Recent Events

Sunday, 8 December 2019

‘In Spite of All Terror’ by V.M.Knox

Published by The Book Reality Experience,
29 July2019.
ISBN: 978-0-6485920-1-3 (PB)

In 1940, after Dunkirk, Britain was standing alone against the Nazi onslaught which had overwhelmed most of Europe. But there was no question of surrender; inspired by the magnificent speeches of Winston Churchill, one phrase from which the title of this book is taken, the nation was standing firm in spite of the knowledge that the Nazi invasion, codenamed Operation Sealion, was imminent. And the British Government did have plans to resist any such invasion. One such plan was the formation of Auxiliary Units to act as guerrillas should the Germans occupy the United Kingdom and defeat other forces such as the Home Guard. Their existence was top-secret, their aim was to inflict as much damage as they could during the anticipated life expectancy of their members of only 10-14 days.

When this story opens, the Battle of Britain is at its height. Clement Wisdom, vicar of All Saints Church in the East Sussex village of Fearnley Maughton, which would be a key landing point should there be a Nazi invasion, is asked to head up an operational patrol recruited from among members of the village’s Home Guard. No-one else must know the identity of the members of the operational patrol except for the most senior policeman in the district whose task would be to vet those members. That man is Inspector David Russell, whom Clement neither likes nor trusts; nonetheless, he is told he must consult Russell unless and until word is received that the operational units are to go into action. Then their first action will be to eliminate Russell.

So Clement sets about recruiting local men, farmers, landowners, shopkeepers and the like who know the country well. Among those are Clement’s best friend, solicitor Peter Kempton, the local doctor, the local bank manager, and local butcher Stanley Russell, son of David Russell. The eight patrol members go on training courses where they are taught to be prepared to kill, using lethal weapons, explosives and the like. And to carry on with their own jobs during the day including Clement’s own role as vicar and guide to the inhabitants of Fearnley Maughton. 

A new element is introduced into the village with the arrival of a highly attractive and rather flirtatious nurse, Elsie Wainwright, who is making a play for Stanley. Mary, Clement’s shrewd wife, does not trust Elsie and when Inspector Russell is found dead in the police station, Stanley, who was on bad terms with his father, is an obvious suspect. But is Stanley really the culprit? And what was the role of the alluring Elsie? And could there be a traitor in the operational patrol?

The Auxiliary Units certainly existed although in the event they were never called upon to act. There are compelling descriptions of the air-raids which followed the Battle of Britain, and the accounts of the training that the members of the operational patrols underwent do seem deeply authentic. The author emphasises the determination of the British population at all levels to withstand the enemy when, at a time of maximum danger, the British people were standing alone.
Reviewer: Radmila May 

V M Knox Growing up in Sydney in the 50’s and 60’s, V M Knox attended both Ravenswood and Abbotsleigh schools.  Following her secondary education, she trained as a primary teacher then as a nurse, specializing in burns care.  While working in the health industry, she studied singing at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music and worked in a semi-professional capacity as an opera singer for over twenty years.  While music and nursing dominated her early adult life, she later worked in an administrative capacity for the Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, then in the real estate industry.  Coming into writing later in life has meant that her varied life experiences, coupled with a love of history have had a strong influence on her writing.  She is married with two children and numerous grandchildren.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

‘The Secrets’ by Jane Adams

Published by Joffe Books,
12 April 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-78931-097-9 (PB)
First published in 1998 as
Cast the First Stone

A young runaway, Ryan Sanderson, is offered a lift and a bed in a hostel by two men in a car, but the offer leads only to pain, fear and degradation. 

A family, Eric Pearson, his wife Johanna, and their six children, are placed in a house in a quiet close used by the council as short term accommodation. All too soon rumours circulate about Eric – that he was charged with sexual offences against children in his care and that although the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence suspicion persists and the house is soon surrounded by angry local residents, stones are thrown, windows are broken. Pearson asserts that he has evidence that will clear him of the accusations and implicate many others; his wife Johanna is determined to support him so that they can all return to the community – the Children of Solomon - where they had lived before the accusations and to which she is desperate to return with her family. The neighbours’ suspicions about the Pearsons are increased by Eric’s obsessive photographing of the neighbours, particularly the children, while the attempts of the few who are prepared to be friendly, such as Rezah Masouk and his wife, gentle, timid, heavily pregnant Ellie, are fiercely rebuffed.

At the same time, an appeal is to be heard in the case of Fletcher, a man convicted of numerous serious sexual offences. Detective Inspector Mike Crofts is tasked with examining the papers relating to Fletcher’s appeal; his boss Superintendent Jaques assures him that this is just a formality, ‘dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s’ but when he visits Pearson and Johanna to interview them about the disturbances in the close, she tells him that Eric will be giving evidence at Fletcher’s appeal and that will not only clear Eric’s name but implicate many others, some of high standing in the community.

And then the body of a boy, later identified as Ryan Sanderson, is discovered. Is he the victim of a paedophile ring or just a random killing? Croft senses that there is a possible connection between the boy’s death and both Fletcher and Pearson, maybe enough to allow him to search for potential links. But that search leads him into danger and at risk of physical attack.

This is quite a complex narrative into which the author has cleverly inserted tiny clues as to where Crofts’ investigation may lead. It should be read attentively! Crofts is an attractive character; although the death of his own son some years before deeply saddens him although it has not embittered him. He is on good terms with his colleagues and his friendship with former police officer John Tynan whose assistance he knows he can call on in his investigation is a great support to him. Above all he now has a warm and loving relationship with Maria, a hospital psychiatrist, who can offer him psychological insights into the personalities of those affected by the abuse they have suffered. Recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May 

Jane Adams was born in Leicestershire, where she still lives. She has a degree in Sociology and has held a variety of jobs including lead vocalist in a folk-rock band. She enjoys pen and ink drawing; martial arts and her ambition is to travel the length of the Silk Road by motorbike. Her first book, The Greenway, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Award in 1995 and for the Author's Club Best First Novel Award. Jane writes several series.  Her first series featured Mike Croft. There are several books featuring DS Ray Flowers. Twelve titles featuring blind Naoimi Blake, and more recently seven books featuring Rina Martin. Her latest series is set in the 1920’s and features Chief Inspector Henry Johnson. Jane has also written three standalone novels. She is married with two children. 

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

‘Widow’s Welcome’ by D.K.Fields

Published by Head of Zeus,
8 August 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-78954248-6 (HB)

“Knife wounds and smashed skulls were Cora’s bread and butter – she’d seen it all in this part of the city.  Her part.  But not this kind of mutilation.  This was new.”

Widow’s Welcome is set in a fascinating alternative world, the Union of Realms, in which the inhabitants have enjoyed a thousand years of peace thanks to an extraordinary electoral system.  How has this been achieved?  Well, every five years a storyteller from each of the union’s six realms is sent to the administrative capital, Fenest, where the election is held.  The representatives relate their stories in the presence of fifty gods known as the Audience.  These fifty Listeners vote for or against each story they hear and the teller who receives the most overall votes wins the election for his or her realm.  The entire event is co-ordinated and overseen by a powerful and somewhat clandestine collection of civil servants - the Commission.

The novel opens as an election is about to commence.  Throngs of people from across the union have descended upon the capital to support their storyteller and to hear the stories for themselves.   This influx of incomers swells the Fenest population and creates an unnerving carnival atmosphere of indulgence and excess.  Then an unknown male is found dead in one of the city’s streets and events take an unpleasant turn. The man’s injuries suggest he died from strangulation, but why have his lips been sewn together by two pieces of string?  

Enter Detective Cora Gorderheim, hard-boiled and tough as they come.  Her first task is to discover the identity of the unfortunate victim.  She and her superiors hope this information will suggest why he was killed in the first place and explain the significance of the disfigured mouth.  Cora interrogates a series of witnesses and suspects as she tries to solve the case.  This proves mightily difficult in a world where stories are prized for their emotional strength and the hidden truths they contain.  Alongside the potency of myths, fables and stories that are so crucial within the Union of Realms, Cora and her sidekick Constable Jenkins must also negotiate the ‘real’ world which, like our own, boasts cultural, social and political narratives that are not always what they seem.

Widow’s Welcome is a detective story embedded within fantastic fiction; it is a stunning celebration of the power of stories.  Two election tales are augmented by a series of shorter stories to create layers of narrative that revolve around the central crime mystery.  Cora drives the plot with vigour and purpose as she delivers dry one-liners, challenges gender stereotypes and subverts politically correct behaviour.  Her gritty personality is consistently entertaining whilst also arousing empathy.  This is the first novel of the Fenest trilogy, and four election stories are still to be told; nevertheless, Widow’s Welcome achieves a satisfying dénouement as a stand-alone work.  I found the novel thought-provoking and compelling.  It surprised, delighted and left me wanting more!
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

D.K. Fields is the pseudonym for the writing partnership of novelists David Towsey and Katherine Stansfield. The couple are originally from the south west of England, and now live in Cardiff. 

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

Friday, 6 December 2019

‘Blood Song’ by Johanna Gustawsson

Published by Orenda Books,
19 September 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-912374-81-6 (PB)

Seamlessly translated by David Warriner, this is the third thriller in the author’s cracking Roy and Castells series that features the crime profiler Emily Roy and her buddy, crime writer Alexis Castells. 

Three members of the wealthy Lindberg family, a Swedish married couple and their adult daughter, who operate a stylish, upscale fertility clinic, are found, in their home, brutally mutilated and murdered, with their tongues cut out.  This dark and gruesome story swings between two time frames — Spain in the dark chapter of the 1930s under the savage regime of Franco and modern day London and Falkenberg.

The duo is immediately on the case because the killer is likely to strike again and soon. The surviving Lindberg daughter, Alienor, is a new recruit to Scotland Yard and joins them in the investigation.

What is riveting, and unsettling, is the IVF background to this hard hitting tale and the examination of corruption and malpractice that can abound in this industry coupled with the wantonly inhumane abuse meted out to girls, snatched from their parents and installed in dictator Franco’s terror-ridden Spanish children’s homes.

Intricately plotted, visceral and emotional the author ramps up the tension and the unfolding keeps the reader guessing to the very end.  Scenes are raw, vivid and gripping and the intertwining shifts between Spain and Sweden are skilfully realised.  Some readers may find the proliferation of characters a little confusing but how the past can return to haunt the present is skillfully presented. A TV series is planned.
Reviewer: Serena Fairfax

Johana Gustawsson was born in 1978 in Marseille. With a degree in political science, she has worked as a journalist for the French press and television. She married a Swede and now lives in London. She was the co-author of a bestseller, On se retrouvera, which was published by Fayard Noir in France, whose television adaptation drew over 7 million viewers in June 2015. She is working on the next book in the Roy & Castells series.

Serena Fairfax spent her childhood in India, qualified as a lawyer in England and practiced in London for many years. She began writing by contributing feature articles to legal periodicals   then turned her hand to fiction. Having published nine novels all, bar one, hardwired with a romantic theme, she has also written short stories and accounts of her explorations off the beaten track that feature on her blog. A tenth, distinctly unromantic, novel is a work in progress. Thrillers, crime and mystery narratives, collecting old masks and singing are a few of her favourite things. 

‘A Taste for Nightshade’ by Martine Bailey

Published by Thomas Dunne Books,
12 January 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-25125005692-4 (HB)
(First published in 2015 as
The Penny Heart)

Manchester, 1787, with the Industrial Revolution just starting and mills and factories being built everywhere. Mary Jebb, a youthful prostitute and thief, tricks two young men, Michael and Peter Croxon, out of a £1.00 banknote. They catch her and despite her pleas for mercy she finds herself in Newgate in London and being tried for theft – at the time a hanging offence. Michael is particularly vengeful and gives evidence against her. But at literally the last moment, while in front of the gallows and a baying crowd, her sentence is reduced to transportation to Botany Bay in Australia for seven years. Not that that is particularly welcome to Mary and she vows vengeance on both Michael Croxon and Charlie and on her ‘mobsman’ Charlie Trebizond who had promised to not just free her from the gallows but to ensure her acquittal. So off Mary goes to Australia and a nightmare life, since she, like other women transported to the far side of the world, is there purely to provide sexual relief for the thousands of men transported to this arid wilderness. But Mary, although down, is certainly not out. 

Meanwhile, another young woman, Grace Moore, marries Michael Croxon, at first thinking that he loves her as much as she loves him. All too soon, once they are married and Grace’s fortune becomes the property of her husband, she realises that he never loved her and had only been interested in her money with which he plans to build a cotton-spinning mill. He installs her in a manor-house, Delafosse Hall, which, although large and stately, is very neglected with only one elderly servant. So, Grace, hoping to make the best of a bad situation and to kindle some affection in her husband’s heart towards her, hires a cook/housekeeper, Peg Blissett, who seems to be just the person to make it all right. But the reader knows, which Grace does not, that her apparent saviour is in fact Mary Jebb who has escaped from her transportation and has returned to England to wreak vengeance on the various people who have wronged her, particularly Michael Croxon. She knows that she can trade on Grace’s naïve good nature to accomplish this and enrich herself at the same time.

But does she succeed? This is an enthralling tale with suspense on every page. Mary may be a criminal through-and-through but one has to admire her courage and determination. The appalling circumstances of women transported to Australia are strongly depicted. Meanwhile the gentle Grace arouses our sympathy and the reader can only hope she will escape the trap she has fallen into. And an extra touch are the authentic eighteenth century recipes included in the book – not only is Mary an accomplished and determined con woman but also an excellent cook. But can her recipes be altogether trusted? Note the title of this book!

I do heartily recommend this book.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Martine Bailey entered cookery contest with no idea it would lead to a life-changing obsession with French cuisine. As an amateur cook, Martine won the Merchant Gourmet Recipe Challenge and was a former UK Dessert Champion, cooking at Le Meurice in Paris. Inspired by eighteenth-century household books of recipes, An Appetite for Violets invites readers to feast on the past as a sharp-witted young cook is taken on a mysterious trip to Italy. In pursuit of authenticity Martine studied with food historian Ivan Day and experienced Georgian food and fashion at firsthand with an historic re-enactment society. Martine lives in Cheshire, England and Auckland, New Zealand. She is married with one son.  The Almanack is her latest book. Published in January 2019. 

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Jill Amadio talks with Hannah Dennison

‘There’s No Place Like Home’

Hollywood is awash with British writers eager to break into screenwriting. Major studios hire many of them, along with a phalanx of actors from the UK. I’ve bumped into a few at press events who work as waiters and waitresses until their Big Chance comes along. The most handsome and beautiful with whom I chatted were “on hiatus” (as in “between jobs”) and staffing a Rolls-Royce lunch in Beverly Hills – where else - to launch its latest auto.

While more Brits are coming to Tinseltown than are leaving there appears to be a movement afoot for a few British authors to go back home to dear old Blighty.  Three of my favourites 
have abandoned sunny California. One such is mystery writer Hannah Dennison who, while living in the USA authored four Honeychurch Hall mysteries, with a fifth releasing as we write, and five Vicky Hill mysteries, all set in Devon, not to be confused with the eight towns in America named Devon. She has an enviable and formidable publishing history. The Honeychurch books were first published by Minotaur and Constable, UK, and the Vicky Hill series was first published by Berkely Prime, USA, and Constable, UK.  The brand-new Island Sisters Mysteries are also published by Minotaur. All her books were written after her screenwriting efforts.

“When I first moved to Los Angeles in 1993”, she said, “I told myself it was only going to be temporary. I had taken my ten-year old daughter and two cats with me, the cats being sort of security to make sure I would give it my best shot. Had I changed my mind at the last minute the cats would have spent six months in quarantine at Heathrow”.

Hannah initially flew here to follow her dream of working in Hollywood as a screenwriter, a dream she called crazy but a series of weird circumstances and opportunities appeared in her life. While working as a flight attendant on a private jet she met Steven Spielberg on location filming “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.He wasn’t as famous as he is now”, she said, “but he made a comment about taking a leap of faith. That gave me the courage to do just that. I was a single mum at the time, as well. My poor parents thought I was mad”!

As happens with many hopefuls outside the gates of Hollywood she realized once she arrived on American shores that she was too old at 35 to start a career as a screenwriter, finding that ageism was alive and well at the studios. On the other hand, she said, “What is wonderful about America is that if you work hard you can succeed in whatever you want to do. It sounds trite, but it is true. So, I learned all I could about screenwriting, read literally hundreds of screenplays, and ended up writing “coverage” (to keep the filming dynamic and exciting and help the editing process) for New Line Cinema, and a slate of independent production companies.

She was inside the gates. But finding a producer for her several screenplays she subsequently wrote wasn’t so simple. She got close but each time a piece of the financial puzzle, as she tells it, dropped out or she’d be replaced by another screenwriter brought in to “amp up the action” or for instance to rewrite the female lead. Finding the experiences disheartening Hannah decided to switch to a longer form – scripts average 10,000 words compared to 70,000 in fiction – and embarked on her mysteries. Writing her own books meant she would always own the material.

By now it was 2004 and Hannah went all out to express “the murder in my heart after my Hollywood experiences. Just joking but I have always loved mysteries and creating puzzles. It felt far more natural for me to go in that direction”. Besides, she missed the UK countryside, the pubs, Christmas and Easter, and everything British, especially their sense of humour. “I was often desperately homesick; it was a physical pang. I yearned for the sound of blackbirds singing on a summer’s evening and, oddly enough, November fog, there was something I loved about coming home in the dark at 5 p.m. to a warm fire and a cup of tea”.##

In Los Angeles she watched every episode of “Midsomer Murders”, munching on masses of Cadbury’s chocolate she brought from the UK which she says, has a different taste to the US version.  She religiously follows VeryBritishProblems on Twitter.

“It just makes me laugh. Americans have a different sense of humour. Also, I miss the sense that anything is possible in the US, it’s in the ether. In the UK the attitude is often, “No, you can’t do that”.

Hannah lives just outside Totness and is an active member of the mystery writers’ community which she finds very strong in the South West. Around 99 percent of her UK friends are authors or connected to the writing community. She joined the Society of Authors, praising it as an excellent resource, and CWA. She still belongs to Sisters in Crime from her days with the Los Angeles chapter, and continues as a board member of Mystery Writers of America, Los Angeles.  At a recent appearance at the Tiverton Literary Festival she saw her books on the library shelves and stored in the basement is an obituary she wrote in 1978 as a cub reporter for the local newspaper. “Surreal!” she commented.

The first thing she did upon returning home was to take her two Hungarian Vizslas to a huge field behind the barn she currently rents, and set them free to run after being always on a lead in California.“They were in heaven. Dogs really do smile when they are happy”!

Any disappointments once she came back to live? “No, as I’d been taking trips home once or twice a year so there were no surprises. I love the rain. Now, when I travel [abroad] and land at Heathrow I pinch myself and say, ‘I can’t believe I actually live here’ although I was spoiled in Los Angeles by the designer produce, an upmarket grocery chain called Whole foods, and American customer service”.

Hannah’s mother celebrated her 90th birthday this year and still volunteers for the National Trust at Greenway, Agatha Christie’s summer home. Hannah’s daughter had already moved back to the UK to attend university and the rest of the family lives within a three-mile radius.

Producing two books a year, Hannah writes mostly in the mornings. She also teaches writing at retreats both in the UK and online for the University of Los Angeles Writers’ Extension program, and just completed a four-day residential workshop on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly.  See photo left.

Next up for this industrious mystery writer?
A new series set in the Isles of Scilly.
The first book is
Death at High Tide.
For a review of the latest  Honeychurch book
Tidings of Death at Honeychurch Hall. 
Click on the title

Books by Hannah Dennison
Vicky Hill Mysteries
A Vicky Hill Exclusive! (2008)
Scoop! (2009
Expose! (2010)
Thieves! (2011)
 Accused! (2015)

Honeychurch Hall Mysteries
Murder at Honeychurch Hall (2012
Deadly Desire at Honeychurch Hall (2015
A Killer Ball At Honeychurch Hall (2016
Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall (2017)

Coming soon
Death of a Diva at Honeychurch Hall (2020)

Jill Amadio hails from Cornwall, U.K., like the character in her crime series, Jill was a reporter in Spain, Digging up the Dead

Digging up the Dead Colombia, Thailand, and the U.S. She is a true crime author, ghosted a thriller,
writes a column for Mystery People ezine, and freelances for My Cornwall magazine. 
She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Crime Writers Association UK. She lives in Southern California. Her most recent book is Digging up the Dead.

‘Marked for Death’ by Tony Kent

Published by Elliott & Thompson,
25 July 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-78396-449-9

A former Lord Chief Justice, holder of one of the highest judicial offices in the land, is crucified and mutilated in his own home. And then retired solicitor Adam Blunt is killed in the same way. Is there a link between the two murders? To find that out is the task of Chief Inspector Joelle Levy. And then Joelle finds herself being called to work on another case, this time a gangland massacre; we know, although Joelle does not, that this is also the work of the perpetrator of the other murders. 

And in a parallel narrative, 21-year-old Simon Kash has been charged with the murder of the Galloway brothers. But there is another defendant, Darren O’Driscoll, charged with the same offence and because there are two defendants, not to mention elements of revenge, low-level organised crime, and the possibility of a ‘cut-throat defence’ (when two defendants accuse each other) it has been decided that the barrister defending Kash should be a ‘silk’, a barrister of senior standing, rather than the older experienced barrister previously retained. But at the personal level there is a complication: the older barrister is Derek Reid while his replacement is Michael Devlin, and Reid had been Devlin’s pupil master during the latter’s pupillage – a form of practical training after passing the Bar exams. However, Reid has a generous nature and bears no resentment against Devlin and he speaks very highly of the junior, Jenny Draper, who has also been assigned to the case. 

At first only the fact that Devlin’s fiancée, reporter Sarah Truman, is assigned to covering the murders of the Lord Chief Justice and Blunt links these narratives. But then a deep personal tragedy brings Devlin into the murder investigation and places his life and Sarah’s in the greatest danger.

The body count in these interlocking narratives is pretty high – I made it 16, including a number of policemen. That being so I did wonder how that it was that there was no intervention from eg politicians asking what on earth was going on. But it is a riveting story and the author first weaves together the tangled narratives and then expertly untangles them. And right at the end there is a surprising twist.
Reviewer: Radmila May 

Tony Kent grew up in a close-knit Irish family in London and studied law in Scotland. He is a top-ranking barrister and former champion boxer who brings a wealth of detail and personal insight to this unputdownable thriller. A regular at London's Old Bailey, Tony's case history includes prosecuting and defending many high-profile, nationally reported trials. Before his legal career, Tony boxed internationally as a heavyweight and won a host of national amateur titles. He is based in London.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Emma Curtis


Radmila May talks with Emma Curtis

Find her on Twitter: @emmacurtisbooks

Radmila:          Thank you so much, Emma, for agreeing to be interviewed. I enjoyed your first two novels, One Little Mistake, and When I Find You, very much and am looking forward very much to reading The Night You Left. And I’m so interested to hear that you have decided to set up the Psychological Suspense Authors’ Association; although a sub-genre of crime fiction generally, it very much has its own characteristics. Firstly, tell me about your life before you started writing. You were born in Brighton but since then have always lived in London. Now you are married with two children and live in Richmond.
Emma: I married relatively young, at least for the time. I was twenty-four and had barely begun to think about what I wanted to do when I got pregnant with my first child. My second was born two years after that. I was young and none of my friends were at the same stage, so I felt as though I had somehow underachieved. I also felt a little trapped. It was reading an article about a romance writer that started me off. First it was just a thing to do in the quiet times, then it became a habit and then an obsession and along with that a determination to get published. I kept submitting work for eight years, then gave up and became a school secretary. I started writing again in 2008 when my son went to university and once again I had that feeling that I had underachieved and that life was passing me by. I was happy but I knew I was capable of more and I hadn't finished with writing. I submitted three novels before I finally got an agent but at no time did I think I would give up again. For me that was it.

Radmila: Have you always wanted to write?
Emma: No, not always. My mother has written novels since the early 60s and although she's brilliant and her books are extremely good, she's never had the luck you need to submit the right book at the right time to the right agent.  Although I was interested, I wasn't sure I wanted to go through that. It was only when I started writing that I realised that rejection didn't matter. Just keep going.

Radmila: Have you always liked crime fiction? If so, any particular genre? Particular authors?
Emma: My first experience of crime fiction was Agatha Christie's ABC Murders when I was thirteen. I read all her books, then Ngaio Marsh, PD James and Ruth Rendall. But I read widely, having always been
encouraged to do so.  I still do. I probably read less crime now than I used to, or I read it because I've been sent a book rather than I've actually seen it in the paper and gone out to get it.  I don't like anything too forensic!  I
particularly enjoy Robert Galbraith, Gillian Flynn, Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay.

Radmila: What brought you to psychological suspense?
Emma: Like many authors, getting published after the massive success of Gone Girl changed the landscape for crime novels, I was steered towards psychological suspense. I had never heard the term before and was ambivalent at first. However, since romance had never worked for me, I was relieved to find that I had a talent for this particular genre, that the dark side to my writing had a home, and a very popular one.

Radmila: What lights the ‘writing spark’ within you? 
Emma: Conversations! I'm a listener by nature, and it's the stories that friends, neighbours and chance encounters tell, that spark the best ideas for these books.

Radmila: Do you plan your stories in detail before you start writing or do you let them evolve along the way? Or some of both?
Emma: I was never a planner; I don't think many writers are naturally. However, I've had several false starts and two novels written and rewritten that have been rejected by my editor, so now, both for my sanity and my publishers, I write a detailed proposal and get that agreed before I begin. I wish I didn't have to, because it means coming up with a fully realised plot rather than letting it develop organically, but psychological suspense has to be so tautly written, so twisty and pacey, that the chances of getting it right without planning are slim to none.

Radmila: I get the impression that in your writing character rather than plot is more important for you. Would you say that that is so?
Emma: That's very interesting. It's something that hasn't occurred to me. I do think that it's not enough to have a brilliant plot, you have to have three-dimensional characters as well.  So I'm very glad you say that! I tend to cross my fingers and hope that the character in my mind will come out on the page. To be honest, characters 
could manifest themselves through what they do and what they say, not through how the author describes them.

Radmila:          Why did you decide to set up a group within the crime fiction genre particularly for authors of psychological suspense?
Emma:               Psychological suspense has long been lumped under crime. When The Night You Left was reviewed under the subtitle PsychoThrillers in the Mail on Saturday I was absolutely thrilled! I googled societies for all the different literary genres and discovered that Psychological Suspense was the only one lacking a society, so that galvanised me. At the moment we are a Facebook group and a growing presence on Twitter. We've met once for lunch, which was a huge success, and I intend to organise another meet up in the New Year. I do feel that we aren't always accorded the respect that crime is. We tend to get given very similar covers and titles. Whereas crime readers tend to look for a particular writer that they like, psychological suspense readers are encouraged by often generic cover designs to look for something similar to what they've just enjoyed. I want to help individual writers increase their profile so that readers are looking for the next Emma Curtis  (for instance!) not the next book with a photograph of a pair of child's shoes on the cover.

Radmila: How would you define psychological suspense? Would you say that the descriptions ‘domestic noir’ and ‘grip-lit’ are included within the definition?
Emma: In a crime novel we want to know who the perpetrator of the crime was and see them unmasked and punished for it. Good over evil. In psychological suspense we don't always know whodunnit, we often don't know who to believe, we find ourselves liking the so-called villain and disliking the victim. It's all about the grey areas.   Readers should be torn in their allegiance. They have to have someone to root for, but that someone can be as flawed as the villain.

Radmila: How does psychological suspense differ from other sub-genres of crime fiction?
Emma: I'm trying to think what the other subgenres are. Historical crime, cosy crime, forensic crime. I would say that the main thing linking all crime is that there is a murder, a perpetrator and an investigator and it is the investigation that forms the backbone of the story. In psychological suspense, it's the people, the community and the victim that form that backbone.

Radmila: Do you think that it is likely to evolve in the future? If so, how?
Emma: Yes I do, though I'm not sure how that will manifest. The market is saturated, so there has to be a point where it changes or it'll become too diluted.  As with any genre, quality will rise to the surface.

Radmila: Do you see the Psychological Suspense Authors’ Association as largely a way in which authors within the category relate to each other or also as a way of raising the profile of psychological
Emma: Both. It's already raising our profile. It's good to have a Facebook page purely for us, where we're not competing for attention with Crime.  It makes for a different discussion. We can be proud of who we are and what we do, and we need to be proud.  I get a little fed up with people telling me how great it is that I 'churn' out a book a year.  We work extremely hard to produce books we can be proud of.

Radmila: Either way, how do you propose to accomplish the aim? Will you, for instance, have a website to which authors contribute? Or will you encourage readers also to contribute?
Emma: At the moment Twitter and Facebook is all I can manage, but if all goes well and the other authors want it, we could have a public Facebook page on which our authors could talk about their books and readers could ask questions. 

Radmila: Finally, to bring the interview back to you personally, you have published two psychological suspense novels (One Little Mistake, When I Find You, see Mystery People reviews on the website ( and another novel is just about (September 2019) to come out. What is this last one called, and (just a taster) what is it about? And what about future stories – any ideas? And I see that you will be speaking at the Chiswick Book Festival – tell us what the experience was like.
Emma: I'm delighted to say that The Night You Left has now been published in paperback and is doing very well. This is a story of Nick and Grace.  In a nutshell: Twenty-four hours after Nick asks Grace to marry him, he goes for a walk and doesn't come back. While Grace searches for answers, she has to deal with his grasping parents who come to stay and refuse to leave, and an, at best, half-hearted investigation by the police.  It is very twisty!

Speaking at festivals is definitely one of the perks of being a writer. I love being on panels, because I get to meet other authors. I'm the kind of person who likes to get involved, so the Chiswick Festival with its strong community feel is the perfect home for me (even though I'm not a resident!).  I spoke on the Saturday and volunteered on the Sunday and had so much fun.  I shared the panel with author and HarperCollins editor Phoebe Morgan. This was a real thrill, because it gave me an insight into her world. I have huge admiration for authors who hold down full-time jobs and produce excellent books. Festivals are helpful in raising your profile, but what I really love is just hanging out with people who want to talk about writing and books. Before I was published, I didn't have anyone who I could have that kind of conversation with, apart from my lovely mother. Being published has opened a whole world for me!  One that I'm extremely grateful for.

Thank you once again, Emma, for a fascinating interview. All good wishes to you and the Psychological Suspense Authors’ Association.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from even years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.