Write Spy, Right Time

The Spy Who Came Into Our Living Rooms:
John le Carre is dead and leaves a legacy to wonder at.

And so that’s it. Last night, I stumbled upon this quietly dignified statement from The Curtis Brown Group https://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/news/a-statement-from-jonny-geller-ceo-the-curtis-brown-group
The curtain – an iron one? Surely not – has wrung down on the life and career of David Cornwall, or John le Carre.

In the year 2000, I was a student in Scotland. Like many students, I had more energy than sense.

I would finish work on a Thursday, head home for a cat nap, wake up about 23:00,jump in my car.

Fuelled by too many cigarettes, too much coffee and hours of homemade mix cassettes (look ‘em up kids), I would drive overnight to London or the south coast. 

For drunken debauchery or parental visits respectively.

On this particular trip, I was flagging. I was tired and the sickly motorway coffee wasn’t doing it. My mouth was already doubling as sandpaper, my eyelids drooping. I pulled into some services – Congleton was it? – anyway, somewhere not as far away as it ought to be.
I wanted a story. I wanted distraction.

Browsing the tape and CD racks, I saw a John le Carre audiobook.

I was, I think, aware of le Carre as a literary figure. 

I’d done the fairly standard spy reading journey of people of my generation (Roger Moore on bank holiday replays of James Bond as a child – public libraries to be introduced to Ian Fleming (“you mean there are more Bond stories I can watch in my head and it’s free?! Any time I want?”) as a young teen) and I feel like my mum had thrust a le Carre at me to try later on.

I can’t remember, but I have a vague half memory like I wasn’t interested. I’d had my head turned aged 13 by ‘The Rachel Papers‘ and the style of Martin Amis and had fully gone down the late teen pretension of the Beat poets. 

Good knows what I was reading by this stage, a degree in alcohol studies with additional credits in neglected studies probably.

Anyway, I’d sort of heard of this le Carre bloke. I bought it. It cost a fortune. (£6.99? £8.99? Extortion) But, it had four cassettes and would last me nearly the whole way.

That trip, that book, literally changed my life. I’d known before then I wanted to write. I’d known since Amis had twisted my head to the possibilities of humour and wit and zippy, self-referential style what prose got do and sound like and be twisted to do.

But I really don’t think I had appreciated what plot could do. Le Carre’s honeyed voice helped. A fine actor, he read his work with the silken, upper class drawl of the entitled. He was like a harder-edged Leslie Philips or Stephen Fry’s favourite grandfather.
I stopped once in seven hours. Just because the car was thirsty and, probably, I needed more tobacco. But otherwise, captivated, enchanted, enthralled. The works. 
It was anger and passion and characters who resonated and were blind and duplicitous, even to themselves.

I now know that the book which so shook my world on its axis is not even regarded as that good. 

Indeed, it may well have helped that I was (I later discovered to my horror) listening to an abridged version (And what an abridgement. The full monty Michael Jayston version I now have on my phone – don’t tell me the world hasn’t got better in the last 20 years – is 12 hours 42 minutes so I’m assuming nearly half the novel has been pared away. This might be a good lesson for all writers, aspiring and established, about the need for judicious editing.)

‘Our Game’

These days, I can’t be objective about it. It came at the right time, was so powerful when it hit, that I can only love it. I’ve no idea how many times I’ve listened to it. I’m fairly sure I got to the end of the tape as I pulled up at my destination.

On that Sunday night, as I climbed back into the car to do the same trip in reverse, I feel like I went back to tape one and put it back in again to listen afresh, but I can’t be sure.
The novel was ‘Our Game’ and it changed my reading life, that much is clear. 

His introduction opened my eyes to more, in some ways even more than the text itself. At the start, le Carre talks passionately about our failure to see through on the promises we made to the little nations during our Cold War rhetoric and centres on the plight of the Ingush. 

This is the Caucuses, a region I’d definitely never heard of, encompassing the (then) very failing Russian state and the Chechen conflict of the mid-90s and the looming Islamic problems which I’d missed entirely as the sort of smug teenager who drives the length of the country to good parties rather than study.

The next year, 2001, of course, these were issues which would be unavoidable even to such smug, complacent teens as myself.
Similar events with le Carre would reoccur for me – I had an abridged audio cassette version of ‘Absolute Friends’ which is another angry novel which certainly resonated with me at the time.

I read everything in his back catalogue – finding his work uneven and developing my private theory that there were two types of le Carre book – the unputtdownable and the unreadable. 

This is entirely personal and arbitrary – for me, the former includes ‘Our Game’, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, ‘Smiley’s People’.

In the latter category are ‘The Night Manager’ (brilliant tv, tedious novel), ‘Single and Single’ (still don’t think over finished that one) and, more controversially amongst spy geeks, ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’ which, for all its arresting imagery, I find so dull I’ve only finished it once in any version – hardback, paperback or audio – and find as readable as wading through treacle in diving boots. 

I love this inconsistency, however. He was never dull. He swung for the fences (or drove for the boundary, to use a more Anglocentric image).

When ‘Legacy of Spies’ was released, I asked my partner if we could go from our highland home to watch the live stream talk and Q&A from the Royal Festival Hall. It was my birthday treat.

The fact that this required a round trip, midweek, on a work night, of 190 miles seemed reasonable to sit at the master’s feet, remotely, if not literally.

I think it’s fair to say one of us enjoyed it more than the other. I was enthralled. I thought John Snow had an off night, if I’m honest, but just hearing Le Carre in full flow was worth it. 

Which is exactly what I told myself as I drove home, late into the night, letting his words wash over me as they have for two decades.

Dasher, Dancer, Donner and Dachshunds

Christmas in Cockleberry Bay’ by Nicola May

Meet old and new characters in the Bay for Christmas fun and frolics.

With both the Corner Shop and Cockleberry Café in safe hands, Rosa turns her attention to Ned’s Gift, the charity set up in memory of the great-grandfather whose legacy turned her life around.

Over at the Ship Hotel, Lucas has his work cut out with his devious new girlfriend and the mystery poisoning of an anonymous hotel inspector. Will the hotel still get its 3-star Seaside Rosette?

Will Mary find true love at last? Can Titch cope with the demands of the shop and being heavily pregnant. And can Rosa, with a baby of her own, pull off the Cockleberry Bay Charity Christmas Concert in time?

Christmas in Cockleberry Bay is a festive delight for fans of Rosa and her cheeky mini dachshund Hot, delivering a feast of unpredictable events and surprises.

The cover of Nicola May’s latest novel, ‘Christmas in Cockleberry Bay’

I am new to the world of Cockleberry Bay. To be entirely honest, I was enticed in by dachshund. And the murder mystery. Always like a bit of cosy crime.

This is the fourth novel in the series and I can see why Nicola May has proved so popular. Honestly, I was expecting the glow of small, English country life. 

I was expecting characters who are mainly well intentioned and who struggle through their various travails with fortitude and the support of their friends and family. 

What I wasn’t expecting was how funny the novel was going to be.

May really has a nice line in coarse humour. I especially enjoyed Rosa dealing with Davina in the shop: “’There are some sparklers for Fireworks Night too, if you’re interested,’ she added, wishing she could light one and stick it up the rude cow’s arse.”

Additionally, Titch falling asleep on the toilet, heavily pregnant with her head on her bump, knickers around her ankles, is a delight of light touch comedy.

However, this is not the only form of comedy May extracts from her cast of characters. There’s an absurd, black comedy present too. Especially around the undertakers. I especially enjoyed the man mountain, former rugby player bawling like a baby and riling against his mother’s death atop her gardener. “’A tradesman! Young enough to be her grandson! The shame!’ He hugged himself in torment.”

What ‘Christmas in Cockleberry Bay’ really does best, however, is leave you warmed right through like a hot chocolate with marshmallows on a December day.

If you enjoy festive movies with dustings of romance, humour and dachshunds, then this is the Christmas novel for you.


Purchase Links

Kindle – UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08JHJKLQF/

Kindle – .com – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08JHJKLQF/

Paperback  – http://eye-books.com/books/christmas-in-cocklberry-bay

Author Bio – 

Nicola May is a rom-com superstar. She is the author of eleven romantic comedies, all of which have appeared in the Kindle bestseller charts. Two of them won awards at the Festival of Romance, and another was named ebook of the week in The SunThe Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay became the best-selling Kindle book in the UK, across all genres, in January 2019, and was Amazon’s third-bestselling novel in that year. 

She lives near Ascot racecourse with her black-and-white rescue cat, Stan.

Follow Nicola May

Website – www.nicolamay.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/NicolaMayAuthor

Twitter – https://twitter.com/nicolamay1 

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/author_nicola/

Blood on the Streets of Scotland – Blood of Brothers

Blood Brothers by Heather Atkinson

When you’re running the streets, loyalty is everything…

Gangs rule the streets of the rough Gallowburn Estate in Glasgow, but the deepest rivalry of all is between Jamie Gray and his friends, known as the Blood Brothers, and their enemies, the Lawsons.

The two gangs clash frequently, but when a phone containing incriminating evidence disappears after a particularly brutal run-in, the stakes are higher than ever.

Jamie’s mother Jackie is as hard as nails and is not going to let anyone hurt her boy – even if she has to roll up her sleeves and get stuck in. What she wants more than anything though, is to see Jamie turn his back on the street life. And when he meets spoilt rich-girl Allegra, who has a penchant for shoplifting, Jackie thinks she could be Jamie’s way out.

But with the Lawsons closing in, and everyone taking sides, there is only one way out for Jamie, and to triumph he must take out his biggest enemy…

If you love Martina Cole, Kimberley Chambers, and Jessie Keane, you’ll love Heather Atkinson. Discover the bestselling author Heather Atkinson, her crackling plots, unforgettable characters and page-turning pace and you’ll never look back…

I’ve lived in Scotland over 20 years now. It is a country which has changed immensely in the near quarter of a century since I first arrived.

Additionally, I have lived in isolated rural splendour of tourist trap mountains and charming wee fishing villages as well as in crowded, post-industrial towns where men are hard and drugs rife.

It is a country of contrasts.

The area Heather Atkinson is writing about here – Gallowburn – is fictional. Except, it isn’t. it’s an amalgamation of a whole bunch of places most Scottish readers can piece together without too much difficulty.

Atkinson clearly has an unpatronising affection for her street level protagonists. The characters are rendered as fully rounded humans with clear motivations and driving ambitions.

She also is an accomplished writer of dialogue. Having published over 50 novels, it would appear that she is well attuned to her surroundings, picking up the language of the Scheme and playing it back to readers to create an atmosphere of intense verisimilitude.

Even as her protagonists are sucked further into their worlds of violence and chaos, Heather Atkinson keeps them grounded as the plot runs away outwith their control to the natural end of violence. It is a climax moving, horrifying, engaging and entertaining.

Boldwood Books are an interesting independent publisher who have selected some exciting authors to work with (Alex Coombs, who I enjoyed immeasurably for one) https://pajnewman.com/2020/09/24/missing-for-good-by-alex-coombs/

With authors of the quality of coombs and Atkinson, they will be well worth following in future.

Purchase Link –  https://amzn.to/32GYs5H

Author Bio –

Heather Atkinson is the author of over fifty books – predominantly in the crime fiction genre. Although Lancashire born and bred she now lives with her family, including twin teenage daughters, on the beautiful west coast of Scotland. Her new gangland series for Boldwood, set on the fictional Gallowburn estate in Glasgow begins with Blood Brothers which will be published in December 2020.

Social Media Links –

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

Website https://www.heatheratkinsonbooks.com/

Twitter @ https://twitter.com/HeatherAtkinso1

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

Bookbub https://www.bookbub.com/authors/heather-atkinson

Solo: The Stigma of Travelling Alone?

‘Solo: A Down to Earth Guide for Travelling the World Alone’ by Aaron Hodges

Feeling alone? Trapped? Lost?

Time for an adventure!

The bad times won’t last forever, and for more than five years, Aaron Hodges has journeyed the globe alone, visiting everywhere from Istanbul to Argentina. Honest and insightful, SOLO is packed with his personal travel tips and humorous stories. Learn about the ups and downs, the triumphs and the pitfalls of venturing off the beaten path. Follow his guidelines for exploring the world alone and be inspired to take the trip you’ve always dreamed of.

Discover the world of solo travel.

Go Solo!

The cover of Aaron Hodges’ ‘Solo’

What is the last taboo in modern society? I have a feeling that travelling alone may well just be it.

About 13 years ago, I found myself with a long holiday and newly heart broken. A friend’s family had a house in France they were willing to lend me and so I decamped by myself.

Although I have since had many very wonderful breaks with my partner, I always think fondly of that break. It was delicious. Pleasing myself, dealing with setbacks and challenges – like having subpar schoolboy French as my only communication skill.

However, what has subsequently struck me most, has been the horror and outrage that a lot of people have expressed at the very idea of travelling alone. Is it lack of confidence? Is it a reluctance for people to be thought self-indulgent? No idea, but boy, do people not like the idea of travelling alone.

Except if they have tried it. Aaron Hodges has not only tried it; he’s written the book on it.

In one way, this title arrives at the most inopportune moment. As most of the UK is still locked down, Hodges’ (mainly) Asian and South American travels begin to read like travels from a previous world. Which in some ways, they are.

Hodges is an engaging and charming narrator who whisks readers along in brisk fashion offering a charming step-by-step guide for those who want to chance solo adventuring.

This is a short read, illustrated with Hodges’ photos from his travels. At this most uncertain of times, Hodges offers a glimpse into a world which many of us long to revisit as soon as we can.

If we ever get the chance to, I for one, will be taking Aaron Hodges’ lovely little guide, ‘Solo’.

Purchase Links


Aaron Hodges, solo travelling, outside India’s Taj Mahal.

Author Bio – Aaron Hodges was born in 1989 in the small town of Whakatane, New Zealand. He studied for five years at the University of Auckland, completing a Bachelors of Science in Biology and Geography, and a Masters of Environmental Engineering. After working as an environmental consultant for two years, he grew tired of office work and decided to quit his job in 2014 and see the world. One year later, he published his first novel – Stormwielder – while in Guatemala. Since then, he has honed his skills while travelling through parts of SE Asia, India, North and South America, Turkey and Europe, and now has over a dozen works to his name. Today, his adventures continue…

Social Media Links – https://instagram.com/aaronhodgesauthor


Only a Glimmer of Hope amongst the lives of these economic units

‘Glimmer of Hope’ by JA Andrews

Sometimes chasing a dream can become a nightmare…

Alecia Preen is living in poverty and desperate to make a better life for herself. Having moved to a new area for new beginnings after being disowned by her family, money was fast running out. She is struggling to make ends meet.

With the intention of charging lonely men online for her services, Alecia realises she can supplement her income by being unscrupulous. In meeting Jake Parker he requests that she role-plays as a psychiatrist, but he makes her aware of an underground millionaires playground called Sordida. He warns her to stay away.

As Alecia’s curiosity gets the better of her, she is amazed by the wealth and decadence on offer. Sordida is not the club she had anticipated because behind the legendary name lurks a very dark secret. A secret that could cost her everything.

He pays by the hour and Alecia pays in ways she had never imagined.

The cover of JA Andrew’s novella, ‘Glimmer of Hope’

JA Andrews has written a novella which is interesting in tone and style. In an author’s note post-script, Andrews explains that this is an expanded and enhanced version of a shorter, earlier work.

Sometimes this shows in the text, other times it is well hidden. Andrews cites it as a cross between ‘50 Shades of Gray’ and ‘Hostel’ and the mix of erotica and mild horror are certainly visible in the DNA of the text.

The story of a young girl sucked into the world of prostitution and, eventually, the sordid but supposedly “glamorous” world of the aptly named Sordida is as depressing as one might expect.

Little play is made of the fact that this is a northern girl, transported to the south with no friends or family for emotional support.

Conversely, great play is made of her desperation for money and people are used and seen as currency in this world of flashy lingerie and limos. The people are economic units to be played with, discarded and used.

However, what Andrews really manages is to draw his readers into a spiralling world of desperation and horror as the plot plays out at breathtaking speed and the nail-biting conclusion, the reversals of fortune and the ever mounting tension make it a very handy afternoon read.

Just don’t read it alone at night if you’re of a squeamish disposition.

Author JA Andrews

Purchase Links

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08L9JR183/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08L9JR183/

Author Bio –

JA Andrews is the author of gripping twisty psychological thrillers. Mummy’s Boy, and You Let Him In, are his full length novels, while Glimmer of Hope is a shorter story as a Kindle exclusive.  As well as writing fiction, JA Andrews enjoys reading a mix of genres, watching various reality TV and spending time with family and friends.

Social Media Links –

Twitter: @JasonA1980