Sunday, 18 December 2016

Short Intermission

My first venture into indie publishing has happened – although in a very small way, and it is closely related to my novels published by Honno. Moments of Consequence is a book of short stories, and it’s there because I’ve written books and got them out there, I like writing books and getting them out there and it becomes a bit addictive. The more you write, the more you want to write. In the hiatus between the publication of my last novel (The Unravelling) and wondering what to do with my next, I had to have another fix.
Some of the stories have been around for a few years. One story, The Accountant, was my first ever publishing success, back in 2010, since it was voted Winner by the readers of a short story magazine called Debut. No harm in giving it another airing.

Some stories are ghost stories. Since I am a writer of “Domestic Noir,” I reckon there’s nothing more nourish than a ghost story. Or nothing more domestic than stories about houses and the secrets they hide.

History is always a fascination to me - especially the way our personal dramas and all-important issues are swallowed up by time.

ever seen this in the middle of Haverfordwest?

I have also included three stories to accompany my novels. This is a remarkably comforting way to avoid letting go. When you work on a novel, pouring your heart and soul into it for weeks, months, years even, there is a fabulous burst of triumph when you finally reach the last page. But that burst is very brief, and it’s followed by a dreadful gaping maw of emptiness. You can’t just cut the umbilical cord and move on. One option is to keep tweaking the original. Play this right, and you can keep it going for years. Good if you don’t want to let go, but bad if you really want to get it published. The alternative is to turn you attention to short stories that blur the awful finality of “The End.”

Having decided to fill in some gaps in my own published works, I had the arrogance to fill in some gaps in the works of others too. Well, why not?

somewhere in Gloucestershire

Moments of Consequence is out now, available on Kindle

Merry Christmas !!!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

So clear, so obvious

One of the themes that works its way into my novels is a misinterpretation of past events, when viewed from the understanding of the present. Hindsight can cast light on a great many things, but sometimes the light it casts creates wholly deceptive shadows.

One story whose interpretation has always fascinated me begins in 1144, when William, a 12 year old tanner’s apprentice in the city of Norwich, vanished. His mutilated body was eventually found in a wood. For various reasons (Anglo-Saxon v Norman politics, ecclesiastical quests for lucrative relics, sheer malice, overheated imaginations etc) it was concluded that William had been tortured and crucified by the Jews of Norwich. The case was taken up, with relish, by a Norwich monk, Thomas of Monmouth, and expanded into a hugely gothic account, offering dozens of proofs that little William had been ritually sacrificed by the wicked Jews. The Catholic church hesitated over recognising the miracles that followed, so little “Saint” William was never actually officially canonised, but he was recognised as a saint and child martyr in Norwich.

A hundred years later, the murder of little “saint” Hugh of Lincoln was also recognised as an obvious case of Jewish ritual murder, and many of the Jews of Lincoln were promptly rounded up and hanged. The Jews of Norwich were a little luckier. They had forty-five years of freedom after William’s death before the massacres began.
Little Saint Hugh was more famous. He got a mention in Chaucer and a ballard by Steeleye Span.

It’s all a typical story of anti-Semitism in Mediaeval Europe, nasty but predictable. What really fascinates me, though, is the reinterpretation of the story in the latter part of the 20th century. According to Thomas of Monmouth’s colourful account, William’s body was found dressed in jacket and shoes. Just jacket and shoes? It doesn’t say, but historian Vivian Lipman, in 1967, concluded that the body must have been half stripped. Other historians then leapt to a similar conclusion that the murder was actually a sex crime, perpetrated by a child molester. Just as Thomas of Monmouth embellished the story out of all recognition, so modern historians turned supposition into irrefutable fact. The boy was last seen heading off with a stranger, and was later found naked from the waist down with mutilated genitals. I heard one such historian discussing the case on the radio and explaining, with a scornful laugh that ‘of course, it is obvious to us now that it was the work of a sadistic paedophile.’

Yes, it is obvious, in an age where child molesters are the big, nasty bogeymen who terrorise our imaginations, that it must have been a paedophile. But back in the 12th Century, an age of unquestioning religious stupidity and fear of outsiders, it was equally obvious that it must have been Jews performing a human sacrifice. We seek out and surprisingly discover our own invented monsters. The truth is that no one has any idea what really happened to William in 1144. Maybe he was accidentally killed while playing with friends. Maybe he was attacked in the woods by a wild boar. Maybe he was abducted by aliens who performed experiments on him! Take your pick and choose whatever comes closest to your personal nightmare.

Historians in quest of “facts” should be very cautious about jumping to conclusions. Better to leave those to novelists, who are always right, without having a single fact to support them.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Fair Play - why book fairs?

I’ll be taking part in a small flurry of book fairs soon: The Rhondda, on September 3rd, Tenby  (which I am helping to organise) on September 24th, and Carmarthen on October 1st.

Tenby Book Fair 2015

To stand at a stall, offering my wares, might seem a very Mediaeval way of going about things in the days of internet ordering and e-books. Besides, what are bookshops for, if not to provide any book that anyone is looking for? Literary festivals like Hay, with big names addressing crowds of fans are all very well, but why bother with book fairs?

The reason is that for most of us authors, such events are the only occasions when we get to meet our readers in the flesh, to discuss our work and hear their opinion. We write for ourselves, mostly, and perhaps to please a publisher or agent, but ultimately, since we choose to be published, rather than storing our work in notebooks under our bed, we write for “the reader” out there, who will devour our polished words. It becomes a somewhat surreal situation if our readers never materialise in the flesh. We need the contact to keep it real.

A fair also allows us to meet our fellow authors, in an atmosphere where everything is all about books, and sometimes it’s very healthy to escape the private isolation of writing and remind ourselves that we are not alone. There are other people as obsessed with writing as us.

For indie authors, who self-publish, and who want to rely on more than Kindle sales on Amazon, fairs can be almost the only way to put their printed books out there, for people to see. Many bookshops simply don’t stock independent authors. An ISBN number is not enough to get you on the “List.” And for us conventionally published authors, there is no guarantee that bookshops, even their local bookshops, will pay them any attention whatsoever. If you are lucky, you might find a copy of your book, buried in a dark corner, out of sequence, while the front displays concentrate on the highly promoted big names. If you are in the hands of one of the mega-publishing houses, which sees you as a potential block-buster in WH Smiths or on airport concourses, then they might send you off on tour round the country or the world, to meet your readers. They might flaunt your book cover on billboards for you. 99% of authors don’t get that treatment, so we have to put ourselves out there.

And that’s what book fairs are for. So do come. We're a rare breed and well worth gawping at.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Catherine Marshall - deep dark mysteries

Today I am discussing her books with my guest, Catherine Marshall, my good friend and one of my favourite writers.

Catherine comes from the Midlands, and lived in London before moving to Lancashire (so far). After an early start writing romances for an imprint of Robert Hale, Catherine turned to darker topics and more complicated psychology. If you want a genre, definitely Noir! She has three novels, which may have a crime at their heart, but which concentrate on the conflicted personalities of those drawn into the maelstrom.


Masquerade is set in an Open University summer school, where students come together for a brief while, to study and to flirt with the possibility of fleetingly adopting a new personality. This they can do, because none of them know each other. Or do they? What exactly are they escaping from?

Excluded is set around Rapton, a challenging high school in Lancashire, where an idealistic headmaster is hoping to work miracles. Exclusion is a punishment he doesn’t want to use, but he is operating in an arena where far too many already feel excluded, in every way that matters. For some, it’s hard to tell where they can ever, possibly, fit in. When their stories collide, tragedy sweeps up everyone.

 Still Water is set mostly in a small resort in Cornwall, with a terrifying diversion across Europe. Summer brings holiday-makers flocking to the town, to surf and to party, including Gil, a regular, ready to renew his long-time acquaintance with one local woman, but also to discover a new passion with another. The trouble is, both are nursing past griefs, and before the summer is over, something is going to break.

Here is my interview with Catherine.

Q. Your characters are all complex and very real. Some of them are very troubled, or disturbed, or downright unpleasant, but you write about all of them with a degree of sympathy. Do you ever ache to make things turn out better for them?

Yes, sometimes, especially if I kill them off! But I’m always thinking about what would make the better story. If the characters aren’t sympathetic, the reader won’t care about them or about what happens to them, and you need some level of emotional investment to continue reading. I need not to like them, necessarily, but to understand them, and with that comes sympathy. I try to factor in too what might realistically happen, but that comes second to telling a good story and ensuring there are twists and turns to the plot.

Q. Masquerade is about people whisked away from their normal lives for a brief moment and they are all, in some way, wearing masks. Does that appeal to you – being someone new for a short while?

Well, that was where the idea for Masquerade began. When I was travelling to that summer school I was tempted to reinvent myself for a week – and by the end of the first day I’d realised how much energy that would require. Also, I’d find it hard to be so acutely focussed on myself for any length of time – I’m always more interested in other people, who they are and what makes them tick. But the idea was born, and all four main characters have good reasons for dissembling to a greater or lesser degree. I’m fascinated by the concept of identity, and a Psychology summer school is a very good place to explore that concept.

Q.  Masquerade is set in… well, it must surely be Bath? A very atmospheric setting. Why did you choose it?

Prosaically, because that’s where my own summer school took place. But Bath has a very specific atmosphere – a mystery and a magic due to its size and its history – which many cities don’t have, and which made it just right for the location of the story. It’s small enough for you to bump into people you know but big enough to get lost in if you’re a stranger, which was exactly what I needed for the plot. The story is partly set in Brighton too, and I think it has a comparable ambience.

Q.  Excluded paints a pretty hair-raising picture of a troubled school in Lancashire. Did you base it on fact and your own experiences?

Yes, completely. The characters are composites (I hasten to add) but the setting, and the way the school functions – or rather, doesn’t – was the very worrying truth of the school in which I worked at that time. There were many boys like Callum and Todd, struggling with similar issues. So I didn’t have to do any research, just lay a fictional story over a factual background.

Q. The book follows the fatally interlocking story of several characters who feel unjustly excluded. For me, the central one is Dean, the newly released prisoner with a miserable past. Is that how you see him, or would you choose another character?

When I began writing Excluded, it was without a central character in mind, though Todd and Stephen and Finn were all contenders. It was only when I was about two thirds of the way through that I realised it was Dean’s story, and how could I possibly have thought otherwise? The reader learns more about Dean than the others, as his story covers a longer time period, and he represents the idea of exclusion so precisely. And of course, the more I wrote from his point of view, the more I grew to like and understand him, which I didn’t expect to do at the beginning.

Q. I am impressed by the way the story ends with questions not quite answered, leaving the reader to
hope, without any guarantees. Were you tempted to spell out the fate of all the characters and tie up all the loose ends neatly?

No. Excluded is the most realistic of my novels, and therefore has the most realistic ending, I think. We reach a natural conclusion to that particular stage in the characters’ stories, but to tie up loose ends and enforce a traditionally happy ending would detract from everything that had gone before.

Q. Still Water has one of the most chilling openings I have ever read, and the consequent flight scenes are terrifying and compelling. Do you have nightmares at night, or a very dark imagination?

I rarely suffer from nightmares, so must have a very dark imagination! The idea for Still Water came from how strongly we can feel if we think we’ve been betrayed on a very ordinary level, in the most ordinary of situations, and I wanted to look at what betrayal – or perceived betrayal - might do to someone in more extreme circumstances. So yes, I guess that’s dark – but surely better drama.

Q. The glorious setting for much of the story is Cornwall. How much is fictional? It is clearly an area you love.

Yes indeed. St Ives was my inspiration for the setting of Still Water, but I didn’t name it because I wanted there to be locations for the purposes of the story which don’t actually exist. The square where Cecily’s cafĂ© is based, for example, isn’t real, and nor is Patrick’s bar. But Alex’s gallery was a beach shop during my 1970s family holidays and then I discovered last year that it is now, in fact, a gallery.

Q. You are very good at writing sexy, competent but interestingly flawed men. Why choose crime-based human dramas rather than romances?

There’s my dark imagination in play! I suppose partly because I prefer mysteries and thrillers to romances, and partly because it gives them more to do and more meat as a character. I’m much more interested in the whole of someone’s psychological make-up, in what motivates and inspires and limits them, and in keeping them more grittily real than romantic leads tend to be.

I can vouch for the fact that Catherine’s books are great, if disturbing, reads and I highly recommend all of them.

Find them here.



Still Water

And find out more about Catherine:


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Saturday, 30 July 2016

What's in a genre?

When I first started moving from seriously obsessive scribbling to trying to get someone else to appreciate what I’d written, the first question confronting me was ‘what genre do I write in?’ People want to know. At least publishers want to know, and agents and librarians and book shop owners, not to mention readers. This can be awkward if, like me, you think you’re just writing a novel, about people and the things they do, with a bit of drama thrown in. The idea of genres seemed slightly absurd.

Although I’ve got used to the notion, I am still never sure exactly what my genre is. There’s invariably a crime in my novels, because a crime provides the perfect drama. So yes, I write crime fiction, but that’s very wide. It needs tighter definition.

I find myself listed on Amazon under Crime, Thriller and Mystery. Thinking about my first two books, A Time For Silence and Motherlove, I’ve accepted that Mystery is a sensible description, but Thriller seems completely wrong. On the other hand, my third book, The Unravelling, does seem to fit that bill. Why? I couldn’t put my finger on the precise difference, so I thought I would investigate.

Dictionary definition of Thriller
    1. Something that thrills. Well yes, of course.
    2. A suspenseful, sensational genre of story. Hm. Sensational sounds a bit cheap.
    3. Pulp fiction. No, I’m not having that.

How about Mystery?
    1. Something secret or unexplainable
    2. Something with an obscure or puzzling nature.
That just about sums up all fiction, doesn’t it?

I decided the dictionary wasn’t enough help, so I turned to the fount of all wisdom, Wikipedia.

'Crime fiction is the literary genre that fictionalises crimes, their detection, criminals and their motives.' Okay, no one can argue with that.

'Thrillers are characterized and defined by the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety.'  But then, I’d have thought, so do romances, or historical novels, or travel memoirs.

'Mystery fiction is a genre of fiction usually involving a mysterious death or a crime to be solved.' So, it’s crime fiction.


I’ve usually settled for saying that I write psychological crime mysteries, because I focus mostly on the characters and the effect a crime has on them. But, according to Wikipedia, ‘Psychological thriller is a thriller story which emphasizes the unstable mental and emotional states of its characters… with similarities to Gothic and detective fiction in the sense of sometimes having a "dissolving sense of reality", moral ambiguity, and complex and tortured relationships between obsessive and pathological characters.’ Which is a bit more than I had in mind, though it fits my last book best.

And, of course, there’s Noir. Another splendid term that I couldn’t quite define, but it puts me in the same bracket as everything Scandinavian, so that’s okay. According to Wikipedia, ‘Noir fiction (or roman noir) is a literary genre closely related to hardboiled genre with a distinction that the protagonist is not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Other common characteristics include the self-destructive qualities of the protagonist. A typical protagonist of noir fiction is dealing with the legal, political or other system that is no less corrupt than the perpetrator by whom the protagonist is either victimised and/or has to victimise others on a daily basis, leading to a lose-lose situation.’
Blimey. Right. Well, why not?

Of course there is always the genre label ‘Suspense.’

The dictionary offers two definitions.
    1. The pleasurable emotion of anticipation and excitement regarding the outcome or climax of a book.
    2. The unpleasant emotion of anxiety or apprehension in an uncertain situation.

That is ridiculously wide. It’s either pleasant excitement or unpleasant anxiety. On the other hand, it probably gets to the root of what is so alluring about crime fiction. The two definitions cross over. We actually take pleasure in being alarmed and apprehensive. We find pleasurable emotion in the horror of murder and revel in our own terror – just as long as it’s not quite real. Not something that’s going to wreck our lives, once we shut the book. We can look into a fictional mirror and see our darkest inner self let loose, knowing that, off the page, the dark side is buried so deep we will never allow it to surface.


Check out my latest book, definitely a noir crime mystery thriller.

The Unravelling

Monday, 25 July 2016

On Tour

From today, 25th July, The Unravelling features in a blog tour, organised by Brook Cottage Books.

And it has got off to a brilliant start, with a review from Anne Williams on “Being Anne.” I couldn't hope for a better review.

Here is the full timetable for the tour.

Date: 25th July
- Being Anne
- Chill With A Book

Date: 26th July
- Fiction Dreams

Date: 27th July
- Pauline Barclay
- The Book Review Cafe

Date: 28th July
- Celtic Connexions
- Authors & Readers Corner

Date: 29th July
- Best Chick Lit

Date: 1st August
- Brook Cottage Books
- Victoria's Pages of Romance

Date: 2nd August
- Tracey Rogers

Date: 3rd August
- Devika Fernando
- Judith Barrow

Date: 4th August
- The Bingergread Cottage
- Bloomin Brilliant Books

Date: 5th August
- The Book Magnet
- Jo Lambert

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

apples and other memories

The Unravelling is published tomorrow.
It begins with Karen Rothwell driving home from work on a miserable night. An apple drops from her bag and rolls into a gutter. That is enough to spark memories of a girl she hasn’t thought about for 35 years.

I don’t think I have been blocking out any memories, all these years, but then, of course, if I had, I wouldn’t know. But I do know how random sights, sounds and smells can bring memories back to life with a suddenness that leaves me feeling as if I’m walking in past and present at once.

There’s a smell you get in institutional corridors and when I get a whiff of a specific version of it, I am immediately a child back at my first day at school and I can see a donkey. There was a pen and ink drawing of a donkey on the corridor wall of my infant school, and I am sure it was an excellent piece of artwork, but to a small child it was sinister and unnerving. You didn’t want to turn your back on that donkey.
What was the smell lurking in that school corridor? Paint, disinfectant and polish, I imagine, and, since it was crowded with terrified five-year-olds, probably a ripe mix of bodily fluids, stale milk and boiled sweets. A very precise mix. Leave out one or two of the mysterious ingredients, and you just have a not very pleasant smell equated with hospital corridors and council offices, but get it exactly right, and in a flash, time spins backwards.

Pink custard is another prompt. Not that I see much of it, but when I do…

I suppose pink custard is just a liquid strawberry blancmange mix, but while I will eat strawberry blancmange (if I must), my stomach seizes up at the very thought of pink custard. More especially, the skin that has probably formed on it. Mostly, I enjoyed school meals, especially the rare days when we had cheese salad with chips. None of your wafer thin French Fries, but proper, big, squashy chips, probably done in beef dripping. Forget the green salad bit, just pile the grated cheese on the chips, to let it melt, and pour on salad cream. NOT mayonnaise. Proper salad cream. I don’t think I would dream of producing such a meal now, but I still salivate at the memory, whereas the memory of sultana sponge with pink custard has the reverse effect. It was just a childish fad, based, I suppose, on a distrust of certain colours.

When I taste a sweet syrup, I instantly think of Rich Tea Finger Biscuits.
I can’t help it. Sweet stickiness conjures up the rosehip syrup spooned into me as a child, for its questionable vitamin C content, and since it was a health thing, I instantly associate it with the school clinic, a 1930s building with rounded windows that in turn made me think of Rich Tea Fingers.

Parsley. That’s another. The good old English curly variety imitated in plastic on butchers' trays, not the elegant flat-leaf variety. When I was a child, my father grew two herbs on his vegetable patch. Mint for peas, new potatoes and lamb chops, and parsley for steamed fish. I don’t think it ever occurred to people, in those days, that there might be other herbs, or other uses. When I grew old and sophisticated, I moved onto basil, coriander, oregano, rosemary with juniper, toasted sage on pasta with butter and lemon. I know that parsley is equally gorgeous and I use it too, but the smell still takes me straight back to a childhood when, for me, its only appeal was the way it grew, like a miniature fairy forest amongst tiny miniature flowers – germander speedwell, scarlet pimpernel and heartsease – that my father regarded as irritating weeds.
It might explain why I grew up to make miniature furniture.

I enjoy all sorts of scenery. I can marvel at mountains and ravines and deserts, but the mere sight of white rock, showing through the thin grass on chalk downs, instantly sends a shiver of excitement up my spine.
If, in my childhood, we were driving past Ivinghoe Beacon, with a white gash on its steep side, it meant that either we were starting our holiday, heading off to a caravan by the sea, or we were returning, after a long tetchy journey (everyone out of the car to push on Countisbury Hill, and why didn’t we go via Simonsbath?) and home was just round the corner. Even my first glimpse of Yosemite didn’t quite match that glow of pleasure that a white streak on a grassy hill conjures up.

What I don’t have, in my own life, are triggers that set off memories of moments that I’d rather forget. Unless, of course, there’s an unknown trigger ominously waiting for me round the next corner.


Sunday, 17 July 2016

Time and Place


My third novel, The Unravelling was published by Honno in 2016. The central character does visit Wales in one chapter, but the book is largely centred on a council estate in Lyford, which was also a setting for my second novel Motherlove. Lyford is fictional, but it's based on Luton, where I grew up. That is to say, it is based on my memories of the Luton I knew, before I moved away in the 1980s. Motherlove draws on an assortment of images I carried with me of Luton, especially Wardown Park, but the council estate in The Unravelling is inspired, more specifically by the estate in north Luton where I grew up and walked to school and watched the massive engineering of the M1 steaming past the playing field.

Why is the setting so important to me? I think it’s because it reflects my fascination with things buried under the surface, which is what the book is all about. Layers of history build one upon the other. They disappear beneath the next, but their bones are still there if you look. And that is very much what the book is about: the bones of the past scratching through to the surface.

The estate in 1969

Visit a quaint village with half-timbered houses and a castle nearby and you can’t really escape the notion of history, but most people wouldn’t expect to look for it in a post war council estate. Growing up there, as a child, I imagined it to be eternal, because children crave permanence, and yet all around me were signs of change. My grandparents spent their last years there, in one of the prefabs hastily erected after the war, but I witnessed the prefabs being bulldozed, to make way for the tower blocks that I watched rising, day by day, betting, with my sister, on which one would win.
One of the towers was called Hooker's Court. 
For some reason that escapes me, the name has been changed.

I was aware that some houses predated the estate. It's bordered by an outpouring of 1930s enthusiasm for pebble-dash semis and suburban bungalows, feeding off the main road out of town into short stubs of proposed streets that never led anywhere until the council got to work after the war.

You had to head out of the estate into the adjoining suburb, formerly a village in its own right, to find evidence of seriously old buildings. There was even a thatched cottage, slowly decaying.
It has now been moved to a museum

There are still one or two older houses on the edge of the estate, dating from Victorian times, when the railway cut through the common and created the pocket of land on which the estate was later built.

Before the railway, and for decades after, despite the attempts of 1930s developers, the area remained countryside, with a scattering of farms. All that remained of the rural life when I came along, was a small market garden and a wedge of allotments bordering the railway. My father worked one of them. They were the realm of grumpy old men with views on broad beans.
The allotments are still there and thriving

One other feature from the distant past is also still there. The Lane. Today, it is merely a neat pathway running between flats and new houses that have sprung up since I left.
It looks so in keeping with the development all around that you’d think it must be the work of modern town planners. In reality it is the only man-made feature that has been there from the start.
Here it is, in the 1880s, just a farm track.
And that is how it remained, when I used to walk home along it as a child. It was a rough, muddy, unpaved track, leading through trees, although the farm that went with it had disappeared entirely, remembered only as the name of one of the school houses.

The lane crosses a brook, these days on a neat metal bridge (just visible under the dark trees at the end), but when I was a child it was an old plank bridge, with a pipe running beside it (still there) that all self-respecting children chose to walk along.
The brook was one of many, which had been tamed, long before the estate was built, into drainage ditches. Once the house-building began, some disappeared underground, and re-emerged hundreds of yards away. Towns tend to do that. It’s odd to think there’s a river flowing straight across the centre of the city of London, the Walbrook, which was totally underground even by Tudor times and is now just a street name.
This is the point where one brook on the estate disappears
and I have never worked out where it reappears. Boys would
venture into the culverts, but not me. It was well known that
killer leaches lurked within and they would drain your blood
and you would DIE!

Although I didn’t think in terms of historical development when I was 12, I did know that there was very serious history on our doorstep. Under the railway, and through the copse where the River Lea rises (these days through a scenic metal grid in a concrete bunker), you come to banks and ditches that mark the site of a Neolithic settlement, although I always thought of it more as a wonderful wilderland of kingcups, tree dens, cowslip meadows and sticklebacks. And, of course, there is the Icknield Way, which, in Luton, can’t decide whether it’s a suburban street or a prehistoric trackway.
It is one of the great ridgeway paths that followed the chalk downs across England. Drive a hundred yards out of Luton and you cannot escape the downs on either side. They were our weekend playground, whether you were into gliding, kite-flying or just rolling down the hill.

At the foot of the downs lie reservoirs with canals and locks and a hump-back bridge that always had me squealing as we sailed over it in the old Morris 8.

The canal age began with the Bridgewater canal, the duke of Bridgewater being commemorated by the Bridgewater monument that is unmissable, poking out of the trees on the brink of the downs in Ashridge. Why it's called Ashridge I don't know, because it's cloaked in beeches and silver birches but I've never seen an ash.

Behind the crest of the downs, on the gentle dip slope, lie small villages in what you might call Range Rover country.

There is a house in the Ashridge woods that I would have loved to include in The Unravelling, but I couldn't because it's too unique to be fictionalised. So unique that from my earliest years it was my dream home, because how could anyone not want to live in a house with a blue roof? These days, when I see it, being a boring adult, I find myself worrying about how difficult it would be to replace bright blue pantiles, should one get broken. Time does that to you.

Apart from my dream blue house, I helped myself to all these imaged of Luton and its surroundings. They are not wild welsh wilderness of Celtic mysteries, and they don't lend themselves to gritty urban thrillers, but they are the perfect setting for my brand of domestic noir, which understands that the darkest traumas can unfold in the most suburban settings.

The Unravelling

and my other novel set in Lyford:



Thursday, 14 July 2016

It's a Girl!

My new novel, The Unravelling, will be out there, facing the world, on July 21st. My new baby, and it’s a girl – or at least it is all about girls. Weighing 10 ounces or thereabouts and beautiful. Mother is doing well, if a little exhausted.

How long does it take to write a book? In this case, about 3 months – or 30 years, depending how you look at it. I started writing at school, mostly fantasy or science fiction, but an early draft of The Unravelling was my first attempt at contemporary social realism. I started it, writing in biro on an A4 pad, when I was about 30, and I got at least 30 pages in. Then I stopped. I put it aside and started something else instead.

Sometime later, having progressed to an Amstrad word processor, I made another start, because it seemed too good an idea to waste, and I got as far as chapter 5. Then I stopped and put it aside, to work on something else. Periodically, over the following years, I picked up the idea again and kept restarting. I couldn’t repeat, word for word, what I’d written on the Amstrad, because it was by then on a rubbish tip and the disks (were they called disks?) were unreadable. But I knew what it was about, who the characters were, what was going to happen. Each time I made a start, I just stopped.

I don’t know why, because although the characters and events are pure fiction, the book is built upon a foundation that was crystal clear in my head, from day one, needing no research. The foundation is my own childhood in the 1960s and all the images I carry from it – the council estate, the prefabs, the gully that was half-brook, half-sewer, the old farm track and the bridge with the iron pipe, the daisies in the school playing field and the skin on the pink custard, the parade of shops where you could buy marbles and sherbet flying saucers, the cotton frocks, the scabby knees and the nit nurse, the skipping games and the urban myths.

It all sat there in my head, aching to come out, and for some reason it was always the next thing I was going to do, when I’d done something else.

Then I had lunch with my editor. ‘Any ideas what next?’ she asked, so I mentioned various ideas, including the plot of The Unravelling. ‘Write it,’ she said. So I did. I don’t know what spell she conveyed in her command, but I wrote the first three chapters, the fourth, fifth, sixth… they kept flowing. Of course I had to do a fair bit of adjusting to accommodate a different time span, but the book that had always been there just spilled out. A swift and painless labour after a thirty year gestation. What a relief.

The christening is on July 21st. Everyone is welcome.