One of the enduring comforts over the last year has been finding and enjoying wonderful stories. Several of these titles featured in my #FridayReads recommendations on Twitter. I hope you’ll find something here to transport you, entertain, amuse or move you. Happy reading!
Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham
Spring by Ali Smith
The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey
The Flight by Julie Clark
The Guest Book by Sarah Blake
Blackwood by Michael Farris Smith
The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
Expectation by Anna Hope
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor
Good news for book lovers – indie bookshops throughout the UK have joined together to launch Bookshop.org so you can order books online and support local shops during lockdown – and beyond. You can also borrow eBooks and eAudiobooks from libraries through the BorrowBox scheme.
What to choose? Here are some of my recent favourites – and among them is the book I’ve enjoyed best of all in 2020 (jointly along with Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell). Can you guess which it is?
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry
We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
Cruel Acts by Jane Casey
Confession with Blue Horses by Sophie Hardach
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
It is always nerve-wracking waiting for responses to a new book but I think this year has been even more challenging for many of us (me included) as my latest title came out during the pandemic when live events weren’t possible, bookshops and libraries were closed and distribution centres working at seriously reduced capacity. And we were all dealing with the shock and disruption and the awful reality of coronavirus.
I was very pleased to have support and help from some wonderful book bloggers including Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers who designed a lovely blog tour banner for me (after getting a glimpse of my own pitiful attempt!) Early reviews from these bloggers were a real boost: ‘a topical, emotionally charged and compelling story’ Compulsive Readers; ‘combines excellent writing with a clear-eyed view of contemporary issues’ CRIMEPIECES; ‘A powerful story, excellently written with compassion and painful honesty. Outstanding’ Random Things Through My Letterbox; ‘An unputdownable read, this story delivers on all levels’ Karen’s Book Bag.
And these lovely reactions came in from the press: ‘Strong, damaged, lippy northern female police officers — edgy Jade and stressed Donna do not disappoint … Ordinary people are made to matter, as the case reveals some difficult truths’ Sunday Times Crime Club and ‘Staincliffe is one of the few authors who can combine political anger with great entertainment and somehow never lose sight of either’ Morning Star.
So a big thank you to everyone who has reviewed, bought, borrowed or downloaded Quiet Acts of Violence. And a big cheer to those who encouraged me to revisit the detectives from The Girl in the Green Dress. I hope to return to Donna and Jade again before so very long.
It’s been a couple of months since I posted some recommendations (though I regularly shout about #FridayReads on Twitter). Here are ten suggestions for your delectation. Happy reading.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Black Car Burning by Helen Mort
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
We Don’t Die of Love by Stephen May
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Splinter in the Blood by Ashley Dyer
Fires in the Dark by Louise Doughty
Real Tigers by Mick Herron
‘Jade was buzzing, little shocks and fizzes of adrenalin sparking through her blood. Always the way when they were called to a death. The end of everything for somebody. The start of something for Jade.’
Quiet Acts of Violence sees the return of DI Donna Bell and DC Jade Bradshaw, the detectives from The Girl in the Green Dress. But you don’t have to have read that book to enjoy this one. In Quiet Acts of Violence they are investigating the death of a newborn baby and hunting for her missing mother. The background to the novel is the landscape of austerity and inequality, the poverty it has resulted in, the effects on people’s everyday lives. It’s something I’m even more acutely aware of now as we see the toll of coronavirus on our poorest, most disadvantaged communities and disproportionately affecting BAME people. We have learned how dependent we are on each other, and how much we rely on those in low paid and insecure work for many of our most essential services.
Donna and Jade are two very different characters. Donna is white, middle-aged and married with a large family. She is a skilled professional, a steady hand on the tiller and one who will give her all for the victims of the crimes she investigates. Jade is in her twenties, of Pakistani and Irish parentage, and has overcome a very difficult childhood to find a role as a police officer. Jade is often impulsive, impatient to get results. She’s also vulnerable, sometimes besieged by the demons from her past and the trauma she carries. I’ve loved spending more time with Donna and Jade in the writing of this novel and hope to come back to them again before too long. Meanwhile – happy reading. (Though if you weep that’s even better).
Another clutch of books that have completely captivated me. All those different worlds. Although libraries and bookshops are still closed in the lockdown you can order online from some suppliers (there may be a wait for delivery). You can also buy digital books and you can borrow eBooks and eAudiobooks from libraries through the BorrowBox scheme.
Take care, stay safe and happy reading.
The Whisper Man by Alex North
The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
Things Can Only Get Better by David Barnett
Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe
Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha
A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better by Benjamin Wood
Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
During the lockdown when libraries and bookshops are closed you can still order books online from some suppliers (though there may be a wait for delivery). You can also buy digital books and you can borrow digital editions from libraries through the BorrowBox scheme. Here are some titles I’ve really enjoyed – what strikes me about this selection is the variety, they all take place in really different worlds. So if you want transporting somewhere new there might be a place for you somewhere here…
Violet by SJI Holliday
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea
The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech
Saltwater by Jessica Andrews
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
Conviction by Denise Mina
Most of us need no excuse but if you’re staying in more at the moment and want something new to read here are seven very different stories from seven brilliant authors. Enjoy!
All Among The Barley by Melissa Harrison
Platform Seven by Louise Doughty
Big Sky by Kate Atkinson
The Poison Garden by Alex Marwood
All the Hidden Truths by Claire Askew
Circe by Madeline Miller
Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession
A perennial question I’m asked about my work is how much planning I do. When I started out it was very little. I needed to set off with the characters (I always have to know who the characters are from the start) and see where the story took me. And given that my earlier works were the Sal Kilkenny and Blue Murder detective series there was a natural structure to the story, of uncovering the truth and solving a mystery. In itself it was a rough plan of how things would go. Once I turned to writing stand-alone novels, where those at the centre of the story were people whose lives had been torn apart by crime (victims, relatives, even suspects) but not investigators, there was less of a clear blueprint to follow. I liked that freedom and found that how much planning I did was a movable feast – it depended very much on the story itself and whether I could get away with improvising. By the way, that approach is NOT applicable to TV or Radio scriptwriting where every last detail needs to be agreed and nailed down before a line of dialogue is written. A process that I found very challenging as it went against my natural inclination.
My current work in progress follows people on the run and people after them and so part of the planning involved a geographical outline for the moves everyone is making and where their paths cross. As you can see, from the beautiful diagram above, it’s quite complicated and will be even more so when I try and match it to real locations in the Derbyshire Peaks. Or maybe I’ll make them up too.
Happy New Year! Here are ten books that I thoroughly recommend. You might have seen them on my #FridayReads on Twitter during 2019. They’ll transport you to pastures new in the coming year.
The Birdwatcher by William Shaw
In The Absence of Miracles by Michael J. Malone
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Turn A Blind Eye by Vicky Newman
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
A Window Breaks by Chris Ewan
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
Wolf Country by Tunde Farrand
Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
The Lost Man by Jane Harper