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?
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.
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…
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.
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 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.
A 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
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.
‘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.
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
A 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
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 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.
Last Letter from Istanbul is the latest offering from Sunday Times bestselling author, Lucy Foley.
Just gorgeous, this is a story to shine a light in the darkness, even in moments of despair.
Constantinople in 1921 is a confusing, often frightening place to be, in the first few pages, two reports from 1918, perfectly sum up the two opposing sides, each report almost interchangeable. Nur’s house is in the hands of the British and being used as a hospital, she finds her thoughts on the occupiers altering and conflicted when she takes an orphan in her care to be treated by George Munroe. Five separate yet entwined stories exist side by side, different time frames ensure the past spears the present, while the future whispers to the past. Lucy Foley has developed a beautiful writing style, the vivid colour stamps it’s impression on the pages, conjuring taste, touch, smells and sounds, as well as creating a feast for your eyes.
As the book began to come to a close, it felt as though two trains were on an inevitable collision course. The sweeping horror of war and occupation, both momentous and insidious, is clearly felt, yet it is the intimate, the individual connections, that were the highlight of this read for me. ‘Last Letter from Istanbul’ caresses, sparks and skewers thoughts and feelings, it is a truly penetrating and captivating read – highly recommended.
Each day Nur gazes across the waters of the Bosphorus to her childhood home, a grand white house, nestled on the opposite bank. Memories float on the breeze – the fragrance of the fig trees, the saffron sunsets of languid summer evenings. But now those days are dead.
The house has been transformed into an army hospital, it is a prize of war in the hands of the British. And as Nur weaves through the streets carrying the embroideries that have become her livelihood, Constantinople swarms with Allied soldiers – a reminder of how far she and her city have fallen.
The most precious thing in Nur’s new life is the orphan in her care – a boy with a terrible secret. When he falls dangerously ill Nur’s world becomes entwined with the enemy’s. She must return to where she grew up, and plead for help from Medical Officer George Monroe.
As the lines between enemy and friend become fainter, a new danger emerges – something even more threatening than the lingering shadow of war.
Last Letter From Istanbul will be published by HarperCollins on the 5th of April 2018.
A big fan of Sarah Hilary, Liz feels ‘Come and Find me’ is her best novel yet.
Simply superb, ‘Come and Find Me’ is one hell of a clever, twisting, powerful story.
This series is one of my favourites and DI Marnie Rome returns here in splendid style. Taking place a short time after ‘Quieter Than Killing’, Marnie and Noah find themselves hunting an escaped prisoner, for both, work overspills into their private lives. A strikingly distinctive voice greets you as you start reading, setting the scene so completely and clearly I could feel the presence, feel the confines of the prison. Sarah Hilary has the ability to take you into the words, to actually feel, to experience, and she sent my thoughts worming and writhing. At one point I found myself so exasperated and frustrated with one of the characters, it came as a shock when I came up for air and realised where I was. The ending buffeted me, surprised me, emotionally affected me, and a certain someone is still creeping around inside my mind. I already know that ‘Come and Find Me’ will be one of my favourite reads of the year, and I think this is Sarah Hilary’s best yet, I simply can’t recommend this series highly enough.
On the surface, Lara Chorley and Ruth Hull have nothing in common, other than their infatuation with Michael Vokey. Each is writing to a sadistic inmate, sharing her secrets, whispering her worst fears, craving his attention.
DI Marnie Rome understands obsession. She’s finding it hard to give up her own addiction to a dangerous man: her foster brother, Stephen Keele. She wasn’t able to save her parents from Stephen. She lives with that guilt every day.
As the hunt for Vokey gathers pace, Marnie fears one of the women may have found him – and is about to pay the ultimate price.
Come And Find Me will be published by Headline on the 22nd of March 2018.
Here Liz gives us the heads up on the start of a fantastic, thrilling new Crime series…
The first in the ‘DI Meg Dalton Thriller’ series is an addictive, absolute treat of a read. Meg recently moved forces and is now based in Derbyshire, she is thrown in the deep end when a lawyer is found dead in a cave and a sinister game of cat and mouse is initiated. ‘The Devil’s Dice’ was shortlisted for the 2016 Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award (for unpublished writers), so my expectations were high, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The first few pages set my thoughts fluttering, and throughout this tale a ghostly shadow hovers over the pages. Roz Watkins allows humour to enter at just the right moments, and has created a fabulous main lead. While Meg does have her fair share of problems, and a certain vulnerability too, she really grew on me. As I read, I set my mind free, to delve into the pages, to ponder, to speculate. The Devil’s Dice’ is just so readable, this is a thoroughly modern tale with a teasing strange connection to the past, and a towering cliff hanger of an ending… hopefully there will be many more stories to come.
A SHOCKING DEATH
A lawyer is found dead in a Peak District cave, his face ribboned with scratches.
A SINISTER MESSAGE
Amidst rumours of a local curse, DI Meg Dalton is convinced this is cold-blooded murder. There’s just one catch chiselled into the cave wall above the body is an image of the grim reaper and the dead man’s initials, and it’s been there for over a century.
A DEADLY GAME
As Meg battles to solve the increasingly disturbing case, it’s clear someone knows her secrets. The murderer is playing games with Meg and the dice are loaded
A white-knuckle crime debut introducing DI Meg Dalton, perfect for fans of Broadchurch and Happy Valley
The Devil’s Dice was pubished by HQ an imprint of HarperCollins on the 8th of March 2018