‘Gerard Philey’s Euro-Diary: Quest for a Life’ by Brendan James
‘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!
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 –
Twitter – @Brendan23015569
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.
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.
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)
Or, Why You Need to Stop Encouraging Paul McCartney
Personally, I blame Ian Leslie.
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.”
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.
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…
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!”
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.
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.
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.
 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?
‘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.
You can pre-order – and support this blog into the bargain – from Bookshop.org here: https://t.co/8ml3fNrc6B
Bobby Palmer is a freelance journalist who writes for publications including Time Out, GQ, Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan. Isaac and the Egg is his debut novel. (Biography courtesy of https://www.hachette.co.uk/contributor/bobby-palmer)
‘A Harvest Murder’ by Frances Evesham
You can read a previous review of a Frances Evesham novel here: https://pajnewman.com/2021/11/14/murder-and-mayhem-ideal-for-the-time-of-year/
One unexplained disappearance is strange, but two are sinister.
In Lower Hembrow, an idyllic village nestled beneath Ham Hill in Somerset, the villagers are preparing to enjoy the autumn traditions of the rural English countryside until Joe Trevillion, a curmudgeonly local farmer and the father of six children, vanishes.
When Adam Hennessy, the ex-detective proprietor of The Plough, the village’s popular Inn, investigates, he finds ominous undercurrents beneath apparently harmless rumour and gossip.
Meanwhile, a vicious campaign of vindictiveness forces Adam and his three amateur sleuth friends to dig deep into the secret lives of their neighbours to expose the source of a cruel vendetta and prevent another death.
As they uncover the disturbing truth, the friends learn they must also lay their own past lives to rest before they can hope to make their dreams for the future come true.
One of the first jobs I ever had was a freelance gig writing pieces profiling towns for Sussex Life magazine. The money was fine – scarily this is at least 20 years ago and I doubt I could earn as much freelancing now as I did then – but what was really interesting was the opportunity to go nosing about the villages of the Home Counties and trying to pry under their skin a bit.
I’m not exactly sure what it is in crime fiction which attracts us to these small, rural villages but from Agatha Christie through GK Chesterton via Margery Allingham and right up to some of the writers working today – Fiona Leitch, Isabella Muir, Anna Legat and Simon Whaley – readers can’t get enough of peering behind the net curtain and white washed walls of the small English village.
Frances Evesham here provides another accomplished entry into the genre. Lower Hembrow is everything this sort of village should: picturesque, nicely appointed church, local pub.
And, obviously, dark undercurrent with disappearances and dark secrets from the past threatening to raise their ugly heads.
I know Raymond Chandler wanted to take murder out of the drawing rooms and put it back in the streets, but in the same way that Chandler was a Dulwich College educated public schoolboy, I like my murders cozy and my villages adorning the pages of Somerset Life.
Heartily recommended for fans of Midsomer Murders, Miss Marple and Poirot, A Harvest Murder arrives at the best time of year and should allow you a pleasant read as the workers gather the crops around you.
Purchase Link – https://amzn.to/3tNDDDd
Author Bio –
Frances Evesham is the bestselling author of the hugely successful Exham-on-Sea murder mysteries set in her home county of Somerset, and the Ham-Hill cosy crime series set in South Somerset.
Social Media Links
Newsletter Sign Up: https://bit.ly/FrancesEveshamNews
Bookbub profile: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/frances-evesham
‘To Kill A Troubadour’ by Martin Walker
It is summer in St Denis and Bruno is busy organising the annual village concert. He’s hired a local Périgord folk group, Les Troubadours, to perform their latest hit ‘A Song for Catalonia’. But when the song unexpectedly goes viral, the Spanish government, clamping down on the Catalonian bid for independence, bans Les Troubadours from performing it.
The timing couldn’t be worse, and Bruno finds himself under yet more pressure when a specialist sniper’s bullet is found in a wrecked car near Bergerac. The car was reportedly stolen on the Spanish frontier and the Spanish government sends warning that a group of nationalist extremists may be planning an assassination in France. Bruno immediately suspects that Les Troubadours and their audience might be in danger.
Bruno must organise security and ensure that his beloved town and its people are safe – the stakes are high for France’s favourite policeman.
What’s the point of life? Is it to work and strive to attain the baubles and trinkets of accomplishment and the trappings of a late stage capitalist lifestyle?
Or is it food and wine and friends and spending your days embraced at the bosom of those who love you?
I don’t know the answer to these tricky philosophical questions – although I have a suspicion I know what my own answer would be – but what I do know is that once a year, Martin Walker releases another instalment in the career of Chief of Police Bruno Courreges and I am welcomed back to the Perigord like one returning to the arms of their family.
This time out, Bruno has a pair of nationalist Spanish extremists on the loose in his region and they appear to have a sniper’s rifle with them. Police National colleague, and frequent lunch companion, JJ’s antennae is twitching and Bruno must be at his best if the concert in St Denis is going to go ahead safely.
Walker wields his pen lightly and his love of the Perigord comes through on every page like steam from the freshly lifted lid on a dinner dish.
Now, full warning, I’m not objective about this series of novels. I’ve read each one since the inception and am often at risk of just, you know, prosthelytizing over them. It is fair to note that this is not ‘The Wire’ – although they are often harder-edged than people give them credit for.
What Walker has managed, however, is to use his illustrious career from before he turned to writing novels in think tanks and the press to thread an internationalism and entanglements from the world of intelligence and the media through his storylines.
Allowing Bruno to interact with the various levels of the French bureaucratic state as well as balancing the politics of his Mayor, his eternal flickering flame Isabelle and the Police National, the Gendarmerie and the UK Security Services (as embodied by retired chief of the JIC, Jack Crimson), allows Walker to pull off the neat trick of turning St Denis into a crucible for international relations.
Fifteen novels into the cycle, perhaps this might be beginning to take on an air of contrivance but the warm glow of Walker’s prose manages to stop this being the case.
Instead, the stories feel like a warm bath for the body and soul. No investigation must be allowed to halt a good dinner or delay the town tennis tournament. These familiar, much-loved characters mean that each novel is like pulling up a chair around a family dining room and I, for one, am looking forward to catching up with them again at the earliest possibility.
Another delightful outing to the Dordogne, highly recommended.
Book Depository (free shipping to the US): https://www.bookdepository.com/Kill-Troubadour-Martin-Walker/9781529413632?ref=grid-view&qid=1654698342492&sr=1-1
After a long career of working in international journalism and for think tanks, Martin Walker now gardens, cooks, explores vineyards, writes, travels, and has never been more busy. He divides his time between Washington, D.C., and the Dordogne. You can find more about Walker at his website, http://www.brunochiefofpolice.com/about-the-author.html
Questions for Martin Walker
Author of the Bruno novel, To Kill a Troubadour, kindly took time out of his busy day to answer some questions around the publication of his latest novel and to speak about his writing life. You can find a review of the book, here:
PAJNewman: To Kill a Troubadour is book 15 in the Bruno series. How do you feel that this novel stacks up against your previous work? Are you pleased with it?
Martin Walker: Yes, I’m very pleased with the way I was able to bring in my growing fascination with the degree to which medieval Europe was civilised and educated by the Moors of Spain and also by the Saracens of the Holy Land. Our musical instruments and much of our lyrical tradition comes from them, transmitted through the court of the Dukes of Aquitaine. The more I learn about Eleanor of Aquitaine, the more I think of her as the most extraordinary person – not just woman – of her day. Courtly love, the Arthurian saga, regent of England, the only queen who went to the Holy Land on Crusade, and the only woman to have been married to a King of France and King of England – and the mother of Richard Lionheart. When the troops became dispirited on the way to Jerusalem, she rode barebreated – ‘to dazzle them,’ as she put it. What a woman!
Especially in the early parts of the novel, there are some observations regarding the issues role of the Russians in Eastern Europe which look positively prophetic at this range. How important is for you to root Bruno in real world events?
Very important, because it allows me to write something with which we can all identify. I have used the IRA, Basque and, Islamic terrorists, Russian agents, American FBI agents, East Germans and assorted bad guys because they are part of the mental and political furniture of our age. Moreover, I know Russia well, having been the Guardian correspondent in Moscow for over 4 years in the Gorbachev period and I have returned often. So I was not at all surprised, after Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, his grab of Crimea and the Donbas in 2014, that he was aching to swallow the lot. He even wrote an essay on the great Russian space which signalled his intentions.
How long did To Kill a Troubadour take from beginning to end to write?
About nine months, half for research, half for writing.
You, obviously, had an illustrious career before you turned to becoming a novelist. Do you find the influences of your previous work seeping into the book?
Indeed, it would be odd if they did not, since you tend to write what you know. And it does not all stem from my years in journalism, but also from what I learned in my years in think-tanks, working on globalisation, AI, technology, demographics and so on.
Who are your biggest influences as a writer?
I revere Conan Doyle since Sherlock Holmes got me interested in detective fiction and his historical novels (Sir Nigel, The White Company) made me fascinated by the Hundred Years War. And I always like to read popular historians like Trevelyan, Michelet, Carlyle and so on. The biggest influence was probably a woman called Jean Stead, my news editor at the Guardian, who made me cut the flourishes and rambles.
What is the question you wish interviewers and readers would ask but never do?
Don’t you get bored writing Bruno?
The answer is never, because I can write other stuff in between: a wine column I write each month; travel pieces about the Perigord, a new book that comes out in Germany this year on the history and culture of the region called ‘Bruno’s Perigord.’ And I’m thinking of updating my 1993 non-fiction book, ‘The Cold War – a History.’
The novel obviously appears to exist pre-Covid. I know a lot of writers are grappling with this dilemma but will Covid play a part in your future work, do you think?
No, I think after the deaths and woes and sadness of the last two years, we are going to get used to it, as we did to TB and smallpox and AIDS. And being locked down in the Perigord with my chickens and garden and dog was hardly insufferable, and in my village we were relatively lightly affected.
What is a typical writing day for you? Has it changed as you have produced a novel a year?
Not much. In my days in journalism I regularly wrote between a thousand and two thousand words a day, and I learned to write anywhere; on trains, in aircraft, in famines, even in trenches and under fire. There was an old Fleet St motto – ‘Don’t get it right, get it written,’ and the Americans made it sound better by calling journalism ‘the first rough draft of history.’ Whichever one is nearer the truth, all of us hacks learned to write fast and often.
I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but do you ever think about Bruno being adapted for the screen? Is this something you would be interested in?
Yes, film rights have been sold but there are endless discussions over whether to film Bruno in English, French or German. I’m just a bystander in this process.
Am I correct in thinking that this year will finally see the English-language publication of Bruno’s Cookbook? How have you gone about sourcing the recipes for this?
Yes, Bruno’s Cookbook comes out next autumn in the US and UK, which is great because it has now been awarded by Gourmet International the title Best French Cookbook of the Last Twenty Years.’ The recipes come from neighbours, from some local restaurants, from hunting clubs in the Perigord, and from my wife (a food writer for the Sunday Times, Washington Post etc). I cook every single recipe that we use in the cookbook and in the Bruno novels, but with my wife watching at my side.
I know Donna Leon is not keen to have her novels translated into Italian as she is worried about what her Venetian neighbours will say. What sort of a readership do you have with the readers in the Perigourd and do you find people trying to spot themselves in the novels?
I was a little nervous when the books came out in French, but my friends and neighbours all seem delighted, and many claim to have been the model for various characters – even when they are not. I think what they love most is the remarkable impact the Bruno novels have had on tourism, which is why the French Foreign Ministry gave me a gold medal, and why the regional council named me ‘Ambassador of Perigord,. The winemakers made me a Grand Consul de la Vinee de Bergerac. Guess which one makes me most proud.
Will Bruno ever find happiness, or at least the wife and family he longs for?
I really don’t know. I keep putting interesting and attractive women in his way but Bruno seems to have a mind of his own. It’s wonderful in a way, as an author to have created a character who seems so real and independent to me, but I keep hoping that I’ll be able some day to write a chapter about his marital bliss. What a woman she would have to be!
‘Then and Now’ by RJ Gould
Sandy is about to retire following an illustrious career as editor of an upmarket fashion magazine.
Michael can’t retire, he thinks his work to explain the dangers of climate change is far too important.
Jonathan is considering retiring from running his fundraising consultancy.
These three were the best of friends at university before a tragedy wrecked their friendship. They haven’t spoken since.
Fifty years on, they arrange to meet at a reunion. Having reminisced about student life during a wild and self-indulgent era with its heady mix of free love, drugs and ground-breaking music, they share their life journeys since the Swinging Sixties – the successes and failures, the happiness and despair, and their optimism and fears for the future.
The reunion is drawing to a close. Dare they tackle the incident that tore them apart, an event that has brought guilt for so many years? If they are to have any chance of reconciliation they have to, but the clock is ticking.
I first encountered the work of RJ Gould last year when I reviewed his novel ‘Dream Café’ (Very good, by the way, would recommend.) https://pajnewman.com/2021/09/06/catering-to-the-romantics/
A fellow male aficionado of the romance genre, both that novel and this one allow Gould to explore the hope and bittersweet experiences which beset lives as people grow, develop and get older.
Here the protagonists are coming towards the end of their careers – or not as the case maybe – and are wrestling with the way society views the Baby Boomers as well as fallout from a long buried event from their youth.
Oddly, perhaps the text which ‘Then and Now’ most reminded me of, however, was ‘Our Friends in the North’. Gould is a jolly writer and one who’s characters burst with joie de vivre but there is a lovely tonal shift in the characterisation which allows him to explore the melancholia and less upbeat experiences of life too.
Having said that, I think Sandy is my favourite. She’s a lovely character. A successful woman, downing champagne and exactly the sort of life and soul of the party person it would be fun to share a glass or two of fizz with.
‘Then and Now’ is another engaging outing from Mr RJ Gould.
Author Bio –
R J Gould writes contemporary fiction about relationships, using a mix of humour and pathos to describe the tragi-comic life journeys of his characters. Then and now is his seventh novel, following The Engagement Party, Jack and Jill Went Downhill, Mid-life follies, The bench by Cromer beach, Nothing Man and Dream Café. He is a member of Cambridge Writers and a rare male member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
Before becoming a full-time author he worked in the educational and charity sectors.
R J Gould lives in Cambridge.
Social Media Links –
I reviewed the first instalment of the Dedley End Mystery series, ‘Murder at the House on the Hill’ in September of last year. My headline, (“If Downton did Homicide”) seemed to summarize the plot pretty well and I can’t wait to catch up with the gang as they go after another murder in the countryside.
A fete worse than death…
After finding the killer of Lucy Roth six months ago, life has settled back to normal for bookshop owner, Nancy Hunter, and her grandmother, Jane. The annual Dedley End village fete is just around the corner, and Nancy is delighted when bestselling author, Thomas Green, agrees to launch his first new novel in ten years there.
But then a series of sinister events lead Nancy to realise someone is trying to sabotage their fete, so she, along with Jane and their journalist friend Jonathan, must turn detective to discover who isn’t at all thrilled about the return of Thomas Green.
When a body is discovered at the summer fete, the death scene mirroring that in Thomas’ latest bestseller, they realise that there’s another killer in Dedley End, but can they outsmart someone who appears to have pulled off the perfect crime?
The clues are right under Nancy and Jane’s noses, if only they can find them. Because the answers to life’s questions can always be found in a book…!
A twisty, unputdownable cozy mystery that fans of Richard Osman, S.J. Bennett and ‘The Marlow Murder Club’ will love.
Victoria Walters writes up-lifting and inspiring stories. She’s the author of the bestselling GLENDALE HALL series, which continues with its third book HOPEFUL HEARTS at GLENDALE HALL in September, as well as two other standalone novels – SUMMER at the KINDNESS CAFE, and THE SECOND LOVE of my LIFE. She has been chosen for WHSmith Fresh Talent and shortlisted for two RNA awards. Victoria was also picked as an Amazon Rising Star, and her books have won wide reader acclaim.
Victoria is a full-time author. She lives in Surrey with her cat Harry, and loves books, clothes, music, going out for tea and cake, and posting photos on Instagram.
Find out more about Victoria by following on Instagram at @vickyjwalters,
She blogs at https://www.victoria-writes.com/.
You can pre-order ‘Murder at the Summer Fete’ ahead of it’s March 17th release here: