Insta-Books: Will They Take Off Or Be A Futuristic Flop?

new york public library

I’ve already expostulated on the merits of physical books over eBooks and Kindle editions, but a recent announcement has bought a new contender into the fray.

The New York Public Library has recently announced that it is creating Instagram novels to attract young people and get them into books. Partnering with creative agency Mother in New York, the library is creating a unique solution that might just help the young to get into books.

Its first offering is an adaptation of Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and the Instagram version, unlike normal stories on the site, will be available for the foreseeable future, as opposed to 24 hours, as stories usually are.

Other social media sites already have literary themed accounts or ideas, including Twitter, where there are numerous accounts dedicated to one-line stories, quotations from famous authors or short reviews. Facebook also has numerous literature themed accounts and there are literally hundreds if not thousands of literary memes on the Internet, but this is the first time that books have been serialised in such a specific way. Obviously aimed at getting a younger generation, who are hooked on social media, into literature, this is an innovative means of going about it.

So, in the form of a gateway post between social media and real literature, it is my hope that these new Insta-books will pave the way for young people to find new favourites and learn about authors they had previously never even thought about. Rather than phasing out actual reading, as some people believe this might cause, I hope that it will simply be another way of getting readers to find out about the classics by reaching out to them on a platform they’re already familiar with, and leading them straight into the open arms of their local library.

While I don’t believe that Instagram books will ever replace the thrill and enjoyment of actual reading, and physical books in particular, it’s certainly a great idea to get young people, particularly the generation that has been bought up hooked on social media, hooked on books, and if the New York Public Library’s idea works then more power to them. In the same way that once-upon-a-time the way to get kids into books was to host readings or use special editions to entice them, now social media is the way forward, and I’m all for progress if it gets more people into literature.



Bodies From The Library Review: A Perfect Example Of An Anthology Done Right

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Fans of Golden Age fiction, or those studying this intriguing topic, need look no further for a compendium on the subject than Bodies From The Library, which offers not only a selection of heretofore unnoticed or, in some cases, unpublished, stories, but also an excellent introduction by Tony Medawar.

Anthologies are a great way to get into new authors, and with the recognisable names such as Agatha Christie and A. A. Milne tucked safely at the end, there’s much to discover for even avid crime fiction fans. Whilst it may be tempting to skip to the end and read in the wrong order just to see a familiar name, I’d advise against it- there are some real gems throughout this invigorating read, which takes its name and purpose from an annual crime fiction conference held at the British Library.

Among the real corkers is a brilliant short story by J. J. Connington, a name I’d previously never heard, but have since been enthralled by, so much so that I’ve used an Amazon voucher I was given recently for my birthday to investigate some more of his work. Big names jostle for attention against virtually unheard of names and pseudonyms, and with insight and knowledge the anthology provides a great way to get to dig out some new reads, as well as learn more about old favourites.

There’s something for everyone in this charming anthology, with really great script ‘Calling James Braithwaite’ by Nicholas Blake, and another by Ernest Bramah; a longer, cunningly plotted mystery called The Girdle of Dreams by Vincent Cornier; and a short and sweet tale of murder and misdirection, namely The Euthanasia of Hilary’s Aunt by Cyril Hare. As a post-script, each tale is accompanied by a short biography of its author, as well as the heritage of the story itself, making the book both engaging and educational.

And of course, there is the revered story from the Queen of Crime herself, Agatha Christie. Originally published in 1922 in the Australian publication Home Magazine, the story is one not often found in collections, and as such is a real treat for Christie fans. Whilst it might be tempting to skip straight to it and avoid the rest of the book, as explained earlier, I would sincerely urge you not to. There is so much in this unique collection that deserves to be read, and I promise you will not regret reading it from cover to cover.

To summarise, whilst there are some less interesting stories, the majority are utterly riveting, and as already mentioned there is something for every reader regardless of their preference. If you’re a fan of Golden Age crime fiction, you’ll love Bodies From The Library.

Soneva Bookshop Role: A Great Opportunity for A Bibliophile

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As part of my role at a publishing house whose publications include a luxury lifestyle magazine, a couple of years ago I had the privilege of staying at Soneva resorts in the Maldives as part of a press trip with a group of journalists.

Our stay was primarily at Soneva Fushi, where recently a job opportunity has been placed for a bookseller to share their love of books and experiences on this stunning island paradise. I have to say, whoever the successful applicant is, this will be an ideal role if you have the experience and the social media savvy to take full advantage of the opportunities it has to offer.

After all, this is the ultimate in Instagrammable resorts. Alongside its sister resort just across the sea, Soneva Jani, which I have never seen fully open, as it was being built at the time I visited, Soneva Fushi is a picture perfect destination ideal for sharing on a blog or social media. With the added bonus that the glorious palm trees and luscious long white beaches make it a great platform for taking exceptional photos of yourself indulging in a little light reading.

The resorts are rather isolated, being in the middle of the sea, and with little civilisation beyond Malé, the region’s capital, which is reachable by seaplane or boat. As such, it would be tough to get new reading material in a hurry, but then I suppose that would be the beauty of working for a bookseller- free books! If needs be, you could always get yourself a Kindle and load it up with your favorites and some new picks to check out on the beach.

The resorts also offer the very best in luxury hospitality, with five star accommodation throughout. After all, the Maldives is renowned for its decedent atmosphere, and many A-list celebrities have been known to frequent Soneva’s resorts, which feature over-water villas with slides directly into the sea, expansive pools and tree-top dining. There are all manner of watersports available, from a diving school to Soneva’s own yacht, which can be hired out for when you fancy showing off.

With all this and more on offer, it is understandable that anyone who has ever even opened a book will be clamoring for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and frankly I don’t blame them. It will be fascinating to hear how the successful application does and I personally will be subscribing to their blog at the earliest possible opportunity to find out more about their adventures and how they enjoy their time reading and reclining in the lap of luxury.


South by Southwest Wales Review: A Nice Try Let Down By Inconsistencies

south by southwest wales

There’s something about thriller writing that leaves authors partial to creating absurd titles for their work. I’ve noticed it a lot over the years since I started studying crime fiction and thrillers at University. It’s a great idea, as a catchy, truly different title draws the reader in. Unfortunately, this does also give the reader high expectations, which aren’t always met.

A great example of this is David Owain Hughes’ novel South By Southwest Wales, which offers the promise of a humorous thriller and gives only confusion and disinterest. I should start by saying that Hughes is a really lovely guy, and a great writer of horror stories, but in this novel he loses the reader in a big way.

What quickly becomes apparent quickly to the reader, is how inconsistent the novel is. Whilst Hughes tries hard to get across his message that Cardiff is not Chicago, and it doesn’t need a Private Eye like Valentine, we are quickly confronted in the first few pages with a jazz joint and a scene in which a man sleeps with a hooker in an alleyway next to an tramp who is injecting heroin into his arm. All of this would suggest not only that the Cardiff Hughes is portraying is remarkably similar to Chicago, but that it could really use a decant PI to have a whip round and clear it up.

Much like J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike novels, in South By Southwest Wales readers swiftly notice the difference between what the author tells us and what they are actually portraying, and in this case the difference is stark. As a result, the novel offers an unnerving, unbelievable undertone that makes it hard to take seriously.

Now, I agree, with a title like South By Southwest Wales there is room for argument that Hughes never intended the novel to be taken seriously, but that is definitely up for debate. Neither fish nor fowl, neither entirely funny nor thrilling, the novel often comes up short.

Whilst the dialogue is sharp and the one-liners, many of which are not entirely original, are ever-present, there is definitely something lacking in protagonist Samson Valentine. He’s no Sam Spade, and he’s certainly no Philip Marlowe, and frankly he’s a bit of a let down. Underneath all that bravado and tough talk is a very boring character with delusions of grandeur. In hardboiled detective fiction, which I believe this is aiming to be, the central detective is everything, and as such the novel lacks an anchor and as such floats along blindly attempting to be both satirical and enticing, and failing at both.

Overall, being neither incredibly funny nor breath-takingly thrilling, South By South Westwales is a let down on all fronts, but with some witty one-liners and a not-bad plot there is something for you to get your teeth into if you are so inclined.

Peter Boland Interview: “I like reading fast-paced novels”

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It’s rare that I get to talk to someone who does what I do, or in this case did, for I had the exciting opportunity of interviewing Peter Boland, former Copywriter and Advertising Creator turned thriller writer, who gives me the low-down on his work!

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

I like reading fast-paced novels. I guess I have the attention span of a five-year-old on Haribo, so my writing style is the same. I don’t like hanging around and want things to be happening on every page, pulling the reader along. Writing action thrillers was a natural choice. Entertaining action thrillers would be the name for it, I suppose.

Please tell me more about your background and how you came to be a full time writer.

I started off studying architecture, but was fairly useless at it, as I couldn’t make things stand up, which is a bit of a handicap in a profession that likes keeping things upright. So I decided to become an advertising copywriter (the building industry breathed a sigh of relief), coming up with ideas for TV ads and writing press ads and brochures. Advertising used to be very creative, but I think it’s lost its way. I can’t remember the last time I saw and ad and thought wow, that’s really clever. Being a bit disillusioned with it all, I changed to writing thrillers where I pretty much have free reign. And can put in the odd brutal murder, which for some reason, never caught on in advertising.

Talk me through Savage Lies. Why do you believe the book has become so popular?

That’s very kind of you to call it popular, but I’m not sure I’m there yet! Early days. Savage Lies is my first thriller and came out in June this year. However, feedback from reviews is very positive and suggests that readers like the grittiness mixed with moments of dark humour. I guess that’s my USP. Thrillers are known for being very serious and grisly, and mine are too, but I like the contrast of shocking the reader one minute and making them laugh the next. Also, my main character, John Savage is a lot more vulnerable than say, Jack Reacher. Don’t get me wrong, he’s as tough as nails but he has PTSD, and hears a voice in his head that’s always criticising and mocking him. Savage is also quite sarcastic and has that British sense of humour, especially around the bad guys.

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

There’s something about walking that always gets my creative juices flowing. If I’m ever stuck on something I take a walk and suddenly everything slots into place. Usually if I’m planning a new novel, I’ll go over the Purbeck Hills with a notebook and just walk for hours, letting ideas drift into my head. Must be something about the amazing scenery that is conducive to the creative process. Although, it all goes wrong once I stop at the Scott Arms and order my first pint of pale ale.

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

For living, I’d say Lee Child because I think he’s the master of the genre I write in; lone wolf, vigilante justice. For dead, I’d say Terry Pratchett. Firstly, because of the humour, and secondly, even though he wrote fantasy, some of his books were out and out crime thrillers. They just happen to be set on a flat world.

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

I’m currently working on the follow up to Savage Lies, which is called Savage Games. In this one a body is found hidden 50 feet up a tree in a creepy part of the New Forest called Dead Maids. Savage and Tannaz try to find out how it got there, and in doing so uncover some sinister happenings. Can’t say any more or it’ll spoil it!

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

I have such a big backlog of books I want to read that I haven’t even looked at anything new. Still playing catch up. But here’s a few books that I’ve recently read that have impressed the hell out of me: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (not really a thriller but extremely dark, brutal and also beautiful), Tideline by Penny Hancock, The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood, and Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

If everyone could buy thirty copies of Savage Lies that would be really helpful (just kidding, twenty will be fine).

Thank you Peter; it’s great to hear from a former fellow copywriter, and your book is awesome too!


Five Great Books To Read In The Heat Wave

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Apparently the hot weather is set to last until October, so I’ve created a list of five great books for you to read as you laze about and recuperate. If you’re lucky enough to have the holidays off then here’s your chance to get some quality reading in, if not then you’ll have something to read on your days off, or when you’re having trouble getting to sleep in the heat. Either way, have a look at my selection of the top pick for you to enjoy this summer!

5. Money In The Morgue: Stella Duffy’s finished version of Ngaio Marsh’s final Inspector Allyen novel is a triumph, and is ideal for any Golden Age crime fiction fans. As I mentioned in my review HERE, Marsh’s unique style seeps through, and the novel’s unique plot makes for a gripping page-turner that will keep you entertained throughout the summer and beyond.

4. Fingers In The Sparkle Jar: For those who prefer non-fiction to novels, this honest memoir is the perfect beach read. Nature expert Chris Packham shares an intimate portrait of his childhood through the story of his relationship with a hawk he trained as a young boy. His vivid descriptions of his upbringing and surroundings during this time are the perfect anecdote to the sticky summer heat.

Now You See Her Hi-Res Cover Image3. Now You See Her: For fans of a really good juicy thriller, you can’t go wrong with Heidi Parks’ novel which charts the disintegration of a friendship when a young child disappears whilst in the care of her mum’s best friend. I’ve already reviewed the novel HERE, and I was incredibly impressed by how intense and gripping it is, making this ideal for keeping you occupied as you lounge around the pool or sip sangria on the beach.

2. Mythos: Stephen Fry’s retelling of the Greek myths is a great sunny weather read, transporting readers to Greek climes of times gone by. Fry puts his expertise to good use, and the result is a great way to learn more about this fascinating culture and history.

1. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: Not the style of novel I’d usually pick, but this is a great book that is captivating from the get-go, and as relatable as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Charting a small section of the life of the titular character, Eleanor, the book explores her fixation with a singer and the understanding this gives her of her own life and situation. It’s a great read and one I would thoroughly recommend.

Bookshop Attack Hits At The Heart of Society

bookmarks attack

The attack on the weekend on Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop in Central London, proves that the far right has gained a firm hold in society. After all, bookshops are the traditional heart of the community; unlike libraries, as private stores they have the right to choose a stance and sell the books that fit the ideologies of their owners.

After activists attacked the shop and, thankfully, only scared the staff (there were no reported injuries to staff), I personally felt that the attack should galvanise those who believe in human rights and encourage those writers who want to make a positive difference, rather than putting them off.

Wearing Donald Trump memorabilia and draped in a Union Jack, the activists focused on books on Islam and anti-racist magazines, this was very clearly an attack not just one specific bookshop, but on a whole ideology- one that actively promotes inclusion. Earlier this year Gay’s the Word had its windows put in in another display of fascism.

Whilst it would be easy to be disheartened by such an attack, this physical display of violence highlights how relevant books and bookshops remain in the spreading of ideologies and ideas, and as such rather than feeling upset by the incident and put off writing for fear of reprisals, novelists and social commentators alike should focus on creating even more work. Not only will this prove that the attackers have not won, it will also create a legacy for many years to come of writing that is born out of fear, and still manages to showcase the very best of the human race.

Ultimately, whilst it is true that Trump and his cohort, alongside the UK’s Tory government, have certainly helped to stir the pot, at its heart this attack proves that, now more than ever, books and literature are a key media despite the move online for many publications. Even in 2018, books remain a key weapon for the people, and as such writers should use this to their advantage, and write their truths, no matter what the threat.

The Mystery of Three Quarters Review: Another Great Adventure for Sophie Hannah’s Poirot

the mystery of three quaters

Poirot’s latest outing is a true representation of the Queen of Crime’s work- with a convoluted plot and a range of odd characters, the novel has all the classic hallmarks of a true Poirot mystery.

Sophie Hannah’s incarnation of Agatha Christie’s pristine, pedantic Belgium sleuth is an intriguing portrayal of human drama and emotion, although the limited number of murders is almost disappointing for fans of Christie and her vast body counts.

The mystery begins with an irate woman waiting for the detective outside his home. She accuses him of writing her a letter in which he claims to know that she has murdered a man named Barnabas Pandy- a man she claims not to know. Shortly afterwards, a man arrives with a similar story.

So begins an intriguing tale of misdirection and mayhem, all set against the usual backdrop of British institutions: the private boy’s school, the stuffy lawyer’s office and the vast country pile.

With four letters sent in total, Poirot delves into the mystery and soon discovers lies, deceits and many generally strange goings on. Hannah skilfully embodies many of Christie’s renowned tropes, however the reduced body count plays on my mind throughout the novel. Despite this, it is a well-done impersonation of the Queen of Crime, and readers will be impressed by how quickly they are hooked by this engaging mystery.

Twee, quaint and at times just a little absurd, The Mystery of Three Quarters gives readers everything they look for in a traditional Christie. Poirot’s on going fixation throughout the novel with a café owners’ ‘church window cake’, (which is basically a Battenberg cake under a different name) and its supposed relevance to his case is one of the lighter moments of the novel, which, like many of Christie’s own creations, often dresses up incredibly dark moments and calculated deceptions as whimsical and merely something to be observed.

It is in her characterisation that Hannah truly excels, creating a range of characters that are in equal parts pitiable and utterly vile. The majority of her suspects have few attributes to recommend them as even remotely decent human beings, and yet Hannah manages to make them vaguely sympathetic, giving the reader something to ponder alongside the mystery itself.

When all’s said and done, readers will be hard pressed to find any reason not to believe that The Mystery of Three Quarters was actually written by Christie, thanks to Hannah’s skilful characterisation and attention to detail. That’s all anyone really wants when reading a reincarnation of a character who original author is long dead, and the book not only succeeds in this area, but triumphs thanks to its ingenious plotting and exceptional characterisation.


Rachel Amphlett Interview: “I grew up surrounded by crime fiction and thrillers”

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Creator of not one but three unique crime fiction series and a myriad of standalone novels Rachel Amphlett talks to me about how she creates the characters that her readers have come to love.

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

I grew up surrounded by crime fiction and thrillers. I think like a lot of crime writers, I started off with the Famous Five series and went from there, working my way through my parents’ and grandparents’ collections of Ed McBain, Dick Francis, Alistair MacLean – all the greats. A defining moment for me was when my granddad loaned me his copy of Jack Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed when I was 12 years old – I loved it, and so I think becoming a writer in this genre was a natural progression. It just took me a few years to get around to it

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

Before I became a full-time writer I’d played guitar in bands, helped to run a pub, been a TV/film extra, worked in desktop publishing, project administration and things like that. I started writing on my commute into work by train seven years ago. Every morning I’d plonk myself in a corner of the carriage, open my laptop and make sure I hit my daily word count target by the time the train pulled into the station at the other end. I went full-time last year when I was made redundant – I’ve had so much support from readers around the world that I didn’t need to find another job, for which I’m extremely grateful.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular, and what draws readers to them?

I think it’s the characters. That’s why I get hooked on series I like to read – I have an investment in what happens to those people and how they cope with what happens to them.

With the Detective Kay Hunter series, I have a resilient detective who has been through the wringer personally but has a loving partner (Adam, a vet) who supports her and she’s a real team player. I think that’s important, too – she’s not a lone wolf, and her team of detectives are as integral to the stories as Kay herself.

My Dan Taylor series of spy thrillers are similar in that I hope readers are invested in the main character and those around him. The Dan Taylor books are fun to write because I can take those characters anywhere around the world, drop them into a messy situation and see how they get themselves out of it.

That’s very similar in style to my new English Spy Mysteries series featuring Eva Delacourt – here you get to meet a woman who has been hiding for a number of years before suddenly being thrust into the spotlight again with no idea who to trust. You get to go on that journey with this character as she tries to fathom who has betrayed her while attempting to stop a terrorist.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I’ll read every interview I can get my hands on with Peter James, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, Lee Child, Ann Cleeves, Michael Connelly and Jeffery Deaver. That’s how I learned to understand how to write crime fiction – all their interviews are filled with great advice, and of course I love their books, too.

I read outside the genre, too. I think it’s important to listen to different voices and styles to avoid becoming stagnant. Two of my favourite authors on the fringes of crime and another genre are Jim Butcher (the Harry Dresden series) and CJ Sansom (the Shardlake series).

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

Well, I’m currently in the process of moving back to the UK after 13 years in Australia so things are a little crazy right now! However, I’m busy plotting and drafting the next Detective Kay Hunter story and I’ve got the first book in a new crime series drafted – that won’t be released until sometime next year. I’ve just got to find somewhere to live first…

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

CJ Sansom’s new one, Tombland in the Shardlake series is out in October so I’ll be snapping that up on publication day. I’m also looking forward to Peter James’ Absolute Proof, out the same month. There are so many good books to look forward to later this year!

It’s been great to hear from you Rachel- thanks for taking the time! You can find out more about Rachel HERE.