Friday, 14 April 2017

BOOK CLUB: The Bone Readers by Jacob Ross

The winner of the inaugural Jhalak Prize for books written by British BAME authors was the debut crime novel, The Bone Readers, by Granadan born author, Jacob Ross.

The Bone Readers is the first of four planned novels set on the tiny fictional Caribbean island of Camaho and featuring the police detective Michael 'Digger' Digson and his unconventional partner, Miss Stanislaus.

In this month's Triskele Book Club, Catriona Troth talks to four authors about their response to The Bone Readers: Michelle Innis, Kit Habianic, JJ Marsh and Gillian E Hamer, 

If you have read The Bone Readers too, please feel free to join in the conversation in the comments section below.

Unlike a conventionally structured crime novel, The Bone Readers doesn’t begin in media res, nor does it take place within a conventionally tight timeframe. Instead, it takes place over several years, tracking Digger’s career from his unconventional recruitment into the police force by the ageing, rum-soaked Chilman, via his training in forensics in London, to the confrontation that may finally solve both mysteries. What did you think of Ross’s unconventional structure?

(MI) Crime Fiction is not a genre that I would usually read. I’m more inclined to watch a crime drama on TV or in film. Having said that, I found Ross’s unconventional structure refreshing. I liked the fact that when we meet Michael ‘Digger’ Digson he is yet to be recruited into the police force. I enjoyed discovering his world and the world in which he operates. I relished in discovering his character and the way in which his character develops throughout the story. Ross develops a plausible plot, with plenty of elements of fine crime fiction and intriguing, well rounded, believable characters that by their very presence in the narrative cause the reader to care about them, rooting for them or railing against them to the very last page. Digger follows in the footsteps of the detective as a flawed hero, searching for love having been abandoned by someone important in his early life through circumstances beyond his control. As Digger is engaged in looking for the murderer he is also on a journey of self-discovery. Ross manages to create and convey a seamless marriage between the literary novel and crime fiction. 

(KH) The Bone Readers is not structured like a conventional crime novel, perhaps because it isn’t a conventional crime novel. It’s about Digger’s quest to fight crime and solve murders. But it’s more about his quest for truth and justice, about dragging dark truths into the open, to force a society to acknowledge facts it prefers to ignore. And about unpacking the secrets of Digger’s own past. The structure works well, to that end. It’s a whodunit but also a whydunit. And, of course, there are three more Camaho books to come…

(JJ) To me, it didn’t feel that unconventional. The development was chronological if more circular than linear. Returning to the unresolved issues, both present and past, felt natural and one informed the other. Also the character arc was intriguing in itself.

(GEH) Different! I thought the novel was an exceptional read, so it clearly didn’t spoil my enjoyment of it. However, I remember as I read having a slight sense of frustration that we (the reader) weren’t part of his UK visit or how we might have understood his exceptional talent at forensics had we been involved in that stage of his training. It felt as if the author might have scaled down the novel from a much-longer version, and when his publisher gave him an acceptable word count, he set about extracting the salient points that kept the story moving. I like the idea that the structure is something different, that rules are sometimes there to be broken, and as long as you deliver a cracking novel that everyone is talking about, as here, then I applaud Jacob Ross!


Two cold cases twist and turn through the pages of The Bone Readers. Michael ‘Digger’ Digson needs to find the truth behind the death of his mother, killed when he was a young boy. And his boss, Detective Superintendent Chilman, is obsessed with the case of Nathan, a young man who disappeared and whose mother is convinced he was murdered. Without giving too much away, only one of those cases is fully resolved by the end of the book. Did that work for you?

(MI) I found that the rich world of the island of Camaho and its inhabitants that Ross builds throughout the novel is just the beginning of a world I would love to dive headfirst into again and again. To keep on discovering its hidden secrets and to have Digger and his unconventional sidekick, the enigmatic Miss Stanisluas, uncover the perpetrators of unsolved crimes with their unparalleled detective skills. The fact that only one of the cases Digger is investigating is solved by the end of the novel left me with the savouring promise that this will continue in a sequel. Digger has begun to unearth something and you know that he’s not going to stop until he finds all the answers. The well-constructed plot didn’t distract from the fact that only one of the cases was resolved. It’s important that this particular case is resolved in the present. The reader instinctively knows that the other case goes even deeper into the transgressions of the powers of government and this is something that will take time and the inner strength and resolve of our detective Digger Digson.

(KH) That’s a brave choice, but one that works. For me, one of the many strengths of the book is Digger’s hinterland; the unresolved issues of his losses, his search for understanding but also for his own identity. Because the novel ends with those issues left untied, you put the book down, wanting more.

(JJ) I think there is a kind of resolution in a way, if only in the form of acceptance. There may not have been justice in both cases, but there is knowledge. Ross leaves certain things open but gives the reader confidence in the future.

(GEH) I’m not sure why the author decided to leave question marks over Digger’s mother, but I’m hoping it’s because he intends to follow on with a second book with the same lead character, and that it becomes a central thread we return to again. Otherwise, yes, it’s a bit frustrating that he went part of the way to finding the truth but didn’t find all the answers.


If Digger reads bones, then his unofficial partner, Miss Stanislaus, reads people. How do these two compare with other, classic detective partners?

(KH) This is an intriguing one. Miss K Stanislaus is a reader of people. Digger is a searcher of facts. Given her shrewdness, I wondered why Miss Stanislaus isn’t harder on Digger – and more hostile to him, given the abuse she’s suffered and given the way Digger treats women. She seems to decide very early that he’s one of the good guys, when there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. I would have loved her to give him a far harder time, to puncture his swagger. And for him to have had to work a lot harder to impress her. For a little more heat to the spark.

(JJ) They work brilliantly. The rough edges between them create all kinds of interesting dynamics and they balance out well. Neither is always in the know, they take turns at leading, unlike the classic detective and sidekick. They need each other’s skills and experience. It’s a likeable if quirky relationship.

(GEH) I think both characters are unique, and I hope their first date goes well, and they end up married and live happily ever after! I can’t think of another detective thriller with this balance, although television dramas such as Silent Witness touch on the subject, and author, Tess Gerritsen, uses a forensic expert as a lead character. If I could pick on one thing that I felt could have been explained more, it would be how and why these two people, both from impoverished backgrounds, came about having these gifts? Was there one particular incident in their lives? How did they discover their talents? I found this a little frustrating and would have liked to nose around in their lives a little more because they were both such fascinating individuals. But as I said, this is a partnership that can run and run, and I hope it does.


“Missa Digga, it look to me like everyone on Camaho searching for somebody.” What does this quote from Miss Stanislaus tell us about what Ross is trying to say?

(MI) I think that Ross is alluding to the fact that there is always a relationship that remains unresolved, whether that is with another person or oneself. Also, that people are constantly trying to rediscover, renegotiate and redefine their own reality with the reality that is presented to them by the wider world.

(KH) The book explores wider themes of searching; to reveal the secrets every character hides, for truths about the past, for identity and a sense of belonging. Camaho is a fractured society, scarred by abuses of power, and secrets and broken family ties. Digger and Miss Stanislaus have a shared experience of abandonment and abuse, in a society where deracination seems to be the norm, in which old wounds refuse to heal.

(JJ) Apart from the fragile nature of life and relationships, some people do find what they’re looking for. I took a hint of positivity from this, combined with what she says in the the previous chapter: “Den we go take some breeze, remind weself dat life not bad.” Another quote I noted was from Digger: “What happened between humans frightened me.” And yet he engages with people and manages to affect lives for the better.

(GEH) I took the quote to be a cultural reference, that it wasn’t a happy place to be born. There were many disparaging comments throughout the book about Camaho men, their treatment of women, and the implication they were known for abandoning their off-spring. I can imagine that as families were forced apart and lives became more entangled, people were often searching for the truth of their past. It felt to me that although it was a small community it was often a lonely place to live.


The multiple strands of the book play on themes of sexual violence, sexual exploitation, gender power struggles and corruption. How successful do you think Ross was in balancing these themes in Digger’s own life and in the case he is trying to solve? Is Digger breaking the cycle of male violence or repeating it?

(MI) Ross endeavours to show that Digger is perhaps an exception to the rule. He knows that his father has abused his position of power in relation to his mother and he hates his father for this misuse of male privilege and power. Digger is fully aware of how difficult it is to survive as a woman in a male dominated world through the death of his mother and the life his grandmother lived. He is also aware through his relationship with his grandmother that women are strong, intelligent and worthy of respect. Ross does not shy away from the reality of women’s lives in relation to the men they share their lives with. Digger is always shown to have a choice. Does he take advantage of Dessie or does he help her? Does he further exploit Lonnie or does he try to save her? Does he take advantage of the feelings Pet has for him? Does he treat Ms Stanislaus’ intelligence with the respect that it deserves or does he use his position to put her down? Through his choices he endeavours to break the cycle.

(KH) Yes, I came away from the book wondering that. Digger seems to have cast himself as a righter of wrongs against women. He was raised – and perhaps feels abandoned by – strong women. But his treatment of women undermines his credibility. Digger surrounds himself with women, but there’s something acquisitive about this. In a society where women seem to be treated like currency, is gathering strong, beautiful, gifted women a game of one-upmanship, not a declaration of equality? Does Digger respect Dessie and Lonnie, Pet and Adora? Are they more than conquests of prestige?

(JJ) To contradict what I said above, the scale of what women and good men have to contend with seemed intimidating and enough to make one give up. Yet Digger does not, and takes his knowledge of how society works to make it work for him. I’m thinking of the Dessie storyline.

(GEH) I think Digger is determined to break the chain. He’s shown through his actions, with Lonnie, Dessie and protecting Miss Stanislaus from the law after the death of Bello, that he’s a guy who will stand up for female rights. I think Ross goes out of his way to show this – thinking about his visit to Dessie’s family and his reaction to Malan’s treatment of Lonnie. He’s a good guy and wants to see change in the male dominated world he’s come from and I believe he will go out of his way to help achieve that.


The women in the book are tough, shrewd, emotionally intelligent and sassy. Yet they are trapped by male prejudice, male violence and the male stranglehold on power. Many carry scars from the sexual violence they have experienced. What did you think of Ross’s portrayal of these flawed female characters?

(MI) It’s important to portray women as three dimensional characters. Ross shows a real empathy for the women presented in his novel. These women are survivors. They’ve survived and will continue to survive against the odds of living in a patriarchal society dominated by male prejudice and violence. They bind communities together, support each other, and share each other’s losses and pain. I’m looking forward to see how Ross further develops the character of Miss Stanislaus throughout the quartet as she is thus far the strongest female character in the novel.   

(KH) The power of The Bone Readers lies in its flawed, powerful female characters, nearly all of them challenging the status quo, overtly or covertly. The novel springs to life when Miss Stanislaus walks in with her yellow dress and ladylike hat and handbag and shrewd eyes. Miss Stanislaus is the quiet witness who makes it possible for all those other stories to be heard. Men don’t come off well at all in the book, based on their treatment of women and children. Miss Stanislaus is an unlikely avenger, with her soft voice and genteel dress sense. That voice and those actions give the book its soul and heart.

(JJ) The women characters come across as nuanced and varied in the way they deal with their status and treatment. His portrayal of the complex dance women must perform is fascinating. Characters such as Adora, the Mother, Pet and Lisa, Dessie and Lonnie demonstrate skill and subtlety in how they use their strength. Stand up but don’t rock the boat.

(GEH) I think Ross seems to have a point to prove, but did he overdo it a little … maybe. Lonnie and Dessie felt similar to me in many ways, and then Miss Stanislaus’s own background went down a similar route. But that was as you say the central theme, the author had a point to make, and he made it well – I found all of the characters believable and felt sympathy for their situations.


British and American authors writing about the Caribbean usually portray it as a sort of paradise. Ross belongs to a new breed of Caribbean writers (Marlon James, Kei Millar, Ezekel Alan) who are exposing a darker, often more brutal side of the islands. How do books like these affect your image of the Caribbean and what do you think motivates these authors to write in this way?

(MI) Camaho is not the world portrayed by the likes of Sandal’s beach resorts, with tanned bodies, clear blue skies, a beautiful green sea and long iced drinks. It is an island inhabited by real people living real lives with all its inconsistencies, injustices and brutality. The island in this respect is not unlike any other town, city or village to be found throughout the world. The fact that this generation of Caribbean male writers have decided to portray the violence perpetrated against women and the LGBT community in their writing is indicative of the imperative conversation which articulates the way in which some men are questioning the patriarchal status quo they have inherited.

(JJ) I’d guess their motivation seems to stem from a wish to show the whole picture, that of poverty, crime, injustice and cultural conventions which forms a darker part of the reality. Seeing just one aspect of a country depicted in order to attract tourism must give writers the urge to look under stones.

(GEH) I like the dark theme, it suits the crime genre, and I thought the lack of ‘stunning sunsets’ or ‘wide expanse of white sand’ was refreshing. We get a sense of place, but not the cliched version. I think we may be aware of drugs and gangs and the under belly of the Caribbean, but here we got to see real life, behind the travel brochure image, and that has to be a brilliant start for any true-life crime novel. Why? I don’t know that it’s probably a choice the author’s consciously take, more that they have a story they want to tell and a way they need to tell it.


This month, Triskele authors JJ Marsh and Gillian E Hamer have been joined by two other authors. Michelle Innis is a playwright, on of the founders of Pitch Lake Productions and author of She Called Me Mother.  Kit Habianic is the author of Until Our Blood Is Dry.

You can read Triskele's interview with Kit Habianic here, and Catriona Troth's interview with Michelle Innis in Words with Jam here.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Triskele Books New Releases!


This summer sees three hot new releases from Triskele Books!

On Saturday 3 June, we're launching Sacred Lake by Gillian E. Hamer, Bad Apples by JJ Marsh and The Rebel Queen by JD Smith. Here are the details:

Sacred Lake by Gillian E. Hamer



Two bodies discovered in a sacred Anglesey lake. One four weeks old. One four decades.

Random murders or ritual sacrifice?

Coincidence isn’t part of the vocabulary for DI Amanda Gold and her team. So when an up-and-coming star chef goes missing, the hunt for a killer is on.

Pressure mounts as suspect number one becomes victim number three.

DS Gethin Evans has an instinct. He is going to prove these crimes are sexually motivated, even if it means going it alone.

The hunt nears its end. The question is no longer who is right but who will survive?

If the sins of the past shadow everyone’s future, there’s no place to hide.

 *******

Bad Apples by JJ Marsh

 


Some people are just rotten to the core.”

Acting DCI Beatrice Stubbs is representing Scotland Yard at a police conference in Portugal. Her task is to investigate a rumour – a ghostwritten exposé of European intelligence agencies – and discover who is behind such a book.

Hardly a dangerous assignment, so she invites family and friends for a holiday. Days at the conference and evenings at the villa should be the perfect work-life balance.

Until one of her colleagues is murdered.

An eclectic alliance of international detectives forms to find the assassin. But are they really on the same side?

Meanwhile, tensions rise at the holiday villa. A clash of egos sours the atmosphere and when a five-year-old child disappears, their idyll turns hellish.

From Lisbon streets to the quays of Porto, Parisian cafés to the green mountains of Gerês, Beatrice learns that trust can be a fatal mistake.

 *******

The Rebel Queen by JD Smith




My name is Zabdas: a son, father, commander and confidant. I am a man born of invasion, a warrior in a forgotten land. I speak of history, of Rome and Syria, and relay the story of Zenobia: wife to the king, sister to me, mother to her country, daughter of the gods …

Syria is finally at peace. The war against the Persians is won and a triumph held in honour of King Odenathus and his victories. Whilst the east prospers, so the west crumbles as Emperor Gallienus struggles to maintain power.

With success comes opportunity. Peace never holds for long as rumours surrounding Odenathus’ rising popularity abound and enemies approach on every frontier.

Zenobia must play the game of politics, forge alliances and press her advantage no matter what, if she is to secure the east. Zabdas discovers his past, and battles both conscience and heart as he chooses paths that will change everything.

It is the year of death. The gods are watching and no one is safe …

 *******












Friday, 31 March 2017

Underrated Books

On Tuesday 4 April, we're having our regular #triskeletuesday Twitter chat. The theme is #underratedbooks. These could be lesser-known works by famous authors, undiscovered gems or simply a book more people should read.

In preparation for Tuesday, we reached out to some of our favourite people and asked them to recommend some underrated books. Here are the results.



Testament of Experience by Vera Brittain. Sitting in the deep shade of Testament of Youth, this book sets a female perspective on British politics and social history between 1925 and 1950, and is actually better; more mature, less floridly romantic and more historically analytical.
Vera Brittain was a woman cursed to live in interesting times. Her contemporary insights into a male-dominated world that was changing virtually before her eyes are both fascinating and original. – Perry Iles


Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. A book I think of often and compare in my head to the classic To Kill A Mockingbird. Told through the eyes of a teenage Charlie Bucktin about his meeting with the enigmatic Jasper Jones and the secret they go on to share. I also loved the evocative sense of place set in a hot summer of 1965. I don't know how I came to read it several years ago, but I remember still the emotions and rollercoaster of a journey the book took a reader on. I've never read anything since by the author but I'm now tempted to research him! – Gillian Hamer



The Eclipse Of The Century by Jan Mark. A man has an accident and while unconscious has an out-of-body experience. When he recovers he sets out to find the place for real, which turns out to be in a remote Soviet country. The place is full of poetic bizarreness; it could be an afterlife, or it might be real. The novel has mystery, humour and poignance. – Roz Morris


The Cowards by Josef Škvorecký. A wonderful evocation of what it is like to be a teenager - self-obsessed, image conscious, writhing with hormones and muddled ideals. When all that comes hard up against the brutal realities of War, it’s as if Holden Caulfield has walked into the pages of Catch 22. – Catriona Troth


Nightwood by Djuna Barnes is an eternal underground classic, driven by the same beast that has always had to be the sole occupant of the driver’s seat if I’m to be interested in even starting to write a novel or novella – the desire to create something whose core reason-for-being is to be explosively and irreducibly itself to the max, with such force and beauty and rightness that it had to be what it is, and that serves up a gigantic and celebratory fuck-you to the world, expressing both the darkness and the brightness of its creator’s unique experience of being alive. – Rohan Quine


The Empress of Ice Cream by Anthony Capella. So well titled but I've never heard of anyone else recommend or speak of the author. It's a beautiful tale of workmanship, passion, love and ice cream. – JD Smith



My eye was caught by Marko Kloos’ FRONTLINE series, recommended as Heinlein-esque. Now as Heinlein is one of my much loved authors I tried the first of the series and then promptly sent for the remaining four.
If you are a fan of well written military science-fiction then this fast-moving, battle-filled war against aliens seeking to conquer Earth, is is well worth a tryout. – JW Hicks



Not Forgetting the Whale by John Ironmonger. From the opening pages, I knew that I was in safe hands, and the reason I knew this was because I could hear a narrator in my head reading to me. It is a gift that John Ironmonger shares with John Irving. Ironmonger depicts the peculiarities of small communities with great authenticity (think Whiskey Galore! and Local Hero). The scenes on the bank’s trading floors are in total contrast but are equally compelling. I particularly enjoyed Joe Haak’s relationship with the bank’s elderly partner/owner, Lew Kaufmann, who turns out to not to be part of the money-grabbing slick set, but something of a philosopher. This is a gem of a novel: eccentric, quirky, thought-provoking and uplifting. Put it right at the top of your reading list! - Jane Davis


Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden - a same-sex love story for teenagers, banned in the US - burned in fact in Kansas (naturally). It's the most beautifully written, tender, authentic and happily-ending novel - published in 1982, when then was so little (zero) affirming literature reflecting the lives of young lesbians. Gorgeous, gorgeous book. Also getting me through the 80s were Sarah Dreher's wonderful Stoner McTavish magical/detective novels, and Fiona Cooper's Rotary Spokes novels. Both have eccentric, tough, vulnerable lesbian protagonists - both are beautifully written, very funny - and provide a sexy same-sex narrative which doesn't involve suicide, self-harm, shame or finally getting a husband. – Sophie Wellstood


Trust Me by Lesley Pearse explores the scandal of the mid-twentieth century whereby children were sent from the UK to Australia, permanently, often without their parents' permission. Young British sisters, Dulcie and May Taylor are sent first to an orphanage, then shipped off to Australia to begin a new life. But the promises of a better life turn out to be lies as the girls are betrayed by everyone they believed they could trust. A hefty book, I found this a very moving and heart-breaking story and couldn’t put it down. - Liza Perrat


Kleinzeit by Russell Hoban. Russell Hoban has a faithful following but never, to my mind, achieved the sort of fame he truly deserved. His novel Kleinzeit (1974) is funny, dark, surreal and written in a style like no other. Kleinzeit lies in Hospital haunted by Death in the shape of a monkey, talking to God and thinking about Underground and Word. The capital letters personify the 'big guys' and make them characters, companions and co-conspirators in Kleinzeit's struggle to endear himself to Sister, regain his creativity, and get back to the time when 'harmony took place'. - Barbara Scott-Emmett



The Necrophiliac by Gabriele Wittkop. This gem was originally published almost half a century ago but has recently received a new translated edition. As is so often the case with books that are unique, it is almost impossible to describe, but I could attempt by saying this is the kind of book Perfume could have been had its author had a keener aesthetic and emotional sensibility. Revolting and shocking precisely because nothing about it is either revolting or shocking, yet it manages to treat such difficult subject matter exquisitely without ever veering to the tacky, the lurid, or the sensational. One of the few books I've read that made me think "I genuinely don't know how you did that but I will dedicate myself to learning."
S/N/D by Søren Melville. This remarkable book comprises two seemingly unconnected novellas that can only be described as dripping from the page. Ice-bound, claustrophobic, dank tales of madness, misgendering, vampirism, and the rhythms of the freezing and unfreezing of the human heart, this is a book that pulls off remarkable feats that should not be possible - at once modern and minimalist, gothic and sweeping, an emotional epic that is blank and despairing. It is as perfect an example of the writer's craft as you will find but to reduce it to that would be a heinous flattening of its extraordinary contours. - Dan Holloway

Which #underratedbooks would you add to the list? Let us know on Tuesday, 19.30 - 20.00 GMT. Just log onto Twitter, search for #underratedbooks and join the conversation.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Author Feature: J.D. Smith

Once in a while, we like to remind ourselves of why we're an author collective. Five individuals in three countries bound by a love of writing. People often ask how it works, but rarely why.

Here's the latest - in fact the last! - in our Author Feature series, on why we appreciate JD Smith.


Catriona Troth:
While historical fiction often comes in hefty tomes, Jane’s novels are pared right down, homing in on the stories of one or two individuals and creating their worlds with a few deft touches of the pen. She uses simple, unfussy language that feels timeless. While the story of Zenobia, Warrior Queen is epic in its scope, Jane delivers it in serial form, each element a small gem.

JD Smith is not only a novelist, but also a highly sought after cover designer. She has created the whole Triskele ‘look,’ from the logo on, as well as designing covers that establish distinctive brands for each of us as authors. She has an instinct for understanding what it is an author wants, and then delivering it with panache.

And as if that wasn’t enough, she is also the founder of and the power house behind both the literary e-zine Words with Jam and the review site, Book Muse UK.




What readers say about Tristan and Iseult:

“This is one of the most intelligently written and beautiful books I have ever read. The theme is well known, as are the characters, but JD Smith narrates the story from both perspectives with a haunting quality. The descriptive text is first-class and the reader can feel the cold winds, the biting rain together with the contrasting landscapes of Wales and Cornwall. The love shared and lost is a strong emotion brought tenderly to life in brutal times, accurately described.”

"The legendary sad tale of Tristan and Iseult told with spare, crisp prose, keeping the story taut and short. Very evocative of the time period with no sentimentality brought from the present day. A haunting melancholy of unfulfilled longing peppers every page and the brutality of that age is shown with unsparing detail. The imagery is immediate and vivid of each location, whether salt laden coast or the wet greenery of Wales. A recommended read if you want to understand why this famous legend has stood the test of time."


Gillian Hamer:

Jane has an outstanding talent for her organisational approach to life, and when you know exactly how much she handles on a daily basis, you can understand why!

Her design work is professional and polished, and her eye for detail is pure magic. I don't think Triskele Books would have had the same success, certainly in terms of branding and reputation, without Jane's creativity. I can't think of a time any of us have ever disagreed with her input on the design front. And we have all been blessed with praise for our individual covers. Professionally, she has years of success ahead of her, and her reputation will continue to grow.

From a writing perspective, I think it's totally brilliant that Jane has the opportunity to write what she loves, and that passion shines through in her writing. In Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, Jane has brought to life a character lost in the mists of history, and she manages to make all of the trials and hardships that come with writing historical fiction look effortless. I admire her enormously for taking on such a challenge and creating such a brilliant series of books. She also has an editorial eye that is another huge attribute within the Triskele team.

And let's not forget she created the e-zine Words with Jam from scratch and continues to manage that in between her other work.

Add to that three adorable children any parent would be proud of - and I often ask how on earth she manages to juggle it all - a talent in itself!



What readers say about The Rise of Zenobia:

"From the beginning I was drawn into an ancient world, a world of hostile environments where only the daring survive. And into this harsh and often brutal land, comes Zenobia, a warrior queen who dares to take on the might of the Roman Empire. Based in Palmyra, (modern day Syria) in the 3rd century and mixing scanty factual evidence alongside pure fiction, the story of a brave and bold warrior is told in easy to read segments and with a lightness of touch this story of intrigue and political skulduggery comes gloriously to life."

"There are some twists in the story, moments of great poignancy, of violence, of triumph and of loss. Based on actual history and added to and blended beautifully by the author, this is a gripping read. It's scale is epic. It leaves the reader satisfied, but also wanting more - more of Zenobia who's shaping up to be quite a warrior queen and more of all these wonderful vivid characters and places."


JJ Marsh:
The remarkable thing about Jane's Overlord series is how she can transport you right into the middle of a battle or draw you to the heart of political manoeuvering, complete with smells, textures, tastes and tensions. You feel you are there. Her writing is both beautiful and sensory, but nothing is sanitised for modern sensibilities. She excels in atmosphere, whether that is a Cornish beach or the Syrian city of Palmyra in the 3rd century. Some scenes from Tristan and Iseult have stayed with me for years. I secretly believe she would make an extraordinary screenwriter but Hollywood can't have her because she's ours.

Her talents extend beyond writing superb historical fiction. She is the design mind behind all Triskele's covers and in fact our whole image. She combines an awareness of the market with an intelligent visual eye, working in harmony with her clients to achieve their dream covers. Small wonder she is so successful.





What readers say about The Fate of an Emperor

"Sometimes the best story about a figure that looms large in history is told through the eyes of another; this is something that the late Mary Renault did to perfection in The Persian Boy, and J D Smith does it here. It really felt like it worked as a narrative choice, to tell the story of an extraordinary historical woman from the perspective of a man who was close to her. I found myself appreciating that angle on it."





What readers say about The Better of Two Men


"Make no mistake, this is mature and assured writing. In the space of the opening paragraph, JD Smith will transport you to Roman East in the third century where you will follow in the footsteps of Zabdas, whose duty it is to stand by the side of his half-sister, Zenobia."


"What J.D. Smith does with historical fiction is to take it one step further. She makes you feel – feel what it was like to exist in that place and time, feel what the people who lived then went through emotionally, mentally, and physically. She picks you up and plunks you right in the middle of it so that you get the real experience of the characters’ lives with her vivid descriptions and her ability to make you feel the emotions of the characters."


Liza Perrat:
Jane’s professional skills as a talented designer are invaluable both for myself and for Triskele as a collective. Designing and setting up our website and blog, as well as the Bookmuse and Words with Jam sites, sending out regular newsletters and basically taking care of all our technical stuff is a real relief for someone like me who finds that side of things challenging. Jane is always there with a prompt answer or solution for my many silly “techy” questions too. I also appreciate her taking care of my own website design, as well knowing that, in her designs, I have the best book covers possible. One in particular comes to mind: Blood Rose Angel. For ages I tried to get that “B” right, searching for something medieval, striking and elegant. Eventually, the “B” that Jane painstakingly created was stunning, and exactly what I had in mind! I also value Jane’s critiquing skills. Succinct, and straight to the point in her own lyrical prose, she is quick to “red pen” any of my paragraphs that tend to lapse into purple prose.



Find Jane online:

WEBSITE http://www.jdsmith-design.com/

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/jdsmithauthor/ OR https://www.facebook.com/jdsmithdesign/

TWITTER: @JDSmith_Design




Friday, 17 March 2017

How To... Write Dialogue

By JJ Marsh

Ten tips towards creating believable, interesting and functional dialogue in fiction. 

Image by Julie Lewis


DO

... spend time listening to how people speak. Eavesdrop on conversations and identify speech markers you can steal and attribute to your characters. Think of five people you know well. What makes their manner of speaking distinctive?

... cut the fluff. Real speech is full of irrelevant filling, so trim to the good stuff. Dialogue should sound natural but far more interesting than reality.

Here’s an excerpt from False Lights, by Gillian E. Hamer.
“One body?”

“Apparently so.”

“Any identification yet?”

Kelly shook her head. “Barely identifiable as human they said.”

“Shit.”
... make sure the dialogue serves a purpose. Pages of realistic sounding dialogue is laudable, but what is its function? Character development? Backstory? Plot point?

... tie characters’ speech to their culture, the genre of the book, the historical period and overall tone. As David Mitchell explained when writing The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet:
“I wrote a short grammatical constitution, for the Dutch, English, Japanese, educated, pleb and female Japanese. Each has three or four rules, for example, the Japanese don’t contract, or at least not in my book. The Dutch don’t use ‘will’, it’s always ‘shall’, which gives it an archaic patina. And all the time you’re writing under the confining umbrella of historical fiction, so neologisms are out.”

... read and/or act out the dialogue. Record yourself and listen again later. Is it rhythmic and flowing or does it sound like the school play? Are long sentences broken up with shorter exchanges? What are the characters doing at the same time?

... pay attention to how characters change tone when talking to each other. We all have different ways of speaking when in conversation with good friends, total strangers, a new boss, a small child.

Excerpt from Wolfsangel, by Liza Perrat
‘What’s so interesting down on the riverbed, Patrick?’ I asked. ‘Those creatures from Papa’s stories with a hundred eyes, horns and fins?’

‘All those stories, just to scare you into not swimming,’ Ghislaine said with a laugh.

‘I think it’s his stories I miss the most,’ I said. ‘Now he’s gone.’

‘Not that his scary tales ever stopped you two,’ said Miette.

Patrick flung an arc of hair from his face. ‘Not us, our sister perhaps.’

‘It wasn’t fear that stopped Félicité,’ I said, the rush of water massaging my harvest-weary shoulders. ‘She just found our games pointless. That’s what she always said, “a frivolous waste of time”.’

DON’T

... fall into the ‘As you know, Bob...’ trap, otherwise known as stating the obvious for readers’ benefit. Characters telling characters what they already know is an awkward device lumped in with excessive use of names. Listen to real-life conversations. How often do people need to say the name of who they’re talking to? Hardly ever.

... overdo accents and verbal tics. A whole book in which a character speaks in an extreme accent is irritating and unnecessary. Readers are bright enough not to need every word in dialect, so a gentle smattering here and there is sufficient to evoke the sense of speech.

Excerpt from Ghost Town, by Catriona Troth
“Very domestic, yaar. Fancy ironing me a few shirts while you’re at it?”

“Why? Your mata-ji finally got tired of wiping your arse for you?”

It was a routine he could have done in his sleep. The two of them had been sparring since, as lone desis, they’d gravitated together at art school.

“Not that you’re a real desi,” Vik regularly reminded him. “You don’t even speak Punjabi.”

“Doesn’t make any difference to the sodding racists, does it?”

“Too Paki to be White. Too gora to be desi. The true artist is always an outsider, yaar.”

... annoy readers with ‘I have a secret’ type of dialogue and or bore them with information dumps. Your audience doesn’t want to feel excluded from what the characters are talking about, but intrigued. Neither do we need a whole life story in one monologue. Drip enough info to keep people curious but not enough to bore.

... forget about tags. Dialogue attribution is essential, especially in scenes with several speakers. Stick to said, asked, told and steer clear of qualifying adverbs. None of this nonsense: ‘Really? I don’t believe it!” ejaculated Gloria breathlessly. But feel free to add action so that the attribution is unnecessary.

Excerpt from Tristan and Iseult, by JD Smith.
Iseult of the White Hands comes into the kitchen. She carries a pail of water.

‘You are home?’

‘I am.’

She ladles a little water into a bowl, sits down beside me, bathes the scratches on my body. There is little tenderness. Just a methodical need to clean the wounds.

‘I worried you would not return to us.’

I reach forward for bread and cheese, a cup of ale. ‘We outnumbered them.’

She purses her lips, disapproving. It has been a long time since her lips curved and her scowl relaxed.

‘You should take more care.’ She wrings the cloth in the bowl, leaves the table.

‘Next time, I will. I am too old for this.’

One more point. Read plays or film scripts. See how much weight dialogue can carry. Human beings are experts at decoding what words, intonation and expressions mean and forming opinions as a result. When it works, good dialogue can act as both laser surgery and dynamite.


Friday, 10 March 2017

Author Feature: Gillian E Hamer



Over the past few months Triskele Books has been home to a series of author features. Now, it is our great pleasure to focus the spotlight on one of Triskele's founder members, Gillian E. Hamer.

Born in the industrial Midlands, Gillian's heart has always yearned for the wilds of North Wales and the pull of the ocean.

A Company Director for twenty years, she has written obsessively for over a decade, predominantly in the crime genre. She has completed six full length novels and numerous short stories.

After completing a creative writing course, she decided to take her writing to the next level and sought representation. She is a columnist for Words with Jam literary magazine, a regular theater goer and avid reader across genres.

She splits her time between Birmingham and a remote cottage on Anglesey where she finds her inspiration and takes long walks on deserted beaches with her Jack Russell, Maysie.

Here's a little snippet from a recent interview when Gillian was asked about writing crime:

Why did you decide to write in your chosen genre(s)?

In fairness I think the genre probably chose me! I’ve read crime fiction all my life, from the Enid Blyton books I loved as a child, through every Agatha Christie novel in the village library, and onto modern day writers like Ian Rankin. It was written that I would crime! And I’m very proud of my current Gold Detective series. However, location has a big part to play especially in my first three books (The Charter, Closure and Complicit) which I call my spooky thriller trilogy. It was Anglesey and its fantastic history that gave me the content for these novels, different in each, but also in each I wanted to mix a modern thriller with the historical aspects. It sounds odd, I know! But I think it works

So, what makes Gilliam such a valued member of Triskele Books?

Liza Perrat: Suspense is Gilly’s forte, in her page-turning crime thriller novels. She also has an incredible knack for creating baddies so scarily well that sometimes I wonder what’s going on in her mind! She has also brought to life the island of Anglesey (off the north-west coast of Wales), for me. So much so that it’s now at the top of my to-visit list.

I appreciate that Gillian takes care of the financial aspects of Triskele Books. It’s great to have someone you can totally trust with the finances, providing summaries and reports of all our financial dealings.

Gilly is also our SM girl. That’s social media in case you were wondering! She shares all our blog posts, images and comments across a wide range of social media. And not forgetting her excellent, multi-tasking skills during our fortnightly #triskeletuesday Twitter chats!

Finally, I highly value Gilly’s critiquing skills. If something isn’t working in my story, she’s not shy about letting me know. No false compliments, just the cold hard truth, which is what every author needs to produce their best work.



JD Smith: Gilly is a hugely valuable member of our team. She's committed, forward-thinking, determined and passionate about our collective.

She's also a talented writer of not only crime but historical fiction, and I admire her enthusiasm for periods in history such as the Roman era which are close to my own heart. I love the weave of these time periods in her books. It gives them an edge that I find so often lacking in popular crime stories.

Catriona Troth: Gillian’s books are set on the island of Anglesey in northwest Wales, which also happens to be where my mother’s family are from. Her books are interwoven with the history, geography and myths and legends of Ynys Mon (the island’s Welsh name), and every time I open the pages, I am swept back to the lanes around my grandmother’s house, to the rocky coasts, the treacherous straits that separate the island from the mainland.

But don’t be fooled by the picturesque rural location into thinking these are ‘cosy crime’ stories. These novels are as gritty as the island’s often bloody history, and she doesn’t shy away from portraying Anglesey’s present day problems with poverty and drugs.

In Gold Detectives, eschewing the crime fiction stereotype of the ‘lone wolf’ detective, Gillian has created an ensemble of characters, with their own strengths, weaknesses and quirks. This is a team of believable people we get to know and like, and each book in turn brings another of the team to the fore.

Gillian is the director of a small business, and within Triskele, she acts is our finance manager, holding the purse strings and bringing her business head to ensure that what we do brings a commensurate return. She is also our Social Media guru, managing our Twitter and Facebook pages and juggling (with surely more than just the usual ten fingers!) several accounts simultaneously as we hold our fortnightly #TriskeleTuesday twitter chats.

JJ Marsh: When first planning Triskele Books, the author collective, we knew we needed a lot more than good writing.

Triskele works just like a small business - you need vision, commitment, strategy, vision and financial nous. Gilly brings all this to the table in addition to a creative imagination.

She works hard at everything she does and insists we all reach as high as we ought. Her books are beautifully crafted, her critical analyses are spot on and she ensures we all pull our weight.

She's a rare individual - a sharp business mind with a deep well of imagination. We'd be lost without her.


What readers are saying about Gillian Hamer's crime books:


"Once again, Gillian Hamer brings ancient history to life with beautiful, lyrical imagery."


"When you love a book as much as I loved The Charter by Gillian Hamer, you always approach the next book with trepidation. I needn't have worried - her latest, Closure, is even better. It begins as two separate story threads - a serial killer targeting students at Bangor University, and the work of North Wales CID to track him down, and the seemingly disconnected story of Jake, a child experiencing horrifying dreams triggered by a past life. The stories converge as the pursuit of the killer heats up, and the story - a superb mix of police procedure and the mysteries of reincarnation - builds wonderfully set against the beautiful Anglesey setting. The author very deftly weaves the different elements together, with well-rounded characters and a masterful building of tension, with some tremendous nail-biting moments. I really couldn't put it down, a fantastic read. We get to know the police team even better in this book, and this has the makings of an excellent series of which I eagerly await the next episode."


"This is the second book I've read by this talented author. Like her first novel, The Charter, Gillian returns to the familiar territory of the rugged Anglesea coast.

This is a darker tale than Charter and, in many ways, a more complex one as well. We have two separate but intertwining stories. The first features Helen West and her six year-old son, Jake, who is suffering from terrible nightmares. But are they more than that? And how can the be linked to the series of killings in and around Bangor University.

With great skill, Gillian draws these two very different threads together and gives us an extremely satisfying crime story with a spooky twist in the tale.
Rich in atmosphere, dripping with suspense and full of memorable characters, this is one you won't forget in a hurry."


"Hamer brings Anglesey alive, doing to the island what Rankin does to Edinburgh, what Dexter did to Oxford. She also gives us three-dimensional characters, with their necessary human failings and weaknesses. The tension never slackens, the suspense never falters. Here is a new crime writer with a new set of detectives. If you thought the world of crime-writing was already overcrowded, think again. Gillian Hamer is one to watch, and her novel is one to read."


"What a great debut to a new series. As with all the author's previous books, I could not put this one down. I stayed up late finishing it and was not disappointed ... I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a well written mystery and also highly recommend her other three books. They won't disappoint."



Connect with Gillian online:  
Twitter


Friday, 3 March 2017

Triskele Tuesday - #futureclassics

On Tuesday 28 February, our regular fortnightly #twitchat took the subject of #futureclassics. It was a lively affair, with so many intelligent contributions that several people asked for a summary.
So here you go:


Which books or authors of the last ten years will you re-read? And why?

Passions rose to the surface quickly and here are some of the Tweeters' tips:

Crimson Petal & the White by Michel Faber

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Augustown by Kei Miller

A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

As for future classic authors: Iain Banks, David Foster Wallace, Roberto Bolano, Arundhati Roy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sarah Waters, Terry Pratchett, Eimear McBride, Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman received general approval.

Are today’s bestsellers future classics or flavour of the month? 




Will YA and children’s fiction provide many of our #future classics? Emphatic agreement here, citing Philip Pullman, Mallory Blackman's Noughts and Crosses, Matt Haig, JK Rowling and Mailbox by Nancy Freund

Is genre fiction as likely as literary fiction to become a classic?

Strong feelings on this one as participants felt strongly about Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and various works by Ian Rankin, China Mieville, Emily St John Mandel, Becky Chambers, Mary Renault's Alexander books or Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy.

Future classics from poetry?

Suggestions included Sharon Olds, Steve Roggenbuck, Claudia Rankine, Seamus Heaney, Simon Armitage, Geoffrey Hill and Linton Kwesi Johnson, even if not all were in agreement as to classic status.




Classics often help us see the world differently. Which contemporary works have done that?

Mentions of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman and Murakami's Wind-up Bird Chronicle while Dan Holloway made the point that non-fiction books might be future classics: Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point and Freakonomics; Naomi Klein's canon and poetry of Claudia Rankine's Citizen.

Will #futureclassics encompass a more diverse range of experience?


Recent examples, not only of authors but initiatives, cropped up, including Javier Marias' The Infatuations, Marlon James, Sapphire, Citizen, the Jhalak Prize, VIDA Lit and the Bare Lit Festival.



Discussions continued for long after our allotted hour, so big thanks to all our contributors:

Looking forward to next #triskeletuesday, when we’re discussing #dialogue 

19.30 GMT on Tuesday 14 March
Use either hashtag to find us, join in and let's talk!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Free Reads for Smart Women

A weekend treat! 

Twelve smart women have teamed up to give intelligent readers the choice of a dozen terrific books.  Absolutely FREE! Free Reads for Smart Women.

How do you like your fiction?

Dramatic, thought-provoking, beautiful, award-winning, believable, imaginative, poignant, heart-racing, romantic, page-turning and courageous? 

 

We’ve got you covered.

Take your pick of any or all of these exceptional reads – from 24-28 February – and discover your next favourite author.

One weekend. Twelve worlds to discover. Check out the video and go exploring.


Free Reads for Smart Women. From 24-28 February only.

Friday, 17 February 2017

The Big 5 Diary #1



In November last year, we announced the winner of our Big 5 Competition, chosen from a shortlist by judge Sheila Bugler.

Sophie Wellstood’s entry, The Sky is a Blue Bowl, took the first prize - a year-long mentorship by Triskele Books.

That was three months ago. What’s happened since?

Stage One: Sophie made the final edits to her book and sent it to us for editorial feedback.

Stage Two: Catriona Troth, a professional editor, went through the manuscript with both a critical and appreciative eye, in order to give detailed feedback. As a second pair of eyes, JJ Marsh also read the book and offered overall notes.

Stage Three: We compared our reactions and responded to Sophie.

Here’s what Catriona had to say:

Like everyone who read Sophie's opening chapter, I fell in love with Edith and wanted to curl up on a grassy hillside with her and share a glass of cider.
I loved the evocation of the New Zealand landscape, and gentle rhythms of the honey shed.

I did however have a few issues to do with the big cast of characters, and also with the book's structure, especially towards the end. There were some characters I felt were insufficiently grounded before we moved on to meet the next, which allowed them to become jumbled up and hard to tell apart. Others slipped at times into stereotype. And Wyn herself (the book's narrator) could come across as immature and sometimes hard to sympathise with.

The pacing of the novel was a little off - moving almost sleepily at times and then suddenly cramming events together in a way that was exhausting to read. When what had felt to me like the book's main thread came to an end - in a deeply satisfying and genuinely moving conclusion - the book carried on, leaving me with a slightly confused sense of what it was really about.

None of these felt to me like insurmountable obstacles to what could be a really excellent book. I provided Sophie with a four page report explaining my thoughts, plus a set of line edits on the manuscript - lit blue touch paper and stood well back.

Stage Four: Sophie got to work as a result of our opinions.

Here’s her take on the process so far:


It’s been a fairly intense few weeks. Whilst the MS was sitting with Catriona and Jill, I worked on the second novel and various short stories, but kept fiddling with this one. I’d subbed it to a number of agents who were mostly very complimentary but they weren’t in love with it enough to take it on. I knew there were aspects of the plot, the structure and some of the characters that needed overhauling – a couple of plot developments in particular really nagged at me - but I just didn’t have the necessary insight or confidence – or motivation - to know what to change, or how. At times I felt very deflated and tired with the whole thing.

Receiving Catriona and Jill’s feedback and editorial suggestions was exactly the kick up the backside I needed. Two pairs of fresh, professional, experienced authorial eyes and insight; two unbiased brains, two experienced readers. For free.

It’s reassuring to know what works; that scenes and voice are strong and affecting and believable - but by far the most valuable editorial notes have been of the sleeves-rolled-up-don’t-spare-my-feelings nature. I asked for tough, critical notes, and got them. Catriona has nailed the exact weaknesses in character and plot that were nagging at me, and it’s genuinely exciting to go back and re-work these people, what they get up to and the consequences of their actions.

There has been one major, major change (I won’t say what here) which has impacted every aspect of the story – it was something my instincts were telling me to do long before this competition, and it feels right. The knock-on effect of course is that threads become unravelled, some actions are inappropriate or irrelevant, something someone does at 10k needs resolving at 60k, etc etc, but having Catriona’s all-seeing editorial eye – I’ve started thinking of her as my virtual sat nav – means that I can trust her to see where I’ve (literally) lost the plot.

There are some recommendations that I need more time to digest – suggestions around the structure towards the end of the story, how it reaches its climax / conclusion; how it all comes together. We’ve discussed how the beginning and ending of the story are really quite different in terms of pace, and how I might change the order of events – this is something I’m still thinking about. I don’t necessarily disagree – I’m just processing the amount of work it will involve!

I couldn’t be more grateful for this support, though. The story is growing a tougher spine, and (Catriona has picked me up on my liberal sprinklings of mixed metaphors) a new pair of wings. And so have I. Thank you!

Friday, 10 February 2017

BOOK CLUB: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz


This month on Book Club, we discuss Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz.

About the author

Anthony Horowitz is the author of the number one bestselling Alex Rider books and The Power of Five series. He has enjoyed huge success as a writer for both children and adults, most recently with the latest adventure in the Alex Rider series, Russian Roulette and the highly acclaimed Sherlock Holmes novels, The House of Silk and Moriarty. Anthony was also chosen by the Ian Fleming estate to write the new James Bond novel which will be published next year. In 2014 he was awarded an OBE for Services to Literature. He has also created and written many major television series, including Injustice, Collision and the award-winning Foyle’s War.

About the Book

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway's latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She's worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It's just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway...
But Conway's latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.
From Sunday Times bestseller Anthony Horowitz comes Magpie Murders, his deliciously dark take on the cosy crime novel, brought bang- up-to-date with a fiendish modern twist.

Discussion:

For crime fictions fans, this book is probably the ultimate red herring. Did you come to this book with any pre-conceptions?

(GH)  None at all. I actually listened to the audible version of the book, attracted both by my appreciation of the author (especially his Sherlock Holmes books) and the narrator, Samantha Bond. I had no idea that the main context of the plot was a story inside a story. But I totally appreciated the originality of the storyline.

(JJ) Apart from admiring everything Horowitz does, none. The book took me by surprise and carried me along in both its guises. I too listened to it first but then read it in paperback form. I needed to flip back and forth to remind myself of key clues. The central device is quite a literary sleight of hand, but it's done beautifully here, so most readers will go with the flow.

There was a feeling when reading the novel that the reader themselves was being placed right in the thick of things and used as a character in their own right. Did that feeling come across to you too?

(GH) I did think as I was reading the book that the reader would have far more appreciation of the work if they were crime fiction fans, schooled in the likes of Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie. And as most of us avid crime fans started life in that era of crime fiction, it felt as if we were being included in an in-crowd with lots of nods and winks and Masonic type gestures to make us feel included. However, when it turned out that Alan Conway was actually putting two fingers up to the world that had made him a bestseller, I did feel rather defensive. So, was I included in the story, yes, clearly I had been sucked in!

(JJ) Yes, the reader is very much a character but not necessarily one I identified with. I felt a little as if this was the publishing world term, 'The Reader', which actually means very little. However, as Gilly says, there are all the allusions to classic crime fiction which make readers of crime feel part of the story. The feeling alternates between being included as someone in-the-know and manipulated as the author(s) lead you up the garden path. All these are elements of classic crime.

What do you think are the messages Horowitz may be giving here about authors and publishers?

(GH) I think there's a cross-section of lives on display here, and some of them may be modelled on people the author has met through his career. We see an editor who is committed to her work and her authors, yet feels somewhat trapped by her position. We have an author who feels his real genius is hidden by the restrictions of a publishing world who don't recognise the writer he truly wants to be, and he also feels trapped by the character and books he created. Does he forego fame and millions to write the book he truly wants to write? Although he chose the fame, he hates himself for it and his decision to turn his life around leads to his death. And we have the jealousy and greed inherent in many professions. I'm not sure there are any hidden messages from he author, Horowitz is clearly one talent who is not restricted in his writing, but I am betting one or more of the characters are based on real life.

(JJ) As in the classic central section, Horowitz plays with tropes. In our frame section of the story, those tropes are still there, but updated. He touches on the litfic versus genre fiction debate, takes on populism and snobbery, covers the publishing world with a layer of dust and at the same time, highlights its fragility as artistic endeavour in a commercial world. My favourite mirror trick was looking at the triggers of Conway's imagination. The author's own village, family, neighbours are easily traceable sources of factors in his book. Or are they? This is another favourite reader hobby, to assess how much the writer's real life informs her/his fiction. Another sly smile at the relationship between fact, fiction and interpretation.

So, Atticus Pund and his country house murder. It takes us back to leafy post-war times of Agatha Christie ... looking at the author's interpretation of Alan Conway as a writer - do you think it worked?

(GH) Well, I was just as frustrated as Susan Ryeland to discover the end of the novel was missing so I must have been suitably entertained! I thought the story and characters fitted the period and genre. I suppose nowadays we would tag it as cosy crime. However, even before the denouement of the novel, I did find myself inwardly criticising the writing of Alan Conway. Now, I look back and realise that's exactly what Horowitz intended. He wanted the faux pas in there, the info dumps, the clichés, the pace issues. Conway wanted to come across as all of those things, because he resented being forced to write that way in the first place. And for Horowitz, I can only imagine the level of skill required to deliberately write badly!

(JJ) The striking thing about how the author takes on these two authorial voices is the ability to blend the mechanics of plot with character and setting. The period piece delighted me in so many ways: trains, conversations, details, and slowed-down communication. There is also the innate prejudice of the British towards this odd little foreigner, who suffered his own private battle during the war. The contrasts and similarities with characters such as Poirot are handled with a deft touch.
Yet the painting-by-numbers feel of classic crime is slow in the extreme, yet the reader (The Reader) keeps turning pages because of the characters.

I mentioned the feeling of being part of an in-crowd of crime fiction fans, did you pick up any of the clues dotted throughout the Atticus Punt novel on first read through?

(GH)  Yes, I did. There were lots of mentions of Agatha Christie titles. The 3:50 from Paddington was casually tossed in as a real train journey taken by Atticus's bumbling assistant. There were many nods to Christie's use of nursery rhymes, even the very title is a link. But when Ryeland went through and listed them, I admit I did wonder how anyone could take Conway's writing seriously, but he was very clever in his approach. However, I admit I've never been great with anagrams ...

(JJ) To an extent while listening, but far more so when reading on paper. It's almost as if there's a third detective in this story - the reader, spotting clues and feeling smug at recognising an allusion to those that went before. This is actively encouraged by regular summaries and reminders by Susan's character in particular. It also echoes Alan's own obsession with acrostics and anagrams and clues in plain sight, something I delight in, being a bit of a word-nerd.

What were your feelings about the real-life murder of Alan Conway and the denouement of the novel?

(GH) I enjoyed it immensely. I though Susan Ryeland held her own as lead character and amateur investigator. It almost felt like two stories within one book, but the styles were so different that even though there were echoes in the plot, there was no confusion. The ending was cleverly plotted and believable, and I am glad that after Susan went through to discover the truth, she came through to tell the tale.

(JJ) While I relished the framing device of the contemporary story, I actually preferred the classic village murder story overall. The publishing world and authorial dealing with agents and editors feels a bit too much like a busman's holiday. Yet I can see this is deliberate. Horowitz reminds us all along that we are readers, and getting carried away in a story is to lose one's critical faculties. Getting swept up in the adventure requires resistance and analysis and thought. It's got some of the old Brechtian insistence on distance - a story is a story. Never forget you are reading a crime novel.

Horowitz has a talent for creating characters who although are real enough to step out of the page, are also often incredibly unlikable. It's a difficult task to get a reader to connect with that type of character, how do you think he achieves this?

(GH) I think believability is key. I am a writer and I've known writers like Alan Conway in real life. Frustrated by their own brilliance. And the in-joke is that Horowitz has doubtless known them too. So, although you don't 'care' about him, you care what happens and need to know how his story ends whether good or bad. Also, I think having secondary characters who have flaws but can create empathy in the reader is another reason we stick with the story and have to turn the page.

(JJ) His skill here is by breaking all kinds of writing 'rules'. He switches point-of-view with abandon in the classic story, turning the reader into viewer. We're in everyone's heads, privy to all their thoughts and interpretations, watching a theatre script, not reading a novel. Yet in the framing story, he allows us the smallest letterbox of perception through Susan's own interpretation. Susan dislikes Alan, thus so do we. She likes other characters (no spoilers) and therefore some revelations come as a shock to both of us.

Finally, how did you feel when you turned the final page?

(GH) I think I was tempted to raise a glass and congratulate the author on what was a stunning piece of writing. The talent needed to make something so layered feel to the reader amateurish at times, and yet complex at the same time, is the sign of a master craftsman. The distinct tones, voices and styles he achieves within one novel is amazing. Hats off to Mr Horowitz. And I'm also quite sad to see the end of Atticus Pund when I'd only just got to know him. Highly recommended.

(JJ) Entertained. Impressed. Amused. Sorry, as Gilly says, to say goodbye to certain characters. It's a very clever, sly, witty homage to those who went before. Not only that, but something every crime writer should read and understand. Magpie Murders is a work of craft, to be held up for every apprentice. I will read it again.



You can read our Bookmuse review by JJ Marsh here

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Hero's Journey V. The Heroine's Journey by JD Smith

Character growth is one of the most engaging, human aspects of stories. Natural disasters can occur, accidents can happen, people can die, but it's the way characters react to disasters, the repercussions and reaction to accidents, and the ripple effect of death to those left behind that really make stories connect with readers.

The title Hero's Journey and Heroine's Journey are given to the journey characters go on during a story. They are about the change and internal growth within characters that happens as stories progress. This can be over a single novel, or even a series. The main hero or heroine is the protagonist, but there can be others who go on smaller journeys.

The titles sound male/female, and indeed they originated based on stereotypical journeys, but a female character might go on a Hero's Journey, and vice versa. It's simply the type of journey a given character might go on.

The Hero's Journey is an outward journey, a call to adventure. The hero might feel an injustice, or something has been taken, and sets off either to retrieve what is lost, or find answers. Gladiator and The Hunger Games are great examples of this.

The Heroine's Journey is an inward journey, an awakening. She is perhaps disillusioned, feels something is missing, is unhappy with her life, and has a realisation.

The term Hero's Journey was originally coined by Joseph Campbell, author of Hero with a Thousand Faces. He also controversially claimed there was no need for a Heroine's Journey, because the Heroine was the home the Hero returned to. But many argue that the difference is that of an inward versus external journey, physical versus emotional, or plot versus character driven narrative.

This is his basic pattern for a Hero's Journey, which I'll demonstrate using Gladiator:

ORDINARY WORLD: Maximus is general of the Roman army, victorious and thinking of returning home to his wife and son.

CALL TO ADVENTURE: Emperor Marcus Aurelius asks him to be his heir to the Empire.

REFUSAL OF THE CALL: Maximus is reluctant at first, but following the Emperor's death, is forced on a path he did not wish to take.

MEETING WITH THE MENTOR: Maximus is found by a band of slaves and meets Proximo, leader of a Gladiator camp.

CROSSING THE FIRST THRESHOLD: Maximus fights in the gladiator arena for the first time.

TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES: As the story unfolds, Maximus is tested in the arena. His allies include fellow gladiators, Proximo, Lucilla, and old army friends. Commodus is the enemy.

APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE: After his victory in the Colosseum, Commodus and his nephew enter the arena to congratulate the victors. Maximus must choose between attempting to kill Commodus now and in front of his young nephew, or wait for a better opportunity.

SUPREME ORDEAL: Maximus is wounded by Commodus prior to the final showdown, and they fight to the death.

REWARD (SEIZING THE SWORD): Despite being wounded fatally, Maximus frees his fellow brothers, declares the wishes of Marcus Aurelius and ensures Lucius is safe from his uncle.

RESURRECTION: Maximus is reunited with his wife and child in the afterlife.

RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR: Maximus dies leaving the people of Rome with hope for the future Marcus Aurelius wanted for them.



In contrast to Campbell's Hero's Journey model, below is Maureen Murdock’s model, described in The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness:

HEROINE SEPARATES FROM THE FEMININE: often a mother or societally prescribed feminine role.

IDENTIFICATION WITH THE MASCULINE AND GATHERING OF ALLIES: for a new way of life. This often involves choosing a path that is different than the role prescribed for him/her deciding to gear to”fight” an organization, role, or group that is limiting her, or entering some male/masculine-defined sphere.

ROAD OR TRIALS AND MEETING OGRES AND DRAGONS: Heroine encounters trials and meets people who try to dissuade her from pursuing her chosen path and/or destroy her(ogres and dragons or their metaphorical counterparts).

EXPERIENCING THE BOON OF SUCCESS: by overcoming the obstacles. This would typically be where the hero’s or “shero’s” (a female protagonist on a hero’s journey) tale ends.

HEROINE AWAKENS TO FEELINGS OF SPIRITUAL ARIDITY / DEATH: because the new way of life is too limited. Success in this new way of life is either temporary, illusory, shallow, or requires a betrayal of self over time.

INITIATION AND DESCENT TO THE GODDESS: The heroine faces a crisis of some sort in which the new way is insufficient and falls into despair. All of her “masculine” strategies have failed her.

HEROINE URGENTLY YEARNS TO RECONNECT WITH THE FEMININE: but cannot go back to her initial limited state/position.

HEROINE HEALS THE MOTHER/ DAUGHTER SPLIT:  reclaiming some of her initial values, skills or attributes (or those of others like her) but views them from a new perspective.

HEROINE HEALS THE WOUNDED MASCULINE WITHIN: Heroine makes peace with the “masculine” approach to the world as it applies to herself.

HEROINE INTEGRATES THE MASCULINE AND FEMININE: to face the world or future with a new understanding of herself and the world/life. Heroine sees through binaries and can interact with a complex world that includes her but is larger than her personal lifetime or geographical/cultural milieu.


Of course there are many variants, and stories involving both an external journey and an inward journey to varying degrees, and as writers we can create depth in our stories by incorporating both the Hero's Journey and the Heroine's Journey, either in one or more character.