C.J. Abazis Interview: “I think of writing as a simulation inside this simulation”

Crime fiction author and software developer talks to me about his work and the influences that drive him.

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

You know about the simulation argument? It’s the idea that, based on an infinite amount of outcomes, we most probably all live in a computer simulation. Well, I think of writing as a simulation inside this simulation. As authors, we simulate alternate realities and characters to prepare our readers for alternate outcomes. Writing “darker fiction” – as you call it – is doing this very knowingly, as if reaching out to the master simulation and trying to mess up its algorithms. It’s the only conceivable freedom.

What is your career background and how did you become a professional writer?

I mostly manage a software development firm. Software development and novel writing share many characteristics. You pick a language, choose frameworks/styles and set down requirements of what needs to be done. In novels it’s “the feel” of the work, what it wants to say, what it leaves behind. Then you write to assemble the plot and go sub-plot by sub-plot, feature-by-feature to make the thing work. Because it has to work. And performance counts in a novel, the same with software, you can never “consume” unnecessary resources, the readers are there to be transported in different worlds, not to play with widgets or investigate your moods. No one cares about your moods except for Spotify.

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

I’m a deep conformist; I wear different clothes every day, but they’re of the same brand, same colors and designs. I love doing the same things early in the morning, when I write. Driving to work at exactly the same time. Getting coffee at the same time. We are all Melvin Udalls (As Good as It Gets) in this business, we esteem ritual and sameness and are basically extremely boring people. Otherwise it wouldn’t work. You can never allow drama to spill from the page on to your life and especially vice-versa.

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

I keep a safe five-year distance from publication to reading and I expect that your smart readers will be doing the same and ignore The Machine Murders until 2026. A book needs to grow organically, you cannot boost it like a Facebook post. So looking at the past five to ten years, I love what Liu Cixin has done with his The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. The scope is tremendous. I don’t think any other writer can expand the scope, like him. A daring guy. Beyond literature, I’ve been blown away by Nick Bostrom and his Superintelligence. Couldn’t you tell I’m a Bostrom fan?

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

Well, I’d love to work with Bostrom for the third novel of The Machine Murders. He has thought and deeply understands our challenges with artificial intelligence and where we should focus our attention in dealing with the control problem. Sometime in the future, it’s going to be a writer, a philosopher and a developer in front of an AGI (artificial general intelligence) agent, trying to save us from turning into paper clips. The politicians and the generals will be useless. We may begin simulating options on this from now.

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

Currently, I’m working on The Machine Murders: Desert Balloons, which will be the second book in the Manos Manu series. It feels better than the first.

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

As I said, I rarely follow the publishing cycle because I think it’s going to be the long tail bringing up marvels like a gold mining pan, that will define my choices. But sometimes I get carried away. And I’m never disappointed by authors like Nassim Taleb, Yuval Harari, Ian McEwan and Kai-Fu Lee – I have pre-ordered his latest, AI 2041 and can’t wait to read it. Ambition is not in shortage in the writer species and these people always deliver on their ambition.

Anything you’d like to add?

I want to thank you Hannah for this interview. Your hands move steadily with the mining pan and the role of great blogs such as the Dorset Book Detective is more important than ever.

Huge thanks to C.J. for answering my questions and writing amazing books: without artists like you we’d have never gotten through the past few months!

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!

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.

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.

Steven Powell Interview: “I would encourage all readers to return to their local bookshops”

I’ve been privalleged to speak to Steven Powell, an acedemic and author of several studies on crime fiction, including 100 American Crime Writers and several books about James Ellroy. He discusses his passion for all things crime fiction and how he came to study the topic for a living.

Talk to me about your scholarly work. What drew you towards studying crime fiction?

I have always loved the written word, and I was studying a Victorian Literature MA at Liverpool University when I realised, as fascinating as that period is, it was not something I wanted to pursue in further research. The course was heavily slanted towards poetry and the realist novel and ignored say, Penny Dreadfuls, and other elements of Victorianism which we now recognise as the harbingers of detective fiction.

With the encouragement of my future wife Diana, I decided to do a PhD on the author I have always been the most fascinated, even obsessed with – James Ellroy

What drew you towards James Ellroy? Why are you so passionate about his work?

I remember spotting a copy of Ellroy’s American Tabloid in a bookshop in my early teens and just getting hooked immediately. His portrayal of history is so urgent, visceral and immediate. When you read him, it feels like you’re there: whether he is portraying 1950s Los Angeles or the Mob hatching deals to build casinos in the Caribbean in the 1960s. He has experimented with various prose styles and persona and found a formula which, as he might put it, ‘will leave you reamed, steamed and dry-cleaned, tied, dyed, swept-to-the-side, screwed, blued, tattooed. These are books for the whole fuckin family if the name of your family is the Manson family’

What’s your approach to researching your books?

Over the past twenty years or so, there has been an expansion of scholarly interest in crime fiction, when previously genre works could be dismissed as not worthy of critical attention. It’s exciting, but it also leaves significant room for development in how we can conduct research into the genre. I read a heck of a lot: novels, critical material, contemporaneous material. Personally, I love interviewing authors, editors, agents, anyone involved in the publishing biz. For Ellroy, I have visited his archive at the University of South Carolina and know him well personally. He has been very generous and cooperative with my research. I’ve written and/or edited three books on James Ellroy so far.

When you wrote 100 American Crime Writers, who were your favourite authors in the collection?

One of the most difficult challenges of editing that book was to narrow the list of writers down to one hundred names and still do justice to the long history of the genre and experiments in sub-genre. Of the ‘newer’ writers I’m a big fan of Megan Abbott and James Sallis. My personal favourites would be the great Charles Williams and David Goodis.

Did you learn anything interesting that you’d like to share while researching that book?

Crime writers have suffered for their art and many of them paid a heavy price to pursue the craft they love. It’s no secret that getting published is difficult today and even harder to make a full-time living out of, but it was no easier back in the days of Black Mask magazine and Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks. I really grew to appreciate the sacrifices writers make, and the sacrifices made by the people who love them. I loved putting that book together and still receive great feedback about it. Recently, a companion volume titled 100 British Crime Writers, was published, edited by Esme Miskimmin. I contributed a few chapters to that edition.

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

I do, but I’m currently sworn to secrecy about it. I would expect my next book to be published in late 2022, and when it is, you will be the first to know Hannah!

What’s your personal opinion on the future of the crime fiction market?

Whichever way you look at it, the future is bright. Crime fiction is so naturally popular, whether it be dark Scandi tales or vintage British Golden Age Detective Fiction, and it lends itself so well to film, television, theatre and music. COVID has presented its challenges but lockdown has, I feel, proved the wellbeing benefits that come from reading, and someone out there must be writing a great (lockdown) room mystery. I would encourage all readers to return to their local bookshops, be it Waterstones or independent businesses. They deserve our support, especially as we ease our way out of lockdown.

Anything you’d like to add?

Only to thank you Hannah for inviting me on and for everything you do for the written word. Worship the book and spread the word!

Huge thanks to you Steven it’s been great to learn more about you and your work. If any of my fabulous readers are interested in finding out more about his work, you can check out his website HERE.

Rick R. Reed Interview: “My writing style varies from project to project”

With more than 50 titles to his name and a string of high-profile awards, it’s safe to say that Rick R. Reed has made a smash in the literary world. He talks to me about his career so far and his next exciting project.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. How did you come to write so many different novels?

I have always been a storyteller and have always been fascinated by and comforted by the written word. I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid and have been doing so professionally since 1991, when Obsessed, my first novel came out from Dell.

My writing style varies from project to project, but I prize simplicity in prose and showing and not telling. I believe fiercely in my characters and making them sympathetic and/or fascinating to read about. I’ve often been told even my evil characters are compelling. My style comes from wanting to NOT draw attention to myself, but creating what constitutes a movie in the reader’s mind. After all, every book (every piece of art, really) is a conspiracy between the creator and recipient.

I’ve written so many books (40+ at last count) because I have yet to run out of stories I want to tell and characters whose lives I want to delve into.

What is your background in writing and how did you become a professional writer?

I have a degree in English with Creative Writing emphasis. As I said above, though, I have always been passionate about telling stories and have been writing since I was a child. This use of my imagination, along with voracious reading, has provided my writing “education” as much as my formal, university-set training. I became a professional in 1991 when I got my first agent and was picked up by Dell, a major publishing house.

What features do you believe are vital to creating good books and how do you incorporate these into your work?

Creating characters who are real in the reader’s mind. Showing and not telling, ie expressing feelings, thoughts, hopes, dreams and more through action and dialogue, rather than simply informing the reader. A good story that has a beginning, middle, and end.

A satisfying conclusion. That doesn’t have to mean a happy ending, but it does mean that when the reader closes one of my books, he/she/they come away feeling their expectations have been met and they’re glad they came along on the journey with me. Between the lines, something that resonates as universal with readers regarding the human condition.

Please tell me about the books you read. How do they influence your work?

My favorite writers are Flannery O’Connor, Patricia Highsmith, and Ruth Rendell. These three women capture a kind of dark, quirky mindset that resonates with me and inspires me to write about obsessed people on the fringe.

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

Inspiration comes from all over—dreams, news items, snatches of overheard conversation, other books and movies. I write most every day and always in the morning, when I’m at my best. I usually aim for 1,000 words per day.

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

I guess it would have to be the great Patricia Highsmith, mentioned above. I’d love to do a crime-based novel with her.

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

My next book releases on May 3 from NineStar Press. It’s called Wounded Air. This is what it’s about:

Rick and Ernie found the perfect apartment on Chicago’s West Side. Before they’re settled, Rick begins having all-too-real disturbing “dreams.” Each time, an emaciated young man with sad brown eyes appears, terrifying and obsessing him.

From their next-door neighbor, Paula, Rick learns about Karl and Tommy, who lived there before them. Tommy’s mysterious disappearance pains her. When she shares a photo of her with Tommy and Karl, Rick is shocked and troubled. Tommy is the man who appears to him in his dreams.

The ghostly visitations compel Rick to uncover the truth about Tommy’s disappearance. It’s a quest that will lead him to Karl, Tommy’s lover, who may know more about Tommy’s disappearance than he’s telling, and a confrontation with a restless spirit who wants only to—finally—rest in peace.

Huge thanks to Rick for answering my questions. You can find out more about him and his work here.

Gary F. Bengier Interview: “My time in Silicon Valley informed the kind of hard science novel that I wished to write”

Gary F. Bengier talks to me about his latest novel and how he came to define his writing style.

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

I think that a writer must count his ‘reader attention coins’ carefully, rewarding the reader enough to keep turning pages, while expending the coins in measured amounts to pursue objectives beyond entertainment. My overarching objective with Unfettered Journey is to pass on a particular view, a philosophy of life that might offer a path to purposeful existence to some. But few readers want straight-up philosophy, so only there did I spend reader attention coins. To balance that need, I eschewed other contemporary literary flourishes and techniques (non-chronological storytelling; unreliable narrators; flights of literary prose about scenery, etc.) that might slow the story pace, and otherwise tried to tell a story filled with rich characters you might love, with a tight, action-packed plot.

The themes of Unfettered Journey are universal, dealing with the human condition. The futuristic setting avoids many details about our existence that might age the story. This future is a hard-science view, with details that I hope will stand up to the reality, though none of us can know the nonlinear future.

Please tell me about your career background and how you draw on it in your writing.

Prior to taking up writing, I had a successful career in Silicon Valley. When I retired from that, I had the freedom to pursue passion projects; further education (astrophysics, mathematics, and philosophy) and writing were two. My time in Silicon Valley informed the kind of hard science novel that I wished to write. I had the chance to participate in a broad spectrum of exciting technologies—computer peripherals (hard drives, printers, computer screens), chip design software, bioscience, scientific equipment design, streaming video over the Internet, and the Internet as a marketplace. These gave a respect for the hard work to build technology. It makes me somewhat jaded by grandiose promises by many futurists. But it does not cause me to give up trying to realistically guess our future worlds.

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

Let me focus my answer of just this book, Unfettered Journey. The philosophical ideas behind the novel had been percolating in my head for thirty years, and the novel story and characters for over a decade. That is the inspiration’s long gestation.

The hard work of writing the novel took only three years. That process was a blend of free association thinking and planning. I like to plan, so I outlined the novel—only a skeleton at first, then with more detail as the story became clearer to me. Then I roughed out the scenes. Along the way, my characters began to wake me up at night, to whisper in my ear (“No, I won’t do that…”). That’s when the writing truly became a lot of fun. The interaction of characters and story, in a roughly planned structure, then allowed me to dive deep into my experiences, dredging up gems of ideas that fit the scenes perfectly. That experience is one joy of writing fiction. I think the extended creative process left me blissfully free of any writer’s block.

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

I read across a broad set of topics, virtually everything, from nonfiction science, physics, philosophy, history, economics, and politics; to fiction both classic and contemporary. My favourite fiction writer is William Faulkner, because of the universal themes that he explored through his books set in the fictitious Yoknapatawpha County. In the process of writing Unfettered Journey, I read many writing craft books, attempting to improve my style, and often read craft suggestions followed by writing some scenes, then repeating the process to burnish the language. Now I am happy to set those aside and return to the stacks of ‘to be read’ books waiting on my credenza.

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

My focus this year is on the international launch of my novel. The French translation recently launched, and the Italian translation will be released next month. Then the German and Spanish editions are not far behind. I’ve had a blast working with my translators, and have learned much about the challenges of making a ‘transcreation,’ which is a literary translation that captures the nuance of the language and culture while reflecting the essence of the novel.

Who is the audience for Unfettered Journey?

The question raises a challenge for my novel, because it does not neatly fit into any genre category; it is truly a cross-genre book unlike others. While the novel is speculative fiction, sometimes grouped into sci-fi, this is a very different sort of novel, outside the usual boxes. Both men and women have found the novel thrilling. Everyone loves my powerful female characters. These are real people, people that you can relate to, people that you can like. It is for the intellectual reader, someone who is comfortable thinking about deep questions. But Unfettered Journey is simultaneously an adventure novel, as the characters confront social injustice, and the difficulties of living with and without modern technology. The story traces a long arc, and I hope will leave my readers thinking about these questions long after they have closed the cover.

Huge thanks to Gary for answering my questions: it’s been fascinating to find out more about your work and future plans.

Jane Hobden Interview: “I like to write something that’s dark and thought provoking”

Crime writer and former paralegal Jane Hobden talks me through her work and how it’s evolved into her latest novel, Guilty.

Tell me about your books. What drew you towards writing psychological thrillers?

I have always loved thrillers whether it be crime, suspense or psychological.  Basically, I write something that I would love to read.  I like to be kept guessing until the end or have something that I didn’t expect happen. 

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

My background is in criminal law where I worked as a paralegal.  I really enjoyed that job – every day brought something new.  I have spent a lot of time in Courts and Prisons preparing a persons’ case for trial including meeting a wide range of clientele who, in most cases would be absolutely terrified of the process and the fear of facing a prison sentence.  I find that it brings both the best and the worst out in people. 

I first started writing in 2011 at a time when I was in a job that I didn’t particularly like.  I found that it helped with my work stress levels having something to focus on.  My first book The Hartford Inheritance I self-published in 2014.  Since then, I’ve changed jobs and as with most people, life has been too fast paced to be able to concentrate on writing anything new save for a dystopian future YA book that my kids could read.  Then Covid-19 happened and we had no option but to slow it all down.  That’s when I started writing again – this time a crime thriller. 

Please tell me about your books. What sets them apart from other similar novels?

Guilty strays far from the traditional one-dimensional thriller.  I want the reader to not know who is guilty until the very end.  I’ve tried to show the assault from different viewpoints, allowing the reader to sympathise with each emotion that the characters feel.  I want the reader to consider if they would behave in the same way. 

Tell me about the books you write. Where do you find your inspiration?

I’ve always had a ‘healthy’ imagination shall we say.  I love crime dramas.  As my husband would say, unless there’s a dead body in a tent, Jane wouldn’t turn the TV on for it.  I love the thrill of it.  I like to write something that’s dark and thought provoking.   I don’t think I’d be able to write in any other genre. 

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

I’m definitely reaching for the stars here but I’ve got to say J K Rowling.  What she created in Harry Potter is nothing short of a phenomenon.  A book loved by children and adults alike.  The detail involved.  So much thought goes into every single one of her characters and every storyline leads in a different direction.  She’s definitely my idol. 

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

I’ve already started my next novel, which has the working title Beneath Ground.  Another psychological thriller but this time I’m dealing with Stockholm Syndrome. 

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

One of the books I recently read was a book by a debut author called Abigail Dean.  The book is called Girl A, I’m sure most people have heard of it by now.  It is absolutely amazing.  I loved it from cover to cover and read it in days.  I’m very much looking forward to her new book, which is due for release in the summer I believe. 

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you, Hannah, for reading and reviewing Guilty.  It really means a lot for someone of your calibre to get involved. 

Massive thanks to Jane for answering my questions: I’m very excited to review Guilty in the coming weeks.

Roderick O’Grady Interview: “I would like to write more books for young people”

Children’s author Roderick O’Grady talks to me about his debut novel and his future writing career.

Tell me about how your debut book Bigfoot Mountain. Why do you think readers will enjoy it?

It’s about a young girl of 12, who recently lost her mum, living with her step dad in a remote cabin, at the foot of a mountain range, near the sea in the Pacific Northwest of North America. One day she and her friend Billy find four HUGE footprints in the woods… Her stepfather Dan thinks its hoaxers but Minnie thinks she knows better. She and Dan are struggling emotionally- he is withdrawn and grief-stricken, whilst she is very sad but feels compelled to keep busy.

The events that transpire in the woods and around their cabins help them become closer and help them deal with their grief. I think readers will enjoy that it alternates between what Minnie discovers- sometimes with Billy, sometimes with Dan, sometimes alone, and events from a young Sasquatch’s point of view. He’s been watching the humans. Their stories begin to intertwine. I’ve created a community of Sasquatches who have had to move over to this side of the mountain due to forest fires and as guardians of the forest have to manage the wildlife that has also fled the fire and is crowding the mountain slopes. The story is about seeking balance, understanding the rhythms of nature and, ultimately, it’s about love and connection.

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

I used to be an actor when I lived in New York but gave it up on my return to London as I had children to support. After 18 years I returned to an acting career, at the age of 56. When I was ‘resting’ between acting jobs I decided to write a story revolving round a magically beautiful forest where large bipedal hominids roam… The only writing I had done before was having a go at writing film screenplays, none of which ever saw the light of day.  I wrote a road-movie, a time travel comedy, a New York based romantic drama, a thriller based in the world of building contractors and the Russian mafia, a period tale of an escaped female slave busting a people-trafficking and smuggling ring on the Devon coast in 1750. It was good practice in some ways though, as I learned about creating snappy dialogue, making it specific to the character in tone and rhythm and learned how to create a overall tone for a scene; the ‘exposition’ in screenwriting terms.

Also structure is hammered in to novice screenwriters as absolutely key if you’re writing a ‘commercial’ movie. So that practice all helped hugely. It also made me a very visual writer and I think served me well in writing the novel. I always doubted that I could write enough, that I could come up with enough story and was very pleasantly surprised when it came in at 47 thousand words.  I didn’t really plot the book, I just let it flow. The sequel has a more complicated plot though and that took a lot of work. But this first one, Bigfoot Mountain is a linear story told from two perspectives. It required much research- on Sasquatches (I’ve read many books by interested scientists and so-called researchers) but also on the flora and fauna of the area, which I loved doing.

As a new author who’s just got their debut published, what are your thoughts on the industry currently? How can it become more accepting to new authors such as yourself?

I was surprised and naïve on entering the profession-  there are SO many children’s’ novels being published every month! I had no idea how hard it is to make a living from writing. And I wasn’t expecting to have to engage on social media so much in order to make the book ‘discoverable’. It’s out on 29th of April so I am busy engaging on social media and actually I’m looking forward to visiting schools, and independent bookshops. I will be introducing myself and bribing the shop staff, with biscuits, to do a special Bigfoot Mountain window display! 

On the subject of the publishing industry, I’m encouraged that many literary agents allow submissions to be sent in, as finding an agent is so hard these days, but it takes a lot of digging and questioning to get the bottom of what a publisher will actually be doing for the author, with the work, in the process of getting the book to market. Children’s publishing is different from adult literature too and getting one’s head round it all requires a novice writer to find the right people of whom to ask the right questions. I don’t know any writers or anyone in the business so it’s been a long and interesting journey.

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

To relax I dabble in thrillers and books about the environment- rarely do the two genres meet… perhaps that’s a gap in the market! I love children’s classics- Varjak Paw by SF Said and of course Pax by Sara Pennypacker. I finished and admired Overstory by Richard Powers recently, which is about trees, beautifully written and with engaging multiple story lines. These writers inspire me to try harder, and to take more time over my prose, in order to describe the natural world to the best of my ability.

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

I enjoy Patrick O’Brien for a rollicking sea-faring yarn and would love to plot a story with him though he is sadly no longer with us. His work reminds me how important well developed characters are. I enjoyed the charm and simplicity of AA Milne’s writing and I would have liked to maybe come up with more characters, in that series.  Again, Milne worked with well-developed characters.

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

I am planning to write a third book in the series. I finished the sequel, during Lockdown One but am not sure when that’s going to be published.

Where do you see your literary career going? What would you like to achieve over the coming years?

I would like to write more books for young people. And I would like to write for the screen- how that will manifest I’m not sure. But with children’s books which I really love writing now that I’ve had a go at it with Bigfoot Mountain, I try to make my characters fun to spend time with- it’s important that they be spirited, positive and funny, like children are inclined to be naturally. I think if characters in a story can be daring, kind, fun, and determined, it’s helpful to young readers. I try to write memorable scenes, and exciting profound moments that will hopefully stay with the reader.

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

I feel like I’m distinctly behind the curve with new writers and really just want to browse in some bookshops and talk to the staff about exciting new writers. Staff in independent book shops always have good advice and are usually up to speed on new works. That will happen hopefully from April 12th this year when ‘nonessential shops’ can reopen! Hoorah! Personally I think bookshops are essential retail…

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I really hope young people and their older siblings, their parents and teachers all enjoy Bigfoot Mountain and take on board the message about understanding the bigger picture; that we are all connected, through the earth, through the energy in the earth passing through plants, rivers, seas, and animals, and that we must learn to respect and love our natural world.

Thanks to Roderick for answering my questions: I love a good children’s book about nature so I’ll be interested to check out your debut!