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Saturday, 15 April 2017

‘My Sister’s Bones’ by Nuala Ellwood

Published by Penquin,
9 February 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-24197-729-9 (HB)

Kate Rafter is a successful war reporter who has just been through a harrowing ordeal in Syria. She is the strong one, the one who escaped Herne Bay and the memories it holds. Her sister Sally was left behind. She escaped into drink. But when their mother dies, Kate is forced to return to her childhood home, and on the first night she is woken by a scream.... What secret has she stumbled upon? Can she overcome her own demons to uncover the truth and make it out alive?

Nuala Ellwood had Arts Council funding to research and write a novel dealing with post traumatic stress disorder among journalists – a work partly inspired by the late journalist Marie Colvin, who always looked for ‘the human story within the chaos of war’, and what a brilliant job she has done. She wears the research lightly, yet we are confident we are in the hands of someone who knows exactly what she is talking about.

The story is told in three parts, in the first person present tense. In Part One we find out about Kate's history from sessions with a police psychiatrist as she is detained at a police station – the reason for which we learn later in the novel. This is interspersed with the events that led up to her being in that police interview room. We see how desperate she is to make some sort of meaningful contact with her sister Sally, and we learn how damaged each sister has been by their childhood.

Parts Two and Three build on that first part in an intriguing and different way, and for fear of spoiling the book, I will say no more than that.

My Sister's Bones is a dark, unsettling read, which explores – as well as the effects of post traumatic stress disorder – the impact of the past on the present. The prose sings, the characterisation is spot on and the plot has a resonance in the current political climate.

Coming from a family of journalists, Nuala Ellwood said she wanted to show not only the ‘strength and courage’ of a war reporter, but also their ‘fragility and humanity’. Through Kate Rafter and My Sister’s Bones she has done exactly that.
Reviewer: Mary-Jane Riley

Nuala Ellwood moved to London in her twenties to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter, but ended up writing novels instead. She comes from a family of journalists, and they inspired her to get Arts Council funding to research and write a novel dealing with psychological trauma in the industry. My Sister's Bones is her debut thriller.

Mary-Jane Riley wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades. Then, in true journalistic style, she decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story and got creative. She wrote for women's magazines and small presses. She formed WriteOutLoud with two writer friends to help charities get their message across using their life stories. Now she is writing psychological suspense, drawing on her experiences in journalism. The Bad Things by Mary-Jane Riley was published by Harper Collins/Killer Reads. Her second book, After She Fell, also published by Killer Reads in April 2016.  To read the review of Killer reads click here

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