What Are the Odds?

‘A Chance in a Million’ by TA Williams

Fate brought them together, now it’s up to them to make it work…

You can support the blog and TA Williams by purchasing ‘A Chance in a Million’ from Bookshop.org

Having left the army to recover from a traumatic experience, Captain Jane Reed is on her way to Venice to assist Lady Veronica Cooper, a world-famous writer who has lost her mojo. Plagued by grief and sleepless nights, Jane soon finds a kindred spirit in Veronica, coping with her own loss after the death of her husband.

When the two relocate to Veronica’s villa in the countryside to escape the summer tourists, Jane meets the rest of the Cooper family – including Veronica’s brooding son, David. With his own tragic past, David has resigned himself to a life of solitude. Jane finds herself determined to bring joy back into his life, even if it means finally spilling her secrets.

Can Jane and David help each other heal, and find love in the process, or are some scars too deep to treat?

I have reviewed and enjoyed the work of TA Williams before. He appears to be a man after my own heart: fond of a foreign location, not afraid to enjoy a little light romantic fiction – toxic masculinity be damned or something!

Here we are treated to a romance mired in some fairly traumatic background. The opening sequence of the novel is set in Fallujah and, it is fair to say, one can certainly understand why Captain Jane Reed might feel the need to decompress afterwards.

It is often interesting to reflect that romantic fiction is dismissed as “light”. Here Williams works hard to create suspense in the reader and every degree of heat is reflected in the sweat on the brow of the protagonist.

Of course, Venice is another area known for its heat and Williams again does a fantastic job of rendering the magic of that spectacular city.

Characters each dealing with their own inner turmoils collide as the pathetic fallacy of the weather, the beauty of the surrounding and the quality of the food act as motifs which reoccur throughout this highly readable holiday novel.

Salut!

Purchase Link – http://mybook.to/inaMIllion

Author Bio

I’m a man. And a pretty old man as well. I did languages at university a long time ago and then lived and worked in France and Switzerland before going to Italy for seven years as a teacher of English. My Italian wife and I then came back to the UK with our little daughter (now long-since grown up) where I ran a big English language school for many years. We now live in a sleepy little village in Devonshire. I’ve been writing almost all my life but it was only seven years ago that I finally managed to find a publisher who liked my work enough to offer me my first contract.

The fact that I am now writing escapist romance is something I still find hard to explain. My early books were thrillers and historical novels. Maybe it’s because there are so many horrible things happening in the world today that I feel I need to do my best to provide something to cheer my readers up. My books provide escapism to some gorgeous locations, even if travel to them is currently difficult.

Social Media Links –

Website: www.tawilliamsbooks.com

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/tawilliamsbooks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TrevorWilliamsBooks/

Red Lights and Weary Travellers

‘Gerard Philey’s Euro-Diary: Quest for a Life’ by Brendan James

Also on the tour today is Tami and Bookish Dreamer

‘Could there be a world of interest and adventure beyond the Midlands? A world of confidence, sex and excitement? A better life – a better me?’ These are the questions Gerard Philey grapples with over New Year, 1995. Sitting in his rented Black Country room, reflecting on his thankless teaching job and miserable love life, he courageously decides to abandon his humdrum existence and embark on a quest for Euro-fulfilment, fun and fitness on the Continent.

After a shaky start in Brussels, events manoeuvre him to Amsterdam where chance encounters shift his world well and truly into fifth gear. He samples the trials and tribulations of new relationships, alongside managing a sex shop in the city’s Red Light Area – on top of the challenges of fat-free living and international travel!

Through his bittersweet diary, we see how Gerard steers a laugh-out-loud course through farcical episodes and fanciful characters…and how entanglements from past and present draw him unwittingly into a criminal underworld where events ultimately take their toll.

Purchase Link –  https://amzn.to/3spEKZ9

It has been a while since I was able to get away on a proper foreign holiday. Rather like the eponymous Gerard Philey of Brendan James’ charming debut novel, I spend my days helping to educate the next generation of souls. Although they do not – as yet – choose to decorate me with chewed up pieces of ‘Paris Match’ as his do, I certainly recognise the ennui of the listless educational professional he describes!

One of my fondest ever memory is of a holiday I took alone to France as a newly qualified teacher. I was able to nap and write and drink wine in the sun and utilise my less-than-adequate language skills to procure decent food at a bargain price. It was pure Peter Mayle (a hero of mine I’ve written about before)

This novel is a bit like a hybrid of a ‘A Year in Provence’ meets ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole’ and is very much enjoyable accordingly. James is a writer of assured quality and the wryly amusing encounters his put upon hero endures brings to mind the work of Tom Sharpe and the tortures he regularly put poor Wilt through.

A read that zips by like a galloping Eurostar, this is one for the traveller in your life. Happy holidays!

Author Bio

Brendan James is the author of the new comedy novel, “Gerard Philey’s Euro-Diary: Quest for a Life”. Though this is his first novel, he has a large number of non-fiction publications (under the name Brendan Bartram) as a former university lecturer and researcher. A passionate linguist and Europhile, he spent a number of years working in the Netherlands, France and Germany. He lives in the West Midlands with his husband.

Social Media Links –

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/450811.Brendan_James

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/brendan-james-4343a8237/

Twitter @Brendan23015569

Theatrical Frames, Plenty of Twists

You can support the blog by purchasing ‘The Twist of a Knife’ from Bookshop.org here

‘Our deal is over.’

That’s what reluctant author Anthony Horowitz tells ex-detective Daniel Hawthorne in an awkward meeting. The truth is that Anthony has other things on his mind.

His new play, ‘Mindgame’, is about to open in London’s Vaudeville theatre. Not surprisingly Hawthorne declines a ticket.

On opening night, ‘Sunday Times’ critic Harriet Throsby gives the play a savage review, focusing particularly on the writing. The next morning she is found dead, stabbed in the heart with an ornamental dagger which, it turns out, belongs to Anthony and which has his finger prints all over it.

Anthony is arrested, charged with Throsby’s murder, thrown into prison and interrogated.

Alone and increasingly desperate, he realises only one man can help him.

But will Hawthorne take his call?
(Synopsis courtesy of Penguin)

Everyone is always so grouchy about targeted advertising. Big companies like Amazon and Apple mining your online behaviour to sell you products people like you have already bought, their algorithms churning away in the background to manipulate you into parting with your hard earned cash.

I get it. It’s never nice to feel like a sheep, manipulated and herded. Netflix’s documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma‘ does an excellent job of exploring the dystopian overtones of how we live now.

But, here’s the thing – sometimes, it’s quite nice to be offered products people like you would like. Those algorithms are really just the video rental clerks of the 80s, but with about the same level of interaction skills and better personal hygiene.

So, I suspect I was the proverbial fish in a barrel when Audible told me the daily deal was Anthony Horowitz’s ‘A Line to Kill’.

Firstly, it’s written by Anthony Horowitz. I’ve written elsewhere of my affection for the latest adaptation of his Baby Bond series, ‘Alex Ryder, and I have taught the first in that series, Stormbreaker, https://uk.bookshop.org/a/10526/9781406360196 for a good number of years now.

Secondly, I had just finished reading his second James bond continuation novel, ‘Forever and a Day’, the single best continuation of that franchise in literary form since Kingsley Amis’ ‘Colonel Sun written under the pseudonym Robert Markham .

Finally, there was the setting. Alderney is the only Channel Island I have been to – as a child no less – but even as a teen I could see its potential as a locked room murder mystery setting. Throw in a literary festival – very much my “thang” and I was in.

Well, hooked does not do justice. I’ve now read – or more accurately had read to me by the superb Rory Kinnear – all of the novels in the series. Kinnear is – somewhat confusingly – the voice of Anthony Horowitz. Because what this series needed was more meta-overtones.

The latest novel in the series, Book 4, ‘The Twist of a Knife’, continues the conceit of having Horowitz as his own Watson, trailing along behind enigmatic private detective Hawthorne as he strides out in front.

Horowitz clearly has some fun depicting himself as vain and whiny in a way which must have been delightful to write but is also quite cruel and he continues to let Hawthorne get away with all the best lines.

At the opening of the novel, narrator Anthony has to grapple with the reluctance to write any more books in this series and the indisputable fact that the reader is holding/listening to the book he is refusing to write. A deliciously meta conundrum if you like that sort of thing: I do.

The US cover of ‘A Twist of the Knife

As well as being one of the most successful and clearly the hardest working writers in the UK today, Horowitz is a master craftsman. And in these novels, he deploys all of his well-honed talents to best effect.

Suspects are introduced, dismissed and re-interviewed. The theatre is also a motif in another excellent novel of this year, ‘Bad Actors’ by Mick Herron. However, Horowitz does not succumb to the temptation of making theatre related pun after pun. But, Hawthorne can’t resist an Agatha Christie dénouement and it arrives with a welcome theatrical flourish.

Narrator Anthony is worried that the books have run out of steam – after all, he’s even run out of writing allusions after ‘A Line to Kill’ (probably best he didn’t go with ‘The Pun-ishment is Death’ for this one in fairness). He’s damned if he’s going have them named Hawthorne Investigates as well: but, as a reader, I don’t think he need worry.

This is a series with plenty more puff in the tank and for anyone who likes classic murder mystery fiction, crafted by a professional at the top of their game, this is for them.

Purchase Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Twist-Knife-bestselling-Hawthorne-Horowitz-ebook/dp/B09MF6Z1CQ

Audible: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/The-Twist-of-a-Knife-Audiobook/B09TCSCZGN

Blackwells: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/9781529124323?a_aid=prh

Bookshop.org: https://uk.bookshop.org/a/10526/9781529124323

Foyles: https://www.foyles.co.uk/all?term=9781529124323&aCode=AFW&awc=1414_1661248936_a7999c61868fb301e8f14dce21d3b564

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-twist-of-a-knife/anthony-horowitz/2928377085537

Author Bio:

Bestselling author Anthony Horowitz has written two highly acclaimed Sherlock Holmes novels, ‘The House of Silk’ and ‘Moriarty’; three James Bond novels, ‘Trigger Mortis’, ‘Forever and a Day’ and ‘With a Mind to Kill‘; the acclaimed bestselling mystery novels ‘Magpie Murders’ and ‘Moonflower Murders’ and the Detective Hawthorne novels, ‘The Word is Murder’, ‘The Sentence is Death‘, ‘A Line To Kill’, and the latest ‘A Twist of Knife’ is out in August 2022.

He is also the author of the teen spy Alex Rider series, and responsible for creating and writing some of the UK’s most loved and successful TV series, including ‘Midsomer Murders’ and ‘Foyle’s War’. In January 2022 he was awarded a CBE for his services to literature. (Biography courtesy of https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/185113/anthony-horowitz?tab=penguin-biography)

Social Media

Twitter: @AnthonyHorowitz

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/anthony-horowitz/

All Things Must Pass, Across the Universe, Please Please Me, I Will Be Glad All Over when we Let poor McCartney Be

Or, Why You Need to Stop Encouraging Paul McCartney

Personally, I blame Ian Leslie[1].

OK, I don’t really blame him.

But Leslie was definitely at the vanguard of a movement to rehabilitate the reputation of a performer, about whom I was pretty sure the debate was settled and the world had moved on: Paul McCartney.

Leslie’s piece, ‘64 Reasons to Celebrate Paul McCartney‘ – which you should definitely read by the way –  appeared to herald the beginning of some form of rediscovery and rehabilitation for “the kid”.

The second reason Leslie gives as reason to celebrate this multimillionaire is, “it’s the end of 2020, the kid is 78 years old and is widely regarded as having made more great songs than anyone else alive. He is releasing a new album, McCartney III.”

Writer – and McCartney apologist – Ian Leslie

Ok. Well, firstly, he ain’t no kid and – as far as I can tell – the only people who widely regard him as “having made more great songs than anyone else alive,” are Ian Leslie and Alan Partridge. I imagine it would sure as hell come as a surprise to Bob Dylan, for a start.

Suddenly there was a wave of this nonsense. He headlined Glastonbury for the love of all that is right with the world. Everyone was rediscovering “the legend”! That bloke who made interminable movies about some geezers in need of a wax walking and lasted for12 hours, Peter Jackson, made an unwatchable documentary about four men in early middle age sitting in a music studio which lasted eight hours. Cheers for that.

However, what the whole sudden appreciation of McCartney really put me in mind of is the conclusion of Alan Bennett’s play ‘An Englishman Abroad’.

As Coral Browne tells the audience, “If you can eat a boiled egg in England at ninety, they think you deserve a Nobel Prize.”

People aren’t suddenly reappraising McCartney because he’s got relevance or he’s amazing at melodies. People are reappraising him because he’s old and he’s not dead and he’s less of a weapon’s grade tool than Ringo.

Except, he’s not really – and he doesn’t even get the Thomas the Tank Engine bye.

“McCartney’s reputation has never fully recovered from the shredding it took when The Beatles broke up,” writes Leslie. Yeah, again, funny that. It’s like when Paul Weller broke up The Jam to do The Style Council. Can you trace the roots of that subsequent venture in singles like Beat Surrender? Of course.

Should you vilify the artist for branching out and trying new things?

Also of course. Because it was awful, it looked stupid and it pleased no one. It pleased no one because it wasn’t cool.

And that matters. it matters because they’re supposed to be rock stars.

I get that he wasn’t originally. I get that by the time they’d ceased being The Quarrymen and got shot of DAs and rocker jackets and been repackaged, he was in a little group marketed as cynically as any Busted, Boyzone or McFly.

And I agree that The Beatles made some quality pop records and they could play their own instruments – at least before the acid years when they got “interesting” – or unlistenable depending upon how honest you want to be about it.

In the absolutely superlative documentary series – and mercifully shorter than ‘Get Back’, ‘My Life as a Rolling Stone’ – Mick Jagger speaks revealingly about the way the attitude of the group was deliberately cultivated as the anti-thesis of The Beatles’ holier-than-thou goody-two-shoes-ness.

Actual rock stars. Should be dead. Aren’t.

It’s the reason your Mum loved the Liverpudlian quartet and your Dad was a Stones man. Because she went to church on Sunday and he was too hungover.

But now, it’s half a century later and the loathsome ditty guffer is getting praise for being a fantastic musician and for his ability to write a melody and…

Yawn.

But, here’s the thing: that’s not his job.

His job is to be a rock star. And that’s not his métier at all.

McCartney is probably a really nice man and, if you’re a music person, I’m sure his melodies are charming and carry you away.

Presumably to the Mull of Kintyre.

But, as the late, great Bill Hicks said, “I want my rock stars dead!”

A proper rock star comedian, Bill Hicks

In Relentless, the comedy equivalent of a proper rock album, he continues, “When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children? I want my children listening to people who fucking rocked! I don’t care if they died in pools of their own vomit! I want someone who plays from his fucking heart!”

You know why Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Tom Petty, Deep Purple, The Who and The Rolling Stones are cool?

It’s because they played from their hearts.

“But McCartney does play from his heart”, mewl the fans. Yeah, but their hearts were weird, warped, dangerous and black and his heart is a branch of Clinton’s Cards, all faux-Cath Kidson bunting and environmentally damaging glitter balloons.

The UK is not about sincerity. We are allergic to asinine assertions of hearts on sleeves. It why you can respect Phil Collins’ drumming and still know he’s musical criminal.

It’s why when Americans do political shows we get The West Wing, when the Brits do it, we get The Thick of It. If you’re sincere, you’re suspect and, probably, a wrong ‘en. Look how everyone believed the sweet-hearted, tennis-loving, Brexit Elvis-impersonator Cliff Richards’ Yew Tree stuff, even when demonstrably false.

It’s not just about dying – but it is about living on the edge. It’s about sex and drugs and rock and roll, not the Frog Chorus or Ebony and Ivory  – even though they are the musical equivalence of the Iraq invasion – Go to The Hague, do not pass go, do not collect a Middle Eastern Peace Envoy role.

It’s because rock stars are Hendrix and his plastercast junk, not buttersoft balls like ‘Yesterday’.

Oh, all your “troubles seemed so far away,” did they? I bet you took a full 4 seconds to come up with that rhyme, ya whopper.

So, in the final analysis, what does Paul McCartney leave the world?

Some decent pop tunes in the early 1960s, Wings – “the band the Beatles could have been”, as Patridge said and the ability to not be dead.

The sort of men who value McCartney

Well hold the front page.

Vegetarianism, trainers with a suit jacket – which everyone used to rightly chastise him for before the Shoreditch “massif” began copying it ironically and then it became de rigour, like beard oil and unicycles -does not a rock god make.

Everyone knows the only Beatle that mattered was George anyway. For a start, he got to go and play with the big boys of the rock world and be cool.  

And you see who’s not there? That’s right, because he’s not cool. Never has been, never will be.

When he made the trip to a muddy field in Gloucestershire, people were suddenly surprised that he wasn’t very good. “His voice has gone,” they whined. Gone where? Tell you what, who knew?

Oh that’s right, everyone.

Can’t imagine why letting the Werther’s Original Grandad have the main stage of a major festival which used to be good, could in any way go wrong…

I know that Caitlin Moran and Ian Leslie are better writers than me, more successful than me, vastly more talented than me and Moran, for sure, knows far more about music than I ever will.

Caitlin Moran – better writer than me, better knowledge of music – still wrong on this topic.

But they are wrong on this topic. They are backing Clarkson-era Top Gear, jeans at the nipples, middle age, middle of the road “rock” compilations. And that’s never the right horse to back.

So, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, From Me to You, please, I suggest we let Grandad slope off back to his shed and leave the rock music to the mad, the bad and the dangerous rather than the safe, the saccharine and the benign.


[1] Despite his blocking of me on Twitter (I think because of this subject?) I don’t really blame him. I think he’s an exceptional thinker about the world who, even when you disagree with him, is worth listening to and who introduced me to Substack. I have read more, and more widely, because of the money I give him for his newsletter and I rate him as one of the best writers working today. I emailed to apologise for whatever it was I did which upset him but have yet to receive a reply. You should definitely buy his book, ‘How to Disagree: Lessons on Productive Conflict at Work and Home.’ Perhaps the secret is to block people who annoy you online?

Can You Make a Person, Without Breaking Eggs?

‘Isaac Egg’ by Bobby Palmer, narrated by Johnny Flynn

Isaac stands alone on a bridge and screams.

Something screams back.

And that, like everything which follows, is unforgettable.

This is a book about a lot of things – grief, hope, friendship, love. It’s also about what you’d do if you stumbled into the woods at dawn, found something extraordinary there, and decided to take it home.

It’s a tale that might seem familiar. But how it speaks to you will depend on how you’ve lived until now.

Sometimes, to get out of the woods, you have to go into them. ‘Isaac and the Egg’ is one of the most hopeful, honest and wildly imaginative novels you will ever read. (Synopsis courtesy of https://www.hachette.co.uk/titles/bobby-palmer/isaac-and-the-egg/9781472285485)

You don’t think about eggs very often, do you? At least, I don’t.

They are fragile: they are robust. Hard, soft, boiled, fried. They can represent stones rolled away from tombs, they can be balanced on their ends during the Vernal equinox. Allegedly. In evolutionary philosophy, they pose quite the conundrum – they are symbols of fertility: they are Schrodinger’s foodstuff.

And, in Bobby Palmer’s quirkily idiosyncratic debut, they may be a metaphor for the scrambled brain fog the eponymous Isaac is experiencing as his world disintegrates through loss and grief and everyone’s favourite river in Africa, denial.

Isaac and the Egg‘ is not hard boiled fiction (see what I did there?) But Palmer is a writer who blends the easy prose of a man who has worked damn hard to make it look this easy with the emotional depth charge that someone like Nick Hornby provides when dealing with men old enough to be better, but too immature to do better.

Narrator Johnny Flynn does an exceptional job. His voice has the honeyed tones of Matthew Goode – until the becalmed peace of my garden was shattered by the dog-whimpering quality of the scream used to replicate the voice of the egg. It was a shock. Almost as much as when I googled him and discovered he was the geezer from Lovesick! Either way, he is a phenomenal audiobook narrator.

‘Isaac and the Egg’ is a startling assured debut. It has a ‘Life of Pi’, ‘ET’, ‘Alien’ crossed with ‘High Fidelity’ atmosphere which marks Palmer out as a talent to watch. Moving, funny, melancholic, quirky and fast paced, this may be the late summer read we all need right now and is the sort of novel which resonates and vibrate through you as a reader long after it is finished.

Purchase Links

You can pre-order – and support this blog into the bargain – from Bookshop.org here: https://t.co/8ml3fNrc6B

Audible: https://geni.us/isaacandtheegg/opt/6?iguid=Nvg3gkry2kiFh-z3SVbXgg&ireferrer=https%3a%2f%2ft.co%2f

Amazon: https://geni.us/isaacandtheegg/opt/1?iguid=Nvg3gkry2kiFh-z3SVbXgg&ireferrer=https%3a%2f%2ft.co%2f

Foyles: https://geni.us/isaacandtheegg/opt/4?iguid=Nvg3gkry2kiFh-z3SVbXgg&ireferrer=https%3a%2f%2ft.co%2f

Waterstones: https://geni.us/isaacandtheegg/opt/0?iguid=Nvg3gkry2kiFh-z3SVbXgg&ireferrer=https%3a%2f%2ft.co%2f

WH Smiths: https://geni.us/isaacandtheegg/opt/5?iguid=Nvg3gkry2kiFh-z3SVbXgg&ireferrer=https%3a%2f%2ft.co%2f

Author Bio

BOBBY PALMER

Bobby Palmer is a freelance journalist who writes for publications including Time OutGQMen’s Health and CosmopolitanIsaac and the Egg is his debut novel. (Biography courtesy of https://www.hachette.co.uk/contributor/bobby-palmer)

Social Media:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thebobpalmer/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/thebobpalmer

Baddies in Braddie

‘Unjust Bias’ by Liz Mistry

Also on the tour today, Once Upon A Time Book Reviews, Bibliophilverse, Jane Hunt Writer, Nesie’s Place

A murdered boy disowned by his family.

A teen terrified his past will catch up with him.

A girl with nowhere to go.

Men with rage so visceral they will do anything.

With the unsolved murder of a homeless boy still preying on his mind, DI Gus McGuire is confronted with a similar murder, a missing teen and no clues.

Does the answer lie with an illegal dark web site where ‘slaves’ are auctioned off? Or with an online forum for teens?

How can Gus keep people safe when unjust bias rears its head and being different could cost you your life…?

I’ve only been to Bradford once. I was about eight years old and it was the sort of Keystone Cops holidays my parents specialised in: we travelled to Bradford from some god-forsaken location, the car got a puncture, my Dad’s tooth fell out when biting into a flowery bap twinned with a concrete breezeblock, we couldn’t the KwikFit which had the car.

My overwhelming memory, however, was the Film and Television Museum. It had, what was then, the only IMAX cinema in the UK and a chance to try and be a newsreader, reading an autocue. I couldn’t do it. I cried.

They also had a gigantic copy of that famous mugshot photo of Myra Hindley. After getting my mum to explain who she was, I tootled off but that night, I came down in floods of tears, scared that this real life monster was going to get me.

A tough street kid I was not.

A writer who deals with real life monsters, is Liz Mistry. I reviewed another of her Bradford-set crime novels in February 2021, ‘Dark Memories’. https://pajnewman.com/2021/02/07/unravelling-the-mistry-of-bradford/

‘Unjust Bias’ clearly shares DNA with this earlier novel. Mistry’s hard-bitten representation of the city is here. Her predilection for shifting narrative stances from first to third and back again depending upon the character focus of the chapter is there and her obvious interest in the on-going psychological effects of the world upon these people is baked through the stories like logos through a stick of rock.

These are not happy-go-lucky, easy readers with a cozy element. These are dark and realistic depictions of a hard world and bad things happening to people in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But Mistry is a very fine writer and her Bradford is becoming a character in the way that Rankin’s Edinburgh is central to understanding the events.

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unjust-Bias-different-Fiction-Procedural-ebook/dp/B0B61NXSZK/

US – https://www.amazon.com/Unjust-Bias-different-Fiction-Procedural-ebook/dp/B0B61NXSZK/

Author Bio –

Born in Scotland, Made in Bradford sums up Liz Mistry’s life. Over thirty years ago she moved from a small village in West Lothian to Yorkshire to get her teaching degree. Once here, Liz fell in love with three things; curries, the rich cultural diversity of the city … and her Indian husband (not necessarily in this order). Now thirty years, three children, two cats and a huge extended family later, Liz uses her experiences of living and working in the inner city to flavour her writing. Her gritty crime fiction police procedural novels set in Bradford embrace the city she describes as ‘Warm, Rich and Fearless’ whilst exploring the darkness that lurks beneath.

Struggling with severe clinical depression and anxiety for a large number of years, Liz often includes mental health themes in her writing. She credits the MA in Creative Writing she took at Leeds Trinity University with helping her find a way of using her writing to navigate her ongoing mental health struggles. Being a debut novelist in her fifties was something Liz had only dreamed of and she counts herself lucky, whilst pinching herself regularly to make sure it’s all real. One of the nicest things about being a published author is chatting with and responding to readers’ feedback and Liz regularly does events at local libraries, universities, literature festivals and open mics. She also teaches creative writing too.  Liz has completed a PhD in Creative Writing on Diverse voices in crime fiction.

In her spare time, Liz loves pub quizzes (although she admits to being rubbish at them), dancing (she does a mean jig to Proud Mary – her opinion, not ratified by her family), visiting the varied Yorkshire landscape, with Robin Hoods Bay being one of her favourite coastal destinations, listening to music, reading and blogging about all things crime fiction on her blog, The Crime Warp. 

Social Media Links –

Twitter: @LizMistryAuthor  

Facebook: @LizMistryBooks 

Website: lizmistry.com

Tragedies Which Cast A Long Shadow

In the Shadow of Piper Alpha’ by Iain Maloney

Iain Maloney speaks exclusively to PAJNewman here

167 men died on the Piper Alpha oil platform in 1988. In The Shadow of Piper Alpha is the first novel to explore the devastating aftermath of the disaster.

Marcus is on Piper Alpha that night. His daughter, Carrie, waits at the hospital as helicopters start bringing in survivors, never knowing if her father will be on the next one. Marcus survives, but his post-traumatic stress disorder develops into often violent alcoholism. As the story moves between Marcus and Carrie, between the past and present, their trauma grows and deepens, driving them ever further apart. 

After decades living abroad, Carrie, now a respected volcanologist, returns to the University of Aberdeen to deliver a controversial academic paper with Marcus in attendance. Will a reconciliation be possible, or has too much time passed? (Synopsis courtesy of Tippermuir Books ) https://tippermuirbooks.co.uk/product/in-search-of-piper-alpha/

Confession time first: I’m not a huge Aberdeen fan. My first exposure to “the Granite City” were as a coach leading student athletes to brutal defeats while the rain sheeted in, consistently pishing it down horizontally. It was always dark. It was always wet. The opponents were horrid.

Then I read Christopher Brookmyre’sA Big Boy Did It and Ran Away‘ which opens with exactly how I felt about the place twenty years ago:

“Europe’s Oil Capital. Honestly. The first time he heard the expression, he’d assumed it was a bit of self-deprecatory humour. That was before he learned that there was no such thing as self-deprecatory humour in Aberdeen…

‘Scotland’s Fourth City’ wasn’t exactly a winning slogan, especially considering that there was a dizzyingly steep drop-off after the first two, and it still put them behind the ungodly shit-hole that was Dundee. The also self-conferred nickname ‘Silver City’ was another over-reaching feat of turd-polishing euphemism. It was grey. Everything was grey.”

In the intervening years I’ve been back and, Escher-nightmare road network aside, I’ve softened my views on a place which can look really quite nice when it’s dry. The place is packed with good people.

And it is the people who come through in Iain Maloney’s ‘In the Shadow of Piper Alpha‘. The book focuses on the impact of that famous North Sea platform collapse which cost the lives of 167 men upon one family as the ripples of trauma and community grief seep like magma under the earth merely looking for a place to erupt.

Magma erupting is a metaphor which is also at the core of this novel which manages the rare trick of being sumptuously written, moving and heart felt as well as warm and – most often missing from “literary” fiction – really funny.

Maloney is a writer who can have characters describe themselves as having, “Eyes like an owl, pallor of pizza dough,” or describe their peely-wally complexion when the sun comes out in Aberdeen as “even fake tan somehow didn’t work and I ended up looking like an Oompa-Loompa with a liver complaint.”

This lends, what is after all, a novel predicated on sadness a lightness of touch and humour which is very Scottish but also adds a poignancy to the coping strategies and escapes used by the characters, no matter how damaging to them they may be in the short or long run.

Maloney is obviously a craftsman who thinks deeply about how best to convey the meaning of his work. Here he shifts between first and third person narration, moves the split narratives in time in order to show you the evolution of the way events far away geographically and chronologically can bubble to the surface at any time.

In the Shadow of Piper Alpha is the sort of novel which leaves you longing to meet up with the characters again whilst simultaneously feeling like you’ve been on an emotionally bruising journey with them. Beautifully written, intelligently structured and a triumph deserving of widespread acclaim.

Purchase Links:

Bookshop.org: https://uk.bookshop.org/a/10526/9781913836160

Tippermuir Books: https://tippermuirbooks.co.uk/product/in-search-of-piper-alpha/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadow-Piper-Alpha-Iain-Maloney/dp/1913836169/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=in+the+shadow+of+piper+alpha&qid=1657358726&sprefix=in+the+shadow+of+pi%2Caps%2C155&sr=8-1  

Blackwells: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/In-the-Shadow-of-Piper-Alpha-by-Iain-Maloney/9781913836160

Author Bio

Iain Maloney is the author of seven books, including the critically acclaimed ‘The Only Gaijin in the Village’ (Birlinn, 2020), a memoir about his life in rural Japan.

He is also a freelance editor and journalist, mainly for The Japan Times. 

He was born and raised in Aberdeen, Scotland and he currently lives in Japan. He studied English at the University of Aberdeen, graduated from the University of Glasgow’s Creative Writing Masters in 2004, and holds a PhD from the University of Sunderland. (Biography courtesy of https://iainmaloney.com/)

Social Media

Iain Maloney

https://iainmaloney.com/

https://www.facebook.com/iainmaloneyauthor/

https://www.instagram.com/the_only_gaijin_in_the_village/

twitter.com/@iainmaloney

https://iainmaloney.substack.com/

Tippermuir Books

https://www.facebook.com/Tippermuir-Books-103222168812252

https://www.instagram.com/tippermuirbooks/

https://mobile.twitter.com/tippermuirbooks

Questions and Answers with Iain Maloney

You can read a review of Iain’s novel ‘In the Shadow of Piper Alpha’ here

PAJNewman (PAJN): Threaded throughout this book is, obviously, the rippling effects of the tragedy on Piper Alpha. It clearly alters Marcus’ life forever but I thought you kept the focus on the characters rather than straying too far towards the official reports and accident enquiries. Was it a temptation to want to write more about the sense of injustice that these sort of disasters have on the communities or was the plan always to see it through the characters’ eyes?

Iain Maloney (IM): In the early stages of planning I thought that would be a bigger part of it – while many people remember Piper Alpha and know what happened, there are many others around the world who don’t so I thought I would have to provide some explanation or context. However my focus quickly shifted to the characters and it became clear that I was telling the story of the family, not the story of Piper Alpha. Non-fiction books like Stephen McGinty’s ‘Fire in the Night‘ tell the facts about the disaster better than I ever could. Fiction’s strengths aren’t documentarian, they lie in exploring how something feels, the personal and social experience. I hoped, the way all historical fiction writers do, I guess, that if people didn’t know about Piper Alpha then my book would encourage them to learn more and so it has proved. We live in a time when all the information is a few seconds away from us so writers no longer have to include the full context and background the way Tolstoy or Melville used to. Readers today can look up references they don’t know, new words, and unfamiliar locations and get back to the story in a few seconds. It’s very liberating, I think.

PAJN: The novel is clearly very carefully structured. We have shifts in time, shifts in narrative stance depending upon which strand of the story we are with at any particular time. How late in the writing process did you come to these choices?

IM: Very early on. This was the third novel I published, the fourth I’d written (there’s an unpublished first novel that no one will ever see) so I was a bit more confident and experimental. My first two novels, ‘First Time Solo‘ and ‘Silma Hill’ are told chronologically start to finish so I was ready for something new.

The whole crux of the story is how the past and the present interact with each other in ways the characters don’t even realise. Every decision Carrie makes about her relationships and career, for example, can be traced back to events in her childhood – Piper Alpha and her father’s trauma, obviously, but other, smaller things that seem trivial at the time but leave their scars. In order to show that I needed to bring the past and present literally closer together on the page, to show the event in the past, then its consequence in the present. If there’s two hundred pages between those moments, it weakens the impact. It’s also a key part of representing trauma on the page.

“For sufferers of PTSD, during a flashback or during a dream, the brain is literally reliving the experience not rerunning a memory”

For sufferers of PTSD, during a flashback or during a dream, the brain is literally reliving the experience not rerunning a memory so in a sense the distinction between past and present collapse in that moment. At a fundamental level in trauma, time is not linear so in a sense the structure of the book also mirrors Marcus’s journey – when all the disparate parts of the storyline meet up at the end, then it’s possible to say that Marcus is in a sense “cured” – although speaking about a cure for PTSD is misleading. I’ll stop there – this was the subject of my PhD so I could literally go on for hundreds of thousands of words.

PAJN: Similarly, there are geological metaphors used throughout the story. Was that always baked into the idea or is it something you found in the editing process?

IM: I knew geology would be a part of it – with Marcus working in the oil industry it had to be – and having Carrie follow him into the field felt right. I knew from the start I wanted to write about a father-daughter relationship. It’s perhaps the least-written about familial relationship in literature – mothers/sons, fathers/sons, mothers/daughter, these are much more common – and I wanted them to begin from a good, close place, so having them share interests was a simple way of showing that. I needed Carrie’s specialty to be something that enabled her to move around the world, so earthquakes and volcanoes were an obvious choice and then the symbolic possibilities of volcanology become clear. The first title of the book in draft stage was ‘Caldera’ – the crater left in the aftermath of an eruption. I struggled more with the specific allusions in the book – I didn’t want to hit the reader with too much obvious symbolism. I really tried not to use phrases like “she erupted in anger” or “he blew his top” because it felt, well, hack. I allowed some when it felt right but I held back. Some snuck in though. When I named Carrie’s partner Ash, I didn’t immediately realise the symbolism, I just chose it based on rhythm and sound. I guess by that point my brain was in a volcanology groove.

PAJN: There appear to be some superficial biographical similarities between the character of Carrie and yourself. How much did you draw on growing up in Aberdeen and then working internationally when writing the novel?

IM: This is always a curious question because I’m not sure which similarities you mean. Readers often notice things that weren’t intentional or read things that aren’t there (that usually happens with friends who say “this is clearly you” and I think “but that character is a bit of a dick – is that how you see me?”).

I’m from Aberdeen and the story is set there, so there are some unavoidable crossovers but Carrie is 8 years older than me so her Aberdeen and mine are different, certainly from a cultural angle. Other crossovers are just for convenience – she goes into academia and so did I, so that means I had less research to do. She visits Sakurajima in Japan and so have I because, again, research.

In other ways she’s the complete antithesis of me. She has no interest in music, for example, while music is a huge part of my life. I mention that because it was an important realisation when I was learning about her personality. I find people who don’t care about music, who are just happy to listen to whatever is on the radio without curiosity, odd, and when I realised Carrie was one of those people it unlocked her for me. If anything, there are more similarities between Marcus and me – he drinks in the pub I was bar manager of, he likes bands I like, he likes hiking and camping on the west coast of Scotland.

Writers can’t avoid putting bits of themselves in their characters but it tends to lessen with each book. The debut is usually hugely autobiographic and by the tenth you’ve got a handle on how to do it, when to borrow and when to invent. A more revealing question is “which of your friends/family is this character based on?” I think few authors would be happy answering that honestly!

PAJN: Do you find it easier to write about Scotland from the other side of the world? Does distance give perspective for you?

IM: I think so, yes. Like Joyce writing about Dublin, distance gives both objectivity and nostalgia. Living in another culture, one that’s very different (I live in Japan) enables you to make comparisons and evaluate things – X is better in Scotland but the Japanese do Y better – in a way that when you’re surrounded by the day-to-day realities can be harder, for me anyway.

Writing this book was emotionally very difficult. But perhaps without the deadline I’d never have finished it. It meant I couldn’t wallow, I couldn’t take a break, I couldn’t kick decisions down the road, I had to plough on and hit my word count every day.

However the longer I’m away (17 years at this point) the harder it becomes. I don’t think I could set a story in Scotland in 2022 because I’d get so many little details wrong. Pop culture references, the price of things, how technology has changed, those kinds of things. For me as a writer, in a sense, Scotland is frozen in an earlier time. It’s much easier these days to set stories in Japan or somewhere totally invented, like in sci-fi.

PAJN: How long did ‘In the Shadow of Piper Alpha’ take from beginning to end to write?

IM: A little under a year. I had a two-book deal and this was book two so I had a deadline 12 months after delivering ‘Silma Hill‘. I still can’t quite believe I managed it but it was hard – given the subject matter and the stress of going from no idea to finished manuscript in that time, writing this book was emotionally very difficult. But perhaps without the deadline I’d never have finished it. It meant I couldn’t wallow, I couldn’t take a break, I couldn’t kick decisions down the road, I had to plough on and hit my word count every day.

PAJN: Do you think the ending is an optimistic, pessimistic or neither ending?

IM: (SPOILERS!) I think it’s optimistic. As I said earlier if you think of the journey and the structure as one from trauma through treatment then it has to be optimistic, certainly for Marcus. He and Carrie aren’t reunited at the end but the first step has been taken. It might go wrong but it might not. It’s not a happy ending. There’s no closure. She’s still not talking to her mother – she’s not even mentioned. Marcus is still drinking. She’s made no real effort to deal with her own trauma the way Marcus has. But yes, I think for Ash and Isobel, if they were watching the final scene from the trees, they’d think this was a positive moment.

PAJN: Do you ever find Carrie and Marcus coming back to? Would you ever consider bringing them back for a further novel?

IM: The characters never leave me, especially ones where there was such an emotional investment in telling their story, but in terms of bringing them back… it’s honestly never even crossed my mind! I could imagine fleshing it out, adding scenes – it covers 33 years of their lives so obviously it skips a lot – but a whole new story? Probably not.

PAJN: Books change over time. I know that ‘In the Shadow…’ was originally released as ‘The Waves Burn Bright’. How do you feel about it now? Does the title change and the continued passage of time alter how both yourself as author and readers are reacting to the work?

IM: It’s my favourite of my novels, I think it’s the most accomplished (as it should be – we should get better with each book) but until Tippermuir expressed an interested in republishing it, I hadn’t opened it or read a line since the final book event of the original launch. In that time the weaknesses multiplied in my imagination and the strengths receded. I expected to have to do a huge rewrite and I struggled over whether I should or not – is it better to be faithful to the original or to improve it with skills I’ve learned since (the old George Lucas conundrum)? But when I read it back I was pleasantly surprised. I had to make a few changes but nothing major, just tightening the prose and changing a few words here and there.

Now I’m further removed from the emotion of writing it, I can be more objective, like a proud parent with an adult child who is off making their own way in the world. I’m mostly just really happy that it’s in print again. I should say, actually, that it went out of print because the original publisher went out of business (and not because of my book!). I always felt it never got a fair crack at finding an audience so this second chance just makes me so happy.

PAJN: Who are your biggest influences as a writer?

IM: Originally and generally: James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ali Smith, David Mitchell, Iain Banks, Margaret Atwood. But I never stop being influenced so recently I’ve found my writing energised by discovering Per Olov Enquist, Porochista Khakpour, Furukawa Hideo, Elin Willows. Some writers have had a specific impact on aspects of my writing such as David Mitchell (dialogue), Roddy Doyle (description), David Peace (narration), Ali Smith (respecting your readers).

PAJN: What is a typical writing day for you?

IM: I begin early, roll out of bed, kettle on, start writing. I never write until I know what I’m going to say – I believe writer’s block just means you’ve sat at your desk too early. So much of writing takes place in your head – imagining scenes, creating characters, working out plot points – and you don’t need to do those at a desk, you can do that while driving to work, doing the dishes, cutting the grass.

So when I sit down I already know where I am and where I’m going. Then I’ll either write until the piece is finished (short story, chapter, article) or until I get interrupted. I find I can zone out completely, especially when writing fiction, and snap out of it and find six hours have passed. It doesn’t happen often (I have the day job so that kind of free writing time is limited) but I love it when it does. I wrote my novella ‘Life is Elsewhere/Burn Your Flags\’ in two days doing that. 10,000 words a day over a weekend.

PAJN: What is next for you in terms of writing? Will you return to fiction writing?

IM: I’m not sure what’s next specifically. I never stopped writing fiction; I published my novella in 2021, but I’ve also done a memoir and a poetry collection. I tend to work on a few books at a time, partly as my interests shift but also because publishing is so volatile that you’re never sure what is going to be popular a year or two ahead.

So I have a travel book at the publisher’s now, two finished novels looking for a publisher, and a collection of poetry in the pipeline. I’ve also got a science fiction novel I’ve been working on for years that I hope to get finished this summer. I’m also regularly publishing short stories and poems on my Substack page (iainmaloney.substack.com). Corona hit the publishing industry hard, with lay-offs, furloughs, supply chain problems and a general lack of cash flow, so everything is a bit tighter, a bit more difficult, a bit more risk-averse. We’ll see what comes over the horizon.

PAJN: What is the question you wish interviewers and readers would ask but never do?

IM: I’ve never really thought about it. I think I’m pretty good at twisting questions to suit what I want to talk about! One thing I’ve never really had is the experience of readers asking specific questions about the books. All my public events have been launches, where basically no one in the audience has had a chance to read the book yet so all the questions are quite general. Interviewers like yourself who have read the book are also aware that many readers haven’t and want to avoid spoilers (rightly!).

But when I listen to much more successful writers talking about their classic books where everyone in the audience has read it, maybe more than once, and can ask specific detailed questions about something that happens on page 72, or have developed their own theories about motivation, intention, or something that happens offstage, I think that must be so much fun for the author. The only time we really get to dig into that kind of detail with our creations is during the editing process and that’s usually justifying yourself or fighting to save something from the cutting room floor. I’d love to do more book club events, for example, but being in Japan the time differences make it difficult.

Purchase Links:

Bookshop.org: https://uk.bookshop.org/a/10526/9781913836160

Tippermuir Books: https://tippermuirbooks.co.uk/product/in-search-of-piper-alpha/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadow-Piper-Alpha-Iain-Maloney/dp/1913836169/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=in+the+shadow+of+piper+alpha&qid=1657358726&sprefix=in+the+shadow+of+pi%2Caps%2C155&sr=8-1  

Blackwells: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/In-the-Shadow-of-Piper-Alpha-by-Iain-Maloney/9781913836160

Author Bio

Iain Maloney is the author of seven books, including the critically acclaimed ‘The Only Gaijin in the Village’ (Birlinn, 2020), a memoir about his life in rural Japan.

He is also a freelance editor and journalist, mainly for The Japan Times. 

He was born and raised in Aberdeen, Scotland and he currently lives in Japan. He studied English at the University of Aberdeen, graduated from the University of Glasgow’s Creative Writing Masters in 2004, and holds a PhD from the University of Sunderland. (Biography courtesy of https://iainmaloney.com/)

Social Media

Iain Maloney

https://iainmaloney.com/

https://www.facebook.com/iainmaloneyauthor/

https://www.instagram.com/the_only_gaijin_in_the_village/

twitter.com/@iainmaloney

https://iainmaloney.substack.com/

Tippermuir Books

https://www.facebook.com/Tippermuir-Books-103222168812252

https://www.instagram.com/tippermuirbooks/

https://mobile.twitter.com/tippermuirbooks