Missing in Action with Darlene Foster!

Amanda in Holland

In two days it’ll be exactly a year since I last stayed in with Darlene Foster when we chatted on Linda’s Book Bag here about her children’s book Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind. Little did I know when I first decided to run ‘staying in’ posts that we’d all be doing it in real life, never mind virtually!

mexico cover

With Darlene’s stories transporting young readers all over the world from the safety of their own homes I thought now would be the perfect time to welcome her back to tell me about her latest book.

Staying in with Darlene Foster

Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag Darlene and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me again.

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

Amanda in Holland

I’ve brought Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action because it is the latest in the Amanda Travels series. Also, Holland is a great place to be in the spring. It may entice you and your readers to visit this delightful country.

It certainly will once we’re allowed to travel again Darlene.

What can we expect from an evening in with Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action?

You can expect a fun trip to Holland without leaving the comfort of your sofa.

One reader commented, “This book was quite a bit of fun. Foster combines a middle-grade fiction plot with a colourful tour of Holland, including its famous sites, snippets of history, and its wonderful flowers and food. I had the great fortune of visiting my grandparents in Holland when I was Amanda’s age, and her experiences in the book mirror my memories in great detail. It was a blast to traipse along beside Amanda and enjoy the country once again.” D. Peach

That’s lovely. You must be delighted with that response.

If you like spending time with a young person you can be sure Amanda will entertain you as she explores Holland and attempts to find some things that are missing.

Here is what another reviewer had to say about the twelve-year-old heroine.

“The book is action-packed and filled with interesting titbits of information about life in Holland, WWII and perseverance and determination in unravelling a mystery. Amanda is a clever and kind girl who will appeal to middle school and young teenagers who will admire her pluck.” Robbie Cheadle

Oh. I love Robbie. She’s been a brilliant supporter of Linda’s Book Bag over the years. She has a brilliant blog of her own here too.

I enjoy writing travel adventure books with a twelve-year-old main character. Kids at this age are typically bright, inquisitive, eager to learn, and fun. They are in the middle, no longer little children but not yet teenagers. There is still that sweet innocence but they are starting to question things and think for themselves. The sense of adventure kicks in at this age and they crave more independence, at the same time they like to feel safe in the familiar. Wouldn’t we all like to be twelve again?

I’m not entirely sure I would Darlene. I was 5′ 8” tall at 12 and looked much older than I was. Got me into quite a few scrapes! Someone once asked me out on a date and when I asked how old he was, he said he was 26. When I asked how old he thought I was, he considered for a while and said, ‘Around 23 or 24.’ His face was a picture when I said I was 12. You couldn’t see him for dust! 

What else have you brought along and why?


I have brought some Stroopwaffels and banket, two favourite Dutch treats, as well as Dutch hot chocolate. We can place the Stoopwaffels on top of the steaming hot chocolate and the caramel between the crisp waffles will melt making them even more delicious. The banket, a puff pastry filled with almond paste, will melt in your mouth.

Oh my word. I think you can come again Darlene if you’re going to bring food like this!


I have also brought you a bouquet of tulips.

They are beautiful. Thanks so much and thank you for staying in with me again Darlene.

Thanks so much for inviting me and Amanda over for an evening in. Please help yourself to the goodies and dream of Holland.

Thanks Darlene. Sadly, dreaming is all we can do at the moment but at least we do have Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action to take us there:

Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action

Amanda in Holland

Amanda is in Holland to see the tulips with her best friend, Leah; travelling the canals of Amsterdam, visiting Anne Frank House, checking out windmills and a wooden shoe factory, and taking pictures of the flowers of Keukenhof Gardens.

She is also keen to find out what happened to her great uncle who never returned from WWII and was declared missing in action.

What she doesn’t expect to find and fall in love with is Joey, an abandoned puppy.

While trying to find a home for him, she meets Jan, a Dutch boy who offers to help, a suspicious gardener, a strange woman on a bicycle, and an overprotective goose named Gerald.

Follow Amanda around the charming country of Holland, filled with colourful tulips, windmills, and more bicycles than she could have imagined.

Once again, intrepid traveller Amanda encounters danger and intrigue as she tries to solve more than one mystery in a foreign country.

Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action is available for purchase here.

About Darlene Foster


Darlene Foster is a writer, an employment counsellor, an ESL tutor for children, a wife, mother and grandmother. She loves travel, shoes, cooking, reading, sewing, chocolate, music, the beach and making new friends. Her 13-year-old grandson called her “super-mega-woman-supreme”. She was brought up on a ranch near Medicine Hat, Alberta, where she dreamt of traveling the world and meeting interesting people. She currently divides her time between the west coast of Canada and the Costa Blanca in Spain, with her husband Paul.

Amanda in Arabia-The Perfume Flask was her first published novel. Once bitten by the travel bug, Amanda travels to other interesting places, sticking her nose in other people’s problems and getting herself in trouble. Read Amanda in Spain – The Girl in the PaintingAmanda in England – The Missing NovelAmanda in Alberta – The Writing on the Stone, Amanda on the Danube – The Sounds of Music and Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind to find out the adventures Amanda has as she travels the world. You can find all of these books here.

You can find out more about Darlene by visiting her website and her blog. You’ll also find her on Facebook and Twitter @supermegawoman.

How to Build a Boyfriend (from Scratch) by Sarah Archer

How to build a boyfriend from scratch

My enormous thanks to Rebecca Bryant at Harper Collins for sending me a copy of How to Build a Boyfriend (from Scratch) by Sarah Archer in return for an honest review.

Published by Harper Collins on 19th March 2020, How to Build a Boyfriend (from Scratch) is available for purchase through the links here.

How to Build a Boyfriend (from Scratch)

How to build a boyfriend from scratch

Dating is hard. Being dateless at your perfect sister’s wedding is harder.

Meet Kelly. A brilliant but socially awkward robotics engineer desperately seeking a wedding date…

Meet Ethan. Intelligent, gorgeous, brings out the confidence Kelly didn’t know she had and … not technically human. (But no one needs to know that.)

With her sister’s wedding looming and everyone in the world on her case about being perpetually single, Kelly decides to take her love life into her own hands – and use her genius skills to create Ethan.

But when she can’t resist keeping her new boy toy around even after the ‘I do’s’, Kelly knows she needs to hit the off switch on this romance, fast. Only, when you’ve found (well, made) your perfect man, how do you kiss him goodbye?

My Review of How to Build a Boyfriend (from Scratch)

If Kelly can’t get a date then she’ll just have to build a boyfriend.

I must confess to being initially flummoxed by How to Build a Boyfriend (from Scratch) because the style simply didn’t seem to match the blurb and my expectations of a lightweight rom-com read. It took me a while to get in to the book because I was distracted by the world’s Covid 19 events and couldn’t quite grasp the mis-match with my preconceived ideas. I think it says something about the quality of Sarah Archer’s writing that she still managed to engage my attention and made me want to read on.

There’s a really well thought out and engaging plot here, with an interesting and well researched insight into the world of artificial intelligence and robotics, as well as there being several strands of romantic human interest, so that I felt How to Build a Boyfriend (from Scratch) offered far more than I had anticipated. It comes as no surprise to find the author has worked in film and television as this book has a storyline that would be perfect for either small or large screen.

I thought the characterisation was spot on, especially with regard to Kelly. Her complex relationship with her family held elements that I’m sure so many readers could identify with. Ethan is a triumph because he leads Kelly to a greater understanding of herself and what is truly important in life. And for me, it is this exploration of self and the themes of rivalry in many forms, love, addiction to work, obsession, the need to be accepted and so on, that add the extra dimension I simply hadn’t thought would arise in How to Build a Boyfriend (from Scratch). I was truly pleasantly surprised at the level of depth. Yes, I laughed at the lighter moments, but equally I felt a level of frustration that made me empathise with Kelly and I shed a tear too.

I must also make mention of the smashing question and answer section at the end of the book because Sarah Archer affords the reader a fascinating insight into how she wrote How to Build a Boyfriend (from Scratch).

From wondering quite what kind of a book I had in front of me when I began reading, I ended with a clear knowledge. How to Build a Boyfriend (from Scratch) is entertaining, diverting and actually far more thought-provoking than I had thought it would be. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

About Sarah Archer

Sarah Archer

Sarah Archer wanted to be a writer since she was seven. In her childhood and teenage years, she fell in love with writing poetry, then discovered screenwriting and sketch comedy in college at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Straight out of school, Sarah moved to Los Angeles to work in film and television. Since then, she has moved to full time writing.

Sarah lives in North Carolina, and shares her home with her husband and her pug, Lou.

For more information, follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahArcherM and Instagram or visit her website.

Calming Art Therapy Colouring Book thanks to @Books2DoorUK

calming art therapy

Although we’d all love to support our local bookshops in these enormously trying times, not all of us live near to one that is able to deliver in far flung places. Consequently, when Levi at Books 2 Door got in touch and asked if I’d like to review a selection of books from their website I was thrilled to accept.

I’ve featured books from Books 2 Door on Linda’s Book Bag before, and I’m delighted to do so again, as I find their prices hugely competitive and their service and delivery absolutely brilliant. Sadly, after last evening’s ‘lock down’ announcements, I have no idea whether Books 2 Door will currently be able to fulfil new orders, but I felt the book I’m reviewing today might be just what one of you needs.

You’ll find my reviews of other books I’ve received from Books 2 Door as follows:

The World of David Walliams Book of Stuff by, funnily enough, David Walliams here.

The ten book box set of Horrid Henry’s Mischievous Mayhem by Francesca Simon here.

The Michael Morpurgo Series One 8 Book Set Collection here.

Today I’m delighted to review the Calming Art Therapy Colouring Book which is published by Michael O’Mara Books and available on the Books 2 Door website here.

Calming Art Therapy Colouring Book

calming art therapy

Readers can colour themselves calm with this beautiful and therapeutic colouring book. Focusing on completing detailed patterns and adding colour creatively has a relaxing, stress-busting effect and the soothing colour palettes will enhance the artist’s mood. There are no rules or complicated step-by-step instructions in these pages and no need for expensive art and craft supplies. Readers are free to doodle, draw, colour and shade to their hearts’ content.

My Review of Calming Art Therapy Colouring Book

A book of inspirational designs and patterns to colour by Hannah Davies, Richard Merritt and Cindy Wilde and edited by Hannah Cohen.

I’m so impressed by the Calming Art Therapy Colouring Book. It has page after page of glorious designs to colour, many of which are natural images like hedgehogs and frogs, elephants, flowers and leaves –  the kind of nature known to bring positive mental health benefits. There are some more structural and abstract images too reminding me of William Morris designs, of Japan and St Petersburg or Elizabethan England so that there really is something for everyone between the pages of the Calming Art Therapy Colouring Book, allowing the mind to drift and imagine whilst the fingers are colouring.

Split into two sections, the first, Colouring, has minutely detailed images to colour with well defined lines, which will afford such concentration that all other cares will vanish. In the second section, Doodling, there are freer pages where there is more blank space to allow the imagination to run riot. In both sections, the pictures are beautifully drawn. Almost every page has a vibrant dash of colour too that lifts the spirits and makes the whole book incredibly attractive.

I’m desperate to dive right in to the Calming Art Therapy Colouring Book because it is so compellingly appealing. However, in these dark times I’m going to give my copy to my isolated Mum because I think concentrating on colouring in the pictures will distract her mind away from current events and the fact that she’s going to be pretty much entirely on her own for the foreseeable future. And that’s the beauty of Calming Art Therapy Colouring Book – it would make a fantastic gift for anyone, but now more than ever.

Thank you again to Books 2 Door for my copy.

Introducing The Life We Almost Had by Amelia Henley

The Life We Almost Had

I wasn’t going to post today, but earlier lovely Meggy Roussel who blogs at Chocolate’n’Waffles told me that Amelia Henley was going to reveal her debut romance, The Life We Almost Had, and I simply had to be part of those celebrations.

Linda and Amelia

You see, Amelia Henley is also my friend and fabulous psychological thriller writer Louise Jensen. I recently reviewed Louise’s The Family here and it was one of my books of the year last year.

But this is about Amelia, not Louise!

I had the pleasure of finding out all about Amelia’s The Life We Almost Had at a wonderful evening in The News Building at the Harper Collins HQ New Voices Fiction Showcase in January.


Let’s find out all about The Life We Almost Had.

The Life We Almost Had

The Life We Almost Had

This is not a typical love story, but it’s our love story.

Anna wasn’t looking for love when Adam swept her off her feet but there was no denying their connection, and she believed they would be together forever.

Years later, cracks have appeared in their relationship. Anna is questioning whether their love can really be eternal when a cruel twist of fate delivers a crushing blow, and Anna and Adam are completely lost to one another. Now, Anna needs Adam more than ever, but the way back to him has life-changing consequences.

Is a second chance at first love really worth the sacrifice? Anna needs to decide and time is running out…

A beautiful and emotional love story that asks, how far would you go for a second chance at first love? Perfect for fans of The Man Who Didn’t Call and Miss You.

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy and have a very special reason for wanting to read The Life We Almost Had. If I show you a tweet from Amelia you’ll know why!

Lou tweet

The Life We Almost Had will be published on 23rd July by Harper Collins imprint HQ and is available for pre-order through the links here.

About Amelia Henley

Amelia Henley

Amelia Henley is a hopeless romantic who has a penchant for exploring the intricacies of relationships through writing heart-breaking, high-concept love stories.

Amelia also writes psychological thrillers under her real name, Louise Jensen. As Louise Jensen she has sold over a million copies of her global number one bestsellers. Her stories have been translated into twenty-five languages and optioned for TV as well as featuring on the USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers list. Louise’s books have been nominated for multiple awards.

The Life We Almost Had is the first story she’s written as Amelia Henley and she can’t wait to share it with readers.

You can follow Amelia on Twitter @MsAmeliaHenley and find her on Facebook.

You can find out more about Louise by visiting her website, finding her on Facebook and following her on Twitter @Fab_fiction.

Staying in with Selin Turhangil

My Sardinian Summer

Usually when I stay in here on Linda’s Book Bag it’s with an author, but in these different times, I’m doing things slightly differently today and am spending my time with Selin Turhangil. Selin is an editor with Hodder and Stoughton and is working with My Sardinian Summer by Michaël Uras. As Michaël is French, with My Sardinian Summer translated by Adriana Hunter, and it’s a very long time since I did A’Level French and studied it as part of the first year of my degree, I felt it best to ask Selin about the book as I wasn’t sure my 40 year old rusty language skills were up to the job to chat with Michaël!

Let’s find out what Selin has to say:

Staying in with Selin Turhangil

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

I know you’re keen for everyone to know about My Sardinian Summer by Michaël Uras which is published today, so what can we expect from an evening in with My Sardinian Summer?

My Sardinian Summer

Thanks Linda. With its lush Sardinian setting and uplifting story of self-redemption, My Sardinian Summer is a great uplit-meets-armchair-escapism novel, and perfect for fans of Rosanna Ley and Ruth Hogan.

Now that IS a recommendation. I adore those two writers!

The hot setting and laugh-out-loud writing turn it into a great book to pack in a suitcase for a holiday, or to curl up and travel to Sardinia with, from the comfort of your sofa – just what we all need right now!

We certainly do. And I love Sardinia. I’ve only been once in real life so this book sounds like the perfect opportunity to return without leaving home.

We’ve had great feedback from readers with comments like “A lovely feel-good story” – Lisa, NetGalley reviewer.

That doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been hearing good things about My Sardinian Summer too.

What else have you brought along and why?


Do check out ‘Le temps est bon’ by Bon Entendeur; it’s the perfect holiday getaway soundtrack!

I’ve just watched the video for that on YouTube. It’s utterly bonkers!


And if you can, pop into an Italian shop and grab some cheese crackers, cannoli or panettone! You’ll read about many of Sicily’s culinary specialities in the course of the novel.

I’m hungry already. I love it when guests bring food. Thanks so much for telling us about My Sardinian Summer Selin, and for sending me a copy for review. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

My Sardinian Summer

My Sardinian Summer

Giacomo is stuck in a funk he can’t shake – and a translation of Moby Dick he can’t finish. When he’s summoned home to Sardinia, to say a final goodbye to his dying grandmother, he’s offered the perfect opportunity to escape.

On the noisy, sun-drenched island, Giacomo reconnects with long-lost friends and overbearing relatives, relives the childhood he once couldn’t wait to leave behind, and rediscovers new joie-de-vivre within him. Never mind that he’s making no progress on his translation. . .

When the time comes to leave once more, Giacomo wonders: has he fallen back in love with his home-island? Or has he been hiding from something which he needs the courage to return and confront?

But most importantly – is his grandma really as ill as she’s claiming to be?

My Sardinian Summer is published today, 19th March 2020 by Hodder and Stoughton and is available for purchase through the links here.

About Michaël Uras


Michaël Uras is a short story writer and novelist with a Sardinian father and a passion for Michel Proust.

You can find out more by following Michaël on Twitter @MichaelUras, or by finding him on Facebook and Instagram.

Staying in with Miles Montague

Carbon Game

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

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

Staying in with Miles Montague

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

Thank you for inviting me.

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

Carbon Game

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

They sound wonderful Miles.

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

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

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

That must be very gratifying.

What else have you brought along and why?

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

IMG_2164 (1)

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


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


Shoe Lane where the DTC staff are evacuated to.

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

Carbon Game

Carbon Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Miles Montague

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

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

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

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


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

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

Beyond the Margin


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

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

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

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

The Power of Fiction

A Guest Post by Jo Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

About Jo Jackson

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

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

too loud

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

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