan ahead, but if something can go wrong, it will. It is what it is. It does make life interesting.

I have found that those people whose lives do run smoothly, even the most tolerant, tend to think it’s our own fault when we stumble from one calamity to another. We must be doing something wrong. They look at us quizzically when we relate the latest disaster, as if they don’t believe we can really be so inept.

This book is dedicated to those like myself, who somehow get through life and enjoy it despite whatever it throws at us.

There are some incidences of very bad behaviour. If you are likely to be outraged, you can’t say you haven’t been warned.

 

1. The Big C

I never expected to have cancer, nor did I ever expect not to have it. I never gave it any thought, but I clearly remember the moment I knew I had it.

You’ll know the jokes about how to prepare for a mammogram:

Lie down on a cold garage floor and ask somebody to drive the car over your boobs until they are squashed flat. If that’s not possible, find a strong person and get them to slam your boobs in the fridge door as hard as they can.

Of course, these are exaggerations. It isn’t an enjoyable experience but it only lasts a few seconds and has the potential to save your life.

My mammogram reminder arrives in January. They come every two years in France, until you are 74. This is the final time I’ll be invited. I add it to the pile of ‘deal with this some time’ papers on my desk. Each time it reaches the top, I pop it back to the bottom, because there is no urgency. In fact I may not bother this time, because I’m sure I’d know if there was anything wrong.

February and March come and go. I’m just about to screw the paper up and throw it away when I decide, no, I’ll make an appointment.

Once the deed is done, and after an ultrasound scan, the radiologist calls me in to look at the results. He points out small white dots, tiny clusters of calcium. They may mean nothing, he says, but will need a further examination, which he will arrange.

Writers’ antennae are finely tuned. We are alert to fleeting expressions, a change in voice tone or body language, anything that diverges from the norm (because we may want to use it in our writing).

Handing me my X-rays, the radiologist takes my hand in both of his and says he hopes everything will be OK. That’s when I know, because usually – I’ve been seeing him every two years for a decade – he just shakes my hand and wishes me bonne journée.            This time he is sending a message.

I decide not to worry, and not to mention anything to anybody until I know more.

Three weeks later, I’m having a stereotactic biopsy procedure, lying face down on a hospital table with a hole in it through which the suspect boob is inserted. The table is high enough from the floor to enable the technicians below to do their job, which is to precisely locate the suspect cells and remove them for examination.

It’s painless, done under local anaesthetic and takes about half an hour. I suppress a small giggle, thinking this is how a cow must feel during milking. The nurses and doctor treat me as gently as if I were made of spun sugar. One nurse talks to me, occasionally patting me on the back and asking if I am OK. I mention that my neck is uncomfortable after lying on my front for 15 minutes, so she massages it until the procedure is finished, then she wraps me in a warmed blanket.

It will take a couple of weeks before I have the results confirmed, so in preparation for treatment that I know will make my hair fall out, I start looking for headwear, and am pleasantly surprised to see what a wide selection there is to choose from. There are colourful turbans and glamorous jewelled beanies, silky scarves and cute little cotton hats with faux fringes. I select a couple to order when the time comes.

It’s been five weeks since the mammogram, and today I’m back at the hospital for the results of the biopsy.

When I go into the breast doctor’s office, the first thing she says is: ‘Have you come alone?’ The antennae twitch. That’s a very strong signal. When I reply that I have, she glances at the intern who is there with her, and I read the silent signal in her eyes. Twitch, twitch.

Their discomfort is tangible; they don’t want to be doing this and I want to say to them: ‘It’s OK, you can tell me. I am not afraid. I am ready.’

The doctor asks whether I understood the purpose of the stereotactic biopsy, and I reply that I do.

So, she says, it shows two tumours, each of two centimetres, and they are cancerous. She is looking right into my eyes as she says it. The intern is also watching me intently. I feel I should be doing something theatrical. They are expecting me to scream, or faint, throw a fit of hysterics or burst into tears, but I am completely, absolutely calm and simply nod.

She continues gently. ‘It means a total mastectomy, which I will perform. There will be no further treatment necessary because the tumours are contained. They have not spread.’

Inappropriately, I feel a fleeting disappointment that I won’t need to buy the pretty headwear.

She goes on. ‘At the same time you will have reconstructive surgery.’

She explains there are three options: a silicone implant, tissue from my stomach, or a muscle from my back. I can go home and think about it, or decide straight away, which I do. I go for the back muscle option.

She says: ‘I’ll see if the plastic surgeon is free.’

She makes a phone call, and a few minutes later the door opens. In walks the plastic surgeon, straight out of a Mills and Boon novel, or a television medical drama. He’s young and extremely handsome, with long lashed brown eyes and a generous, kind smile.        Beneath his white coat he’s wearing jeans and trainers.

He asks politely if I will remove my top so he can have a look, and then he asks what cup (bonnet is the French word) size I’d like.

I look at him blankly. I’m stuck for words. It’s all happening so quickly.

‘Um, smaller.’ I say.

‘How about a ‘B’ cup?’ he suggests.

‘Yes, that would be perfect.’

‘OK.’ he says, shaking my hand. ‘No problem.’

While I put my clothes back on, he and the breast doctor synchronise their diaries and set a date for the operation.

‘Don’t worry,’ the doctor reassures me, ‘there is no urgency. The tumours are in situ, and they have not spread. And you’ll have a wonderful view of Poitiers from your room on the ninth floor.’ she smiles.

She couldn’t have said anything more alarming. My heart thuds and I feel a red flush of panic. There’s the ground floor, then floor 0 where the operating theatres are and then the technical floor before you even reach floor No. 1 which is actually four floors and 66 steps up, so technically the ninth floor is 13 floors up, and I am extremely claustrophobic. I always walk up the stairs to the first floor, arriving wobbly-kneed and breathless, but there is no way I can climb 13 flights of stairs.

‘But, I’m claustrophobic, I can’t go in a lift!’ I squeak. She looks at me in silent astonishment, as if she cannot understand anybody who finds the prospect of having to get in a lift a million times worse than facing a mastectomy.

In the last half hour, I have had the most other-worldly experience of my life.

*****

Driving home, my only worry, aside from the lift, is telling my daughter. Some years ago, she lost her dearest friend as a result of breast cancer, and I know that my news will cause her immense anxiety. I decide not to mention anything about it to anybody until the day before the operation, except to my husband Terry, who is understandably shocked, and my lovely editor and publisher Stephanie because I planned to deliver a new manuscript this year, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to do so.

Having always been squeamish, I’m surprised that I spend several hours watching videos to see exactly how the latissimus dorsi procedure is performed, and am left in awe of modern medicine. With my curiosity satisfied, for the next couple of months I put it out of my mind.

A week before the operation, I need to have another mammogram. The radiologist asks if I am anxious about having the operation. I say that I’m not, I have total faith in the French health service. He asks about the reconstruction, and I tell him that I will be having a reduction.

His eyes shoot open and his face is a picture of dismay. ‘A REDUCTION? Why?’

‘Because,’ I reply, ‘I want them to be smaller. They are too big.’

He takes my hand, and says slowly and very clearly: ‘Madame, they are NEVER too big.’ I leave there laughing…

*

Now, doesn’t that sound like it’s going to be a brilliant read? With life as it has been of late, I think we all need to take Susie Kelly’s approach to dealing with it!

About Susie Kelly

Born a Londoner, Susie Kelly spent most of the first 25 years of her life in Kenya. She now lives in south-west France with her husband and assorted animals. She believes that her explosive temper is a legacy from her Irish-American grandfather, but has no idea who to blame for her incompetence as a housewife. Still, she’s very kind to animals, small children and elderly people. Susie particularly enjoys exploring the road less travelled, discovering the lives and events of lesser-known places.

Prior to publishing with Blackbird, Susie was with Transworld who sold over 50,000 of her titles in the UK.  Some of those are rights-reverted and are now available to readers worldwide for the first time. 25% of Susie’s royalties from The Valley of Heaven and Hell are shared equally between Cancer Research and Tower Hill Stables Sanctuary in Essex.

You can find out more by finding Susie on Facebook or following her on Twitter @SusieEnFrance. You’ll also find Susie on Instagram.

Discussing The Other Mrs Samson with Ralph Webster

It’s almost three years since I stayed in with Ralph Webster to chat all about his book One More Moon in a post you’ll find here. I so enjoyed that experience that I simply had to invite Ralph back to tell me all about his latest book.

Staying in with Ralph Webster

Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag Ralph. Thanks so much for staying in with me. 

First Linda, please let me thank you for the invite.

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

I am grateful to have the chance to spend another evening together and share with you a little about my newest book, The Other Mrs. Samson. I hope readers will find the story of Katie, Hilda, and the husband they share compelling and emotional – a bird’s eye view of what it was like to survive the world wars of the last century. While neither a romance novel nor a war story, their story is about privilege, struggle, and love. And the thing about love, as most of us know, is that it can sometimes be complicated. I think that makes The Other Mrs. Samson an engaging conversation that book clubs will enjoy. My wife Ginger even gave me book club discussion questions to include in the book.

Your wife sounds like a very useful person to have around. I’m in a book group so I’ll have to tell them about your book. I understand that The Other Mrs. Samson was released yesterday so a belated Happy Publication Day Ralph.

Thanks Linda!

What can we expect from an evening in with The Other Mrs. Samson?

I thought your readers might enjoy the introduction because it does explain how I came to write this story.

2020

Perhaps it was the pandemic, because I do have a lot of time on my hands, but my search for furnace filters more likely explains how I happened upon the long-forgotten small black lacquered cabinet. It had been carefully tucked away in the corner of the attic, along with a few other items we brought back from Katie’s New York apartment the week after she died.

The cabinet was curious, something others might consider an antique of some value or perhaps even a work of art. Age and travel had given it a few dents and bruises, but it seemed to have survived intact from a journey that must have been quite far. It was not exceptionally large, little more than fourteen inches tall, sixteen inches wide, and twelve inches deep. The face and sides were inlaid with various symbols, intricate designs trimmed with silver and gold. Behind two beautifully decorated doors were seven small shallow drawers, three pairs of two with a larger single beneath.

As I recall, neither of us had any idea why Katie had kept it, where it came from, or what its use may have been. The drawers were empty when we retrieved it from her apartment, and we had no recollection of her ever speaking of the cabinet’s existence. At the time, our only observation was that it was out of place. Her furniture tended to be more in the art deco style, not of Oriental origin, as the cabinet appeared. And to be perfectly honest, I am unable to remember why we saved it and didn’t consider consigning it to a reputable auction house where, despite its wear, it might have fetched a good price.

When we returned from New York, it went to the attic because, like many things, there was no other place to put it and we didn’t have the heart to give it away. I imagine our attic was no different from most, out of sight, out of mind, where we stored assorted things of questionable worth, objects of little use but too sentimental to part with, saved from the past with the unfounded hope that the next generation might claim them.

That afternoon, almost absentmindedly, I decided to dust it off. I must have tugged a little too hard on the bottom drawer or done something to cause its release because, when I pulled it open, the drawer slid out of the cabinet frame. That’s when I was surprised to discover the hidden compartment located below the drawer and was even more amazed by its contents. Inside were batches of letters wrapped in ribbons, a small leather-bound notebook with gilded pages, and a sheaf of pages tied together with a piece of brown string.

Most stories start at the beginning. But as you can see, this one begins at its end. I was given no choice. The answers were found in that order.

That’s brilliant Ralph. Of course I immediately want to know what happens. So, what else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought the cabinet of course Linda.

That looks wonderful I can quite see why you kept it. 

I suppose most of us have things like this in the attic.  Sometimes all one needs to do is look below the drawers and find the secrets that have been left behind!

Thanks so much for staying in and telling me about The Other Mrs. Samson Ralph. As soon as I have given blog readers the information they need about your new book I’m off into the attic to see what I can find!

The Other Mrs. Samson

Surviving two wars, sharing one husband, searching for answers.

A hidden compartment in a black lacquer cabinet left in an attic reveals the secrets of two incredible women: Hilda, born and raised in one of the wealthiest Jewish families in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and Katie, whose early life in Germany is marked by tragedy and death. Their lives are forever entwined by their love of the same man, the brilliant and compassionate Dr. Josef Samson.

From the earliest, rough-and-tumble days of San Francisco, through the devastation of the Great War in Berlin and the terrors of Vichy France, and then to a new yet uncertain life in New York City, their stories span the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. In the end, one of these women will complete the life of the other and make a startling discovery about the husband they share.

The Other Mrs. Samson is available for purchase here.

About Ralph Webster

Award winning author Ralph Webster received worldwide acclaim for his first book, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other, which tells the story of his father’s flight from the Holocaust. Voted a Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards Nominee for Best Memoir/Autobiography, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other, his second book, One More Moon, and now his third book, The Other Mrs. Samson, are proven book club selections for thought-provoking and engaging discussions.

You can find out more by visiting Ralph’s website and finding him on Amazon and Goodreads. You can also follow Ralph on Twitter @Ralph_Webster.

You, Me and The Sea by Elizabeth Haynes

My grateful thanks to Emma Dawson at EDPR for inviting me to participate in the launch celebrations for You, Me & The Sea by Elizabath Haynes. I was so pleased to accept as I have heard Elizabeth speak at a local literary event at which she was sensational so I knew I’d be in for a treat. I’m delighted to share my review of You, Me & The Sea today.

You, Me & The Sea was published by Myriad Editions earlier this month and is available for purchase in all the usual places including here.

You, Me & The Sea

Compelling, moving and teeming with feral desire: contemporary story of love and redemption set on a remote, windswept Scottish island from the bestselling author of Into The Darkest Corner and The Murder of Harriet Monckton.

Rachel is at crisis point. A series of disastrous decisions has left her with no job, no home, and no faith in herself. But an unexpected job offer takes her to a remote Scottish island, and it feels like a chance to recover and mend her battered self-esteem.

The island’s other inhabitants are less than welcoming. Fraser Sutherland is a taciturn loner who is not happy about sharing his lighthouse – or his precious coffee beans – and Lefty, his unofficial assistant, is a scrawny, scared lad who isn’t supposed to be there at all.

Homesick and out of her depth, Rachel wonders whether she’s made another mistake. But, as spring turns to summer, the wild beauty of the island captivates her soul. For the first time in years she sees the hope of a better life – if only she can break the deadlock between two men who are at war with one another, and with themselves.

My Review of You, Me & The Sea

Rachel’s life is a mess.

Oh dear. I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to review You, Me & The Sea because I loved it so much it’ll be difficult to articulate how wonderful it is. You, Me & The Sea is one of those books you can’t put down, but you don’t want to end, because it seeps into your soul and mesmerises you. It’s such a beautiful, emotional and completely satisfying read that I simply want to tell everyone to buy it and read it. When I was made to do other things instead of reading You, Me & The Sea I was so resentful. It consumed all my waking thoughts.

Firstly, there is the totally glorious setting of Must that utterly transported me from the flat fens where I live to the rugged Scottish island. Elizabeth Haynes captures it so vividly, and employs nature and weather to counterbalance and underpin the narrative with such brilliance that the island is every bit as much a character as are Rachel, Fraser and Lefty. Descriptions are evocative and realistic with all the senses catered for in an immersive and convincing way. Frasers cooking in particular is so realistic I was ravenous and I felt as if I were there on the cliffs, breathing in the salt air with the others. You, Me & The Sea is a bewitching maelstrom of sensory delight.

Whilst there are a few minor characters such as the birders staying in the observatory, or Rachel’s Norwich based family, it is Rachel, Lefty and Fraser who hold the reader spellbound. The dynamics of their relationships ensure the reader has no free will of their own but simply has to accept them as the author portrays them. I worried about them the whole time I was reading. They broke my heart and filled it with hope. I absolutely loved the interplay between them and the developing romantic and sexual relationship between Rachel and Fraser. And You, Me & The Sea is surprisingly sexual. Often the physical side of relationships in writing feels contrived, but here it is fabulously created with intimacy and passion. I read You, Me & The Sea rather wishing I could be Rachel!

I thought the plot was wonderful too. There’s drama and tension, quieter moments and heightened emotion so that I finished reading You, Me & The Sea feeling as if I’d experienced every emotion possible. This is such a wonderful love story but it is so much more besides. Elizabeth Haynes explores love, grief, depression, identity, feelings of inadequacy, violence and tenderness with absolute skill. It’s so hard to explain, but I felt I had lived and breathed this book rather than simply read it.

I absolutely adored You, Me & The Sea. It took me out of my own life and consumed me completely. I honestly felt as if I’d been away on the most fabulous adventure, meeting people whom I cared about and leaving the cares of the world behind. Reading You, Me & The Sea brought me utter joy. I cannot recommend Elizabeth Haynes’ You, Me & The Sea strongly enough. It has gone straight on my list of books of the year for 2021. I loved every moment reading it. Just wonderful.

About Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth Haynes worked for many years as a police intelligence analyst. Her debut novel, Into the Darkest Corner, won Amazon’s Book of the Year in 2011 and Amazon’s Rising Star Award for debut novels.

Elizabeth grew up in Sussex and studied English, German and Art History at Leicester University. She now lives in North Norfolk. Elizabeth is a regular participant in, and a Municipal Liaison for, National Novel Writing Month – Nanowrimo – an annual challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November.

For more information, follow Elizabeth on Twitter @Elizjhaynes, visit her website or find her on Facebook.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Staying in with Rachel Abbott on Close Your Eyes Publication Day

It’s far, far, too long since I stayed in with Rachel Abbott to discuss Come A Little Closer in a post you can read here, and so, with Rachel’s latest Tom Douglas psychological thriller out today, I simply had to invite her back to tell me all about it. Luckily Rachel agreed to come!

Staying in with Rachel Abbott

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

Hi Linda – and thanks for inviting me. It’s great to be chatting with you, and I hope you and all your readers are coping well in these very difficult times.

I hope so too! I’m not sure I am!

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

I’ve brought Close Your Eyes to share. It’s the latest case for my favourite detective Tom Douglas, so it’s very close to my heart! It’s out in ebook, paperback and audiobook and it’s the 10th book in the series.

Close Your Eyes is out today isn’t it? Happy publication day. But your 10th book! My goodness Rachel, I have some catching up to do.

I find it almost impossible to believe that myself, to be honest!

They don’t have to be read in order, though. The only character in all stories is Tom, and each one is written from the point of view of the victim or perpetrator of a new crime, so you don’t need to know what’s come before.

That’s reassuring as I hear such wonderful things about your writing that I really want to dive right in. So, what can we expect from an evening in with Close Your Eyes?

Well, it’s a psychological thriller, so it’s probably as well to curl up with something to cling to for when it gets tense.

Like all the books in this series, it’s Tom’s job to solve the crime – in this case a murder which happens in the opening pages (so I’m not giving too much away!). But it becomes clear very quickly that the story is about much more than a dead body. Much of it is told from the point of view of Martha – a young woman who is suspected of the murder. All the evidence points to her, and she has no choice but to run.

At first, readers may think that Martha is aloof, distant, and probably quite a difficult character. But as the book progresses, they will hopefully begin to understand her as they discover more about her early life and what has brought her to this place and time.

That sounds fascinating. I love character driven books and I really like the sound of Martha.

I like to write about women who find themselves facing terrible dilemmas, who perhaps make mistakes, but who ultimately find strength they didn’t know they had. It’s a recurring theme in all my books – and even Tom sometimes has to make a difficult decision, because there are moments when the difference between right and wrong is blurred.

I think that sounds very true to life Rachel. It isn’t always clear cut.

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

My lovely German Shepherd – Coco – is always close by. She brings herself along to most of my chats! After having a good sniff around my office for treats, she usually resorts to going outside to sit on the roof to ward off anyone who might disturb me!

I hope she won’t be too disturbed by all the cat related item in my home!

And of course, what would a launch day be like without a glass of bubbles to celebrate with.

Well quite! I’m always ready for a celebratory glass of fizz.

I always try to thank my most supportive readers by holding a bit of a party on Facebook – lots of silly puzzles and quizzes to make them smile. They will be my guests today, and I’m grateful for their continued loyalty. I’ll be busy sharing the fun with them as I swig the occasional glass (and if I’m honest, probably eat a piece of cake or two).

It might be dark, cold and windy outside, but I’m snug and warm in my office – an old gunpowder shelter, a short walk from my back door.

As my home – a Victorian fort on the wonderful island of Alderney – was inhabited initially by Victorian soldiers and subsequently by German soldiers during the second world war, I am constantly expecting to hear whispered plots in my ear. It hasn’t happened yet, but some ghostly guests would be interesting too.

That office looks amazing Rachel. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat about Close Your Eyes. It sounds brilliant and happy publication day again. 

Cheers everybody and I hope you enjoy Close Your Eyes as much as I enjoyed writing it!

I’m sure we will. Here are the details everyone needs:

Close Your Eyes

Don’t let him under your skin. He’ll destroy you.

Don’t fight him. He’ll win.

Run. Never let him find you.

I thought I was safe here, but I’m not. I’ve stayed too long. Now Genevieve is dead, and the police are on their way. It’s time for me to go.

I must stick to the plan – the one I made the day I arrived in this city. My bag is packed. It always is. I will destroy every shred of evidence of my existence. The police must never find me. If they do, so will he.

I made a mistake, and someone had to die. But I’m the one who has truly lost her life.

I need to make a choice. If I keep running, I’ll never stop. If I go back, he will make me suffer.

How many lives can one person ruin?

A Tom Douglas thriller

Close Your Eyes is available for purchase here.

About Rachel Abbott

Rachel Abbott is a British author of psychological thrillers. As a self-published author, her novels have sold over four million copies and have all been bestsellers on Amazon’s Kindle store. In 2015, she was named the number one bestselling self-published author in the UK and the 14th bestselling author (both published and self-published) over the previous five years on Amazon’s Kindle in the UK.

In 2017, following a five-way auction, Rachel Abbott signed a two-book deal with Headline Publishing Group. The first book, And So It Begins, was published in 2018 and features Sergeant Stephanie King. The second book in this series, The Murder Game was published in April 2020.

Her books have now been translated into over 20 languages.

Rachel’s writing career began in 2009, when she decided to write a book about an average, everyday woman facing a situation which gave her no option but to commit murder. In November 2011, Abbott published the story – Only the Innocent – on Amazon.

Abbott followed up Only the Innocent with The Back Road, Sleep Tight, Stranger Child, Kill Me Again, The Sixth Window, Come A Little Closer, The Shape of Lies, Right Behind You – and now Close Your Eyes. All her thrillers focus on relationships and crime, and feature the same detective, Chief Inspector Tom Douglas.

You’ll find all Rachel’s books here.

Rachel Abbott grew up near Manchester, England. She worked as a systems analyst, and then founded an interactive media company, developing software and websites for the education market.  She sold the company in 2000. Following the sale, she moved to Italy, where she restored a 15th-century Italian monastery that for a time she and her husband operated as a venue for weddings and holidays. She now lives and works on the Channel Island of Alderney in a Victorian Fort where she has an office in a former gunpowder shelter.

You can find out more about Rachel on her website, or by following her on Twitter @RachelAbbott. You’ll also find Rachel on Facebook and on Instagram.

Celebrating The Barbellion Prize Shortlist 2020

I have a confession. I have only just discovered The Barbellion Prize which is designed to celebrate the writings and voice of ill and disabled writers. I’m delighted to bring the work of The Barbellion Prize to your attention today.

The full longlist of books for this years’ prize can be found here, but I would like to share the shortlist with you. The prize will be awarded tomorrow, Friday 12th February 2021, and I can’t wait to read all four books. My thanks to the organisers of The Barbellion Prize and to the publishers who have sent me copies of the books.

Golem Girl by Riva Lehrer

‘A hymn to life, love, family, and spirit’ DAVID MITCHELL, author of Cloud Atlas

The vividly told, gloriously illustrated memoir of an artist born with disabilities who searches for freedom and connection in a society afraid of strange bodies.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD and THE BARBELLION PRIZE

In 1958, amongst the children born with spina bifida is Riva Lehrer. At the time, most such children are not expected to survive. Her parents and doctors are determined to ‘fix’ her, sending the message over and over again that she is broken. That she will never have a job, a romantic relationship, or an independent life. Enduring countless medical interventions, Riva tries her best to be a good girl and a good patient in the quest to be cured.

Everything changes when, as an adult, Riva is invited to join a group of artists, writers, and performers who are building Disability Culture. Their work is daring, edgy, funny, and dark-it rejects tropes that define disabled people as pathetic, frightening, or worthless. They insist that disability is an opportunity for creativity and resistance. Emboldened, Riva asks if she can paint their portraits-inventing an intimate and collaborative process that will transform the way she sees herself, others, and the world. Each portrait story begins to transform the myths she’s been told her whole life about her body, her sexuality, and other measures of normal.

Written with the vivid, cinematic prose of a visual artist, and the love and playfulness that defines all of Riva’s work, Golem Girl is an extraordinary story of tenacity and creativity. With the author’s magnificent portraits featured throughout, this memoir invites us to stretch ourselves toward a world where bodies flow between all possible forms of what it is to be human.

Riva Lehrer is a great artist and a great storyteller. This is a brilliant book, full of strangeness, beauty, and wonder‘ AUDREY NIFFENEGGER

Published by Virago Golam Girl is available for purchase here.

You can visit Riva Lehrer’s website for further information, and follow her on Twitter @riva_lehrer.

The Fragments of My Father by Sam Mills

A NEW STATESMAN BOOK OF THE YEAR

In the vein of the Costa-winning Dadland, with the biographical elements of H is for HawkThe Fragments of my Father is a powerful and poignant memoir about parents and children, freedom and responsibility, madness and creativity and what it means to be a carer.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE BARBELLION PRIZE

My life had been suspended, as though I had inhaled and was still waiting to let out that gasp of breath. I set aside my dreams for a future time when life might be normal again. But that night, on my mother’s birthday, as I sat and watched the sky turn from blue to black, I wondered for the first time if it ever would …

There were holes in Sam Mills’s life when she was growing up – times when her dad was just absent, for reasons she didn’t understand. As she grew older, she began to make up stories about the periods when he wasn’t around: that he’d been abducted, spirited away and held captive by a mysterious tribe who lived at the bottom of the garden. The truth – that he suffers from a rare form of paranoid schizophrenia, and was hospitalised intermittently – slowly came into focus, and that focus became pin-sharp in 2012, when Sam’s mother died and Sam was left as his primary carer.

In this powerful, poignant memoir Sam triangulates her own experience with the stories of two other carers, one she admires and one, on some days, she fears she might become: Leonard Woolf, husband to Virginia and F Scott Fitzgerald, husband to Zelda, and a man whose personality made him ill-equipped – in a great many ways – to be a carer for his troubled wife.

A mesmerising blend of literary biography and memoir The Fragments of My Father is a compelling and moving account of what it means to be a carer.

Published by 4th Estate, The Fragments of My Father is available for purchase here.

You can find out more on Sam Mills’ website and follow her on Twitter @sammillsauthor.

Sanatorium by Abi Palmer

A young woman spends a month taking the waters at a thermal water-based rehabilitation facility in Budapest. On her return to London, she attempts to continue her recovery using an £80 inflatable blue bathtub. The tub becomes a metaphor for the intrusion of disability; a trip hazard in the middle of an unsuitable room, slowly deflating and in constant danger of falling apart. Sanatorium moves through contrasting spaces bathtub to thermal pool, land to water, day to night interlacing memoir, poetry and meditations on the body to create a mesmerising, mercurial debut.

‘There is a dreamlike quality to Abi Palmer’s exquisite Sanatorium. In lucid, gorgeous prose, she tells the story of a body, of illness and of navigating the complicated wellness industry, but ultimately this is a book about what it means to be alive. A striking, experimental debut that will stay with me.’ Sinéad Gleeson

Published by Penned in the Margins, Sanatorium is available for purchase here.

You can find out more on Abi Palmer’s website and follow her on Twitter @abipalmer_bot.

Kika and Me by Amit Patel

Amit Patel is working as a trauma doctor when a rare condition causes him to lose his sight within thirty-six hours. Totally dependent on others and terrified of stepping outside with a white cane after he’s assaulted, he hits rock bottom. He refuses to leave home on his own for three months. With the support of his wife Seema he slowly adapts to his new situation, but how could life ever be the way it was? Then his guide dog Kika comes along…

But Kika’s stubbornness almost puts her guide dog training in jeopardy – could her quirky personality be a perfect match for someone? Meanwhile Amit has reservations – can he trust a dog with his safety? Paired together in 2015, they start on a journey, learning to trust each other before taking to the streets of London and beyond. The partnership not only gives Amit a renewed lease of life but a new best friend. Then, after a video of an irate commuter rudely asking Amit to step aside on an escalator goes viral, he sets out with Kika by his side to spread a message of positivity and inclusivity, showing that nothing will hold them back.

From the challenges of travelling when blind to becoming a parent for the first time, Kika & Me is the moving, heart-warming and inspirational story of Amit’s sight-loss journey and how one guide dog changed his world.

Published by Pan Macmillan, Kika and Me is available for purchase here.

You can follow Amit Patel on Twitter @BlindDad_Uk.

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I have a feeling that I’m going to fine each of these books totally fascinating and would like to wish all four authors all the very best for tomorrow. I think they all deserve to win The Barbellion Prize.

You can find out the result by visiting The Barbellion Prize website, following them on Twitter @BarbellionPrize or Instagram. You’ll also find The Barbellion Prize on Facebook.