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.

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

books2read.com/u/meBM8g

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

https://www.facebook.com/aaronhodgesauthor

Beverley Learns to Type

EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT FROM MINE by Alison Knight

You can read a review of ‘Mine’ by Alison Knight here: https://pajnewman.com/?p=497

In this scene, Jack comes home from work to find his teenage daughter, Beverley, teaching herself to type. She’s an unmarried mother to baby Kerry and is already finding full-time parenting difficult. She decides to look for a job. After all, her mother goes out at work, so why can’t she?

On Friday afternoon, Jack let himself into the house and whistled. The only response was a soft tap-tapping from the kitchen. 

            He walked down the passage and opened the door. Bev was sitting at the kitchen table with Lily’s old typewriter, a book open beside her. She was looking at the book and typing, a frown of concentration on her face.

            “Hallo, love.”

            She jumped a mile.

            “Shit!” she yelped. “Don’t do that!”

            “What? Walk into me own kitchen? What you doing?”

            “Baking a cake, what does it look like?”

            “Then you’re a lousy cook,” he grinned.

            Bev giggled. Jack knew she could never resist her old dad’s jokes.

            “Any danger of a cuppa?”

            She rolled her eyes and got up to put the kettle on.

            “Where’s the baby?”

            “Upstairs in her cot. She finally decided she was tired.”

            He walked round the table and looked at the paper in the machine.

            The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The quick btrim

            “What’s a b-t-r-i-m?”

            “It’s an old man what sneaks up on you.”

            “Ah, I thought so.” He sat down. “So, you’re learning to type?”

            “Yeah. I’m using Mum’s old book. It’s easy. Or it was till you scared the living daylights out of me.”

            He held up his hands. “Sorry, love. So, how long’s this been going on?”

            She shrugged. “Not long. I got bored, so thought I might as well do something useful.”

            “Something useful, eh? Like doing some housework to help your mum out?”

            She leant against the sink and gave him a look, just like Lily. What was it about his girls and those stroppy looks?

“Something useful for me,” she said. “So I can get a job.”

            He frowned. “There’s plenty of time for that. You’ve got Kerry to think of first.”

            Bev huffed and turned away, spooning tea into the pot, muttering to herself.

An excellent first outing for the Marlborough Marlowe

‘Into the Void’ by Christina O’Reilly

How easy is it for a man to simply disappear?

When rural banker Richard Harper is reported missing, DSS John (Archie) Baldrick and DC Ben Travers are drawn into the tangled details of the man’s life. Would Harper really have chosen to leave his seriously ill wife, and abandon his pregnant girlfriend? Or is there a real threat behind the abusive emails he’d been receiving from desperate clients in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis?

On the home front, Archie’s marriage is rocky and his two teenage daughters are giving him all sorts of trouble. The frail but beautiful Helena Harper and her magnificent house offer an oasis of calm as Archie struggles to discover who is responsible for her husband’s disappearance. Has he really been abducted, tortured or killed? Or is Richard Harper himself behind everything that has happened?

Archie and Travers ultimately face a race against time as the case descends into a bewildering morass of obsession, violence and murder.

Longlisted for the 2019 Michael Gifkins Memorial Prize for an Unpublished Novel

Finalist in the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards for Best First Novel

The cover of ‘Into the Void’ Christina O’Reilly’s debut novel

Ok, first things first – I’ve never been to New Zealand. Many people close to me who I value the judgement of, tell me that it is wonderful and I like wine and rugby so I can’t really see any reason for it not to be lovely.

And, if this novel is anything to go by, I’ll be a fool not to visit as soon as this trifling matter of a global pandemic is out of the way.

This is a novel which just begs to be enjoyed. Archie Baldrick, our Marlborough Marlowe, is every reader’s dream of a sexy lead detective. Paunchy, beset by anxiety for his teen daughters (not without cause) and in a marriage which looks fragile as the two former teen lovers drift away, our middle aged ginger detective with the sciatic nerve is quite the pin up.

And this is where this story lives: in the details and the quiet sadness which character endure, not complainingly just with the knowledge that their world’s just got a little but sadder.

The actual story of the disappeared banker who may or may not be responsible for the swirling violence and murder which the climax of the novel addresses is handled with a rare skill and aplomb by this debutant author.

First novels can often be brilliant because they are the culmination of a whole life’s ambition burning to get out. But ‘Into the Void’ does not come off like that at all. It is a fast paced, well-plotted and exceedingly well-written voyage into choppy waters for likeable, recognisable and flawed characters.

Highly recommended and I can’t wait to read O’Reilly’s next one. 

Purchase Links 

US – https://www.amazon.com/Into-Void-Christina-OReilly-ebook/dp/B08529J3DY

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Into-Void-Christina-OReilly-ebook/dp/B08529J3DY

Or readers can email Christina via her website www.christinaoreilly.com or her Facebook page Christina O’Reilly – Author for a paperback copy.

Author Bio – 

Author Christina O’Reilly

Christina O’Reilly is an author and proofreader living in the Waikato region of New Zealand. Several of her short stories have been published in anthologies, most recently in Fresh Ink: A Collection of Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand 2019. Into the Voidis her first crime novel and was longlisted for the Michael Gifkins Memorial Prize in 2019. It is also a finalist in the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards for Best First Novel.

Social Media Links – https://www.facebook.com/Christina-OReilly-Author-102419694721372/?modal=admin_todo_tour

Chasing Shadows in Paris

The Purple Shadow‘ by Christopher Bowden

In the years before the war, Sylvie Charlot was a leading light in Paris fashion with many friends among musicians, artists and writers.  Now she is largely forgotten.  Spending time in Paris during a break in his acting career, Colin Mallory sees a striking portrait of Sylvie.  Some think it is a late work by Édouard Vuillard but there is no signature or documentary evidence to support this view.

The picture has some unusual qualities, not least the presence of a shadow of something that cannot be seen.  Perhaps the picture was once larger.  Colin feels an odd sense of connection with Sylvie, who seems to be looking at him, appealing to him, wanting to tell him something.  Despite a warning not to pursue his interest in her portrait, he is determined to find out more about the painting, who painted it, and why it was hidden for many years.   

Colin’s search takes him back to the film and theatre worlds of Paris and London in the 1930s – and to a house in present-day Sussex.  As he uncovers the secrets of Sylvie’s past, her portrait seems to take on a life of its own.    

The cover of Christopher Bowden’s novel, ‘The Purple Shadow’

‘The Purple Shadow’ by Christopher Bowden is a novel of flowing prose, elegiac phrasing and subtlty of characterisation.

At the opening of the novel, out of work actor Colin Mallory is a malingering flanuer, perusing the streets of Paris at his pleasure. 

Oddly, one of the toughest aspects of reading this novel is that it is so evocative of Paris that is almost painful in a world of lockdowns and social distancing. Bowden writes with a quiet panache and obvious affection for the City of Love that one is left with a feeling of nostalgia and great longing to return to the capital.

“His view was dormers and balconies, shutters and skylights, chimneys and blank walls. Even these were becoming indistinct as the blue light of evening gave way to night.”

Christopher Bowden is clearly a talented artist in his own right and he weaves the strands of plot between forgotten British movie stars of the interwar years with the latter day painting recovery with the skill of a Royal Academician. 

Author Christopher Bowden

Colour imagery positively throbs through the tale. From the second page’s “bright white walls,’ to the “chevrons of indigo, orange and grey” on the last, colours are used to mirror emotions and evoke the surroundings. It is skilfully and unobtrusively carried out.

My issue with the novel is, unfortunately, one which perturbed me for the entire end third of the book. The purple stain of the title is, as the blurb makes clear so this is not a spoiler, one on a painting. The stain seems to be changing, adapting and – possibly – literally moving and yet all of the characters just seem to shrug and say, “Creepy, isn’t it?”

Sorry, no – not creepy. Stupid. You’re confusing a sentient painting with some tawdry sub-Halloween-level balls. 

All of the characters’ entirely blasé approach to the supernatural might enable the plot to wallop on, but it made me want to chuck this finely plotted, beautifully written little novel across the room in irritation.

Still, a quick read by a master craftsman which can be savoured for the quality of the writing alone.

Purchase Links 

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Purple-Shadow-Christopher-Bowden-ebook/dp/B01JLMD7N4/

US – https://www.amazon.com/Purple-Shadow-Christopher-Bowden-ebook/dp/B01JLMD7N4/

France – https://www.amazon.fr/Purple-Shadow-Christopher-Bowden-ebook/dp/B01JLMD7N4/

Author Bio – Christopher Bowden lives in south London. He is the author of six colour-themed novels, which have been praised variously by Andrew Marr, Julian Fellowes, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Shena Mackay.  

Social Media Links –  https://www.facebook.com/christopher.bowden.90

Website – http://www.christopherbowden.com/

Dispatches from the dark heart of Capitalism

Parasite? The Secret Diary of a Landlord

Get ready to learn what really happens behind closed doors. 

Landlords have become one of the most hated groups in society. Parasites, they’re often called. And there’s a lot of them. The Treasury estimates there are almost 2.6 million landlords in the UK with around 5.45 million rental properties.

But the real life of a professional landlord is very different to what most people think. From burglaries and break-ins to drug raids, police warrants, crazy tenant antics, bailiffs, squatters, lawsuits, wrecked properties, interfering council officers, game-playing freeholders to moments of heartfelt joy and happiness, the life of a landlord is never dull. Especially when the government keeps moving the goalposts.

This explosive front line exposé blows the lid off what it’s really like to be a landlord and the shocking reality of renting out a property. Hovering close to a nervous breakdown and likely suffering PTSD, The Secret Landlord exposes truths rarely shared. Stories that will grip you, move you and smack you in the face. 

This is the truth, the other side of the door. 

This is as difficult a book to review as I’m sure it was to write. And, in all honesty, I think a reader’s degree of satisfaction with their purchase is going to be directly linked to their politics and their experiences (isn’t everything?)

There’s a lot to like

The good things – the Secret Landlord is clearly a well-intentioned landlord. She writes fluidly and is as engaging a guide through the trials and tribulations of this lifestyle that you could wish for. Material which could be very dry is handled with aplomb. 

So, it is clearly well written and its diary format allows these dispatches from capitalisms front line to romp along.

The cover of ‘Parasite? The Secret Diary of a Landlord’

The Hustle

I think it is fair to say that this is a landlord who’s heart in the right place and is well intentioned. She wants to make a living – fair enough – and her ethos is clearly well meaning.

She says, ““My tenants tend to stay with me for years – I like that. I like the fact we can have a long relationship and get to know each other. Truth is, I don’t really like change. I really like it when people come to stay and they don’t leave. I like them growing and changing and hearing about their lives.”

That’s positively heart warming. As is how responsible this attitude is:

“I don’t understand, I truly don’t, the landlords who don’t do repairs. I have no understanding, morally or commercially, why you wouldn’t fix a problem.”

Here’s the thing though: the system is awful. 

The System

And, frankly, her justifications for her role within it are very poor. Take a scenario from early on in the book when she needs to sell two properties to ensure she has enough capital on hand to survive.

“My phone rings and I see it’s the long-term tenant at the flat where I’ve just sent his eviction notice. I brace myself. 
‘I’ve just got this notice, what’s going on? What have I done?’ ‘I’m so sorry, you haven’t done anything, but the problem is the government has made lots of tax changes and so I have no choice but to sell.’ 
‘But, this is my home!’ 
‘I know and I’m really sorry, I don’t want it to be like this, but I hope you can understand I have to sell because I need to raise some money.’
 ‘So how long have I got?’ 
‘The date’s there on the notice, you have over two months. I’m really sorry about this.’

Right, so a tenant who has done nothing wrong is to be made homeless because you over extended yourself? 

By the way, in Scotland the tenant would get 6 months notice which would help a little bit, but what makes this galling is the weakness of the arguments in need to make herself feel better.

At various points she asks, “Is it my fault?” and, later when the tenant about to bounced out in the street is not pleased we get this reported exchange:

“He’s still majorly unimpressed as the rental market has risen loads and he’s unhappy about how much more he’s going to have to shell out to rent somewhere else. I bite my tongue. I’d like to point out he could’ve been saving some money from his reduced rent with me.”

Yeah, except that’s not how it works is it? We aren’t given this particular tenant’s occupation but there is every chance that his wages won’t have kept pace with rent levels so he almost certainly won’t have been pocketing the difference, oh-so-financially-prudent Secret Landlord. 

“Is it my fault?” she asks? 

“No,” unsurprisingly answers friend who is also a landlord. 

“Yes,” say everyone else. You are literally part of the problem.

This particular paradox is writ large when she outlines how the system has changed since the financial crash. She has repeatedly said that she is a responsible landlord.

“The hoops you have to jump through and the paperwork you have to complete is something else nowadays. But, back in the day, and obviously that was before the financial crash, getting a mortgage, a re-mortgage or any sort of money was easy. Hell, you could even do same-day re-mortgages back then!… I should have borrowed more!”

No! No, you shouldn’t. People investing in sub-prime mortgages is the literal – literal – reason the world’s financial system had a cardiac arrest which nearly sent us back to the Dark Ages. This is not an exactly reflective guide.

“The thing that gets me about all of this is the way the government has created these housing problems and blamed landlords for everything. The government sold off the council housing and hasn’t built enough since. Private individuals then bought properties to rent out to fill the housing need. Then everybody and his dead grandmother went crazy about landlords owning property and renting them out and making a profit.”

Now, in her defence, it is also clear that the tax system is a mess, tenants are – well, arseholes – and this is not an easy profession. Actually it sounds like a dreadful profession and this is a lady doing the best she can. Maybe calling landlords parasites is harsh.

But, if you lay with pigs, you end up bacon and I’m afraid that this well-written, slick journey through the dark lowlands of the realities of capitalism’s foothills does not make me feel sorry for the choices this category of people have made.

Purchase Links
UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Parasite-Secret-Diary-Landlord-ebook/dp/B08DTPYVFZ/

US – https://www.amazon.com/Parasite-Secret-Diary-Landlord-ebook/dp/B08DTPYVFZ/

Author Bio – 
The Secret Landlord has been renting, refurbishing and selling properties across the UK for almost two decades. An award-winning landlord, as judged by the National Landlords Association, The Secret Landlord has provided accommodation for hundreds of tenants from all walks of life. 

Social Media Links – 

www.thesecretlandlord.com

@landlord_secret

‘The Lie She Told’. And He Told. And She Told. And We Told…

‘The Lie She Told’ by Catherine Yaffe: Encouraging debut from a clearly talented writer takes us to the misty, murky motivations in the world of Scotland’s West Coast.

You can read an exclusive extract of the novel here:

All Kate wanted was a peaceful life.

All Ryan wanted to do was destroy it.

Living in the remote Scottish Highlands under Witness Protection, life is finally happy for Kate Ward and her young son Joe, until someone from Kate’s past appears. Ryan Albright is the only person that knows all of Kate’s secrets, and what she had to do to escape her previous abusive relationship. Ryan is determined to complete the mission set for him by Kate’s ex-husband. Systematically and violently, he pulls Kate’s new world apart with devasting consequences for everyone around him, including Kate who must face up to the lie she told.

There’s been quite the West Coast Scottish crime theme developing on this blog over the last few weeks. Recently we had Alex Coombs and his Argyll-based Private Investigator Hanlon taking on drug lords and layabouts and this week we have a murky crime drama set a touch further north in Gairloch.

Catherine Yaffe’s debut The Lie She Told is a very different type of novel to Coombs’ offering, however. Instead of a teak hard heroine able to take blows to the face and bounce back to care for her dog, here we have Kate, a mother of a young son, relocated as part of the witness protection scheme to the village of Gairloch.

As a resident of the Highlands, I can tell you: this sort of thing does happen. What this novel, perhaps, does not really capture, is that most of the Highland communities know about it before the people even arrive, but that might have spoilt the broiling tension somewhat.

Instead, we have Kate meeting up – coincidentally – with Ryan: a local no-gooder who Kate knew well in her days in Leeds and who was, in fact, best friends with her abusive ex-husband.

Tensions rise for the reader as the dastardly, manipulative Ryan ensnares the too-trusting Kate in a web of deceit.

 However, few people in this novel are quite what they seem and motivations are as grey and murky as an autumn day in Gairloch. 

This is a psychological thriller which manages the powerful balance of nipping along at pace but also lingering in the reader’s minds. There’s little wham bam here – action often occurs off screen (as it were) – and wounds physical and emotional, fester and turn sour.

It is a very competent debut by Catherine Yaffe. It is true that some of the dialogue can be occasionally laboured but this is a small niggle in such a psychologically complicated novel which doesn’t shy away from the pain that violence and it’s consequences causes.

I look forward to watching Yaffe’s career with interest with interest.

Purchase Links 

UK –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lie-She-Told-peaceful-destroy-ebook/dp/B08BPJCV77

US – https://www.amazon.com/Lie-She-Told-peaceful-destroy-ebook/dp/B08BPJCV77

Author Bio – 

Catherine Yaffe is a former freelance journalist, magazine editor and digital marketing agency owner. Catherine has previously written non-fiction books on Digital Marketing before following her passion for writing crime novels full time.

‘The Lie She Told’ is the first in a series of books that challenge the status quo of relationships and makes the reader question how well you know those around you.

Catherine lives in West Yorkshire with her husband Mark and their 2 cats Jenson & Button (she’s also a F1 fan!)

Social Media Links – 

@catherineyaffe (Twitter)

https://www.facebook.com/CatherineYaffeAuthor

Instagram cat_yaffe_author

www.catherineyaffe.co.uk  

Rude Awakenings…

The Awakening Of Claudia Faraday by Patsy Trench

‘It got better, in time, though to be truthful it always felt more of a duty than a pleasure: a little like homework, satisfying when over, and done well, but never exactly enjoyable. But then nobody had ever suggested it could be otherwise.’

This was the view of Claudia Faraday, 1920s respectable wife and mother of three, on the subject of sex. That is until an unexpected turn of events shakes her out of her torpor and propels her back into the world revitalised and reawakened, where she discovers, as Marie Stopes might have said: Approached in the right way, even homework can be fun.

The cover of The Awakening of Claudia Faraday by Patsy Trench

The Awakening of Claudia Faraday is a delightful little novel which consistently confounds expectations. The cover, with its silhouetted protagonist could be for a new spy series, the pink writing could signal traditional “chick lit” (urgh – what a bind of a brand that is), the “Roaring Twenties” strap line makes it sound like a PG Wodehouse romp and the blurb description could be anything from a Jilly Cooper bonkbuster to a serious and measured study of the sexual awakening of upper middle class women in the early part of last century.

And, in the end, this rather sad, rather charming novel is a little of all of these things, (although spy thriller is a stretch. The only revelations here are of the human heart and mind, it is a little lacking in unmasked super villains to be fair.

Penetrating Pathos

It is sad. This is a quite and understated sadness of withering dreams and slipping youth. Claudia is a lovely protagonist. A gentle and well intentioned woman who, in her sixth decade, is only beginning to question her wants and desires.

Trench writes with such a penetrating pathos of the boredom of a newly empty nest that the reader’s heart aches for our heroine, so used is she to being of service to others that she is not even the lead character in her own story.

“And so the weeks passed, September into October, and no omnipotent author stepped in to liven up the shapeless plot that was Claudia’s life. She was back to counting the creaks as she ascended the stairs on her way to her bedroom.”

I spent a huge amount of time in the novel feeling desperately sad for Claudia. The Twenties were in distinct danger of not only failing to roar for her but also to go out with barely so much as a whimper.

It was clear that not only sex, but also any agency had been ground out of the character: by society; by men; by her friends; by her mother. This fundamentally sweet woman hadn’t noticed the hypocrisy of everyone else and so was facing the outgoing sands of time in baffled and barely articulated sorrow.

Charming Oddities

This gentle gloom is alleviated by the light touch, page turning writing skill and the assortment of charming oddities which surround her.

The loyal housemaid Lily – fairly consistently having to let her hand fly to her mouth after yet another misplaced observation of her mistress – is a cutie, old friend and occasional sparring partner Prue, seems to be made up of equal parts scandalous affairs in hot climates and terrible driving.

The absentee husband Gerald sounds what used to be called a perfect pill. Having ruined sex for her, then impregnated her three times scooting off overseas for archaeological digs, he could only make it to one of their children’s weddings.

The children themselves add colour and charm to the rather drab world of their mother. Jessica has a horsey laugh, a disordered house and is a flapper with a jolly husband with an alliterative name; Harriet is a Bohemian with a penchant for interior design and a wayward husband while the youngest daughter, Flora is all horse breeding and country air.

It is not a difficulty to spend time in the world of these delightful characters. It is especially easy when Claudia is making her slightly waspish observations such as:

“It was invariably the revolutionaries who managed to consume most of other people’s wine, and their food, while looking down on them from some lofty moral plinth upon which they had placed themselves.”

In conclusion, The Awakening of Claudia Faraday is a nice little novel filled with excellent characters, charming locations and the quiet desperation of some of our fellow citizens. I can’t wait to meet up with them again.

Purchase Link – https://mybook.to/ClaudiaF

Author Bio –

Author Patsy Trench

Patsy Trench lives a quiet and largely respectable life in north London. Claudia’s story shows a side of her normally shy and reserved nature that is little known, even to her friends and acquaintances. Her previous books, about her family’s history in Australia, are entertaining and informative accounts of that country’s early colonial beginnings. She began writing late, and in a previous life she was an actress, scriptwriter, playscout, founder of The Children’s Musical Theatre of London and lyricist. When not writing books she emerges from her shell to teach theatre and organise theatre trips for overseas students. She is the grateful mother of two clever and grown-up children, and she is addicted to rag rugging and, when current circumstances permit, fossicking on the Thames foreshore for ancient treasure.

Social Media Links –

Website: www.patsytrench.com

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

Twitter:  @PatsyTrench

Instagram: claudiafaraday1920

Charming Crime and Supernatural Guinea Pigs

Who Killed Patrick? By Syl Waters

Confession

The cover of Syl Waters' book Who Killed Patrick? is shown.

Okay, full disclosure – I thought this book was going to give me a dilemma. I like to keep things positive (there’s enough bad stuff in the real world, without moaning online.) 

And I wasn’t absolutely certain I was going to like Who Killed Patrick by Syl Waters.

So, why review it?

Well, it was marketed to me as being about Tarah, a young woman with a life is going nowhere. Not disinteresting.

At the drop of a hat, she decides to junk the UK and head to Fuerteventura to start a new adventure. 

She soon starts a job managing a hotel complex. However, a dead guest threatens to pull apart her hoped-for dream life.

So: I like a bit of a crime, I like of bit of sun and it sounded OK. 

There was some bit about Tarah’s pet guinea pig, Mr Bob, who apparently has a knack for sniffing out trouble and suspects foul play. 

Not really keen on supernatural talking animals but I thought, what’s to lose?

Rapture!

I am pleased to say my misgivings were dispelled on the second page. 

Any book where the frustrated protagonist can respond to a patronising boss asking her how to open an email attachment with, ‘I can open it as well if you want?’ I asked in my most pleasant would-you-like-me-to-suck-your-cock-while-doing-the-splits personal assistant voice,’ is  a winner in my book.

Any book where the frustrated protagonist can respond to a patronising boss asking her how to open an email attachment with, ‘I can open it as well if you want?’ I asked in my most pleasant would-you-like-me-to-suck-your-cock-while-doing-the-splits personal assistant voice,’ is  a winner in my book

Who Killed Patrick? continues in the same vein. It is a charming read with a delightful, well-intentioned central character wholly and realistically out of her depth.

Who among us can’t relate to a lead character who feels like there is, ‘Always too much month and not enough money’? 

I also like the dashes of crudity which make Tarah a realistic heroine. When she meets one character she says, ‘‘Coochi cooo, who are yoooooo?’ He says in a I’m-talking-to-a-little-baby-in-a-very-silly-but-very-cute-voice-which-makes-women’s-hearts-melt-and-them-feel-slightly-moist-between-their-legs,’ which is just splendid. 

Unconventional Detective

Likewise, one tires of amateur detectives wandering thorugh murder mysteries blithely immune to the stress and strains it would take on you. Not our Tarah.

I struggle to imagine Hercule Poirot in his climactic final get together of the suspects saying, ‘If I wasn’t going to have to go out and be the ring leader, I’d be laughing at this crazy scene. But as I have to be a part of this, I’m not. I’m shitting it. My stomach curls and I feel like my insides are about to explode into my pants. My intestines are twisting and cramping like they’re trying to perform a Trucker’s Hitch knot.’

I also appreciate Waters’ description of Fuerteventura, a place she makes sound like a sun soaked volcanic paradise – dead holiday maker and permanently sozzled ex-pat “locals” aside.

Mr Bob

I was prepared to dislike a talking guinea pig with a nose for trouble. But, again, I had misjudged the quality of the writing and the story telling.

For those who are concerned – worry not. 

Mr Bob is a charmer and I look forward to encountering him again in future adventures. Or so I hope!

Pleasingly, you can see Mr Bob here: @mrbob.guineapig

Conclusion

Rarely have I been more pleased to be wrong about a book. Who Killed Patrick? by Syl Waters is a delightful read which zips by with charm and highly skilled writing. I can not wait for a sequel (please, please, please) and to read more of Waters’ work.

Highly recommended!

Purchase Links 
UK –https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08BJ4RPTS/
US –  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08BJ4RPTS/

Sign up to Syl Waters newsletter receive a free copy of The Little Book Of Curiously Fascinating Facts about Guinea Pigs – http://www.sylwaters.com/

Author Bio – Most people know crazy cat ladies are a ‘thing’, but I’m a proud crazy guinea pig lady! I love fun in the sun and plenty of cocktails. My happy place is flip flops. I write stories to keep me company – my characters ensure I’m never lonely and always smiling (when I’m not tearing my hair out!)

Social Media Links – 

www.sylwaters.com

Twitter: @waters_syl

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/syl.waters.54

A Chat with Simon Conway

Recently, I wrote a review of Simon Conway’s latest novel, ‘The Stranger‘. I was so impressed with the book, I tracked Mr Conway down and asked him for some further information. He graciously agreed.

The Stranger

PAJNewman (PAJ): Jude Lyon is a brilliant character. I notice from my research that there might be some similarity between yourself and Jude in terms of military history and well-travelled childhood. Was this biographical echoing the starting point for the book or was it the themes and issues which drew you to this particular story?

Simon Conway (SC): I’m glad you like Jude. I’m fond of him too. I wouldn’t say he was the starting point though. My characters tend to grow and morph in the telling. They definitely get more autonomous with every draft. Both main characters have a military background and I think that neither of them was an easy fit in the army just as I wasn’t. In Jude I have channelled my principled side but in Guy Fowle I’ve unleashed my inner psychopath. 

PAJ: How do you feel that this novel stacks up against your previous work? Are you pleased with it?

SC: I’m satisfied and I’ve been gratified by the very positive response from early readers. I’d say that there has been a gradual improvement in my writing with more show and less tell. I’ve been trying to adhere to George Orwell’s six tips for writing from his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” – never use a long word where a short one will do; if it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out; never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech, which you are used to seeing in print, etc. That’s a good discipline for writing.

PAJ: How long did the book take from beginning to end to write?

SC: It was about eighteen months from beginning to end and then some tinkering at the copy edit stage. And then a delay in publication die to the pandemic. I’m glad to have reached this moment…

PAJ: The Iraq invasion obviously casts a long shadow over this novel, do you feel this is going to be an issue which we ever resolve as a democracy? Do you feel it still plays into our relationship with terrorism in the UK today?

SC: I think that if we are going to occupy countries in the name of protecting their populace or delivering democracy and freedom, we need to get a hell of a lot better at it and we need to recognise that it is a long-term commitment that lasts for decades.

There is no easy exit strategy. The shadow of the Iraq war is a long one: the chaos that it created fatally poisoned the New Labour project and it has a de-stabilising effect across the region, spurring the growth of Islamic State and allowing Iran to extend its influence.

The images from Abu Ghraib and the illegal rendition programme radicalised a generation of young Muslims. The collapse of Syria has led to one of the largest refugee crises ever. We bear some responsibility and we have to own up to that. 

PAJ: At the moment, do you think The Stranger is going to be a standalone or do you envisage this as the beginning of a new series?

SC: You’ll definitely be reading more about Jude Lyon. There’s plenty still to be revealed.

Personal

PAJ: Who are your biggest influences as a writer?

SC: I read widely and across genres. I’ve certainly been influenced by some of the big beasts of modern American literature – Norman Mailer, Robert Stone, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Pynchon. Contemporary writers that I enjoy include Nick Harkaway, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Chris Beckett, Paul McAulay and Louise Welsh. 

In my own genre, John Le Carré, Martin Cruz Smith and Graham Greene are heroes. For the Stranger, I wanted to write a classic thriller and Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal was a significant influence in that in that it builds towards a single attack and you have the juxtaposition of the increasingly desperate manhunt and the villain’s methodical preparations. 

PAJ: What inspired your move into the military after you finished your degree at Edinburgh?

SC: After I left university, I was working in a night club in New York and trying to write a novel.  I wrote 28 pages in a year which is pretty poor. I needed discipline. Many of the writers that I respected had served in the military or seen conflict. So, on a whim, I shaved my head and joined the army. One thing that surprised me was the number of other soldiers I met who also had a problem with authority. 

I was living in Lebanon as a child a particularly formative experience that resonates through this novel? I can’t help feeling like the Middle East is represented in an affectionate and nuanced way in the novel.

I am very fond of the Middle East. It has so many intelligent and articulate people let down by bad government and lousy politicians. Some of my earliest memories are of Syria and Lebanon and it is a tragedy what has happened to those places. In 1976 I was on holiday with my parents in Syria. I persuaded them to buy me a Syrian army uniform and I wore it as we crossed back into Lebanon. The Syrian army invaded Lebanon a few hours later. I was the first across the line! 

I’ve been back to both countries, to Lebanon in 2006 after the south was pummelled with several million cluster munitions and to Syria in 2015 after Islamic State left behind huge quantities of improvised explosive devices across the north east. 

PAJ: Was the war in Syria at the forefront of your move into working with Article 36?


SC: My position on the board of the weapons control organisation Article 36 grew out of my part in the campaign to ban cluster munitions. Article 36 of the Geneva conventions, which the organisation was named for, require states to consider the impact on civilians of their weapons before they use them. When you look at the devastated cities of a country like Syria you can see that its rulers either don’t care about the effect of their weapons on ordinary people or are deliberately, maliciously targeting them. 

PAJ: Would you like to speak about your work with HALO? Where are we as a nation with regard to refugees and the fall out from the conflict in Syria in your opinion? What can people who want to help do? What is the best link or course of action which people could access?

SC: My role within The HALO Trust is to start projects in new countries which means I am usually the first person on the ground, getting to know the power brokers on the ground and negotiating access. Since 2015, the focus of my efforts has been clearing the debris of war in the Middle East and I have established new projects in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. The devastation in urban areas and the industrial-scale use of improvised explosive devices by Islamic State and other armed groups pose particular risks to clearance operators.

Once the projects are set up and running, I hand them off to my colleagues to run. Currently I still retain command of our Libya programme, where we have an in-country team who are having to deal with an ongoing conflict with rapidly shifting front lines and multiple outside actors including Turkey, Russia, UAE and Egypt. The team are currently surveying booby-trapped front lines in the south of the capital Tripoli which were abandoned by Russian mercenaries from the private military company Wagner Group. 

We are doing a lot to help. The taxpayers of western nations are incredibly generous through the aid and assistance that they provide. The UK is world leader in the delivery of aid and we should be proud of that. People need to recognise that helping to create stability abroad is a vital investment that helps keeps us safe at home.

Keeping pressure on the politicians to use our aid money wisely and strategically is of course vital and I think we should be directing more of it towards resolving conflict. I also think we need to do close the tax havens which allow corrupt rulers to steal and stash away the wealth of developing nations. There’s no point giving with one hand if we’re accepting dirty money with the other. 

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

SC: Is it possible to both entertain and inform? I think so, if it’s deftly done without ramming the information down the reader’s throat. I hope that readers enjoy The Stranger but also come away with a greater understanding of some of the more lawless corners of the world.

Thanks so much to Simon for speaking to me. ‘The Stranger’ is available here and at all good bookshops (and, presumably, some average ones too). Simon’s website is here. Simon can be found on Twitter here and you can hear more from the man himself from our friends over at Spybrary here.