Nicola Cornick Interview: “Bias in historical reporting has always fascinated me”

Nicola author

As a fan of novels with strong female protagonists, I’m proud to share my interview with Nicola Cornick, whose work focuses on pioneering, innovative women in history.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. Why did you choose to write historical fiction?

Thank you very much for inviting me to your blog today. It wasn’t a conscious choice to write historical fiction. I started writing when I was a child and simply told the stories that I was interested in. As I loved history, all of these were historical! Now that I write timeslip fiction I do have to write a contemporary thread in my novels as well and although I hope I have improved at this, it doesn’t feel instinctive like it does to write a historical setting.

What is it about strong female historical figures that interests you and why do you choose them as the subject of much of your work?

As part of my studies for my Public History MA I looked at those people whose history had either not been recorded at all or was recorded from someone else’s perspective. Bias in historical reporting has always fascinated me, whether it’s the victor’s account of a battle or a monk’s perspective on a specific historical woman, for example. At the same time, I was working at Ashdown House as a researcher for the National Trust and became interested in the story of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia. So much of the writing about Elizabeth portrays her as a stereotypical beautiful princess, a damsel in distress, and she actually used this propaganda herself to gain support, so in part that’s not surprising. However, I also found that most writers dismissed her cultural and political achievements completely. This prompted me to look not only at the bias against Elizabeth but also to extend that to other women who are either missing from the historical record completely, or are a footnote to the history of a more famous man. I was sure that they also had a story to tell – and they do.

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

I studied history at university but then wasn’t sure what to do with it so I worked as a university administrator for many years before I became a full-time writer. My writing was always there is the background but I wrote and re-wrote the same manuscript about ten times before I mustered the courage to send it to a publisher, so whilst I did get my first book published, it still took twelve years to do so! It then took another ten years before I could give up my day job to focus completely on writing. 

How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I seldom consciously draw on my own past when I’m writing fiction but I do find that elements of my life experience and aspects of the people I meet slip into my writing all the time. Sometimes I don’t even make the connection until much later; evidence that the unconscious mind is working away all the time, I suppose!

Talk to me about your books. What do you think draws readers to them?

I’m thrilled that readers are drawn to my books and particularly appreciate it when they let me know they have enjoyed a book. For years I worked in an office environment where teamwork and feedback helped to motivate me. Going from that to solitary working was quite a shock.

From what readers have told me, they enjoy the fact that I write about strong women and explore their roles in a variety of historical settings. I try to make the history elements of the book as authentic as possible and people seem to appreciate learning some of the lesser-known characters and aspects of an era in an accessible way. I want the books to be page turning and entertaining, and readers seem to enjoy the humour!

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

Wow, what an interesting question! From my experience I’d say that collaborating with other authors can be quite a challenge but you can also learn a lot in the process. I’d love to work on a writing project with Sir Walter Scott. I recently discovered that he stayed in my village when he was researching a book and I imagine we could have some fascinating conversations about writing style, the popularity of historical fiction, marketing (since he was terrific at that) and how important is historical accuracy (since he wasn’t such a stickler for that!)

What do you like reading and how does it inform your work?

I love reading crime fiction and am currently reading my way through Elly Griffiths’ Dr Ruth Galloway series. As I reader I particularly enjoy writing that has a strong sense of place. I enjoy a lot of romantic fiction in all its guises. My other reading is mainly non-fiction history and travelogue, or books that combine the two.

Out of interest, how do you think future historical fiction writers will react to the pandemic? What do you think that future novels will focus on?

It’s fascinating to speculate on the different ways in which the pandemic might be viewed with hindsight. There seem to be some common themes and responses to pandemics throughout history that will no doubt emerge again; anger and despair with the fate that allows such things to happen and fury with governments who are accused of being in denial or acting too slowly or inefficiently. Pandemics have always led to rumour and misinformation and a big theme in the current one will probably be the role of social media.

What future projects can you share with us? Is there anything you’re particularly excited about?

I have a book out next summer, which tackles one of the biggest historical mysteries of all time – the murder of the Princes in the Tower. As I like to focus on lesser-known female figures in history, it’s written from the point of view of Anne Lovell, wife of Francis Lovell who was King Richard III’s closest friend. I’m pretty excited about that book; I’ve wanted to write it for a long time.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to checking out in the future?

I have a lot of new titles on my kindle that I’m looking forward to reading on my holiday later this month including the Golden Rule by Amanda Craig and Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, plus the latest in some romantic fiction series by the ever-fabulous Lucy Parker, Emily Larkin and Anna Campbell.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for inviting me and for such thoughtful questions.

Massive thanks to Nicola for doing my interview; it’s amazing to hear about your work and what you love to read!

Floods Of New Releases Will Give Readers Something To Read Later In The Year


With hundreds of books set to be published this autumn, now is an amazing time to be a book lover. Publishers are taking advantage of the opportunity that the lockdown, and its book buying boom, offer to release all the hottest new titles.

We’ve got all the time in the world, despite the lockdown being lifted- no one with any sense is going out regularly with the virus still out and about and no vaccine yet.

Many authors have got new books out, so you can find an exciting new read to tempt you and take your mind off the dire state that the world is in right now. Also, reading is a great hobby you can do at home, making it ideal for if a second wave of the virus does hit; which, let’s face it, is pretty bloody likely thanks to many male world leaders’ shameful handling of the situating.

So, in all, this windfall of new book releases has come at a perfect time. With so many new books to read, we’ll all be kept busy and have new adventures, even if we don’t actually leave home to enjoy them.

My TBR (to be read) pile is currently on the verge of falling over!- though that doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to adding to it! It doesn’t help that I’ve started to reread a load of Jane Austen, but I’ve still got plenty of time for everything else. There’s a load of new reviews to be published over the coming weeks, so make sure you follow the Dorset Book Detective.

One book I’m incredibly excited for is the new Sophie Hannah novel The Killings At Kingfisher Hill. It’s the next instalment of her reimagined Poirot series, which is a continuation of the amazing original set of mysteries by the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. I’ve enjoyed the first three novels in the series, so I’m looking forward to checking out the latest novel. If you’re a Christie fan, then I’d recommend that you check out this series; it’s a great way to get your Golden Age crime fiction fix without rereading old favourites.

I’m also loving Candice Fox’s new novel Gathering Dark, a gripping thriller that centres on a woman who was recently released from prison for a crime she claims isn’t as it seems. Her former cellmate arrives, and things quickly spiral out of control as the protagonist is compelled to help her find her missing daughter. Collaborating with the cop who locked her away and a gang lord, the two women set out on a dangerous yet gripping adventure. I only started reading this incredible novel the other day, and I’m already more than halfway through; I just couldn’t put it down!

With so many other awesome crime fiction writers, including legends Jo Nesbo, Lee Child and Ian Rankin all releasing new books shortly, they’ll be plenty to keep me busy. If you’re not a fan of mysteries or you just fancy something a bit different, there are plenty of other releases to tempt your fancy.

As well as fiction, there are also loads of new non-fiction books out, including, of all things, a book about Ant and Dec. Because that’s what we all wanted out of this shit show of a year isn’t it?! Well, if you want to improve your mind, then maybe don’t go for that one, but there are loads of informative new books out. For example, the author of H Is For Hawk has released a book of essays about the natural world and our relationship with it, which is not to be missed.

So, if you’re a reader, now’s the time to get your credit card out and treat yo self to some amazing new books. While these new books are exciting, remember too to give back to those who don’t have as much as you do. Not everyone’s as lucky as those of us who can treat ourselves to new books- so if you can, donate some money to charity too. Or consider buying a few extras for the food bank. Doing good will make you feel even better as you relax and enjoy reading your new books.

Naomi Hirahara Interview: “I’ve always been curious about the outside world”


Historical mystery writer Naomi Hirahara discusses how she researches and creates her incredible books and brings the past back to life with her work.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. Why did you start writing historical mystery novels?

Context is important to me—the history of how a person or place came to be. An academician in Japan called my books “journalistic,” an observation which I first interpreted as derogatory but now I believe to be pretty accurate. I’ve always been curious about the outside world. My Mas Arai mysteries are contemporary but have a cold case aspect to it—a historic event is woven into each of them. The mystery that I’m currently working on is a completely historical novel, set in 1944. I’ve written historical non-fiction, too, but with a novel I can use my imagination to color between the lines.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I worked as a journalist for a community daily newspaper for ten years. I didn’t know if I could be in a position to write fiction fultime, but devoted my free time working on my debut novel by taking college extension courses. I went freelance in 1997 and ever since then have been able to cobble together a solo writing career.

I’m developing a workshop on creating characters for an upcoming mystery writing conference. I’m going to use an image of cigar box as a place where we store our influences—individuals who’ve made a big impact on us, books, experiences and relationships. I believe when we write fiction, we are opening up that cigar box to access all these treasures. That’s why age can be an advantage, as long as we live our lives ever mindful and present.

As someone who writes about the American/ Japanese experience, how do you research your work? What’s the most interesting lesson that you’ve learned while researching a novel?

My years as a journalist have come in handy because I conducted a lot of interviews for stories and recording oral histories. Transcribing some of those interviews has been helpful in absorbing word choice and cadence. I’ve travelled to various historic locations, ranging from Angel Island in San Francisco to Gold Hill, where the first Japanese colonists settled in mainland U.S. from 1869-1871. Today there are so many digital resources available, from to to What can be interesting is examining the holes of histories and contemplating why there is a void.

Talk to me about your upcoming book Clark and Division. What can fans expect from your novel?

I’m currently working on rewrites and I’m so excited for readers to be introduced to my characters. It’s set in 1944 and follows two twentysomething Japanese American sisters, Rose and Aki, who were released early from an American wartime detention camp in California’s Owens Valley to a new life in Chicago. A tragedy befalls the family in Chicago and it’s up to the younger sister, Aki, to sustain her parents while finding out what happened to Rose.

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

Chester Himes, who wrote A Rage in Harlem. During World War II, he lived in the Los Angeles home of a Japanese American woman writer while she was held in a detention center and it would be fascinating to integrate our different points-of-view in one manuscript.

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

After I complete my rewrites for the Chicago book, I’m going to be working on the second installment of my Hawai’i-based series. It’s called An Eternal Lei, and will deal with endangered flowers and sustainable tourism. After that will be another historical novel, Crown City, which will be set in my hometown of Pasadena, California.

What do you think that the current social/ political climate will do to the literary market in the future? What stories and plots do you hope to see/ plan on writing about?

It’s too hard to predict how today’s reality will impact publishing. Books have always served to whisk readers away to new worlds, sometimes fantastical ones and other times stories that focus us on real problems. I plan to continue to unearth hidden stories, my specialty.

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

I just finished reading Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong and plan to host a Zoom book club for other middle-aged Asian Americans to discuss its contents. Hong is also an accomplished poet and I plan to also read her poetry collections, especially the works that explore English language as spoken by immigrants.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

The WriteNow! writing conference which I’m currently preparing for will be held on September 11-12. It’s the annual conference organized by the Desert Sleuths chapter of Sisters in Crime. Because of the pandemic, it will be both virtual and free. So sign up here:

Thanks to Naomi for answering my questions; it’s been fascinating to here from you!

Books Are Having A Moment As Film Production Stalls


As the on-going pandemic keeps film production stalled, or slow, and many film releases are delayed until cinemas can reopen properly, books are having a moment.

I, for one, am glad, and I hope that in the long run society remembers how much we enjoyed reading regularly and continue to do so.

Reading is incredibly beneficial for your mind, vocabulary and general wellbeing, but it can be tough to find the time to fit it into a busy schedule. With everyone staying home more, even as the lockdown measures are removed, we’ve all got more time for the hobbies we overlooked before.

One of the most accessible hobbies out there is reading. Practically everyone who went to school has at least some grasp of the practice, and even if you weren’t raised to enjoy it, eventually you’ll find a reading material that appeals to you.

Reading is so vital for anyone who wants to improve their imagination and cognitive prowess. Even reading what might be considered ‘low brow reading material’, such as comic books, kids novels and even cook books, can improve your mental capacity.

If you read regularly, you’ll also improve your reading and your understanding. Most of us have to read something in our careers and everyday lives, but the amount of understanding we get from the materials we read varies. The more you read, the better your understanding.

That’s not to say that I think people will give up on films and TV shows thanks to the pandemic. I bet streaming services- all 1 million of them- are all rubbing their hands together with glee right now. We’re all binge watching like crazy, because it’s easy and fun, but we’re also taking on hobbies.

Everything from knitting through to playing an instrument is in vogue right now, as everyone tries to use their time wisely and feel productive. However, reading is one of the most valuable and useful hobbies we can have, and the pandemic has made more people understand the benefits that it can have for them.

Crime fiction has been a particular favourite of book buyers over recent weeks, which is great for the genre. It also shows that we’re eager to escape, and that we’re less ashamed of reading what we want.

After all, many individuals used to regard crime fiction as trashy, as opposed to highbrow literature and non-fiction books. If you don’t believe me, then cast your mind back to the Harry Potter books, and the releases which had an ‘adult cover design’ so that grown ups didn’t have to feel ashamed for reading what was perceived to be a book for kids.

Many people feel that their reading material reflects who they are, and that’s not the case- you can enjoy reading something and still enjoy other pursuits. As long as you read widely and discerningly, then you shouldn’t feel any shame in what you choose to read. Choose books that are not immoral, such as anything racist or homophobic, and if you do accidentally find something that tests your morals then be objective about it. Take it as a learning experience and use it as an opportunity to broaden your mind.

It’s surprising how few people read every day, meaning that they don’t get to experience as many books. They view reading as some sort of weird treat, but in reality, I personally feel that taking the time to read something that you love should be a daily enjoyment. Taking just half an hour out of your day can make you feel amazing in a way that no other hobby can.

With all the good films on hold or being shoved online, where we don’t get to experience the thrill of the cinema or buy madly overpriced snacks, many people who aren’t usually avid readers are using their time to find books they enjoy, and I for one am very happy about that.

Overall, I hope that even after the pandemic is finally over and we start rebuilding the world, the new version of normality includes more time spent reading. I hope that we de-stigmatise reading whatever we want, so that people don’t feel embarrassed and can just enjoy reading what they love.

The Top Five Best DCI Banks Novels

dci banks

My first encounter with Peter Robinson’s dour Yorkshire detective was when I saw the ITV drama series starring Stephen Tompkinson.

Robinson is a prolific writer, and there are more than 20 novels in this gripping series, so when I decided to transition to the books, I had plenty to choose from. I was quickly caught up in the amazing stories and the relatable characters.

The author creates a compelling series that showcases the highs and lows of the human race. Every story features compelling characters and twisted plots, which keep readers guessing. Set in a fictional Yorkshire town, the novels show Banks as he tries to deal with the tattered remains of his personal and professional lives, while also solving complex and fiendish crimes.

The books are different from the TV series, and although there are similarities, including character and plot overlaps, there are differences too. In my mind, the DCI Alan banks from the books is much more tough and rugged than Tompkinson’s world-weary detective.

So if you’re a fan of the TV series and want to see how the two compare, or you just enjoy a good gripping police procedural, then check out my list of my top five DCI Banks novels for first timers.

5. Cold Is The Grave: After persecuting him Banks for years, Chief Constable Riddle needs Banks’ help. Nude photos of his runaway teen daughter have surfaced online, and he wants Banks to track her down. The trail takes the DCI back to London, his old stomping ground, and into the seedy underbelly of the capital city. Even after bringing the girl back to Yorkshire and returning her to her family, danger follows Banks, and his personal troubles don’t help the situation. The result is an exhilarating novel with an intriguing plot that keeps the reader guessing.

4. Piece Of My Heart: Something I love about the DCI Banks series is that Robinson is constantly switching things up. He brings in new narrative techniques and plot devices every so often, so that readers are always kept on the edge of our seats. In Piece Of My Heart, the past comes back to haunt DCI Banks when he deals with a death close to a band who have already been involved in another gruesome crime. The band was previously linked to a brutal murder in the 1960s when a woman’s dead body is found encased in a sleeping bag after the band’s outdoor concert. Banks has to trail through the old case to understand how the past led to the events of the present. As he delves deeper into the case, both the dead girl’s murder in the 1960s and the present day slaying of a music journalist, Banks is drawn into a tawdry web of deceit and debauchery.

3. Dry Bones That Dream: When a mild-mannered accountant is shot in the head in his garage while his family is tied up at home, Banks becomes entangled in a web of lies and deceit that he never expected. When a former colleague arrives from London with surprising news that sheds a new light on the case, the novel takes a thrilling turn. Robinson creates a tantalising tale that keeps the reader guessing, but still feels realistic and relatable.

2. Strange Affair: Robinson has never been afraid to show his readers the confusing muddle that is his protagonist’s personal life, but he goes one step further in Strange Affair. Banks’ estranged brother leaves him a bizarre message, which sends the detective back to London in search of him. As he trawls the streets searching for his brother and unpicking his painful past, his colleague Annie Cabot finds a dead girl with Banks’ contact details in her pocket. It quickly becomes apparent that the two cases are linked in a sinister way. With Banks in danger, the reader is kept on the edge of their seat throughout this tense novel.

1. Gallows View: If you’ve ever read one of my top five lists before, then you’ll know that I always recommend that you begin at the beginning. The DCI Banks series is no different. The first crime novel in this gripping series introduces readers to DCI Banks and the fictional Yorkshire town of Eastvale, where he retreats to escape the hustle and bustle of life as a policeman. As Detective Chief Inspector, Banks deals with everything from petty crimes through to escalating situations, giving readers an insight into his character. The unexpected climax leaves readers raring for more from Peter Robinson and his inquisitive protagonist.

Tiger Wars Review: A Compelling Read For Fans Of Tiger King

tiger king

As long-time readers will be aware, I enjoyed watching Tiger King, the Netflix documentary series about Joe Exotic, the owner of a seedy roadside zoo in Oklahoma.

Joe’s zoo, his feud with animal rights campaigner Carole Baskin and his subsequent imprisonment for trying to hire a hit man to kill her, captured the imagination of the nation at the start of the lockdown.

While the documentary series was a hit, its ten episodes were insufficient to tell the whole sordid tale. I’ve already given you a list of books to read if you want to learn more about the animal trade, but now I’m reviewing a true crime book that delves far deeper than the show ever could.

Tiger Wars: Joe Exotic VS. The Big Cat Queen runs through all of the facets of the tale of roadside zoo owner Joe that the TV show explored, but using more detail and offering additional information.

The book takes you through many of Joe’s insane exploits, including his multiple marriages, his forays into politics, his shady business dealings, his exploitation of his staff, the abuse he doled out to his animals and more. Writer Al Cimino puts together a compelling dossier that shows how manipulative and fiendish Joe is, as well as how stupid and arrogant he was before he was eventually caught trying to hire a hit man to kill his rival.

Cimino is more sympathetic towards Carole Baskin, the animal activist and sanctuary owner that Joe tried to have murdered than the TV series. In the show, she comes across as equally as insane and shady as Joe, but the book gives a more balanced view of her strange life and the fact that much of Joe’s anger and hate wasn’t based in facts.

As Tiger Wars shows, Joe lives in a world of fantasy, with many of his tall tales either unsubstantiated or completely contested by others who were actually there. The author tries to put across an impartial tone, but it is clear that he disbelieves much of what Joe says.

He is also passionate about more than just Joe and the insane world that he lives in; the writer is also concerned about the animals he had in his care. It’s clear that America has a long way to go to change the way that big cats and other wild creatures are treated and cared for, and the book puts the flaws in the system in stark relief.

This true crime book takes a close look at Joe’s trial, which wasn’t covered in the TV show. Readers get a taste of how crazy Joe is, and how disgusting his behaviour really was. It also gives a glimpse into an area that the show didn’t let us see, which is fascinating. The book’s courtroom chapters are deeply engrossing and highlight the seedy side of exotic animal ownership in America.

One criticism I have of the book is that it doesn’t go much beyond the narrative that the show used. Joe’s eccentric life included many chapters, but the book chooses to shed more light on tales that fans of the show already know about. It would have been nice for the author to explore some unchartered territory and bring readers a unique insight into Joe’s madness.

However, the book is incredibly well researched, so the reader is presented with the full picture, as opposed to the edited version that the show gave us. Also, because the author has explored all of the available sources of information, including court documents and newspaper records, the reader can see the full extent of Joe’s illegal and immoral activities. It does have to be said, that the book sometimes doesn’t give the reader the exact source of the quotes it uses, so it can be hard for the reader to understand exactly how the information was obtained.

Something that makes me laugh about the book is that it is unevenly censored. In some parts, the author refuses to quote Joe because he uses expletives, or he simply uses the word expletive to cover a rude word. Then the next chapter, the book uses the words ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ without a care in the world. Alongside some typos and minor grammatical errors, this issue makes Tiger Wars feel rushed, like the author hurried to get it out in time to capitalise on the Tiger King fad before it passed.

When all is said and done, I enjoyed reading Tiger Wars and delving deeper into the murky world of Joe Exotic. The book also gave me more insight into the serious lack of legislation in America around the ownership of exotic animals, and how this issue can cause major problems for the animals themselves. In that respect, despite its flaws, the book outperforms the TV show, which focused exclusively on Joe and turned him and his questionable zoo into a freak show. The book is informative, as well as entertaining, making it the perfect read for fans of the show and animal lovers alike.

Why Crime Fiction Is Our Pandemic Genre Of Choice


It is a truth universally acknowledged that crime fiction is an amazing genre of literature, and that it’s a great way to escape from your troubles.

What I’ve been saying for years has finally been proved true, as the lockdown has shown. New figures have shown that crime fiction sales are up from the same period in 2019.

Book sales overall are up, because everyone’s bored and stuck in their houses with none of their friends to take away their credit cards and stop them buying shit they don’t need on the internet. As the financial impact of the virus is still hurting everyone, even those lucky enough to have kept their jobs, many consumers looked for affordable luxuries that could make themselves feel better and keep them occupied, and they stumbled upon books.

So, between the availability of online stores and the boredom, many people have started buying new books to fill up their bookshelves, and their time. When you think that reading is a solitary activity, with a reduced risk of catching the virus, it’s the perfect solution for relieving pandemic boredom and the lockdown blues.

But why crime fiction? What is it that draws readers towards mystery novels and gripping thrillers?

Personally, I’ve always loved crime fiction and mystery because it gives me a chance to escape into a world that’s slightly worse than the one I’m living in currently.

I also love the fact that there are so many different types of crime fiction out there, so there’s a mystery novel for every mood. If I’m in need of something comforting, then cosy crime fiction is there for me. On the other hand, if I want something gripping and gory, then there are dark police procedurals to check out.

With so many different sub genres within the crime fiction label, it’s easy to see why so many readers are turning to it while they’re stuck indoors and in need of some reading material to keep them occupied. There’s something for everyone, and there are crime fiction and thriller novels set in almost every country and period of history, so whatever your fancy, you’ll find something that you want to read.

Crime fiction often crosses over into the comedy and romance genres, which is great for the pandemic, as readers might want a bit of a laugh as well as some thrills and excitement. This diverse genre offers it all, so readers don’t have to choose between different emotions and reactions.

Also, there’s so much crime fiction out there of all types, with new novels released all the time. Some readers might have put off buying a new book because their TBR (to be read) was huge- like mine! However, when faced with the prospect of being stuck inside, they might’ve caved and bought every book they’ve always wanted, with a view to reading more during the lockdown.

It has to be said, from what I’ve heard from fellow readers and my own personal experiences, not many of us made much of a dent in our TBR piles, never mind the new books we bought! That being said, new books always make us happy, so they’ve served one function at least.

Another reason for crime fiction’s popularity is that it is a chance to escape from the madness of reality, without having to learn another world’s rules and ideals, as you do with fantasy fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fantasy novel, but they require a lot more concentration and time investment than crime fiction books.

With crime fiction, you’re transported to a version of life that’s pretty similar to yours now, or a bygone time whose rules are easily explained. There, you encounter monsters and fiends, just like in fantasy fiction, but in this case, they’re ordinary humans. Readers can relate to the characters, while at the same time be repulsed by their behaviour. In a world that seems to have gone insane, crime fiction offers a much-needed respite from all the crazy news stories.

In all, I think that it’s a combination of escapism and diversity that’s made crime fiction such a popular choice for readers during the pandemic. In the future, I hope that readers continue to buy books from their favourite authors and support them as we all navigate the insane ‘new normal’ together.


Anna Campbell Interview: “I love to play with the tropes of historical romance”

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Anna Campbell 

Today I’m pleased to share my interview with historical author Anna Campbell, who creates delightful novels and brings the past back to life. 

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

Hi Hannah! Thanks so much for having me as your guest today. What an interesting question. I think I write intelligent historical romance that’s heavy on dialogue, usually incorporates an element of steam, and often includes a wry sense of humour. I like to think I go deeply into my characters emotions, too. I started writing the sort of historical romance I enjoyed reading – something that reflected the period and place of the setting while still telling a full-blooded love story. I’ve always loved history, right from when I was a little girl oohing and aahing at the illustrations in my books of fairy tales and watching Errol Flynn movies on black and white TV. The Adventures of Robin Hood has much to answer for!

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past experiences when writing fiction?

I always wanted to be a writer. I started my first novel in grade 3 although I didn’t actually slog through to finish a book until I was 17. In my working life, I had a variety of jobs, all of which were a great way to learn about human nature, and I travelled to many places, which have since appeared, in my stories. I sold my manuscript, No Ordinary Duchess, to Avon in New York at auction in 2006 and I’ve been a full-time writer ever since. Including Claiming the Courtesan, which is what NOD became, I’ve published 11 books with traditional publishers, but I reached a point where I found that I wanted a little more flexibility in schedules and pricing and tone. I’ve been an indie writer since 2015.

Talk to me about your books. What do you think it is that makes readers enjoy them?

I mainly write books set in the first 30 years of the 19th century, although over the last 12 months I’ve stretched my range to cover 18th century Scotland. I love to play with the tropes of historical romance like marriage of convenience or feuding families, but I use a richly imagined period background to give the stories a feeling of being grounded in real life, however larger-than-life the plots and characters might be. I love writing sparky dialogue – my women are always strong and smart. In fact, I’d say my heroes are too! I love giving exceptional people a happily ever after. There’s always quite a lot of passion in my books and I think readers enjoy watching simmering sexual attraction ripen into lasting love.

What books do you like reading yourself and how do they influence your writing?

I’ve always been a voracious reader. My mother gave me my first Mills and Boon when I was eight and I’ve read romance pretty much ever since. These days, though, my choices would probably lean more towards crime or nonfiction. Nonfiction in particular is a wonderful source of ideas for stories. I ask myself how a particular scenario might play out if it was set in the Regency (for example, with Captive of Sin, I’d been reading a lot of books about Russian/British rivalry in the mid-19th century in Central Asia and that sparked my hero’s background in the 1820s). In terms of fiction, I really like Elly Griffiths and Nicola Cornick and Mick Herron right now.

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

I’m not sure I believe in writer’s block. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block after all! I’ve certainly had days when I can’t write and there are things that have happened in my life that have stopped me writing for a while (a death in the family, for instance). But I think that’s just normal. Sometimes if the pages aren’t happening, I just need a break (reading a good book or a swim in the summer always help!). Or I need to take some time to think a bit more about the scene I’m about to do. If I’m really stuck, I have a couple of trusted writer friends who are always ready to have a natter about plot issues.

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

A writer I admire tremendously is the late, great Dorothy Dunnett who wrote two wonderful series set in the late middle ages and the renaissance. If you’ve never read her Lymond Chronicles, rush to your nearest library or bookshop and buy them. They’re unlike anything else. I’d love to be her assistant – I doubt I’d rise to being a genuine collaborator but it would be a privilege to be there to watch how her mind works.

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

I’m currently in the throes of finishing a long series of 10 books set in the Highlands of Scotland called The Lairds Most Likely (The Highlander’s Forbidden Mistress came out at the end of June). I’ve had plans to write a series set around the season in Regency London for a long time, but other projects have got in the way. Now I’m finally ready to start these new stories which are going to be sparkling and glamorous and sexy. The first books should be out first half of next year so watch this space.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to checking out in the future?

I recently read The Dutch House by Anne Patchett and very much enjoyed it. I’d read her nonfiction before (it’s great!) but now I’m looking forward to exploring her fiction. I’m also gradually making my way through a re-read of Georgette Heyer’s sparkling historical romances. Most recently, I enjoyed The Corinthian. Next stop might be The Toll-Gate, I think.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Keep on reading!

I’d like to say thanks to Anna for answering my questions- it’s been amazing.

Transference Review: A Gory Mystery Not To Be Missed


In the sequel to Untethered, John Bowie, who I had a great interview with previously, transforms the city of Manchester into a brutal extra character to add the list of strange, perverted and generally intriguing individuals.

The second novel to feature John Black, Transference [Love + Hate In Rain City], and picks up with the character living in witness protection in Bristol. After having offended gangland bosses in his hometown and helped to send many, including some big names, to prison, he’s now hiding out and keeping his head down.

He’s not long for the southern city or the quiet life, however, as Black is desperate to leave and return to his old stomping ground, Manchester. He had been driven out by Mr Big following an incident his club, where Black worked as a bouncer, and which led to arrests and unrest.

Following the news that the notorious gangster is soon to be released from jail, Black, a PI and writer, contrives a fairly implausible way to get himself a new case. He rings a bingo hall, and then asks for all of the people who’ve just ticked off the number 27 to be bought to the phone.

Then, he asks about a vague case, until he finds a suitable mark whose son, a student living away from home, recently died in mysterious circumstances. Black takes on the case, and then leaves Bristol on a trip back to his past, where he works on the death of the boy, as well as the perilous task of confronting his own demons.

The police set Black up with a job as a security guard turned admin guy at the block of flats from which the boy fell. The case has barely started, but quickly Black realises that the boy’s death was no accident or suicide, as the police are trying to claim to his distraught mother. He also started to notice connections between the case and his past, leading him on a self-destructive journey back into the heart of the murkiest parts of the city.

The writing is impressive, and at points it is incredibly poetic. Some paragraphs read like angst ridden punk rock lyrics, whilst others are beautifully atmospheric. The story turns incredibly dark and gory at times, and violence is peppered throughout, but somehow the author manages to make the gore interesting, not off-putting as it can be in the hands of lesser writers.

Characterisation is Bowie’s strong suit- the author creates a unique and intriguing cast of characters that keep you guessing. Some feel realistic, others like ethereal beings whose movements and thoughts can’t be predicted. All of them are intriguing and unique- from the former stripper turned literary agent to the gang lord ruling over Manchester and desperately trying to torment Black.

The book is mostly written in the first person, from protagonist Black’s perspective, and the character is what could be described as an unreliable narrator at times, particularly when he’s drunk. I’ve seen plenty of men give ‘the death stare’ before, and trust me, they’re not nearly as hard as they think they are. Most of the time, people get out of the way because they think you’re nuts, not tough.

Black’s narration pushes the novel forward, and it reads like a taught thriller full of twists, turns and the absurdity of real life. At times, Bowie takes things too far, and becomes too poetic; an early example is a list of barred patrons of a grimy pub, which Black reads off the wall as he searches for his own name. The list is far too detailed and lyrical to be realistic- most barred lists just have a photo, name and occasional notes telling bar staff to steer clear or call the management.

Aside from this, the novel is an engaging one. It’s the second in the Black Viking series, named after Black, the protagonist, and the Viking being that appears to him as a vision when his physical strength is waning and the going gets really tough. The Viking image is a bold and striking one, and the author uses it well to show Black’s mental instability and dogged determination.

All in all, I enjoyed Transference, and I’d be interested to read the next novel in the series. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to like about this gritty and grim thriller, and it keeps you enthralled until its bone-chilling ending. There’s clearly more to come, and I’d be interested to see what’s next for Black.