The best suspense thriller this year so far…is not a book.

When I wasn’t on my feet shouting or singing, I sat in the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday and was swept away by the experience to such an extent that it’s taken until now to get my thoughts together. Wales v England in the Rugby Six Nations was the most astounding example of suspense, tension and emotional outpouring and I had no way of bottling it, because, unless you were there, it’s hard to capture. If I could write it I’d be a best selling thriller author – no question.

Alfred Hitchcock said about suspense as a genre that nothing much has changed ‘since Little Red Riding Hood met the Big Bad Wolf‘ and he’s right, to a point. However, sometimes in suspense novels it’s not always clear just who is the Big Bad Wolf. Take Saturday’s match for example: If you’re Welsh then it was the English and vice versa, and yet, like Holmes and Moriarty, each side had mutual respect for each others strengths and potential to undermine their determination to be victorious in the end. There’s no separation of fans either. We sat side by side, happy in each other’s company, knowing that the fearsome battle would happen in front of us.

Recently, with fellow author Morgen Bailey, I facilitated a basic crime writing workshop on the art of building suspense. There were several key areas or strategies that we hoped to get across to a group of avid writers and readers. We pulled together the most salient components of a suspense novel and enjoyed the whole morning.

That’s straightforward enough to do, but how did Saturday’s wonderful suspense drama fit with this? What could I learn from it as a writer?

The Setting: The Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Packed to the open roof with anticipation on a clear bright February day. The city streets teeming with jovial groups, street entertainers, colour, castle walls, song, drums, laughter, face painters and palpable excitement.

The Characters: This would require a whole day to describe, but suffice to say each and every member of the two opposing national rugby squads have strengths, flaws, and passion, buckets of passion. With fascinating backstories to explore, I had my favourites. The contrast between the two captains was intriguing and exploited well by the national media in the run up to the match. As for the spectators … merrily bonkers, most of them.

Foreshadowing: A writing term for ramping up the suspense with clues and hints about what is to come. Before every big international rugby match this is part of the process for building excitement. The media do a fine job, – ‘No doubt it will be a bloody confrontation,’- as do the fans themselves. What will happen? Who is playing and who is on the bench? How is this going to end? Come on!

What is at Stake?: This is the big one. In suspense novels and film we are shown the danger, the monster in the wardrobe, the kidnap victim in dire straits. On Saturday it wasn’t merely win or lose. National pride, meeting expectations, and victory, these were the prizes. For the Welsh they had one special record to uphold – the year of the nines – and one there to be broken, could they really make twelve consecutive test wins? This added unbearable tension for Welsh fans. (I feared for Mr Morgan’s health, let me tell you!)

Time Constraints: Watching that clock tick away… 80 minutes. Win or lose?

Pacing: As writers we talk about use of pace, in rugby it’s not a different meaning altogether and what I witnessed on Saturday was a battle, brutal and hard fought, fast, furious and yet sometimes measured, with play deliberately slowed to gather thoughts and reset. But my heart was hammering at the same rapid pulse throughout and this wasn’t a book, I couldn’t put it down even if I wanted to.

BUT: Here is where a writer cannot capture the feelings of the match. The sounds and sights, the smells, the emotions, yes … maybe we can give it a bash, trot out a string of elegant descriptions about hearts soaring, the shower of beer that landed on my head when the ecstatic crowd erupted. But nothing can hope to explain the physical force of the voices in chorus willing their teams on, beautiful harmonious Hymns and Arias, Swing Low, Bread of Heaven, Swing Low, Sosban Fach …

I’ve been to hundreds of rugby matches, – local, national, international – but this one tops them all. I will never forget it. Like that special book that you can’t shake off, it was ‘Magical’.

Now back to some writing:

A B Morgan

Suspense and Snowdrops: a weekend in the life of a crime writer.

As if the rugby wasn’t exciting enough on the opening weekend of the Six Nations, Morgen Bailey, author, editor, and all round good bod, joined me at Bedford Central Library to facilitate a two-hour Crime Writing Workshop on ”Suspense and How to Build it”. This was our second such ‘Morgan and Morgen’ interactive group for keen writers and readers. Given the positive response we received, it won’t be the last.

Busy in the children’s section of Bedford Library!

 Alfred Hitchcock once said of the suspense genre: ‘Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood met the Big Bad Wolf.’ However, I’m not sure he ever used a game of Giant Jenga to illustrate the meaning of the word suspense. I’m only sorry we were far too busy to take photographs of the moment the teetering tower toppled over.

Thanks go to the library for having us back and for allowing me a moment in the main library to promote my latest book, Fat Chance. It was heartening to see the place buzzing with activity and so many children selecting their next book. (None of mine, I should point out. That would be wrong on so many levels).

Snowdrops for Nurses

Then on Sunday there was a drastic change of tempo. A subtle shift in the level of intrigue.

I should explain.

As an ex-nurse, I was more than willing to volunteer to help out at a charity open garden event where I live. What an eye-opener…

Always willing to learn, I am now in possession of greater knowledge about the humble snowdrop and the underworld of the snowdrop collector – I kid you not.

There are around 2,500 different varieties of snowdrop (click for a BBC Countryfile article on the subject with astounding facts about Galanthus nivalis ‘milk flower of the snow’). I was amazed at how many Galanthophiles exist in the UK and what lengths these snowdrop fanciers will go to in order to possess a particular snowdrop variety. The village event raises a considerable sum for charity not only because of the hard work and dedication of the two snowdrop obsessives concerned, who, with help from friends, open their gardens to the public, but in large part as a result of galanthomaniacs purchasing for their collections.

Money? In Snowdrops?… Yes indeed, a single rare bulb can fetch hundreds of pounds and, most recently, well over a thousand pounds has been paid for a rare example.

As I was effectively the bouncer on the garden gate, I was asked to keep an eye out for sneak thieves making off with the more unusual snowdrops that were for sale, or worse, anyone attempting to help themselves from the garden. There were ‘observers’ in place, mingling with the crowds for that very reason.

On hearing this, my writer’s nose started twitching and my eyes widened at the realisation that the humble snowdrop may yet be central to a crime novel. There is a book called Snowdrops by A D Miller but the plant is not the main theme (‘Snowdrops’ refers to bodies that are found when snow melts, a Russian expression apparently).

I wonder… the snowdrop bulb is a source of galantamine, used in modern medicine. Of course the bulbs are poisonous too…

What’s a blog tour?


The sight and smell of a bookshop has drawn readers in for as long as books have been available to purchase, but these days online sales are central to publishing, both in paperback and eBook formats, Whatever long and arduous route your book has taken in order to be published, social media plays a part in the marketing of it, and in the world of fiction the marketplace for Crime Thrillers and Psychological Suspense is rammed. One way to let readers know your novel exists and to give them a flavour of it, is to be part of a book tour. Authors with larger publishing houses often tour bookshops and libraries because making personal appearances at literary events is part of the deal. For us minnows of the writing world there is the helpful option of the online tour, the blog tour.

Without fanatical – dare I say – obsessive readers who also blog and review the books they read, these tours could not happen. If, like me you are with a publisher, these will be organised for you, but there are bloggers who take on the organisation of tours, for a reasonable fee of course, and therefore this is a marketing strategy that is open to all authors.

Spare a thought for these incredible people who agree to read and review a book because they love reading. Generously, they then share their thoughts and book-love on a number of platforms as well as their own websites. You’ll find thousands of book reviews on FaceBook, Twitter, GoodReads, Amazon, Instagram etc. The sheer volume of reviews some bloggers carry out is quite staggering and, as a slow reader, I live in admiration of their productivity, many with full time occupations as well as family and children. How they do it I’m not entirely sure, but I thank them wholeheartedly for their time.

Bloggers, book reviewers and blog tour organisers, you are an amazing bunch!

Book Birthday: Fat Chance by A B Morgan

Fat Chance by A B Morgan, out today on Kindle at a criminally low 99p

I’m smiling because it’s publication day!

I have an irrepressible sense of humour and therefore, despite the thought provoking subject matter of the books I write, there is always something to make the reader grin and on occasion to laugh aloud. Suspense is all very well but readers need a break from the tension now and again.

So, as the country heads for uncertainty and Teresa May’s Brexit plan seems destined for the recycle bin of parliamentary history, grab a copy of Fat Chance (Kindle or paperback via Amazon) and snuggle up. Inside the shiny cover you will meet Ella Fitzwilliam, she’s about to get herself into a proper pickle.

What is the book about? here’s the blurb:

A missing barrister, a severed thumb and fat chance of finding out the truth.

Ella Fitzwilliam’s world is about to spiral out of control. She’s not cut out to be a private investigator. With little or no aptitude for the job, she’s been sent undercover to expose the hidden lives of two men who meet nearly every week at Buxham’s – a private members’ club where portions are large and secrets are held in strictest confidence. 

One of those men is Harry Drysdale, a defence barrister, and the other is Marcus Carver, an eminent surgeon with a tarnished past and much to lose. Ella knows he has unhealthy appetites, she’s sure he’s feeding his perverted habits and putting his female patients at risk but she has to prove it. 

When Harry Drysdale goes missing, Konrad Neale TV journalist tries to reveal the truth behind the lies, but some of the secrets start to reveal themselves… and they are big.

Thanks to all at Junction Publishing, #JunctionPublish for bringing the story to life. Happy Book Birthday.

Audiobook review: The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker narrated by Jot Davies

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker 

Described as ‘a post apocalyptic thriller’ this book was originally published  over two years ago and was a best seller for it’s Australian born author who, raised in the UK, now lives in Scotland . I can see why the book did so well. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What’s the book about?

One blurb says:

Do the impossible, or lose your family forever….

Edgar Hill, unsympathetic husband and halfhearted father, finds himself in a hopeless situation. Despite all his best efforts, he hasn’t managed to keep his family together. In fact they are further from him than ever – 550 miles, to be precise.

And in a world near annihilated by a terrible disaster, leaving the UK harsh and brutal, uncrossable by car or bike, his journey to find his loved ones will be fraught with challenges.

His best option is to run. But what if your best isn’t good enough?

Set initially in Edinburgh the story describes ‘the end of the world as we know it,’ to quote from R.E.M. But in the song, the line continues …’but I feel fine’. The main character this thriller certainly doesn’t feel fine. Anything but. Edgar Hill, Ed, is your ordinary man who has to learn to push himself to achieve extraordinary feats of endurance in order to stand any chance of seeing his young family again. What a premise.

My Review

The title appeared in the list of ‘recommendations for you’ on Amazon, and I’m glad it caught my eye because I wouldn’t normally seek out a post apocalyptic thriller as a rule. Having checked the sample – very important to me to have the right voice if they are going to be in my head for hours at a time –  I popped in my ear plugs and the poor dog ended up going for a much longer walk than originally planned because I was enjoying the change from my more usual crime thriller fare.

The story, told from Ed’s perspective, makes you consider just how you would react in the most extreme of circumstances. There is a strong supporting cast of other characters that feature throughout, and despite some having unsavoury habits and less than attractive character traits you really bond with them as a reader. I was willing them on, desperate for Ed to be reunited with his family and survive the most harrowing of experiences and physical endurance along the way. No, I’m not going to spoil it for you… suffice to say that I really enjoyed my little foray into survival fiction. Great escapist entertainment.

The audiobook

The story came alive through the excellent narration skills of Jot Davies with the delightful addition of some original music from the author too. Jot Davies brought the characters to life with consistently good use of accents and a sound delivery of the storyline with dramatic flare and comedy in the right places. He must have enjoyed the story to give such an enthusiastic performance. Top job and a lovely voice.

Well worth downloading.

Audiobook Review: Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear narrated by Jane Collingwood

 Sweet Little Lies was an Amazon Bestseller last year, and as usual I never quite got round to reading it at the time. However, there it sat on my TBR pile along with so many others – so many books , so little time. Aha!  Audiobook to the rescue. I’m so glad I picked this novel, it’s got all the ingredients of a good crime novel – whodunnit, why, and how. However this book is not a police procedural and not a psychological thriller but is in fact a mixture of the two. Refreshing, tense, warm and funny.

I have no idea why Audible have categorised it under Self Help and How To Guides, Parenting and Families (whaaaaaat?)  as well as Thrillers …It is a thriller.

About the book: here is the blurb from Amazon.

What I thought I knew: in 1998, Maryanne Doyle disappeared, and Dad knew something about it. Maryanne Doyle was never seen again.

What I actually know: in 1998, Dad lied about knowing Maryanne Doyle. Alice Lapaine has been found strangled near Dad’s pub. Dad was in the local area for both Maryanne Doyle’s disappearance and Alice Lapaine’s murder.

My Review:

Cat Kinsella is part of a murder investigation team and this immediately places her in a compromising position when her father could very easily become a suspect in a local murder and linked to the disappearance of Maryanne Doyle. Cat’s no angel and her father is/was a bad boy, in fact good or bad no one in this story is what they seem to be and this tests Cat’s loyalties to breaking point.

The story was well plotted and the characters very believable which is a sound basis for any decent book, which this is. It wasn’t at all difficult to find myself totally absorbed by the twists and turns of this debut novel and, because of the engaging writing style, the first person perspective worked extremely well. As did the settings for the story and the dynamics of Cat’s family. I say family, but she has two families really – one by virtue of her birth and the other her work ‘family’. The title says it all, it’s packed with secrets and lies and yet Caz Frear pulls all the threads together at the end. Neat and very satisfactory. I really enjoyed this one!

The Audiobook:

Congratulations to the narrator. What a fine job especially with the number of characters she had to find voices for. None of the male voices grated on me which can, I’m afraid to say, sometimes happen when females are narrating (A personal view). This is a top quality production.

If you haven’t read or plugged in to this book yet, give it a go.

 

Audiobook Review: The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

 

The Keeper of Lost Things (Click for link to Amazon) by Ruth Hogan. Narrated by Jane Collingwood, Sandra Duncan and a mystery man.

This book deserves all the accolades showered upon it and I know I’m late to the party, but goodness me it was well worth waiting for. Brava, Ruth Hogan! This book is a gem, utterly enchanting. Can’t recommend highly enough.

 

I’ve worked out why I waited so long to delve into this story and it’s not merely because I’m a slow reader and will never get through the pile of books yet to be read.

When I finished listening to the last words of The Keeper of Lost Things and sighed, it all made sense. Being read to as a child, tucked up in bed, was always the highlight of my day and a good audiobook brings the same sense of contentment. Staying with the wonder of childhood as an analogy, this book is also reminiscent of the special Christmas gift that calls to us from under the tree. We leave it until last before unwrapping it, in excited anticipation of what it may bring, because it should be savoured.

The Keeper of Lost Things has been calling to me for months, and yet I resisted. I think I desperately wanted it to be that special present; the one that makes your heart lurch. Having finished it, I can safely say it is just that. I’m ordering my own paperback copy to keep. Wouldn’t want to lose this one!

About the book:

Winner of the Richard and Judy autumn book club 2017.

One of the Mail on Sunday’s ‘Best books for the beach this summer’

Meet the Keeper of Lost Things….

Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters….

What are my thoughts?

This story was thoroughly captivating, in part because of Ruth Hogan’s ability to paint magical pictures with words, but also because the story itself, despite exploring dark subjects, is such an endearing one.

How do we categorise this book? ‘Up-lit’, is the favoured term, apparently. Uplifting literature it is indeed and is a wonderfully woven tale of love, loss, redress and reconciliation all anchored in a strong sense of place, Padua, the house where the lost things are carefully kept. The composition is cleverly thought through, intelligent, competent and so true to life. Classy.

The idea for the book arose from an opening line. The first paragraph had me hooked.

Charles Bramwell Brockley was travelling alone and without a ticket on the 14.42 from London Bridge to Brighton. The Huntley and Palmers biscuit tin in which he was travelling teetered precariously on the edge of the seat as the train juddered to a halt at Haywards Heath. But just as it toppled forward towards the carriage floor it was gathered up by a safe pair of hands.

 Although the story involves the perceptive exploration of loss, of death and of regret, the book is joyful in its humour and positivity.  Ruth Hogan’s optimistic soul shines from the pages. Well-rounded characters, who are hard not to become overly attached to, complete the component parts of what is a superb book.

The Performance: Writers and readers alike will have formed the voices of the characters and see them in their heads as they either write or absorb the words in any given book. However, experiencing an audiobook is somewhat different. We rely on the narrators to interpret the words for us and be true to the writing.  As an audiobook, the publishers/producers of The Keeper of Lost Things should be commended for taking the step of using a number of narrators. This is not an easy book to do audio justice to for the simple reason that there are intertwining stories and an important cast of characters, central to which is Anthony Peardew himself, and yet the male narrator has not been credited. Odd. He has a lovely voice, as have the other two narrators who have done a sterling job. I was completely lost in the story (pun intended).

Not wanting to spoil anything, but if you intend listening to this then I would suggest you plug your earphones in and settle down with ‘the lovely cup of tea’ to savour every moment of this story without too many interruptions. In the meantime I look forward to disappearing into Ruth’s next book, The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes, which was inspired by her walks in a local Victorian garden cemetery. (www.fosterhillroadcemetery.co.uk)

 

Enjoy.

Ali Morgan

 

 

Audiobook Review: Sweetpea by C J Skuse, narrated by Georgia Maguire.

Sweetpea: (click for link to Amazon)

The last person who called me ‘Sweetpea’ ended up dead…

An innocent sounding title, but Sweetpea isn’t a book for the genteel. Take heed.  If you are easily offended, don’t have uncharitable thoughts about others, and don’t revel in inventive explicit language and ‘scenes of a sexual and or violent nature’, then this book should be avoided. Personally, I loved the turn of phrase employed by C J Skuse throughout the telling of this story, it shocked me in the most wonderful way! Superb.

Sweetpea has been Shortlisted for the CrimeFest Last Laugh Award 2018 and I’d had it on my ‘want to read’ list for a while. Having downloaded the audiobook, within minutes my jaw needed resetting. Sweetpea is told entirely in the first person and takes the form of a diary kept by a young woman whose past has had a direct and devastating impact on her personality. Rhiannon lives in a British West Country town, with her small dog and her boyfriend. She works for a local newspaper and that is where the fragile veneer of normality ends.

Rhiannon keeps a list. Each chapter begins as she recites the names on this list. The names change depending on what transgressions those individuals have committed, or on Rhiannon’s mood that day. People from work, friends who irritate or betray in some way, other road users, scum or ne’er-do-wells. I have similar lists, the difference being that I don’t often act on my dark thoughts. She does. And she loves it.

Rhiannon, the clever and insightful psychopath, is brought to life in this book by someone who understands the social pressures of being a young adult in today’s world of conforming to expectations about how they should live their lives, interact with others and aspire to the happy ever after. The need to fit in and how this cannot happen for Rhiannon is joyfully recorded using great evil expressions, deeply derogatory comments, fierce put-downs and downright revolting descriptions.

Sweetpea is hugely entertaining to listen to because the narrator ‘gets it’. She has just the right voice for the job and with her excellent timing, inflection, and ability to set the right tone of the story, it comes alive right into your ears! It was hard not to plug myself in for the whole twelve and a half hours and forget the rest of the world for a while, but in truth I rationed myself. Now, there is hole in my life which is about to be filled by another audiobook from the same author or the same narrator, possibly both …

Barry the Cactus is Dead

RIP – Barry the Cactus. He was a present (sorry Andy, sorry Charley) and now I have to confess to killing him. In the photo he looks well enough. There even appears to be a new green shoot, but he’s dead alright. He has withered and turned grey.

It was all going so well. The green growth, now deflated and wrinkled, was an exciting product of warm dry cactus-health during the summer, which I then completely undermined with my ineptitude. I’m a plant killer.

I’ve just ordered a book called ‘How not to kill your houseplants – survival tips for the horticulturally challenged.’ That’s me. In as many months I’ve killed two houseplants. Spinelli the Spider Plant shrivelled up through lack of water and I fear that Barry the Cactus was killed for the opposite reason. Please don’t tell my friend Elaine. She gave me Spinelli in good faith. She named him, for goodness sake, and in return I promised to nurture him and give him a good home in the kitchen. I couldn’t even do that.

Weirdly, the ‘Mother-in’law’s tongue’ plants that I re-potted are doing astoundingly well – just like the real thing. Indestructible.

‘Killed anyone recently?’ I’m often asked with a wry smile. Writing crime thrillers isn’t easy, you know, but killing off characters is part of the job. I derive great pleasure from dispatching a nasty human individual. Very therapeutic. However, woe betide the crime writer who involves animals in any form of danger, torture or worse. This is an absolute ‘no-no’.

So, where do I stand with killing plants? I need to know because I think it’s only fitting that I remember the lives of Spinelli and Barry by immortalising them within the plot of my current work in progress. Not in the form of a plant  torturing scene, you understand, but as a feature, a bit part.

Maybe I could inflict damage on someone who deserves it via assault with a  cactus. Make Barry a hero. Strangle someone with a spider plant … Maybe not. I’ll give it some thought.

In the meantime, I’ll make sure I read that book when it arrives and try not to do any more damage to innocent house plants and you can shake your head at the peculiar workings of my mind, realising that this is how writers come up with original plot lines. Sad really.

Barry the Cactus is dead. Long live Barry the Cactus.

Ali.

 

Review of audiobook Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh narrated by Adam Sims

Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

Narrated by Adam Sims

Highly recommended! Five big stars out of five from me.

A bit about the story:

Thirteen has a clever premise as clearly outlined in the tag line. The killer is on the jury. This isn’t a spoiler in any way it is the hook that prevents you from putting down the book or switching off your bluetooth headphones. The blurb says it all.

‘Hollywood actor Robert Soloman stands accused of the brutal stabbings of his wife and her lover, but he is desperately pleading that he had nothing to do with it. This is the trial of the century, and the defence want Eddie Flynn on their team.

The biggest case Eddie has ever tried before, he decides to take it on despite the overwhelming evidence that Robert is guilty. As the trial starts, Eddie becomes sure of Robert’s innocence, but there’s something else he is even more sure of – that there is something sinister going on in the jury box.

Because of this, he is forced to ask: what if the killer isn’t on the stand? What if he’s on the jury?’

What’s it like to listen to?:

Being as English as  afternoon  tea, I usually stick to British narration. Usually, but not always by any means. This book had been calling to me for some time but as I now write crime thrillers to supplement my pension, – I was going to say that I write ‘for a living’ but that would be lying – I often listen to an audio book while doing the gardening and other household tasks. The garden furniture needed attention and so, as I put brush into jar of teak oil, I plugged in to Thirteen and, my goodness, what a treat.

The story makes use of first person to give the perspective of Eddie Flynn, defence lawyer with a great backstory. I think this draws the reader/listener in to the suspense more than if third person had been used throughout. Cleverly, Steve Cavanagh serves up the rest of the deliciously descriptive dastardly tale in the third person. His research into the workings of the law and of the jury selection process allows those of us unfamiliar with US judicial systems, a chance to understand the ins and outs of the plot. Intelligent stuff.

The characters drive the plot. Eddie Flynn is a delight. Flawed, human, bright and sharp witted. I liked him a lot. Happy to invest. The twisted antagonist, Kane, is a work of  art with depth of psychological damage as well as intelligence and motives that make sense.

What leads me to conclude that this thriller works so well as an audiobook is the narration. Adam Sims understood the story, the characters and he brings them to life. His accents don’t grate and I for one prefer a male narrator when it comes to female voices rather as opposed to a female attempting male voices.  This audio book is a credit to all involved. If you like courtroom dramas, crime thrillers with a psychopath at the heart of the story, suspense and twists a plenty, then you’ll love this. I did.

Alison Morgan