Word on the Wire

Tag: books


I had fond hopes of bursting into 2018 rested and full of good cheer after a lovely Christmas break. Instead, I’m sort of limping in half-cocked after a bout of ‘flu. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not the full-on Aussie version. I have not been hospitalised, but it was bad enough to put me in bed for the best part of a week, which is unheard of. I went off food, went off booze so that my unintentional dry January started in December – and not a drop touched since. All my best-laid plans went awry. During the ‘snooze’ time between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, I had intended to ‘woman up’ and plunge myself into techno hell by getting to grips with new software enabling me to update reviews and news on my website – not a chance. I was going to finish the first draft of a brand new novel – did a bit, almost made it, and faltered.

But it’s not all bad news…

One of the big pluses of Christmas is that I’m given lots of novels and so is Mr S, which means double the pleasure. In between sleeps, I was able to binge-read and, boy, what great books I’ve read. I have catholic tastes when it comes to literature. I also tend to read the ‘latest great thing’ months or even years after the hype has died down.   Having devoured ‘Stormbird’ by Conn Iggulden, I read ‘The Late Show’ by Michael Connelly. With female main protagonist, detective Renee Ballard, it signalled a departure from Connelly’s usual gig. I’d probably read another although, hand on heart, I didn’t find it as satisfying as some of his earlier work. I freely admit this could be due to the generally low mood I was in. Next up, ‘Archangel’ by Gerald Seymour. Written a long while back, it’s a tour de force of a story, and displays all the attributes commonly found in Seymour’s work.   His main protagonists are often difficult, complex individuals. Michael Holly is no exception and yet he displays the kind of nobility and integrity that make men risk all to follow him. Superb. I munched through’ Trinity’, the second in the War of the Roses series by Conn Iggulden in a couple of days. If history and terrific storytelling is your thing, it comes highly recommended.

So what’s next on the blocks? ‘The Midnight Line’ by Lee Child. (Mr S read and raved about it). Other authors in the pipeline feature Peter James, Stuart Neville, Clare Mackintosh, Colette McBeth, and, care of a nice deliveryman yesterday, Gerald Seymour’s latest ‘A Damned Serious Business.’ That’s for starters.   Like I said, not all bad news.

Whether you limped or burst into 2018, I hope it’s a good one for you.   Nothing like a decent read to make things better.



It’s been slightly bonkers since I last posted. Rarely do so many great things collide in the space of a few weeks. After a slow start, reviews for ‘House of Lies’ have increased significantly and they are, to a woman, smashing. Not one, but two cover reveals were released for my Joshua Thane spy thrillers, ‘A Deadly Trade’ and ‘Final Target.’  My freshly revamped website was rolled out, care of Tony Astley at ‘Six Till Nine’. It looks a lot less busy and jolly than the earlier version. Lean, mean and generally deadly was the brief and this absolutely delivers. You can check it out on: www.evseymour.co.uk

While all this was going on, we managed to steal away to Anglesey during a spectacularly fine couple of days. With recharged batteries, I was able to pick up where I left off with freelance editing and my own work. As mentioned in previous posts, I try to avoid reading fiction for pleasure when I’m writing. Last night, I closed the final page on a book I’d been meaning to read ever since it was first published in 1991. In some ways, I’m glad I left ‘Wild Swans’ by Jung Chang this long because I probably have a greater psychological and historical perspective now than I did then.

The subjugation of an entire nation with millions of inhabitants under Mao is almost unbelievable until you read how it was carried out. Nobody was untouched by his ‘teachings’ and manipulative abuse of power. It ripped families apart, destroyed minds, driving many to suicide, and laid waste to the land itself. Even grass was deemed ‘bourgeois’. It allowed those with petty grievances and small minds to inform on neighbours who, according to the self-righteous, didn’t espouse Maoism. Many tormentors were women and it was commonplace for children to take part in beating teachers. With so many rules and regulations, it was easy to fall foul. People stopped thinking their own thoughts in case they inadvertently expressed them. In essence, fear stalked the streets, and humiliation was the order of the day. Those who were lucky were sentenced to hard labour. The unfortunate were denounced and tortured. There were times I winced and badly wanted to close the book. But…

I was knocked out by the sheer strength of human resilience and depth of kindness. I was amazed how many managed to hang on to their sanity and their moral principles despite brutal orders to abandon them. The term ‘brainwashing’ is often misapplied, but what occurred is as close as it gets and on an epic scale. It’s worth stating that the current President of China, Xi Jinping, grew up during these extraordinarily turbulent times. He could not have come through untouched, unscathed or unchanged.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about people keeping quiet when they should have spoken out. I refer to the casting couch culture of Hollywood. While repression and ‘shutting people up’ comes in many guises, comparisons with dictators are unwise.  In China, during Mao’s rule, the threat was not simply to one’s career prospects (although anyone with an education and decent job was deemed inferior and banished to rural penury) your life and the lives of your children were on the line.   Thank goodness that, with Mao’s demise, China began its slow road to peace, sanity and prosperity.   It’s a comfort to know that powerful men, and also women, come but inevitably go.


167890-fc50I’m thrilled to announce that, this month, Midnight Ink is publishing ‘An Imperfect Past’ and sequel to ‘Beautiful Losers’ in the U.S. on March 8th and, on March 24th, Harper Collins’ Imprint Harper Impulse is publishing the e-book version of ‘Vixenhead’. Two novels in one month is a first and it feels remarkable.

Both novels feature female main protagonists who must unravel family secrets. Both live in Cheltenham.   While Kim Slade, my therapist who specialises in young women with eating disorders, is an obsessive and intense individual, Roz Outlaw, in ‘Vixenhead,’ is quirky and doesn’t take herself too seriously. In common with most main protagonists, they share certain attributes: tenacity, determination and courage in the face of adversity. The fact is I love them equally and, a sucker for family skeletons rattling around in cupboards, I had a ball with both stories.

Rather amusingly, I appear to have become a one-woman promoter for Cheltenham. Who needs Cheltenham’s tourist board when you have Seymour’s list of acknowledgements in ‘An Imperfect Past’? The bookish equivalent of the Oscars, best movie goes to The Battledown Guest House in Hales Road and, with permission, I even gave supporting actor roles to its real-life owners. Cafes I frequent are mentioned – and, no, I don’t get free coffee – and so is the terrific independent bookshop in the Suffolks, The Suffolk Anthology. I don’t think I mentioned my hairdresser. Maybe I should next time. In other words, for local geography, this is as authentic as it gets. However I’m not writing a travel guide. Story and drama comes first, second and third.

For those wishing to order ‘Vixenhead,’ it costs a wonderfully priced 99p.

IN HER WAKE by Amanda Jennings

I finally read this highly acclaimed novel over a week ago. Sometimes books fail to live up to the hype. Most certainly, this isn’t one of them. I loved it from the opening page to the last. It’s the kind of novel whose characters stay with you long after the final chapter brings the story to a close.

For those who haven’t yet picked up the book, the story begins when Bella returns to the family home following the death of her mother. Not long afterwards, her father commits suicide. He leaves a note for Bella that reveals she was abducted as a three year-old from her family while on holiday in France.

To say this rocks Bella’s world is an understatement. Bewildered, angry and confused, she leaves her extremely controlling husband and sets out to find her real biological family. There is a point in the novel when the old Chinese proverb kicks into play: Be careful what you wish for.

As with most crimes, but perhaps particularly with abduction, the victims are many, and consequences catastrophic. Jennings does not flinch from painting an honest account.   Bella’s desperate desire to unravel lies, and search for her true identity is, at times, painful to read.   Yet this is not a story without hope – far from it.

Yes, the writing is superb and richly atmospheric. Yes, there are twists and turns. Descriptions of Cornwall are so clear you can virtually smell saltwater and seaweed. But, for me, what stands out is Jennings’s innate understanding of how humans tick. As much as our sympathies are with Bella and her blood family, we also glimpse why some couples would steal a child and cause so much intolerable pain. So many victims, so much wreckage and yet, through it all, and without a shred of sentimentality, Jennings ensures that Bella and her family emerge stronger and happier. It’s a tour de force of a novel. Buy it, read and see.

‘In Her Wake’ is published by Orenda Books.



Reading can be a subjective business. Obviously, choice of genre plays a massive part, but there are subtle, sometimes even unconscious, decisions we make when selecting a novel: first person narrative versus third or authorial; written in the past or present tense – everyone brings their own preferences to the table. And, often, those decisions will govern our enjoyment or otherwise of a story.

In my day job I’m paid to be objective.   Personal taste doesn’t enter into it at all. So when I read for pleasure I admit I’m picky and, lately, I’ve become ruthless. If I fail to engage with, ‘get’ or even like a story or main protagonist within sixty or so pages, as painful as it is, I abandon it.   When I say ‘pain’ I mean it because, as a writer myself, I appreciate exactly how much work goes into the creation of a well-crafted story. But all’s fair in love and writing and I, too,recognise that my own work is not everyone’s cappuccino.

Back to my reading habits: even ‘next best things’ and books acclaimed by others have been quietly put away. It’s not a reflection on the story or the skill of the writer, but a reflection on what rocks my personal boat. This is a very long-winded way of me saying that, having dumped two novels to read for pleasure in the past couple of months, I selected one from my extensive pile of ‘unreads’ and one I’d meant to read a year ago: Sophie Hannah’s first standalone novel, ‘A Game For All the Family.’

The novel is described as a domestic thriller with psychological quirks. ‘Quirks’ implies something peculiar. Downright strange is nearer the mark and in the most glorious way for Hannah is genius at messing with people’s minds and I don’t mean simply the characters. After reading a twist that I never saw coming in the final pages (and I pride myself on spotting the big reversal) I needed to lie down in a darkened room. How the hell did she pull it off, I wondered. Oh, and I haven’t even started on the story within a story element.

Without spoilers, a basic précis is as follows: Justine Merrison is a burnt out TV executive in search of the quiet life in Devon, her one aim to do absolutely nothing, which proves to be a lot harder than one would think. Her teenage daughter, Ellen, settles in at a rather alternative school where she becomes best friends with George. Mothers are prone to rummaging through their child’s homework and Justine is no exception. To her horror, she discovers that Ellen is writing a murder story. So what? Except that the murder is set in the family’s new home.

Throw in anonymous calls from a stranger with threats to dig three graves – one for Justine, Ellen and husband, Alex – she rightly fears for her safety. With a lack lustre response from the police, it’s down to Justine to find not only the person endangering her family but the murderer in Ellen’s story. It’s a heart-stopping case of fiction meshing with reality.

Hannah captures the peculiarities of family dynamics with flair. Location ticked my personal box because, having lived in Devon for eighteen years, I know the area well, but where she really scores for me is her ability to persuade the reader of what seems, on the surface, something implausible. For feats of imagination and wicked psychological insight, she deserves her title as ‘Queen of Psychological Crime.’


‘A GAME FOR ALL THE FAMILY’ is published by Hodder & Stoughton





Most writers feel a bit odd after writing the last page of a novel before sending the finished draft to an agent. Yes, there will be edits and revisions but, essentially, the story crafted over many months is down ‘on paper’. I’m no exception. Last Friday, I felt strangely lost, vaguely unwell and tired. So the perfect antidote was to climb on board the magic carpet and lose myself in a good book.  ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ an anthology of stories by Sarah Vincent was my magical destination.

One reviewer described the collection as magic-realism. It’s apt because each story, although set in domestic reality; definitely has a touch of the fairy tale about it. Take ‘Esmerelda’ and a husband ‘who knew what he wanted’ – in a new wife, to be specific. Never has the saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’ proved more apposite. Sexual politics is also at play in ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ and ‘Manipura’ for Vincent is the mistress of describing the lot of unfulfilled (usually middle-aged) women. Her stories give these hard done-by, aspirational individuals a voice and usually an escape route to freedom. Written with great humour and incredibly stylish prose, in which animal imagery abounds, these stories are little gems of characterisation and insight. ‘Think Big’, is a poignant portrait of gruesomely overweight Effie Fisher looking for love. The creep factor is high in ‘The Centipede’ and ‘The Last To Leave’. Linda, the psychic waitress in ‘The Perambulator’ is cursed by her ‘gift’ so that she sees things most of us would run a mile from.

And yes, there’s mention of astral cortex’s, reincarnation, difficult energies, Tarot, wishing wells, and spiritual worlds that might seem strange and foreign to some. Therein lies the charm of these tales.  However cynical or ‘grounded’ you might be, I guarantee you will not fail to be entranced by Vincent’s literary sorcery.

These are not stories with closed happy endings. Rather, they leave you thinking crikey, what happens next? If I have one big criticism, eight stories are not enough.

Available from Amazon.co.uk it’s a steal at £3.99


I like to think I’m pretty good at keeping my promises. If I say I’ll do something, I generally do it. Specific others may be forgiven for thinking, ‘Yeah, right’. By specific, I mean writers whose books I said I would read and review but, months on, spectacularly failed to do so.

I cannot blame it on Euro 2016 or Wimbledon – yes, I watched a lot of matches, but only in the evenings and at weekends. Crimefest is now a distant memory. (I read four fab novels in preparation – see previous post). Stonking family events are par for the course when you have a tribe the size of mine, so I can’t use this as a mitigating factor either. Have I been sunning myself in the sweltering heat or in foreign climes? Fat chance. Even my blog has reduced to once a month instead of once a week.

With regard to watching TV dramatizations and film, I confess that I’m guilty as charged.   Too many to mention, I particularly enjoyed, ‘The Five’, Harlan Coben’s superb and gripping thriller about a disappearing boy, ’13 Hours’, based on a true story about the secret soldiers of Benghazi, TV Western series ‘Texas Rising’, clue in the title, and (enjoyed is stretching it because of THAT scene) ‘Bone Tomahawk.’ So when not slumped in a heap at the end of the day, precisely what have I been up to that renders my reading for pleasure time minimal to non-existent? WRITING.

Aside from crafting reports for my day job in which I work with unpublished writers, and carrying out edits on ‘Don’t Tell Anyone’ scheduled for publication in December 2016, and ‘An Imperfect Past’, in March 2017, I’m working on a brand new stand alone. I delivered the first 70k words only a couple of days ago to my agent to give her a steer.  There is still much work to be done to finish the novel.  Once this is ‘in the can’, I intend to honour my commitment.

In the same way I like to vary what I eat, I take pleasure from mixing up my reading. So, in no particular order, the following are first up on my menu: ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ an anthology of stories, by Sarah Vincent, ‘In Her Wake’ by Amanda Jennings, ‘The Corruption of Chastity’ by Frank Wentworth, ‘Killer Plan’ by Leigh Russell and ‘The Locker’ by fellow Midnight Inker, Adrian Magson. Starters fully consumed, hopefully, I can move on to main courses that are already stacking up on my ‘to be read’ bookshelf.   Promises, promises…






I am a huge fan of John Hart’s novels. If my house were burning down, ‘The King of Lies’ would be snatched from the flames. As we’re in Oscar winning mode, I’d definitely hand Hart a trophy.   Yes, I admire his work that much, which is why I picked up ‘Down River’.

‘Down River’ features Adam Chase, a young man exiled for a murder he didn’t commit. His stepmother, who originally testified against him, has very different ideas, and when Chase returns home, predictably, he isn’t made to feel that welcome. Especially as, no sooner than he touches base, the body count coincidentally rises.

These are the bare bones of the novel and you’ll have to get hold of a copy to find out what transpires but suffice to say, that, in common with much of Hart’s work, this is a story about family, betrayal, human frailty and unrequited love.

As Hart himself says, family provides a rich hunting ground for the writer. For it’s within the close confines of family that the greatest pain is inflicted and received, and the scope for treachery and double-cross boundless. In this regard, I was reminded of Phillip Larkin’s famous quote about what your mum and dad do to you: ‘They f***k you up…’ Hart’s complex characterisation and his portrayal of destructive family dynamics is observed with such acuity and depth of psychological insight, I was pretty convinced that he must have endured a troubled childhood. However, after reading Acknowledgements, I’m glad to flag up that Hart’s mum and dad, to whom he pays tribute, are wonderful, as are his in-laws, wife and children. It exemplifies even more strongly, if that’s possible, what a fine writer he is.

And it’s not just about the compelling nature of his storytelling. Hart is one of those rare writers whose sentences I’ll often read at least twice. Beautifully constructed, sometimes spare, his prose conveys how someone really feels about a situation, how someone would genuinely react. There is no artifice, no false emotion to suit the requirements of plot. Master of the complex up/down ending, there is nothing cosy or false about his final scenes.   Apart from encouraging any reader to buy John Hart’s books, I have one final word on the subject: Sublime.

‘Down River’ is published by John Murray


Since our move, we haven’t got around to having an aerial fitted for our television. With so much other stuff to sort, it didn’t seem a priority. I really thought I’d miss it but, after a day of unpacking boxes, lugging furniture and critiquing authors’ manuscripts, I’m fairly pooped. My Twitter and Facebook activity similarly has taken a back seat over the last few weeks, although, clearly, I’m now back ‘on message,’ so to speak.

So what have I been doing instead? Catching up on old favourite films. The quirky thing about watching films for a second or even a third time is that you notice things you didn’t cotton on to before.   Clocking up a film a night, one stood out from the crowd: ‘The Last Samurai’. With an epic quality, it’s a serious film about Japanese honour; the clue to how the story unfolds in the title.   Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe act their socks off (without seeming to) and, if you’re into battle scenes, (I am) it’s worth watching for these alone. One look at the credits reveals the vast numbers of stunt men and, that speciality breed, stunt riders.   The soundtrack seemed more memorable, somehow, second time around. No wonder: Hans Zimmer wrote the score.

But, just in case, you think I’ve switched off from the world, the radio remains my best chum. I have an almost telepathic sense of ‘on the hour’ news which is when I invariably tune in. A lousy Broadband service has been defeated by that wonderful creation: Mobile Wi-Fi. As for books, I’ve got a fine selection just ready and waiting for me to dive into. Currently, I’m reading Clare Mackintosh’s intriguing ‘I Let You Go.’   It’s spent far too long on my bookshelf. More of this anon…

An Officer and a Spy

A few weeks ago I finished reading Robert Harris’s ‘An Officer and A Spy.’ Rich in period details, evocative of France in the 1880’s – you can almost smell the sewers in the Parisian heat – the story is based on real life events:  the Dreyfus case.

Alfred Dreyfus was an officer wrongly convicted of treason and sent to Devil’s Island.   Those, and there were many, who brought him to trial made the evidence fit the crime largely because Dreyfus was a Jew and anti-Semitic feelings at the time ran high.  A family man, Dreyfus was not the easiest individual to like.  He had a pedantic attitude to work and prized diligence to detail.   He was, in essence, a bit of a prig, but he was an innocent prig.  What makes the case so interesting and appalling is that even when it was discovered that Dreyfus could not possibly have committed an act of treason and that all the evidence pointed strongly to another, elements in the army insisted that the innocent Dreyfus serve out his life sentence in truly grim circumstances.  The reason for this:  it would be too embarrassing to admit a mistake had been made.  In summary, the Dreyfus case bears all the hallmarks of a conspiracy.   Had it not been for a few brave souls committed to saving Dreyfus, he would have died in captivity.

As depressing as it is when individuals pervert the truth, condemning others to save face, it’s also uplifting to witness those few prepared to stand up and risk all for the sake of justice.  Colonel Georges Picquart, Chief of the Statistical Section was instrumental in saving Dreyfus, as was the writer, Emile Zola.  Both men risked lives, freedom, relationships and livelihoods.   Given those circumstances, it’s tempting to wonder what sort of people we would be.  As every writer knows, it’s only under pressure true character is revealed.   Those who throw caution aside in the pursuit of justice are very special indeed.   They are the stuff of main protagonists, but in the Dreyfus case, truth really is stranger than fiction.