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

diana cambridge

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.

XR insects logo

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.

Flood Melverley

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

you never told me

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

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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

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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

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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.

If you’d like to find out more about Boekenweek pleas follow the tour:

BOEKENWEEK Blog Tour 2020 FINAL USE THIS (1)

Staying in with Simon Michael

I’m a big fan of thrillers and so I was delighted when Caoimhe O’Brien from Sapere Books got in touch to see if I’d like to be part of the blog tour for Simon Michael’s latest book. Had life been less frenetic I would have loved to have shared a review with you today. However, I’m thrilled to be staying in with Simon Michael today as he has some interesting things to tell me!

Staying in with Simon Michael

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Simon and thank you so much for agreeing to stay in with me.

It’s an honour to be invited. I’ve spent some time looking at your back catalogue of previous guests and I’m in some pretty illustrious company.

I love staying in with authors as you can tell, and it’s great to have you here. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought The Waxwork Corpse, the most recent in the Charles Holborne thriller series, which was published in December.

Sapere Books have republished the first four books in the series (and done an absolutely stonking good job with them too!) but this is the first brand-new title since my move. While all of the books are based upon true high-profile stories from the 1960s, often involving the Kray twins, and cases on which I worked as a barrister, this one was particularly well-known.

How exciting. 

Some of your more mature readers may remember the TV and newspaper coverage of the case of the airline pilot who killed his wife and dumped her body in the deepest Lake in England, Wastwater, only for the body to be found almost a decade later almost perfectly preserved.

Oh my goodness yes! I remember that as it wasn’t long after I got married. Hmm. That must make me one of the ‘more mature’ amongst us!

When I tell the story as part of my “one-man show” I watch people’s mouths drop open when they hear of the series of extraordinary coincidences and mishaps which led to the man’s arrest. But that’s only half of it, because he then contested the murder trial at the Old Bailey, so that’s the part of the thriller which turns into the courtroom drama.

This sounds fabulous. I can’t wait to read it. What can we expect from an evening in with The Waxwork Corpse?

It might not just be an evening! Reviewers are often kind enough to say they couldn’t put Charles down, but this time I’ve received more than one complaint that the reader kept on promising to stop after one more chapter, then another, and then another, only to find it was 4 am before they fell asleep over the book.

You must be delighted to have that kind of response to your writing Simon.

Although I’ve fictionalised it and woven Charles through the investigation and the trial, it really is one of those true-life crimes from which it’s hard to tear one’s eyes away. I first learned of the case while sitting in a robing room waiting for a jury to return with a verdict. Barristers waiting for juries will often pass the time by retelling the story of their cases, but when we heard this one you could hear a pin drop, and I knew that one day I’d have to write it as a novel.

At the same time The Waxwork Corpse is in some ways the most personal book in the series. I can’t give too much away (spoilers) but there are distinct parallels between what happens to the accused and my family situation.

You can’t just drop that in to the conversation and move on Simon! Now, of course, I HAVE to read The Waxwork Corpse as soon as I can.

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

Well, I’ve brought two things, both related to the story. Hold your nose for the first, because I’ve brought a piece of what they call reflected scalp, taken off the deceased during the post-mortem, and now pickled in formaldehyde.

Oh. Most guests bring something to eat or drink…

One of the more gruesome things pathologists do when looking for cause of death, particularly in a corpse that has been long-dead, is to make an incision along the hair line and pull back (“reflect”) the scalp as if pulling off a swimming cap. It may, for example, reveal bruises which were not detectable on the skin surface. When I decided to write this story, the solicitor for the accused man sent me all the prosecution documents, including the post-mortem report, photos and all. The post-mortem is described in some detail in the book.

That sounds like research beyond the call of duty to me!

Secondly, I’ve brought a silver trophy cup. Watch out for it; it’s a big clue to the double twist at the end.

I definitely like the trophy more than the reflected scalp. Thank you so much for staying in with me to tell me all about The Waxwork Corpse Simon. You’ve thoroughly intrigued me. I think Linda’s Book Bag readers might need to see the full blurb and where they can buy the book:

The Waxwork Corpse

Charles Holborne is back – with his strangest case to date! Perfect for fans of John Grisham, Robert Bailey, Michael Connelly and Robert Dugoni.

A deadly crime has been dragged to the surface…

London, 1965

Charles Holborne, maverick barrister, will never fit in at the Bar; he is too working-class, too Jewish and too dangerous.

But that makes him the perfect outsider to prosecute a shocking murder case which has already made its way to the press.

By chance, a body was found, dumped in a lake. It had clearly been there for some time, but the conditions in the water have meant that it was nearly perfectly preserved.

The police have managed to match this ‘waxwork corpse’ to a missing woman and if her husband — a senior judge — was the one who killed her, the scandal threatens to rock the British justice to its foundations.

The waxwork corpse is not the only thing to be raised from the past. The investigation also dredges up a violent mistake made by Charles in his youth which, if revealed, could put his own life at stake…

The Waxwork Corpse, based on a real Old Bailey case, is the fifth crime novel in an exciting historical series, the Charles Holborne Legal Thrillers — gritty, hard-boiled mysteries set in 1960s London.

The Waxwork Corpse is available for purchase here.

About Simon Michael

Simon Michael is the author of the best-selling London 1960s noir gangster series featuring his antihero barrister, Charles Holborne.  Simon writes from personal experience: a barrister for 37 years, he worked in the Old Bailey and other criminal courts defending and prosecuting a wide selection of murderers, armed robbers, con artists and other assorted villainy.  The 1960s was the Wild West of British justice, a time when the Krays, the Richardsons and other violent gangs fought for control of London’s organised crime, and the corrupt Metropolitan Police beat up suspects, twisted evidence and took a share of the criminal proceeds.  Simon weaves into his thrillers real events of the time,the cases on which he worked and his unusual family history in the East End.

Simon was published here and in America in the 1980s and returned to writing when he retired from the law in 2016.  The Charles Holborne series, The Brief, An Honest Man, The Lighterman, Corrupted and the latest, The Waxwork Corpse, have all garnered strong reviews for their authenticity and excitement.

For more information, follow Simon on Twitter @simonmichaeluk or visit his website. You can find Simon on Facebook, and there’s more with these other bloggers too:

Surge by Jay Bernard, Longlisted for #SUDTP20

surge

It was a privilege last year to help announce the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Award longlist in a post you can read here and to attend the shortlist evening at The British Library. You can read about that evening here.

You can find all the latest news about this year’s award on Twitter by following #IDTP20 or @dylanthomprize. The Swansea University website has all you need to know too.

Blog-Tour-Begins

When I was asked by the lovely folk at Midas PR if I’d like to feature one of 2020’s longlisted books I immediately chose Surge by Jay Bernard because I hadn’t heard of the author before and wanted to find out more.

Dylan thomas 2020

This year’s longlist comprises seven novels, three poetry collections and two short story collections:

  • Surge – Jay Bernard (Chatto & Windus)
  • Flèche – Mary Jean Chan (Faber & Faber)
  • Exquisite Cadavers – Meena Kandasamy (Atlantic Books)
  • Things we say in the Dark – Kirsty Logan (Harvell Secker, Vintage)
  • Black Car Burning – Helen Mort (Chatto & Windus)
  • Virtuoso– Yelena Moskovich (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Inland – Téa Obreht (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • Stubborn Archivist – Yara Rodrigues Fowler (Fleet)
  • If All the World and Love were Young – Stephen Sexton (Penguin Random House)
  • The Far Field – Madhuri Vijay (Atlantic Books)
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong (Jonathan Cape, Vintage)
  • Lot – Bryan Washington (Atlantic Books)

Worth £30,000, it is one of the UK’s most prestigious literary prizes as well as the world’s largest literary prize for young writers. Awarded for the best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under, the Prize celebrates the international world of fiction in all its forms including poetry, novels, short stories and drama.

The 12 longlisted titles will be judged by a bumper guest panel chaired by Swansea University’s Professor Dai Smith CBE, including annual judge Professor Kurt Heinzelman, the award-winning writer and founder of Jaipur Literature Festival Namita Gokhale, acclaimed writer and 2011 winner of the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize  Lucy Caldwell, the British-Ghanaian writer, poet and critic Bridget Minamore, celebrated writer and presenter of BBC Radio 3: The Verb Ian McMillan and national arts and culture journalist Max Liu.

The shortlist will be announced on the 7th April, followed by a British Library Event, London on the 13th May and Winner’s Ceremony held in Swansea on International Dylan Thomas Day, 14th May.

My choice of book for review, Surge by Jay Bernard, is published by Vintage imprint Chatto and Windus, part of the Penguin group, and is available for purchase through the links here.

Surge

surge

*Shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award 2019*

*Shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2019*

*Shortlisted for Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2019*

*Winner of the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry*

Jay Bernard’s extraordinary debut is a fearlessly original exploration of the black British archive: an enquiry into the New Cross Fire of 1981, a house fire at a birthday party in south London in which thirteen young black people were killed.

Dubbed the ‘New Cross Massacre’, the fire was initially believed to be a racist attack, and the indifference with which the tragedy was met by the state triggered a new era of race relations in Britain.

Tracing a line from New Cross to the ‘towers of blood’ of the Grenfell fire, this urgent collection speaks with, in and of the voices of the past, brought back by the incantation of dancehall rhythms and the music of Jamaican patois, to form a living presence in the absence of justice.

A ground-breaking work of excavation, memory and activism – both political and personal, witness and documentary – Surge shines a much-needed light on an unacknowledged chapter in British history, one that powerfully resonates in our present moment.

My Review of Surge

A slim collection of poems concerning historical events including the 1981 New Cross Fire.

Now, as a white, heterosexual middle aged woman approaching 60 you’d think I have little in common with someone young enough to be my child who identifies as black and queer and likes to be described under the pronoun they, rather than he. You’d be completely wrong. Jay Bernard’s collection Surge spoke to the very heart of me and I feel privileged to have read it.

At less than 70 pages, Surge provided an uncomfortable and moving insight into a world of which I was mostly ignorant and unaware. I can’t decide whether the fire at New Cross, that so much of the writing refers to, more or less passed me by because I as at university and living a cocooned life, or whether, at the time, the loss of so many young black lives didn’t warrant the attention it deserved. Either way, in Surge Jay Bernard creates a vivid memorial to those lives lost that left me feeling deeply saddened and not a little ashamed. Surge is political and fierce and deserves to be read far and wide.

I loved everything about Surge, especially the structure of the work and the quality of the writing. I was challenged by some of the language, especially the more dialect words and felt this reflected the challenge endured by those represented in the pages of the collection, such as those spat upon by office workers in Patois, for example. I found the often fragmented layout and the use of blank space illustrated the lack of cohesion in society and lack of esteem in which the lives of non-white people can be held. Blank, in particular, exemplifies this so perfectly. It also seemed to echo the author’s personal disjointed identity. So much here in Surge made me think and brought me up sharply that it has depth belied by the slimness of the volume.

I was moved by the echoes of society and history I take for granted so that whispers of Peter and Jane Ladybird books, Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen, religious ceremonies and so on all swirled around my reading to the extent that Jay Bernard has achieved exactly what they claim in their introduction; they might be haunted by the history but they are certainly haunting it back. Finishing reading Surge isn’t the end of the book. So many references sent me scurrying off to find out more, especially the notes at the end. I’m discomfited that, in spite of all the news coverage of the Grenfell Tower fire, I probably would never have heard of photographer Khadija Saye who died there without Jay Bernard’s writing.

I’ve read Surge several times over now and each time I return to it I find something new. Jay Bernard’s writing has engendered so many emotions in me as a reader. I was floored by the rawness of grief in + and -, angered and shamed by so many entries, and yet despite this I found it comforting to know Jay Bernard cares enough to have written Surge. It’s no surprise to me that Surge has been so critically acclaimed. I loved it.

About Jay Bernard

Jay

Jay Bernard is the author of the pamphlets Your Sign is Cuckoo, Girl (Tall Lighthouse, 2008), English Breakfast (Math Paper Press, 2013) and The Red and Yellow Nothing (Ink Sweat & Tears Press, 2016), which was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award 2017. A film programmer at BFI Flare and an archivist at Statewatch, they also participated in ‘The Complete Works II’ project in 2014, mentored by Kei Miller. Jay was a Foyle Young Poet of the Year in 2005 and a winner of SLAMbassadors UK spoken word championship. Their poems have been collected in Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century (Bloodaxe, 2009), The Salt Book of Younger Poets (Salt, 2011), Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe, 2014) and Out of Bounds: British Black & Asian Poets (Bloodaxe, 2014).

You can find out more on Jay’s website.