Author Spotlight, Liz Robinson Reviews

Dinah Jeffries – a Liz Robinson Author of the Month

Dinah is one of my favourite authors, she not only has the beautiful ability to paint pictures in my mind, she also conjures taste, evokes smells, and I feel, I really feel the emotions of her characters.  Historical (tick), relationship (tick), family drama (tick), provocative, rich, expressive, captivating, exotic, vibrant (tick, tick, tick). Her books have been in the Sunday Times top ten, and two have been Richard and Judy book club picks.
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Dinah Jefferies
Liz – Who was your favourite character from a book when you were a child and what was it about them that you loved? 
Dinah – I loved Jo from Little Women because she was such a strong and driven character. I was fascinated by her longing and determination to be a published writer and my heart broke when her sister burnt her manuscript. She might have forgiven her sister, (horrid, horrid girl, whose name escapes me!) but I didn’t.
Liz – Have you always written? What made you decide to try your hand at writing a book and how long was it before you were published?
Dinah – My first novel took about a year to write and remains unpublished – always will do so. Writing it was a fantastic learning experience, but I’d never want to see it in print. Everything I learnt as I wrote that first book influenced me as I took on the challenge of writing The Separation, which was bought by Viking at Penguin in 2012, and published in 2014. Years before I began to write novels I tried my hand at a children’s book and, throughout my life, I have scribbled my thoughts as a way of coping with life. It never occurred to me to write a novel until I had time on my hands and worries that I could do nothing about. I had no idea if it was something I could do or not. Luckily it turned out well. Writing fiction began as a means of escape but now my only regret is that I left it so late.
Liz – Do you read non-fiction, if so, is it for pleasure, for research, or a little of both?
Dinah – It’s mainly research, although I recently read a wonderful memoir written by a woman with early onset dementia. Both my parents had age related dementia and I so wish I’d been able to read this book while they were still alive. So worth a read and a huge bestseller it’s called Somebody I used to know by Wendy Mitchell. Everyone should read it.
Liz –  I find myself transported to the world you write about, particularly when it comes to the senses, do you write from memory, imagination, or when you are there?
Dinah – It’s a combination of all those things plus anything that might have inspired me during the research period. Sometimes a detailed memoir helps to create the feel of country in my mind, sometimes a film, sometimes dry old anecdotes that I’ve found hidden away in an obscure corner of the internet or in a dusty old book. All of it helps but nothing beats going to the country to pick up atmosphere and sensory detail, although when I’m there I often need to search to find the vestiges of the past that I’m really after.
LizWhat has been the nicest surprise you’ve had since you started writing?
Dinah – I have been lucky that there have been so many. Firstly, The Tea Planter’s Wife being chosen as a Richard&Judy book club pick was just out of this world thrilling. And then when it went on to become a Sunday Times Number one and staying in the top ten for months… Wow! It was totally unexpected and so amazing I really had to pinch myself daily. Since then I’ve had two more top tens and a second Richard&Judy pick this year with The Sapphire Widow. All of this has truly surprised and delighted me, along with how lovely the people I work with at Penguin are, plus the fantastic readers, authors, and bloggers I’ve met along the way. It’s all been a wonderful surprise. 
LizWhat is your favourite research trip memory?
Dinah – Leaving Tea Trails. We had been staying in a fabulous colonial bungalow beside a huge lake in the hilly tea country of Sri Lanka, where I set Tea Planter. We had to depart for our journey home with our luggage piled high in one canoe, and us squeezed rather nervously into another, because the road had been completely washed away by the monsoon. I had visions of the cases landing in the water or, if not that, one of us – but, despite being a bit wet, we reached the other side without mishap.
Liz – Can you tell us anything about your next book?
Dinah – I am loving writing this one. It’s about a crime that happened in the past in Burma but that must be solved in the present. It revolves around the tricky relationship between a mother and her daughter and, as a dual narrative novel, it’s set in Gloucestershire as well as Burma. Publication is scheduled for July 2019 although that may change. For example, this year The Sapphire Widow had been scheduled for late July but because of the Richard& Judy window it had to be brought forward to early April in a mad but very exciting rush. They didn’t even have time to make the book proofs and everyone had to be sent finished copies instead.
Thank you so much Dinah, I can’t wait to get my hands on your new book!
Dinah’s latest novel The Sapphire Widow is available now in Paperback, Kindle and Audio Book.
You can follow Dinah on Twitter: @DinahJefferies
Or visit her website: http://www.dinahjefferies.com
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Adult Fiction, Crime, Fiction, Guest Post, Liz Robinson Reviews, Series

Sarah Hilary – A Liz Robinson Author of the Month

Sarah Hilary is my author of the month, her DI Marnie Rome crime series from Headline Publishing is one of my favourites, and I get way too excited when I know the next book is due. Her series starts with Someone Else’s Skin, which simply blew me away. It won the Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year in 2015, and is followed by No Other Darkness, Tastes Like Fear, Quieter Than Killing, and her latest Come and Find Me which for me is quite possibly, her best yet.

I recently saw Sarah talking at ‘Cream of Crime’ held at the Steyning Festival, she chatted alongside Erin Kelly, Mark Billingham, and William Shaw. It was a fabulous evening and gave me a real insight into the way Sarah writes and thinks about her books. Sarah said that she particularly enjoys writing about the psychology of a crime, she really doesn’t want to write about good and bad, and questions who the monster really is. To write about darkness you also need light, and she doesn’t ever want to feel numb about what she is writing about.  Sarah doesn’t like to plan, she just jumps off and starts to write, letting the plot surprise her. She has a friend who keeps a spreadsheet detailing every character in her books so she doesn’t get lost, as her fear is writing herself into a corner.

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Sarah Hilary talking at Steyning Festival’s ‘Cream of Crime’.

Liz – What is your first book memory, is it a happy one, does it have any reflection on, or link to what you write today? What were your childhood must reads.

Sarah – My first is a very happy memory: my grandmother reading a book called ‘Helen’s Babies’ to me and my siblings as we rolled around with laughter. We were a great family for books. All my earliest reads were recommended by my mother who introduced me to Georgette Heyer, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Stewart. As a small child, I love the Faraway Tree and Malory Towers by Enid Blyton, but also the Greek myths and short stories by Eleanor Farjeon some of which have really disturbing themes. I loved being scared by stories, even then.

Liz – For how long were Marnie, Noah, and Stephen in your mind before they escaped onto the page? In which order did they appear and did they exist first or the story?

Sarah – Marnie had a walk-on part in an earlier story where I needed a detective. The first time she appeared she was undercover in biker boots and a punk wig, which I’ve always thought oddly appropriate. In fact, that might be why I gave her such a spiky vibe, and the backstory about her teenage years as a rebel. Noah came much later, and made a far calmer entrance. There’s a solidity and a happiness to Noah which readers love (and I love, too). Stephen was the last to appear. He likes to stay in the shadows, as you might expect for a double murderer who’s keeping terrible secrets.

Liz – I’m rather taken with Stephen as a character, what is it like to have Stephen prowling around in your mind, how often does he knock at the door of your consciousness and how does he speak to you?

Sarah – Stephen is one of my favourite characters to write, although it’s really all about the tension in the scenes between him and Marnie. Stephen doesn’t speak to me much, but he has a habit of standing at my shoulder as I write, or else watching me with his dark eyes from across the room. I find him quite frightening, but I do love writing (and reading) these very dark characters.

Liz – I love your integrity on social media, if something riles you, do you wait, strategise, or launch straight in?

Sarah – Oh blimey ..! Sometimes I don’t wait, although I always try to because it never helps to just add fuel to a fight. There’s an awful lot of bullying and bigotry online. I cannot bear bullies so I find it hard to ignore that sort of thing. It’s becoming harder and harder to be on social media, though. Trump and Brexit have both had the effect of giving nasty people a sense of validation – I’m constantly staggered by the malice and ignorance I see online.

Liz – Who would have the best social media presence and why… Marnie, Noah, or Stephen?

Sarah – Noah, for sure. He would post pics of him and Dan dancing, plus Jamaican recipes and sunny words of wisdom. I don’t think Marnie would go near social media. As for Stephen, can you imagine his Twitter account? “Mood: murderous”. Maybe an Instagram account with photoshopped pictures of him and Marnie as siblings …

Liz – Is there a question you’ve never been asked and wish you had?

Sarah – I love to be asked who I think the real monsters are in my books. Stephen is many things, but I don’t think of him as a monster. There’s a woman in ‘Someone Else’s Skin’ who works in a refuge. She’s one of the worst monsters I’ve ever written.

LizThank you Sarah, fabulous answers – and just to let you know, I now really want to see Stephen’s instagram account!

You can find Sarah at http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com

Sarah can be found on twitter as @sarah_hilary she has a strong social media presence, and is wonderfully approachable.

Come and Find Me was published in hardback and eBook on the 22nd of March and will be published in paperback on the 4th of October 2018.

Book six in the series, Never Be Broken, is due to be published in May 2019 and so now is the perfect time to discover this fantastic author if you haven’t done so already.

 

Adult Fiction, Liz Robinson Reviews

The 2018 Fowey Festival of Art and Literature and Harriet Evans – A Guest Post by Liz Robinson

I recently attended the Fowey Festival of Art and Literature, as I waltzed down to the marquee where Veronica Henry was due to chat to Harriet Evans, the view stopped me in my tracks, simply gorgeous, could there be a better setting?

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As a light breeze wafted in from the sea, Veronica introduced us and hosted the chat beautifully. Harriet had wanted to share the stage, to chat about both their books (A Family Recipe and The Wildflowers), but no said Veronica, this was about Harriet, and Veronica asked some searching and fascinating questions. Harriet worked in publishing (was Veronica’s editor) before she decided to write, her career nearly floundered when a faulty hard drive decided to destroy her first 30,000 words, yet she continued, and says that having to rewrite took the book to a better place.

Harriet believes that every book can be summed up in one line, that a central plait should sit through the novel, and that books need soul, to sit and be mellow, that a book takes time to mature. She can forensically pick apart her books, and is more than happy for an editor to be involved, her past experience as an editor enables her to join in the process rather than hinder it.

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Veronica Henry with Harriet Evans at the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature

Harriet spoke about the inspiration for her latest book The Wildflowers, she was on a beach in Dorset playing in the waves with her then three year old and wanted the perfect summer, a host of golden moments for her children to remember. She decided to write about the ideal holiday home, a pop-up book of ideas and photos grew until The Wildflowers was born. She adores the cover, the colours, the cushion on the seat inviting you to sit on the veranda…

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Tony and Althea Wilde. Glamorous, argumentative … adulterous to the core.

They were my parents, actors known by everyone. They gave our lives love and colour in a house by the sea – the house that sheltered my orphaned father when he was a boy.

But the summer Mads arrived changed everything. She too had been abandoned and my father understood why. We Wildflowers took her in.

My father was my hero, he gave us a golden childhood, but the past was always going to catch up with him … it comes for us all, sooner or later.

This is my story. I am Cordelia Wilde. A singer without a voice. A daughter without a father. Let me take you inside.

And finally here is my review for The Wildflowers by Harriet Evans

The Bosky, a wonderful seaside holiday home sits centre stage in this story, comforting, embracing, helping you move from the Second World War through to 2015. We get to know, to care about, to love the Wilde’s, the sophisticated Tony and Althea and their offspring, their treasured and traumatic memories, what makes them tick, their secrets, their lies. This is a story that feels hugely worldly-wise yet also so very intimate, it travels through time, and takes you to the heart of emotions. Harriet Evans made every character matter to me, she covers the generations, from youngest to oldest beautifully, they also feel so very real, everyone is perfectly imperfect. As the story wrapped itself around me, I became consumed by each time span, only coming up for breath with each break in time, which in turn led to a new discovery. The Bothy travels with the Wilde’s, becoming as one with their story. I adored ‘The Wildflowers”, bittersweet, knowing, eloquently engaging and so very very satisfying… what a truly rewarding read this is.

Liz Robinson

The Wildflowers  by Harriet Evans was published by Headline in April 2018.

Find out more about Harriet Evans by visiting her website here.

 

Liz Robinson Reviews

James Deegan – A Liz Robinson Author of the Month

A fair proportion of the British Public (me included) find the SAS an endlessly fascinating subject. I’ve delved into the origins of the SAS in the Second World War, discovering David Stirling and Paddy Mayne in the process, I’ve read various books on Bravo Two Zero, watched numerous documentaries, and of course am a big fan of SAS: Who Dares Wins. I therefore jumped at the chance of reading Once A Pilgrim by James Deegan before publication back in January. From my review you can tell I adored it, I watched Once A Pilgrim take off on social media with a big smile, and a certain picture of the book with Tom Hardy didn’t hurt its credentials!

James Deegan MC spent five years in the Parachute Regiment, and seventeen years in the SAS. Twice decorated for gallantry, he retired as an SAS Regimental Sergeant Major. – Liz Robinson

Liz in conversation with James Deegan

Liz  – Have you always been a storyteller, have you ever written before?

James – It depends on what you mean by ‘a storyteller’. I’ve never written before, but I’m quite good at recounting stories or events that I’ve been involved in and keeping an audience interested. The actual process of putting the first book to paper initially seemed quite daunting but it was also quite cathartic, and allowed me to escape from the pressure I had at work and find a bit of time to myself. Once I started, I really enjoyed it. I can touch type, which people often find amusing given my background. I taught myself using a software programme during my downtime during the insurgency in Baghdad. It was a bit of an escape from the chaos of what was around me at that time.

LizWas John Carr sitting in your thoughts for a while, how did you develop him as a character?

James – People who have read ‘Once A Pilgrim’ and who also know me say that John Carr is me, and it’s true that he’s based on me to an extent – we share the same childhood and professional experiences, for a start. His favourite song – Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’– is my favourite track, too. But he’s more than that. In my old line of work, and in life generally, you meet a lot of very interesting people, good and bad, and Carr contains bits and pieces of lots of people, to give him more colour.
And obviously he’s a lot larger than life – I think my wife would have something to say about some of his escapades, and I also never threw an IRA man over the side of the Larne-Stranraer ferry. I have been asked several times whether that incident in the book actually happened. The answer is obviously no – it would be murder! – but it means I’ve achieved my aim, because I want people to wonder all the way through… ‘Is this real? Did this actually happen?’
 
The idea is to bring my real work experience and knowledge to the fictional pages and blend the two. Jeffrey Archer read the book recently and gave me a line for the cover of the paperback, which sums that up: ‘You could not make it up, Brilliant.’ I will leave the reader to decide what they think.

LizHow did you enter the book world? Was it what you expected?

James – I tripped into it. I’d been approached several times to write my memoirs, and I have always declined. It’s common knowledge that SAS soldiers sign contracts not to disclose aspects of the organisation and an autobiography would potentially put me in conflict with a Regiment in which I’m immensely proud to have served, and with people whom I respect and admire.

I also don’t particularly want to be in the public domain as ‘me’. if that makes sense.
 
I read a lot, and I’d always thought about writing fiction myself but I’d never really done anything about it. The last time I was approached re a biography it spurred me to think harder about having a go, and here we are.
 
I didn’t have any expectations, to be honest. I was quite prepared for it to go nowhere – we all know that many people write good books and never get published – but I was fortunate enough to secure Jonathan Lloyd at Curtis Brown as my agent, and then Harper Collins, via their HQ imprint, as my publisher.

LizWhat are your writing habits?

James – My writing habits are erratic. ‘Once a Pilgrim’ took around two-and-a-half years from concept to completion, most of it done in my spare time or evenings after work or when I was on trains or planes. I travel a lot internationally with work, and you can get a lot done at 40,000ft over the Indian Ocean! I get advice and help from a mate who’s a writer, and that has made it easier. Book two in the John Carr series – ‘The Angry Sea’, due out January 2019 – took about a year, so I’m getting quicker. But for someone used to setting and achieving objectives, and moving relentlessly onward, it still feels like a long time.

LizWhat has your favourite piece of feedback about ‘Once A Pilgrim’ been?

James – Jeffrey Archer’s endorsement was very nice, considering he’s one of the world’s best-selling novelists. He and I share the same agent, Jonathan Lloyd; Jonathan mentioned the book to him, Jeffrey asked to read it, and twenty-four hours later he emailed to say it was ‘brilliant’. Apparently, he almost never gives cover lines for books, so I was very humbled.

Beyond that, I don’t have any one favourite piece of feedback, I have lots. I enjoy the fact that the people that have read it are from very different backgrounds, mums, dads, soldiers and Generals, civvies, rave DJs, international rugby players… it seems to be hitting chords with a very diverse group of people.
 
If someone sends me a message via social media I will always endeavour to respond, and I had one from a woman who told me how much she had enjoyed the book. She said she was ex-military, a former Major General. When she told me her name, I knew immediately who she was – she was a princess in a Middle Eastern royal family. (I have verified this!) We’ve maintained contact, but it’s a bit surreal.
 
I’m also constantly amazed at the reviews I’m receiving on Amazon – some of the reviews are really in-depth reviews, and lots of people have posted pics of themselves with the book. Which is fun.
 
So in a rambling sort of way my favourite piece of feedback is all of it!

LizAre you an avid reader, what are your personal favourites?

James – I read a lot – planes and trains again – and I always have done. There’s a scene in ‘Once A Pilgrim’ where John Carr, then a young Parachute Regiment corporal, is reading ‘Chickenhawk’, the memoir of the Vietnam War helicopter pilot, Robert Mason – that is exactly what the young James Deegan might have been doing during a bit of downtime on ops (and it’s a great book).
 
I read a lot of military non-fiction, but more about personal experiences than about campaigns. And I’m not interested in hearing from Generals, I want to read stuff by those who actually fought and suffered the hardships at the sharp end.
 
In terms of fiction, I read a multitude of different genres. My favourite authors, in no particular order, are Bernard Cornwell, George MacDonald Fraser, Conn Iggulden, Simon Scarrow, and Irvine Welsh. Welsh was knocking around Edinburgh as a teenager a few years before me, and I was brought up in the areas he talks about, and I know people like his characters. He captures the manic intensity, insanity and dialect of the city brilliantly.
 
Cornwell and the rest are just great fun and total escapism.
 
Currently I’m reading ‘Lonesome Dove’, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story of life on the Texas frontier in the mid-1800s. It’s brilliant, and the first ‘western’ book I’ve ever read; I’ll probably now read all his other work.

LizWhich character from books or film do you love to hate? And who melts your heart?

James I don’t have any single character that I hate, but the actor Christopher Heyerdah who plays the Swede in ‘Hell on Wheels’ and Louis Gagnon in ‘Tin Star’ is a brilliant villain. His mannerisms, how he talks, how he looks, it all brings a character to life, and I spend my time watching those shows wanting him to pay the price every time his character is on screen. He makes me angry!
 
If any book or movie features a bad guy who creates emotion then the producer or author has achieved their aim. I also like the bad guys to get their just desserts, and that’s where John Carr steps in.
 
As for having my heart melted…

Liz – Can you tell us anything about book two?

James – I can’t give too much away at the moment, but it involves a major terrorist attack in Europe, a kidnapping and a lot of bloody vengeance!

Some fabulous answers there, thank you James… and I now want to read Lonesome Dove! James Deegan has a gift with words, at drawing you in and telling a story, if you haven’t yet read Once A Pilgrim, do buy or borrow a copy!

James Deegan is on twitter as @jamesdeeganMC and on Facebook as James Deegan MC.

Once A Pilgrim was published in hardback by HQ, an imprint of HarperCollins in January 2018.  The paperback edition will be published on the 31st May 2018.

Liz Robinson Reviews, Memoir

John Sutherland – A Liz Robinson Author of the Month.

Liz Robinson knows a good book when she reads one and this month she has picked John Sutherland, as the author who has stood out and grabbed her attention. Over to Liz…

My April book of the month is a biography, a rather special, searingly honest insight into policing, ‘Blue A Memoir’ by John Sutherland.

BlueA candid, objective, cooly passionate, and often unsettling account of policing from a police officer. John Sutherland joined the Met in 1992 aged 22, we see snapshots of his life as an officer, as he progresses up the career ladder, as he deals with all the horrors and glory a life in blue has to offer. From the very first page my attention was sucked in whole, I come from a family of blue, married blue, and spent 20 years as a member of police support staff. Even then, I was on the edge of understanding, I didn’t ever have to run towards danger, tell someone a loved one had died, sit with death, experience the bitter lows, the jubilant highs of being a police officer, yet John Sutherland takes you there.

As we read, we step in and out of a series of events that have all added up to create this man. It isn’t a glittery or gory descriptive feast, but it doesn’t have to be, he simply and clearly gives you a connection, and an understanding that under that uniform is flesh and blood and feelings. One thing is abundantly clear, this man loves his job.  He feels the continued effort is worth it and yet it very nearly broke him. It is truly captivating; whether you nod, smile wryly and wish he could have been your boss, or feel the shock and admiration as you learn what our police are exposed to day after day. ‘Blue: A Memoir’ is a worthwhile and fascinating read, I really do recommend it with my heart and soul.

Note: John has written an epilogue to his story, which has been included in the paperback of ‘Blue A Memoir’. He speaks with his normal good sense, and he has the remarkable ability to put into words the thoughts and feelings so many officers struggle to properly articulate. He speaks from the heart, and his words made me cry. I wish him every success in his future, and whatever path he decides to explore. I’m quite sure to the many who know him, follow him on twitter and read his blog, he will forever remain a true inspiration.

Liz in conversation with John Sutherland John Sutherland

Liz – ‘You’ve been incredibly honest in ‘Blue A Memoir’, prior to the publication did you have any concerns about feedback?’

John‘There were definitely one or two moments before Blue came out when I wondered how on earth people were going to respond – and when the prospect of publication felt more than a little overwhelming. I guess that, in writing a memoir, you are giving something of yourself away – without having any control over the myriad ways in which people might read and react to it.But, almost without exception, the response has been amazing.’

Liz ‘At what point did you realise ‘Blue’ was truly speaking to, and touching peoples hearts and minds?’

John‘My dad died a couple of years before ‘Blue’ was published. But he read a very early draft of something that, in parts at least, resembled ‘Blue’ – and he loved it. I always said it would have been worth writing it just for that. As I continued to write, I began to show extracts to friends and family and they were incredibly encouraging. But it wasn’t until I found Laura, my brilliant literary agent, that I began to appreciate the extent to which there might be an audience beyond those closest to me. My words and stories became a book published by the wonderful Weidenfeld & Nicolson – and complete strangers picked it up and started to read.’

Liz – ‘What has been the most interesting piece of feedback you’ve had from both police and public about ‘Blue’?’

John‘There are two recurring pieces of feedback that I’ve had about ‘Blue’. Police officers (both serving and retired) have written and spoken to me to say that my story might have been their story – and they wanted to thank me for telling it. That has meant more to me than I can say. Members of the public have written to say that the book has given them a glimpse into a world that was previously unknown to them – and that it has left them with a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation for the men and women who stand on the thin blue line.’

Liz‘What was the most difficult and enjoyable part of the writing process?’   

John‘I started writing as part of my recovery from serious illness. It became increasingly cathartic – and I found that I really loved doing it. I have always loved reading stories. I discovered that I loved telling them too. Because much of the subject matter is quite raw, there were days when I had to step back from it to give myself a break. Once or twice, a few weeks went by before I got back to it. But it was always there waiting.

Liz‘Did you develop any writing habits?’

John‘To begin with I simply used a notebook and pen. I sat quietly and allowed myself to remember, before starting to write – for as long or short as the inspiration and energy were there. Eventually I graduated to computer and keyboard – and my favourite place to type is sitting at our kitchen table, under the natural light pouring in through the glass roof. Puffin – the 2 year old family spaniel – sits at my feet as I type.’

Liz‘Are you an avid reader? Which books beckon to you from bookshelves?’

John‘I love books. I always have done. I have to be careful what I read these days – one of the long term hangovers of my illness is an inability to deal with trauma and violence. But that still leaves plenty that’s wonderful.

Favourite books include:

• ‘First Light’ by Geoffrey Wellum: the breathtaking memoir of a Battle of Britain spitfire pilot.

• ‘Seabiscuit” by Laura Hillenbrand: the remarkable true story of three men and a racehorse.

• ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ by Stephen King: a short story about love and hope.

• ‘The Measure of a Man’ by Martin Luther King: powerful observations on the meaning of life.

But if I had to choose one book (or series of books), it would be ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ by C.S.Lewis. I read them as a child and was captivated. I read them as an adult and was overwhelmed. I read them aloud to my wife when I first tried to win her heart. I’ve read them to each of our children in turn. And the magic remains. The deeper magic.’

Liz‘Has the book world been a surprise to you?’

John ‘I bumbled into the world of books without a clue in the world!  I really had no idea what expect – it all just felt like an adventure to me.  And people have been wonderful.’

Liz – ‘Are you planning any more books?’

John‘I would love to write another book. I’ve got a handful of ideas, but I haven’t quite picked up my pen yet. There’s a family holiday to come first!’

John is appearing at the Chiddingstone Literary Festival

on Sunday 6th May at 2:45pm.

 http://www.chiddingstonecastle.org.uk/literary-festival-adult-day/ 

‘Blue’ was published in paperback by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on the 19th of April 2018.

Follow John on Twitter by clicking here.

Find out more about John Sutherland by visiting his blog here.

Adult Fiction, Crime, Liz Robinson Reviews, Series, Spy, Thriller

Matt Johnson – A Liz Robinson Author of the Month

Liz Robinson knows a good book when she reads one and this month she has picked Matt Johnson, as the author who has stood out and grabbed her attention with his final instalment of the critically acclaimed ‘Robert Finlay’ trilogy.  Read on for her review of this fast-paced, gripping finale and also a fascinating Q&A with the author himself.

End Game by Matt Johnson

End GameA fiery, fast-paced, bullet of a read, and the last in the Robert Finlay trilogy. Continuing on from ‘Deadly Game’, Robert Finlay and Kevin Jones find themselves in the middle of a whole heap of trouble. A Superintendent from the Complaints Investigation Branch is on the warpath, and then quite separately, a document from the past puts the two men directly in the firing line, and things turn very, very personal. Matt Johnson has the most credible and authentic voice, he blends his knowledge as a soldier and police officer into an absolutely cracking storyline. Finlay’s post traumatic stress disorder can clearly be felt in the small but biting descriptions of PTSD, it is a part of him, but not the whole of him, and he is an incredibly engaging character. A suitably dramatic end ensured I was kept on the edge of my seat. ‘The Robert Finlay’ trilogy has been a thunderingly good read, and ‘End Game’ is a wonderfully thrilling, gripping, and fitting conclusion. – Liz Robinson

Synopsis

Robert Finlay seems to have finally left his SAS past behind him and is settled into his new career as a detective. But when the girlfriend of his former SAS colleague and close friend Kevin Jones is murdered, it’s clear that Finlay’s troubles are far from over. Jones is arrested for the killing, but soon escapes from jail, and Finlay is held responsible for the breakout. Suspended from duty and sure he’s being framed too, our hero teams up with MI5 agent Toni Fellowes to find out who’s behind the conspiracy. Their quest soon reveals a plot that goes to the very heart of the UK’s security services. End Game, the final part in the critically acclaimed Robert Finlay trilogy, sees our hero in an intricately plotted and terrifyingly fast-paced race to uncover the truth and escape those who’d sooner have him dead than be exposed.

Matt Johnson

Matt JohnsonMatt Johnson served as a soldier and Metropolitan Police officer for twenty-five years. Blown off his feet at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1993, and one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent’s Park bombing, Matt was also at the Libyan People’s Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital. Hidden wounds took their toll. In 1999, Matt was discharged from the police with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

While undergoing treatment, he was encouraged by his counsellor to write about his career and his experience of murders, shootings and terrorism. One evening, Matt sat at his computer and started to weave these notes into a work of fiction that he described as having a tremendously cathartic effect on his own condition. His bestselling thriller, Wicked Game, which was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger, was the result. Deadly Game once again draws on Matt’s experiences and drips with the same raw authenticity of its predecessor. – Orenda Books

Liz in conversation with Matt

Liz – ‘In End Game (book three), Robert Finlay is called in to act as a negotiator, the whole scenario, including Robert’s thoughts and how he speaks to hostage-taker Doug has such a ring of truth about it. How did you draw on your own experiences as a negotiator to write about Robert’s handling of the situation?’

Matt – ‘Police negotiators are all volunteers. I can’t speak for how things are today as policy may well have changed, but when I first applied to be considered I went through a selection process that included a realistic portrayal where each candidate assumed the role as negotiator. That set the basis for quite a bit of the subsequent training where theory and good practice, initiative and operational procedure were repeatedly rehearsed and tested in realistic make-believe scenarios.

Writing about such a situation is, in some ways, much easier than doing it live. In the hot-seat, you have to think on your feet, you don’t have time to fully think through the implications of every question, every response and every statement. If you get it wrong you can go back and start again, not a privilege granted in the real world, unfortunately.

Aware that I wanted to get around the luxury of that privilege, I decided to enact the scenario with a serving negotiator with me playing the role of the hostage taker. I recorded the resulting conversation and then edited it to an acceptable length for the book, added in the thoughts of the character and the descriptions of the scene. I was pleased with the result which, I believe, is as realistic as I could have made it.

Liz – ‘All three books have characters who have formed incredibly close bonds during their working careers. How important has camaraderie been to you, particularly when in high pressured and dangerous situations, and how difficult or easy was it to portray in your books?’

Matt – ‘One thing that has always struck me when reading books that enter my former working world is how many of them focus on a maverick, a character who bucks the system, who works on his (or her) own and achieves results despite the resources available rather than as a result of them. The truth is that the military and police services are very much about achieving success through team-work and good leadership. In creating the character of Finlay I wanted to show him make use of this aspect of policing and, whilst I accept that individuals do have a place, it is often through the pooling of ideas, skills and expertise that solutions are found and cases solved.

In both the police and military worlds, loyalty is immensely important. It is being part of that team – being a member – that can bring out the best in people, the heroism, the bravery, the willingness to go out on a limb for a comrade. Sometimes, of course, that sense of camaraderie can be mis-guided and loyalty can overcome good sense. But, generally speaking, soldiers and coppers need it to get their job done.

It’s difficult to answer the question as to whether that camaraderie was easy to portray or not. What I would say is that it is probably that part of the job I miss the most. There are times when I meet up with both old and new friends from that world and I’m aware that we soon become quickly comfortable in each others company. Writing about that side of my old world – describing it in a way that appeals to a reader – is something that I do my best to achieve.’

Liz – ‘Were you an avid reader before you started writing?’

Matt – ‘As a child, yes. I can still recall the excitement I felt as I rushed home from the local library with a clutch of books selected from the shelves. I used to particularly enjoy science-fiction in those days, possibly inspired by the TV coverage of the moon landings.

As an adult, work and other demands got in the way and I got out of the habit of reading. I became a holiday reader of novels and tended to focus on reading more non-fiction in the small amount of free time I had available.

I had some favourites, of course. Joseph Wambaugh’s ‘The Choirboys’ was one, as was ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho. Even now that I’m writing myself, I wouldn’t describe myself as an avid reader. I always have one or two books on the go but they can take me upwards of a month to finish. At the moment I’m reading the ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ story. It’s a breath of fresh air, really good. To have found Gail Honeyman’s debut – a birthday present, I’d add – was a real delight.

Liz – How different is the book world to your expectations?

Matt – Now that’s a tough one to answer as I’m not sure what I really expected. I can say with some certainty that it is very, very different from my previous professional worlds. Policing, for example, can be a very fast moving and reactive world, publishing is more nuanced and considered. But, with time, I’m learning to understand not only the fact that publishing is different but why that is so. There are good reasons why this industry operates in the way it does and, let’s face it, it’s an industry that has been around for a very long time – longer than policing, I might add!

Liz – What are you planning next?

Matt – To take a break, to refresh and rejuvenate my thoughts before starting on my next writing project. I have a few ideas – too many, to be honest – that I need to research and then make a decision on where to focus my efforts.

And I want to spend time meeting readers. I’ve very much enjoyed the interaction of social media and the opportunities I’ve had to talk on national radio but what I really appreciate most is sitting down with people who love reading, who know their books, and who have read my work. I’m humbled by complimentary remarks and I hope that never changes. I also welcome constructive criticism as I want to know if people like what I write and why they like it, so I can learn from that feedback and improve.

One day, who knows, I might get it right.

You can find out more about Matt here.

End Game is published by Orenda Books in paperback on the 31st March 2018.

 

Adult Fiction, Crime, Family Drama, Literary, Liz Robinson Reviews, Relationship Tales

We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard – reviewed by Liz Robinson

We were the salt of the seaWhat a beautifully written, captivating, and soulful read this is. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales, newly transferred, begins to investigate the death of a women found in fishing nets out at sea. Catherine Day leaves Montreal for a remote fishing village, looking for answers about her birth mother. The Gaspe Peninsula sits centre stage in the story, remote, set apart, and yet intimately connected to the sea. I immediately fell headlong into the story, the seamless translation encourages the words to join together, creating a vividly stunning picture. Catherine tells her own tale, having such personal access allows a connection, yet she still feels hidden from view. Other peoples thoughts tumble freely over the pages, yet they belong, they anchor the story. I felt that the author Roxanne Bouchard has a profound connection to the sea, she loves it, respects it, yet the immense power simmers, occasionally rages in the background.

I quite simply adored We Were The Salt Of The Sea, refreshingly different, unpredictable, yet deeply rich and touching, it became a part of me.

Genres: Lit, crime, family drama, relationship tale.

We Were The Salt of the Sea will be published by Orenda Books on the 30 March 2018.