Veteran Avenue Review: A Real Old-School Thriller in a Modern Setting

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Mark Pepper’s action packed thriller invokes an almost Raymond Chandler-esq, telling the tale of a former solider whose past clashes violently with his present as he travels to America for the funeral of a fellow veteran. Years earlier, as a child, he is befriended by a stranger in the Oregon wilderness and stolen away from his parents. After a bizarre hour spent in a log cabin, he is sent back with a picture of a young girl. It is this chilling event that returns to haunt this haunted veteran as he tries to untangle an incredibly complex web of malice, deceit and violence.

Protagonist John Frears is a drifter with a tough exterior and an interesting host of friends and acquaintances. The novel’s whole cast of characters are interesting and varied, with strong dialogue that makes this a really easy book to devour. The story is punchy and fast paced. Author Mark Pepper is also an actor alongside being a writer, and this shows in the novel; the plot is driven by dialogue, eliminating the issue of info dumping, which can often ruin thrillers.

The one thing that grates on me is the names; whilst the dialogue helps enhance the American setting and gives the novel an almost wild-western feel, the strange names, such as Roth, Dodge and Hawg, are too over the top, and give this otherwise fascinating and well crafted novel a comical, almost slapstick feel which does not suit it.

With its quick witted dialogue, engaging characters and well-driven narrative, Veteran Avenue is a great thriller that readers will struggle to put down. I found myself on the verge of reading it again once I’d finished, as I was so entranced by Pepper’s portrayal of John’s adventures.

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Simon Maltman Interview: “Crime writing gives you something dramatic to hang whatever else you want to write about on to”

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Crime Fiction author Simon Maltman gives me a fascinating overview of his work and what first attracted him to the darker side of writing. I even grilled him on why he makes book trailers (you all know what I think of them)! 

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

I really never thought of writing anything else, because that’s what I really enjoy myself. It felt natural for me to try and write in that area. Crime writing gives you something dramatic to hang whatever else you want to write about on to.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

The majority of my writing in the past was mostly song writing. I started doing short stories about five years ago and then moved onto novels and novellas. I was a social care manager and am doing the writing on the side at the moment, while being a stay at home dad.

Why did you create a book trailer for your novella Bongo Fury? Do you believe that this medium is still relevant?

I try and do one for most of my books. I think that some potential readers might try you out if they get something they like from the trailer. It also means that I can combine my hobbies, with recording music for it.

How do you change your writing style when writing short stories? Do you find the reduced word limit freeing or inhibiting?

I haven’t written many short stories since writing novels and novellas. I used to find starting writing the longer form pieces as intimidating. I’d probably now find it hard to keep things minimal!

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

It’s really anything and anywhere that can bring you something. I like occasionally snatching something good in overhearing a conversation and then writing it down, knowing that I’ll use it later. One other thing that I repeatedly find inspiration in is both the beauty and history of Northern Ireland.

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

Wow- that’s a tough one! It’d probably have to be Raymond Chandler. That’s because I think he was the greatest crime writer, specifically because he had such an incredibly sharp and witty turn of phrase.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m pleased because I have two sequels coming out soon. My novella, Bongo Fury 2 is out this week and my publisher is editing the follow up to my first novel at the moment. While that’s going on, I’m currently working on a stand-alone novel.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I kind of missed Jo Nesbo when he first came out and I’m working through a lot of his stuff now and it’s just brilliant. I also really enjoyed Stuart Neville’s last book, written as ‘Haylen Beck.’ It’s a thoroughly entertaining thriller.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just thanks very much for having me! All the best.

Thanks Simon, it’s been great. Find out more about Simon’s work HERE.

Books Are My Bag Competition

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Hey! Following on from my post on National Bookshop Day (check it out HERE) I have been told about a fabulous competition being run by the organisers, Books are my Bag.

To celebrate selling 1 million Books Are My Bag tote bags, they are offering book lovers the prize bundle of a lifetime – £250 National Book Tokens, a Golden ticket to the Hay Festival, a picture signed by Quentin Blake, West End tickets… see below for more details. This is the most incredibly gift ever!

To enter, bookshop lovers just need to Tweet #OneInAMillion saying what their favourite bookshop is and why. People will have until 7th November to enter the competition, with the three lucky winners being revealed on 25th November. You can find the Bookseller Association, who run Books Are My Bag and Bookshop Day, on twitter @BAbooksellers

I’ll be tweeting, so get on it and may the best booklover win 🙂

On National Bookshop Day: Do They Still Have a Place in The Digital Age?

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Happy National Bookshop day! Today marks the day when Books Are My Bag– the campaign to celebrate bookshops- encourages people to celebrate these wonderful shops and the people behind them. Whilst larger stores such as Waterstones, Foyles and WHSmith might dominate the high streets and shopping centres, it is the independent book stores whose star continues to rise despite the pressure from online retailers and industry giants.

It is the simple pleasure of browsing a small book shop, and never knowing what you might find, that is central to the success of independent book shops. In Bridport, Dorset, my hometown, there are numerous brilliant independent book stores all offering something different; whether it be the eclectic, haphazardness that you find in Wild and Homeless Books, or the ingeniously names Book Shop’s exceptional range of new books and brilliant window displays, there is something for everyone.

The attraction of many of the seaside towns in the country comes from their affiliation with literature, such as Lyme Regis’s links to The French Lieutenant’s Woman and, for those of us addicted to Crime Fiction, Dexter’s setting of part of The Way Through the Woods in this stunning costal town. As such, the region is teeming with bookshops brimming with insightful staff, antiquated texts long out of print and shelves bursting with books to suit every taste. If you are ever in Lyme Regis, there is a stunning little bookshop right on the cob (again, imaginatively named ‘The Book Shop’), whose owner is utterly marvellous and boasts a fine collection of books which cannot be bettered.

Charity shops also offer a great selection of second hand books, with the added bonus that when you buy from them you always feel righteous as you realise that the money from the sale will go towards a good cause.

In the Midlands, my current home, independent bookshops are fewer and further between, however there are still some hidden gems to be found throughout the country, and it is a great thrill to find somewhere with a new selection to delve through. As I mentioned in my recent post Print Publishing: The Surprising Contender to Topple the Kindle, there is a real thrill to getting a physical copy of a book, and the same can be said for buying literature. It is one thing to browse online and read the blurbs, quite another to really get stuck into exploring a bookshop, seeing all the glossy covers and being inspired by the stunning cover art and inventive displays.

It is this fascination with seeing books in the flesh (as it were), and the inspiration that a good bookshop can bring, that is the reason why, in my opinion, bookshops will never truly die. Despite the rise of cheap, online book retailers, there will never be anything quite like diving into an unexplored bookshop and the thrill of finding something new.

Kazuo Ishiguro: A Truly Noble Prize Winner

FILE PHOTO: Author Kazuo Ishiguro photographed during an interview with Reuters in New York

Today’s exciting news that Kazuo Ishiguro has won the Nobel Prize for Literature is great news for both the author and the literature market. I was worried that, with the recent surge in popularity of her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood may take the title. Popularity often wins over true literary prowess, but this latest accolade for the Man Booker winner proves that Ishiguro is a real genius.

I first encountered Ishiguro when I read Never Let Me Go, the eery dystopia in which a group of children uncover their singular nature and try to change the course of their appointed fate. A true experience, I was captivated by the raw bleakness of the novel, and how the author provoked numerous discussions through even the most minor of topics. From there, my passion grew, and I became fascinated by the writer’s inventive story lines and passionate exploration of the consequences of all our actions.

Permanent secretary of the Swedish academy which awards the prize, Sara Danius describes his work as a combination of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, with a little Marcel Proust thrown in; but the truth is, that Ishiguro is in a league of his own. His works are timeless. Although many, such as The Remains of the Day, are set in specific time periods, the emotions they evoke and truths they uncover can be applied to practically anyone.

Alongside being a novelist, Ishiguro is a screenwriter and renowned short story creator, putting his powers of observation and exceptional flare for creating realistic but thought-provoking dialogue into every piece of art he crafts. In researching the writer, I even found out that he has written song lyrics, which surprises me somewhat, although I can imagine that his taut, tense descriptions and inventive characterisation can transfer to lyrics, where swift depiction is a highly prized skill.

A sharp observer of human nature, Ishiguro truly deserves this prize, and hopefully this will inspire even greater feats of literary brilliance in the future. His most recent novel, The Buried Giant, was a fantastical, invigorating exploration of human nature, which deserves to be followed by another masterpiece.

James McCrone Interview: “I’ve wanted to write professionally since I was a boy”

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Political thriller author James McCrone discusses his work and where he finds his inspiration.

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

I’m drawn to taught stories, strong characters and good writing. These are what (good) mystery-thrillers deliver. The writers I admire—Le Carre, Follett, Greene, to name a few— propel their stories relentlessly, economically. At the same time, though, they’re not afraid to pause over a question or to notice beauty. Le Carre and Greene in particular are masters of putting to work every little thing they pack into their narratives. I hope my work is as full.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

I’ve wanted to write professionally since I was a boy. I’ve written stories, and some of them have been published. I studied for an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Washington in Seattle, but most of my work was unpaid.

It wasn’t until 2015, when we moved abroad for a year in Oxford, that I finally made a good fist of it. My wife had a fellowship appointment at the university, and I didn’t have a work permit for the UK. I threw myself into writing, finishing and publishing Faithless Elector in March of 2016 and beginning Dark Network that same month. Since returning to the United States last year, I’ve continued writing full time.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but I’m most interested in stories where the official version of events seems thin, naïve, or deliberately misleading. I want to know the rest of the story, the other side. For instance, when I first learned about how the Electoral College works and that electors weren’t bound to vote as promised, I thought it was mad. It seemed ripe for mischief. The idea and the outline for Faithless Elector came quickly. The writing of it came much slower.

As to writer’s block, I’ve been fortunate. When I find myself blocked in one area, I move to another. If a scene isn’t working, I work on a different scene, or I make notes about a different story entirely.

All kinds of incidents creep into my work, sometimes unconsciously. For instance, when I was writing about Imogen’s isolation at the FBI in Dark Network, and likened it to “traveling through a country where she didn’t speak the language,” I had just returned from a pretty frustrating grocery shopping trip in Konstanz, Germany, where I didn’t speak the language. I was struck by how little interaction I had with anyone else, how isolated I felt. I had typed the sentence before I’d even thought about it.

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

I’d love to work with Oscar Wilde, though I don’t think it would be much of a collaboration, really—more just me transcribing whatever witticisms he was saying at the time. Still, it would be great fun. Moss Hart, one half of the Kauffman & Hart screwball comedy team, would also be fantastic, and I think I’d learn a lot.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m working on Consent of the Governed, which will complete this series (due out fall of ’18); and I have some sketches for a fourth Imogen Trager novel. Before starting that fourth novel, though, I want to focus on my play, Culinati, a comedy set in a busy New York restaurant kitchen. It asks the question, “what would you serve if your life depended on it?”

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I got the new Le Carre, Legacy of Spies. I’m very excited to make a start there. I also want to check out Attica Locke’s work. She’s the author of Pleasantville and Bluebird, Bluebird. My wife raves about her writing so much I’m getting kind of jealous!

Thank you James, it’s been great hearing your thoughts. You can learn more about James and his work HERE.

The On-going Relevance of Stephen King’s Books

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As the latest movie adaptation of IT continues to be a box-office favourite, his last collaboration with his son, Sleeping Beauties hits shelves and the Netflix adaptation of Gerald’s Game also hits screens, I explore the reasons behind King’s enduring success.

His first published work was a short story which was sold in 1967, and since then King has had a number of hits, with many of his novels and stories gaining popularity with readers before being made into successful TV or film adaptations which garner him international attention. The Shawshank Redemption, based on King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption from his 1982 collection Different Seasons, regularly tops lists of the best films of all time.

Despite having won copious awards, gained worldwide acclaim and amassing a fortune from his vast back catalogue, King, who is aged 70, still remains a great public figure and often publishes multiple books each year, and holds numerous promotional tours and appearances to promote them. According to his publicist, he is so incredibly busy that he doesn’t even have time to do an interview for this blog (the horror!).

Additionally, King also maintains a strong social media presence, with many followers enjoying the tales of his Corgi, Molly, AKA The Thing Of Evil, as well as reading about his latest exploits and seeing trailers for the latest adaptations of his books.

It is this ongoing presence, as well as King’s willingness to embrace the changing publishing market (a number of his books have been run as online series), and his honesty and openness about writing, such as his non-fiction works, that has helped him to remain a key, cult figure in the horror and supernatural writing market.

After all, we know all there is to know about King and his life thanks to his ongoing social media sharing and his non-fiction books, such as On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He is also known to run podcasts and share his thoughts on social media and his official site has a YouTube channel, as well as pages on some of the most popular social network sites including Facebook and Twitter.

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His works themselves are ingenious, varied and unique, and they make for great adaptations. Recently his fantasy series The Dark Tower was made into a film, and his murder mystery novel Mr Mercedes, which mirrored hardboiled detective fiction, was adapted into a TV series with Brendon Gleeson as the protagonist. By writing across genres, King has been able to reach readers with a variety of tastes, and the adaptability of these books, and their enduring popularity on screen, has helped him reach those who prefer to watch rather than to read.

The writer has also created an enduring legacy, with many members of his family now writing successfully, including his children and wife. In so-doing King has creating a writing clan comparable to the Kardashian’s in its influence, with himself firmly ensconced as the kingpin (deliberate pun).

At the end of the day, King’s works remain a strong influence throughout the horror/ thriller genres, and his enduring popularity and influence will, thanks to his extensive back catalogue, continue on for many decades to come.