Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2017

Hello and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for “The Spy Who Chipped The China Teacup” by Angie Smith.  I am thrilled to share a guest post written by the author on locations used in books and discusses whether or not to use fact or fiction when it comes to the places used.

51nahvhqxdl-_sy346_

Description:

Arms dealing. Murder. Corruption. 

In Africa, Taylor Hudson reaches the stark realisation that she is in imminent danger.

Time is nearly up when, out of nowhere, she is thrown a lifeline.  Left with little option, she places her trust in a complete stranger. But who is this stranger and why the interest in saving her?

The answers lie 6,000 miles away, deep inside the British Secret Intelligence Service, where a former, disgraced, senior officer is attempting to work his way back into the heart of the organisation. But what are his real intentions? 

What ensues is a deadly game of bluff, double-bluff and triple-bluff.

You can buy a copy of “The Spy Who Chipped The China Teacup” via:

Amazon


A book about fiction, or is it?

What is it about locations in fiction that grabs your attention? Makes it real for you? Do you like plenty of detail or do you just not care? Then, there is that old chestnut – should locations be real or fictitious? This last question seems to be one which causes a stir among readers.

Recently, I was puzzled to see a scathing write-up about a book I’ve read and very much enjoyed. The main reason for the cutting review was the author’s use of fictitious place names. But why should it matter? It would appear that to some people it does – very much so. I’ve seen accusations of laziness and lack of research thrown at authors.

Coming in for the most criticism appears to be the writer who adopts the hybrid style, a mix of actual and fictitious. Cries of ‘there is no such police authority in [insert place name]’ along with ‘there is no such job as a [insert made up job title]’. It seems the reader who has real places on which to create their imagination struggles to cope with other aspects which are completely made up. Yet – what is a work of fiction?

I suppose I now need to confess that as an author I am absolutely compelled to write about actual places. And almost exclusively I have to visit those places. Why? For me it provides the backdrop for creating atmosphere, flavour, ambience, call it what you like. So, if a reader lives locally or has visited the areas, then they may travel with me. And the reader who hasn’t is provided with sufficient information in order to experience the fineries of the location.

Having polled readers on a book club it would appear some argue that if you write about places which exist, then every single detail must be accurate. I’d agree – having to bear the brunt of criticism claiming that a certain train journey I’d referred to from a) to b) didn’t exist as a direct route! Whilst finding this amusing I was somewhat cross with myself and I was convinced I’d researched it and there was a direct train. Hey ho! But what is it that makes for a brain which will happily suspend belief about murder, espionage, corruption and spies, but cannot handle a minor detail about whether a direct train journey exists?

Of course the other side of the coin, where writers use completely fictitious locations has to have a mention here. As I alluded to above it matters not one jot to me so long as the author has created a vision – they’ve stirred my imagination enough for me to think it’s real. Isn’t that just as clever as writing about existing locations? Maybe they use real places and change the name, but that’s fine with me too as a reader. It all comes down to horses for courses. What works for one reader might not for another. That’s the thing with books – there are so many variable. So much to discuss. What do you think?

Footnote – that reader who picked up the train journey issue is now a good friend.


A huge thank you to Angie Smith for joining me today and also to Bloodhound Books for having me join their blog tour.  Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour for fab reviews, guest posts and other brilliant content! Blog Tour(5)

Read Full Post »

bluegoldcover

Published: 11 May 2017

Description:

The near future. Climate change and geopolitical tension have given rise to a new international threat – a world war for water. This most vital of resources has become a precious commodity and some will stop at nothing to control its flow.

When a satellite disappears over Iceland, Sim Atkins thinks he knows why. He is given the chance to join the hallowed Overseas Division and hunt for the terrorists responsible. But his new partner Freda Brightwell is aggrieved to be stuck with a rookie on such a deadly mission. Freda’s misgivings are well founded when their first assignment ends in disaster – a bomb destroys a valuable airship and those responsible evade capture. Seeking redemption, the British agents follow the trail to a billionaires’ tax haven in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and uncover a web of deceit that threatens global war. Whom can they trust?

As the world edges ever closer to destruction Sim and Freda must put their lives on the line to prevent Armageddon – and protect the future of ‘blue gold’. David Barker’s gripping debut will thrill fans of Scott Mariani, Steve Berry and Richard North Patterson.

My Thoughts & Review:

The plot of this book piqued my interest when I first heard about it, it’s a thriller with a very scientific and future world feel.  I don’t tend to read many scientific based novels, I’m a reader who likes the action to be set in the current world (or indeed a time period  that has already elapsed), but there was something about the way that this was written that made it very readable and captivating.

I’m sure most people will say that the start of this book really grabs their attention but it really does, the writing is so taut and atmospheric.  It’s hard for the reader not to feel like they are surrounded by the massive snowdrifts, gun toting choppers and danger.  And just as you prepare to get lost in a world of action and peril, the perspective shifts to a perilous situation of a different kind, Sim Atkins reminiscing that things had been so different two months previously when he was sat at home playing a computer game.

It is in the first section of the book that we meet the main characters and learn about their histories, and the concept of an international war over water.  Water is a resource that you don’t often think of as running out, and so by featuring it in this way it gives the reader something new.  I also found that this sparked a great conversation with my husband on “what if”, it was quite interesting to allow my imagination to wander freely for a while pondering this.

Sim is a character that readers will quickly come to like, his sense of humour and personality are on the right side of fun to lighten the situations he finds himself in.  Freda Brightwell is a character that has a backstory and one that as a reader I could not wait to delve into.  The snippets of her childhood she shares through classic film quotes are brilliant and show off a side of this character that I’d love to see developed in future novels.  Sim of course will feature in the next novel, the sneak preview of the sequel at the back of this book well and truly ensured that I would be hooked for “Rose Gold”, now I just need to find out when I can read it!

This is a very intelligently written novel, the timeline throughout is disjointed but in a way it gives the reader a wonderful feeling of being immersed in the action and means that they experience the unravelling of salient plot points at just the right time, however this may not be preferential for all readers.  The level of detail that David Barker includes in both the description of this characters as well as settings is top rate.  I felt that I was able to see the activity at the airstrip, taste the sands in the desert and feel the painful chill of the Himalayas as well as the perilous situations the characters found themselves in.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one and flew through it, eager to find out what happens next, now the wait for “Rose Gold”…..please don’t leave us waiting too long Mr Barker!!

You can buy a copy of “Blue Gold” via:

Urbane Publications
Amazon
Wordery
The Book Depository

My thanks to David Barker and Urbane Publications for the opportunity to read this and take part in the blog tour.


Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

tour-poster

 

Read Full Post »

I am absolutely thrilled to welcome you along to my stop on the blog tour for “Death’s Silent Judgement” today.  I have a wonderful guest piece written by Anne Coates to share with you.  “Death’s Silent Judgement” is the sequel to “Dancers in the Wind” (I reviewed this back in December 2016 here’s the link to the review).

Description:  

deathssilentjudgementsmall 2

 

Following the deadly events of Dancers in the Wind, freelance journalist and single mother Hannah Weybridge is thrown into the heart of a horrific murder investigation when a close friend, Liz Rayman, is found with her throat slashed at her pro bono dental practice at St John the Evangelist church in Waterloo. The free surgery Hannah runs is attended by the homeless people who comprise Cardboard City nearby and initially the police are quick to place the blame in their direction.

Hannah is not convinced and nor is Lady Rayman, Liz’s mother who employs the journalist to investigate.

With few clues to the apparently motiveless crime Hannah throws herself into discovering the reason for her friend’s brutal murder, and is determined to unmask the killer. But before long Hannah’s investigations place her in mortal danger, her hunt for the truth placing her in the path of a remorseless killer…

You can buy a copy of “Death’s Silent Judgement”  via:

Amazon
Urbane Publications
Wordery


My Inspiration for Death’s Silent Judgement

Many people have assumed that my protagonist Hannah Weybridge and her situation are, at least in parts, autobiographical. Of course this is true to a certain extent and I couldn’t put it better than Virginia Woolf who wrote: “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” Although I would probably have changed his to her!

I have dug deeply into some of my own experiences to create Hannah however her life has been refracted through various prisms. How she reacts to situations is part of her personality not mine. She is, like other characters, one of my imaginary friends. I confess I love the way characters arrive in my narratives – sometimes uninvited. I remember a spiritualist telling me she saw spirits vying for her attention and that’s how I feel. Sometimes they are all clamouring for a bigger role. It can get quite noisy in my head.

So where did the idea of discovering one’s best friend dead in the crypt of a church where she held a free dental clinic for the homeless, came from? In truth I have no idea. I had never been into St John the Evangelist at Waterloo and I do not have friends who are dentists – dead or alive. However I have experienced – as most people have – the loss of a friend either through circumstance or death. In particular I lost touch with one close friend when I was pregnant and I have used that situation to explore feelings and emotions in the interaction between Hannah and Liz, which I have done via flashbacks in Death’s Silent Judgement. But that is a kernel of truth that expands fictionally. A “what if…” that that takes me into the fictional world.

A sense of place is also important to me. The murders in Dancers in the Wind began in Kings Cross. In the sequel, the killings and much of the action has moved further south to Waterloo. This is an area I knew and know well. My mother was born there and a lot of her family lived there. As she was the only child of a second marriage, her half-siblings were between ten and 18 years older than her and died years ago. I modelled two minor characters, Eileen and Kit, on one of her sisters-in-law and her half-sister. That’s to say I took them as a starting point. Although I know the area well from when we visited family when I was a child, I also got to know the area as an adult when I worked at IPC Magazines in Stamford Street. The homeless people in the cardboard city of the Bull Ring (now the Imax Cinema) were a familiar sight.

Another source of inspiration is the amazing work individuals do to make life better for other people. WaterAid is a charity I support and they do such important and life-saving work. I have a charity in Death’s Silent Judgement – but I deliberately made the organisation a small, fictitious one. At the outpost where Liz was based, girls suffered rape and abuse through lack of amenities. Sadly this is a situation which continues today.

As a journalist I have been privileged to share and write about many people’s experiences and situations from celeb interviews to talking to prostitutes (my starting point for Dancers in the Wind) and like most writers I love eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. I always have a notebook at the ready for priceless gems! Plus I am fascinated by how people are dressed and present themselves. I make notes and keep them handy for my characters. (I wish I had a hidden camera that Hannah uses to take photos of people who intrigue me.) And I am indebted to friends who offer insights into their lives and careers.

All of this goes into my mind’s melting pot. I use nuggets of information to go off on a journey in my imagination. Often a character will lead me down a different path and reveal his or her secrets in an unexpected way. I was stunned by how this happened with one character in Death’s Silent Judgement and then I realised that the character had been giving me clues all along the way. I just hadn’t been paying close enough attention!


A huge thank you to Anne for joining me today and sharing where she gets her inspiration from.  I’m sure you will all agree that it’s always fun to find out where ideas for characters and plots come from, just be sure never to say anything too juicy around Anne, she might have that notebook handy to jot down all the details!

Read Full Post »

Hello and happy Friday!  Welcome along to another post to “Celebrate Indie Publishing” and this week the book being featured is “Beware the Cuckoo” by Julie Newman, and the author in the spotlight is Simon Michael.

 


Book Feature:

Published: 18 May 2017

cover113609-medium

“Lies, deceit and dark secrets – this is a wonderfully addictive read” – Sheree Murphy, actress and television presenter

They were reunited at his funeral, school friends with a shared past. A past that is anything but straightforward. A past that harbours secrets and untruths.

Karen has a seemingly perfect life. An adoring husband, two wonderful children and a beautiful home. She has all she has ever wanted, living the dream. She also has a secret.

Sandra’s once perfect life is rapidly unravelling. The man who meant everything to her had a dark side and her business is failing. To get her life back on track she needs to reclaim what is rightfully hers. She knows the secret.

As the past meets the present, truths are revealed – and both women understand the true cost of betrayal.

My Thoughts & Review:

It’s not often that a book leaves me genuinely stumped about how to review it.  On the one hand there was a very luring mystery aspect to the plot of this book, but there was also a plot line that I found very uncomfortable to read and if I’m honest I don’t think I would have picked this book up had I known about it.   Abuse of any sort makes for harrowing reading but when it features heavily in a book it puts a reader in a difficult position.  Do they continue reading and hope that this aspect of the plot is handled sensitively and remains utterly relevant to the story or do they stop reading there and then and forever wonder what happens in the other parts of the plot?  This was  a quandary I found myself in earlier this week.

I would urge caution to readers who may find the abuse detail too much.  The mystery element of the book is written well, the creeping darkness that looms as Karen and Sandra’s shared past is recounted gives the reader a gripping read and the prologue really does grab you.  The pace of this is quite brisk, and the number of secrets that are buried in the plot keep readers on their toes.
Sandra was a character that I struggled to connect with, she was very vain and spoiled as a youth and seemed not have changed much in adulthood.  Karen on the other hand, a vulnerable youth, that survives to adulthood but is troubled by her past and the memories associated with it.  Neither of these women were particularly likeable but I think this helped give a sense of detachment when reading this.

You can buy a copy of “Beware the Cuckoo” directly from directly from Urbane Publications here, or alternatively via  Amazon UK | Book Depository


Author Feature:

simonmichael-200x300

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: he was a barrister for 37 years and 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 during what was often considered the “Wild West” of British justice.  The 1960s was a time when the Krays and the Richardsons and other violent gangs fought for control of London’s organised crime, and the corrupt Metropolitan Police beat up suspects, twisted the evidence and took their share of the criminal proceeds.   Simon weaves into his thrillers genuine court documents from cases on which he worked and the big stories of the 1960s.

Simon was a successful author in the 1980s, published here and in the USA, and returned to writing when he retired from the Bar in 2016.  The first two books in the Charles Holborne series, The Brief published in September 2015 and An Honest Man published in July 2016, have both garnered rave reviews for their authenticity and excitement.  The theme of Simon’s books is alienation; Holborne, who dabbled in crime and in serious violence before becoming a barrister, is an outsider both in the East End where he grew up and in the Temples of the law where he now practices, where he faces daily class and religious prejudice.  He has been compared to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, honourable men surrounded by corruption and violence, trying to steer an honest course.

The third book in the series, THE LIGHTERMAN, will be published in June 2017 and looks set to be another bestseller.

Simon lives with his wife and youngest child in Bedfordshire. He is a founder member of the Ampthill Literary Festival and a former trustee and chairman of the Road Victims Trust, a charity devoted to supporting those bereaved or suffering life changing injury on the roads.

 

What’s your most favourite thing about being an author?

I can lose myself in a parallel world, one very similar to the one I inhabit, but where I control the outcomes.  I can present my characters, in particular Charles Holborne – who bears more than a passing resemblance to me – with the same life choices, the same moral dilemmas and the same dangers that I have faced and have him do better than I did.  It’s a mixture of escapism and self-therapy.

What’s your least favourite thing about being an author? 

The inverse of the previous answer: the area where I have no control, i.e. the business side of things.  Like every author I feel that I’m writing something worth reading.  More than that, I also believe I have something to say about the darker side of human nature, how we are all a mix of good and evil, and how in the end good usually prevails.  But having spent months crafting, tweaking and polishing to produce work of the best possible quality I can manage, I have no control over whether the book is a bestseller or it sinks into the abyss with thousands of others.  There’s a huge market out there, and it’s so disheartening how authors of the highest quality (and I’m not talking about myself) just don’t get noticed; so often authors with distinctive voices don’t get the prominence or the sales they deserve.  On the other hand complete and utter copycat pap finds its way onto the best-seller lists because it happens to be the flavour of the month, or because the Amazon behemoth decides to put its marketing heft behind it.  It’s iniquitous, random and dispiriting.

If you could have written any book what would it be and why?

There are too many to mention, but one book that I have returned to over and again during my life is The Adventures of Hiram Holliday by Paul Gallico.  I first read it in my late teens or perhaps early 20s when I was quite impressionable, and it had a lasting impact on me.  It is set in the late 1930s just as the Nazis are taking over Germany, against the backdrop of a Europe that was shortly to disappear forever.  It is the story of a mild-mannered rather portly old-fashioned American gent who turns out to have the heart and soul of a real hero, and some surprisingly useful talents.  He is not in the least brash and hides his light under a bushel.  He is the sort of gentleman (and hero) I have always aspired to be.

How do you spend your time when you’re not wrapped up plotting your next book?

I do a lot of talks to book groups, clubs and associations (for example the WI), and really enjoy it.  Unlike most authors, I don’t talk directly about my writing but about my family’s unusual history, my journey from council labourer to barrister, some of the entertaining stories and personalities I have encountered at the Bar and the themes which inspire my books.  After 38 years of public speaking, I hadn’t realised the extent to which I would miss it when I retired from active practice.  Speaking to these groups allows me to continue performing.

I also spend a lot of time doing research (which I like – and which can be very seductive unless you force yourself eventually to get down to the actual writing); marketing (which I dislike) and social media (which I loathe, but see as a necessary evil).

Finally, I have bought a very old rambling farmhouse in Gascony, which I adore, and I go there for peace and tranquillity as often as I can.  My wife still works, so she and my adult children join me as often as their schedules permit.

Do you have a set routine for writing?  Rituals you have to observe? I.e. specific pen, silence, day or night etc.

I don’t have any routine for writing and I desperately need to create one!  My wife and family accuse me of having a “butterfly mind”, which flits from subject to subject and task to task.  If my wife is to be believed, it makes me extremely unproductive.  I point out that I had a very successful career at the Bar for over 30 years, and in less than three years since I took on my last case I have written four novels, not to mention creating the website, doing the marketing, social media, blogging, and so on.  Not bad for someone who is unproductive.

However, she is right to this extent: I need to work to a proper schedule and divide the day into sections for social media/marketing chores, actual writing, and domestic/childcare stuff.  At present it’s the writing time which gets squeezed and squeezed, moved further and further towards the end of the list, and sometimes never reached at all.  And, after all, that’s the bit I like the best.

I have no particular rituals.  When I do get to the writing I sit at my desk, wake up the computer and start.  Once there, four or five hours will pass without my even noticing.

A huge thank you to Simon for taking part and for sharing some more about himself, and I have to say that I did go and look up The Adventures of Hiram Holliday after it was mentioned as it sounds like a book I’d enjoy, and it’s currently at the top of my birthday wish list for next month along with The Lighterman .
If you would like to know more about Simon and his books check out his website or follow him on twitter @simonmichaeluk

galley-menu-logo


If you are an independent publisher or author and would like to feature on “Celebrating Indie Publishing” Friday please get in touch – email and twitter links are on the “About Me & Review Policy” page.

Read Full Post »

51okudb0m5l-_sx322_bo1204203200_

Published: 4 May 2017

Description:

How far would you go to save your reputation? The stunning new noir thriller from the author of the bestselling The Missing One and The Other Child. Perfect for fans of I Let You Go and Lie With Me.

Professor Olivia Sweetman has worked hard to achieve the life she loves, with a high-flying career as a TV presenter and historian, three children and a talented husband. But as she stands before a crowd at the launch of her new bestseller she can barely pretend to smile. Her life has spiralled into deceit and if the truth comes out, she will lose everything.

Only one person knows what Olivia has done. Vivian Tester is the socially awkward sixty-year-old housekeeper of a Sussex manor who found the Victorian diary on which Olivia’s book is based. She has now become Olivia’s unofficial research assistant. And Vivian has secrets of her own.

As events move between London, Sussex and the idyllic South of France, the relationship between these two women grows more entangled and complex. Then a bizarre act of violence changes everything.

The Night Visitor is a compelling exploration of ambition, morality and deception that asks the question: how far would you go to save your reputation?

My Thoughts & Review:

“The Night Visitor” is the first book by Lucy Atkins that I’ve read, and if I’m honest I really had no idea what to expect when I picked this up.  I’d seen a fair bit of praise for this book and was curious to see if it lived up to the hype.

Following two characters, Olivia Sweetman and Vivian Tester, the author expertly weaves an intricate plot that will leave readers stunned, the story makes for uncomfortable reading in places but it is also spectacularly clever.  The way in which this book has been written is magnificent, each word, each phrase, each nuance is used for maximum effect and is perfectly placed to ensure that readers are entranced under Atkins spell.
Olivia Sweetman is an interesting character who on the surface appears to have the quintessential perfect life.  She is a highly successful academic, a minor celebrity, has a happy marriage and three children.  But below the surface there is tension bubbling, from the very beginning it is clear there is something bothering her, and the relationships around her are not as stable as they might seem.
Vivian Tester, well there’s a character that I found incredibly difficult to work out.  A true hat tip to Atkins here, as this must have been a character that took time and work to get just right on paper.  Vivian Tester is cold, distant, blunt and for want of a better word, strange.  She likes routine, and does not like anyone upsetting it.  She clearly has a secret or two to hide, but what could be behind her sinister aura.
Both of these women make for unreliable narrators, but it’s up to the reader to decide which is the most unreliable……

At times there is a claustrophobic feel to reading this book, suspicion runs rife throughout the plot, there are secrets being kept that could potentially ruin the lives of many and there is an underlying menace that presents in many forms – the book perfectly titled when you consider the events in the tower in France and Vivian’s terrifying nightmares.  All of this combines to form an incredibly rich and atmospheric read, and one that is filled with intrigue.

The attention to detail in the writing absolutely blew me away, Lucy Atkins has clearly spent a lot of time researching her subject matter, intricate details given about dung beetles, the publishing world and academia add a real feeling of authenticity as well as providing fascinating in-depth reading.

A wonderfully gripping thriller, that haunts the reader long after they’ve turned the final pages.

My thanks to Alainna Hadjigeorgiou and Quercus Books for the opportunity to read this book and take part in the blog tour.

You can buy a copy of “The Night Visitor” via:

Amazon
Wordery
The Book Depository


Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour for reviews, guest posts and extracts!

 

Night Visitor Blog Tour Poster

Read Full Post »

51wozgbsmyl-_sx312_bo1204203200_

Published: 17 April 2017

 

Description:

It is 1911, and Jean is about to join the mass strike at the Singer factory. For her, nothing will be the same again.

Decades later, in Edinburgh, Connie sews coded moments of her life into a notebook, as her mother did before her.

More than 100 years after his grandmother’s sewing machine was made, Fred discovers a treasure trove of documents. His family history is laid out before him in a patchwork of unfamiliar handwriting and colourful seams.

He starts to unpick the secrets of four generations, one stitch at a time.

My Thoughts & Review:

Every so often you read a book that speaks directly to your heart and that book becomes a very special one indeed.  “The Sewing Machine” has become a very special book to me, one that I loved reading and will no doubt be reading again before the year is out.

The uniqueness of this book comes in the form that the reader follows the tale of a Singer Sewing machine from it’s “birth” on the production line in Clydebank, Glasgow in the early 1900s.  It is at the Singer factory that we meet the first of the wonderfully rich characters, Jean.  A young woman, who believes in doing the right thing and following her heart, Jean takes part in a strike at the factory which in turn leads to a change of life for her.

The inheritance of the sewing machine by Fred brings the reader to current times and a different world from when the sewing machine first appeared.  It is through Fred that the reader finds out about the history of this particular machine, he unearths notebooks kept by his grandmother and great grandmother detailing all of the projects sewn on this machine.  The author expertly crafts together an intensely rich tale that flows over several time periods from different perspectives but all the while keeps everything linked, you could say her anchor stitching is perfect.

The exploration of each of the main characters in this book is so well thought out and detailed, it is evident that numerous hours of research has been done in planning of this story, including the small details of nursing uniforms and practices in the set time period add a real authenticity.
The lives of Connie and Alfred stuck out for me reading this, perhaps there was something about them that reminded me of my grandparents, certainly some of Fred’s younger memories of his grandparents did strike a chord with me, hours spent pottering in the garden with my grandfather, or creating things with my grandmother like little play dens etc.  theirs is a wonderful example of loving relationship, one filled with respect, care and genuine concern for others.
Fred is another character that found his way into my heart, through his blog entries the reader finds out more about him, how his life has changed following the death of his beloved grandfather and his decisions to remain in Edinburgh.
Kathleen’s story was one that I found troubling at times, not quite knowing how to take her, but I think that some of this has to be credited to Natalie Fergie.  In her writing of this character she invokes a very good representation of a woman who has faced troubling times but still remains vulnerable.  Hers was a tale that I found saddening but empowering, her notebooks proving just how strong she was.

This is a wonderfully charming read, a story that has numerous threads running through it, and like a patchwork quilt, each part is dovetailed seamlessly to form a beautiful creation.  I absolutely loved reading this book, it made me smile, it made me laugh, it made me weep but at the end I felt such a great satisfaction at how things worked out.

My heartfelt thanks to Natalie Fergie for the opportunity to read and review this book, and for inviting me to participate in her blog tour.

You can buy a copy of “The Sewing Machine” via
Amazon

Natalie has advised that paperback has sold out at the wholesalers, however Blackwell’s bookshop in Edinburgh will do a special Free Postage deal if people ring the shop and order on the phone 0131 622 8222.  And in London, The Big Green Bookshop have copies (and Free Postage) if people ring 0208 881 6767 – please note that there may be no guarantees how long they will have copies for, this book is absolutely brilliant and flying off the shelves!

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour for reviews, guest posts and fantastic features with the author of The Sewing Machine.

Yesterday’s host was the lovely Joanne over at Portobello Book Blog why not pop over and read her review.  Tomorrow’s host is Abby, a smashing lass that writes amazing reviews over on Anne Bonny Book Reviews

tour banner

Read Full Post »

Hello and happy Friday!  And you all know what Friday brings, yes,  its time to share another post to celebrate Indie Publishing and this time it’s Elliott & Thompson in the spotlight!   Today I am honoured to share my review of “Hitler’s Forgotten Children” written by Ingrid Von Oelhafen and Tim Tate and I’m equally excited that this post is also part of the blog tour for this book.


Description:

51cyzp9y2bcl-_sx324_bo1204203200_

‘More than 70 years ago I was a “gift” for Adolf Hitler. I was stolen as a baby to be part of one of the most terrible of all Nazi experiments: Lebensborn.’

The Lebensborn programme was the brainchild of Himmler: an extraordinary plan to create an Aryan master race, leaving behind thousands of displaced victims in the wake of the Nazi regime.

In Hitler’s Forgotten Children Ingrid von Oelhafen shares her incredible story as a child of the Lebensborn: a lonely childhood with a distant foster family; her painstaking and difficult search for answers in post-war Germany; and finally being reunited with her biological family – with one last shocking truth to be discovered.

 

My Thoughts & Review:

The Lebensborn programme was not something I was familiar with before reading this book.  I was aware of the Nazi desire to create a “master race” through carefully planned marriages within the SS etc but “Hitler’s Forgotten Children” has opened my eyes to the true scale of the horror and devious lengths that would be aspired to by such villainous perpetrators.

Ingrid von Oelhafen tells the painful story of how she ended up “stateless”, taken as a young child from her homeland and placed into various homes until being fostered by an approved German family to be “Germanised”.  In essence this is part memoir and part history book, Ingrid recounting the memories of her childhood, the journey she undertakes to find out her identity and her roots, but she also provides detail on a chapter of history that many people may not have heard about.  The inclusion of text from Nazi documents, orders and letters provides readers with a glimpse of the shocking truth about what happened during those dark years.

The heartbreaking subject matter of this book can make for difficult reading at times, there were times I was horrified at what I was reading, shocked at the events that had taken place but I was also found this a compelling and addictive read.  I wanted to know how Ingrid would discover her true identity, I needed to know what happened when she met her long lost biological family, but more than that, I was enthralled by the way in which this was written.  Many times I paused whilst reading and considered how I would have reacted to the revelations that Ingrid had discovered during the course of her investigations.  I enjoyed the way that this book challenged my perceptions of nature versus nurture, and reading the accounts of the Lebensborn children certainly gave me pause for thought.

This was a very thought provoking read, that is well researched and thought out.  The struggles Ingrid faced to find out her true roots are similar to many of the victims of the Lebensborn programme, many of them being unable to reconcile the findings.

A highly recommended read!

You can buy a copy of “Hitler’s Forgotten Children” via:

Amazon
Wordery
The Book Depository

My thanks to Elliott & Thompson, especially Alison Menzies for sending me a copy of this wonderful book.


elliott-and-thompson-logo

If you are an independent publisher or author and would like to feature on “Celebrating Indie Publishing” Friday please get in touch – email and twitter links are on the “About Me & Review Policy” page.

Read Full Post »

I am delighted to welcome you to my stop on the blog tour for “Sleeper”, the brilliant YA crossover thriller written by J.D. Fennell and share with you a fantastic piece written by the author on the importance of strong characters.  In “Sleeper” there is no shortage of strong characters, indeed the main character is one that instantly challenges the reader as to his motives, an enigmatic character that reader’s can’t help but want to follow as the tale draws them in.  Usually when a book arrives I will flick through it, try to gauge what sort of read it will be etc, but this book instantly grabbed my attention and before I knew it, I’d read a fair few chapters and was hooked!

Description:

51ublpo0hfl-_sx323_bo1204203200_

Sixteen-year-old Will Starling is pulled from the sea with no memory of his past. In his blazer is a strange notebook with a bullet lodged inside: a bullet meant for him. As London prepares for the Blitz, Will soon finds himself pursued by vicious agents and a ruthless killer known as the Pastor. All of them want Will’s notebook and will do anything to get it.

As Will’s memory starts to return, he realises he is no ordinary sixteen-year old. He has skills that make him a match for any assassin. But there is something else. At his core is a deep-rooted rage that he cannot explain. Where is his family and why has no one reported him missing?

Fighting for survival with the help of Mi5 agent-in-training, Anna Wilder, Will follows leads across London in a race against time to find the Stones of Fire before the next air raid makes a direct hit and destroys London forever.

You can buy a copy of “Sleeper” via:

Amazon
Wordery
The Book Depository
Goldsboro Books (signed, exclusive edition)


The importance of strong characters

If you are the kind of reader who likes pacey, gritty action thrillers then will you have certain expectations that must be met. First up you will want a story that takes you on a ride, delighting and shocking you in equal measure. You will also want a character to connect to: someone who draws you into the story and makes you feel what they feel. Remember, you are on a journey and you want to experience all it has to offer: love, fear, anger, happiness, rage, you name it. You – actually not it’s not just you, it’s we – we want it all.

Characters are the lifeblood of a novel whether they are good or bad. Not only do we want to be in a their head, we want to be in their heart and soul. Achieving this is the holy grail for any writer crafting a story.

So, characters are doers. They do not sit around, browsing Twitter for hours. Nor do they watch endless television. Off the page, these things are possibly true, however, we do not want to read about it. That would just make for a dull book. Characters are active players in the story who take control and make decisions that move the plot forward. They bring humanity to a story, and let’s be honest, without that, what do you have other than a sequence of events. It is this human element and the character’s emotions that make them real to us.

As an aside, people often ask which character is easier to write –  good guys or bad guys? For me, it is whoever is the most interesting. Let’s put this into the context of Sleeper, without giving away too many spoilers. I loved writing the Pastor. He is full of contradictions: a God-fearing man of the cloth with no moral compass. He does wicked, cruel things that he believes are right. It is a kind of extremism that make him a terrifying enemy for Will.

Will was the most fun to write. From the opening sequence I wanted readers to be unsure about his intentions. I really did not want to give too much away about him. Within the first chapter and on the dust cover of the hard back is the following passage:

“You are one of us, Will,” Frost had said. “Four years I have overseen your training and I could not be prouder. Today will be your baptism of blood. Do not fail me. Do not fail our masters.”

Masters! Will had almost baulked at that. His hands curl into fists at the thought. He had held his tongue, his expression fixed, his face a mask, a mask he had worn since this all began just over four years back. To this day it still surprises him how he has managed to hide the truth of who he is from Frost.

So what do we understand from this?

  1. We are in Will’s head, therefore it is his point of view (POV).
  2. Will is angry, but it is not a sudden surge of anger; it is a rage drawn out over four years.
  3. Will is clever. He has deceived Colonel Frost over those four years.
  4. Will has some sort of unpleasant mission to complete.

At a higher level we can figure out that Will is no wallflower. He has an ambiguity (is he good or is he bad?) and a rage that he conceals behind his mask of a face. He is also capable of doing things (“baptism of blood”) that readers don’t yet know about. As a writer, I hope this passage is a taster of what is to come. Will is your POV character; this is his story. He will take you on a journey and it may not be pleasant, so hold on tight.


A huge thank you to J.D. Fennell for joining me today and sharing this, hopefully it’s whet your appetite to check out the book.  Be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour for reviews and guest posts.

C-4kN8rXYAA0o9A

Read Full Post »

Hello and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Paul E. Hardisty’s latest thriller to feature vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker.  I am delighted to share an extract with you from Paul’s novel, so sit back and enjoy!

Description:

Reconciliation for the Dead aw.indd

Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu’s newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier. It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war, and the sacrifices that they, and their brothers in arms, are expected to make. Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance and finds himself labelled a deserter and accused of high treason, setting him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed. Exploring true events from one of the most hateful chapters in South African history, Reconciliation for the Dead is a shocking, explosive and gripping thriller from one finest writers in contemporary crime fiction.

You can buy a copy of “Reconciliation for the Dead” via:

Amazon
Orenda Books eBookstore
The Book Depository
Wordery


Book Extract:

Prologue
12th October 1996 Maputo, Mozambique

Claymore Straker stood in the long bar of the Polana Hotel, drained the whisky from his glass and looked out across gardens and swaying palms to the drowning mid-afternoon chop of the Indian Ocean. For the second time in his life, he’d been forced to flee the country of his birth. Two weeks ago he’d crossed the border, made his way to the ocean, and arrived here. Back again in the land of spirits, he’d determined that, this time, he would disappear forever. And then Crowbar had showed up. Just how his old platoon commander had managed to find him, he still had no idea. Crowbar had simply lumbered into the little café near the Parque de Continuadores and sat opposite him as if meeting for coffee in Mozambique was something they did every day. They didn’t talk long. Ten minutes later he was gone, vanished into the braying confusion of the city.
And Crowbar had been right, of course. About the things you couldn’t change. About the apportionment of blame. About everything. But the relics Crowbar had left on the table that day – the canister of 35 mm film now clutched hard in Clay’s right fist, still undeveloped after all these years; the blood-stained notebook now thrust deep in his jacket pocket – had changed everything. History has a way of orbiting back at you; and promises, he now knew, while they may be broken, never die.
After he’d made the decision, it had taken the better part of a week to track her down. Time he didn’t have. In the end it had been Hamour, a one-time colleague of hers from Agence France Presse in Istanbul, who had provided the breakthrough. Although Hamour hadn’t spoken to her for more than six months, he’d heard that she’d gone to Paris. He’d given Clay the name of an associate on the foreign desk there. It was enough. Clay had been able to convince the guy that he had a story worth telling, and that only she could tell it.
He’d had her number for over twenty-four hours now, but each time he’d picked up the phone, he’d stopped mid-dial, overcome. He wasn’t sure why, exactly. Perhaps it was because of the burden he’d asked to her carry once before, the guilt he still felt. Maybe it was because of what they’d almost shared – and then lost. Memory is a strange, malleable, and, he had come to realise, wholly undependable quantity. And nothing, it seemed, was immune from time’s inexorable winnowing, that hollowing erosion that, eventually, pulled the life from everything.
‘Mais um,’ Clay said, pointing to his glass. One more.
The barman poured. Clay drank.
It hadn’t been that long ago, really. Thirteen years. He’d arrived here in late ’81, in the middle of a civil war; left in early ’83. And now he was back. The place looked different, the whole city built up now – all the new peace-time buildings. Even this hotel, the grand old lady of Maputo, had undergone a facelift. The old, caged, rosewood elevator was still here; the bar with its marble tiles and teak counters; the same palm trees outside, that much older. But so much of the past had been shaken off like dust, the dead skin of years peeled away in layers. And now that he was back in Africa, it was as if he’d never left.
A uniformed bellhop approached and glanced at Clay’s stump, the place where his left hand should be. ‘Senhor?’ That look on the guy’s face. Clay nodded, reached under his jacket, ran the fingers of his right hand across the rough meshed surface of the pistol’s grip.
‘Your call is through, Senhor.’
Clay finished his drink and followed the bellhop to the telephone cabinets near the front desk. He scanned the lobby, closed the door behind him and picked up the phone.
‘Allo? Who is this?’ Her voice. Her, there, on the other end of the line.
He could hear her breathing, her lips so close to the mouthpiece, so far away. ‘Rania, it’s me.’
A pause, silence. And then: ‘Claymore?’
‘Yes, Ra. It’s me.’
‘Mon Dieu,’ she gasped. ‘Where are you, Claymore?’
‘Africa. I came back. Like you told me to.’
‘Claymore, I didn’t…’ She stopped, breathless.
‘I need your help, Rania.’
‘Are you alright, Claymore?’ The concern in her voice sent a bloom of warmth pulsing through his chest.
‘I’m … I’m okay, Rania.’
‘C’est bon, chéri. That is good.’ And then in a whisper. ‘I’m sorry for what happened between us, Clay.’
‘Me too.’
‘Thank you so much for the money. It has made a big difference.’
‘I’m glad.’
‘I never thanked you.’
He wasn’t going to ask her.
‘Are you going to testify, Claymore? Is that why you are there?’
‘I’ve already done it.’
‘That is good, chéri. I am proud of you. How was it?’
As he’d left the Central Methodist Mission after the first day, the spectators had lined both sides of the corridor, three and four deep. At first, they stood in shocked silence as he walked past. But soon the curses came. And then they spat on him.
Clay cradled the handpiece between his right shoulder and chin, covered his eyes with his hand a moment, drew his fingers down over the topography his face, the ridgeline of scar tissue across his right cheek, the coarse stubble of his jaw. He breathed, felt the tropical air flow into his lungs.
‘I need your help, Rania. It’s important.’
A long pause, and then: ‘What can I do?’
‘I need you to come to Maputo.’
‘Mozambique? Is that where you are?’
‘Yes.’
‘When?’
‘As soon as you can.’
Voices in the background, the screams of children, a playground. ‘Rania?’
‘Clay, cheri, please understand, it is not so easy. I have obligations.’
‘I have a story for you, Rania, one the world needs to know.’
‘Clay, I … I cannot. I am sorry. Things have changed. I am very busy.’
‘A lot of people have died for this, Rania.’
A sharp intake of breath.
‘And it’s still going on. The guy is still in his post. After all this time. It’s fucking outrageous.’
‘Slow down, Claymore.’
‘I tried to find him, rania. They said he was in Libya, but I know he’s still here.’
‘Who, Claymore? Who are you speaking of?’
‘O Médico de Morte.’ ‘
Claymore, please. You are not making sense. Is that Portuguese?
“The Doctor of Death”?’
‘That’s what they called him in Angola, during the war. I never told you about it. It was too … too hard.’ There were a lot of things he hadn’t told her.
‘What does this have to do with you, Claymore?’
‘I don’t have time to explain now, Rania. You have to come.’
‘Let me think about it, Claymore. I need some time, please. Can I call you back?’
‘When?’
‘At least a few days. A week.’
‘I don’t have that long, Rania. They’re after me.’
‘Mon Dieu, Claymore. What is happening?’
‘I can’t tell you over the phone, Rania.’
‘Who is after you? What is going on, Claymore?’
‘I’ll tell you when you get here.’
‘Alright, Claymore. Call me in two days. I will see what I can arrange.’
‘Thanks, Rania. Two days. This time. This number.’
Clay was about to hang up when he heard her call out.
‘Claymore.’
‘What is it Rania?’
‘Clay, I—’
‘Not now, Rania. Please, not now.’
Before she could answer, Clay killed the line. He cradled the handpiece and walked across the polished marble of the lobby to the hotel’s front entrance. A porter held the door open for him. He stood on the front steps and looked out across the Indian Ocean.
The sea breeze caressed his face. He closed his eyes and felt time fold back on itself.

Part I

No Longer Knowing

Fifteen Years Earlier: 22nd June 1981,  Latitude 16° 53’S; Longitude 18° 27’E,  Southern Angola

Claymore Straker looked down the sight of his South African Armscor-made r4 assault rifle at the target and waited for the signal to open fire.
For almost a year after leaving school to enlist, the targets had been paper. The silhouette of a black man, head and torso, but lacking dimension. Or rather, as he had now started to understand, lacking many dimensions. Blood and pain – surely. Hope and fear – always. But more specifically, the 5.56 mm perforations now wept blood rather than sunlight. The hollow-point rounds flowered not into wood, but through the exquisite machinery of life, a whole universe of pain exploding inside a single body – infinity contained within something perilously finite.
Just into his twenty-first year, Claymore Straker lay prone in the short, dry grass and listened to the sound of his own heart. Just beyond the tree line, framed in the pulsing pin and wedge of his gunsight, the silhouette of a man’s head moved through the underbrush. He could see the distinctive FAPLA cap, the man’s shoulders patched with sweat, the barrel of his rifle catching the sunlight. The enemy soldier slowed, turned, stopped, sniffed the air. Opal eyes set in skin black as fresh-blasted anthracite. At a hundred metres – less – it was an easy shot.
Sweat tracked across Clay’s forehead, bit his eyes. The target blurred. He blinked away the tears and brought the man’s chest back into focus. And for those few moments they shared the world, killer and victim tethered by all that was yet to be realised, the rehearsed choreography of aim and fire, the elegant ballistics of destruction. The morning air was kinetic with the hum of a trillion insects. Airbursts of cumulus drifted over the land like a year of promised tomorrows, each instant coming hard and relentless like a heartbeat. Now. And now. And above it all, the African sky spread whole and perfect and blue, an eternal witness.
A mosquito settled on the stretched thenar of Clay’s trigger hand, that web of flesh between thumb and forefinger. The insect paused, raised its thorax, perched a moment amidst a forest of hairs. It looked so fragile, transparent there in the sun, its inner structure revealed in x-ray complexity. He watched it flex its body then raise its proboscis. For a half-stalled moment it hovered there, above the surface of his skin, and then lanced into his hand. He felt the prick, the penetration, the pulsing injection of anaesthetic and anti-coagulant, and then the simultaneous reversal of flow, the hungry sucking as the insect started to fill itself with his blood. Clay filled his sights with his target’s torso, caressed the trigger with the palp of his finger as the insect completed its violation.
Come on.
Blood pumping. Here. There. Come on.
The mosquito, heavy with blood, thorax swollen crimson, pulled out.
What are we waiting for?
He is twenty, with a bullet. Too young to know that this might be the moment he takes his final breath. To know that today’s date might be the one they print in his one-line obituary in the local paper. To understand that the last time he had done something – walked in the mountains, kissed a girl, swam or sang or dreamed or loved – could be the last time he ever would. unable yet to comprehend that, after he was gone, the world would go on exactly as if he had never existed.
It was a hell of a thing.
The signal. Open fire.
Clay exhaled as he’d been taught and squeezed the trigger. The detonation slamming through his body. The lurch of the rifle in his hands. The bullet hurtling to its target. Ejected brass spinning away. Bullets shredding the tree line, scything the grass. Hell unleashed. Hades, here. right here.
The target was gone. He had no idea if he’d hit it. Shouting coming from his right, a glimpse of someone moving forwards at a crouch. His platoon commander. Muzzle flashes, off to the left. rounds coming in. That sound of mortality shooting into the base of his skull, little mouthfuls of the sound barrier snapping shut all around him.
Clay aimed at one of the muzzle flashes, squeezed off five quick rounds, rolled left, tried to steady himself, fired again. His heart hammered in his chest, adrenaline punching through him, wild as a teenage drunk. A round whipped past his head, so close he could feel it on his cheek. A lover’s caress. Jesus in Heaven.
He looked left. A face gleaming with sweat, streaked with dirt. Blue eyes wide, staring at him; perfect white teeth, huge grin. Kruger, the new kid, two weeks in, changing mags. A little older than Clay, just twenty-one, but so inestimably younger. As if a decade had been crammed into six months. A lifetime.
‘Did you see that?’ Kruger yelled over the roar. ‘Fokken nailed the kaffir.’
Clay banged off the last three rounds of his mag, changed out. ‘Shut up and focus,’ he yelled, the new kid so like Clay had been when he’d first gone over, so eager to please, so committed to the cause they were fighting for, to everything their fathers and politicians had told them this was about. It was the difference between believing – as Kruger did now – and no longer knowing what you believed.
And now they were up and moving through the grass, forwards through the smoke: Liutenant Van Boxmeer – Crowbar as everyone called him – their platoon commander, shouting them ahead, leading as always, almost to the trees; Kruger on Clay’s left; Eben on his right, sprinting across the open ground towards the trees.
They’d been choppered into Angola early that morning; three platoons of parabats – South African paratroopers – sent to rescue a uNITA detachment that had been surrounded and was under threat of being wiped out. A call had come in from the very top, and they’d been scrambled to help. uNITA, União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola – South Africa’s ally in the struggle against communism in Southern Africa – were fighting the rival MPLA, the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, and its military wing FAPLA, Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola, for control of the country. uNITA and MPLA were once united in their struggle to liberate Angola from Portugal. But when that was achieved in 1975, they split along ideological lines: MPLA supported by the Soviet union and its allies; uNITA by South Africa and, some said, America. That was what they had been told by the Colonel of the battalion, anyway. The Soviets were pouring weapons and equipment into FAPLA, bolstering it with tens of thousands of troops from Cuba, East Germany and the Soviet union itself, transforming FAPLA from a lightly armed guerrilla force into a legitimate army. As a consequence, things were not going well for uNITA, and it was up to them to do everything they could to help. South Africa was in mortal danger of being overrun by the communists; their whole way of life was threatened. This was the front line; this was where they had to make their stand. Everything they held dear – their families, their womenfolk, their homes and farms – all would be taken, enslaved, destroyed if they were not successful. It was life or death.
Clay remembered the day he left for active service, waiting at the train station, his duffel bag over his shoulder, his mother in tears on the platform, his father strong, proud. That was the word he’d used. Proud. He’d taken Clay’s hand in his, looked him in the eyes, and said it: I’m proud of you, son. Do your duty. It was just like in the books he’d read about the Second World War. And he had felt proud, righteous too, excited. He couldn’t quite believe it was happening to him. That he could be so lucky. He was going to war.
That was the way he remembered it, anyway.
Clay reached the trees – scrub mopane – Kruger and Eben still right and left, on line. They stopped, dropped to one knee. It was the middle of the dry season, everything withered and brown. Crowbar was about twenty metres ahead, standing beside the body of a dead FAPLA fighter, the radio handset pushed up to his ear, Steyn, his radio operator, crouching next to him. By now the shooting had stopped.
‘What’s happening?’ said Kruger.
Eben smiled at him. ‘That, young private, is a question for which there is no answer, now or ever.’
The kid frowned.
Eben took off his bush hat, ran his hand through the straw of his hair. ‘And the reason, kid, is that no one knows. The sooner you accept that, the better it will be. For all of us. read Descartes.’
Clay glanced over at Eben and smiled. Another dose of the clean truth from Eben Barstow, philosopher. That’s what he called it. The clean truth.
Kruger looked at Eben with eyes wide. ‘read?’ he said.
Eben shook his head.
Crowbar was up now, facing them. He looked left and right a moment, as if connecting with each of them individually. And then quick, precise hand signals: hostiles ahead, this way, through the trees, two hundred metres. And then he was off, moving through the scrub, the radio operator scrambling to keep up.
Kruger looked like he was going to shit himself. Maybe he already had.
‘Here we go, kid,’ said Eben, pulling his hat back on. ‘Stay with us. Keep low. You’ll be fine.’
And then they were moving through the trees, everything underfoot snapping and cracking so loud as to be heard a hundred miles away, a herd of buffalo crashing towards the guns. The first mortar round hurtled in before they’d gone fifty metres.
It landed long, the concussion wave pushing them forwards like a shove in the back. They upped the pace, crashing through the underbrush, half blind, mortar rounds falling closer behind, the wind at their backs, smoke drifting over them. Clay’s foot hit something: a log, a root. Something smashed into his stomach, doubling him over, collapsing his diaphragm. He fell crashing into a tangle of bush, rolled over, gasped for breath. And then, moments later, a flash, a kick in the side of the head, clumps of earth and bits of wood raining down on him. Muffled sounds coming to him now, dull thuds deep in his chest, felt rather than heard, and then scattered pops, like the sound of summer raindrops on a steel roof, fat and sporadic; and something else – was it voices?
He tried to breathe. Sand and dead leaves choked his mouth, covered his face. He spat, tearing the dirt from his eyes. A dull ache crept through his chest. He moved his hands over his body, checking the most important places first. But he was intact, unhurt. Jesus. He lay there a moment, a strange symphony warbling in his head. He opened his eyes. Slowly, his vision cleared. He was alone.
Smoke enveloped him, the smell of burning vegetation, cordite. He pushed himself to his knees and groped for his r4. He found it half buried, pulled it free and staggered to his feet. The sounds of gunfire came clearer now, somewhere up ahead. He checked the r4’s action, released the mag, blew the dust free, reinserted it, sighted. The foresight was covered in a tangle of roots. Shit. He flipped on the safety, inspected the muzzle. The barrel was clogged with dirt. He must have spiked the muzzle into the ground when he fell, driven the butt into his stomach. Stupid. unacceptable.
Ahead, the grind of Valk 2’s MAG somewhere on the right, the bitter crack of AK47s. Smoke swirling around him, a flicker of orange flame. The bush was alight. He stumbled away from the flames, moved towards the sounds of battle, staggering half blind through the smoke. There was no way his r4 could be fired without disassembling and cleaning it. He felt like a rookie. Crowbar would have a fit.
By the time he reached Eben and the others, the fight was over. It hadn’t lasted long. Valk 3 had caught most of the FAPLA fighters in enfilade at the far end of the airstrip, turned their flank and rolled them up against Valk 5. It was a good kill, Crowbar said. And Valk 5 had taken no casualties. One man wounded in Valk 3, pretty seriously they said: AK round through the chest, collapsed lung. Casevac on the way. They counted sixteen enemy bodies.
Crowbar told them to dig in, prepare for a counterattack, while he went to meet up with the uNITA doffs they’d just rescued. The platoon formed a wide perimeter around the northern length of the airstrip and linked in on both flanks with Valk 3 and Valk 2. Their holes were farther apart than they would have liked, but it would have to do. After all, they were parabats – South African paratroopers – the best of the best. That’s what they’d been taught. Here, platoons were called Valk; Afrikaans for hawk. Death from above. Best body count ratio in Angola.
Once the holes were dug and the OPs set, they collected the FAPLA dead, piling the bodies in a heap at the end of the airstrip. A few of the parabats sliced off ears and fingers as trophies, took photos. Behind them, the trees blazed, grey anvils of smoke billowing skywards. Clay stood a long time and watched the forest burn.
‘Once more ejected from the breach,’ said Eben, staring out at the blaze.
Clay looked at his friend, at the streaks of dirt on his face, the sweat beading his bare chest. ‘Where’s Kruger?’
Eben glanced left and right. ‘I thought he was with you.’
‘I got knocked down before we got fifty metres. Never saw anyone till it was all over. Never fired a shot.’ He showed Eben his r4.
‘I never took you for a pacifist, bru.’ Eben jutted his chin towards the pile of corpses. ‘You must be very disappointed to have missed out.’
Clay gazed at the bodies, the way the limbs entwined, embraced, the way the mouths gaped, dark with flies. This was their work, the accounting of it. He wondered what he felt about it. ‘I better get this cleaned, or the old man will kill me,’ he said.
Eben nodded. ‘I’ll go find Kruger. No telling what trouble that kid will get himself into.’
Clay nodded and went back to his hole. All down the line, the other members of the platoon were digging in, sweating under the Ovamboland sun. He dug for a while and was fishing in his pack for his cleaning kit when Eben jogged up, out of breath.
‘Can’t find Kruger anywhere, bru. No one’s seen him.’
‘He’s got to be around somewhere. Crowbar said no casualties. Did you check the other Valk?’
‘Not yet.’
Clay shouldered his r4. ‘Let’s go find Crowbar. Maybe he’s with him.’
They found Liutenant Van Boxmeer towards the western end of the airstrip, radioman at his side. He was arguing with a black Angolan uNITA officer dressed in a green jungle-pattern uniform and a tan beret. The officer wore reflective aviator ray-Bans and carried a pair of nickel-plated .45 calibre 1911s strapped across his chest. Beyond, a couple of dozen uNITA fighters, ragged and stunned, slouched around a complex of sandbagged bunkers. As Clay and Eben approached, the two men lowered their voices.
Clay and Eben saluted.
Crowbar looked them both square in the eyes, nodded.
‘Kruger’s missing, my Liutenant,’ said Eben in Afrikaans.
Crowbar looked up at the sky. ‘When was he seen last?’
‘Just before the advance through the trees,’ said Clay.
Crowbar’s gaze drifted to the muzzle of Clay’s r4. Clay could feel himself burn.
‘Find him,’ said Crowbar. ‘But do it fast. FAPLA pulled back, but they’re still out there. Mister Mbdele here figures we can expect a counterattack before nightfall.’
‘Colonel,’ said the uNITA officer.
‘What?’ said Crowbar.
‘I am Colonel Mbdele.’ He spoke Afrikaans with a strong Portuguese accent. His voice was stretched, shaky.
‘Your mam must be so proud,’ said Crowbar.
Eben smirked.
The Colonel whipped off his sunglasses and glared at Eben. The thyroid domes of his eyes bulged out from his face, the cornea flexing out over fully dilated pupils so that the blood-veined whites seemed to pulse with each beat of his heart. ‘Control your … your men, Liutenant,’ he shouted, reaching for the grip of one of his handguns. A huge diamond solitaire sparked in his right earlobe. His face shone with sweat. ‘We have work here. Important work.’
Crowbar glanced down at the man’s hand, shaking on the grip of his still-holstered pistol. ‘What work would that be, exactly, Colonel?’ he said, jutting his chin towards the FAPLA men lounging outside the bunker.
As the Colonel turned his head to look, Crowbar slipped his fighting knife from its point-up sheath behind his right hip.
Mbdele was facing them again, his nickel-plated handgun now halfway out of its holster, trembling in his sweat-soaked hand. The metal gleamed in the sun. Crowbar had closed the gap between them and now stood within striking distance of the uNITA officer, knife blade up against his wrist, where Mbdele couldn’t see it.
‘FAPLA will attack soon,’ shouted Mbdele, his voice cracking, his eyes pivoting in their sockets. He waved his free hand back towards the bunker. ‘This position must be defended. At all costs.’
Crowbar was poised, free hand up in front of him now, palm open, inches from Mbdele’s pistol hand, the knife at his side, still hidden. Clay held his breath.
‘And what’s so fokken important that you brought us all this way, meu amigo?’ said Crowbar in a half-whisper.
Mbdele took a step back, but Crowbar followed him like a dance partner, still just inches away.
‘I said, what’s so fokken important?’
‘Classified. Not your business,’ shouted Mbdele, spittle flying. ‘These are your orders. Your orders. Check. Call your commanders on the radio.’
Crowbar stood a moment, shaking his head and muttering something under his breath. ‘And here are your orders, Colonel,’ he said. ‘You and your men get the fok out there and cover our left flank, in case FAPLA tries to come in along the river.’
Sweat poured from the Colonel’s face, beaded on his forearms. ‘Não, Liutenant,’ he gasped as if short of breath. ‘No. We stay here. Aqui.’ He pointed towards the bunker complex. ‘My orders are to guard this. And your orders are to protect us.’
Clay glanced over at Eben. It was very unusual for a uNITA officer to question their South African allies. The Colonel was treading a dangerous path with the old man. Just as odd was uNITA clinging to a fixed position. They were a guerrilla force, fighting a much larger and more heavily armed opponent. They depended on movement and camouflage to survive.
Eben frowned, clearly thinking the same thing: whatever was in that bunker, it must be pretty important.
‘Our orders are to assist,’ said Crowbar. Clay could hear the growing impatience in his voice. ‘That means we help each other.’
The Colonel glanced back at his men. ‘I am the ranking officer here, Liutenant.’
Crowbar’s face spread in a wide grin. ‘Not in my army, you ain’t.’
Then, without taking his eyes from Mbdele, he said: ‘Straker, tell the men to get ready to move out.’
Clay snapped off a salute.
‘What are you doing?’ blurted the Colonel. ‘You … You have orders.’
‘Help us, Colonel, and we’ll help you,’ said Crowbar, calm, even.
‘We’re short-handed here. Outnumbered. Get your men out onto our flank or we ontrek. Your choice, meu amigo.’
The Colonel tightened his hand on his pistol grip. ‘This is unacceptable,’ he shouted. ‘Inaceitável.’ He rattled off a tirade in Portuguese.
Crowbar stayed as he was, feet planted, knife still concealed at his side. ‘Try me, asshole.’
The uNITA Colonel puffed out his cheeks, glaring at Crowbar, trying to stare him down.
Crowbar jerked his head towards Clay and Eben. ‘Move out in ten. Get going.’
Clay and Eben hesitated.
‘Now,’ said Crowbar.
Clay and Eben turned and started back to the lines at the double.
They’d gone about ten meters when they heard the Colonel shout: ‘Wait.’ Clay and Eben kept going.
Then Crowbar’s command. ‘Halt.’ They stopped, faced the two officers.
‘I will send half my men to the left flank,’ said the Colonel.
Crowbar muttered something under his breath. ‘Tell them to report to Liutenant DeVries.’ He pointed towards the bush beyond the bunker. ‘Over there.’
For a moment the Colonel looked as if he was going to speak, but then he swallowed it down.
It happened so fast Clay almost missed it. Mbdele was down on the ground, his gun hand in an armlock, the point of Crowbar’s knife at his throat, his 1911 in the dirt under Crowbar’s boot heel. Mbdele wailed in pain as Crowbar wrenched his arm in a direction it was not designed to go.
‘You ever think of pulling a weapon on me again, meu amigo,’ said Crowbar, loud enough so that Clay and Eben could hear, ‘and it will be the last thing that goes through that fucked-up up brain of yours.’
And then it was over and Crowbar was walking away, leaving Mbdele sitting in the dirt rubbing his arm.
‘Fokken uNITA bliksem,’ muttered Crowbar, falling in beside Clay and Eben. ‘I trust those fokkers about as much as I trust the whores in the Transkei.’
Eben grinned at Clay. ‘Quite the get-up. Those twin forty-fives.’
Crowbar glanced at Eben, but said nothing.
‘Did you see his eyes?’ said Eben. ‘He was wired up tight.’
‘Fokken vrot,’ said Crowbar, slinging his r4. ‘Fokken pack of drugged-up jackals.’
‘What’s so important about this place, my Liutenant?’ said Clay.
Crowbar stopped and squared up to Clay. ‘What’s it to you, troop?’
Clay stood to attention. ‘I just meant, those bunkers…’
‘They’re important because I say they’re important, Straker.’ ‘They don’t seem like much.’
Crowbar leaned in until his mouth was only a few inches from Clay’s face. ‘The only thing you need to know is right there in your hands. understood?’
‘Ja, my Liutenant,’ said Clay, rigid.
‘And that goes for you too, Barstow. Couple of fokken smart-arse soutpiele.’ Salt-dicks. English South Africans. ‘Now get out there and find Kruger. Take that black bastard from 32-Bat with you.’
‘Brigade,’ said Clay. ‘His name is Brigade, sir.’
‘I don’t give a kak what his name is,’ said Crowbar. ‘He’s our scout, he knows the country. Take him with you.’
Clay nodded.
‘And do it quick, Straker. Cherry like Kruger, you don’t find him by nightfall, he’s as good as dead.’
Clay and Eben started moving away.
‘And Straker,’ Crowbar called after them.
Clay turned, stood at attention.
‘I catch you again with your weapon in that state, and the commies’ll be the last thing you have to worry about. I’ll shoot you myself.’

South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission Transcripts.  Central Methodist Mission, Johannesburg,  13th September 1996
Commissioner Ksole: And you are here, why, Mister Straker?
Witness: To tell the truth, sir.
Commissioner Ksole: The truth. Why now, Mister Straker? It was a long time ago.
Witness: Because, sir, it’s killing me.
Commissioner Ksole: Do you wish to apply for amnesty, Mister Straker?
Witness: If that’s possible, yes, sir. I do.
Commissioner Ksole: Can you please tell the commission, are you the same Claymore Straker who is wanted for murder and acts of terrorism in Yemen?
Witness: Those charges have been dropped, sir.
Commissioner Ksole: And, Mister Straker, in Cyprus, also?
Witness: I served time in prison in Cyprus, yes, sir.
Commissioner Ksole: And you provide this testimony of your own free will?
Witness: Yes, sir.
Commissioner Ksole: And you understand, Mister Straker, that any information provided here can, and if necessary will, be used against you in a court of law if the circumstances warrant? That this commission has the power to recommend legal action against a witness if it sees fit?
Witness’s answer is unintelligible.
Commissioner Barbour: Speak up, Mister Straker, please. Do you understand the question? Witness: Yes sir, I do. Can and will be used against me.
Commissioner Barbour: And this incident – this series of incidents – occurred on the, ah, the border, during the war in Angola. Is that correct?
Witness: Yes, sir. While I was serving with the 1st Parachute Battalion, SADF. It was my third tour, so it would have been 1981.
Commissioner Barbour: And the UNITA Colonel, Mbdele. Did you know him by any other name?

Witness: No, sir. Not then.
Commissioner Barbour: And later?
Witness: Yes, sir. The people called him O Coletor.
Commissioner Barbour: Sorry?
Witness: It’s Portuguese, sir: ‘the Collector’.
Commissioner Barbour: Thank you. Did you ever find out what was in the, ah, the bunker? Witness: Yes, sir, we did.
Commissioner Barbour: What did you find, son?
Witness does not answer.
Commissioner Barbour: Son?
Witness: The truth, sir. We found the truth.
Commissioner Rotzenburg: It says here, in your service records, Mister Straker, that at the time of your dishonourable discharge from the army you were suffering from mental illness, including extreme instability, episodes of random violent behaviour, complex and consistent delusions, and persistent hallucinations. Do you know what the truth is, Mister Straker?
Witness does not respond.
Commissioner Rotzenburg: Answer the question, please.
Witness. Yes.
Commissioner Rotzenburg: Yes, what?
Witness: Yes, sir.
Commissioner Barbour: That’s not what he meant, son.
Witness: Yes, I … I’ve learned to…
Commissioner Rotzenburg: Learned to what, Mister Straker?
Witness: I’ve learned to distinguish.


Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

Reconciliation for the Dead Blog Tour poster

Read Full Post »

Hello and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Syd’ Moore’s “Strange Magic”.  This is the first in the Essex Witches Mystery series and is due for publication on 4th May 2017.  I am delighted to share with you a guest post written by Syd on the rebranding of the Essex Girl.

Description:

51yjbrfn5zl-_sx324_bo1204203200_

 

Rosie Strange doesn’t believe in ghosts or witches or magic. No, not at all. It’s no surprise therefore when she inherits the ramshackle Essex Witch Museum, her first thought is to take the money and run.

Still, the museum exerts a curious pull over Rosie. There’s the eccentric academic who bustles in to demand she help in a hunt for old bones, those of the notorious Ursula Cadence, a witch long since put to death. And there’s curator Sam Stone, a man about whom Rosie can’t decide if he’s tiresomely annoying or extremely captivating. It all adds up to looking like her plans to sell the museum might need to be delayed, just for a while.

Finding herself and Sam embroiled in a most peculiar centuries-old mystery, Rosie is quickly expelled from her comfort zone, where to her horror, the secrets of the past come with their own real, and all too present, danger as a strange magic threatens to envelope them all.

You can buy a copy of “Strange Magic” via:

Amazon
The Book Depository
Wordery


Rebranding the Essex Girl by Syd Moore

A new meme doing the rounds on Facebook landed in my inbox yesterday. It read ‘I’m not perfect. But as an Essex Girl I’m nearly there.’ It made me smile. It probably made everyone who read it smile. Perfection is not something associated with our county’s famous daughter. In fact, as most of us are aware, it’s quite the opposite. ‘Unintelligent, promiscuous, and materialistic’ is how the Oxford English Dictionary describes her.  You might remember last year Juliet Thomas and Natasha Sawkins of The Mother Hub started a campaign to get the term removed. The OED said no. Of course they did.

One of the problems with the stereotype is that fact that that, like the witches who I write about, Essex Girls are very much still seen as ‘The Other’.  In fact they share a lot of the same characteristics (see Strange Magic!). Both the Witch and the Essex Girl are stereotypes upon which people can project their disgust and concerns about impropriety, scandal and immorality. Not many women in the county label themselves an ‘Essex Girl’ unless they’re doing it with defiance in a kind of ‘do you want to make something of it’ way.  The term is generally lassoed over them by outsiders who are, in all likelihood, feeling a bit threatened or uncomfortable in the same way they did centuries back when presented with an old woman accused of witchcraft. A derogatory stereotype is all about trying to knock the confidence of that person and denigrate them. That’s the issue that has greater implications for the young women of Essex.

Having said all of that I didn’t sign the petition. Whilst I’m glad people are paying attention to the stereotyping that tars every single female living in the 3,670 km² to the East of London of varying ages and ethnic mixes, with the same brush. But I take a different view.

Whenever a paper runs a news story about some female from the county out trots the stereotype.  And if you are a woman from this part of the world you’ll hear it used more than if you’re not. For as long as the term ‘Essex Girl’ continues to provide lazy commentary and a good excuse for tabloids to insert pictures of attractive women then it’s going to stick around.

However I think there’s something that’s quite magnificent about the Essex Girl. You see, if you get beyond that Eighties/Nineties knee-jerk of disapproval then she’s actually got a lot going for her. Some people (*looks at the OED*) might call her promiscuous but surely that term is outdated now? Isn’t she just independent and sexually autonomous? Choosing her mates herself, when she wants and whoever she wants? So what if she works hard and spends her money as she pleases, just like the boys? Who cares if the women and girls of Essex like to take care of themselves? As far as I’m aware nobody has produced any evidence that beauty treatments correlate to IQ.  In fact the high profile women who have been associated with the stereotype, for better or for worse, have done remarkably well for themselves showing canny business acumen and drive. Amy Childs (whose face incidentally ran alongside much of the coverage about the petition) used her fifteen minutes of fame to launch a beauty range and fashion collection which is still thriving.

See, today’s Essex Girl is enterprising. She’s also associated with plain-speaking and making the best of what she’s been physically blessed with. The Essex Girl is also fun. If I had to spend an evening with anyone I’d go out with the chick from Essex – she knows how to enjoy herself. And in today’s era of grooming and cyber-bullying her deliberate sexual autonomy and sass should not be reviled but applauded.

I know we’ve still got a long way to go and I agree with The Mother Hub that it’s time to agitate for change. But let’s stop dissing the Essex Girl and give her a chance to thrive, to reveal the more mature and considered nature of the woman she’s become.


About the Author:

Before embarking on a career in education, Syd worked extensively in the publishing industry, fronting Channel 4’s book programme, Pulp. She was the founding editor of Level 4, an arts and culture magazine, and is co-creator of Super Strumps, the game that reclaims female stereotypes. Syd has also been a go go dancer, backing singer, subbuteo maker, children’s entertainer and performance poet, She now works for Metal Culture, an arts organisation, promoting arts and cultural events and developing literature programmes. Syd is an out and proud Essex Girl and is lucky enough to live in that county where she spends her free time excavating old myths and listening out for things that go bump in the night.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

write4bairns

Writing for Kids

The Auld (Woolly) Alliance

When a Scottish Knitwear and Toy Designer and a French Compulsive Knitter Meet...

Put it in Writing

The Blog & Website of Anne Stormont Author: Writing, Reading, Reflecting

bibliobeth

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” - Cicero

Not Another Book Blogger

Reading, Writing, Drinking Tea

BookBum

A friendly space for all horror, mystery & thriller lovers

Broadbean's Books

Welcome to my blog where I share my thoughts on books.

Berit Talks Books

“I'm just a girl, standing in front of a book hoping I will love it.”

Yvonne - Me and My Books

Books, book reviews and bookish news.

The Beardy Book Blogger

Reading and Reviewing Books - May Contain Beard: "From Tiny Book Blog Buds Shall Mighty Book Blogs Grow" - TBBB

Book lovers' booklist

Book news and reviews

Rosepoint Publishing

Blogger-Book Blogger–Book Reviews of Bestsellers & Indie Authors

Crime Thriller Fella

Crime reviews, news, mayhem, all the usual

juliapalooza.com

Books, bakes and bunnies

A Knight's Reads

All things bookish

Letter Twenty

it's all about the tea

On The Shelf Books

A bookblog for readers

Gem's Quiet Corner

Welcome to my little corner. Grab a cup of tea (or hot drink of preference), find your happy place and join me to talk all things bookish...