Judith Kinghorn’s beautifully-written and evocative debut novel The Last Summer was one of my favourite reads of 2012. Which might help to explain why, on the eve of her second novel coming out, I’m only now getting around to trying to do it justice in a review.
The Last Summer has been marketed as a book that viewers of Downton Abbey would enjoy. I can understand why, given that it opens in the country estate of Deyning Park in 1914, the year in which the first series of Downton Abbey ends, and involves a love affair between two people from different social classes. But if, like me, you were one of the few people who didn’t enjoy the show and switched off at the beginning of its second series, please don’t let that be the reason you miss out on what is a wonderfully rewarding read in itself.
What I particularly enjoyed about The Last Summer is how much depth there is to the story. Clarissa, the heroine, is on the cusp of adulthood and about to embark upon her first real love affair: “I was almost seventeen when the spell of my childhood was broken”. But the world she inhabits is also about to undergo a profound transformation: “the vibration of change was upon us, and I sensed a shift: a realignment of my trajectory. It was the beginning of summer and, unbeknownst to any of us then, the end of a belle époque.” Read more
I’m thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Kerry Hudson’s debut novel Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. Kerry was one of my early follows on Twitter and, having enjoyed her updates on writing, life and the cake essential to both of those, it’s especially lovely to help her celebrate her first novel coming out. Here’s what Tony Hogan is all about:
When Janie Ryan is born, she’s just the latest in a long line of Ryan women, Aberdeen fishwives to the marrow, always ready to fight. Her violet-eyed Grandma had predicted she’d be sly, while blowing Benson and Hedges smoke rings over her Ma’s swollen belly. In the hospital, her family approached her suspiciously, so close she could smell whether they’d had booze or food for breakfast. It was mostly booze.
The Penny Bangle is the last in a trilogy of books following the lives and loves of various members of the Denham family. It’s a series I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading and a family who I’m sorry to have to leave behind, no matter how fitting an end The Penny Bangle is to the series.
In The Penny Bangle, it’s the turn of Alex and Rose Denham’s twin sons, Robert and Stephen, to take centre stage. It’s 1942 and both men are home, recovering from injuries they suffered at Dunkirk. Into their lives comes nineteen-year-old Cassie Taylor, newly arrived from Birmingham after her granny sent her away to the country where she thought she’d be safer, and very reluctantly about to be the new land girl tasked with helping out on their parents’ farm. Read more
I must admit to having a bit of an aversion to pink. With the notable exception of the singer, P!NK, I try and avoid the colour, especially when it liberally covers a book. But I was only too happy to overcome this irrational dislike if it meant I could read another Kate Johnson novel.
I read and thoroughly enjoyed Kate’s fantasy novel The Untied Kingdomlast year and was looking forward to reading one of Kate’s Sophie Green mysteries. Run Rabbit Run is the first of these to be published by ChocLit, an independent publisher of fiction with an element of romance. (The previous four books in the Sophie Green series were published as ebooks in the USA.)
You don’t need to have read any of the previous Sophie Green books to be able to enjoy this one. It works perfectly well as a stand-alone. Read more
Today sees the online launch of writer pal Denyse Kirkby’s second novel, My Dream of You, and I’m very excited to be a part of the Online Launch Party.Having read and enjoyed Denyse’s debut novel Without Alice and her memoir From Zaftig to Aspie, I’m currently engrossed in readingMy Dream of You. Here’s a taste of what it’s all about:
Crime of passion or cruel twist of fate?
One summer’s day Betty let love carry her a step too far. That exquisite sun dappled afternoon became one of her best memories but also the catalyst for the worst experience of her life. Now elderly, Betty has been running from her past since she was a teenager, and it’s about to catch up with her. Will the experience be as awful as she fears or wonderful beyond imagining?
I’m thrilled to be taking part in the Blogsplash for Housewife with a Half-Life today. It’s the debut novel from the extraordinarily talented A.B. Wells, who I know through Twitter and the #fridayflash community of writers. To celebrate the launch, she’s running activities on her Author Page on Facebook, on Twitter and on her main blog Head Above Water. There will be giveaways, the shortlist and results of the 42-word flash fiction competition and a fun treasure hunt where you have to hunt Housewife with a Half-Life related web activity to find the answers to some clues!
But first, here’s what you need to know about Housewife with a Half-Life:
Susan Strong is a suburban housewife who is literally disintegrating. Read more
Everyone loves a villain and today on the Nut Press I’m delighted to welcome Dexter Snide, the deliciously evil mastermind behind EvilUnLtd,whose first two adventures have been chronicled by Simon A Forward and are available in paperback and ebook formats.
Welcome to the Nut Press, Mr Snide, or may I call you Dexter? For those poor unfortunates who don’t yet get your television station Galaxy Six beamed into their homes or might not know of you, how would you describe yourself and why should everyone here on Earth take notice of you?
First of all, can I say what an honour it is for you to be interviewing me.
Modesty inhibits me from talking too extensively about myself, which is why I dispensed with that particular ‘quality’ before I was old enough to look it up in a dictionary. In essence I am the exemplar of villainy. People will perhaps remember with fondness certain evil masterminds from the realms of fiction – Sherlock Holmes’ Moriarty, Doctor Who’s Master, Die Hard’s Hans Gruber – gentlemen of refinement, superior intellect and commitment to long-term relationships with criminality. If you put all three of those in a blender, you’d have the beginnings of an appreciation of the man I am – and as a bonus, you’d be removing some minor competition.
Amateurs, all three, who allowed their respective antagonists (known in your language as ‘heroes’) to get the better of them. Still, I gather they were popular figures and I’ve heard it said, “Everyone loves a good villain.” So it seems to me, the greater the villainy, the greater the love. Which is not so much why the people of Earth should take notice, but rather the reason they will.
When did you first turn to the dark side and decide that being Evil was not only more fun and fulfilling, but the life for you?
Well, I could blame it on my upbringing – at a very early age my mother (*shudders*) washed her hands of me and deposited me in the care of the Cringemyre Educatory Reform Habitoid For Wayward Boys. I use the term ‘care’ loosely, of course. They ran a strict Dickensian regime there and brooked no misbehaviour or stepping out of line. But mine is not a sob story. Indeed it was the fact that they brooked so very little that made it all the more appetising. In that respect, it was a nurturing environment. While familiarity – along with, if you ask me, a great many other things – breeds contempt, pompous piety and intolerance breed Evil and are therefore to be applauded. Especially in schools. Imagine, if I hadn’t turned to Evil in my formative years I wouldn’t be half the villain I am and I’d have a serious amount of catching up to do.
You can’t always have been Evil. What’s the nicest thing you’ve ever done for anyone?
I have on occasion consented to interviews. Any claims that I have ever done anything nicer is defamation of character and my people will be seeing your people in court. If you’re lucky.
You’ve gathered together a remarkable group of miscreants to assist you in your plan to see Evil run/ruin the Universe. Are you still recruiting or will the rest of the work be done by whoever wins your Minion Factor talent contest?
Ultimately, in my business, you constantly have to be thinking ahead. Clearly, some tasks are best done by yours truly, but I’m not sure everyone grasps the sheer volume of menial chores involved in running an expanding Evil empire. Combine that with the tendency of minions to let one down and there will always be job opportunities open. That said, I think we have some promising contestants lined up in our Minion Factor competition so there’s a strong chance that the rank-and-file positions will be filled for some time to come.
But if you’re asking because you’re interested, then you can fill out an application form like everyone else.
Squizzey can’t help but think that you might have underestimated the Bunnymen when they auditioned for Minion Factor. Are you afraid of any bounceback from those (hind)quarters?
Afraid? Of bunnies? You are pulling my leg, of course. The Bunnymen – or Myxomatosans – might be as militaristic as a hardline Republican Klingon with a rocket launcher on one shoulder and a chip on the other and a whiff of oil in the region, but at the end of the day they’re far too cute to be any kind of threat. I sent them packing with their little cottontails between their legs and I doubt we’ll be seeing them again anytime soon, despite any appearance they may have been granted in the epilogue.
Do you find it hard to hold the team together and sometimes feel that they have their own agendas? How do you deal with this when planning your next Evil move?
We have, as you say, a remarkable team. The cream of the galaxy’s criminal crop. Beyond that, I’m not going to sing any of their praises here. Suffice to say, most perform their roles adequately – even admirably on occasion. Mr Knucks is my most dependable lieutenant. But this question of personal agendas is becoming an increasing problem.
Ms Troy can be a menace, for example, with her gender superiority issues and I worry there may come a day when even Mr Knucks’ unfettered chauvinism becomes, well, fettered in the face of her manoeuvring. I’m aware of her underhand tactics and I have plans in place to keep her in check. Doubtless she has plans to counter those, but I have plans to deal with those too. It’s a whole spiral of plans and counter-plans and just one of those unfortunate necessities of working alongside egos of that magnitude.
Similarly, I have some concerns over our latest employee, Six. Adding another female to the mix strikes me as asking for trouble. But Professor Doomladen assures me she was manufactured according to his own Laws Of Robotics so I’m hopeful she’ll be the one woman on the team who knows her place. And with Evil Robot and the Hatchling currently in absentia we need her to make up the numbers, wash a few dishes, that sort of thing. (Laughs.)
You obviously have some kind of relationship going on with Tanith Troy, but no doubt get a lot of attention from women since you rose to power. What’s your idea of a perfect date?
Ultimately, a date is all about the meeting of two minds with an eye to some potential gain for at least one of the parties involved. There might be some mutual benefit, but really there’s no sense concerning yourself over what’s in it for the other person. As long as they believe you have something to offer, that should suffice. In any case, the best date would naturally involve the greatest gain for a minimum of effort. Expense is no object, since funds can always be stolen or, like anything you might say on the date, counterfeited.
Dinner is, of course, the classic choice and it’s hard to beat. It’s sitting and talking and if the food’s sufficiently palatable you can even save yourself the effort of too much conversation. Obviously never go to the trouble of cooking and be sure to ply your rival – that is to say, your date – with plenty of wine. And even if you can’t quite command my levels of charisma and charm, well, you can rely on the setting to generate a winning impression.
For preference, I like a quiet night out by the fire. Set a nice conflagration rampaging through a city or national park and choose some locale with a commanding view of the blaze. If she’s not thoroughly entranced by the flames reflected in your eyes then you failed to use the right accelerant.
Who’s been your most formidable opponent to date or have you yet to meet someone who is your equal?
Formidable is an ugly word, when it comes to opponents. It irks me to say this, but our most bothersome enemy has been Rolph Stengun. For years, he was the bane of my most devious schemes and it’s not as if he ever had to outsmart me. No, all the shaven ape had to do was turn up and be impervious to bullets and my wittiest barbs. And he was infuriatingly resistant to death. When we threw him out the airlock he came back, reanimated as an unstoppable cyborg by a swarm of vengeful Space Midges. I mean, what were the chances of that? It was aggravating in the extreme.
Still, he’s finally met his end and we won’t be seeing him again. So, all being well, we can look forward to coming up against a better class of hero. One with a cerebrum would be nice for a change.
Somewhere out there, some day I am sure I will meet my Sherlock Holmes. And take the greatest pleasure in killing him before he’s had a chance to feature in one whole story.
Which villains (real or fictional) do you admire and envy for their own special brand of Evil, and why?
Despite their aforementioned amateurism, we will admit to a grudging admiration for the likes of Moriarty and the Master. The former gentleman has attained a notoriety and fame wholly disproportionate to his appearance in all of one official Sherlock Holmes tale. And the Master commands a huge fanbase, despite a long succession of completely insane schemes easily defeated by an ineffectual dandy in a frock coat or even, in later years, by a prematurely retired vet in a pantomime cricketer’s outfit. These are notable achievements and show that, in spite of their poor track records, they must possess many commendable qualities to have forged such enduring impressions.
Oh, and Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects – not least because he gets away with it.
Are you happy with the way in which you and your escapades are being portrayed by Simon A Forward?
As an author, the fellow has some credentials – he’s written for Doctor Who and Merlin. Only books, mind you, not for the TV series or anything that counts. But he has a tendency towards laziness and takes almost a year to produce each instalment of Evil UnLtd. He would, at this point, contend that he likes to take time and care over the details, to ensure the quality of the writing and so on, but frankly it’s not good enough. And sometimes I don’t believe he takes us sufficiently seriously. Do not be surprised if you hear he has been taken out and shot and replaced with a dedicated scriptbot.
Squizzey is very interested in achieving world domination. Do you have any advice for him?
World domination is a laudable ambition, but I wonder if Squizzey’s heart is quite in it, what with setting his sights so low. I understand that travel to other planets is limited at your world’s current state of technological advancement, but I gather a certain Mr Branson is developing the first commercial spacecraft so Squizzey might consider staging a hijack and striking out for some other world altogether.
Still, if Squizzey is intent on confining his aims to one world, one key piece of advice I can offer is to never fall into complacency. Earth may seem to be a comprehensive ball of festering Evil and in need of no further input from us villains. But despite the wars, famine, poverty, rampant corruption, collapsing economy, widespread suffering and cultural barrel-scraping in TV and film – all of which are encouraging signs – some persist in clinging to antiquated notions like hope and faith in humanity, so we must never rest on our laurels.
One of your most celebrated writers wrote, “All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” This is blatant nonsense and Shakespeare really ought to have taken pains to attribute lines like that to someone else. It should be abundantly clear to anyone that evil must be nurtured. Contrary to popular misconception, Evil is a creative endeavour.
Squizzey would do well to bear that in mind.
What’s next for you and EvilUnltd? Where will it all end?
A third account of our enterprise is due for release in December 2012 – assuming Mr Forward (or the replacement scriptbot) meets his deadline. It will follow on directly from events detailed in Vol 2: From Evil With Love and will go by the title of Vol 3: Evil Utd.
While continuing to chart our rise, it will also cover the outcome of the Minion Factor, touch on the trifling matter of a brewing galactic war, follow the progress of our currently MIA colleagues, reveal a little more of my past and answer many burning questions, chief among them, I suppose, being “What happens next?” It may also feature some of those personal agendas to which you referred, although not if I have any say in the matter.
As to where it will all end – well, universal domination. In the meantime, we would like to see our brand make the transition to other media – audio, screen, stage, video game, perhaps even a musical – along with a great deal of exploitative merchandising. Evil Lego is only one courageous executive and a few million pounds away.
Thanks very much for fitting us into what must be a hectic schedule what with running a TV station, being lead judge on a reality show to find your minions and ridding the universe of good. All the best of luck with your plans for EvilUnLtd Domination!
An exciting new collection of short stories is released today. It’s a collaboration between two remarkable writers, Caroline Smailes and Nik Perring, and comic book illustrator, Damien Craske. There are over fifty freaks and misfits in this collection and each story features a character with an unusual superpower.
To celebrate the launch, I’m hosting one of the stories from the collection right here, so you can all get a sneak peek:
[Super Power: The ability to make oneself unseen to the naked eye]
If I stay totally still,
if I stand right tall,
with me back against the school wall,
close to the science room’s window,
with me feet together,
if I make me hands into tight fists,
make me arms dead straight,
if I push me arms into me sides,
if I squeeze me thighs,
stop me wee,
if me belly doesn’t shake,
if me boobs don’t wobble,
if I close me eyes tight,
so tight that it makes me whole face scrunch,
if I push me lips into me mouth,
if I make me teeth bite me lips together,
if I hardly breathe,
if I don’t say a word.
I’ll magic meself invisible,
and them lasses will leave me alone.
Freaks is a collection of short stories written by Caroline Smailes and Nik Perring, and illustrated by Darren Craske. It is available as a paperback and also as an ebook.
I’m thrilled to be hosting a tale from the latest project by talented writer friend, E J Newman today. Emma has previously published a brilliantly dark short story collection From Dark Places, and 20 Years Later, a post-apocalyptic YA novel.
This is the twenty-second tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like Emma to read it to you instead,you can listen here.You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here.
Lydia walked past the dining room table, checking the position of the cutlery and inspecting the white linen. Her mother emerged from the kitchen and found her removing a speck of dust from one of the charger plates.
“You’re nervous,” she said and Lydia nodded. “The caterers are the best in Bath, I chose the menu myself, the house is spotless and you look beautiful. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“What if it’s not good enough?” Lydia said, fiddling with her bracelet, squeezing each black pearl in turn.
“If he can be put off by something trivial, then he isn’t the one,” her father said, resting a hand on her shoulder. “And I know you love him and I know you want it to be perfect, but there’s no point getting yourself into such a state that you won’t enjoy the evening, is there?”
Lydia forced a smile. “Nathaniel likes sherry before dinner,” she said. “And don’t mention anything about how wealthy his family is.”
“Lydia,” her father shook his head. “We’re not exactly peasants, are we?”
“His is old money though, you know what I told you about his ancestry.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve found something out about ours that’s bound to impress him,” her father replied and then the doorbell rang.
Her father opened the door, Nathaniel stepped inside and began to take off his coat. He wore a dinner jacket and black bow tie, the black satin strip on the outer seam of his trousers made him look even taller than usual. His wavy brown hair was perfectly coiffed, his large brown eyes made her stomach flip over.
“We meet at last Nathanial,” Father said.
Nathaniel’s eyebrows shot up, Lydia realised her father had been mistaken for the butler they didn’t have. “Ah, you must be Lydia’s father,” he said, shaking hands, a broad smile pushing the embarrassment from his face. “A pleasure to meet you Mr Dunstone.”
“May I introduce my wife, Phillipa and you know my daughter already of course.”
Nathaniel kissed her mother’s hand and then hers, Lydia smiled at him. “Would you like a glass of sherry?”
“Please,” he said, and then whispered something about how lovely she looked as they followed her parents into the living room.
As her father poured, Lydia searched Nathaniel’s face for any signs of disappointment. He was scanning the room with a detached interest, his eyes lingered over the photographs on the mantelpiece, then he took the glass with thanks.
“Did you have far to come?” Father asked.
“No, I live very close to Bath,” Nathaniel replied and walked over to the mantelpiece. “Are these members of your family?” he asked, pointing to the sepia portraits.
“Yes,” Mother replied, joining him. “Mostly my side of the family.”
“I can see the resemblance,” Nathaniel said, studying them closely. “Now I know where Lydia’s beauty comes from.”
Lydia blushed. If anyone else had said that, she’d have groaned, but his compliments just made her melt.
“I understand you’re a keen genealogist,” he said to her father, who beamed at the prospect of being asked about his favourite topic, rather than having to shoehorn it into conversation.
“Yes, I’ve turned up something rather interesting only this week in fact, haven’t even had a chance to tell Lydia, but I think you will both like it. Lydia told me that your family has some royal roots.”
“It’s not something we usually talk about,” Nathaniel replied and she knew she shouldn’t have told her parents. “It’s distant.”
“I understand the surname “Iris” comes from the Old French, meaning “from Ireland”, is that right?”
Nathaniel looked horrified. “There is no Irish blood in my family sir,” he said, then seemed to calm himself. “But my family does have French roots, a long way back.”
“Shall we go through to dinner?” Lydia said, wanting to end the conversation so clearly making Nathaniel uncomfortable.
“It isn’t ready yet,” her mother said and whispered; “the caterer will call us through.”
“From the Norman conquest, I imagine,” Father continued, oblivious to Nathaniel’s discomfort. “Well, I uncovered a marvellous fact yesterday. We’re descended from royalty! If it hadn’t been for a couple of quirks of fate, we could have been having dinner in Buckingham Palace!”
Nathaniel set down his sherry glass. “Really?” he leaned closer, fascinated.
“It turns out we’re related to William himself.”
“No, William the third, or William of Orange as he’s often called,” father replied. “I finished the family tree last night, thought you might be interested to see it.”
Nathaniel looked at Lydia, the warmth gone from his eyes, the colour from his cheeks. “Yes, I’d be very interested.”
Her father unlocked the bureau, an antique that had been in the family for at least four generations. Lydia’s nervousness had evolved into nausea, she had the terrible feeling that family was more important to Nathaniel than she’d realised.
“Here we are,” her father unrolled a large sheet of paper, covered in neat lines and writing. As he talked Nathaniel through the details Lydia excused herself, needing a moment alone in the hallway to fight the panic. She drifted over to Nathaniel’s coat, stroked the cashmere and tried to tell herself all would be well as her hand felt a bump in the pocket. She reached inside and felt a small square box covered with velvet. Her breath left her, she pulled out her hand and looked up at the ceiling, hoping her family would pass this test.
Nathaniel came into the hallway, closely followed by her parents and she moved away from the coat.
“I’m dreadfully sorry, I hate to be impolite but I think this is the best for Lydia and myself.”
“Nathaniel?” she took a hesitant step towards him. “Is something wrong?”
“I’m afraid I have to leave.”
“But, the dinner…” her mother said, but her father put an arm around her and steered her back into the living room, leaving Lydia in the hallway staring at Nathanial.
“What’s wrong?” she asked as he headed for the coat stand.
“It wouldn’t work, I’m sorry.”
“Is this because of that stupid genealogy stuff?”
“It isn’t stupid. It’s very important to my family, they would never approve of you.”
“But they haven’t even met me, how can you know?”
He put his coat on, avoiding eye contact. “It’s… it’s just the way things are. It was always going to be difficult, to get them to accept you, but now it’s impossible.”
He reached for the door handle, she stepped into the way. “Wait… are you dumping me?”
“I would never call it anything so crass, but I can’t see you again. I’m sorry.”
“But weren’t you going to propose?”
His eyes widened slightly. “It doesn’t matter. It’s best that you forget about me. And let me leave before this gets any more difficult.”
He gently pushed her to one side, opened the door and left. She watched him stride down the path and step out into the street without looking back. Her bottom lip wobbled, she bit down hard. If he was so shallow, she wasn’t going to waste any tears on him.
“You alright love?”
“Seems he’s not ‘the one’ Dad,” she said, fighting the tremble in her voice as she closed the front door. “Let’s have dinner, shall we?”
Thanks for hosting Kath!
I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com – you can also sign up to get an extra story and get each new story delivered to your inbox every week. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em x