Rona Halsall Interview: “I’ve always had writing at the heart of my work”

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This week I caught up with thriller writer Rona Halsall to find out more about her debut novel and upcoming projects.

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

Well I didn’t start off writing psychological thrillers, although they’re one of my favourite genres. I didn’t think I’d be able to work out plot twists and plant little clues – all that planning! So I started writing romance. I finished writing my first book and pitched it to an agent at a literary festival. She said she really liked my writing style but didn’t think the story was commercial enough. So I put that to one side and started again. This time I wrote more of a mystery/suspense. When I finished I sent it to the same agent who said she thought my voice would be better suited to psychological thrillers and she suggested a re-work of the story. So, with her help to work out a suitable plot, I did a complete re-write and I so enjoyed it, I realised this was the genre I wanted to write.

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

I was a business adviser and management consultant for twenty-five years, which involved a lot of writing in the form of business plans and grant applications and notes from meetings. So I’ve always had writing at the heart of my work. When I turned fifty, I decided that I’d better get a move on if I was going to write a novel and when my husband took early retirement, I had a career break to do a bit of writing and this has been my work ever since.

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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 have had quite a nomadic life, living in lots of different places and I think I have been through quite a wide range of life experiences – lots that can be spun into stories.

Inspiration also comes from news stories or things that friends say, bits and pieces online and personal experience. Also, once you start researching an idea it can lead you weird and wonderful places!

If I find I’m stuck with a storyline, I tend to take the dogs out for a walk and let my mind sort things out while I get a bit of fresh air and exercise. Or, if the weather’s really horrible, I’ll read the news or do a bit of admin and let my mind wander.

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

I think it would be Lisa Jewell. I love her characters. They are always so fresh and real and different and that’s such a hard thing to achieve. I also admire her writing style, which flows so easily and is a joy to read.

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

My second book, Love You Gone has just gone on pre-order and is going to be published on 15th November. I’m really happy with the way it has shaped up and the cover is just gorgeous!

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

The new one by Fiona Barton, The Suspect. I love her books – they are so interesting, seeing things from the view of a journalist. Her plots are really twisty and her writing is a joy to read.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

My debut novel Keep You Safe is out now. This follows the story of Natalie, who has been separated from her baby son for three years. She was wrongly accused of a crime and imprisoned. Now she is free she knows that her son’s life is in danger and she is desperate to get him to safety. But who can she trust?

Readers can keep up to date on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RonaHalsallAuthor/

And on Twitter:@RonaHalsallAuth

It’s been a great pleasure hearing your thoughts and learning more about your books Rona, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

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Truth and Lies Review: A Nail-Biter From Start To Finish

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Another awesome Blog Tour post for you today! This time I checked out Caroline Mitchell’s latest novel Truth and Lies, in which the hunt for a kidnap victim turns sinister when it links to a decades old case and a manipulate psychopath who is trying to use her knowledge of the burial places of her victims as leverage.

Drawing on the author’s background in the police, the novel focuses on DI Amy Winter, who is still reeling from the loss of her beloved father when she learns a shocking revelation: she is in fact the daughter of renowned serial killer Lillian Grimes. Grimes leverages her position as Amy’s mother and the wife of a serial killer to manipulate her and those around her, and as Amy battles this and fights to uncover the truth behind a high profile kidnapping startling truths are revealed.

Much like Emelie Schepp’s brilliant debut novel Marked for Life, Truth and Lies revolves around Amy’s struggle to keep her past from destroying her present, and in so doing entering into a web of deceit that threatens to upend everything she has worked so hard for. Her relationships with her adoptive family and her friends are tested, and Mitchell’s exceptional characterisation shines through here, as we see many well-honed, multi-dimensional characters and relationships being put to the test by both this latest kidnapping and Lillian Grimes’ shocking revelations.

There are twists throughout the novel, and whilst at first I was annoyed that certain revelations were made too early, I gradually came to realise that the novel is so deviously plotted that it would have been difficult to confine all the twists to the final pages.

Being so hard to put down, this book is one to consume quickly, and as such I would thoroughly recommend Truth and Lies to anyone embarking on a late holiday, or anyone who simply fancies a gripping page-turner. There’s also a great cliff-hanger ending, so I’m definitely looking forward to the next instalment and can’t wait to find out what will befall DI Winter in the future!

South by Southwest Wales Review: A Nice Try Let Down By Inconsistencies

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There’s something about thriller writing that leaves authors partial to creating absurd titles for their work. I’ve noticed it a lot over the years since I started studying crime fiction and thrillers at University. It’s a great idea, as a catchy, truly different title draws the reader in. Unfortunately, this does also give the reader high expectations, which aren’t always met.

A great example of this is David Owain Hughes’ novel South By Southwest Wales, which offers the promise of a humorous thriller and gives only confusion and disinterest. I should start by saying that Hughes is a really lovely guy, and a great writer of horror stories, but in this novel he loses the reader in a big way.

What quickly becomes apparent quickly to the reader, is how inconsistent the novel is. Whilst Hughes tries hard to get across his message that Cardiff is not Chicago, and it doesn’t need a Private Eye like Valentine, we are quickly confronted in the first few pages with a jazz joint and a scene in which a man sleeps with a hooker in an alleyway next to an tramp who is injecting heroin into his arm. All of this would suggest not only that the Cardiff Hughes is portraying is remarkably similar to Chicago, but that it could really use a decant PI to have a whip round and clear it up.

Much like J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike novels, in South By Southwest Wales readers swiftly notice the difference between what the author tells us and what they are actually portraying, and in this case the difference is stark. As a result, the novel offers an unnerving, unbelievable undertone that makes it hard to take seriously.

Now, I agree, with a title like South By Southwest Wales there is room for argument that Hughes never intended the novel to be taken seriously, but that is definitely up for debate. Neither fish nor fowl, neither entirely funny nor thrilling, the novel often comes up short.

Whilst the dialogue is sharp and the one-liners, many of which are not entirely original, are ever-present, there is definitely something lacking in protagonist Samson Valentine. He’s no Sam Spade, and he’s certainly no Philip Marlowe, and frankly he’s a bit of a let down. Underneath all that bravado and tough talk is a very boring character with delusions of grandeur. In hardboiled detective fiction, which I believe this is aiming to be, the central detective is everything, and as such the novel lacks an anchor and as such floats along blindly attempting to be both satirical and enticing, and failing at both.

Overall, being neither incredibly funny nor breath-takingly thrilling, South By South Westwales is a let down on all fronts, but with some witty one-liners and a not-bad plot there is something for you to get your teeth into if you are so inclined.

Peter Boland Interview: “I like reading fast-paced novels”

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It’s rare that I get to talk to someone who does what I do, or in this case did, for I had the exciting opportunity of interviewing Peter Boland, former Copywriter and Advertising Creator turned thriller writer, who gives me the low-down on his work!

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

I like reading fast-paced novels. I guess I have the attention span of a five-year-old on Haribo, so my writing style is the same. I don’t like hanging around and want things to be happening on every page, pulling the reader along. Writing action thrillers was a natural choice. Entertaining action thrillers would be the name for it, I suppose.

Please tell me more about your background and how you came to be a full time writer.

I started off studying architecture, but was fairly useless at it, as I couldn’t make things stand up, which is a bit of a handicap in a profession that likes keeping things upright. So I decided to become an advertising copywriter (the building industry breathed a sigh of relief), coming up with ideas for TV ads and writing press ads and brochures. Advertising used to be very creative, but I think it’s lost its way. I can’t remember the last time I saw and ad and thought wow, that’s really clever. Being a bit disillusioned with it all, I changed to writing thrillers where I pretty much have free reign. And can put in the odd brutal murder, which for some reason, never caught on in advertising.

Talk me through Savage Lies. Why do you believe the book has become so popular?

That’s very kind of you to call it popular, but I’m not sure I’m there yet! Early days. Savage Lies is my first thriller and came out in June this year. However, feedback from reviews is very positive and suggests that readers like the grittiness mixed with moments of dark humour. I guess that’s my USP. Thrillers are known for being very serious and grisly, and mine are too, but I like the contrast of shocking the reader one minute and making them laugh the next. Also, my main character, John Savage is a lot more vulnerable than say, Jack Reacher. Don’t get me wrong, he’s as tough as nails but he has PTSD, and hears a voice in his head that’s always criticising and mocking him. Savage is also quite sarcastic and has that British sense of humour, especially around the bad guys.

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

There’s something about walking that always gets my creative juices flowing. If I’m ever stuck on something I take a walk and suddenly everything slots into place. Usually if I’m planning a new novel, I’ll go over the Purbeck Hills with a notebook and just walk for hours, letting ideas drift into my head. Must be something about the amazing scenery that is conducive to the creative process. Although, it all goes wrong once I stop at the Scott Arms and order my first pint of pale ale.

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

For living, I’d say Lee Child because I think he’s the master of the genre I write in; lone wolf, vigilante justice. For dead, I’d say Terry Pratchett. Firstly, because of the humour, and secondly, even though he wrote fantasy, some of his books were out and out crime thrillers. They just happen to be set on a flat world.

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

I’m currently working on the follow up to Savage Lies, which is called Savage Games. In this one a body is found hidden 50 feet up a tree in a creepy part of the New Forest called Dead Maids. Savage and Tannaz try to find out how it got there, and in doing so uncover some sinister happenings. Can’t say any more or it’ll spoil it!

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

I have such a big backlog of books I want to read that I haven’t even looked at anything new. Still playing catch up. But here’s a few books that I’ve recently read that have impressed the hell out of me: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (not really a thriller but extremely dark, brutal and also beautiful), Tideline by Penny Hancock, The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood, and Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

If everyone could buy thirty copies of Savage Lies that would be really helpful (just kidding, twenty will be fine).

Thank you Peter; it’s great to hear from a former fellow copywriter, and your book is awesome too!

 

Five Great Books To Read In The Heat Wave

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Apparently the hot weather is set to last until October, so I’ve created a list of five great books for you to read as you laze about and recuperate. If you’re lucky enough to have the holidays off then here’s your chance to get some quality reading in, if not then you’ll have something to read on your days off, or when you’re having trouble getting to sleep in the heat. Either way, have a look at my selection of the top pick for you to enjoy this summer!

5. Money In The Morgue: Stella Duffy’s finished version of Ngaio Marsh’s final Inspector Allyen novel is a triumph, and is ideal for any Golden Age crime fiction fans. As I mentioned in my review HERE, Marsh’s unique style seeps through, and the novel’s unique plot makes for a gripping page-turner that will keep you entertained throughout the summer and beyond.

4. Fingers In The Sparkle Jar: For those who prefer non-fiction to novels, this honest memoir is the perfect beach read. Nature expert Chris Packham shares an intimate portrait of his childhood through the story of his relationship with a hawk he trained as a young boy. His vivid descriptions of his upbringing and surroundings during this time are the perfect anecdote to the sticky summer heat.

Now You See Her Hi-Res Cover Image3. Now You See Her: For fans of a really good juicy thriller, you can’t go wrong with Heidi Parks’ novel which charts the disintegration of a friendship when a young child disappears whilst in the care of her mum’s best friend. I’ve already reviewed the novel HERE, and I was incredibly impressed by how intense and gripping it is, making this ideal for keeping you occupied as you lounge around the pool or sip sangria on the beach.

2. Mythos: Stephen Fry’s retelling of the Greek myths is a great sunny weather read, transporting readers to Greek climes of times gone by. Fry puts his expertise to good use, and the result is a great way to learn more about this fascinating culture and history.

1. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: Not the style of novel I’d usually pick, but this is a great book that is captivating from the get-go, and as relatable as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Charting a small section of the life of the titular character, Eleanor, the book explores her fixation with a singer and the understanding this gives her of her own life and situation. It’s a great read and one I would thoroughly recommend.

Rachel Amphlett Interview: “I grew up surrounded by crime fiction and thrillers”

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Creator of not one but three unique crime fiction series and a myriad of standalone novels Rachel Amphlett talks to me about how she creates the characters that her readers have come to love.

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

I grew up surrounded by crime fiction and thrillers. I think like a lot of crime writers, I started off with the Famous Five series and went from there, working my way through my parents’ and grandparents’ collections of Ed McBain, Dick Francis, Alistair MacLean – all the greats. A defining moment for me was when my granddad loaned me his copy of Jack Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed when I was 12 years old – I loved it, and so I think becoming a writer in this genre was a natural progression. It just took me a few years to get around to it

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

Before I became a full-time writer I’d played guitar in bands, helped to run a pub, been a TV/film extra, worked in desktop publishing, project administration and things like that. I started writing on my commute into work by train seven years ago. Every morning I’d plonk myself in a corner of the carriage, open my laptop and make sure I hit my daily word count target by the time the train pulled into the station at the other end. I went full-time last year when I was made redundant – I’ve had so much support from readers around the world that I didn’t need to find another job, for which I’m extremely grateful.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular, and what draws readers to them?

I think it’s the characters. That’s why I get hooked on series I like to read – I have an investment in what happens to those people and how they cope with what happens to them.

With the Detective Kay Hunter series, I have a resilient detective who has been through the wringer personally but has a loving partner (Adam, a vet) who supports her and she’s a real team player. I think that’s important, too – she’s not a lone wolf, and her team of detectives are as integral to the stories as Kay herself.

My Dan Taylor series of spy thrillers are similar in that I hope readers are invested in the main character and those around him. The Dan Taylor books are fun to write because I can take those characters anywhere around the world, drop them into a messy situation and see how they get themselves out of it.

That’s very similar in style to my new English Spy Mysteries series featuring Eva Delacourt – here you get to meet a woman who has been hiding for a number of years before suddenly being thrust into the spotlight again with no idea who to trust. You get to go on that journey with this character as she tries to fathom who has betrayed her while attempting to stop a terrorist.

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

I’ll read every interview I can get my hands on with Peter James, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, Lee Child, Ann Cleeves, Michael Connelly and Jeffery Deaver. That’s how I learned to understand how to write crime fiction – all their interviews are filled with great advice, and of course I love their books, too.

I read outside the genre, too. I think it’s important to listen to different voices and styles to avoid becoming stagnant. Two of my favourite authors on the fringes of crime and another genre are Jim Butcher (the Harry Dresden series) and CJ Sansom (the Shardlake series).

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

Well, I’m currently in the process of moving back to the UK after 13 years in Australia so things are a little crazy right now! However, I’m busy plotting and drafting the next Detective Kay Hunter story and I’ve got the first book in a new crime series drafted – that won’t be released until sometime next year. I’ve just got to find somewhere to live first…

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

CJ Sansom’s new one, Tombland in the Shardlake series is out in October so I’ll be snapping that up on publication day. I’m also looking forward to Peter James’ Absolute Proof, out the same month. There are so many good books to look forward to later this year!

It’s been great to hear from you Rachel- thanks for taking the time! You can find out more about Rachel HERE.

Skyjack Review: A Novel That Will Hold You Hostage

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My second book tour post today is a review of the thrilling new hostage negotiation novel that has the plot of a Hollywood movie. I didn’t mean to schedule them on the same day, but one date looks very much the same as the next when it’s warm and sunny outside! So have a look at my review of this latest edge-of-your-seat roller-coaster of a book which will soon be THE novel to take with you to the beach.

K.J Howe’s sequel to the renowned The Freedom Broker brings back hostage negotiator Thea Paris. This time, she’s on a flight to take two former child soldiers to a new life when her plane is hijacked. Separated from the boys she is minding, Thea and her team undertake a desperate search for the truth which leads them to some deep conspiracies that reach deep into the heart of many of the world’s key organisations.

Sinister and overwhelming in equal measure, the novel penetrates right to the heart of organised society and explores the greed, violence and injustice inherent in humankind, as well as the lengths people will go to in order to stop it. Thea Paris is a truly inspirational character; a woman who is both sympathetic and at the same time intelligent- her emotions do not blind her to reality, unlike many female characters in similar positions, making her even more engaging and exciting when you think of how many male protagonists there are in this genre.

Short, sharp sentences punctuate the narrative, keeping the novel tightly wound from the first chapter right through to the nail-biting conclusion. Keeping readers guessing throughout, Howe creates a truly un-put-downable book that is impossible to forget about or ignore. Her multidimensional characters are impressive considering there are many and some have very limited time spent on them.

At the end of the book I felt truly immersed in Thea’s gripping world, which, fundamentally, is what you’re looking for in a good thriller.