Thursday, 20 December 2012

Saturday, 15 December 2012

'Murder At Mansfield Park' - Lynn Shepherd

I opened 'Murder At Mansfield Park' with two thoughts...
1) I could really like this. I'm a huge fan of Jane Austen and anything remotely linked to the classical authoress should be right up my street.
2) I could really hate this. Anything that alters the text of the brilliant Jane Austen could really annoy me. Surely she is too special for anyone to toy with her work...

Fortunately, I found I loved Lynn's edition of 'Murder At Mansfield Park'. It held me captive from the first to the last word.  For those of you who haven't read it, I will try not to give too much of the plot away, but some of it is as per the original so feel I can mention that.

The main character of the original text, Fanny Price, is altered in Lynn's edition. This adjusted personality gives the novel new opportunities and Lynn grabs these with carefully crafted skill.  Mary Crawford and her brother Henry still arrive in the mists of Mansfield Park, as per the original, but their characters are altered too. Mary appears a much pleasanter person in Lynn's edition and takes the lead role throughout the novel.  Edmund Bertram takes a new position in Lynn's version as the son of Aunt Norris rather than the second son of the Bertram family. The other Bertram children are largely as per the original text.

The victim is well chosen and apt, given the twists that Lynn develops, and the murderer especially well plotted.

If I had to name one thing about the book that I enjoyed the most I would have to say Charles Maddox - Lynn's detective. Charles, needless to say, is not one of Austen's characters but Lynn's own private investigator. His character is brilliant, a breath of fresh air and clevely blended into the setting of the Austen world.

Charles Maddox is featured in Lynn's second novel, 'Tom-All-Alones', which I purchased and read on the strength of 'Murder At Mansfield Park'. I thoroughly enjoyed the second novel too.  Treat yourself this Christmas...

Barbara Erskin - 'Hiding From The Light'

On my bookshelves I have fairly limited space.  Books jostle for a permanent slot as more and more enter my sphere. Most are read and moved into the storage box but a few select volumes of utter brilliance manage to retain their space on the shelf.  I first read this book in 2002 and needless to say, it has never left the shelf, except to be re-read repeatedly.

'Hiding From The Light' features the fictional characters of the modern day inhibited by the real life historical characters' ghostly spirits, bidding them to evil doing.  Emma Dickson feels drawn to the cottage in Mistley, Essex, which once belonged to her ancester Liza - a white witch, prosecuted and hung by the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins.  Of course Matthew Hopkins was a real person but the tale picks up the magical essence and draws his character to fit the fictional narrative with literary skill.
Emma leaves a good job in the city and her partner, Piers, to buy and move into Liza's cottage, compelled by its magnetic qualities.  The relocation changes her life, ruins her relationship with Piers, and ends her city career, but as in all good fictional narratives, all is not lost. The promise of a better life is strong, if only Emma can overcome the spirit of Sarah Paxman, the ghost of many years prior seeking revenge on Hopkins for the murder of Liza.
Mistley's rector, Mike Sinclair, is reluctantly overtaken by the ghost of Matthew Hopkins and local modern day witch, Lyndsey Clark, declares herself a distant relative of Emma, and insists she as Sarah kill Mike as Matthew Hopkins.  Mike's lay preacher Judith Sadler is only too keen to see Mike struggling with the issues in his parish, wanting nothing more than to take over his position as parish vicar. Local residents Alex and Paula are drawn into the historical drama and tradegy soon follows. Paula resents Lyndsey's baby sitting duties of their children but Alex, like the good-hearted neighbour, wants to help Lyndsey and Emma.  As the historical fiction continues with Liza's arrest and cruelly unfair trial, Sarah Paxman fights to save her without success and ends up being tested by Matthew Hopkins as a witch herself. The test is interestingly unjust and historically accurate, as far as I can ascertain.
To add an edge to the drama, Barbara clevely includes the sub-plot of TV filming for Halloween in a haunted empty Mistley shop. The film makers manage to help out as the historical drama picks up pace and the modern day characters race agaisnt time to kill the spirits before the spirits kill them. To add that extra special twist, Emma and Mike fall in love but the spark is left to the readers imagination as the action takes center stage right up until the very last page. One of the smaller points in the story never leaves my memory; Emma's cats relocate with her but vanish as the action starts up towards the climax. As all creatures, in particular cats, their sixth sense kicks in and they safely return once peace returns to Mistley. It's a small extra but it really adds that hint of creditability to the tale.
'Hiding From The Light' is a fascinating read, fast paced and gripping, and belongs on every bookshelf in the land. I have purposefully not told you the outcome as I hope this feature will encourage you to give it a whirl yourself!

Barbara Erskin is an established author of historical fiction. She has a degree in medievial Scottish history from Edinburgh University. Barbara and her family split their time between the Welsh borders and their ancient manor house near the unspolit coast of North Essex. Barbara's novel 'Lady Of Hay' sold well over a million copies worldwide. 'Whispers In The Sand' was translated into twenty-three languages, and 'House of Echoes' was shortlisted for the WH Smith Thumping Good Read awards of 1995 and 1997, respectively followed by 'Distant Voices' and 'On The Edge of Darkness'.

Great Reads...

There are some authors who stand out from the crowds and here are just a few...

Alison Bruce - The DC Goodhew Series: 'Cambridge Blue', 'The Siren', 'The Calling', and 'The Silence'
Lynn Shepherd - 'Tom-All-Alones' and 'Murder At Mansfield Park'
Domenica De Rosa - 'Italian Quarter' and 'The Eternal City' plus others
Elly Griffiths - The Ruth Galloway series: 'The Crossing Places', 'The Janus Stone', 'The House at Seas End', and 'A Room Full of Bones' plus the new book out early 2013 'Dying Fall'.
Sarah Rayne - 'Ghost Song'
Joy Swift - 'The Joy of Murder'
Sophie Kinsella - 'Remember Me'
Murakami Haruki - 'Kafka On The Shore'
RD Wingfield - Inspector Frost series
Colin Dexter - Inspector Morse series
Jodi Piccoult - 'Salem Falls'
Nicola Upson - 'An Expert In Murder', 'Angel With Two Faces', and 'Two for Sorrow'
Nicholas Sparks - 'The Guardian' and 'Nights In Rodanthe'
Margaret Atwood - 'The Handmaid's Tale', 'Blind Assasain', 'Oryx & Crake', 'The Robber Bride' and 'Bodily Harm
Audrey Niffengger - 'The Time Traveller's Wife'
Julia Williams - 'Strictly Love'
Barbara Erskin - 'Hiding From The Light'
Kate Ellis - 'The Merchants House'
Anita Shrieve - 'The Pilot's Wife', 'The Last Time They Met', and 'Body Surfacing'
Lyndon Stacey - 'Murder In Mind'
Leigh Russell - 'Cut Short'
Joanne Harris - 'Chocolate'

Naturally, some of these authors have written several other books but these are a few of my favourites.

'Cut Short' by Leigh Russell

This year I've read countless books and I wondered if anyone would be interested in a quick overview.... I'll try not to give anything away in case you haven't read them.

Leigh Russell is a name to be reckoned with in the crime fiction scene and 'Cut Short' is the book that launched her into the sphere.

It introduces readers to DI Geraldine Steel, new to the Woolmarsh police station and very definitely the new girl in town in every respect. DI Steel battles to fit in, not only with her new colleagues, but with DCI Kathryn Gordon.  The young DS Peterson is keen to assist her and together they find themselves hunting down a serial killer.

Leigh builds a gripping tale by cleverly knitting together various aspects.  Geraldine is targeted with hate mail, which builds a back story of her character into the novel and aids her mission to blend into the new team at Woolmarsh.  We learn of Geraldine's past love life and the stains this has left her with.

The character of Jim Curtis is crafted with talent and skill. As if this wasn't enough there are various sub-plots associated with the killer's victims, that provide the reader with glimpes into the crime and why the victims were chosen.

'Cut Short' is a good read and comes with high recommendation.

Kindle Version Out by Christmas

The Kindle version of 'Distant Shadows' is due out before Christmas - hurray!!
Amazon UK Author Page

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

'Distant Shadows' New Review Quote

Great new review on Amazon for 'Distant Shadows'

The Silent Beginning

It is easy to write a book… or so they say.  Almost every writer has suffered in silence at one point or another when some kind-meaning reader or enthusiast stands there telling them how lovely it must be to write a novel, and how they are always meaning to start theirs, and how great it’ll be when it’s done.
Whilst writers love to talk to readers it can be a touch irritating hearing how straight forward it must be to write a book, when deep down they know that crafting a novel is pure hard work!  If only the poor unsuspecting public knew how difficult it is to sustain the smile whilst they are being told all this.  Naturally it would be impolite to correct the reader so many writers nod along with a pleasant smile.  It wouldn’t be fair to discourage people anyway, particularly from such a rewarding job.  Yes, it is not easy, but it is well worth the hard work so don’t be put off if you’re one of the millions all planning to pen your first novel next year.
Many writers often appear to come out of nowhere or arrive on the shelves or best sellers list overnight.  In reality this couldn’t be further from the truth.Like all professions, writers must develop their skills over time and serve their apprenticeship years.  What this usually refers to is the long stretch of time before anything they have written is ever published, but they continue to chip away, perfecting their craft gradually, hopefully leaning a few new tricks along the way.  One day an agent or publisher says yes, actually, I will take a chance on you, and the writer immediately leaps into the air in disbelief at having finally jumped the first hurdle.
The beginning of any writer’s career, before their work is published, is obviously unknown to the rest of the world.  It is the silent beginning, when hope is high and ambition strong, when chances seem minuscule and neigh impossible.  It’s the toughest time, so you think, until you take the next step and you find new challenges to content with.  This is probably true of life in general but we must plough on, if only to find out what happens!

Characters - how well do you know them?

How well do you know the characters in the book you’re currently reading?
It’s a question we rarely ask ourselves, but as writers, we must get to know our characters inside out if we want to attain the dizzy heights of fictional bliss.
Building a cast of fictional people in the readers’ minds can be fun and exhilarating but it takes work and dedication.  A character should appear to be a real person, all be it existing purely in a fictional or imaginary sense.  They need to have well-rounded physical appearances, quirky mannerisms to make them unique, faults and talents, accents, and appropriate names.
I find it helpful to create a personal history for each character.  This may or may not feature in the story, but it adds to their personality none the less, and helps me visualise them as real people when spinning the tale.  Just because the writer knows the tiny details about a character doesn’t necessarily mean all those minute points will end up in the novel.
It is an interesting question, whether or not to paint the picture of a character fully.  Do you, for instance, prefer to have a fully described individual down to hair and eye colour, height and additional details about their personality, the way they walk, their favourite colour, the way they react to news etc.  Maybe you prefer a less precise image, their movements likened to the slow crawl of the earth worm or their features chiselled into focus as they strain at the keyhole…. Before any writer can effectively draw a character in the readers mind, they need to understand their roles in the story, and consequently, the length to which that character should stand out from the cast.
So, I ask you, whether you are a reader or a writer, the next time you read a book have a little think about what you know of the main characters, and maybe one or two of the extras.  It could be fun, write down what you know about each character, then look back carefully and work out how much of this was actually given to you in the text, and how much you’ve plucked from your own imagination….  If a large portion is from your imagination then the writer has crafted the character to perfection – they are as you imagine them, fully formed in your own mind.  Job done!