Cathy Hayward Interview: “I read a lot of historical fiction because I love reading about different times in history and it also helps my own writing”

Check out my interview with The Girl In The Maze author Cathy Hayward, who talks me through how she came to create her debut novel and what’s next for her writing career.

Please let me know about The Girl In The Maze. How did you find the process of getting the novel written and preparing for publication?

The Girl in the Maze is historical fiction about three women, generations apart, linked by one terrible tragedy. It explores the theme of mothering and being mothered. I started a creative writing course in 2015 and somewhere in the second year, I realised that what I was writing was not lots of smaller pieces but part of a greater whole, which eventually became The Girl in the Maze. My mother, with whom I’d had a difficult relationship, had died while I was on the course.

It was while I was clearing out her flat that I was inspired with the main part of the plot – a woman discovering something in her late mother’s possessions which sets her on a trail of discovery about her mother’s life. I didn’t discover anything in my mother’s flat, but writing the story was a form of therapy in itself and I now feel at peace with our relationship which is why the book is dedicated to her. I tinkered with it in 2017 and 2018 but it was only in 2019 that I started to properly work on it and I finished it in the first Covid lockdown. My old writing tutor, who had helped me get it ready for publication, suggested I enter the Lost the Plot writing competition which I went on to win. The organisers, Agora Books, then offered me a publishing deal – an amazing moment. But that was after I’d had loads and loads of rejections from agents and publishers.

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


I didn’t consciously set out to write a dark book. I think you just write what you know. At the time I started writing in earnest, I had just lost both parents and was struggling to come to terms with my relationship with my mother and the fact that could never now be fixed. I knew loose details of my mother’s life and ended up writing a fictionalised account of her experiences to help me with my grieving. I also did an English and History degree back in the 1990s, so writing historical fiction allows me to explore both elements.

What is your career background and how did you come to write a novel?

I trained as a journalist and edited a variety of trade publications, several of which were so niche they were featured on Have I Got News for You. I then moved into the world of PR. I’ve been around writing all my life but hadn’t written creatively since I was at school. It was hitting 40 in 2015 which made me realise it was now or never. I signed up for a creative writing course with the intention of writing a novel and went from there.

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

I love a routine. I used to try to fit writing in and around work and life and it just always fell by the wayside. But once Covid hit, I used the time I would have been travelling to London to write and quickly got into a really good routine. I now write between 5 and 7am and then get the kids up and get on with my day job. It works really well, although I do have to go to bed early. My first two novels were inspired by old family history. I came up with the idea for my third while watching a documentary.

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

I enjoy a mix. I read a lot of historical fiction because I love reading about different times in history and it also helps my own writing. I’ve just finished all three of Stacey Halls books and particularly loved The Familiars. But I can’t resist a good thriller – the sort of book you read in one sitting because it’s just so good. This year I’ve been reading many fellow debut authors books, both to support them and see what else is out there. It’s been a great opportunity to read outside my usual genres – Neema Shah’s debut Kololo Hill about Ugandan Asians fleeing from Uganda after Idi Amin ordered their expulsion was incredibly moving and gave me real insight into the refugee experience.

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


I’ve always wondered what it would be like to collaborate with someone on a writing project. I see fiction books which are co-written and wonder how it’s done. Writing is such a solitary and personal thing, I wonder whether the co-writers fight about where the plot is going! That said, I’d love any opportunity to work with Kate Morton because I adore her epic books about family secrets.

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

I’m just starting to go through the edits for my second novel, provisionally titled The Fortune Teller’s Promise, which sees university student Rosie home for the holidays to finish her dissertation which is about the Great War. Her mother suggests she talks to her great-grandmother Edith. Rosie reluctantly visits the old lady but is quickly drawn in by her vivid recollections of the start of the war and her father and brothers joining up to fight. But when Edith repeatedly slips up on dates and locations, Rosie starts to wonder whether her memory is beginning to fail her, or if their family history is not what it seems. 

I studied the Great War at university and loved it, so it’s been wonderful to revisit some of that literature again and do more research. But the story was also inspired by our family history. My late grandmother was engaged to be married to a man who was killed in the Great War.
I’ve also started my third book which is set in the 1970s and explore post-natal depression.

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

One of the judges for the Lost the Plot prize was Laura Pearson, who also published her debut with Agora Books a few years ago and has since had two more books published. She’s been very supportive of me and is very active on Twitter. I’ve just bought all three of her books and am getting started on Missing Pieces, another story about family secrets and intrigue. I’m looking forward to Emily Gunnis’s new book The Midwife’s Secret, which comes out in October and also the second instalment of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club. I tend to read about two books a month and have a hefty to be read pile!

Huge thanks to Cathy for answering my questions- I’m also reading The Man Who Died Twice and it’s awesome. I’m excited to add The Girl In The Maze to my TBR pile!

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.