Why Boosting Diversity In School Reading Lists Is Essential

One of the best things Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the incredible supreme court judge who died recently, ever said, was:

“When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

That’s exactly how I feel about diversity in educational reading lists. Kids read enough books and see enough art made by white people in their daily lives. Reading lists should be filled with art from people of other races , genders and sexualities. People often call this a radical belief, but personally, I think it’s a bloody radical belief to think that kids should only read work by straight white men.

Clearly I’m not alone in thinking that reading lists in educational establishments, primarily schools, should be more diverse. A recent campaign is highlighting the issue and pushing for more exam boards and schools to focus on work from a wider range of authors.

The campaign, launched by Penguin Random House and The Runnymede Trust, aims to improve diversity in GCSE reading lists, but, frankly, we need to improve diversity in all parts of the UK’s education system.

Even at university, the reading lists are often dominated by straight white men. I did a post-colonialism course at the University of Chester, which was run by a guy who had limited knowledge of the genre and felt like a filler course designed to offer greater variety on a course list that was almost exclusively feminist work and romantic poetry. Most of the texts were by white male authors, such as E.M. Forster and Ryder Haggard.

The few that weren’t written by white authors were discussed the least, and it was only when I did my Master’s degree at the University of Exeter that I got to discover a truly diverse reading list of post-colonial work by non-white writers who had actually experienced the issues that they were discussing. My course was taught by a woman, but still a white one, and we had few non-white lecturers.

At schools, the same issue can be seen, with only one exam board offering students the chance to read a diverse range of texts. As the examples from my own university days show, one of the key issues behind the lack of diversity in education reading lists is that there isn’t enough diversity throughout the education system.

Many members of the BAME community are from poorer backgrounds, and they often find themselves struggling to earn the expensive and time consuming qualifications required to become a teacher. Even if they do succeed in becoming a teacher, they struggle to make their voices heard and achieve the leadership positions needed to influence decisions such as school reading lists for exams.

This struggle to reach the top is prevalent in practically every industry, and it’s one of the main problems with the world today. However, in education, it often means that kids of all ages and backgrounds end up reading and learning about the world from a very narrow viewpoint; that of white men.

If we want a world where there’s less police brutality, institutional racism and general ignorance of other cultures, then we need to start by educating our kids. Diversity shouldn’t just be the topic of the odd school assembly; it should run through the curriculum to penetrate kid’s minds early and give them the chance to become the open-minded people we need.

If all they’re reading is stuff like Of Mice And Men, written by a white guy and with only a passing mention of slaves, and where black men are all slaves and given that cheery ‘I’m a slave but I like it’ persona, then kids will take longer to understand the real state of the world.

There are already many campaigns out there that seek to drive the UK’s education landscape to teach more BAME history, but in my opinion, this needs to go further. Diversity needs to penetrate to the books kids read; not just when studying literature, but also their textbooks.

As someone who suffered through years of whitewashed schooling, I can tell you that it took me a bloody long time and a lot of hard work to truly understand the importance of diversity and reading stories that aren’t just about the BAME community, but that come from within it. Many school boards probably sit and pat themselves on the back for including texts like To Kill A Mockingbird, which are about black rights. However, that text and most of the others studied in our schools, colleges and universities currently, are written by white people.

While that isn’t to say that they’re not valid, these books can hardly been seen as truly representative of the lives of real black people. We need to read more books from BAME writers, of which there are many. It took me a lot of work and research to find out about them, having been raised on mainly white voices until I started studying for my Master’s in my early 20s.

As a fairly privileged person with access to education and resources that many others don’t have, I consider myself bloody lucky to have achieved a reasonably rounded education, which I had to give myself, because the institutions I attended did not provide it. Part of the reason why I was interested in reading the works of non-white authors was because I spent a lot of time among members of the BAME community and was encouraged by them.

However, it’s not their job to push white people towards a greater understanding of race and prejudice, nor is it each individual’s own responsibilities. Schools and education providers have a duty to provide a rounded, comprehensive education, and that starts with creating reading lists that aren’t dominated by ancient classics written by old white guys.

So, in the future, I personally don’t think it’s unreasonable for parents and community leaders to demand that school reading lists become dominated with works by members of marginalised communities, telling their stories in their own words.  We’ve had it the other way around for centuries; it’s time the tables were turned.

Netflix’s Rebecca And The Continued Appeal Of The Gothic

When I saw that Netflix was remaking the classic gothic thriller/ romance Rebecca, I wasn’t overly surprised.

I’ve noticed over recent years that the gothic genre has been making a comeback, and it seems to have come to a head with this reimagining of classic Daphne du Maurier novel. The novel, and the subsequent film directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock, are both the epitome of gothic fiction.

They encapsulate every aspect of the genre, including the over-the-top characters, the ominous settings, and the dramatic plot twists. In my mind, they cement the fact that the gothic is an enduring genre that keeps coming back.

It has to be said, that some of the most renowned early examples of the genre, such as The Yellow Wallpaper, The Monk: A Romance and The Castle of Otranto aren’t exceptional popular, but others have enjoyed enduring renown, both in print form and on screen. Dracula, Frankenstein and Jane Eyre all get remade or reimagined every few years, and they’ve never gone out of print.

The gothic has also crept into work that was written at around the same time, but aren’t necessarily what you might call gothic novels. One notable example is the Christmas Agatha Christie adaptation, which, for the past few years, has gotten darker and darker. They’ve also taken on many gothic traits in the way that both the BBC and ITV create their adaptations.

While some Christie fans might lament the fact that the adaptations aren’t always entirely accurate to the source material, I for one think that they’re interesting TV shows that put a new spin on old classics. These adaptations also prove that some aspects of gothic horror and literature, such as the sumptuous period settings, isolated properties and eerie characters, remain a popular troupe on screen and in writing.

Another great example of the gothic and its dark, twisted portrayal of human nature is the Dickens adaptations that the BBC has put out in recent years, also usually around Christmas or in early winter. One notable one was last year’s version of A Christmas Carol.  The dark and sinister version bought out all the worst in the classic characters and showed that gothic elements troupes remain relevant even when they weren’t overtly visible in the original text.

The new Netflix film isn’t the most stunning example of gothic cinema- in fact, I’d go so far as to say it falls flat in a number of places. However, it shows that viewers still crave, and production companies are still willing to create, films that are supposed to embody the gothic tradition, even if, as in this case, they fail miserably.

The remake has nothing on Hitchcock’s original. Despite its sumptuous backdrops and clearly extensive costume budget, it fails to thrill, surprise or shock the viewer, which is the whole bloody point of gothic cinema. The actors constantly look like they’re trying far too much to look scared that they fail to do so.

At the end of the day, in 2020, gothic horror and psychological thrillers are a welcome escape from the terrors of reality. With their beautiful décor and stylish costumes, these films and shows are a beautiful, yet terrifying, and a welcome relief after the trauma and sheer stupidity that is the current global crisis. I’d personally like to see a new film adaptation of Jane Austen’s hilarious gothic satire, Northanger Abbey, in the future. It’s a funny and witty take on the genre, and I think that modern viewers would be thrilled and get a laugh out of it, which, frankly, is what we all need right now.

Harry Kenmare, PI- At Your Service Review: A Hardboiled PI For Modern Times

As any fans of this blog will know, hardboiled detective fiction is my guilty pleasure. While the Golden Age brings the most amazing authors, and I like modern work, I can’t help but enjoy reading the exploits of rugged, hardboiled detectives of the 1920s.

I’ve often lamented the lack of old-school PIs in today’s literary world, so I was excited to read the latest short story collection from crime fiction author A.B. Patterson, who I interviewed previously.

Patterson’s latest book, Harry Kenmare, PI- At Your Service is a short story collection featuring an introduction from the author and a selection of incredible illustrations and stories.

Each story features the titular Kenmare traversing through modern day Sydney in Australia. He works, and very proudly lives in the seedy underbelly of the city, frequenting strip clubs, dodgy bars and biker gang hangouts. Along his travels, he intervenes with corrupt drugs police officers and the ensuing gunfights, searches for missing young women and gets himself into a whole load of mischief and mayhem.

Something I love about this short story collection is Patterson’s liberal use of swear words. There’s even a short story that’s actually called Wankers, which is brilliant. Patterson’s even as liberal with the C word (which I won’t use here in case it offends anyone). He’s almost as liberal with the word as my Scottish housemate, and she uses it more often than any other word.

The swearing, like Patterson’s incredible use of similes, speaks of the literary influences from the hardboiled detective genre. Many of the stories are reminiscent of something that Raymond Chandler wrote when he was creating Philip Marlowe. The similes are particularly inventive and keep the reader engaged. My particular favourite is ‘He looked as ugly as a hatful of arseholes.’ His dialogue is also incredible, and reminiscent of some of the best examples of the hardboiled crime fiction genre.

One thing that I’m uncertain about is the lack of agency in Patterson’s female characters. They all seem to be raging nymphomaniacs who are irresistibly drawn to Kenmare, a man who can’t possibly have that much money left after his boozing to pay for flash clothes. He also doesn’t seem like the type.

Every woman in the stories is ready and willing to sleep with Kenmare, not just because they want something from him, but in many cases simply because they want to. That’s an unrelenting male fantasy that’s a definite hangover from the pulp fiction novels that Patterson is emulating so successfully in every other particular.

I’d like to see, in the future, Patterson make more of an effort to move away from that out-dated trope and towards a more balanced view of female characters. However, that’s my only gripe, and it’s clear that Patterson does it in order to remain faithful to the works he’s trying to emulate. By bringing his stories into the modern era, he should adjust some of his views, but for the most part the stores are engaging and incredible representations of a modern PI.

It does have to be said, the representation of sex workers is great in terms of volume, but again, they tend to lack agency. There are a lot of them; almost every story contains at least one sex worker, but they’re not a striking example of female empowerment. Patterson’s runaways and missing women are almost entirely sex workers, because apparently women who leave their parents and families can only start stripping, performing in sex shows or sleeping with blokes for money. None of these women seem to be working in the sex industry because they enjoy it, but rather out of desperation, because they can’t find any other work after leaving home.

These aren’t stories for the faint of heart; if you’re not a fan of swearing and debauchery, then you’d be better off sticking to Golden Age crime fiction. Even some of the most renowned hardboiled writers didn’t stoop to the level of debauchery and graphic description that Patterson gives to his readers. I’m pretty sure the Karma Sutra has less graphic sexual description than this collection of short stories. So, if you’re a bit prudish, or you don’t think that swearing belongs in books, then stay away from the Harry Kenmare series. You’ll be missing out on action-packed tales of

Overall, I’m impressed by this series of incredible short stories. Patterson has bought the hardboiled private eye back to live in Harry Kenmare, and created a character that perfectly embodies the genre for the modern age.

Virtual Literary Festivals: Are They Here To Stay?

If you haven’t noticed that 2020 is a steaming shit show, then climb out from under your rock!

The pandemic, along with the disastrous political situations and social upheaval around the world, has left many individuals stressed out.

Even if you have been living under a rock, you must have noticed how much the world is changing, and how the environment around you is less disturbed by people, as we all travel less and stay home much more.

Events have been cancelled, meaning that many people don’t even get a fun celebration to look forward to during this crazy year.

To help everyone get over the disappointment, many events, conferences and festivals have moved online. Hosts use video conferencing software to bring people together to speak about the books they love.

Some literary festivals offer free talks and resources, while others put up pay walls and ask attendees to buy tickets to help fund the festival. Either way, guests can enjoy a unique literary experience from the comfort of their own homes.

While this is an enterprising way to make the most out of this shitty year, I do worry that event planners and festival hosts will make it the norm to save on costs in the future.

After all, it’s much cheaper and easier to host an entirely virtual conference or festival than it is to manage a physical event and all the various components and preparation entails.

However, I’m a big fan of physical events, especially literary festivals. I’m from Bridport, in Dorset, hence the name of the blog, The Dorset Book Detective. In Bridport, we love a good festival; we even have a hat festival! The town hosts many literary festivals, author talks and other book-themed events, so I have a personal affinity with them.

A physical event is very different to a virtual one. During this pandemic I’ve enjoyed attending virtual events, both for my professional work in the SEO industry and as part of my love for writing and reading great books, particularly crime fiction.

While these virtual events and conferences have been fun, and a great way to overcome the many challenges that the pandemic has caused, I sincerely hope that they don’t become the norm in the future. I hate the idea of permanently only having access to authors and literary festivals through the Internet. One of the best things about literary festivals is meeting new people in the flesh and talking to them. Also, you get the chance to walk around, see new things, and generally just broaden your mind and your knowledge.

When you’re attending a festival online, you can’t move; you’re literally stuck in your own home. You can’t speak to or meet new people, because conversations over video conferencing software are practically impossible. Everyone always ends up speaking over each other, so most moderators and virtual festival organisers have to make sure that Q&A sessions are carefully cultivated and managed. So, you don’t get to make new friends and speak to new people.

Also, at physical literary festivals and events, there are usually loads of different talks or workshops to see, so you can meander around and see the ones that you fancy attending. I often find myself wandering into rooms I’d have never considered and learning about new writers, books or even series.

At a virtual literary festival, you can’t wander. You can’t ponder. You could dip in and out of different virtual rooms, but you won’t get the atmosphere that you find when you attend a festival in the flesh. So, you often find that most attendees only watch the talks that they plan to, and don’t try anything new or exciting. As such, you lose out on the chance to enrich your knowledge and find new books to read.

One downside for authors and publicists at virtual literary festivals is that they can’t sell as many books and as much merchandise as they do at physical events. People wandering around literary festivals buy loads of stuff, because they treat themselves and they enjoy the feeling of paying the author directly, rather than buying through a shop or another intermediary.

I do understand the appeal of virtual festivals and events. They’re a lot easier for hosts, which means that the tickets can be cheaper or even free. There’s no travelling for anyone, so it’s easier to plan and quicker to attend. It’s also a great way for writers to overcome the pandemic and the lockdowns, but in the future, when we can get physical events up and running again, I would like to see them.

Going forward, I’d personally like to see literary festival organisers combine a physical event with the option for those who can’t travel to tap in virtually. I think that no amount of convenience can ever make up for the fun experience that you get when you attend a literary festival in the flesh. I think that by combining the two approaches, festival hosts can create incredible experiences and still allow guests to tune in from home if they want to, meaning that the experience can be shared among a wide range of participants.

Bodies From The Library 3 Review: A Perfect Way To Find Your New Favourite Golden Age Author

Events might be cancelled in 2020, but Tony Medawar has continued to collect unpublished or under appreciated short stories in his latest instalment of his anthology series, Bodies From The Library 3, based on his extensive research for his conference of the same name.

The third in this amazing anthology series is every bit as good as Bodies From The Library 1 and Bodies From The Library 2.

Medawar provides an engaging introduction, as well as a perfectly curated selection of short stories and novellas from some of the Golden Age of crime fiction’s most respected writers. Many of the works in the series are previously unpublished, or have gone out of print or were only published in obscure journals or magazines. As such, readers get a glimpse into the unknown, even if they are voracious readers of Golden Age crime fiction.

While there are some well-known names, such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, there are also lesser-known writers. I’ve found some new favourite writers and series over the years with these anthologies, including J.J. Connington and his amazing detective, Chief Constable Sir Clinton Driffield.

So, I was looking forward to checking out the offering in this year’s anthology, and I was not disappointed. Not only was there a virtually unheard of Poirot story that I’d never read before, but also an entire novella by the atmospheric John Dickson Carr.

There was also a piece by Ngaio Marsh, featuring the taciturn and dogged Inspector Alleyn, as well as work by Golden Age Writers I’d never heard of, including a captivating short story from Joseph Commings. Each story comes with a short biography of the author, so not only do you get to read a new piece of work, but also find out more about the writer and their place in crime fiction history.

Through the anthology, readers are transported around the world, and get to check out everything from play and TV show scripts through to short stories and even radio work. So, there’s something for everyone in this book, and even if you don’t enjoy one piece, you’ll certainly find something else that you love. However, if, like me, you adore Golden Age crime fiction, you’ll probably end up loving everything. The only issue is that now my list of books to buy and read has grown even bigger!

Introduced by Medawar and offering a unique insight into Golden Age crime fiction and the work of the Crime Club, Bodies From The Library 3 is an ingenious crossover between an academic text and a compilation of short stories and scripts. Each volume of the series has been enlightening and engaging, but this one is even more so, for it contains a series of stories created for a short story challenge issued by The Sunday Dispatch.

Described in the anthology as The Orange Plot Mysteries, the six short stories all had to revolve around the hint given by the paper:

“One night a man picked up an orange in the street. This saved his life.”

From this short, succinct plot direction, six renowned writers of the Golden Age set out to create a baffling and enjoyable story. The outpourings range from hard-hitting mob stories to tales of mistaken identity and private detection. Including this series of stories was a stroke of genius, for by giving the context and grouping them together Medawar piques the readers curiosity. The only thing I find strange is that this selection of stories is placed at the end of the anthology; in my opinion, it should have been included at the very beginning.

Despite this, readers will still be engaged by the third in this incredible short story anthology series. There are amazing pieces of undiscovered work from some of the Golden Age’s masters of suspense and the Queens Of Crime fiction. Each piece complements the others in the series well, and will engage and engross readers.

At the end of the day, if you’re a crime fiction reader who’s looking for inspiration for new authors, or just enjoy short stories, then you can’t go wrong. You don’t even need to read the first two books in the Bodies From The Library Series to enjoy the third, but once you’ve finished it you’ll definitely want to go back and get the first two if you haven’t devoured them already.

Trish Finnegan Interview: “Sometimes writing was an escape from reality for me”

Today I interview Trish Finnegan about her debut novel, Blue Bird, and how she came to create it.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.

I’m not sure I have ever defined it. I just write and it comes out as it is. If I look back on earlier writing I did, I can see a difference but it wasn’t deliberate. Now, my writing is “tighter”. By that I mean I try not to write anything that is not relevant to the story. Even stuff that seems irrelevant in the start will be somehow connected to the end. When I’m editing, I cut thousands of words from the work and save them in an offcuts folder. Recycle, recycle. They might be useful in another piece of work.

In first person, I like to write as I would speak, without many of the ums and ahs. That doesn’t mean that Blue Bird is a memoir, it definitely isn’t.  Samantha is not me.

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

I was a police officer in the 70s and 80s. I left when I had my family (1 girl, 2 boys. No part time working for policewomen in our force in those days). I retrained as a medical secretary. Then my daughter developed serious health problems and I needed to be home, but I also needed to earn, so I became a registered child minder. Once my youngest went to high school, I returned to the police as a civilian, working in the control room.

My husband was also a police officer, reaching the rank of superintendent.  When he completed his service in 2006, we started our own business.  Now my husband freelances part time and I write and wrangle grandchildren.

I have always enjoyed writing; I just didn’t always have time for it. I wrote my own little stories for my children. Sometimes writing was an escape from reality for me. 

I didn’t plan to get into writing professionally. Blue Bird had been buzzing about in my mind for years. When I found I had more time, I started to attend writers’ events, especially those in Winchester and York. I got to speak to agents and book doctors. As my skill developed, I worked on Blue Bird and received a lot of advice. One piece of advice was that in its early form, Blue Bird straddled genres. To make it work I had to decide if it was a crime or a romance or something else. I looked hard at it and I realised that it had become quite dark in places. I lost some characters and rewrote it again (and again), concentrating on crime.

Initially, I got a lot of rejections. You need a thick skin to be a writer. Then I found Si and Pete at Burning Chair and, as they say, the rest is history. Even if you have a decent novel, finding an agent or a publisher is the hard part, but when you do find one, life is good.

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 find inspiration everywhere and anywhere.  I might see something on the news or in the paper and I start thinking about how I would handle it, or, if it is crime related, how it would have been handled differently when I was a police officer. Policing has changed a lot over the years. This “what if” thinking often triggers an idea, which I might or might not use.

I tend not to get writers’ block. If anything, I have the opposite problem. I get so many ideas I’m sometimes undecided on which one to run with.  When that happens, I leave the piece I’m working on and do something else. When I go back, I usually find that I have settled on a solution.

When I was writing Blue Bird, I did think back to my days in policing a lot. I had become irritated by the number of protagonists that were high-ranking male officers. I thought back to my days as a young, naïve, bobby who had joined the cadets straight from an all-girl school. Learning the job while trying to find my feet in a male environment, and seeing things I never expected, or wanted, to see. It’s only as I looked back I could appreciate some of the incredible things I did.

This inspired me to make my protagonist a female recruit, with a traumatic past. In the early versions, Sam was a bit childish, so I strengthened her character until she told me what she wanted to be. Sometimes the character takes over and I love it when that happens. Sam is now damaged, but strong and is working on her issues. Also she has developed slight maverick tendencies.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Ian Rankin, because he is the boss. I love his Rebus series and I love his writing. When I read my first Rebus book, I didn’t like the character very much. I felt that if Rebus and I had worked together, we probably wouldn’t have been friends. Then I started to feel a bit sorry for the paedophile character! Now that is great writing. To take control of a reader’s feelings and turn them upside down is incredible.

I would love to see what Ian Rankin would make of my characters.  I would enjoy a novel where Siobhan, Rebus’s sidekick who is now a DI, gets to work with a young recruit like Samantha.

I have to say that as I worked through the series, Rebus grew on me. Now I can’t wait for Ian Rankin’s next book.

What books and authors do you read yourself and how do they influence your writing?

Ian Rankin, obviously. I also enjoy Noelle Holten who writes The Maggie Jamieson series. Also Graham Smith, who is a prolific writer. He also writes as John Ryder. I also enjoyed Neil Lancaster’s Tom Novak series.

Sometimes I take a break from crime and I have enjoyed reading the Chronicles of St Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor. It’s hard to explain those books. They’re about an organisation of disaster-magnet historians. They study historical events in contemporary time. Yes, time travel, but they don’t call it that. It’s a little bit sci-fi and a little bit historical and a good read.

I don’t consciously emulate other writers so I couldn’t say how they influence my writing. The nearest I can think of is that Ian Rankin has Rebus aging as the series progresses. Sam will progress in her service as my series goes on. I didn’t deliberately copy Ian Rankin, but I thought it would be daft to have Sam as a perennial recruit getting into adventures. Life isn’t like that so she has to mature.

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

I’m working on the sequel to Blue Bird which should be ready next year. I’m also writing ideas for the third and fourth books in the series.  Most exciting at the moment is our new grandchild that is due in early March 2021.

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

Noelle Holten’s latest Maggie Jamieson book is due out 16th October, the day after Blue Bird. I’m looking forward to reading that. Also, there’s another Jodi Taylor book due out in early 2021 that I want to read.

Do you have anything to add?

Enjoy your writing. Don’t make the mistake of changing your work in progress to suit individuals. At first I was like a pendulum, swinging back and forth with every bit of feedback. Then I realised that I was never going to please everyone. I decided that if I had one or two criticisms, that was fine. However, if I got a lot of feedback that a character or chapter was a problem, then it was a problem that should be addressed.

So, write what makes you happy, what fires your passion. Someone out there will like it; you just have to find them.

Thank you for this interview. I have enjoyed answering your questions.

Huge thanks to Trish for answering my questions. You can find out more about her book HERE.

New Crime Fiction Recommendations For Autumn

Autumn in 2020 means more than just less daylight and an extra hour on a Sunday when the clocks go back.

It also means that we’re heading into flu season during a fatal pandemic. Therefore, restrictions look set to become tighter and individuals who want to take care of themselves and society’s most vulnerable will be spending a lot more time at home.

As such, now more than ever we all need some new reading material to get our teeth into. Thankfully, we just had a bumper September, with hundreds of new releases, so there are plenty of awesome titles to choose from, so readers will have something to keep themselves occupied.

Reading’s an ideal pastime for autumn, as you can do it indoors and it gives you the chance to snuggle up in a blanket and sit still. You don’t need to exert yourself, and with so many new titles out, you’ve got plenty of options. Crime fiction and thrillers are the perfect genre, as you can feel exhilarated and get some intellectual stimulation. Thrillers and action novels are also the perfect escapism for anyone who’s been cooped up in the house for weeks.

There’s a new release to suit everyone, so no matter what your tastes, you can treat yourself to a new book. If you’re a fan of cosy crime fiction, then TV quiz show host Richard Osman’s new novel The Thursday Murder Club could be the ideal choice for you. Alternatively, there’s also Sophie Hannah’s latest Poirot novel The Killings At Kingfisher Hill, which is a great read for anyone who wishes that Agatha Christie were still around to create new books.

Another cosy crime novel that’s out now is How to Raise an Elephant from Alexander McCall Smith. The novel is the latest in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. The weather’s heating up in McCall’s Smith’s African setting, so you’ll be able to escape the cold and bleak weather if you read this evocative and imaginative book.

Cosy crime fiction isn’t for everyone, but there are a lot of new books out there to choose from. If you’re looking for something a little darker, then try the aptly named A Song For The Dark Times. The novel is the latest instalment in the longstanding Inspector Rebus series, and offers readers the chance to read a dark and gritty thriller this autumn. Lee and Andrew Child also have a new Jack Reacher novel coming out soon, so if you can wait then you can get your hands on The Sentinel.

Fans Scandinavian crime fiction will love Jo Nesbo’s new standalone thriller The Kingdom. It features the return of the prodigal child to a small, desolate town in Norway. He brings along his new wife to show off to his brother, who is a peaceful, quiet man. However, all is not as it seems, and the fabled returning brother isn’t as perfect as he might seem. The novel is gripping and mesmerising, so you’ll be entranced throughout the darker autumn and winter evenings.

For anyone who’s seeking a bit of escapism, then John Le Carré’s spy thriller Agent Running In The Field is out in paperback. The book is a spy novel for our times; a novel that explores the current political quagmire. An agent runner is caught in the crossfire between his Russian office and a left-wing activist who’s involved in his personal life.

There are so many other novels out there, so no matter what you’re after, you can find the perfect new read. If you want to re-read an old favourite or check out a classic novel that you’ve never had the time for, then you’ll be able to use your time wisely. Consider a treating yourself to a beautiful illustrated edition, such as those offered by the Folio Society. If you choose a stunning copy, then you’ll incentivise yourself to read more and make yourself feel special during these challenging times when the weather is colder and the world feels like an unsafe place.

All in all, if you’re looking for an exciting new read to keep yourself occupied as the nights draw in, then there’s a lot out there to choose from. So, if you ever feel bored during the coming weeks, then you’ve got no excuse not to pick up a book and hunker down with some tasty snacks and warm clothes.

John Ryder Interview: “I think that having a variety of experiences through life has given me lots of material to draw upon”

Today I talk to former joiner and farmer John Ryder about how he draws on his experience to write intriguing crime fiction stories.

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

I’ve always been a fan of crime fiction and thrillers, so it was natural that when I started writing my own stories, they would be in the genres I love the most. I couldn’t write a sci-fi or romance novel for all the money in the world as having not read them, I wouldn’t have a clue how to write them.

How does your background as a farmer and joiner influence your work?

I think that having a variety of experiences through life has given me lots of material to draw upon. Final Second happens in a rural setting so it was easy for me to put myself into the mindset of certain characters. As a joiner, I used many different power tools that were extremely dangerous, so it won’t be a big leap for me to imagine someone using them for nefarious purposes.

Often farmers and construction workers can be looked down upon because their jobs aren’t seen as technical, or requiring much intelligence, but that’s far from the case as anyone who has tried to work out how to get an exact spread of fertiliser onto a field. Joiners make intricate shapes on a regular basis and when it comes to casting concrete, they have to design and build moulds that are the exact opposite of the finished shape.

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

My only real ritual is to make sure I have coffee and at least a half hour to write without interruption. I take inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. A half-overheard conversation can spark an idea, as can a news story, or a “what if” proposition that nags at my mind.

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

I love authors who can make their words seem like honey for the eyes and yet write a gripping story that entertains and educates me. There are far too many authors I admire to list them all but books by the following authors always jump to the top of Mount To Be Read. Craig Russell, Zoe Sharp, A.A. Dhand, M.W. Craven, Stuart MacBride and many many others.

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

I’d choose Alistair MacLean as I believe he’s possibly the greatest thriller writer who ever lived. Admittedly his later books weren’t as strong as his early ones, but following stories like HMS Ulysses, Fear is the Key and Ice Station Zebra would find almost any author wanting.

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

Grant Fletcher 2, Final Second comes out on Monday 5th October, which is always a thrill and I have just completed the first draft of Grant Fletcher 3, and I feel it’s got the bones of a great story hidden beneath all the typos. I’ve also got a book out on submission, which I have high hopes for.

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

Hyde by Craig Russell is one book I’m hugely looking forward to and I read an early draft of Sins of the Father by Sharon Bairden, which is a book, and author I’m tipping for stardom.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’d just like to say thank you for hosting me, and to also thank those who’ve stuck with this interview to the bitter end. As a reward to you all, I’d suggest signing up to my newsletter on www.johnryderauthor.com as that will gain you automatic entry into every competition I run.

Thanks to John for answering my questions; it’s been great to find out more about your work.