For your TBR list

I read as widely as I can, my only criteria is a good story. By that I mean a satisfying narrative, characters who draw me in (I don’t have to like them but I do have to be interested in them) and a well-realised setting or world where events unfold. This latest selection includes contemporary and historical fiction as well as some crime novels. But, whatever the genre, in my opinion they’re all criminally good. See what you think.

On Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
Little Deaths by Emma Flint
Before The Fall by Noah Hawley
Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley
The Killing Tree by Rachel Keener
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
Night Waking by Sarah Moss
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Manchester

My last blog described writing about victims and survivors in my novel The Silence Between Breaths which examines a terrorist attack and its impact on people caught up in it. Nineteen days after posting that blog came the brutal attack on Manchester, where I live. The response of people to that violence, the shared humanity and compassion and resilience have been humbling – and also made me so proud. This poem, written sometime ago, says something of what I feel about my adopted city.

 

Manchester

we come from

Carlow Quetta Nanchang Port of Spain

from Peterloo showering bread and roses

all hard knocks and wild ambition

sharp sweet city of mongrels

threaded by cotton

grounded with attitude

arms wide open

singing the sky

Manchester

home

The Silence Between Breaths – Horror and Humanity

My recent novels explore the impact of crime on ordinary people. They are not experts, not professionals, not detectives or forensic scientists, career criminals or lawyers or investigative journalists but people like you and me who are suddenly caught up in some horrific tragedy. They are victims and survivors. Their stories are about situations that frighten me and disturb me, the sort of thing that could happen to any one of us but that you never think will happen to you. In The Silence Between Breaths that tragedy is a terrorist attack. The current threat level in the UK is severe, meaning a terrorist attack is highly likely, and in recent weeks we’ve seen the attack at Westminster while others have been thwarted. The book follows nine characters to look at a range of responses to the threat of danger and the experience of trauma. Among those perspectives is that of a member of the terrorist’s family – a viewpoint I’ve heard little about in news and analysis. There are questions to be answered in the writing: how would each character cope, what they would do under such pressure? Questions I’m also asking of myself. When reading about real-life incidents I’ve been struck at how in the most harrowing of circumstances we have such great capacity for humanity and that’s something I’ve tried to capture in the story.

What Are You Reading?

Most of these books I heard about through reviews in the press or from recommendations on Twitter. A few I found while browsing the shelves in my local library. One of the pleasures of reading is entering new worlds and finding new voices. All these novels gave me that buzz. Happy reading.

Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

We Are Now Beginning Our Descent by James Meek

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Calling Major Tom by David Barnett

The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I’m Reading…

It’s World Book Day today so a good time to spread the word about some books I’ve enjoyed (not that I need an excuse). Enjoy!

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Quieter Than Killing by Sarah Hilary

Redemption Road by John Hart

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay Behind by Elena Ferrante

A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Believe No One by A.D. Garrett

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Under The Harrow by Flynn Berry

The Silence Between Breaths

The first question people ask me when they hear about this book is not what the story is, or how it’s selling, or if it’s a crime novel but whether the title is a quote from something. It isn’t, to the best of my knowledge, but it does have that sort of ring. You can imagine it in a Shakespearean speech or a classic poem. It took months to find it. While writing the novel I’d used a working title that was way too cheesy (nope, not saying). Then I spent weeks exchanging emails with my publishers, even during my holiday on Kefalonia, chewing over possibilities. Long lists were compiled and considered. The book tells the story of a group of strangers on a train from Manchester to London who are caught up in a devastating event. Some proposed titles reflected the randomness of such tragedy: A Day Like Any Other, Out Of A Clear Blue Sky; others aimed to capture the characters’ response to sudden violence: You Can’t Kill The Spirit, The Kindness of Strangers; but nothing had the emotional resonance we were after. The Silence Between Breaths appears on the last list I submitted, along with other suggestions none of which had half the impact. I love how it echoes moments of the story, mirrors both the tension and the rupture that tears lives apart but also the contemplation that comes with such an experience. It’s an intriguing phrase and calls up a physical response in the reader. It’s perfect. And how I dreamt it up remains a mystery.