Monday, July 27, 2015

At The Poisoned Pen with Brad Parks!

It felt like a millennium since I'd been to my favorite bookstore, so I whipped out my calendar to check. Yup. May 21. Over two months-- no wonder I'd been suffering withdrawal! I arrived at The Poisoned Pen with plenty of time to talk books with the staff and do a little browse-buy. I even had time to sit and read a few pages of my book before a fellow Brad Parks fan sat down with me and asked me about my next trip to Scotland. I have a feeling that most of the other regulars think two things when they see me: Scotland and blog. (It could be a lot worse!) In no time at all, the fans had gathered, including two notables-- Chantelle Aimée Osman, creator of The Sirens of Suspense, and author Graham Brown.

When the author walked in, Patrick had some mail order books that needed signing so Brad sat down to do the deed. All the other fans then swarmed the table with their books, and it sounded like Old Home Week listening to them chatting and laughing. This should be good, I thought to myself. It's obvious Brad is an outgoing guy. I'd already thought that based upon reading his books, but it's always good to have confirmation.

Is this Peggy?!?

Poisoned Pen staffer Karen with author Brad Parks

Before sitting down, Brad showed off his pink polo shirt. "My six-year-old daughter has started choosing my wardrobe," he told us. "Her favorite colors are pink and purple."

When I'd first arrived, Karen and I had talked about authors whom we thought should be hugely popular and famous. We both think Brad Parks is on that list. Karen brought this up right at the beginning of the interview. After thanking her, Brad mentioned authors who didn't become famous until after their deaths. "I have a plan for faking my own death," Parks said. "It's going to be a beautifully done demise. Shortly afterwards my wife is going to 'find' a manuscript. Then my mistress is going to 'find' the 'real' manuscript, and there's going to be a war between the two women. I have it all planned out."

Deftly maneuvering through the laughter, Karen voiced the hope that these plans would proceed quickly-- she wanted it all to happen during her lifetime. This brought on even more laughter, and Brad assured her that his plans were indeed fast-moving ones.

"There are many people who believe that the character of Carter Ross is based on me," Parks said. "I don't know how they got that idea!" (Cue more laughter.) "There is one major difference between the two of us: Carter Ross is single, and I am not! I am very aware of the fact that my wife is going to be reading every word that I write. Take for example my description of Tina. I wanted to make sure that my wife wouldn't read that description and start asking, 'Is this Peggy? Is this our neighbor?!?'

"I'm one of those crazy mystery writers who talks to his characters. I ask them questions. I argue with them. One of the things I liked about the relationship between Carter and Tina was that Carter is a guy who wants a committed relationship, but Tina just wants the sex. I love turning that whole dynamic on its head. I began to wonder why Tina behaved the way she did, so I had a conversation with her. That led to having some questions about her answered in The Girl Next Door.

Evanovich and Coben? I don't see it!

Brad Parks with a fan.
Karen mentioned that Parks is the only writer to have received the Nero and Shamus Awards for the same book (Faces of the Gone)-- among other awards-- and she couldn't understand why he wasn't famous yet. Brad smiled and said, "This is my sixth book. Everyone knows who Lee Child is. You can read the first paragraph of Killing Floor and just be blown away by how good it is. Well, it took Lee Child seven books before he made the New York Times Bestseller List."

He went on to mention other writers who didn't make the list until their eighth or even tenth book before adding, "It only took five books for Michael Connelly, which makes him the idiot savant of mystery writers."

Karen mentioned authors needing more publicity. Parks countered with, "Publishers just don't have that much money to spend on promoting books. They have to use it where they'll get the most bang for their buck. They want an author to have a proven track record before they will invest that money." (Hear that, everybody? Help your favorite authors hit the big time so they can write more of what you want to read!)

One of Brad's fans mentioned Newark, New Jersey, which is the setting for the Carter Ross books. Newark could be considered a character in its own right. "I'm proud of the fact that I've never heard from someone from Newark saying that I got it wrong," Brad said. "Some white people treat going to the inner city like it's a trip to the zoo-- and it's not!" Karen asked how the inner city was created. "In the 1950s and 1960s, agriculture was going through tremendous changes in the South, and thousands of blacks came to Newark looking for work. During that same time frame, Newark lost 20,000 jobs because plants were being closed and the work sent overseas. People were moving there at the wrong time," Parks told us.

Another person brought up the blurb on some of Brad's books that says he's a cross between Janet Evanovich and Harlan Coben. "I don't see it," Brad laughed. "I was complaining about it to my editor, who asked me if I knew how much Evanovich's latest contract was. When I said no, he said, 'Fifty million dollars. That's a lot of books. If that blurb gets some of Evanovich's readers to read you, don't complain!' I don't complain!"

There's not a lot of call for...

Brad Parks enjoys his fans.
"I feel I'm getting better as I go along," Brad said. "When I take a look at my first book, Faces of the Gone, I think 'Wow, I made a lot of mistakes!'"

Fellow author Graham Brown spoke up: "No, no, no! Don't ever make the mistake at looking at your earlier books!"

After the laughter died down, Brad continued. "I like to strive to be better. Besides, I have no job to go back to and two young children to feed. This really helps me to keep wanting to write a better book!"

When Karen asked, Brad confirmed that the reason why he has no job to go back to is due to the impending death rattle of the newspaper industry. (He was a newspaper reporter-- one of the many reasons why people feel his character Carter Ross is autobiographical.) "One day out of curiosity, I logged onto," Parks said. "You know, there's not a lot of call for people who've spent the past six years thinking of creative ways to kill people!"

Another question that came up was how he handles the deadlines for his books. "The word 'deadline' comes from the British prison system. It was a line on the ground that, if you crossed it, you were shot dead. Journalism sticks to that definition. Every minute that the paper is late coming off the presses costs the newspaper $15,000. The person who explained that to lowly little intern me looked at me and said, 'And how much do we pay you in a year, young man?' That made it crystal clear that the paper always comes out on time!"

In contrast, Parks told us that the book industry seems more than a bit lackadaisical when it comes to deadlines. With his background in journalism, he finds that very difficult to get used to. Even more bizarre is when he hears other authors laugh about blowing their deadlines. Knowing all about real ones, Brad just doesn't understand this attitude in others.

Parks still has some newspaper ink running through his veins. "When things like the terrible shootings in Charleston happen, I'm used to dealing with those situations by writing about them. I miss that world. I also miss the immediacy of the feedback. I would write something, people would read it and comment on it the very next day."

Waiting for that next book...
Karen then mentioned his writing style-- how there was humor, action, compassion, newspaper reporting, and more-- and it all worked together so well. 

"I was a nerd growing up. Books were always my friends, and they could be smart and silly and funny, and we could talk about the universe, discuss baseball, or tell fart jokes. I think my writing shows all this, and publishers don't always know what to do with that. I have a feeling that they underestimate you readers."

Brad's next book is a standalone featuring a federal judge whose children are kidnapped in order to control the outcome of a high-profile case. Then it will be back to Carter: "As long as I can still hear these characters talking in my head, I'll still write about them!"


When Karen said she'd heard that Brad had had some community theatre experience, he admitted it and then treated us to an a cappella rendition of "Keep Away from Alphabet Sue!" which was a blast. He serenaded Sue Grafton with it at Left Coast Crime one year, and when he'd finished and sat down next to Sue, she leaned toward him and said, "Well, that's never happened before!"

Brad was then asked about Hardee's. "Yes, I still do all my writing at my local Hardee's. I sit back in my corner, and people just leave me alone. I never realized that anyone was paying any attention to me until I'd been gone for a while and a woman came up to me saying, 'Where have you been? Are you all right? I prayed for you! I didn't know your name, but I asked the Lord to watch over the man from Hardee's!'"

Available Now!
Now we all thought that was funny (and touching), but we hadn't heard nuthin' yet....

"You know how I told you that I hear my characters talking in my head and that I talk back to them? Well, that happened to me one day while I was at Hardee's. In fact, I had two characters arguing with me, so I took it out to the parking lot.

"There I was, in the far corner of the lot, walking back and forth, waving my arms around-- probably a bit wildly-- and arguing out loud with those characters in my head. Well, a Virginia State Trooper stopped to get some lunch, watched me out in the lot for a minute, then went inside where he asked one of the employees, 'Do you know you have a deranged man in your parking lot? Do you want me to pick him up for you?' Luckily they vouched for me!"

Someone in the audience commented that Parks should use some of the Hardee's employees in his books. "Oh, I do!" Brad said. "Lots of Hardee's workers are getting killed in my books, and they love it!"

A Writer's Trip to the Grocery Store

Brad also does some ghost writing, and-- when asked-- he would not divulge one tiny bit of information about it. He's had to sign non-disclosure agreements, and one of them stated that the consequences of breaking this agreement would go "far beyond mere money." Brad's always wondered what exactly that meant!

He also gave us a bit of insight into the mind of a mystery writer:

One day he drove his father's huge Cadillac to the grocery store. When he came out of the market, he popped the trunk lid, and as he was raising it, he looked inside and thought, "Now wouldn't it be funny if I found a body in there?"  

Karen asked him what he read. "I definitely read in the mystery genre." He then recommended Lisa Gardner, Linwood Barclay, and Megan Abbott. What's Brad's idea of a vacation? "A bathing suit and seven books in my bag and a beach for a week."

Brad is a self-confessed extrovert-- something that he doesn't really have to confess to. It's obvious that he enjoys being among people. Writing isn't exactly the profession for folks like him because writers spend so much time alone. Brad shook his head and laughed. "When my wife gets home from work, I pity the poor woman. I haven't talked to anyone all day, and there she is!"

His wife is a school psychologist, and when she was in grad school, Brad was (literally) her test dummy. "She had me take a test in which you got a certain score if you finished in a minute, and another score if you finished in two minutes. You didn't receive any score at all if you took longer than two minutes, but you were not told to stop.

"Twenty-six minutes later, I nailed that sucker!"

Not only that-- you nailed this event, Brad! 

I was the only person left who hadn't had her book signed, so I walked right up to the table. While he was signing it, I told him that a group of book bloggers had recently been discussing the worst-ever book pitch that they'd received. "I don't remember the bad ones," I told him. "I only remember the best one, and it was yours for your third book. It was obvious from your email that you'd taken the time to look through my blog-- and you made me laugh. It's a winning combination!"

Another winning combination? Brad Parks and Carter Ross. If you haven't read a book by Brad Parks, please do so!

My latest Poisoned Pen book haul

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Gang of Doves Weekly Link Round-Up

Another relatively quiet week here at Casa Kittling. I think the most exciting thing that happened was having new sand put in the pool filter, and that was only exciting because my other half managed to track (what seemed like) half the old sand all through the house. What use is house cleaning, I ask you!

Bathing Beauties?

That same gang of juvenile white-winged doves that wanted to sit in the pool like I do are still hanging out with me in the afternoons. I got them their own "kiddie pool" that they'll sit in to cool off, but for some reason they like to take baths in one of my old stand-bys that has been around for years. They'll flap and dunk and flap some more, getting themselves all wet before they shake themselves off to go over to lay under the birds-of-paradise for a little afternoon snooze. Another thing they like to do before Bath 'n' Nap is fly over to me and land on the edge of my umbrella. They will then l-e-a-n over as far as they can go to look down at me. One of these days I'll figure out what they're trying to tell me!

Here come the links-- Head 'em up... Move 'em out!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄ 

  • The British Library has made 5,400 titles available online.
  • The suspicious story behind Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. Will I be reading this book? No. I don't read other authors' first drafts, and I won't be reading Miss Lee's.
  • This is your brain on Jane Austen, and Stanford researchers are taking notes!
  • How much $100 is really worth in each state. Just click on the graphic to get a larger size that you can actually read. (Unless you're Eagle Eye. I'm not, but my husband does call me Bat Ears.)
  • Currencies in literary worlds.
  • Looking forward to this: Filming has begun on Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" for the BBC. 
  • Looking forward to this, too: Idris Elba is the new cast member for the third Star Trek movie, and I love the way they announced it.
  • Words with incredible meanings that are difficult to translate.
  • What Australian slang has given the world.
  • eBook sales are plummeting all over the world in 2015.
  • How does your library encourage reading? 
  • The Girl in the Spider's Web: The ghostwriter, the secret plot and a "grave-robbing" Stieg Larsson sequel.
  • How would you like to have a superhero guarding your favorite books?

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • The ghost who helped solve her own murder. 
  • A World War I medal that was found in an old dumpster has been reunited with the man's grandson.
  • Archaeologists have unveiled 24 new geoglyphs on Peru's Nazca Plateau.
  • An Iron Age discovery in southern Scotland forces a re-think on the history of the area.
  • Some incredible photos of World War II American aircraft lying in the Airplane Graveyard of the Pacific.
  • A large collection of gold coins-- probably buried during the Nazi era or shortly after World War II-- have been discovered in Germany.
  • An ancient Viking-Age hut has been uncovered in downtown Reykjavik.
  • A fifth-century mosaic adorned with elephants and cupids has been found in northern Israel.
  • A beautiful sword from the last days of the Vikings. 
  • A shipwreck found off the coast of North Carolina could possibly be from the late 1700s. 
  • A 14,000-year-old tooth shows the oldest form of dentistry. (I think I'll stick with Dr. Olson, thank you.) 
  • I think I'll give crawling into the secret tunnel beneath St. Andrews Castle a miss. (I don't do underground. I must've been an unfortunate miner in a previous life.)
  • An ancient Israeli synagogue has mosaics that may depict Alexander the Great and Samson.
  • Waterfront construction in the Bronx has unearthed more than 100 ancient artifacts.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►I ♥ Lists◄

That's all for now. Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure!

Have a wonderful weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mind Scrambler by Chris Grabenstein

First Lines: I bumped into my old girlfriend Katie Landry this afternoon. Six hours later, she was dead.

John Ceepak and Danny Boyle are in Atlantic City when Danny runs into a former girlfriend. Katie's working for a magician, and her life seems to be going great. Danny is happy for her, but his happiness turns to sorrow when Katie is found strangled to death. Ceepak and Boyle will be staying in Atlantic City longer than they'd planned. They have Katie's murder to solve-- and lives to save.

I always enjoy Chris Grabenstein's Ceepak and Boyle mysteries, and Mind Scrambler was no exception. Strong characters, a strong setting, and a strong mystery laced with Grabenstein's trademark humor. What's not to like?

Although there is humor in the book, it's not as pronounced because the subject matter is serious and our Danny is grieving. Grabenstein knows how to write action scenes as well as strong characters and humor-- and he also knows how to tug on our heartstrings. 

There is one thing, however, that I wondered about all through Mind Scrambler. There are times that the tower of integrity that's known as John Ceepak is almost a cartoon figure with his exaggerated "Just the facts, ma'am" language and his unyielding book of rules. Once-- just once-- I'd like to see a scene of dialogue between Ceepak and his wife Rita when they're alone. Does Ceepak still sound like a stuffed shirt then, or does he actually unwind a little? It will probably never happen, but as I enjoy reading each book in this series, I can always dream.

Mind Scrambler by Chris Grabenstein
ISBN: 9780312382315
Minotaur Books © 2009
Hardcover, 352 pages

Police Procedural/Humorous, #5 Ceepak and Boyle mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Book Outlet. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Kokopelli's Flute by Will Hobbs

First Line: The magic had always been there.

Tep Jones lives with his parents on a dry farm in the Four Corners section of New Mexico. Within walking distance is Tep's favorite place: the ancient Anasazi cliff dwelling called Picture House. But when he visits Picture House during a lunar eclipse and picks up a bone flute left behind by grave robbers, Tep finds himself in the grip of powerful magic. When his mother becomes gravely ill, it's only by piecing together the mysteries of Picture House that Tep can save her-- and himself.

Many many moons ago, I used to be in charge of the children's section of our village library. I occasionally like to pick up a middle grade or young adult mystery to take a look at what's available for younger readers now, and I have to admit that I'm glad I chose Kokopelli's Flute. Will Hobbs has written an adventure that kept me hooked from first page to last. 

First of all, there's the idyllic (to me) setting: the Seed Farm in the New Mexico section of the Four Corners, within walking distance of an ancient cliff dwelling. I immediately put myself in Tep's shoes as he and his dog Dusty (the best canine companion a child could ever have) would walk there to explore. 

I also learned a lot about dry farming and the rare seed business. Another fact of life-- pot hunters who destroy ancient sites for the artifacts that they can sell-- provides some excellent suspense and action sequences at the beginning and end of the book.

There's some magic in this book that calls for a reader's willing suspension of disbelief, and although I didn't really buy into Tep's changing into an animal every night, I did enjoy those sections-- especially when Tep stopped panicking and started using his head. 

Kokopelli's Flute starts out rather slowly but builds momentum to a satisfying conclusion. Tep is a good-hearted, smart boy, and at that age, I would've been his friend in a heartbeat. Part of me does wonder at how much children in the proper age range would actually enjoy this book. Something tells me the "city slickers" might find it boring, and that would be a shame.

Kokopelli's Flute by Will Hobbs
ISBN: 1416902503
Aladdin Paperbacks © 1995
Paperback, 148 pages

Children's adventure, Ages 10-14
Rating: A
Source: Paperback Swap

I Have Andrea Camilleri Covered!

It's always nice to see people enjoying a feature like y'all are enjoying this one. One of the things that made me smile about last week's comparison was that several of you told me (via comments here, email, and on Facebook) that you really didn't like either hardback cover of Becky Masterman's Rage Against the Dying-- that you preferred the US paperback's cover instead.

Which may lead you to wonder how I go about choosing the covers to compare. I use the websites for Amazon US and Amazon UK, and I only compare hardcovers to hardcovers or paperbacks to paperbacks. For some reason I don't feel that "mixing and matching" is fair. I did find something interesting in researching an upcoming comparison title. Its journey from hardcover to paperback tells quite the tale, but you'll just have to wait to see for yourself!

In the mean time, let's take a look at this week's US vs UK cover comparison. I was inspired by yesterday's review of The Potter's Field....

One thing I've noticed about Camilleri's covers is that they tend to be a bit more abstract and rely a great deal on form and color. The US cover is rather subdued. Fallen autumn leaves litter the ground, and there is a puddle with the reflection of a person and a cross in it. The author's name stands out more prominently than the book's title, and to me that's a good thing. This is a long-running series, and although I may not remember all the titles, I know that I'm definitely interested in a Camilleri novel. 

The US cover also tells us that this book is an international bestseller and that the author has been on the New York Times bestseller list. (Do Americans only want to read Winners?) Penguin uses one of the few truly useful blurbs I've ever seen ("There's a deliciously playful quality to the mysteries Camilleri writes"), and beneath the title we're told that this is an Inspector Montalbano mystery. For me, the two most important things on the cover are (1) Camilleri, and (2) Montalbano.

In contrast, the UK cover is livelier. Like its US counterpart, the author's name commands more attention than the title. We're told it's an Inspector Montalbano mystery, and there's a rather generic (but true) blurb from a UK newspaper. The artwork is rather eye-catching. The top has a green field with a bare foot, spots of blood, and a dark brown patch that probably represents dirt but looks more like a monk's robe to me. The bottom of the cover shows a curvaceous woman walking through the sun-drenched Sicilian landscape down to the sea. Altogether, the UK cover is brighter and more attention-getting than the US cover. At least to these eyes.

Now... which cover do I prefer?

To be completely honest-- neither one. Both of them leave me cold. The only things that need to stand out to me in order for me to snatch up this book and run with it to the cash register are the words CAMILLERI and MONTALBANO. Granted, I'm going to take a look to see if I've read that particular title before I make my run to the end zone, but this is the first time for this feature that I honestly don't care for either cover.

What about you? Which cover do you prefer? US? UK? Or are you in my USS Neither One boat this time around? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

First Line: There were stories in sweat.

The American Southwest is locked in never-ending drought. Water is more valuable than gold ever was, and lack of it has already killed Texas. Phoenix is in its death throes, but rumors persist that someone there knows about something that could save the city. 

Catherine Case, the "Queen of the Colorado," has become famous for making sure Las Vegas has the water it needs to stay alive-- or at least the part where the rich folks live. When she hears these rumors, she sends her best "water knife" Angel Velasquez down to Phoenix to see if there's any truth to them, and to ensure that-- if there is-- the only place that will benefit from them is Las Vegas. Water is life, and neither Catherine Case nor Angel Velasquez is squeamish about doing what it takes to remain alive and well.

I read The Water Knife while seated in my swimming pool in Phoenix, Arizona. We've been playing Russian roulette with water here in the Valley of the Sun, actually believing that this stretch of desert can support over five million people forever and ever, amen. The hammer is about to fall on that last, loaded, cylinder, and Paolo Bacigalupi has painted an all-too-believable portrait of the End of Days for the city I love. 

It's not a pretty portrait. It's a brutal one. Life is cheap. Water is what has value. Neighborhood after neighborhood is dead because there is no water to fill the pipes running beneath the streets and up into the houses. China has arrived to build "arcologies"-- tall skyscrapers that are marvels of recycling-- where the rich can live in the luxury of waterfalls, thick tropical foliage, showers, baths, pitchers filled with cool water.... The rest of the city has to fight to get enough to drink, and you can forget about being clean. That's a thing of the past. 

Bacigalupi places three main characters into this gritty, filthy, parched world: Angel, the Water Knife; Maria, the teenage Texas refugee; and Lucy, an investigative journalist who came to Phoenix and now calls it home. The one thing that they all must recognize is that it all boils down to water rights. Catherine Case knows this, and she's been successful in obtaining water rights for her city. However, Case is small potatoes to the real powerhouse in the fight for water: California. What are three of the "little people" going to do in this deadly fight? What chance do they have of survival? 

The Water Knife is cold-blooded and violent in its vision of the future, and the future is bleak indeed for anyone with old eyes. It's a story that made me feel guilty and uncomfortable and thirsty and in need of a shower. It's a story that I won't forget... even as I enjoy my swimming pool each and every day.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
ISBN: 9780385352871
Knopf © 2015
Hardcover, 384 pages

Dystopian Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.


Monday, July 20, 2015

The Potter's Field by Andrea Camilleri

First Line: He was awakened by a loud, insistent knocking at the door.

Once again, Inspector Montalbano has his hands full. An unidentified corpse has been found in soil rich with potter's clay. A woman reports her husband missing. It's not until Montalbano thinks of the Biblical story of the potter's field that he begins to piece everything together to solve the crimes.

It has become the norm to have a Montalbano mystery begin with one of the inspector's dreams. The Potter's Field is no exception, and Montalbano's dream is a lulu. The older he gets, the more wily he becomes, and it's a joy to watch him piece together all the clues he's gathered. 

The emphasis in any Montalbano mystery by Andrea Camilleri isn't exactly on the mystery. It's more of a triumvirate: the characters and their relationships to each other, a wonderful sense of humor, and a puzzle finally tracked to its source. The mystery isn't always baffling. Sometimes Camilleri allows us to solve it first so that we may sit back and watch Montalbano conduct his investigation. 

The Potter's Field is another enjoyable outing with one of my favorite policemen. Montalbano not only deals with multiple investigations, he also must face a betrayal from within, and his realization of Catarella's importance in his life brought a smile to my face. Camilleri has created a setting that's filled with beauty and ugliness, with friends, with laughter, and with mouthwatering food. I look forward to each and every one of my visits there.

The Potter's Field by Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
ISBN: 9780143120131
Penguin © 2011
Paperback, 277 pages

Police Procedural, #13 Inspector Montalbano mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Paperback Swap 

Scene of the Crime with Author S.D. Sykes!

I know many of you are just like me: you love stories that transport you to another time. Stories that are such rich tapestries of life that when you stop reading, you have to blink a few times to bring yourself back into the real world. 

That's how I felt when I read S.D. Sykes' Plague Land, an historical mystery set in southern England after the Black Death has decimated the land. Oswald de Lacy is a boy destined for a life in the Church, but the Plague has stripped his family of his father and brothers, so now he must return to be Lord of Somershill Manor. We learn at the same time as Oswald how the world everyone took for granted has changed.  I could wax poetic about the book for several more paragraphs, but (to your relief) I won't.

S.D. Sykes
As always, I'm including links to this talented writer so that you can learn more about her and connect with her if you like:

Now let's get to the fun part: the interview!

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

When I was about nine, I found a very old and very dusty copy of Jane Eyre in a bookcase. I remember being gripped immediately, but the part of the novel that truly grasped me by the throat and mercilessly shook me, was the scene when Jane discovers that Rochester has hidden his wild and demented wife in the attic. As a nine year old, I had absolutely no expectation that this was coming – and that frisson of both terror and excitement has always stayed with me. 

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

I’m an avid gardener, growing flowers and more recently vegetables. I love the satisfaction of planting a seed and then watching it grow into a mature plant. Gardening is a pastime that I recommend to everybody. It gets you outside. It’s fun and relaxing, and it gives such a sense of achievement. I’m also mad about dogs. I have two rescue dogs, and they are the most wonderful companions. I love taking them for long walks in the local woods, where I can watch them running between the trees and then jumping into the streams. It’s a great antidote to sitting at a desk all day.

If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)

To the left: The Shard
Although I live in a small village in Kent, I spend a lot of time in central London – so I can call it my adopted home town. If you were to visit London, I would recommend a trip from the very old to the very new of the city, all within the space of a short walk. Start with a visit to one of the oldest pubs in London. There are very few timber-framed buildings left in the city, but the George Inn retains its original open gallery, which dates from the 17th century. The warped walls and sloping floors of the pub give a real atmosphere of historic London, so that it’s possible to imagine that Dickens himself might wander in. In fact, this very inn is mentioned in Dickens’ novel Little Dorrit. After a quick drink, I would then recommend you walk around the corner to visit the newest building to dominate the London skyline, The Shard.  Speed up to the 72nd floor in the state-of-the-art lift and see an entirely different type of gallery – a viewing gallery that allows a 360° view of the city below. It’s breathtaking.

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?


My daughter (who is red-haired and 22) was recently asked this question at a job  interview. She panicked and said Morgan Freeman! When questioned further about her choice, she thought quickly and said that she’d chosen him because he was a great actor. So, if Morgan Freeman can play my daughter, I’m certain he could play me... but if he was busy, maybe Meryl Streep could fill in?

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction? 

I am a very big fan of the C J Sansom books. Set in the Tudor age, they follow the detective Matthew Shardlake. I love his insight, tenacity and humanity, but I’m also intrigued by his flaws – particularly his occasional bouts of melancholia and low self-esteem. He approaches each mystery with logic and reasoning, but often it is his emotional intelligence that solves the case.

If you could have in your possession one signed first edition of any book in the world, which book would that be? Why that particular book?

First edition title page
I’m a lover of the gothic. And there is no better gothic novel, in my opinion, than Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Such writing, and such a darkly imaginative novel. There are few love stories in English literature that can match the fervent intensity of Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship. It is a haunting book, and I would love to be in possession of a signed first edition!

How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published? What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore?

I opened a bottle of champagne with my husband, before going straight into a panic about meeting my deadlines! In terms of seeing my book for the first time on a shelf – I found it a rather odd experience. I’m very proud of my achievement, of course – but somehow the book then felt apart from me – rather like a child that I’ve loved and nurtured, but which must now go out and find its own way in the world. 

Name one thing on your Bucket List.

I’m rather embarrassed to admit this, but I don’t have a bucket list. So, put on the spot, I’m going to say that I would love to see the northern lights… but that could change, if you asked me tomorrow.

The northern lights in Scotland

You've just received a $100 gift card to the bookstore of your choice. Which bookstore are you making a bee-line for?

It would be Goldsboro Books in Cecil Place, London. They have the most wonderful (and very well priced) selection of signed first editions. If you’re in London, and you love books – this is the place to go.



An extremely reliable source tells you that a thinly disguised you is a character in a book that's currently high up on the Times Bestseller List. What kind of character do you think you are?

I hope I would be written as a kind, thoughtful and brave character – somebody who’s willing to take a risk and who will stand up for what they believe in. Though inevitably (if this novel is well written) my flaws would soon work their way through. I can sometimes be a little anti-social and short-tempered, even brusque (though I am quick to apologise, if I’ve been in the wrong.) I can be selfish and dogged – but then it’s difficult to become a published author without an element of being single-minded. Like most people I guess, I’m mostly good, but just a little bit bad.

Available October 8!
Thank you so much for spending this time with us, Sarah. It was a pleasure to be able to get to know you a little better!

My husband and I will be in Scotland and in London in a few months. I wish I could see the northern lights while we're in Scotland, and while we're in London, I know we'll be seeing The Shard. Of course, since you're not the first author I've interviewed who's mentioned Goldsboro Books, we may have to stop there as well!

May your book sales do nothing but increase!