My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football.
My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.
Then the thief came.
There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.
Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?
Well now. This is quite some book. I love a good post-apocalyptic dystopia as much as the next guy. And A Boy and His Dog is a great one.
A hundred years or so ago, babies stopped being born, mostly. Humanity is reduced to a few stragglers scattered around. The world is largely empty. Here we meet Griz, living on a remote Scottish island with his small family and of course, his dogs. It’s the theft of one of these dogs that drives the story, and what we have is a quest through the remnants of a society long gone.
I mean, who wouldn’t go looking for their dog?
The world that Fletcher presents is beautifully broken, empty landscape seen through a fresh pair of eyes from someone unfamiliar with our world. Indeed the story is presented as just that – a story which Griz is telling to an imaginary, imagined friend, but to say more would be to rob you of the joy of finding out.
And it’s this finding out what happens along with Griz that makes this story so special – Griz understands the old world through reading our books, but has many questions along the way. It’s a wonderfully small story, with a wonderfully large scope. Very different from a lot of the other post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve read, and one which I highly recommend you check out.
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me on the tour, and to Nazia Khatun from Orbit for the advance review copy.
Today I’m delighted to be joining the blog tour for Jen Williams’ The Poison Song, the conclusion to her Winnowing Flame trilogy. I’m listening to the first book, The Ninth Rain on audiobook at the moment and it’s wonderful. I’ve got book 2, The Bitter Twins lined up (and signed when I met Jen at Edge-Lit last summer).
Today though I’ve got an extract from the start of book 3 for you.
Chapter One Ink. And paper. In this tower built with the silence of women, I have been given back my voice. The room is still a cell, in a way. The walls are still black stone and my window is still barred, but when the door – of old, blackened wood – is closed, I cannot be seen. There is a bed, a place to wash myself, and a small wooden desk, with ink and paper and pen. They will not know what they have given me. Winnowry agents are expected to write reports on their missions, and this is what the desk and its contents are for, but in it I see an extraordinary thing. The curse of the Winnowry is silence and forgetfulness. So many women have entered these black towers, passing out of their lives and out of Sarn, into nothingness. Their lives end here, unremarked, and they are buried deep in the cold sand. Of them and their lives, their stories, nothing is known. I have lived in that, have felt the slow creeping terror that I am forgotten by the world. Have watched women with pasts as colourful and as unique as tapestries turn to slow and silent stone as their humanity was leeched from them. Are you really speaking if no one can hear you? But, ink and paper are now mine. In a small way these women’s stories will be recorded, and I will give them voices – even if they must be secret ones. Extract from the private records of Agent Chenlo
‘Put that flame away! Unless you want to go back to your cell?’ The girl looked up at her, startled, and Agent Chenlo smiled to lessen the harshness of her words. These girls, she reminded herself, were not yet used to the licence they’d been given, limited as it was, and even less used to the idea that a misstep wouldn’t automatically earn them a freezing bath or a beating. The tiny lick of green flame that had been curling in the girl’s palm immediately vanished.
‘Put your gloves back on, Fell-Lisbet, and here, look.’ Agent Chenlo gently turned the girls to look back at the Winnowry. The small jetty they stood on was chilly and damp, and the little boat docked there smelled overpoweringly of shellfish, but the Winnowry remained its black, imposing self, looming over the fell-witches like a threat. You see those windows there, that go all the way up the chirot tower? And those in Mother Cressin’s territory? A sister or a father may look out of those windows at any time, or even the Drowned One herself,’ she ignored the mutter at her use of this forbidden phrase, and they could see us, huddled down here on this grey day. And winnowfire, even the tiniest flicker, will draw their gaze like that.’ She snapped her fingers for emphasis. She did not wear gloves herself today. “It is so bright, it is like a beacon to them. And do you think that if you are caught using your abilities without permission they will allow you to become agents yourselves?’
The girls shuffled and muttered as one, picking at their scarves and casting shy glances at the towers. They liked Agent Chenlo because she gave warnings before punishments, and because she called the winnowfire an ability and not an abomination – at least when she was out of earshot of the other agents.
‘Come on, let’s get those barrels on board, or we’ll be late. Quickly now’
The girls returned to the task at hand. Today was the beginning of their introduction to the business of the Winnowry, the daily and weekly tasks that kept the order going. They would load the barrels of akaris up onto the little boat, and make the quick crossing to Mushenska, where they would be unloaded again. They would then accompany Agent Chenlo to the trading house, where much of the akaris would be sold in bulk to the highest bidders. A unique drug that could only be crafted within the intense heat of winnowfire, akaris gave its user a deep, dreamless sleep – unless it was cut with a variety of stimulants, in which case the effects were rather more lively. Officially, only the Winnowry could supply the drug, and thanks to this little monopoly, they could happily charge through the nose for it. Once the akaris had been changed into useful coin, Agent Chenlo and the novice agents would return across the channel of grey water, and that would be that. Small steps, but important ones: learning how to conduct themselves out in the world, showing that they could be trusted. If any one of the four girls stepped out of line, it would be up to Agent Chenlo to admonish them, which could mean anything from a severe dressing-down to having their life energy removed to the point where they passed out. She was authorised to kill them, if she had to, and she carried the silver-topped cudgel, normally worn by the sisters, at her belt, but Agent Chenlo had never had to use it.
She watched them for a moment, rolling the barrels up the gangplank, observed by the wiry captain and a spotty cabin boy. The barrels were heavy and sometimes the fell-witches found the work too difficult, weakened as they were by years spent in damp cells eating gruel, but this group were making the best of it. Satisfied that they’d be able to manage, Agent Chenlo turned away to look across the sea to Mushenska, and all of the familiar ordinariness of the day was chased away by the sight of an impossible shape in the skies over the city; a nightmare coming into focus. She made an odd noise, somewhere between a yelp and a gasp, and heard the captain shout something. One of the girls let out a little shriek.
A dragon was flying over the sea towards them. It was a magnificent thing, covered in pearly white scales, its wings bristling with white feathers. It wore a harness of brown leather and silver, and there was a young woman sitting on its back, her black hair flapping wildly in the wind and a furious expression on her face. Agent Chenlo turned back and shouted at the girls.
‘Go! Get on the boat now. You,’ she gestured at the captain, ‘get them to the city. Cast off immediately.
The man opened his mouth to argue, and she raised her hands in a clear threat. ‘Do it, captain, or I will sink your miserable boat myself.’
The novice agents were all either staring at the dragon – it was so close now, so close – or staring at her, their eyes wide. Agent Chenlo clapped her hands together once, sharply, and the spell broke. As one, the young women ran up the gangplank, and as they disappeared below decks, she felt a surge of relief. From the towers, bells were ringing as various people sounded the alarm all at once.
Chenlo hesitated on the jetty, uncertain what to do next. Knowledge of a number of recent events jostled for her attention, but one fact was clearer than anything else: as unlikely as it seemed, the dragon had to be a legendary war-beast from distant Ebora, and the young woman riding on its back had every reason to be furious with the Winnowry.
The Poison Song by Jen Williams is published by Headline and is out on 16th May 2019. You can find Jen on Twitter @sennydreadful. Many thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour.
Ebora was once a glorious city, defended by legendary warriors and celebrated in song. Now refugees from every corner of Sarn seek shelter within its crumbling walls and the enemy that has poisoned their land won’t lie dormant for long.
The deep-rooted connection that Tormalin, Noon and the scholar Vintage share with their Eboran war-beasts has kept them alive so far. But with Tor distracted, and his sister Hestillion hell-bent on bringing ruthless order to the next Jure’lia attack, the people of Sarn need all the help they can get.
Noon is no stranger to playing with fire and knows just where to recruit a new – and powerful – army. But even she understimates the epic quest that is to come. It is a journey wrought with pain and sacrifice – a reckoning that will change the face of Sarn forever.
Ethan Scofield returns to the place of his birth to bury his father. Hidden in one of the upstairs rooms of the old man’s house he finds a strange manuscript, a collection of stories that seems to cover the whole of his father’s turbulent life. As his own life starts to unravel, Ethan works his way through the manuscript, trying to find answers to the mysteries that have plagued him since he was a child. What happened to his little brother? Why was his mother taken from him? And why, in the end, when there was no one else left, did his own father push him away? Swinging from the coral cays of the Caribbean to the dangerous deserts of Yemen and the wild rivers of Africa, Turbulent Wake is a bewitching, powerful and deeply moving story of love and loss … of the indelible damage we do to those closest to us and, ultimately, of the power of redemption in a time of change.
When I was asked if I wanted to take part in the blog tour for Paul E. Hardisty’s latest book, I was told that it was something a little different from his Claymore Straker series. I was intrigued.
Turbulent Wake tells the story of a young man who discovers a manuscript in his recently deceased father’s estate. The manuscript appears to be a collection of short stories which turn out to cover his father’s life, but which turn out to be rather more than they appear.
I was absorbed by the structure of these stories within a larger story – each a facet of his father’s life, each providing a glimpse into the past and uncovering some uncomfortable secrets. Hardisty has shown that he’s a deft hand at the thriller in his Straker books, but the writing on display here is on another level. Fascinating to see how a young man’s life builds from a series of vignettes, played off against his son’s own story in the present day.
Some of the early stories are deeply uncomfortable, revealing a hidden traumatic childhood which is as hard for the reader as they are for the son. I think this is what I found the most interesting thing about the book – we’re reading about a son reading about his father, from his father’s own point of view, and discovering things about his father’s history as the son does. Seeing how our own reactions compare with the son’s as he finds out so much that he didn’t know about his father’s (and indeed his family’s) life is an unusual experience, but one which works well.
Already a fan of Hardisty’s books, Turbulent Wake has put him firmly onto the “can’t wait to see what he comes up with next” list.
Turbulent Wake by Paul E. Hardisty is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks as ever to Anne Cater and Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
Today I’m joining the blog tour for Benjamin Myers’ Under the Rock: Stories Carved From The Land, which is published by Elliott & Thompson in paperback now.
I’ve got an extract from part one for you today, and more about the book later.
An Extract from Part 1 – Wood
Already Mytholmroyd, only a half-mile away, feels long behind me as I walk deeper into the woods and The Rock towers like something that has been forced from the earth by its fiery inner workings.
The outside world is entirely obscured from view as I mount a wooded hillock, pulling myself up in places by using the smooth girth of silver birches. Altitude comes quickly when you are young and fearless and don’t look back, and The Rock rises taller still.
A squirrel sniffs the air. Twitching, it shakes the leanest boughs, makes a break from a branch and then, with limbs splayed, takes a bold leap onto the limitless ladders of the sky.
Above, crows circle, calling a warning to all the creatures of The Rock: the first human presence in a long time. These creatures have policed this place throughout the ages. The descendants of the same crows that chuntered through Ted Hughes’s childhood sleep patterns continue to rule The Rock today. They always commanded top billing in Hughes’s ‘Crow’ cycle of poems: ‘There is a doorway in the wall – / A black doorway: The eye’s pupil / Through that doorway came Crow.’ As intrinsic and immovable as the ravens of the Tower of London, they preside from their vertical-dropped outcrop before fulminating like black confetti flung at a doomed marriage or a funeral for a forest.
The bluebells of April and May are still in evidence, but are flattened down now, wilted and spent, their thin stalks forming a crunchy carpet and their brilliant violet tepals faded in colour, curled into decay. Bracken fronds that smell of childhood have unfolded everywhere. With stealth their branches reach for the sun just as their roots bury quickly into the soil. Fossilised evidence of this pernicious fern, held fast in compacted sediment, has been dated back 55 million years, making it one of the species most adaptable to climate change. I push my way through them and the resistance they offer is like wading through water.
There is an overpowering sense of stillness.
With the throb of blood in my ears I reach the top of the knoll. Here I catch my breath and discover a small circle of stones, perhaps eight or nine feet across, arranged as if to form a fireplace or perhaps the base of a chimney used for some other industrial purpose. Looking down behind me through columns of trees and the tide of bracken to the wooded plateau below, I sit and eat an apple.
The stone wall of crows above watches on, hard at my back.
And so an obsession begins.
Under The Rock by Benjamin Myers is published by Elliott & Thompson and is out now in paperback. Many thanks to Alison Menzies and @eandtbooks for a copy of the book to review. The blog tour continues tomorrow.
In Under the Rock, Benjamin Myers, the novelist perhaps best known for The Gallows Pole, winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2018, returns to the rugged landscape of the Calder Valley in a bold and original exploration of nature and literature. The focus of his attention is Scout Rock, a steep crag overlooking Mytholmroyd, where the poet Ted Hughes grew up. In solitude, Ben Myers has been exploring this wooded ten acre site for over a decade and his Field Notes, scribbled in situ are threaded between sections entitled Wood, Earth, Water and Rock. Taking the form of poetry, these Field Notes are “lines and lists lifted from the landscape, narrative screen-grabs of a microcosmic world that are correspondent to places or themes explored elsewhere, or fleeting flash-thoughts divined through the process of movement”.
Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.
When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.
The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem?
The Passengers is a high-concept, fast-paced thriller that you’ll just race through. Eight characters for the public to judge, who will live, who will die? But are we seeing the full side of each of their stories? And why does the mysterious Hacker want to make the public judge, jury and executioner?
Loved it. Completely hooked from the first page, and one of those books with more twists and turns than that really twisty street in San Francisco which will leave you wanting to read just a *tiny* bit further.
The characters initially feel a little bit cookie-cutter stereotype, but of course as the book progresses you find that there’s more than meets the eye for each of them, and finding out their true stories is fascinating. Similarly with the Hacker – initially a faceless Man In Black, but discovering the why behind his actions as the story progresses gives way to a much deeper character.
Also fascinating to see the role that social media plays in the story – our Hacker plays on the emotions of the public to see how they can make them turn for and against his Passengers.
Who will live? Who will die? There’s one way to find out…
The Passengers by John Marrs is published by Ebury in May 2019 in paperback but is available now as an ebook. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton and the publisher for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
6:30 pm, 7th May 2019
College Building, Room A130
City University, London
Mark Billingham – Their Little Secret
She says she’s an ordinary mother. He knows a liar when he sees one. Sarah thinks of herself as a normal single mum. It’s what she wants others to think of her. But the truth is, she needs something new, something thrilling. Meanwhile, DI Tom Thorne is investigating a woman’s suicide, convinced she was driven to do it by a man who preys on vulnerable women. A man who is about to change Sarah’s life.
Chris Carter – Hunting Evil
As roommates, they met for the first time in college. Two of the brightest minds ever to graduate from Stamford Psychology University. As adversaries, they met again in Quantico, Virginia.
Robert Hunter had become the head of the LAPD’s Ultra Violent Crimes Unit. Lucien Folter had become the most prolific and dangerous serial killer the FBI had ever encountered. Now, after spending three and a half years locked in solitary confinement, Lucien has finally managed to break free. And he’s angry.
Deborah O’Connor – The Dangerous Kind
We all know them. Those who exist just on the fringes of society. Who send prickles up the back of our neck. The charmers. The liars. The manipulators. Those who have the potential to go that one step too far. And then take another step. Jessamine Gooch makes a living from these people. Each week she broadcasts a radio show looking into the past lives of convicted killers; asking if there was more that could have been done to prevent their terrible crimes. Then one day she is approached by a woman desperate to find her missing friend, Cassie, fearing her abusive husband may have taken that final deadly step. But as Jessamine delves into the months prior to Cassie’s disappearance she fails to realise there is a dark figure closer to home, one that threatens the safety of her own family . . .
Vanda Symon – The Ringmaster
Death is stalking the southern South Island of New Zealand…Marginalised by previous antics, Sam Shephard, is on the bottom rung of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows it. She gets involved in her first homicide investigation, when a university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens, and Sam soon discovers this is not an isolated incident. There is a chilling prospect of a predator loose in Dunedin, and a very strong possibility that the deaths are linked to a visiting circus…Determined to find out who’s running the show, and to prove herself, Sam throws herself into an investigation that can have only one ending…
Delighted to welcome Neil White, author of The Innocent Ones, to the blog today for a guest post. It’s not Neil’s first time here, as he’s already had a chat with us about plotting his novels and setting up a new series. So I was intrigued to see what he’d come up with this time around for his new book. More about that new book later (it sounds fantastic), but this time Neil is here to talk about influences. They’re hard to define…
Without, as they say, further ado, over to Mr White.
Influences are hard to define, because our whole life influences us, those small things along the way, like the people we meet and the places we visit. For a writer, it’s more about looking at what impressed me along the way and made me want to emulate it.
Books are the first thing to consider, because to be a writer, you have to be a reader first.
As a child, I followed the well-worn path of Enid Blyton, and I longed to visit islands where weird uncles forbade me from going in secret tunnels. As a young kid on a Wakefield council estate, this was never going to happen, but perhaps that was why I was a dreamer. In Enid Blyton, I read about lives and places I could only imagine, so my imagination was fed and took me away on different adventures.
The Three Investigator Series from Alfred Hitchcock was another big favourite, and I remember reading it in bed and feeling that delicious thrill of terror, where I was scared to turn the page but knew that I had to. From then, that was what I sought in books, that churn of the stomach, the tightness of the chest, and it took me to horror for a while. Stephen King was in his pomp when I was a young teenager and I lapped those up. And James Herbert. And Peter Straub.
My father was a big science fiction fan but I could never quite get it. I did read all the Doctor Who novels, and in fact loved them more than the television versions. You don’t get wobbly sets and naff costumes in the novels. Instead, you got the vision of the storyteller but unhindered by costume and set budgets. Once I decided I wanted to be a writer though, it was always going to be crime.
I was thirty when I decided, having just qualified as a solicitor (I went to university late – that’s a whole other story) and I needed a new challenge. I’d ditched horror by this stage, after finding myself rarely scared anymore, but crime never failed to intrigue me. I’d even chosen crime as my preferred field in my legal career. Perhaps it was those Petrocelli episodes back when I was a child (if you don’t know it, Google it).
My throwaway line has always been that I became a writer because I never learned to play the guitar. Perhaps there is some truth in that. One big draw for me in my musical preferences was the quality of the lyrics. From the age of around fifteen, books took a backseat to music, but I was always drawn to some well-spun words, particularly when they tell a story.
I grew up surrounded by Johnny Cash, my father’s obsession, and his songs were always small stories set to music, and often about criminal justice, in a loose sense. Prison songs, gunfighter ballads, tales of murder and revenge. When I think back through my favourite artists, lyrics have always been at the forefront.
Paul Weller, back in his Jam days, was my first big love. I was only seventeen when The Jam disbanded, but I managed to see them twice, and in the years that followed I would spend many happy hours talking about his lyrics or reading the album sleeves. Going Underground is just about perfect lyrically, summing up that feeling you get when the world around you seems insane. Town Called Malice is a perfect little tableau of small-town life in Thatcherite Britain.
The Style Council occupied my devotion for the next few years, and I was always straight to the record shop to buy the new single on twelve-inch and pour over the musings of the Cappuccino Kid.
The quality waned though and my next loves were The Smiths and The Pogues, both lyrically-fantastic. Shane McGowan is one of the best lyricists the UK music scene has produced, even through his boozy haze, and Morrissey one of the most unique and poetic.
One of my favourites though is Paul Heaton. I’ve followed him through all his versions, from The Housemartins to the Beautiful South and then into his solo career, and I don’t think anyone can touch him for lyrics. Sharp, often witty, he just nails it for me.
The reason I’m talking about music rather than writers is because I think prose isn’t about words or descriptions, but about rhythm. The words have got to bounce and roll, with no missed beats or bad notes. The reading should be effortless, and it’s the rhythm that drives it.
That isn’t to say that writers haven’t influenced me. I was trying to write when Lee Child’s first book, Killing Floor, came out (and if we’re going back to music, it’s also the title of a Howling Wolf song). When I read it, I realised that I wanted to write like that, where the pages just turn themselves.
In terms of style, however, my main influence was W.P. Kinsella. Many of you might not know of him, but he wrote many whimsical tales set around Iowa and similar areas, often with a baseball background. His most famous book is Shoeless Joe, which was made into the film Field of Dreams, with Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta.
What I loved about his writing style was that it took the reader straight to the porch of an Iowa farm, corn blowing in the breeze, and there was a real poetry to his writing. It was his style that was the first that I tried to mimic, and again it was about the rhythm. To give an example of how I tried to emulate it, here first is a paragraph from Shoeless Joe:
“Two years ago at dusk on a spring evening, when the sky was a robin’s-egg blue and the wind as soft as a day-old chick, as I was sitting on the verandah of my farm home in Eastern Iowa, a voice very clearly said to me, “If you build it, they will come.””
This is a paragraph from my second novel, Lost Souls:
“She was standing by an open-plan lawn in a neat suburban cul-de-sac, with the hills of the West Pennine Moors as a backdrop, painted silver as the rising sun caught the dew-coated grass, just the snap of the crime-scene tape to break her concentration.”
The rhythms are similar.
In terms of influences, there have been many, but the biggest one in terms of finding my style was W.P. Kinsella.
Thanks Neil, fascinating stuff!
The Innocent Ones, by Neil White is published by Hera Books on 24th April 2019. You can find Neil on twitter @NeilWhite1965. The blog tour continues tomorrow!
By day, the park rings with the sound of children’s excited laughter. But in the early hours of the morning, the isolated playground is cloaked in shadows – the perfect hiding place to conceal a brutal murder.
When London journalist, Mark Roberts, is found battered to death, the police quickly arrest petty thief, Nick Connor. Criminal defence lawyer, Dan Grant, along with investigator Jayne Brett, are called to represent him – but with bloody footprints and a stolen wallet linking him to the scene, this is one case they’re unlikely to win.
Until help comes from an unlikely source…when the murder victim’s mother says that Connor is innocent, begging Dan and Jayne to find the real perpetrator.
Unravelling the complex case means finding the connection between Mark’s death and a series of child murders in Yorkshire over twenty years ago. Father of two, Rodney Walker, has spent years in prison after being convicted of killing of 6-year-old William and 7-year-old Ruby back in 1997.