Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Next Big Thing

Recently Karin Cox invited me to take part in The Next Big Thing, a blog chain in which each person writes on their own blog a post about their next or current book, and links back to the person who invited them, and forward to a few more writers. I’ve known Karin through Indie Chicks Café for nearly a year, and I was delighted to be mentioned in her excellent blog, http://karincox.wordpress.com/
Karin has been a professional editor for fifteen years. She has written many non fiction articles and books, and has recently branched out into fiction. If you go to her blog you can read some very interesting stuff about her new book, Curxim, which should be out sometime in December. Worth checking out!

And now for my own post, answering the questions supplied by Karin.

What is the title of your new book?
It depends what you mean. I’ve recently published two books. One of them, Lady Molly and the Snapper, is a YA book. The other, Angel in Flight, is a romantic thriller, intended to be the first of a series. And I’m currently working on a follow-up to Angel in Flight, to be called Angel in Belfast. But if I’m concentrating on one book today, it will be Angel in Flight.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

I’ve always wanted to follow in Agatha Christie’s footsteps and write a detective story. But after a few attempts, I realized that the intricate plot wasn’t something I was good at. My writing skills are more description and character drawing. However, Christie also wrote lots of thrillers, starting with her second ever book, The Secret Adversary, and going on to many more. So I thought I would go for that. A good few years ago, I wrote a book about a girl coming out of an abusive marriage, finding more trouble during her holiday in Greece. It was called Lady in the Labyrinth. I was also influenced by Mary Stewart in the style of the book.
Recently, I attended a crime writing class run by the great Sam Millar, and he kindly had a look at this book and suggested some changes. Later again, after my book Belfast Girls had been an Amazon bestseller, I thought I’d rewrite the book, taking Sam Millar’s advice – and Angel in Flight was the result.

What genre does your book fall under?

Both Angel in Flight and the Work in Progress, Angel in Belfast, are Romantic Thrillers.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I suppose the obvious choice for Angel would be Angelina Jolie – except that Angel is fair-haired (blonde has too many connotations!) For the hero, Josh, Matt Damon would be my first choice!

Will your book be self published or do you have an agent/publisher?

Self publishing is no longer sneered at. I’d be happy to be self published, if I had the technical know how. But as a matter of fact, my first book, Belfast Girls, was accepted and published by Night Publishing, for which I’ll always be grateful; and when my husband Raymond McCullough set up his own publishing company, Precious Oil Publications, I switched to him for my second book, Danger Danger, and for all succeeding books. Just like Virginia Wolfe, who was also published by her husband.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Good question. Either years, or a few months, depending on what you mean!

What other books would you compare your book to within the genre?

The Modesty Blaise books, by Peter O’Donnell are probably the closest.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’d always loved the Saint books, James Bond, and Modesty Blaise. Recently, I’ve also really enjoyed the Lara Croft movies. Angel, described by a reviewer as ‘a feisty wee Belfast Girl,’ is similar to all these, with, I hope, an individuality of her own. I’ve tried to give her a lot more depth, while still putting in the thrills, action, and wit of these great heroes.

What else about the book might pique a reader’s interest?

The setting, in the Greek Isles. The background in Belfast (which doesn’t seem to have done my bestseller, Belfast Girls, any harm. There are lots of people out there with Irish roots!) And the plot, which deals with greed in big business – something which is of major importance to all of us who suffer from it these days.

And now I'd like to recommend three other excellent writers. You can check each of them out at their blogs.

Hannah Warren:

Born in Paris, the second child of a Dutch father and English mother, Hannah has lived in the Netherlands almost all her life She studied Dutch literature and Mass Communication at the University of Amsterdam and also has a BA in Eng Lit and in Translation from Rotterdam Uni. A bright little lass! Hannah has been writing since she was eight, but it’s only in the last years that she has seen her book published – When the Ink Dries, published by Taylor Street in 2012. A first class romance, not to be missed.

Lucy Pireel:


Lucy says she’s always been a storyteller, but now sees herself as a writer. She’s a wife and mother and an avid reader, who loves baking and her dog. She refuses to be limited to one genre – good for her! – and writes anything from romance to horror to fairy tales with a twist. Her new book, Red Gone Bad, has just been published on Amazon. 

And last but definitely not least,

Melanie Dent:


Melanie is a marvellous story teller and a prolific writer. I love her Lynchcliffe series, which are currently in process of being given a fresh edit, and republished. If you enjoy Downton Abbey, you'll love Mel's books, which are set in the same pre world war times and have the same lovely period feeling. Mel has been through a lot in her not very long life, but is a woman of tremendous courage and strength who doesn't give up, and this is reflected in her writing. The first of Melanie's re-edited books is available on Lulu but not yet on Amazon. When she posts her Next Big Thing post soon, I expect the links will be there. Meanwhile, you can get the first  Volume of the Lynchcliffe Chronicles here.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

E. Nesbit and Me

Some of you already know that I've recently had a Young Adult book published. Its title is Lady Molly & the Snapper: A Time Travel adventure set in Ireland and on the High Seas. Why would I want to write about Time Travel, you may well ask.

And I'm pretty sure that the major influence which led me to write on this subject was E. Nesbit.

Many of you when you hear the name E. Nesbit think immediately of The Railway Children. A very popular film based on a popular book, certainly. But what has it got to do with Time Travel? Well, nothing.

Five Children and It, also filmed, with the amazing Eddie Izzard as the voice of the Psammead, comes a little closer to the subject. (The prequel to Five Children and It, The Story of the Amulet is even more centred on Time Travel.)

But it was the first E. Nesbit book I ever read, The House of Arden, which originally introduced me to this fascinating idea, that characters in a book could go back in time. (I wasn't very old when I read it, obviously!)

Two children, Elfreda and Edred, are taken back in time by the Mouldiwarp, a mole who is the badge of their family, the Ardens, and there they search for the treasure buried at sometime in the past in the ruined castle which now belongs to Edred, the last Arden (as far as they know). Their plan is 'to restore the fortunes of the house of Arden.' The story is funny, exciting and full of interest – I can probably date my life long interest in History from reading this book.
(You can get most of these books free on Kindle.)

Of course, after that I read many more books about Time Travel, including E Nesbit's sequel to The House of Arden, Harding's Luck; watched stories on TV and saw films with similar themes; and eventually (see my last blog!) read C S Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, which, while not exactly Time Travel, is very similar.

So it's not too surprising that when I came to write my own take on a Young Adult book, I choose Time Travel as my theme – and sent my two main characters searching in the past for something which would change their present lives! (Apologies, E. Nesbit!)

If you missed out on the E. Nesbit books as a child, you can still read them as an adult. They are aimed at the same age group as the Narnia books – but I certainly believe (and Harry Potter has clearly demonstrated this) that children's books can be enjoyed equally by adults.

My own Lady Molly is aimed at a slightly older age group. It should, therefore, be even easier for adults to enjoy, I hope!

My characters are Jik and Nora, a brother and sister in their early teens living in Dublin, and Lady Molly is the name of the boat owned by their father Colm. At the start of the book Colm is drinking heavily after his wife's death from cancer, and neglecting his children, who are pretty angry with him and think he should get over it. Nora goes to church to light a candle and is terrified when the statue of an old sailor saint seems to come to life and tower over her.

She flees home. But later that day she and Jik go to look at Lady Molly where she's moored in Howth marina (near Dublin) and meet up with that same sailor saint, who introduces himself as The Snapper – a nickname he was given because people thought he was bad tempered, he tells them, though he claims that he's not really like that at all! (Similar to the Psammead? Well, not too similar, I hope!)

Jik and Nora are taken back in time on a number of occasions by The Snapper, using Lady Molly as a sort of Tardis, and arriving every time on another boat. They meet Cuchulain, the legendary Irish warrior; Saint Patrick; Grainne the female Irish pirate; and eventually a crowd of Irish emigrants on a famine ship sailing to America.

And meanwhile things begin to change in their present lives.

Especially for Nora, who finds a relationship blossoming between herself and Sean, who keeps appearing in their various adventures, and who turns out to be someone they already know.

You may think by now I've told you the whole plot. Far from it – this is just the start!

It's a well known fact that it's hard to find a market if you write a book which is very different from your usual genre. So far my books – Belfast Girls, Danger Danger, and Angel in Flight: An Angel Murphy Thriller – have all been a mix of romance and thriller. I suppose that's what my public expects from me. A YA book is stepping over that line and people automatically assume it isn't for them.

All I'm saying is, this has the same mix of romance and thrills – okay, it's mainly aimed at a younger audience – but so was Harry Potter!

Why not try it and see – you might even enjoy it. Or you could always give it to a young family member or friend – after all, Christmas is coming up !

Keep well and keep happy! See you soon again!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

C. S. Lewis, Mastermind.

I wonder when I first heard of C.S.Lewis?

I think it must have been when a friend of mine at school (I'd known her since my first day at primary school, and on through Grammar School and University, before eventually losing touch. Anne Stirling, now Anne Salmon, where are you?) spoke enthusiastically about, and then lent me, The Screwtape Letters. I enjoyed reading it, and began to look out for other books by this author.

For whatever reason, I didn't at first find and read the Narnia series. I am an avid reader of children's books, and have been from my childhood and teens, when this is obviously more normal, on through my twenties, thirties and so on. But I was eighteen before (again) someone lent me The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I loved it straight away, and bought and read the other six books rapidly.

I love the Narnia books, I even love the slightly distorted films. Well, they're better than many films of well-loved books. And when I take a notion to re-read a children's book from my past these days, although it may be one by Geoffrey Trease, Nancy Breary, Arthur Ransom, or a dozen other favourites, as often as not it's a Narnia book. My special favourites are The Horse and his Boy, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair. Now I come to think about it, these are all books about a journey of adventure (did Enid Blyton write one of her adventure series with that title? I think she did. I always loved her adventure books. Oh, and The Magic Faraway Tree.)

Have you ever thought how much Lewis drew from another firm favourite of mine, E. Nesbit? In the opening of The Magician's Nephew, he says that the story (set back in time from the rest of the series) happened, 'when the Bastables were still seeking for treasure in the Lewisham Road.' Now, there's a clue!

I read an excerpt from The Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit when I was at Primary School, in a book which included bits from Little Women and Three Men in a Boat, etc. (It's amazing how many of my favourite writers I first heard of in that selection.) After that I searched out Nesbit's books in the Junior Library, finding, first of all, The House of Arden, the first Time Travelling book I ever read, and certainly one of the best. Lewis could have chosen no more evocative, magical opening to The Magician's Nephew than that reference, from my point of view.

But Lewis didn't just write about Narnia. His Christian apologetics are among the best ever written. Simple, witty, straight forward and with a strong logical effectiveness.

Then there are his three Science Fiction novels. The third, in particular, That Hideous Strength, an analysis in strictly fictional terms of the corruption of this age, incorporating the rebirth of Merlin, should rank as one of the best books of its  kind in the 20th century.

And my own particular favourite, a much less well known book, but to me a brilliant one which I read and reread and constantly lend to people (being reconciled to knowing that I'll probably never see that copy again, and will have to buy another. Advice – never lend a book if you're expecting to get it back again!) is The Pilgrim's Regress. Based, obviously, on The Pilgrim's Progress, it concerns the spiritual life of John, who, as well as being C.S.Lewis himself, is a boy born and brought up in Belfast – you can see why I would relate to it! But in addition, this book contains some of Lewis's best poems (or so I think) and this adds enormously to its attraction.

I mentioned (elsewhere) that I once wrote a poem about Narnia, and one about Lewis himself, and I thought I might share them with you guys – why not? I should explain that Lewis hated his first name Clive, and referred to himself, after the age of six, as Jack – and managed to enforce this not only on his friends but on his family! So here goes – I'll be interested to hear if you like these. (But not if you don't!)

She tumbled out of the wardrobe
Into a crisp fresh world of light
And brought me with her
To where the snow shines bright.

Where grass clad mountains
Tower above lakes of blue
And trees grow toffees
Because the world is new.

Circling animals who chat,
A lamp post grown from an iron bar;
The first joke, and a cabby for king,
In the spring of a world that’s filled with power.

Where horses fly, and talk, and claim
Their freedom from our ownership;
And island upon island grows
Till the lily lake surrounds the ship.

Where Puddleglum drinks too much wine
And always sees the worst to come;
And the hero, strapped to a silver chair,
Speaks the word, no longer dumb.

The stars burnt through the darkness while
I wept for Aslan, weeping for
Myself, afraid to venture through
The only living magic door.

He taught us logic, truth and love
He spoke from both the head and heart.
We learned the wisdom from above
With a sting of wit to make us smart.

He opened casements on the deep
In faery lands beyond the shore,
Dreams that we fail to dream in sleep,
Desires we long for evermore.

He gave us beauty, sweet desire,
Called us on the pilgrimage
Where reason’s sword has set on fire
Our coward hearts made hot with rage.

He brought us to the gates of heaven
But told us we must make our choice
For in that highest place, there, even,
Is still the false, the tempter’s voice.

Fifty years past he crossed the stream,
Came up out of the desert place
Awaking to the real, no dream,
Jack met his Aslan, face to face.

And now, if I may, I'll be cheeky enough to mention, in almost the same breath – my goodness! – my own books, all romantic thrillers about strong minded Belfast girls:

Belfast Girls now has a new publisher and a new link:


Recently, this book has been back in the top 100, for the second time – is it going to knock 50 Shades for 6 sooner or later?

Danger Danger can be bought at:

And my new book, Angel in Flight: An Angel Murphy Thriller, is at:


Friday, 15 June 2012

Three of a Kind

I need to start by apologising to all of you for the really dreadful delay since my last post (which was about Edmund Crispin.) I've been snowed under finishing my new book, Angel in Flight, and editing it for my publisher. But now it's up, and I can relax! Until it's time to start writing the next one – this is the first of a series!

You can buy it here, if you'd like to!



I've had it in mind for some time now to write about a number of new books by writers I've recently come across. There are so many, it's really hard to choose which! But here's a selection of new books which I've discovered and thoroughly enjoyed. I think you'll like them too. They are Lallapaloosa, (Rags Daniels) The Blue Hour, (Stephen Hulse) and Mrs Jones (Babs Morton). They are all thrillers – and they may be 3 of a kind, but they have major differences as well. I'm giving you the publisher's description, and then my own view of each.


Rags Daniels.

‘October 8, 1967, 'Che' Ernesto Guevara was executed... Or so the world believed…

Richard Strang thought he shared the world's best kept secret with no one. Then one summer evening, the tap of a blind man's cane, and a nose for the toasted Cuban leaf, changed all that.

Now thirty years after the event, a chance encounter with a sinister blind stranger, and the discovery of Che’s final diary pages, causes the past and present to collide and explode into a tale of greed and treachery, survival and revenge.

Inspired by a true sequence of events, ’Lallapaloosa’ tells in flashback the story leading up to the betrayal and 'capture' of the modern world's most famous revolutionary and master of disguise.

Lallapalosa sees author Rags Daniels weave a thrilling tale of deception, danger, and raw-edged adventure that will leave you breathless with excitement and questioning the accepted version of the final days of a man who would become a legend.’

My own view:

This is a book you can't put down. The writing is slick, full of wit and excitement. Daniels has a sharp eye and a great gift for describing what he sees. Settings and characters come vividly to life. The first scene, the darkness, the lights of the town, the smell of the harbour, are beautifully evocative. The tap tap of the blind man's stick, his recognition of Strang, their talk in the pub - all this prepares us in its quick movement for gripping action. But the harsh events which follow are so unexpected and striking that nothing has really prepared us for them. We are left gasping and helpless. We have to read on. The story which follows is original, twisting and turning to its satisfying conclusion. Don't miss this book!

Buy it here:




The Blue Hour. 

Stephen Hulse.

' "The French call this time l'heure bleu – The Blue Hour. The time between dawn and sunrise when the sun is below the horizon, and the world is awash with a hazy blue shadowed hue that suspends us between the accepted divisions of light and dark. It should have been beautiful. For me, it was now only beautifully deadly..."

Take one decidedly anti-social alcoholic female British ex-cop with an attitude - Alex Churchill...

Add a tough, no-nonsense enigmatic American Private Eye who isn't quite all he appears - Gideon Wade...

Enmesh them in a dark and deadly web of international intrigue engineered by a shadowy criminal organisation for whom human life is just another commodity to be cynically traded for power and profit...

Then dive for cover as fists fly, blood spills and all hell breaks loose!'

My own view:

This is exactly the sort of book I love reading. The references to Philip Marlowe, etc, as the hero Gideon is introduced, are a key to my preferences. The mention of Chinatown a few chapters later seals the delight. The story is told from the point of view of Alex Churchill, which is both original and fascinating. We are shown the hero – the Marlowe figure – from a female perspective for once – perfect! This story grips from the outset. And although Alex needs Gideon to come on the scene and rescue her from the gang of rapists, she contributes her own skills to their defeat, once she has his help. As we move on into the plot, we are no longer focusing on forties style events. The plot is bang up to date. If you can deal with this, it’s excellently told, with page turning, edge of the seat gripping action, and an enormous, impressive skill in detail. On top of this is the beauty of the descriptions. Gracie the squirrel is a wonderful touch; as is Madeleine, Alex’s mother, and their relationship; and the angel  wings which seem to sprout from Gideon’s back at the appropriate times.
The only thing missing from this book is a reference to the Saint, in the list of the other hard-boiled heroes. (I’ve just been re-reading the series, and realising how good the books are – so much better than the Roger Moore TV programmes!). But that’s a very minor point!
Get this book, read it, and then move on to Shadowchaser – Stephen Hulse is one of the great writers of our times!

Buy it here: 



And thirdly,

Mrs Jones.

Babs Morton.

'A British girl with a secret.
A New York cop with a past.
And a mob that wants revenge

In the slickest, sneakiest twistiest-turniest hard-boiled crime noir novel to come out in a long time, ruggedly pragmatic but honest cop Detective Tommy Connell picks up an English girl, Mrs Jones, who claims to be the witness to a murder, and promptly falls in love with her.

Well, Mrs Jones, whoever she is, must be very attractive because an awful lot of people seem to want to get their hands on her if they can prise her from Connell's determined grasp, including some prominent representatives of organised crime and the Feds.

Detective Connell definitely has his work cut out here if he wants to end up with the body of Mrs Jones, dead or alive, that's for sure.

All-in-all it's probably safe to say he hasn't a clue what is going on. It is probably equally safe to guess that Mrs Jones does.

Not that 'safe' is quite the right word to use here or, there again, maybe it is.'

And again, my own view:

Connell and Lizzie – ‘Mrs Jones’ – don’t get off on quite the right foot. 

‘Honey, is your mum at home?’ he asked the young girl who peered anxiously at him from behind the door. She was slender and pale, with a mop of unruly dark curls and wide dark eyes.’ 

Not what either Connell, or we, the readers, expect. But Lizzie is brighter and stronger than this introduction to her might lead us to expect. The two central characters in this book are way different from the norm. The detective isn’t just the hardboiled cop – and Lizzie isn’t just the slick, sophisticated woman that we’ve met so many times before (and enjoyed meeting, I have to say!). Here is a new twist, not just in the relationships of the main characters, but in the plot; which is slowly, carefully, and enticingly revealed.

I enjoyed reading this book. I enjoyed meeting the characters, I enjoyed working out the plot. I’d be glad to read another Barbara Morton. What else can I say? Go for it!

Buy it here:



There are lots of really good thrillers coming out on Kindle these days, now that the big publishers can't keep the muzzle on us any more. These are three of my own favourites, and they come highly recommended.

And don't forget my first two books, Belfast Girls, and Danger Danger!  Enjoy!

God bless, and see you soon!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Edmund Crispin's Moving Toyshop of Delights

Time for another old favourite  writer.

Edmund Crispin, who was born in 1921 and died in 1978 at the age of 56 was, in my opinion, one of the most intelligent and amusing writers of the twentieth century. I've been reading his detective stories since my early teens and finding more to enjoy in them each time.

I remember coming home from school at the age of twelve or so and finding my mother enjoying a cup of tea with her feet up, a break after her working day as a part-time nurse. She would pour me a cup of tea, offer a Penguin biscuit, ask me about my day, and then go back to reading her book. I would settle in the chair next to hers, nibbling my Penguin and reading with my own feet up. In my memory, quite often my book was an Edmund Crispin.

The trouble with Crispin is that every page has something so funny and witty that you can't help reading it aloud if there's someone else in the room with you. This unpopular trait (they want to get on with their own book) is something I've struggled to overcome all my life. My mother was relatively sympathetic about it, particularly since she enjoyed Crispin too.

Edmund Crispin was a writing prodigy. He had eight books published by the time he was thirty, the first, The Case of the Gilded Fly, written while he was an undergraduate and published when he was either twenty-two or three.(Depending on his birth date, 2 September, and the publication date, which I've never worked out.) Wow, I hear you say. Some going!

Unfortunately then as now books alone don't often bring in a decent living wage, except for the rare best of the best sellers. Crispin wrote reviews, edited collections, and wrote numerous short stories, most of them collected now in book form, over the next two decades.  But he didn't put his creative energy into another full length detective story until he was in his mid fifties. Shortly after it was published, Edmund Crispin died at the early age of fifty-six.

So what was he doing in those two decades? Well, Edmund Crispin's real name was Bruce Montgomery, and as well as a brilliant writer he was an excellent composer of both classical and more popular music under his real name. So the answer to the question is that he was writing very successful music. And music which brought him in a much more than adequate living. He composed many classical pieces which are still played; but also wrote soundtracks for most of the popular British films of that time – the first six Carry On films, the Doctor in the House series, and you name it. Creativity can't be spread too thin. He needed to concentrate mainly on his music, which he took very seriously. So no more books about the fantastic Gervase Fen until nearly the end of his life. Makes you weep, doesn't it? Well, it does if you're a reader rather than a musician.

And now about the books. Crispin's detective, Gervase Fen, is an eccentric Oxford Professor of English Language and Literature. A unique creation. I declare an interest here – I love Fen, so I haven't a critical word to say about him. He's witty, wise, and off the wall. He takes up enthusiasms and drops them again, like his interest in insects in Holy Disorders. He is kind under a surface irascibility. He does what he feels like doing and drags his friends in with him. And he is outstandingly intelligent. He also quotes a lot, which I really enjoy. (Another favourite of mine, Peter Wimsey, does that too.)

Probably the most popular of the books is The Moving Toyshop. It's certainly one of my own favourites. It starts with the poet Richard Cadogan (a take off of Philip Larkin, a close friend of Crispin's since his Oxford days). Cadogan is longing for adventure and trying to squeeze an advance from his publisher in order to go on holiday in Oxford. Once there he stumbles into a toyshop (he finds the door open and feels he should check) and discovers a body. He gets knocked out, comes to and escapes. When he goes back the next morning with the police he finds that the toyshop is no longer there. Instead there is a respectable grocer's shop. So Cadogan goes to his friend Fen for help.

I mustn't give away the plot. Like most detective stories of its period, the plot matters in all Crispin's books and all his plot are marvels of ingenuity. This style of writing isn't so popular now. I'm not sure why. This type of story is meant to be read partly for the pleasure of solving the mystery; a similar pleasure, though much more complex, to the solving of crossword puzzles;  but with all the extra delight of the characters.

However, without spoiling anything I can quote a couple of my own favourite moments. Firstly when a rollicking chase through the streets of Oxford leads to Parson's Pleasure (the part of the river where men are allowed to bathe naked) and two minor villains are thrown into the water.

 'Once immersed, their attitude became conciliatory, largely owing to the fact that they were unable to swim. A science don, who was standing slapping his belly on the bank, regarded them helpfully. "Now is the time to learn," he said. "Bring your body up to a horizontal position and relax the muscles. The surface tension will support you." But they only cried "Help!" more violently...'

Or the opening scene with Richard Cadogan practicing pistol shooting and making his publisher agree to an advance. The publisher suggests,

'Perhaps you'd like to stay with me for a few days at Caxton's Folly?' 
'Can you give me adventure, excitement, lovely women?' 
'These picaresque fancies,' said Mr Spode. 'Of course, there's my wife...'

Cadogan got the money. And Crispin ends the scene,

'So the poet got the better of that affair, as anyone not wholly blinded by prejudice would have expected.'

Then there's the wonderful moment when Fen interrupts a practice of the Handel Society, in pursuit of a witness, and takes it into his head to join in.

'"Professor Fen," said Dr Rains with painful restraint. A hush fell. "You are not, I believe, a member of this choir. That being the case, would you kindly oblige me by going away?" Fen however was not easily abashed...
"I think that's a most illiberal sentiment, Rains," he countered across the gaping tiers of choristers... Just because I happened to make one small error in singing an extremely difficult passage –"' and as they leave presently, '"Now that the English Faculty has left us," Cadogan heard [Dr. Rains] say...'

To me, these are unforgettable moments which can be reread (after a suitable interval) into eternity and beyond.

I also especially like Holy Disorders, possibly because it's one I clearly remember reading during the above mentioned afternoons with my mother; and in fact may well have been the first Crispin I read. The clever title (unlike some clever titles which promise well and produce little) is a fair introduction to the book's contents.

Crispin is not just funny. There are moments in all the books of horror, of high seriousness and of deep exploration of character and life; and these are unusually good and well written  too.

Another favourite of mine is Love Lies Bleeding, set in a boys' boarding school and drawing on Crispin's own few years experience teaching. The setting here is particularly attractive as well as the characters. I choose it as a school prize when I was fifteen, so I suppose the schoolgirl characters, whom I could relate to, were especially interesting to me then – and still are, in fact.

Frequent Hearses is in some ways the most serious of the books. (Although still with some very funny parts.) In it, Inspector Humbleby says to Fen,

'You seem to be a great deal more serious than I remembered.' Fen puts this down to the fact that he's older. 'As I get older,' he explained, 'I get less resilient and more predictable. it depresses me sometimes.'

But if that was really the reason, then what are we to make of his last book, The Glimpses of the Moon? True, there are some very serious bits. But mostly this book is, unlike the eight early novels, a farce from beginning to end, with some amazing characters, some marvellous action scenes, and the wit as always a constant factor. This book was a shock to me when I first read it, because in many ways it's so different from the others. I now think it's one of his best and I enjoy it more each time I read it. The Rector is a brilliant character. He's unashamedly bigoted about his own beliefs as opposed  to the beliefs of the Catholic Church; but in a way which is funny rather than awful. On the last page of the book he goes to Rome and meets the Pope.

' "Not a bad chap at all," was the Rector's verdict on his return, "If only you could hammer some sense about Christian doctrine into his silly noddle".' 

(This book also contains a character called Broderick Thouless who, like Crispin himself, wrote music for the soundtracks of films; so this is a portrait in caricature, if not of Crispin himself , then certainly of his job; which means it's not only very funny but also very interesting to Crispin's admirers.)

The Rector expresses some worries about his own views on the Catholic Church. He would hate to be compared to

'that dreadful fellow in Northern Ireland'.

And this takes us to the final thing I want to say about Crispin.

Edmund Crispin's father, Robert Montgomery, was born and brought up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In fact, his grandfather William Montgomery came from Bangor, just down the road from where I live. Crispin never forgot his Irish roots, although his father had moved to England and married and settled there by the time Crispin was born in 1921. Crispin made determined efforts to introduce Northern Irish dialect words into the language, using them regularly in his books, such as 'oxter' which means the part of the body under the arm – a much more concise way of saying this when necessary. He and his sisters paid frequent visits to his Northern Irish grandmother; and he always referred to himself as 'Ulster Scots.' (His mother was from Scotland.)

No wonder, with this background, he's such a great writer! (Says she, tongue in cheek!)

And now to another Northern Irish writer. Well, me.

Belfast Girls, since I last blogged, has jumped up into the top hundred overall in Amazon UK, and has been there for over three weeks. I'm very excited, of course.

Danger Danger isn't doing too badly either – top 100 for Romance Suspense and Suspense Thrillers.


It would be nice to see my short story collection The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus catching up with them a bit. It's in the top 20 for books about Ireland, but this is a much smaller category.


Meanwhile, I'm nearly finished my next Irish romance suspense book, Angel in Flight. Hope to have it out by the end of May or early June. More about that next time.

Goodbye and God Bless!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Titanic Tragedy with Melanie Dent; and Cheryl Shireman's Dreams on the lake

In this blog, as regular readers know, I write, turn and turn about, about authors I've known and loved for years; and about my new discoveries. This time round it's the turn of the new writers. Meeting as I do (on the internet) a good many writers, I'm privileged to come across a great many fascinating books. This time I want to draw your attention to two whom I've found very recently, and who, in fact, are very different from each other; Cheryl Shireman who writes the Grace Adams series, Life is But a Dream, and Melanie Dent, who writes the Lynchcliffe series featuring Lewis Franklin. 

First, Cheryl Shireman, and in particular her book Life is But a Dream: On the Lake.
The word which stays with me when I think about this book is ‘powerful.’
Right from the first page, when Cheryl Shireman takes us into Grace’s thoughts, dreams, and dream-memories, she grips. Using a poetic, literary style, she plunges us right into Grace’s psyche, just in the same way that Grace plunges into the swimming pool. And throughout the book she takes time to bring us into the head and soul of each of her major characters as we meet them – Nick, Tony, Bert, Paul.

It’s Cheryl Shireman’s amazing way with words more than anything else that makes her people so alive.  The reader knows so many deep things about each of them in such a short time after she meets them:
the child Grace’s thoughts as she moves slowly nearer and nearer to the pool, unobserved by her mother: ‘She does not see. She does not. See me. See. Me.’;
Nick’s pain as her mother fails to return. ‘When he found her she would ask him, “Quanto tempo ti amo?” And he would pull out the picture and say, “Ti amero sempre.”’ Words repeated with immense emotional effect towards the end of the book;
Grace’s experiences with God, and her feelings; 
and Paul and his child, and his final experience… ‘a little girl was waiting. A beautiful little brown-eyed girl named Julie whose arms stretched toward her Daddy. And Paul had smiled.’

It is these moments and many more like them which make this book so special.

For the first few chapters, I thought I was reading a gentle, moving, literary romance with great characters, a story which focused mainly on the people, their backgrounds, and their interaction.  Halfway through, I woke up and realized that this book is also a thriller full of action, excitement and a terrific climax which seizes us and hurls us along breathlessly. And yet the focus on the characters is basic to the book, too. It’s because Cheryl Shireman has taken the time to build her characters and to allow us to feel for them that the impact of the action is so strong. As Grace rows across the lake our hearts are in our mouths with her. And the dreadful discovery in the cabin closet hits us as surely as it does her, as a further horror almost beyond believing and yet something which has really happened.

The ending is beautifully handled. We really want Grace to be happy. There have been so many possibilities for her, all of them abortive. The final resolution is everything we want for her; and yet it does not seem contrived, or only there to tie up the story nicely. Instead, it seems inevitable, something which couldn’t have worked out in any other way.

The murder plot is deft and agile. There are a satisfactory number of suspects, and enough twists and turns to keep us guessing, but the final solution arises straightforwardly from what we already know about the characters. And when Grace, at the last, turns away from approaching rescue and goes back into the cabin, the little scene, and the repetition of the words ‘Ti amero sempre’ is immensely moving. It is so right that Grace should go back in.

The spiritual element of this book is one other thing, and one of great importance, which makes it different and powerful. Introduced through Irene and Harold, God takes His place as a major character in the story from then on. Grace says at one point that she finds the whole idea of God too confusing. But as things begin to happen, she turns more and more to prayer as a natural response to the need for help, both for herself and for others. The beautiful picture of the sunset and her delight in it is a key point in Grace’s development.

The sun slowly slides from the sky, from another day in my life. It meets the water with a languid and silent splash, pulling a riotous mane of color behind. A wild shock of orange and pink is tangled amid tousled blue and purple tresses. Such beauty is overwhelming. Suddenly, it does not matter that I am divorced. It does not matter that Laney is not with me. At that second, that glorious second, all is right with the world.’

And later she and Tony sit quietly watching the wild geese and feeling at peace.

Like me, you will probably find that this book is not what you expected. But you will find it striking, moving, exciting, powerful and very, very readable. Don’t miss out!

You can buy it at these links.
And if you're very quick, it's on free offer today, 28 March.
The second book in Cheryl's series Life is But a Dream: In the Mountains can be bought here:

This is the hundredth year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, April 1912, a big deal for my native city Belfast where the ship was built and launched, so it's particularly appropriate that I should be writing about Melanie Dent's books at this time. Melanie has now written four books in her Lynchcliffe Series. So far I've read two of them, but that's enough to make me want to read the rest. The
 books are set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the sinking of the Titanic plays a major role in both the books I've read, The Lynchcliffe Cuckoo and Eye of the Storm. In the first book, Lewis Franklin, Dent's brave, upright working class hero, loses his dear nephew and meets the love of his life, and both these things happen because of this tragedy. Set before the first world war with the sinking of the Titanic as a focal plot point, the story moves quickly and grippingly through the socially unacceptable relationship between the 'lady' Margaret Trevelyan and the chauffeur, Lewis Franklin. Starting with the death of Margaret's mother and her adoption by Lord and Lady Trevelyan, the plot takes us by way of Margaret's first meeting with Franklin through the murder of her adopted uncle to the very satisfying ending. The characters are real and likeable where they are meant to be, and the plot is gripping enough to keep any reader turning the pages. Lewis Franklin is a hero whom most women will love, with his Yorkshire accent, his strong and attractive appearance, and his kind, gentle nature. The period setting is a major plus point. It's natural to think of  Downton Abbey. Fans of this very popular series will enjoy The Lynchcliffe Cuckoo, with its full cast of intertwined characters, its setting in a great house, and its timing in the 1912 era. The Eye of the Storm takes us back to Lewis Franklin's earlier life, climaxing in his meeting with Margaret.

 These books are full of action and atmospheric episodes such as Sarah's attempt to support the suffragettes; but above all they are love stories, full of romance (which, by the way, Dent handles with adult detail. These books are not intended for children.)

 Since The Eye of the Storm is a prequel, most readers will approach it already knowing how things work out for Lewis Franklin. And that's just as well, for Lewis goes through some very bad times, including a beating up by an early 'protection gang.' There are some beautiful descriptive passages, such as, 'death had accentuated her frailty,' said of Lewis's little sister at her funeral at the beginning of The Eye of the Storm.

Unlike Cheryl Shireman's heroine, Melanie Dent's hero rages at God for the things which happen to him. As a believer myself (something which everyone who's read anything I've written must know), I find this difference fascinating. It will be interesting to see if Lewis works his way through this problem as the books continue.
And as it happens two of the books, Divided Loyalties: Lady Lynchcliffe's Story and The Enemy Within are on free offer this weekend (31 March and 1 April) so here are three free books you heard about here – how's that for service?

And of course my own book, Danger Danger is also free today, 28 March. Second time around. The first was amazingly successful. I'll be interested for future reference to see if a second go works or not.  This is a complete learning curve for most of us! 

 And as I write (type) Belfast Girls is heading at top speed for the 100 bestsellers ranking on AmazonUK – hard to believe! Currently #147 – interesting to see if it moves on up or not. No promos here, just a year and a bit of being around.
Buy my books ( ah, go on, go on!) here;



http://www.amazon.co.uk/Seanachie-Tales-Old-Seamus ebook/dp/B006WVI37S


And don't forget Old Seamus!

See you soon!