Here are some more titles that I’ve really enjoyed for your delectation…
Ruby by Cynthia Bond
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
Sirens by Joseph Knox
The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong
The Museum of You by Carys Bray
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis
Date With Death by Julia Chapman
While My Eyes Were Closed by Linda Green
The nights are drawing in. Time to curl up with a good book (well, when isn’t it?) Here are some I’ve really enjoyed, hope you find something you like.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
The Woman Who Ran by Sam Baker
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson
Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy
Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
King Crow by Michael Stewart
Black Water by Louise Doughty
A group of strangers take seats in the same carriage on a train journey from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston not knowing that their day will turn out to be a day unlike any other. A day of terror and the fight for survival, of horror and humanity. When I was developing the story, I knew I wanted to tell it from several different and increasingly connected viewpoints. As the journey progresses the characters become familiar with their fellow passengers, form opinions about them, strike up conversations and this lays the ground for the traumatic events that follow. I had used several narrators in some of my previous novels – usually three or four – but this time it was going to be nine. Yes, nine. That’s a lot of different voices to convey and it would be a challenge to make it work so the reader didn’t lose track and muddle them up, or want to skip over some of the sections. Before starting writing, I spent several weeks working solely on the characters. I aimed for a diverse range of people, different ages and ethnicities, with varying roles and responsibilities, but they had to be more than stereotypes or ciphers, they needed to have some depth, to have quirks and flaws, foibles and secret dreams. It was up to me to know what they looked like on the outside (that meant browsing lots of images online to ‘cast’ the parts and printing off photographs) and what was going on inside their heads. Building, or uncovering, character is a process with all my writing but I suppose in this case there were a lot more people to create. Once that was done as thoroughly as possible, I could start writing and planning how the different stories would interweave though at that stage I didn’t know the fate of all the characters – that became clearer as the novel progressed, growing out of the writing. The nature of the story meant that not everyone would survive and choosing who did and didn’t was not easy but made sense within the logic of the story.
October 6th was National Poetry Day. I’ve written a few poems in days gone by. This one has had the biggest reaction from people.
Or any time at all, really. Here are some titles I’ve enjoyed this year and you might too:
Case Book by Monica Simpson
The American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Red Dust by Gillian Slovo
A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth
Rapture by Liz Jensen
The Past by Tessa Hadley
I Am China by Xiaolu Guo
Café Assassin by Michael Stewart
Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley
I bring home your harmonica. Take it from the case and find, tucked in the soft cloth beneath, a small brown leaf. You all over. Music and nature.
Half The World Away
‘a fascinating glimpse into modern China’ The Sunday Mirror
‘detection merges with high emotion’ The Times
This book, my twenty-second, is the first to venture outside Manchester. It tells the story of Jo and Tom Maddox, an estranged couple, who reunite in a desperate search for their daughter, Lori, who has gone missing in China. I chose China partly because my son lives there, and it would make the job of research a little easier, but mainly because China is such a fascinating country and so very different from here. A place in the throes of huge development and change and somewhere that my characters would feel completely at sea, unable to understand the language, unfamiliar with the culture and customs. I’d never been to China – or anywhere in Asia – so I’d little idea of what to expect when I visited. Once there, as I gathered background material for the book, I knew it was important to capture the particular feel of the city, Chengdu. Not just with visual descriptions but by conveying the sounds and smells, the tactile sensations of the air and dust, the taste of the spicy food, the atmosphere. Here are some of the pictures I took, and some of these locations appear in the book.
Half The World Away comes out in paperback on July 14th.
My book Witness was inspired by two separate events. The first was a near-death experience when a car cut across ours at great speed on the motorway. I was driving but yelled at my son to write down the registration number and when we got home I rang and reported the incident to the police. They took the details and asked me if I’d testify if the case ever came to court. I agreed though I felt uneasy about it. After a few weeks I got a call back – the driver was being investigated for far more serious offences and so the police would not be pursuing my complaint. My gut reaction was a sense of relief, of having avoided something unpleasant and possibly frightening. The second event was the shooting of fifteen-year-old Jesse James in Moss Side, Manchester in 2006. Police believed that Jesse, who had no involvement with gangs, was mistakenly targeted by gang members. I was working in the area in the days after the shooting and there was great sorrow and outrage at the crime and a belief that some people in the community knew who was responsible. The plea for witnesses continues to this day. No one was ever charged with Jesse’s murder. It made me wonder what it would be like to be a witness, what impact it would have. What if you were too scared to go through with it, if you believed you were putting yourself and your family at risk?
That gave me the framework for the novel, four bystanders, people in the wrong place at the wrong time, who witness a shocking shooting. To research the book I spent time with the Witness Service at Manchester Crown Court and saw how they supported the people giving testimony. People without who our criminal justice system would fall apart. Ordinary people like you and me.
Witness is a Kindle Monthly Deal throughout June alongside The Kindest Thing.
Here are some more novels that I’ve read and enjoyed recently and I hope you’ll find something here that appeals to you. There’s all sorts, British and American authors, some historical settings, some contemporary psychological crime, a modern classic and I borrowed most of them from my local library 🙂
The Ballroom by Anna Hope
My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
The Widow by Fiona Barton
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Stoner by John Williams
It’s no secret that the question ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is one of the most commonly asked of writers. And I’d say it’s one of the hardest to answer. My fall-back position is to joke about a stall I know on the market that does two for one and I’ve blogged before about not wanting to analyse the writing process too much as for me it’s about letting go and acting instinctively rather than anything more consciously structured. I do sometimes try and address it more seriously when talking to readers by illustrating how ideas for different books came from a visual image, or from a situation that troubles me. Recently I’ve been developing ideas for my next book and also for radio. This involved quite a lot of time staring at blank sheets of paper, gazing into space, writing list of possible ‘topics’ or situations and seeing if any of these might be ripe for development. Each time I came back to the suggestions I was very much aware of my gut responses: which ones left me feeling a bit flat, or cornered as though I was being tugged reluctantly in that direction; which ones kicked at my pulse yet made me feel slightly sick and overwhelmed and not sure if I was capable of writing them? That latter feeling with its mix of thrill and anxiety is as good a measure as anything for selecting an idea to run with. I imagine it’s a bit like hang-gliding or parachute jumping (which I have never done and never ever intend to), stepping off the edge and hoping to land safely several hundred feet/pages later. Without throwing up.