Mo Hayder Obituary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Noise Review: An Engaging If Overly Long Fantasy Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Magical Books About Marine Mammals

Continuing my series of pastoral top five lists of books about nature and animals, I’ve decided to put together a list of books about marine mammals.

I’ve always been a massive fan of dolphins, whales and orcas. These majestic creatures live in the sea, which is my favourite place.

Swimming in the sea gives me a sense of freedom I’ve never experienced anywhere else. I’ve been privileged enough to swim in some of the most gorgeous natural bodies of water in the world, from the Pacific Ocean to the Daintree river.

In the sea is where I’ve always felt the most at home. I can’t imagine how amazing the lives of marine mammals that live their permanently must be.

Ever since I saw dolphins leaping alongside our boat in Australia, I’ve known first-hand that these incredible animals are deeply intelligent and communicative.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed reading books about marine mammals and finding out some of the secrets behind their lives.

If you’re keen to find out more about marine mammals, whether it’s in the wild or the horror that is their lives in captivity, then this is the list for you. It’s exclusively non-fiction books, but many of them are so compelling that you’ll feel like you’re reading a story.

5. Orca: The Whale Called Killer: Erich Holt’s incredible book was first published in 1981, significantly before Blackfish made Orcas the centre of public and media attention. This book is a classic that is beloved by scientists, animal behaviourists and nature lovers alike. It gives an in-depth insight into the history of our understanding of Killer Whales, and how we’ve grown to understand them through arduous study. The book also points out that, despite all we do know about Killer Whales, we still know woefully little about them. Researchers have split their types into two: residents and transients. There’s even a school of thought that says that they could be completely different species. However, we still have much to learn, and Holt puts forward some compelling arguments regarding these phenomenal and beautiful animals. The author also did an amazing job of showing that, far from being bloodthirsty killers, Orcas are actually complex animals with their own unique societies. So, if you want to go back to where our knowledge of Orcas really began, then you should read Orca: The Whale Called Killer.

4. The Pinnipeds: Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses: When most of us think about marine mammals, we think of Dolphins and Whales. But, there are plenty of other marine mammals, including sea otters and manatees. There’s also seals, sea lions and walruses, which are the subject of this incredible book. Author Marianne Riedman offers a unique insight into the lives and behaviours of these incredible and quirky creatures. The book is over 28 years old and was published in 1992, but it offers a great primer for anyone who’s interested in the history of our understanding of seal, sea lions and walruses. Riedman provides a great introduction to these beautiful creatures and helps readers to understand their lives and behaviour. It’s a very scientific book that is still accessible if you are interested in the classification of these animals, as well as information about their habits and communication styles.

3. Spying on Whales: The Past, Present and Future of the World’s Largest Animals: Whales often live very deep under the sea, and only rise to the surface briefly for air. As such, it’s understandable that we don’t know masses about many types of Whales and their everyday lives. Geologist and Academic Nick Pyenson explores the very latest in Whale research and what studies can show us about how these immense underwater creatures live. From research into fossils and Whale skeletons to field research on live Whales, Pyenson gives us an insight into how science is slowly unravelling the truth about these giants of the deep. His work spans many different countries and offers a valuable insight into what’s going on in the world of marine mammal research. The book originally came out in 2019, so it’s a few years old now, but it’s still pretty relevant and is a refreshing take on marine science. The author breaks down the science into language that’s easy for the layman to understand without being patronising or condescending, which is a real skill. As someone who’s read a lot of books about nature and animals, I can say that many behaviourists and scientists struggle to connect and communicate with their audiences, but Pyenson does it really well in this fascinating study of Whales.

2. Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins: Dolphins are one of the most world-renowned marine mammals, particularly bottle-nosed dolphins with their distinctive grins. Much of what we know of Dolphins comes from captive encounters, or wild watching of inquisitive pods of Dolphins who lark about near boats. In bestselling author Susan Casey’s epic book, we get a unique and intriguing glimpse into the lives of these sleek underwater animals. Casey explores how their lives and histories have become entwined with ours, and how their intellect and innovative communication abilities has helped Dolphins to flourish in almost every body of water in the world. There are even rare River Dolphins, and all of these different types have survived for thousands of years thanks to their collaborative natures and incredible cognitive abilities, which are much stronger than we give them credit for being. Dolphins might look cute with their seemingly permanent grins, but they can actually be very vicious if provoked and the species is carnivorous. If you always thought that Dolphins were just cute marine animals that smile and look pretty, then you really need to educate yourself by checking out this great book.

1. Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity: If you’re a fan of the Netflix documentary Blackfish, then this is the ideal read for you. Award-winning Journalist David Kirby tells the story of Marine Biologist Naomi Rose, and how she learned about Killer Whales in the wild, and the shocking difference between their natural lives and the time they spend in captivity in so-called humane establishments like SeaWorld. His book shows Rose’s fight against SeaWorld and how she and other campaigners worked to get these majestic animals released, even before the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, which is the main subject of the Netflix documentary. The book reads like a thriller and gives an unbelievable insight into the horrific world of animal exploitation.

Vicki FitzGerald Interview: “The world we live in is a sinister place with an extremely dark underworld that many people do not know exists”

Thriller author Vicki FitzGerald talks to me about her work, the experiences that inspire her work and her exciting future plans.

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

I’ve always preferred crime and horror books. As a child, I would plough through Point Horror novels, while my sister was reading Point Romance. After covering numerous crimes as a Journalist, I decided that I would one day write my own novel. I decided to draw from personal experience. They say write what you know. My first book, Briguella features Journalist, Kate Rivendale AKA me. Kill List explores drugging, which I’ve encountered. I wanted to explore our sinister world and show how bad things happen to good people. One action can change your life forever.

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

After graduating with a BA (Hons) degree in Journalism, I worked for a regional newspaper for a decade before launching my own public relations firm. I was drawn to crime stories covering anything from murders to assaults. Out of the blue a sex attacker attacked 13 women in 13 days in our town. I was reporting at the heart of it and it gave me a huge buzz being part of a major criminal investigation. I decided to draw from my experiences covering the case to create my debut novel, Briguella.

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

From true life. The world we live in is a sinister place with an extremely dark underworld that many people do not know exists. I wanted to explore that and ventured onto the dark web. Trust me, I was horrified at what I found in 30 minutes – a hit man an hour away who was willing to kill babies to pensioners.

I always start writing with a cup of tea. In the summer, I work outdoors. I seem to write better with the sun on my face. I also like to write with a glass of wine in the evening. If I’m ever struggling for ideas, I go out and look for places to set a scene or I delve into a binge Netflix session of true crime or thrillers.

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

I tend to stick with thrillers or non-fiction covering forensic knowledge or those that get into the minds of serial killers. I’m intrigued by killers and what happened in their life to turn them into a murderer. I admire every writer for having the guts to put their soul on paper.

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

Stephen King. He never gave up on writing despite numerous rejections. After his wife pulled the draft of Carrie out of his bin, he continued writing even though it was out of his comfort zone. It just shows you cannot stop a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively.

Also, Stephen and I have experienced similar traumas with regards to being injured and having to learn to walk again. I guess I admire his fighting spirit.

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

Kill List. I’ve signed with Hollywood agent, Ken Atchity, producer of the blockbuster, The Meg. We are finalising a film treatment for an adaption to a TV series. Either Ken may produce or sell Kill List on to Hollywood producers. Ken compares Kill List to Killing Eve, Breaking Bad, Peppermint, and Prodigal Son. I find that mind-blowing, as they all rank with my favourite shows and films.

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

I’ve recently enjoyed Lucy Clark and Alice Feeney.

Anything you’d like to add?

I just want to encourage others to chase their dreams. If you do not try, you’ll never know.

Thanks for answering my questions, it’s been great to hear from you Vicki. I’m excited for your TV adaptation!

Most Men Don’t Read Books By Women: No Shit Sherlock

Author MA Sieghart recently made the point that disturbingly few men read books written by women.

She even made a point of using the byline ‘MA’, rather than her first name, Mary Ann, because she wants men to read the piece.

For men, I’m sure that this is a shocking truth, but for any woman it should come as no surprise that men don’t read books written by women.

Despite the fact that, supposedly, our right to vote and have our own bank accounts means, for many men at least, that we don’t need feminism anymore, it’s still true that every woman you know has experienced sexism and harassment, and that we’ve been told at least once that our opinions aren’t worth a damn because we’re women.

That’s why I try not to use my real name on the blog too much- I know that many men (and some other women) feel intimidated by women with opinions.

It’s a scary fact, but as MA Sieghart highlights, the lack of female authors in most modern men’s reading lists is the reason why many men still treat women like trash. They still honk at us, demand that we stop feeling whatever we’re feeling to smile for them, sexually harass us and generally treat us as lesser than mediocre men.

As the author of this fascinating opinion piece highlights, the data shows that while women are willing to read books written by men, the same cannot be said for the reserve.

That means that many men don’t hear stories of what it’s like to be a woman written by women. Diversity is key for any well-rounded personal education and self-improvement,

It also means that men are more likely to perpetrate violence against women if they don’t view us as intelligent, thinking individuals worthy of their time and empathy. You might recently have seen the ‘If England gets beaten, then so does she’ campaign from charities discussing the potential rise in violence against women if England’s team didn’t win in the recent European Cup prior to our loss.

After that, there were many instances of threats and online hate towards both women and ethnic minorities.

Seems scary, but women face a lot of violence and injustice at the hand of men, even to this very day, and one way to reduce this is to encourage men to read more books by female authors.

For that matter, men also need to read books by authors from a wide range of backgrounds. Whether it’s individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community, differently abled individuals or writers from different races and countries, those who aren’t white, able bodied heterosexual men often struggle to get their stories heard.

Boosting diversity starts at the beginning, which is why we need to improve diversity in school reading lists. We need more books in schools by a wide range of different writers.

It also means teaching kids, particularly boys, that reading the stories and ideas of those who are different to them, particularly women and members of the BAME community, is vital. It’s also fun and can broaden your horizons. Make kids read a variety of books; don’t just give them books that feature the odd black or female character, but are written by white men, like Of Mice And Men, To Kill A Mocking Bird or Disgrace.

Instead, I think that more kids should be reading books by strong women with important stories to tell, like Maya Angelou, Roxane Gay, Margret Atwood, Alice Walker and others. Reading these important stories will help kids to see a diverse range of people actually write about themselves, rather than having to read their stories second hand from the pens of white, male authors.

Improving diversity in reading means that we also have to work hard to improve diversity in writing. I’ve already lamented on the lack of female writers in many genres, including spy fiction, which desperately needs more women writers. Some of the deplorable depictions I’ve seen of female characters in some spy books and thrillers written by men is enough to make you cringe. I’ve seen women president characters that only do as they’re told by men through to women who open their blouses to flirt. Anyone who’s ever even spent time with women should realise that these scenarios are utterly ridiculous, but somehow grown male writers don’t, and these books actually manage to make it past editors, proofreaders and major international publishers and make it into print.

That’s why publishers and the literary community as a whole needs to make a greater push towards even more diversity. We need writers from different backgrounds to be able to publish their stories and make their voices heard. If more women and members of marginalised communities can get their work published, then they’ll be able to slowly help push aside the myriad of male stories trying, and failing, to portray the struggles that women and those from other communities face.

Also, the simple fact is that people can’t read more fiction written by women if it isn’t published and made widely available. As someone who does lots of interviews with writers, one thing I’ve learned is that many women struggle to get their work published. While men do too, women writers, particularly talented ones writing about feminism and the struggles they face in their everyday lives, are often the worst hit. That needs to change if we want to make meaningful strides towards more diversity in the reading lists of everyone, but particularly those who need it the most; those with the privilege. As a white woman and member of the LGBTQIA+ community I’m constantly aware of the deficiencies in my reading, and work to read as widely as possible, but if men aren’t doing the same then nothing’s going to change. I’m not saying I’m perfect, far from it, but I always try my best to improve and broaden my mind.

At the end of the day, I think that the lack of diversity in men’s reading habits seriously limits our society, and is central to the issues that women and members of the LGBTQIA+ and BAME communities face. Men who want to be our allies can do so by reading books by those from marginalised communities. By buying and reading these books you’ll improve your own perception of the world, broaden your horizons and also help to fund unique writers. You’ll be voting with your money and showing publishers that these authors deserve more publicity and support. This blog is a place for a diverse range of writers, so if you have any suggestions, or are a BAME, female or LGBTQIA+ writer yourself and want some promotion and support, then I’m here for you.

Leye Adenle Interview: “Like most writers, I’ve been writing much, much longer than I’ve been published”

Award-winning author of both short stories and full-length novels Leye Adenle talks me through his work and how he writes in a wide variety of different genres and makes every piece of work deeply compelling.

Tell me about how the books you write. Why do you have such a passion for such a wide range of different genres?

I’ve always enjoyed reading a wide range of genres; horror, romance, thrillers, sci-fi, even literary fiction. If it’s true that you become a writer because you’re a reader, it only makes sense that I would write, or attempt to write, what I love to read. Maybe I’ll add a horror to my thriller and sci-fi one day. Romance is probably the one genre I’m least likely to write – I just don’t believe in love anymore.

You write a lot of short stories: what do you like about this style of writing and how does it compare to writing full-length novels?

The short story format is simply beautiful. To achieve in a few pages what a novel does in hundreds is just elegant. It’s like paintings; what some painters do with great detail, some masters achieve with simple strokes. I love this format above all else.

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

My background is in economics and computers. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me now, but I used to be a computer nerd. Not anymore. Discovering wine and women cured me. Like most writers, I’ve been writing much, much longer than I’ve been published. As far back as primary school. At some point, I had to justify the hours spent dreaming up stories and writing them down, so I decided to try and get published. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I hope not. I hope my writing is so fresh and so original as to be free of tropes and hackneyed terms and all that stuff readers have come to expect and recognise on sight. So original that my works become the tropes of other writers.

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

I enjoy reading all authors, especially new voices. There is always a new writer to discover: from the past, writers writing in different languages, new writers, not yet published writers. There’s just so much amazing talent out there and I want to experience and enjoy them all.

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

Lee Child. Why? His Jack Reacher and my Amaka Mbadiwe would make a perfect duo for a thriller.

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

The third book in the Amaka thriller series is currently being copy edited and I’ve already started on the fourth. I’ve also written the first book in a new series – I’m currently editing that.

What are your aims for your future career? Where do you want your writing to take you in 10 years?

I want to keep writing for as long as I live. I hope that 10 years from today, I would have been a successful full-time writer for many years.

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

I am excitedly looking forward to Oyinkan Braithwaite’s next book.

Huge thanks to Leye for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about his work at his website here.

Five Powerful Pastoral Books About Conservation

Conservation is a gripping and important topic, but it can be very inaccessible and confusing to those of us who aren’t already experts or scientists, or both.

I have a few friends who work in botany, conservation and birdwatching, and they all say the same sort of thing: most of the people in these industries struggle to make their work relatable.

Conservation really takes the brunt of this issue: after all, it’s something that everyone needs to know about. However, because most scientific papers and technical books are too difficult to understand, most ordinary people who aren’t scientists or conservation specialists simply don’t read them or even acknowledge their existence.

Thankfully, many amazing writers have written about this topic and tried to make it understandable for those of us who don’t know the Latin names of every plant on the planet.

If you’re trying to learn about conservation and understand how we can help the environment, then here are 5 books about the topic that I love. All of the books are non-fiction, because while novels are a handy way to explain complex topics, it’s also possible to make important issues like conservation and environmentalism accessible without fictionalising them.

5. American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains: Naturalist and outdoor lover Dan Flores shares his love of America’s Great Plains with readers in this fascinating book. It explores the history of these desert regions that were once home to a diverse range of species, ranging from grey wolves and bears through to majestic wild horses and antelope. Flores takes each of these animals and gives an amazing portrayal of its natural life in this wild place and how, over the years, the animals have interacted with ranchers, industrials and other aspects of human life in modern America. Through this discussion he explores the ways in which humans have destroyed native habitats and had a significant negative impact on the lives of many of these incredible animals, and what we can do to help improve diversity and conserve native species that are struggling to survive on the Great Plains.

4. Erosion: Essays of Undoing: From respected author, conservationist and activist Terry Tempest Williams, comes Erosion: Essays Of Undoing. This book of essays on a range of topics offers a unique insight into how humanity has irrevocably damaged nature and the various types of erosion that people can perpetrate. Whether it’s damaging sacred Native American lands to undermining American laws that are designed to protect endangered animals, there are a lot of ways in which people, corporations and capitalists are hurting the environment to this very day. She explores historical cases and gives a fascinating insight into how the many misdemeanours of companies and governments have devastated America’s once green and pleasant lands. Each essay is a masterpiece that deserves to be read at least once, if not several times so that you can understand Williams’ many meanings.

3. Oceana: Our Planet’s Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them: Written by Ted Dawson (yes, the actor from The Good Place) and journalist Mike D’Orso, this incredible book discusses an area of conservation that’s often overlooked: the world’s oceans. Our oceans are plundered for fish and often act as watery landfill sites for the world’s rubbish and waste. In this book, Dawson and D’Orso tackle this tough topic conversationally, and make realistic predictions and offer insightful ideas to help ordinary people understand the harm that could come to the world’s oceans if we don’t act, and soon. Many other activists, marine science experts and environmental lawyers are featured in the book and, through the use of visual aids such as charts, graphs, graphics and images, the writers make a powerful statement about what we need to do collectively and individually to help save the oceans before it’s too late.

2. Rainforest: Dispatches from Earth’s Most Vital Frontlines: Rainforests are the world’s most important lifeline, and yet they’re destroyed on a daily basis at a phenomenal and deeply worrying pace. Tony Juniper shares his first hand experiences of some of the world’s biggest forests and explains how these landscapes are changing and why it’s a bad thing, not just for rainforest enthusiasts and nature lovers, but for every inhabitant of the planet. After all, rainforests are home to more than half of the world’s species of plants, insects and animals, and they are the breathing lungs and beating heart of the natural world, but our practices, including logging and commercial farming, are killing them and rendering these wild paradises beyond repair. Juniper gives an impassioned account of what’s going on in this unforgettable book.

1 Wilding: Isabelle Tree’s incredible book about her work returning native wildlife, trees and plants to her husband’s family estate, Knepp in West Sussex. Originally run as a commercial farm, the estate wasn’t making a profit and was simply being cruel to animals and damaging the environment. Isabella and her husband were inspired by a Dutch re-wilding experiment. The book details their long struggle to get grants, approval and permission to welcome a range of native animals onto their land, and let them graze on plants that have grown in British soil for thousands of years. The author details the incredible struggle she and her family went through to get nature to return to this beautiful land and get it to live in harmony with people in this modern world. The book is very specific to the Knepp estate, but it is informative and makes for a great read.

Sophie Anderson Interview: “I generally rate the books that make me weep”

Author Sophie Anderson talks to me about her amazing debut novel The Butterfly Garden and what inspired her to create this gripping book about parental love, motherhood and loss.

Tell me about your book The Butterfly Garden. How you came to define your writing style?

The Butterfly Garden is a book about every mother’s worst nightmare- losing a child. My first child was born days before Madeleine McCann disappeared and I watched the horrendous tragedy play out with my new-born baby in my arms and my hormones going nuts and it affected me on such a visceral level. And it continued to come back to haunt me in the years that followed as I found my path as a mother. Ten years later, I started The Butterfly Garden, a story about motherhood, grief and forgiveness. I like to read emotional women’s fiction, I generally rate the books that make me weep and so this was the sort of book I wanted to write. A book about normal people and how a moments lapse in their integrity can send their normal lives so dramatically off course. But ultimately it is a book about forgiveness and whether a mother can find it in her heart to forgive the son who she blamed for her daughter’s death. In terms of my writing style, I experimented with both first person and third person narratives and ended up using both! I liked the contrast and so weaved the voices of Maggie and Erin together as their stories evolved. And the setting was crucial, I was lucky enough to spend time in both Cornwall and Costa Rica whilst I was writing the novel, two coasts, worlds apart in both geography and culture but both blessed with the humbling and inspiring ocean.

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

I have always loved books and studied English Literature at university many moons ago. Then I went on to have a career in TV Production which was great fun but just didn’t scratch that creative itch to write. And so after the birth of my fourth child I decided to take some time out of work and enrolled on a creative writing course. I gave myself the four years until my daughter started school to give writing a go and was offered a two book deal with Bookouture just in the nick of time as she started reception in September last year!

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 wrote most of The Butterfly Garden in a shed at the bottom of my garden hiding from my kids! But I also enjoy writing in cafes, I find the background buzz comforting and inspiring – not that we have been allowed anywhere near a café for a long time but I am looking forward to getting back there. Bizarrely I find that the less time I have to write the more focused and fruitful I am. I wrote my first book with four children under the age of 10 and so had little time for procrastinating. I have since written my second in a matter of months in the last year at the same time as home-schooling the kids in lockdown and whilst it was stressful at times and involved lots of late nights and early mornings it certainly focused the mind on the task in hand!! If I am struggling with something I go for a walk and talk to myself out-loud, trying to work through whatever is blocking me and hoping I don’t come across other ramblers who think me insane!
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

That is really hard!! There are so many amazing writers out there that have been a huge inspiration to me throughout my life but if I had to name one it would be Elizabeth Stroud. I think I could learn so much from her. I am totally in awe of the way that she writes. Not a word is wasted, and yet her characters are so perfectly formed and have such extraordinary depth and complexity. I think Olive Kitteridge is one of the best anti-heroines of our time and could only dream of creating someone so brilliantly flawed and yet somehow lovable.

What books do you like to read and how do they shape your own work?

I like reading well written character lead books. I try to read everything on both the awards and best-sellers lists to see how they have done it! I find it hugely inspiring to see how other authors tell their stories and conjure up their worlds and characters. So much so that I have found myself subconsciously adopting the style of whatever book I am reading at the time and need to do some serious adjusting in later edits to stop my book becoming a total mash-up! Some of my recent sources of inspiration are: Where the Crawdads Sing and the extraordinary sense of place Delia Owens carried through the novel. Hamnet, I love everything Maggie O’Farrell writes but this one was off the dial, her ability to create a character with whom we could feel so much empathy despite being separated by hundreds of years, lots of weeping to be had there! I also loved Small Pleasures, the pacing was so gentle and yet so compelling, reading that book was like snuggling up under a blanket on a rainy day. And I was totally blown away by Sorrows and Bliss and the acerbic wit of her narrator and the way she dealt so masterfully with such delicate subject matters. If I have managed to pull off any iota of these things in my novel I would be delighted!

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

I have recently finished my second book which is due to be published by Bookouture in February next year and I am pretty excited about it! It is a whole new story and set of characters but has some similar themes of family secrets to The Butterfly Garden and is set between Dorset and The Philippines!
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I have just seen that there is a new Sally Rooney book coming out in September Beautiful World, Where are You? which I am excited about, I loved Normal People and Conversations with Friends so can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. I am yet to read Lisa Taddeo’s Animal but I loved Three Women so looking forward to that too.

Huge thanks to Sophie for her amazing answers and for being so lovely- it’s been great to hear from you! You can find out more about her work on her website or check out her Amazon page to buy The Butterfly Garden.

Death In Daylesford Review: Another Inventive 1920s Crime Caper

Since the announcement that Kerry Greenwood was writing another of her excellent novels about the flapper turned sleuth Miss Fisher and her merry band of misfits, I’ve been excited to read it. It took some time for Death In Daylseford to be published in the UK, where I live, but now it’s here I’m really pleased that it is.

I’ve been a massive fan of Kerry Greenwood and her amazing Miss Phryne Fisher novels for a long time now. There are over 20 books in the series, which has been turned into a successful TV series and also a film. The series is progressive and gives great visibility to many often-overlooked communities, such as LGBTQIA+, Asian and indigenous Australian individuals.

The book begins with Miss Fisher and her faithful companion Dot embarking on a holiday. They’ve been invited to a spa that’s designed to support wounded veterans and help them to recuperate safely and properly. It seems like a great opportunity for the pair to relax and unwind, but as ever, trouble isn’t far behind.

In fact, it’s actually ahead of them: as soon as the intrepid duo arrives they’re informed of mysterious disappearances of women around the town, as well as a young child who went missing alongside his mother. These mysteries soon pale in comparison to the murderous intent of one of the villagers, who uses ingenious methods to murder an individual, seemingly at random, during a Highland Games event.

The disappearances continue, and soon Miss Fisher and Dot find themselves tangled in a potentially deadly web, with many different strands and a list of suspects a mile long. Many of the townsfolk are acting suspiciously and have secrets that they’d rather keep hidden, so the pair has a lot of sleuthing to do and not a lot of time. The killer keeps going, leaving our intrepid duo to unravel the threads of this tangled web and uncover the truth in the lead-up to another event that could spell yet more murder.

Meanwhile, in her Melbourne home, Sergeant Hugh Collins is staying over while his own home is being renovated. Just as he moves into his temporary home, his boss, DI Jack Robinson, is moved onto a new taskforce to help take down one of the city’s most renowned criminals, known as Barry The Shark. The Shark is well connected in the criminal underworld, and most of those who oppose him end up either being dismissed on fake corruption charges or, worse, dead in the river.

With Collins now under the temporary leadership of a deeply incompetent acting detective inspector, he’s given a new case that links him to Miss Fisher’s household. Tinker, her adoptive son, finds a body floating in the river while he’s out fishing with Miss Fisher’s communist wharfie friends, Bert and Cec. The body is of a young woman who went to school with Miss Fisher’s adoptive daughters, Ruth and Janie.

Both girls were fond of the murdered girl, so they’re determined to uncover the truth. When Tinker thinks that the killer could be one of the boys at his school, the group hatches a plan to ensure that the rightful killer is unmasked and that an innocent man isn’t convicted by the spineless and lazy acting Detective Inspector.

While the plot might start slowly, it evolves into multiple mysteries that both Miss Fisher and her Melbourne cohort have to unravel. The information is slow in coming, but once it does, the reader quickly becomes invested in the outcome and eager to find out more about the various characters and their murky backgrounds.

Almost every character from the series is involved in the story in some small way. Miss Fisher’s long-term lover meets with her at the beginning of the story. Bert and Cec appear at the beginning only briefly, and Mr and Mrs Butler also dip in and out of the novel. However, none of these characters are actually essential to the plot, so Greenwood quickly moves on from them, making them feel a little shoe-horned into the book. Jack Robinson and his taskforce are only mentioned at the beginning and the end of the novel, which is a shame as it sounds like it could’ve made for an interesting addition to the tale.

It might’ve been better for the author to focus on fewer characters, and not slot the rest in. This would have allowed the reader to see more of the important individuals who drove the plot forward, rather than getting a little of everyone, but as a fan of the series it is good to see them appear, however briefly. Clearly Greenwood is focusing on giving fans of the TV show what they want, but it might be at the expense of the book itself. One minor inconstancy I found is that Ember, Miss Fisher’s cat, becomes female, where previously he had been male. It’s a small thing, but it bugged me more than it probably should have done.

However, for the most part Death In Daylesford is a triumph that’s easy and fun to read, making it ideal for summer. It’s a unique cosy crime novel with a truly ingenious ending that even the Queen Of Crime herself, Agatha Christie, would’ve been impressed by. Everything ties up nicely in the end- if it were a modern book, then it would almost be too perfect, but cosy crime novels rely on this slightly unbelievable style of ending, making this a perfect example of the genre.

Ultimately, I feel the same about Death In Daylesford the same way I do about the full-length film Miss Fisher And The Crypt Of Tears. It’s a great read, but I wouldn’t let it be your initial introduction to the series. Start at the beginning, or go in with a amazing book like Dead Man’s Chest. This book is an intriguing and interesting addition to the series, but it doesn’t show Greenwood’s skills at their fullest. So, in all, if you’re looking for a nice summer read, then a cosy crime fiction book like Death In Daylesford could be the ideal choice for you, but if you’re new to the series, start somewhere else.