The Garfield Conspiracy Review: A Creative Tale Of Mid-Life Madness

As part of acclaimed Irish Author Owen Dwyer’s blog tour, I’m proud to share my thoughts on his latest novel, The Garfield Conspiracy.

At first, I genuinely thought the ‘Garfield’ mentioned in the title was the lasagne loving cat! After all, the advanced copies are bright yellow and feature a surrealist-inspired image of a man with his face inside an old-fashioned TV. I’d also read the synopsis and knew that the book was about a man going making a series of unfortunate choices and reassessing his life.

What I didn’t realise was that this man, the protagonist Richard Todd, is an academic turned celebrity author who’s popularity is dwindling. His publisher, as a last resort, sends in an ambitious young research assistant, Jenny, to help him polish his latest book and conduct research into his next project. Richard’s next book will be an exploration of the assassination of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the USA, who was the second, after Lincoln, to die by assassination, and the man who was killed after being found guilty of the murder.

It has to be said, from the first chapter, I was expecting something a bit different from The Garfield Conspiracy. I thought that the historical conspiracy theory would take precedence over the modern tale of a man in the throes of a mid-life crisis. I also thought that the past and present would stay separate.

Instead, the novel focuses on the protagonist and his young research assistant, as the pair battle with their feelings. At the same time, Richard is dealing with voices in his head and the frightening implications that comes with. He has a family to protect and care for, including three kids, ranging from teenagers to a younger kid. So, he’s facing a crisis that threatens to upend not only the stability of his own life, but also that of his family.

So, as you can see, I was wrong, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t an engaging and enjoyable read. On the contrary, despite being completely different to its initial promise, the novel quickly transforms into something even more relevant and relatable. With varying perspectives, the book is able to give the reader an insight into how we all see the world differently.

What I especially like about The Garfield Conspiracy is that Dwyer doesn’t sugar coat the predatory nature of his protagonist. The guy is, essentially, a sex pest. But Dwyer doesn’t try to portray him as anything else. He doesn’t do that cobblers where he tries to put a higher purpose to his character’s creepiness. Richard is still a well-read, educated man, but he’s also shown to be a cretin.

He’s going through a lot, and Dwyer gives us a unique insight into his character’s mind. I love the author’s portrayal Richard: he’s conceited, self-obsessed and dealing with a lot of catastrophes, only some of which are self-inflicted. As the novel goes on, we see him battle with strange dreams in which the man who allegedly killed president Garfield comes to him and says that he was framed for the crime, all while dealing with the impact of the fallout as he leaves his family behind and starts a new life with a girl young enough to be his daughter.

The ‘action’ as it were, takes place in the Richard’s palatial home in a posh neighbourhood in Dublin, where Richard and Jenny, his new young assistant, work on his upcoming work together while family life goes on around them. Dwyer sets the scene amazingly and creates a unique juxtaposition between the stuffy setting and the snappy dialogue that takes place in it.

All in all, I thought that The Garfield Conspiracy was an insightful book that acts as a unique combination of critique of modern life and historical fiction. I learned a lot about the past and enjoyed meeting Dwyer’s host of characters. If you’re looking for an intriguing read that keeps you on your toes, then I’d recommend checking out this latest example of amazing Irish fiction.

Five Incredible Books About Real-Life Political Scandals

After seeing the trailers for the most recent series of American Crime Story, which centres on the Monica Lewinsky, and I couldn’t help but think about the impact that the scandal had on the world, both in terms of politics and popular culture.

Monica Lewinsky has become a byword for risky sex in the music scene, but in literature she is the perfect example of a young woman who finds herself faced with sexual harassment and contempt in a political arena.

The scandal has been covered extensively in books, both fiction and non-fiction. When I was at University, I read a fair few books about the scandal, and about other political disasters that have helped to shape the world that we live in today.

Real-life political scandals are a fascinating way to learn more about a society and the values that it holds dear, as well as the ways that it holds its politicians accountable for their transgressions.

If you’re eager to check out some intriguing non-fiction books about political scandals, some of which you may have heard of and want to know more about, and some that you might never had heard about before, then here’s a list of five awesome texts to start you off.

I’ve tried to choose books from political arenas and authors from around the world, so there’s something for everyone, wherever you’re from and whatever aspect of politics you’re interested in learning more about. This list is just a brief intro: hopefully it’ll wet your appetite and get you wanting more books about real-life political scandals.

5. Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?: Vladimir Putin is one of the world’s worst living dictators who has caused incredible hurt to minorities and wealthy oligarchs alike. While his rule over Russia is not one specific scandal, but rather one long-running grift, this book is still about the evil that this disgusting man has committed and the lasting legacy that he will leave on Russia, the USA and the rest of the world. Russian Scholar and Writer Karen Dawisha uses a variety of different sources, including insiders from Putin’s regime, Stasi archives, newspapers, journalists and more to put together a comprehensive overview of the impact that Putin’s regime has had. The book was published in 2014, so it is slightly dated, but it’s still a very well-researched insight into how Putin’s Russia has affected the global stage and had an impact on the lives of individual citizens as well.

4. A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President: The book that inspired the latest series of American Crime Story is definitely worth a read if you want to learn more about how Bill Clinton’s affair with a young member of the White House staff destroyed his political power and ruined the trust that the American people once had in their leader. Initially published in 1999, not long after the impeachment trial that bought the scandal to light, Jeffrey Toobin’s book is a full overview of the allegations made by Paula Jones and his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The book has since been updated and expanded to include more information on how the scandal evolved and developed over time. Toobin offers a complete timeline of the allegations and how they led to Clinton’s impeachment and the legal ramifications of his actions, both those that can be proved and those that were alleged. It’s an intriguing read that will give you a complete account of the scandal that you can’t really find elsewhere.

3. No Expense Spared: The UK’s MP expenses scandal almost tore Gordon Brown’s cabinet apart with its wild allegations of immense greed during a time of economic austerity for the rest of the country. Robert Winnett and Gordon Rayner were the Telegraph journalists who led a team of reporters who studied the expense reports and eventually broke the story, so their book is a first-hand account of how they came to realise the true scope of the information they had and how the story changed the way that the British public views its politicians. The book covers everything from the funnier side of the expenses reports, such as the costly duck house and moat cleaning through to the tales of house flipping, downright lies and fraud, all in an engaging and understandable way. The writers break down the scandal and explain the impact it had on the UK’s political world and what has changed since the scandal broke.

2. No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison: This incredible autobiography by Behrouz Boochani is brilliant and poetic even before you learn the true cost to the writer that the book came at. It was written on a phone as WhatsApp messages and was smuggled out of the prison to be translated and then published. Following on from the recent American withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and a rise in prejudice against refugees of that country and many others, this book about the writer’s desperate journey to Christmas Island and subsequent imprisonment in a facility run by the Australian government on Manus Island is a timely reminder that displaced people are not the enemy. It is a deeply human and heartbreaking tale that is all the more vivid and scary because it’s entirely true.

1. The Man Who Sold America: Joy-Ann Reid’s incredible book is a timely reminder of how the Trump administration worked to profit from the presidency and privatise as much as possible before his defeat in the 2020 election. The book, written before the election and updated later, gives an in-depth insight into America’s national accounts and how Trump and his cronies plundered them. It also explores how the former president made it clear that America was for sale and the ways in which he desperately tried to buy foreign favour before he was ousted. If you’re interested in a very recent political scandal and how it could impact the future of what was once the greatest nation in the world then this could be the book for you.

Just Haven’t Met You Yet Review: A Funny Take On A Love Story That Even Romance Skeptics Will Adore

In general, I’m not a huge fan of romantic fiction. I don’t even really like rom-com films or TV shows- they’re easy to watch but they usually lack any real substance.

So I was intrigued when I received a copy of Just Haven’t Met You Yet. In essence, the plot sounds like that of a typical cheesy rom-com: girl loses her suitcase on a solo work trip, and sees the contents and realises that she might just love the guy who owns it.

However, from the moment I picked the book up, I knew this wasn’t your typical cheap holiday read. Author Sophie Cousens already has one knockout bestselling book under her belt, and she’s got extensive experience working in TV and producing amazing reality TV series. The writing is top-notch from the very first sentence, and as you get further into the novel, you realise that the plot isn’t as simple and obvious as you might think.

The novel revolves around a woman named Laura, who works for a website in London called Love Life. She runs the site’s ‘How They Met’ video segment, where couples tell cute tales about how they met and got together. During a meeting, she suggests a story about her parents’ love story, which is cute. Her mum found half of an old coin, and set off to Jersey to find the second half. When she got there, she met the son of the woman who had the other half and fell head over heals in love.

With both her parents now dead, Laura only has a few mementos, including the coin and a selection of photos of their time on Jersey, to remember them by. Her editor is excited about the prospect and arranges a short-notice work trip for Laura to go to Jersey alone and write a feature on the island and its romantic scenery.

Laura heads off to the island for a long weekend trip with just hand luggage. As the airplane is full, the airline asks Laura and anyone else with a wheeled suitcase to put it in the hold. In her rush to grab her bag in Jersey, Laura picks up the wrong case. When she opens the bag, she finds that it contains everything that she thinks a man ought to have, such as a copy of her father’s favourite novel, warm jumpers and more.

As she searches for missing suitcase man, who could very well also be Mr Right, Laura encounters a host of eccentric locals, including a morose cab driver and his dad, a randy elderly beekeeper and more. Each of them has their own story to tell, and as Laura gets potentially closer to meeting the love of her life, she learns that not everything is as it seems when it comes to her parents’ picture perfect Jersey love story. While meeting long-lost relatives, Laura gets thrown for a loop by the revelations that they provide and the new information they give her could permanently change her views on love and romance.

Cousens creates relatable and engaging characters, who make you want to keep reading just to find out more about them. At times the plot feels like a predictable romantic comedy, but then the author throws the reader a curveball that keeps you on your toes. She repeatedly breaks the fourth wall in a way by having Laura remind the reader of what would happen if she were in a romantic novel or film, which is intriguing and unique. It sets the novel apart from the rest of the predictable romantic fiction that I’ve read in the past, and I’ve read a fair few of these when I’ve been on holiday and ran out of decent books to read. When faced with a limited selection of books from a hotel lobby or holiday home bookshelf, I often find that romantic books are the best of a bad bunch, and gravitate to them, but I’ve never read anything quite like Just Haven’t Met You Yet.

I think what I like most about this novel is how much I can relate to it. That won’t be the case for everyone- there are a lot of coincidences in my case, but the novel and its characters are very realistic and I think that many people could find something to relate to. For me, there’s a lot- firstly, Laura is 29 and a writer who’s a bit rudderless- I am the same age, have the same profession and have no idea what on earth I’m doing with my life!

Then there’s Love Life, the online magazine that Laura works for. It’s run by an editor called Suki, who is the archetype of a typical dreadful magazine editor, and someone who I have tried to be the opposite of as a manager. I have met and worked for my fair share of Suki’s in the past- editors who demean and bully their staff, dismiss their ideas without even hearing them, put all the blame on their employees when things get rough but grab all the credit if things go right.

That’s pretty much every past boss I’ve had in writing until I got my current job, and hit the boss jackpot with a really kind and supportive person. However, I don’t think I know a single writer who’ve not worked for someone who’s almost exactly like Suki. Her incessant nagging and rudeness, as well as her attitude towards her staff, is precisely why so many publishers have such a high turnover of staff.

I also enjoy the fact that the novel is about more than just Laura’s search for love. Cousens also infuses the book with unusual life lessons and teachings from unlikely characters, such as an elderly couple who are having an affair to get through the torment of a dementia diagnosis. The writer shares a selection of lessons, but the biggest one is that you can either take them or not- you do you. That’s refreshingly un-preachy from a book full of proverbs and snippets from a fictional self-help text that the protagonist is reading- another example of the writer playing with the form.

To conclude, I think that Just Haven’t Met You Yet is a fun, intelligent version of the classic rom-com. It’s a cut above the rest, and worth checking out even if you’re not usually a fan of romantic fiction. Cousen’s experience as a screenwriter shines through and gives the novel an edge that most romantic books simply don’t have. I really enjoyed it and found it hard to put down, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t usually a fan of sentimental books about romance and family histories, so this one must be bloody good.

Could Rise In Sale Of Advanced Reading Copies Change The Literature Market?

When I recently saw reports that advanced copies of books by famed writers, including Sally Rooney, have been selling online for high prices before the novel is release.

Advanced copies are what bloggers and book reviewers like me receive so that we can write reviews that come out before or at the same time as a book is released.

When you receive an advance copy, you’ll usually see a notice on the outside, and often on the inside too, which states that the advanced copy is not for sale and only for reviewing purposes. However, many disreputable bloggers are now selling their advanced copies for big bucks and publishers are pretty powerless to stop them.

In the past, it’s been overlooked if advanced copies get given to charity shops long after the book is released. That’s because it’s hard to police and, frankly, it isn’t making reviewers any profits. It’s simply a way for book reviewers to declutter their lives long after the review is published. However, actually making money from advanced copies has always been a no-no, and frankly, I’d not heard of many cases of it happening in the past.

Now, it’s clear that the issue is getting worse. Bloggers are profiting from advanced copies and giving decent, genuine book reviewers a bad name. With the rise of online blogging and social media influencers, even more book publishers and promoters are facing problems as they are having to give out more advanced copies to entice reviewers. As more advanced copies, either electronic or physical, are offered to bloggers, there becomes a great risk that some of them will be distributed for profit prior to the release of the novel.

Frankly, I think it’s utterly disgusting that some book bloggers are trying to profit from advanced copies of books, to the detriment of authors. Writers were already hard hit, both by the COVID-19 pandemic and other industry changes. They need the support of book bloggers and reviewers, rather than the theft of their intellectual property for profit.

As a book reviewer myself, I work hard to provide constructive reviews for the benefit of authors, as well as my readers. So, I think it’s dreadful to use advanced copies for anything other than to read and review. While it does make me happy to get a copy of books, particularly ones I’m excited for, ahead of time, I think it’s definitely a privilege that needs to be respected. Bloggers who sell advanced copies are giving the industry a bad name and are, for the most part, in the minority.

Looking to the future, I think that this mass selling of advanced copies of books by influential writers will lead to publishers changing the way they distribute books to bloggers. I think that it’ll become more common for advanced copies to be sent electronically, which is already the case, but more convenience than for tracking purposes.

Moving forward, I think that book publishers and promoters will start tracking advance copies and where they end up. I also believe that they will start to be more discerning about who they give advanced copies to. That might mean a change for online bloggers, who might have to prove their metal before they receive advanced copies. All these developments will take time, but they could make the book reviewing and promoting markets better in the long run.

So, at the end of the day, I think that this development in the literary market could help to make the book reviewing space better going forward. It’s a real shame that some greedy individuals are trying to profit from advanced copies, but in the future, hopefully, it’ll be easier for genuine book reviewers to get hold of them and support authors and their readers.

Five Great Non-Fiction Books To Give You An Insight Into The Fascinating World Of Reptiles

Reptiles are the unsung heroes of the natural world, in my humble opinion. They’re beautiful creatures that help regulate the world’s ecosystems, and many of them have truly unique superpowers, such as the ability to change colour, shed limbs to escape and regrow them later, and more.

However, when it comes to literature and reading, remarkably few authors, beyond the odd children’s writer, bother with tales about reptiles. When they do, it’s often keeping them as pets and how to care for them.

But there’s much more to reptiles than just the small selection that people commonly keep as pets, and in many cases the truth of their lives in the wild is stranger than any fiction ever will be.

That’s why I’ve put together this list of five awesome non-fiction books about reptiles so you can learn more about their incredible lives.

5. Snakemaster: Wildlife Adventures with the World’s Most Dangerous Reptiles: Austin Stevens is a world-renowned snake enthusiast who is to snakes what Steve Irwin was to crocodiles. He’s become a star thanks to his TV shows, and in his book he shares many exhilarating adventures and thrilling experiences working with dangerous snakes around the world. The book is very self-promotional and discusses the author’s life and work as much as it does the snakes that he works with, but it’s also insightful and many of the anecdotes are intriguing. The writer is clearly a snake expert and enthusiast who wants to share his knowledge on these fascinating creatures, as well as spend as much time as possible studying their behaviour and lives. If you love snakes and like a little thrill in your non-fiction reading, then this book has both. Many of the writer’s tales of working with some of the world’s most deadly snakes are breathtaking and scary in equal measure.

4.You’re Gonna’ Get Bit! Harrowing Tales of Herpetology: An impassioned tale of a love of reptiles, this is an engaging read that will make you want to step outside your comfort zone and start making all sorts of cold blooded friends. Author and reptile specialist Mark Ferdinand talks us through his love of everything from frogs to poisonous snakes and everything in between. His passion and love for nature comes through every page and makes the book a really amazing read. You won’t want to put the book down and will enjoy reading about everything from Ferdinand’s childhood getting his first reptilian pets to his job extracting and handling dangerous snakes. The book is both funny and enjoyable, making for an engaging combination of autobiography and information. You’ll learn, and laugh, a lot if you choose to read this intense book.

3. The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World’s Greatest Reptile Smugglers: I’ve already mentioned this incredible book in my list of non-fiction books about animals to read if you loved Tiger King, but it’s definitely worth adding to this list as well. Writer Bryan Christy investigates the global illegal trade in reptiles, and how this lucrative and deeply dangerous market damages the habitats and lives of a wide range of reptiles. The book showcases the damage that the underground trade in reptiles has, and how it is powered by greed and an insatiable desire for exotic pets by avid collectors. The main focus of the book is one specific reptile dealer, who illegally imported thousands of animals into America from around the world and who the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were trying to snare for many years to come. Christy chronicles the investigation and the impact that illegal reptile smuggling has on the pet industry and the lives of individual animals.

2. Secrets of Snakes: The Science beyond the Myths: One of the many things that makes reptiles so intriguing is that their lives are often so unknown to us. While most mammals have been extensively studied and behave in ways that we can understand, snakes and other reptiles have their own unique ways of being. Most reptiles don’t experience emotions the way that we do, which means that we cannot relate to their behaviour as we do with most domestic and many wild animals. Taking a humorous and relatable approach, biologist David Steen unpacks some of the biggest myths and questions that many people have about snakes and offers ways that we can understand them. This fascinating book is approachable and understandable, making it great for anyone who wants to find out more about snakes but doesn’t want to keep them as a pet. Steen has experience observing snakes in the wild as well as in captivity, so he shows us a peek behind the curtain at these previously unknown creatures. He discusses a variety of different types of snake and breaks down the myths that have often hampered our relationship with these diverse and truly unique creatures.

1. Dreaming in Turtle: A Journey Through the Passion, Profit, and Peril of Our Most Coveted Prehistoric Creatures: If you want to learn more about one of the animals that is most exploited and damaged by humans, then I would heartily recommend this amazing book. It takes the reader on a tour around the world to see how humans are exploiting turtles, which the author compares to canaries in a coal mine, and how this exploitation affects the ocean that turtles call home. Journalist and reptile enthusiast Peter Laufer walks the reader through the enduring popularity and symbolism that turtles embody and how this is completely at odds with the cavalier way that people treat them and make their lives miserable and their homes uninhabitable. This book is gripping and deeply disturbing at the same time, and it’s a unique read for those who want to learn more about our impact on the environment and the lives of the creatures tat live in it with us. Often, for people, it’s hard for people to connect with a cause, even one as important conservation and caring for the environment, without an individual cause or case study. Laufer uses the hardships of the humble turtle to make a bigger point about humanity and our disregard for the flora and fauna that came before us and will probably outlive humans.

Back To Bookstores: How To Browse Without Being A Bellend

The world is slowly reopening after COVID-19, which means, among many other fun things, that we can all finally return to our favourite stores.

Many people love browsing through clothing stores or looking at shoes, while I, and many others, love browsing through book stores.

Book stores are great to visit, but I’ve noticed, as I return to them, that some people don’t have any manners or, apparently, social skills.

Things have been open for a while here in the UK, but I know that every country is different. What isn’t different, is that you need to be looking out for others while you’re shopping for books.

Buying books in a store is a valuable way to help local businesses in your community that have struggled since the pandemic began. It’s also a fun and soothing activity that is great for book lovers, but you have to do it right without behaving like an absolute arse.

So, what I’m trying to say is, whether you love second-hand bookshops like me, or you’re a fan of big chains and buying new books, don’t be a douche. If you need to know how, here are some tips.

Wear A Mask If You Can

The mask laws might have been rescinded in many countries, but where possible you should keep wearing one in crowded places. It’ll mean that if you do have anything, then you’ll reduce the chance of it spreading to others who share your space. It’ll also mean that you’ll reduce the number of pathogens that you could potentially transfer to surfaces that you breathe on. Many people might think that wearing a mask now is pointless, but it’s a kind thing to do. Also, during the time when masks were a legal requirement, you probably bought some reusable ones. You can’t use them for anything else, so you might as well wear them!

Sanitise Your Hands Before You Start Touching Stuff

Most shops have sanitiser at the entryway, so you can easily clean your hands before you start browsing. If you’re visiting a small bookshop that doesn’t have sanitiser for customers, then you should use your own sanitiser before you start touching books. Hand sanitisers aren’t an alternative to washing your hands, particularly after you’ve eaten, touched animals or used the bathroom. However, in between visiting different shops and touching surfaces like door handles, it can be a useful way to make sure that your hands are clean and reduce your chances of transferring bacteria from different areas.

Give Staff And Other Shoppers Some Space

Like the mask laws, social distancing rules have also been relaxed in many areas. Still, it’s kind to give other people their space. Some people might not be feeling very safe right now, and others might still be adjusting to being in close contact with others after the pandemic. So, don’t go getting up in strangers’ grills. If the bookshop that you’re visiting is small, then you might have to wait to get to a bookshelf or to move around the store. Be patient and remember that everyone is struggling right now, so your kindness could make a massive difference to someone. If you need to ask the staff for help, then be polite and respectful (as you should always be). Don’t crowd them and if the staff member asks you to wait behind a screen or stand back, just do it.

Only Pick Up Books You’re Genuinely Interested In Or Considering Buying

In bookshops, it’s fun to pick up books and read the blurb. However, if you’re not interested in buying it or learning more about it, then you shouldn’t pick it up. If you can read the blurb on the back without lifting the book, for example if it’s placed backwards on the shelf, then you should try to read the back without touching it. If you decide that you’d like to purchase the book, then you can pick up one copy to take to the counter. If the store has one of those mobile zapper things to scan the barcode with, then hold the book out for the cashier to scan, so they don’t have to touch it. If the bookseller has to type in a code, then try reading it out for them, again, so they don’t have to touch the book. It’s a simple kindness but it could go a long way. If the person serving you is willing to touch the book, then fair play to them, but remember that everyone is different and try to help where you’re able to do so.

Buy A Gift Voucher If You Don’t Want A Book

Book sales have risen during the pandemic, but many bookstores, particularly small independent ones, have still found the pandemic tough. So, it’s more important now than ever before that you support these stores if you want them to stay open so you can keep visiting them. If you don’t want to by a book during your visit, then you could consider buying a gift card to support the store. You could give the gift card as a present for someone you love, or you could just keep them for yourself to use at a later date. Buying a gift card means that the store has some extra money now, at a time when things are precarious.

Be Nice

It sounds super obvious, but just try your best to be kind as much as you can. If you think someone else is being overly cautious, or doing something that you don’t agree with, just leave it and don’t force your opinion on others. Everyone has their own way of coping with this crisis, so as long as it’s not harming you, try to accept others as much as possible. The main message of this blog post is that everyone has a different way of coping with the pandemic, and you should do your best to be mindful of that. If you do, then the chances are that more people will also be respectful of your own boundaries and you’ll find book shopping more enjoyable.

C.J. Abazis Interview: “I think of writing as a simulation inside this simulation”

Crime fiction author and software developer talks to me about his work and the influences that drive him.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards darker fiction?

You know about the simulation argument? It’s the idea that, based on an infinite amount of outcomes, we most probably all live in a computer simulation. Well, I think of writing as a simulation inside this simulation. As authors, we simulate alternate realities and characters to prepare our readers for alternate outcomes. Writing “darker fiction” – as you call it – is doing this very knowingly, as if reaching out to the master simulation and trying to mess up its algorithms. It’s the only conceivable freedom.

What is your career background and how did you become a professional writer?

I mostly manage a software development firm. Software development and novel writing share many characteristics. You pick a language, choose frameworks/styles and set down requirements of what needs to be done. In novels it’s “the feel” of the work, what it wants to say, what it leaves behind. Then you write to assemble the plot and go sub-plot by sub-plot, feature-by-feature to make the thing work. Because it has to work. And performance counts in a novel, the same with software, you can never “consume” unnecessary resources, the readers are there to be transported in different worlds, not to play with widgets or investigate your moods. No one cares about your moods except for Spotify.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

I’m a deep conformist; I wear different clothes every day, but they’re of the same brand, same colors and designs. I love doing the same things early in the morning, when I write. Driving to work at exactly the same time. Getting coffee at the same time. We are all Melvin Udalls (As Good as It Gets) in this business, we esteem ritual and sameness and are basically extremely boring people. Otherwise it wouldn’t work. You can never allow drama to spill from the page on to your life and especially vice-versa.

What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

I keep a safe five-year distance from publication to reading and I expect that your smart readers will be doing the same and ignore The Machine Murders until 2026. A book needs to grow organically, you cannot boost it like a Facebook post. So looking at the past five to ten years, I love what Liu Cixin has done with his The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. The scope is tremendous. I don’t think any other writer can expand the scope, like him. A daring guy. Beyond literature, I’ve been blown away by Nick Bostrom and his Superintelligence. Couldn’t you tell I’m a Bostrom fan?

If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Well, I’d love to work with Bostrom for the third novel of The Machine Murders. He has thought and deeply understands our challenges with artificial intelligence and where we should focus our attention in dealing with the control problem. Sometime in the future, it’s going to be a writer, a philosopher and a developer in front of an AGI (artificial general intelligence) agent, trying to save us from turning into paper clips. The politicians and the generals will be useless. We may begin simulating options on this from now.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Currently, I’m working on The Machine Murders: Desert Balloons, which will be the second book in the Manos Manu series. It feels better than the first.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

As I said, I rarely follow the publishing cycle because I think it’s going to be the long tail bringing up marvels like a gold mining pan, that will define my choices. But sometimes I get carried away. And I’m never disappointed by authors like Nassim Taleb, Yuval Harari, Ian McEwan and Kai-Fu Lee – I have pre-ordered his latest, AI 2041 and can’t wait to read it. Ambition is not in shortage in the writer species and these people always deliver on their ambition.

Anything you’d like to add?

I want to thank you Hannah for this interview. Your hands move steadily with the mining pan and the role of great blogs such as the Dorset Book Detective is more important than ever.

Huge thanks to C.J. for answering my questions and writing amazing books: without artists like you we’d have never gotten through the past few months!

Mo Hayder Obituary

It’s with a heavy heart that I share the news that novelist Clare Dunkel, who wrote under the pseudonyms Mo Hayder and Theo Clare, as died at the age of just 59, after battling Motor Neurone Disease.

Mo Hayder, as she was most commonly known, worked around the world, before her debut novel Birdman was published at the end of 1999. It was a shockingly graphic tale of the investigation into the ritualist murders of multiple women in London. The novel was revered as refreshingly intense and deeply thriller by both readers and critics alike.

In book she introduced her main protagonist, Jack Caffery, who appears in several of her novels. He’s a driven detective inspector who’s not phased by anything. He’s often called to the scene of gruesome crimes. Many of Hayder’s books involve despicable crimes and horrendous crime scenes, or difficult topics, such as paedophilia.

As well as the Jack Caffery novels, the author also wrote four standalone novels and put together the screenplay for a Dutch language version of her novel The Treatment. A versatile writer and supportive member of the writing community, Hayder contributed a great deal to the world of literature and thriller writing. Her work inspired many other dark crime fiction writers, and helped to define the modern thriller market.

Despite having left school at just 15 years old to become a waitress, then working around the world, including in Tokyo, a city which she eventually named a novel after, Hayder later returned to the world of education and earned herself two Master’s degrees; one in film making from the American University in Washington DC and the other in creative writing from Bath Spa University. She also had jobs as a waitress, security guard and international English teacher before she started writing professionally and making a name for herself in the thriller writing community.

These jobs and degrees helped her to hone her writing skills, enrich her already extensive life experiences and get the confidence she needed to start writing professionally. Her first book was beloved by readers and critics alike, and all of her subsequent works have achieved similar success.

Her work is most notable for being gripping and gruesome, without being overly gory. Hayder got the balance just right, making her work appealing to a wide variety of readers. The author created amazing characters who did crazy and often terrible things. Every book was a roller coaster of emotions, and the author crafted beautiful narratives that kept readers hooked from start to well after they were finished reading.

As well as being international bestsellers, many of her novels also won accolades, including the coveted CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award. Her contribution was noted through the winning of these awards and by many reviewers who regularly pointed out the gripping nature of her work. Her work is often seen as similar to the very best Scandinavian crime fiction, as it uses many of the same tropes and similar plot devices to grip the reader and really shock them to the core.

Although Hayder’s bibliography isn’t exceptionally extensive under any name, she has made a lasting impact on the crime fiction and thriller genres thanks to her imagination and amazing skill with words. She helped to pave the way for many other writers to incorporate dark themes into their work and highlight the gruesome side of human nature.

Drawing on her extensive and varied life experiences as well as the people she knew and loved, Hayder created rich narratives and unique plots that would haunt readers long after they put her books down. Her second husband, to whom my thoughts go out at this difficult time, was a retired policeman, and presumably she drew on his past experiences, as well as her own, when writing her novels.

Shortly before her unfortunate demise, Hayder completed a new novel, The Book Of Sand, which was written under her second pseudonym, Theo Clare. The book is set to be released posthumously next year.

Ultimately, this latest novel will be an exciting addition to Hayder’s legacy of writing gripping, tense thrillers that show the very worst that humanity has to offer. It’s such a colossal shame that the thriller industry has lost such a celebrated writer, but Hayder’s work will live on and be loved by many generations to come. She’ll always be known as a master of suspense and turning difficult topics into engaging narratives. She died too soon but her work remains and will be a lasting reminder of her commitment and unique creative mind. My thoughts are with her family and loved ones, and I can only hope that her success in her profession brings them some small comfort as they grieve for their loss. It’s always a shame to lose a talented individual so soon, but she made an impression on millions of readers, as well as those lucky enough to know her and spend time with her in person.

The Noise Review: An Engaging If Overly Long Fantasy Thriller

Having recently reviewed James Patterson and Bill Clinton’s book The President’s Daughter, I was excited to check out his latest book, The Noise.

A collaboration with J.D. Barker, the book is set in modern day America, in a remote settlement where a sudden anomaly tears through the landscape and leaves destruction in its wake. The anomaly is a loud noise, that causes physical and mental devastation to everything in its path. The book switches between perspectives, so the reader gets to see the destruction from various viewpoints.

Among these is a scientist, Dr Martha Chan, who is bought in by the US government to investigate the anomaly and what caused it. There are also two young girls, Tenant and Sophie, who lived in an off-the-grid settlement and survive the disaster, alongside their labrador Zeke. The pair settle into a storm shelter after the noise catching them out while they’re trapping rabbits. Once the event is, seemingly, over, the pair resurface, with Sophie experiencing strange symptoms, including a fever. She also keeps saying ‘Anna Shim’, a name that her sister doesn’t know. Another character whose perspective the authors show to the reader is a US solider who works with Martha to try and understand what’s going on.

The initial team bought in to deal with the anomaly and understand it thins out, as specialists visit the site of the tragedy and promptly disappear. The leader who’s handling the situation instates a 2 hour rule, where everyone has to leave the site of the anomaly after 2 hours or less.

That doesn’t stop him and others from disappearing. As the anomaly hits other towns and other people encounter it, it becomes clear that the problem is spreading and that it is gathering momentum and growing in power. The initial team bought in by the US government thins down to a few, including Dr Chan and the solider, who work together to analyse the two girls that survived the initial blast and work out what’s causing it.

With the threat growing ever more real and major, the US government realises that if it doesn’t do something soon, then other international powers will take action. The anomaly and the destruction it causes are soon covered by the media, both traditional and social. The result is mass panic, and a gripping race for the characters to understand the noise and what it means for humanity.

The Noise starts out a little slowly, with a lot of exposition that makes the book exceptionally and needlessly long. However, as the book picks up its pace towards the middle, it becomes a unique take on the modern fantasy thriller. It blends the writers’ skills in political and thriller writing with a creative dystopian world in which all of humanity is at risk from being consumed by an all-encompassing sound.

What I like the most about the novel is the characterisation. There are loads of great characters and engaging dialogue, so the reader starts to really feel invested in the story and wants these characters to survive. That’s particularly true of Dr Martha Chan, who is an engaging character who is both interesting and empathetic. Her relationship with the two girls who survived the anomaly is endearing and pushes the reader to want her to survive and find a way to deal with the issue facing humankind. She regularly mentions her young twin children, which brings us back to the real facts of the issue: that the anomaly could potentially wipe out everything she and the other experts hold dear.

The chapters that are from Dr Chan’s perspective are intriguing and engaging, as are the ones from Tenant’s point of view. However, as the book jumps around so much, it’s difficult for readers to keep up with the complicated story and feel truly engaged in it. The story jumps not just in perspective but also in space, as the book takes us to different areas near or around the anomaly or to a secure unit where the army is experimenting to find a way to stop the noise from infecting other people.

In the end, it’s clear that Patterson and Barker are trying to emulate Stephen King with this supernatural thriller, right at the time when King is trying his hand at police procedural writing. It makes for a unique insight into the literary world, but as far as reading experiences go, The Noise needs some work. For a first attempt it isn’t half bad, and with a little sharpening and less repositioning of the narrative, I think that the two authors have the potential to become a fantasy thriller powerhouse.