February 26

Guest Interview – James Goss (Haterz)

Today I am delighted to welcome James Goss who has kindly taken time to answer a few of my questions about his new novel, Haterz.

James also has a long-standing association with the world of Doctor Who – as a lifelong fan of that particular show I sneaked in a few questions about everyone’s favourite Timelord.

Haterz is a dark comic tale which sees the central character killing off people who annoy him when he is online – I opened with the obvious question…

HaterzWould it be a fair for Haterz readers to assume that James Goss has become a little bit irritated by some elements of social media?

I’m a freelancer who works from home, so I’m obviously addicted to social media. It’s the ultimate work avoidance tool. If people aren’t uploading pictures of their breakfasts or a holiday sunset then I want to know what’s wrong with the world. That said, there are some elements of it that bring out the worst in people. For instance, a friend of mine is wonderful, charming, self-deprecating company in real life, but unbearable on Facebook. I would hide them, but I’m enjoying the ride. And that makes me a terrible person.

In Haterz when we meet Dave, he is just about to kill his best friend’s girlfriend because he finds her annoying on Facebook. Have you had to reassure your friends that they are not in any way featured in Haterz?

On the contrary, actually. In the couple of cases where I’ve used people I know, I’ve emailed them to ask how I would kill them. And they’ve been very creative.

Despite the fact he is killing people in nasty ways I found the character of Dave to be quite a likeable fellow. Do you think you will split the crowd on this one (with some readers condoning his actions and others willing him to succeed)? Or do intend for us all to empathize with Dave?

It’s terribly fashionable to issue death threats on Twitter. I just wondered who would be the kind of person who actually carried them out – and Dave’s not some ranting people-hating moron. He’s not a slick, smooth American psychopath – he’s a terribly British bumbler. Poor old Dave just wants everyone to be nice to each other. And is going to carry on killing until they are. I think, once you can get past that contradiction then he’s perfectly pleasant company. You could go out for a drink with him. So long as you don’t post too many pictures of your cocktail.

I am keen to avoid plot spoilers, however, I did enjoy some of the people and groups that Dave targeted his attentions towards.  When you were planning out Haterz did you have a ‘hit-list’ of groups you specifically wanted to target?

Absolutely. All the groups, types and institutions were planned in advance. I toned a few of them down. Oddly, in the nearly two years between planning and publication, none of the groups have changed that much. Amazingly, woman-hating video gamers have got even nastier. Well done on that one, humanity.

As we all seem to be becoming increasingly fixated on social media do you think we have reached a point where more serious repercussions are needed to curb the worst instances of online behaviour?

It’s all such a muddle, like humanity is trying to work out where we go next. We may look back on GamerGate as the first online world war – not between countries but between violently passionate interest groups. A glance at Twitter tells you the consensus is “We want freedom of speech. Just not for them, them, and you can shut up”. We live in a world that is almost inexplicable to people from a decade ago, when we were all charmed by “Eric Emotes An Emotion”. I don’t know how long it will be before we reach Peak Oversharing. Possibly when all those babies whose every bowel-movement has been reported on become old enough to have Facebook accounts, log on and go “oh dear god.”
We live in a world where what’s really frightening is not that the terrorists are on social media, but how they’re making the same stupid mistakes the rest of us do.

Having now laid out our worst online offences have you had to modify your own online behaviour?

I think we’re all guilty of some pretty awful offences. Too many cat pictures. Enigmatic tweeting about how marvellous your life is. The terrible thing about being an author online is that there’s this pressure to constantly bang on about stuff you’ve written. No-one was gladder than me to find out from a social media expert that constantly being “Brand You” is really off-putting. I find the whole thing deeply embarrassing. I couldn’t convincingly sell you a new pair of socks, let alone a book, so I’m deeply relieved that the publicity team behind Haterz are really good. Because, no matter how proud I am of something I’ve worked on, I can’t enthuse about it on social media without sounding like a vicar trying to sound cool.

Dead of WinterSwitching track slightly, I also wanted to ask about your ongoing involvement with the world of Doctor Who. I have been a fan of the show since childhood and I am delighted to see it flourishing. You seem to have been involved with the programme for several years in a number of different roles, what have been the stand-out moments for you?

I still can’t believe that Doctor Who is back and so loved. When I first ran the BBC’s website (during the end of the show’s wilderness years and the first two series of the triumphant relaunch), the disinterest the BBC felt towards Doctor Who was pretty bad. Ever year the site’s budget got cut and the online audience only grew larger. It was a strange time – trying to do so much with such tiny resources against such vast corporate indifference. I’ll never forget a meeting with my head of department where she sighed and said “Well, Doctor Who, there’s only about another 18 months in it.” Then Russell brought it back and the whole thing snowballed. It was truly amazing to be involved in that. But also rather unbelievable. Genuinely. But suddenly the BBC fell head over heels in love with Doctor Who again. And rightly so.

Oh yes. And getting to stand on the TARDIS set and realising that a large amount of it was from IKEA. Which instantly validated most of my home furnishing choices.

The Blood Cell
The Blood Cell

Last year you wrote the Doctor Who novel The Blood Cell (which I reviewed and enjoyed immensely)It was one of the first novels published which featured Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.I believe that you had to write the story before the first Capaldi episode, Deep Breath, was broadcast – how do you write for such an iconic character when you do not know how he will appear on screen?

Very carefully. We were lucky in that we had access to the early scripts and they were phenomenally clear about what a different character this Doctor was going to be. I cheated and wrote my book from the villain’s point-of-view, so if I had got it wrong, I could just claim the narrator was lying.

My extensive research (Wikipedia) reveals that you and I were born in the same year. I have been a Doctor Who fan for as long as I can remember I do recall seeing seeing K-9 yet my earliest clear memory of the show is of the Melkur from Keeper of Traken.  Can you pin down your first Who memory?

Curiously enough, City Of Death. There didn’t seem to be anything else on when I was a child. I was so lucky. I don’t think I really got what the show was, though. I remember watching an episode that, amazingly, wasn’t City Of Death. Doctor Who climbed up a tower, fell off, and turned into the young vet from All Creatures Great And Small. I was very confused.

You have worked with Big Finish and produced a number of audio plays. Do you prefer the solitude and personal achievement of writing or is the collaboration and assembling the cast and crew to make an audio drama a bigger challenge?

I love getting off the sofa and meeting people. I’m very bad at it these days, but I try my best. It’s really lovely that Big Finish have let me do some really wonderful projects. They’re a really great company to work for. Some of the most surprising emails of my life have come from them. Would I like to write a musical? Would I like to write for Servalan? Can you produce an audio series with an actress you helplessly admire?

Some unexpected items included in the 100 objects.
Some unexpected items included in the 100 objects.

One of your other projects was the non fiction Doctor Who book A History of the Universe in 100 Objects. I was constantly amused by the items you singled out for discussion but it all seemed to work perfectly – was there a method to the selection process or did you and (co-author) Steve Tribe just have fun picking unusual items?

We went to the pub. I hate it when people use that as an answer. It makes it sound so lazy. But my local does really nice coffee (for me) and very nice draught beer (for Steve), and then we sat down and we did that thing that Doctor Who fans love to do. We drew up a list.

Some things were written but didn’t make the final cut. There was a whole section on Dalek Plans, written by Penny, their long-suffering Project Manager. God, I loved that. Probably best it was left out, but occasionally, on nights out, Chris Allen, the current Doctor Who website editor, will perform bits of it aloud. It mostly comes down to Penny saying “And you haven’t left in a big red destruct button this time have you?” and the Dalek Supreme going “Er…”. I AM LAUGHING NOW. WHY ARE YOU NOT LAUGHING?

On a final note, are you able to share what you will be working on next?

I’m making the revisions to the novelisation of Douglas Adams’s City Of Death, which is a very odd, wonderful project to have done. Yes, in an ideal world Douglas himself would have written it. Or Gareth Roberts, but he got abducted to write A Top Secret Television Project, so it landed with me. I live in a world where, just this once, I’m third choice for something after Douglas Adams. That’s not a bad place to be.

Mind you, I’ve spent the last few months trying not to be run over by a bus (probably driven by whoever offed Danny Pink). Funnily enough, on the day before I finished the first draft, I nearly choked to death on a new potato. I was so horrifically aware of the irony I was giggling at the same time I was choking. Yes. I very nearly died laughing.


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February 26

Haterz – James Goss

HaterzA blackly comic crime novel about a one-man crusade to rid the internet of haters, flamers, trolls and vaguebookers… even if he has to kill to do it.

Is there someone online who really annoys you? Who is always bragging, posting too many pictures and just doesn’t get jokes? Look at your Twitter feed, don’t you get cross at the endless rage, bigotry and the pleading for celebrity retweets? Meet Dave. He decides that unfollowing someone just isn’t enough. He’s determined to make the internet a nicer place, and he won’t stop at murder in order to achieve it. When he kills his best friend’s girlfriend, he isn’t planning on changing the world. She was just really annoying on Facebook. But soon Dave realises he’s being manipulated. A conspiracy are using him to gain control of something dark forming at the heart of the world wide web…

My thanks to Solaris and Netgalley for my review copy

James Goss is a clever man. He has taken all the annoying things that we see each day on the internet and drawn them together into a single story that is not remotely annoying. How does a collection of irritations not annoy the reader? Mainly by following a likeable lead character who kills the annoying people who abuse Social Media. And (here is the clever bit) he makes it seem like it is a perfectly reasonable course of action to undertake. Genius!

In Haterz we follow Dave. He is in a pub one evening when he gets cornered by Danielle, she is his best friend’s girlfriend. We learn that Dave his not Danielle’s greatest fan and he finds her inane Facebook updates a source of constant irritation. In short, Dave finds Danielle so irritating (both in person and online) that he decides to kill her – and he does. In the very first Chapter!

Reaching home, safe in the knowledge that Danielle’s death will be considered a tragic accident, Dave is horrified to receive an email from an unknown sender which reads: “We know what you’ve done. Killer”.

From this point on Dave is no longer master of his own destiny. He will be contacted by email and made aware of individuals who are exhibiting unacceptable online behaviour. Dave then has to address these problematic individuals and make them change their way – or silence them permanently. How he tackles each of these problems is clever, entertaining (for readers) and should probably leave any friends of James Goss slightly concerned as to how he may perceive their online behaviour.

Through the story Dave takes on the likes of Twitter trolls, media columnists, banks and high interest loan companies. He believes his actions are for the greater good and sometimes it is hard to disagree. I doubt that any reader will make it through the book without recognising some form of online interaction that they have previously encountered and found to be highly objectionable or that they have themselves been guilty of (in which case…BE AFRAID).

I cannot give away too many details as to why I enjoyed Haterz so much as this would risk robbing you of the delight of finding the great plot twists for yourself – spoilers and all that. What I can share is that this is a sharply written novel with a clever premise. It captures perfectly the failings of Social Media and pokes fun at the worst offenders. Once I started reading I wanted to keep going – the pacing was perfect, the victims were plentiful and there were laughs to be had along the way.

There are characters in the book which you will mentally picture as real life people – either because you have a Facebook friend that exhibits similar traits to the poor Danielle or because you think that the columnist is basically <REDACTED> under a different name and you want to see if something nasty will happen.

Haterz is one of the rarer gems of crime fiction – a novel that delivers a good ‘murder’ story yet also keeps the humour front and foremost which helped to make it such good fun to read.  Consider The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – a science fiction story but so deeply interlaced with the humour of Douglas Adams that it is frequently considered a comedy book rather than sci-fi. Goss does the same in Haterz: there are some dark and graphic scenes yet the tone is softened with a joke or wry observation and the perception of the whole book changes. Anyone that uses the internet should read this book. If a review score helps you to decide then I hope that 5 out of 5 should be persuasive.


Haterz is published on March 12th by Solaris Books.

James Goss is on Twitter: @gossjam

I have previously reviewed Doctor Who: The Blood Cell which was also written by James Goss. This book was one of the first published to feature Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor. Search for The Blood Cell at www.grabthisbook.net

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February 26

Doctor Who : The History Collection


The Witch HuntersBeing a Doctor Who fan in 2015 is amazing. The show we love is back in a primetime TV slot and the production values are beyond belief for those of us that grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. Also, the actors queuing up to appear alongside the dynamic leading man (all 4 of them since 2005) ensure high quality entertainment is guaranteed.

Beyond the TV show we have a huge range of toys, magazines, exhibitions, concerts and even kids pyjamas (last seen circa the Tom Baker era). But what we have always had are the Doctor Who Books…these are not a new phenomenon – they just required a little determination to track them down!

I am 40 years old. I read my first Doctor Who novel around 33 years ago – sorry I cannot be more exact but I didn’t realise at the time that it would be helpful to have recorded the date. The TV show was in full swing and loads of my pals watched it. I had seen Tom Baker become Peter Davison and I was OK with that (eventually).

English Way of DeathI also discovered that my local library stocked a decent collection of Doctor Who stories – all published by Target Books.   These novels usually came in at around the 120-150 pages and told the stories that had been broadcast by the BBC. Some of the stories I could remember watching with my parents but others told of a different Doctor – a ‘Dandy’, a ‘clown with a mop of hair’ or a stern, older man.   All were captivating…except some of the Hartnell books – they took real dedication.

Target novels kept me reading Doctor Who all through high school. I read the stories over and over again. Then came a slow trickle of VHS video releases of some of the classic Doctor Who stories. Names I had read about suddenly had faces and voices. My books took on a whole new depth – I read my Target books again.

Then in 1989 the show I loved was taken off the air. I waited patiently for its return.

Human NatureAnd waited.

And waited.

I worked Saturdays and school holidays in the largest bookshop in the Scottish Highlands. By virtue of its remote location it was a large and well-stocked shop. One day I noticed a familiar logo on the spine of a book in the Science Fiction section. Doctor Who New Adventures…new stories featuring the Doctor and taking place after the TV show had ended. It was 1991 and this was the start of an amazing publication run of brand new Doctor Who original stories.

The New Adventures run continued until the 1996 TV movie and the debut of Paul McGann. Along the way the monthly new 7th Doctor stories were joined by a range of Missing Adventures which told of Doctors 1-6. Sadly (for me) these books were sometimes tricky to find in Inverness and I had to resort to mail order – these were very much pre-internet days.

After the 1996 TV movie the new stories continued, Virgin had lost the licence and BBC Books took up the mantel with fantastic adventures wrapped in amazingly beautiful covers and supported by a high calibre of creative talent (most of whom I now follow on Twitter).

Dead of WinterTake a massive jump forward to 2015 and a new generation of Doctor Who fans are enjoying the rich legacy that comes with a show that has over 50 years of back story.   TV stations like Gold and The Horror Channel are beaming ‘classic’ episodes into our homes. Netflix have 7 years of ‘New’ Who to enjoy on demand. Yet the much loved books which spanned the long years between 1989 and 2005 have gone from bookshops and are now coveted by collectors.




Fortunately we now have The History Collection. BBC Books have reissued 8 volumes of past doctor adventures to give fans the chance to catch up on some of the stories that they may have missed. Amongst the collection are Paul Cornell’s Human Nature (originally a 7th Doctor story it became a 10th Doctor/Martha story featuring The Family of Blood – and some creepy scarecrows). Another popular title was The English Way of Death by Gareth Roberts which has also recently been made into an audio drama featuring Tom Baker.

A very important aside – head to www.Bigfinish.com to discover their amazing range of Doctor Who audio plays. They have produced a staggering collection of dramas which feature the 4th to 8th Doctors; along with all their companions and more than a few of their familiar enemies too.

The RoundheadsBack to the books.

If you enjoyed last year’s 12th Doctor novels from BBC Books then you will be pleased to hear that both James Goss and Justin Richards have titles included in The History Collection.

I remember particularly enjoying The Shadow In The Glass (Richards) which was a 6th Doctor story.   Fans of Sherlock may enjoy The Roundheads (a 2nd Doctor Story) which was written by the ridiculously talented Mark Gatiss. I would also single out The Witch Hunters by Steve Lyons as a great story, it is set in the village of Salem and features the original TARDIS crew of 1st Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara.

These books offer readers the chance to join the TARDIS crew on new adventures. They also allow an opportunity for new fans of The Doctor an insight into how the past Doctor’s behaved. If you have never seen the Second Doctor and Jamie in action then you are in for a treat!

The History Collection should be a welcome addition to any Doctor Who fan’s bookshelves. There are some brilliant stories for everyone to enjoy and I hope that BBC Books may consider raiding the archives for future releases. If I am allowed to submit some suggestions I have a shortlist!

The History Collection in Full:


An adventure set in the 17th century Salem Witch Trials featuring the First Doctor, played by William Hartnell.

The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, fights to keep history on course in the aftermath of the English Civil War.

Jon Pertwee plays the Third Doctor in 1950’s London, joined by his companion Sarah Jane Smith.


A sweltering summer in London, Tom Baker features as the Fourth Doctor in this 1930’s adventure.

Colin Baker plays the Sixth Doctor in an adventure set partly in Second World War.

An adventure set in Britain on the eve of the First World War, featuring the Seventh Doctor as played by Sylvester McCoy.

This book was the basis for the Tenth Doctor television story Human Nature / The Family of Blood starring David Tennant.

Roman adventure with David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor, and his companion Rose Tyler.

Matt Smith is the Eleventh Doctor in this 18th century Italian adventure.


(all titles are available in good bookshops and through your online store of choice).

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February 24

Guest: SJI Holliday – Why Did I write Black Wood?

Today I am pleased to welcome SJI Holliday who visits just 24 hours after the digital publication of her debut novel Black Wood.

I am delighted to be able to share this fascinating insight into why the novel was written:


Why did I write Black Wood?
By SJI Holliday

Back in 2006, the first thing I wrote – years after leaving school – was the start of a novel about a supernatural bridge where people went missing into some sort of time slip. It was based on a real bridge, with a strange plastic covering over the top of it to prevent suicides. It was wobbly and it echoed, and because of a weird hidden bend, you couldn’t see people walking towards you until they were quite close and they seemed to appear from nowhere. I started writing this (in a notebook I’d bought in a Japanese 99p store) on a long-distance train journey between China and Russia. I didn’t get very far. Reading it back, I realised it wasn’t going to work until I refreshed myself on the nuts and bolts of writing technique.

After that, I attended a night class in London, where I went back to basics and learned about story structure, character and point-of-view. I started writing very short stories – which I found out were known as flash fiction – and I gained a collective gasp from the class as I read out my neat little tale about a man who’d embalmed his wife.

My influences come from horror… Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Sean Hutson, James Herbert. Then from crime: Jonathan Kellerman, James Patterson, Mark Billingham, Peter James and Mo Hayder. So I found myself at a bit of a crossroads. I didn’t want to write a police procedural, as I found that my interest lay more with the victims of crime, and the horrors they face – plus, I am not too keen on research as I am a world-class procrastinator! I had loads of ideas and I started several novels, but none of them made it past the 10k words mark.

I was desperate to finish something. I asked other authors for advice, and it was always the same. Just finish something, anything – it does not have to be “The One”. I knew I needed a bigger draw, something to hook me in to help me keep going. So I turned my thoughts to my own past, my own experiences, and a memory from a long time ago. Something that stuck with me, but something that I was sure no one else really remembered – to the point that I started to think I’d made it up.

But I didn’t… two little girls did go into the woods, many years ago. And something bad did happen. I just embellished it a bit, as is my artistic right. So if you read it, you can let me know what you think… and see if you can work out the nuggets of truth amidst the dark things that my imagination conjured up.

Oh, and one day, I’ll go back and finish that story about the bridge.


bw cover1 copy

Black Wood is available now through the Kindle store and will be published
in paperback by Black & White Publishing on 19th March 2015.



SJI Holliday grew up in Haddington, East Lothian. She works as a Pharmaceutical Statistician, and as a life-long bookworm has always dreamt of becoming a novelist. She has several crime and horror short stories published in anthologies and was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham Prize. After travelling the world, she has now settled in London with her husband. Her debut novel, Black Wood, was inspired by a disturbing incident from her childhood. You can find out more at www.sjiholliday.com.



Links:SJI Holliday








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February 24

Prayer For The Dead – James Oswald

prayer for the dead 2The fifth novel in the bestselling Inspector McLean series by Sunday Times bestselling author James Oswald.

‘Are you ready to be reborn?’

The search for a missing journalist is called off as a body is found at the scene of a carefully staged murder.

In a sealed chamber, deep in the heart of Gilmerton Cove, a mysterious network of caves and passages sprawling beneath Edinburgh, the victim has undergone a macabre ritual of purification.

Inspector Tony McLean knew the dead man, and can’t shake off the suspicion that there is far more to this case than meets the eye. The baffling lack of forensics at the crime scene seems impossible. But it is not the only thing about this case that McLean will find beyond belief.

Teamed with the most unlikely and unwelcome of allies, he must track down a killer driven by the darkest compulsions, who will answer only to a higher power…

‘Are you ready for the mysteries to be revealed?’

My thanks to Penguin/Michael Joseph and Netgalley for my review copy


Jump back 11 months to 24th March 2014 when, after a bit of hesitation, I bit the bullet and posted my first review on my blog. I had been toying with the idea of blogging for some time so decided to write a review of the book I had finished earlier that day – it had been a great story from an author I’d not read before. Natural Causes by James Oswald.

7 months later, it’s October 2014. I am officially a ‘fan’ of Mr Oswald’s Tony McLean series and I am sat in Coatbridge Library where, as part of the North Lanarkshire Encounters series, James Oswald is visiting to discuss his books. The evening opened with a reading from the opening chapter of Prayer For The Dead – a debut read as the final edit had only just been confirmed. It was a treat and a pleasure to hear an extract from an unpublished novel and just 4 months later I finally found out what followed! Added bonus from that night was that James Oswald was fabulous and had us hanging on his every word for well over an hour of uninterrupted anecdotes and readings.

But to the book…

Prayer for the Dead is the 5th outing for Tony McLean and this is another stellar read in a series that has maintained a high standard of entertainment and thrills throughout all the books.

I am always pleased to revisit recurring characters in the books I read and I very much enjoy the team that assemble alongside McLean. Grumpy Bob returns as does Jane Macintyre, Stuart MacBride and even Madam Rose is back. The relationships between the characters is a key element to my enjoyment and there is a genuine feel of a ‘team among the police characters. McLean is supportive of MacBride, tolerant of Grumpy Bob and collectively they grumble over the senior officers who frequently appear to be inept.

More unusual is the ongoing relationship between Madam Rose and Mclean, particularly given how events unfold during Prayer For The Dead. Their friendship is taken in a very unexpected direction and we get to see Rose in a very different light – another nice touch.

The most important element of a crime thriller is that there is an engaging crime to be solved. Very much so I am pleased to report. A few unnatural deaths have occurred around Edinburgh, there does not appear to be any obvious connection yet the cruel manner of the deaths and the short intervals between the murders leads McLean to believe they are the work of one individual.

With no clues to pursue the police are very much in the dark as to how they may track down the culprit (assuming they ARE just looking for one person). With no meaningful progress being made, McLean finds himself distracted by other cases: particularly when the property developers who are trying to get him to sell his home turn up dead and their connection to McLean is investigated by London’s Serious Crime team.

I very much enjoyed Prayer For The Dead, it is a cracking murder mystery with some nasty deaths to squirm over and a sinister murderer who keeps several steps ahead of McLean et al. Fans of James Oswald will not be disappointed with the latest novel…except when it ends and you realise that the next book is ages away!


Prayer For The Dead is available now from Penguin/Michael Joseph and is in all good bookshops, online and in many a supermarket too.

On a final note – I am constantly amused that there is a character called Stuart MacBride in James Oswald’s books. This amusement increased tenfold when I read the apology that Mr Oswald offered to the real Mr MacBride in the author notes at the end of the book. Perhaps I am just easily amused?

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February 18

Winter Siege – Ariana Franklin – Extract from Chapter One

winter siege 2As part of the Winter Siege Blog Tour I am delighted to be able to share an extract from the book with you, and what better place to start than the opening chapter?


Chapter One
The Cambridgeshire Fens, February 1141

At first, news of the war going on outside passed into the fenland without impact. It oozed into that secret world as if filtered through the green miasma of willow and alder that the fenlanders called ‘carr’, which lined its interminable rivers and reed beds.

At Scutney, they learned about it from Old Sala when he came back from his usual boat trip to Cambridge market where he sold rushes for thatching. He told the tale in the village church after the celebration of Candlemas.

‘Now yere’s King Stephen—’ he began.

‘Who?’ somebody asked.

Sala sighed with the exasperation of a much-travelled man for the village idiot. ‘I told you an’ told you, bor. Ain’t Henry on the throne now, it’s Stephen. Old Henry’s dead and gone these many a year.’

‘He never told me.’

‘Well, he wouldn’t, would he? Him bein’ a king and dead.’

As always, the little wooden church smelled of cooking from the rush tapers that had been dipped in fat. Scutney couldn’t afford beeswax candles; anyway, rushes gave out a prettier light.

‘Get on with it, will ’ee?’ Brother Arth struggled out of the rough woollen cope he wore to take the services and into the sheepskin cloak that was his working wear in winter. ‘I got ditchin’ and molin’ to see to.’

They all had, but the villagers stayed where they were – it was as well to be informed about what was going on in them uplands. Sala stretched back his shoulders and addressed his audience again. ‘So this King Stephen’s started a-warring with his cousin, the Empress Matilda. Remember as I told you old King Henry, on his deathbed, wanted his daughter, this Matilda, to rule England? But the nobles, they don’t want no blasted female queenin’ it over un, so they’ve said no and gives the crown to Stephen, old Henry’s nephew.’

He looked sternly into the standing congregation. ‘Got that now, Bert, have you? Good. Well now, Matilda, she ain’t best pleased with bein’ passed over and seems she’s brought a army as is a-fighting Stephen’s army out there some’eres.’

‘That it?’ Nyles wanted to know.

‘Enough, innit?’ Sala was miffed that Nyles, the big man of the village because he owned more sheep than anybody else, hadn’t been more receptive to the news. ‘I been tellin’ you as there’s a war goin’ on out there.’

Nyles shrugged. ‘Allus is.’

‘Excitin’, though, Pa, ain’t it?’ asked eleven-year-old Em, looking up at him. Nyles cuffed his daughter lightly about her red head for her forwardness in speaking in church. She was his favourite, but it didn’t do to let females get out of hand, especially not this one. ‘Well, good luck to ’em, I say. And now let’s get on with that ditchin’ and bloody molin’.’

But Old Sala, irritated by the interruption, raised his hand. ‘I’ll tell you summat else, Nyles. And you’ll want to listen this time. Want to be keeping a close eye on that one, you will,’ he said, pointing at Em. ‘Folk say as there’s a band o’ mercenaries riding round ’ere like the wild hunt and with ’em there’s a monk; likes red-heads, he does.

Does terrible things when ’e finds ’em too.’ Nyles shook his head indulgently and turned towards
the door. He knew Old Sala with his scaremongering and preposterous tales of abroad and yet he suddenly felt in – explicably chilly and, without realizing it, had reached out and drawn the child closer to him. Daft old bugger.

‘That it then, Sala?’ he asked. The old man looked deflated but nodded and with that the men, women and children of Scutney trooped out of its church to continue their own, unceasing war – against water.

The North Sea, that great enemy, was always threatening to drown East Anglia in one of its rages, submerging fields and cattle, even lapping the just-above-sea-level islands that dotted the flattest land in England. In winter, the sluggish rivers and great drains had to be cleared of weed or they clogged and overflowed.

Oh, and the mole, as big an enemy as the sea, had to be killed to stop the little bugger from weakening the dykes with his bloody tunnels.

No, the people of Scutney didn’t have time from their watery business to bother about wars between the danged nobles. Anyway, they were safe because just over there – over there, bor, see them towers in the distance? – was Ely, greatest cathedral in England.

Every year, the villagers had to deliver four thousand glistening, squirming eels to Ely in return for being protected by St Etheldreda, whose bones lay in a jewelled tomb within the cathedral walls.
Powerful saint, Etheldreda, an Anglo-Saxon like themselves, and although Scutney people resented the number of eels they had to catch in order to feed her monks, they were grateful to her for keeping them safe from the outside world with its battles and carryings-on.

Oh yes, any bugger who came a-trampling and a-killing in this part of the fens ’d soon have his arse kicked out of it by good old St Ethel. That’s if the bugger could find Scutney in the first place and didn’t drown in the meres or get led astray by spirits of the dead who took the shape of flickering Jack-o’- Lantern flames in the marshes by night.

Folk allus said that for an enemy force to attack Ely it’d take a traitor to show the secret causeways leading to it. And who’d be so dang-blasted stupid as to betray St Etheldreda? Get sent straight to Hell, he would. Such was the attitude.

But a traitor was even now preparing his treachery, and the war was about to penetrate Scutney’s fenland for all that St Etheldreda in her 500-year-old grave could do about it.

The first the village knew of its fate was when soldiers sent by Hugh Bigod turned up to take its men away to build him a new castle.

‘Bigod?’ roared Nyles, struggling between two captors while his red-headed elder daughter batted at their legs with a frying pan. ‘We don’t owe him nothing. We’re Ely’s men.’

Hugh Bigod, newly Earl of Norfolk, owned a large proportion of East Anglia. The Scutney villagers had seen him in his fine clothes swanking it at Ely with their bishop during Christmas feasts and suchlike. Didn’t like him much. But then, they didn’t like anybody from Norfolk. Didn’t like the next village across the marshes, come to that.

Nor was he their overlord, as was being energetically pointed out to his soldiers. ‘Tha’s not law, bor. We ain’t none of his. What’s he want another castle for? He’ve got plenty.’

‘And now he do want another one,’ the soldiers’ sergeant said, ‘in case Empress Matilda do attack un. There’s a war on, bor.’

‘Ain’t my war,’ Nyles told him, still struggling.

‘Is now,’ the sergeant said, ‘and if them nippers of yourn don’t cease bashing my legs, they’ll be its next bloody casualties.’

For Em had now been joined by her younger sister, Gyltha, wielding an iron spit.

‘Leave it,’ Nyles told his girls. But they wouldn’t, and their mother had to drag them off. Holding them tightly, Aenfled watched her husband and every other able-bodied man being marched off along the roddon that led eventually to Cambridge.

‘Us’ll be back, girl,’ Nyles shouted at her over his shoulder, ‘but get they sheep folded, an’ don’t ’ee sell our hay for a penny under thruppence a stook, an’ look to that danged roof afore winter’s out, and . . .’ He had suddenly remembered Old Sala’s warning in the church. ‘Keep Em close . . .’ And then he was too far away to be heard.

The women of Scutney stood where they were, their men’s instructions becoming fainter and fainter until only an echo came sighing back to them and even that faded so that the air held merely the frightened bawling of their babies and the call of geese flying overhead.

They didn’t cry; fenwomen never wept.

The men still hadn’t come back by the beginning of Lent.

It was a hard winter, that one. Birds dropped out of the air, killed by the cold. The rivers froze and dead fish could be seen enclosed in their ice. The old died in their huts; the sheep in their pens.

In the turbaries, spades dulled themselves on peat that had become as hard as iron, so that fuel became scarce and it was necessary for tired, overworked women and their families to venture further and further away from the village in order to retrieve the peat bricks that had been stacked a year before to provide fire for shepherds during the lambing season.

On St Valentine’s Day, it was the turn of Aenfled and her children to trundle a barrow into the marsh to fetch fuel. They’d left nothing behind in the woolly line and the thickness of their wrappings made them look like disparately sized grey statues perambulating through a grey landscape. Their breath soaked into the scarves round their mouths and turned to ice, but a veil of mist in the air promised that the weather might, just might, be on the turn. The children all carried bows and arrows in case a duck or goose flew within range.

Tucked into Em’s belt was a little carved wooden key that Durwyn, Brother Arth’s son, had shyly and secretly shoved into her hand that morning. Gyltha wouldn’t leave the subject alone. ‘Wants to
unlock your heart, he do. You got to wed un now.’

‘Sod that,’ Em said. ‘I ain’t never getting married and certainly not to a saphead like Durwyn. Anyways, I ain’t old enough an’ he ain’t rich enough.’

‘You kept his old key, though.’

‘Tha’ll be on the fire tonight,’ Em promised her. ‘Keep us warm.’

They stopped; they’d felt the drumming of hoofbeats through their boots. Horsemen were cantering along the causeway behind them.

‘Get into they bloody reeds,’ hissed Aenfled. She pushed her barrow over the causeway’s edge and tumbled her children after it.

Horses were rare in the fenland, and those travelling at speed suggested their riders were up to no good. Maybe these were friendly, maybe not, but lately there’d been nasty rumours of villages sacked by demons, women raped – sometimes even murdered – and grain stores burned. Aenfled was taking no chances.

There was just time to squirm through the reeds to where the thick, bare fronds of a willow gave them some cover.

Her hand clasped firmly over the mouth of her younger daughter, not yet old enough to be silenced with a look, Aenfled prayed: Sweet Mary, let un go past, go past.

Go past, go past, urged Em, make un go past. Through the lattice of reeds above her head, she saw flicks of earth being thrown up as the leading horses went by. She bowed her head in gratitude. Thank ’ee, St Ethel, thank ’ee, I’ll never be wicked no more.

But one of the middle riders pulled up. ‘Swear as I saw something dive into that bloody ditch.’
‘Deer?’ One of the leaders stopped abruptly and turned his horse back. As he approached the wind picked up,lifting his robes and revealing the animal’s flanks, which were lathered white with sweat and dripping blood from a set of vicious-looking spurs.

Keeping still as still, Em smelled the stink of the men above her: sweat, dirt, horses, blood and a strange, pungent odour that was foreign to her.

‘Could ’a’ been.’

‘Flush the bastard out then. What are you waiting for?’

Spears began thudding into the ditch. One of the men dismounted and started scrambling down, hallooing as he went.

Em knew they were done for. Then her mouth set itself into the thin, determined line that her sorely tried mother would have recognized and dreaded. No we ain’t. Not if I lead ’em away. She pushed her sister’s head more firmly into the ground and leaped for the bank. A willow twig twitched the cap from her head as she went, releasing the flame-red curls it hid beneath but, although she paused briefly, she didn’t stop for it. Now she was running.

Aenfled kept Gyltha clutched to her, her moans and prayers covered by the whoops of the men. She heard the one who’d come into the ditch climb back out of it and join the hunt. She heard hoofbeats start up again. She heard male laughter growing fainter as the riders chased their prey further and further into the marsh. She heard the far-away screams as they caught Em, and knew her daughter was fighting. She heard the horses ride off with her.

Birds of the marsh that had flown up in alarm settled back into their reed beds and resumed their silence.

In the ditch Aenfled stopped praying.

Except for her daughter’s soul, she never prayed again.

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February 18

Losing It – Helen Lederer

Losing ItMillie was at one time quite well known for various TV and radio appearances. However, she now has no money, a best friend with a better sex life than her, a daughter in Papua New Guinea and too much weight in places she really doesn’t want it.

When she’s asked to be the front woman for a new diet pill, she naively believes that all her troubles will be solved. She will have money, the weight will be gone, and maybe she’ll get more sex.

If only life was really that easy. It doesn’t take her long to realize it’s going to take more than a diet pill to solve her never-ending woes . . .


Thanks to Emma at Busy Bee for my review copy


Losing it is a big departure from my normal type of read, however, I am happy to jump to a new genre if there is a compelling reason. In this case the chance to read a novel by Helen Lederer (of whom I have been a fan since the Naked Video days) is more than enough reason for me to risk a book that will not have a murder or two (probably).

Fortunately the quirky humour I was expecting to find is there in abundance and I enjoyed the change of pace that this book presented – a story with fun at heart. Losing It was an engaging read and the awkward/hapless heroine, Millie, is a likeable character to follow.

When I was half way through Losing It I read an interview with the author in which she described her novel as ‘mid-lit’ – loved that phrase! Millie is not the ditzy thirty-something I had initially expected but a more mature 50 something with a grown-up daughter and a best friend with an overactive sezual appetite – or so the more prudent Millie believes. One of the high points of the book was Millie’s ‘tricky’ relationship with her daughter, exacerbated by the fact her daughter is in Papau New Guinea and many of their conversations need to be conducted via Skype.

Some of Millie’s conversations with her daughter (and in particular around the research that her daughter is conducting in Papau New Guinea) are screamingly cringe worthy. I really felt that Helen Lederer nailed a cross-generation dialogue where Millie is really not comfortable with the more open (and modern) outlook her daughter has.

Millie is deeply in debt and struggling to make ends meet, yet she is offered a chance at a lucrative payday when she is asked to front a campaign for a new diet pill. All she has to do to receive a handsome payout is stick to a diet, achieve a target weight and she will receive the money she needs to clear off her loans. What could be simpler?

I suspect that many of us can sympathise with the problems that are faced when weight loss is required. Indeed, as a Scottish bloke in his middling years I generally refer to my own physique as ‘sturdy.’ I share her weight-loss pain and laugh along with her ability to rationalise chocolate consumption.

Millie’s battle to shift the pounds and resist the Toblerone is full of frequent pitfalls and Helen Lederer delivers laughs a-plenty as we follow Millie from throws of despair to her weight loss highs. Millie’s support network of friends and family are a joy to read about too. Often brutally honest in their observations they can be seen dragging Millie to feng shui guru’s, colonic irrigation clinics and support meetings: each of which they genuinely believe will be of some assistance.

As I have previously mentioned, Losing It is not my normal bookish escape. However, I enjoyed the change of pace that it offered, it made me laugh aloud on several occasions and I have had 4 or 5 work colleagues ask to borrow my copy when I am done as they really like the sound of it too! All positives – this is definitely a book worthy of your attention.


Losing It is published by Pan and is available now in Paperback and online in digital format.

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February 18

Winter Siege – Ariana Franklin

It’s 1141 and freezing cold.winter siege 2

Gwil, a battle-hardened mercenary, is horrified to stumble across a little girl close to death. She has been attacked, just one more victim in a winter of atrocities. Clutching a sliver of parchment, she is terrified – but Gwil knows what he must do. He will bring her back to life. He will train her to fight. And together, they will hunt down the man who did this to her.

But danger looms wherever they turn. As castle after castle falls victim to siege, the icy Fens ring with rumours of a madman, of murder – and of a small piece of parchment with a terrible secret to tell, the cost of which none of them could have imagined…


I tend not to read too many historical novels, however, if they were all as good as Winter Siege then it could easily become my favourite genre. I loved this book and became totally caught up within the story as I was transported back to the 12th Century and the days of knights and castles.

We follow the story of Gwil, a mercenary who is an accomplished archer. He has been abandoned by his paymasters but he was already wearying of their company as their actions had not been in line with Gwil’s own moral code.

Gwil finds the shattered body of a young girl, she has been savagely attacked and left for dead yet her will to survive drags her back to life. With no memory of her attack nor of her life before the incident she travels with Gwil as he avows to himself (and his God) that he will avenge her attack.

At heart Winter Siege is a story of the friendship between Gwil and Penda (Gwil renames her after her attack). Yet the story plays against the backdrop of King Stephen’s attempts to repel his cousin (the Empress Matilda) as she tries to wrest control of the English Throne from him.

The siege in the title takes place at Kenniford Castle in Oxfordshire. The castle is a strategic stronghold and the home of Maud who, when we first meet her, is being married against her will to a prominent knight. This rushed and unwelcome marriage is to secure a political alliance that will protect both her and Kenniford from King Stephen and show allegiance to Matilda.

As the events in Winter Siege unfold we find Gwil and Penda arrive at Kenniford and the stories of our key players become entwined. This is very much a tale of people, friendships, politics and war. Ariana Franklin tells the story with an easy readable style. The characters are jumping from the page as they are expertly realised and it is impossible not to get caught up in Gwil’s quest to avenge Penda’s attack.

I tend to avoid historical novels as they become too caught up in the politics or the period at the cost of keeping the story flowing. Winter Siege stuck the perfect balance between background and story. There are not too many earls, dukes, knights and knaves that could confuse a casual reader – just a focus on telling a tale which will entertain and enjoy.

Fans of historical drama are in for a treat, fans of a good story this is for you too. Review score of 4/5 from a genre I tend not to read should reflect how much I enjoyed this story – I actually wish the book had been longer but all good things must end.

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February 13

Follow The Leader – Mel Sherratt

Follow The LeaderA man’s body is found on a canal towpath. In his pocket, a magnetic letter in the shape of an E.

Days later, a second victim is found, this time with the letter V tucked into her clothing.

As the body count rises, the eerie, childlike clues point to a pattern that sends DS Allie Shenton and her colleagues into full alert.

The race is on. Allie and the team must work quickly to determine where the killer will strike next. The rules are simple but deadly—to catch the killer, they must follow the leader.

From the acclaimed author of Taunting the Dead comes a flesh-creeping tale of a child’s game with a terrifying, grown-up twist. This is the second book in the DS Allie Shenton series but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story.


My review copy was provided through Netgalley.


When I lurk around Twitter I look to see what other book bloggers are reading. Every now and then you find that one book will dominate the chat or one author will grab the spotlight. However, over a period of several months I noticed that Mel Sherratt’s name cropped up frequently and always positively. A little more investigation revealed that the bloggers I engage with most frequently have been reading and enjoying the Allie Shenton books – it was time for me to catch up.

Having been let down by the ‘buzz’ surrounding one or two high profile novels in 2014 I was delighted to find that Follow The Leader fully justified the positivity from the blogging community – I was hooked by a brilliant story.

As the intro explains, this is the second book in the DS Shenton series. Obviously, I have not read the first book and I generally try to avoid jumping into a series when I know there are earlier volumes to read. I was pleased to find that there were no continuity problems which could have impaired my enjoyment of Follow The Leader – everything I needed to know was deftly dropped into the plot without the feeling I was reading the “recap chapter.”

Follow The Leader was a great read – Shenton is a likeable central character, seemingly fighting a losing battle to maintain a work/life balance.  She finds herself embroiled in a murder investigation where it appears that a killer that is specifically targeting former pupils of her old high school. It is clear to Shenton and the investigating team that the murders are linked as the killer is leaving a magnetic plastic letter at the scene of each crime.

What I particularly liked about Follow The Leader (as I also noted when I recently reviewed Karen Long’s The Vault) was that the reader gets to see who the murderer is quite early in the story. This means that we can keep tabs on the investigation while also having the benefit of discovering who the next victim will be – usually before they become a victim! I refer to this as the Columbo effect (my reading preferences clearly shaped by Peter Falk).

Follow The Leader keeps a good pace throughout and there were plenty of action points and surprises that kept me reading well into the wee small hours. There is a clear sign of an ongoing story which began in book 1 (Taunting The Dead), flows through Follow and looks likely to spin on into book 3. A nice way to ensure I will definitely return to see how Allie Shenton copes with what seems to be coming her way.

In short: great fun, well written and held my attention throughout with the added bonus of a cliffhanger that will make me a guaranteed reader of the next book. Everything I want from my crime thrillers so a review score of five out of five seems to be in order. Highly recommended.


You can follow Mel Sherratt on Twitter @writermels    Follow The Leader and Taunting The Dead are available now…go get them!

One last update – just before I posted my review of Follow The Leader I discovered that the next Allie Shenton book, Only The Brave, is due for release on 26th May. Already excited for that!

Category: 5* Reviews, From The Bookshelf | Comments Off on Follow The Leader – Mel Sherratt
February 12

The Raven’s Head – Karen Maitland

Ravens HeadVincent is an apprentice librarian who stumbles upon a secret powerful enough to destroy his master. With the foolish arrogance of youth, he attempts blackmail but the attempt fails and Vincent finds himself on the run and in possession of an intricately carved silver raven’s head.

Any attempt to sell the head fails … until Vincent tries to palm it off on the intimidating Lord Sylvain – unbeknown to Vincent, a powerful Alchemist with an all-consuming quest. Once more Vincent’s life is in danger because Sylvain and his neighbours, the menacing White Canons, consider him a predestined sacrifice in their shocking experiment.


Thanks to Headline for my Netgalley review copy


The Raven’s Head started out with real promise. I loved reading about Vincent, the apprentice Librarian, who suffered the wrath of an irritable master day upon day. Vincent lived in a small book book-filled world and the times he got to venture further into his master’s kingdom, in and around the castle and grounds were great fun to read. Vincent had an outsider’s view of his community and Karen Maitland used this remoteness to expertly set up our view of the world.

The story does not just focus on Vincent though and we are soon introduced to Gisa, a young girl who works under her uncle as an apothecary. Gisa is more adept at her craft than she lets on to her uncle and is rapidly absorbing the skills of trade. This skill is noticed by the fearsome Alchemist, Lord Sylvian, who requests Gisa’s presence at his home to assist with some very specific tasks he has to undertake.

Finally we meet the sinister White Canons, a religious group who are mentoring young boys to follow the path of God’s wisdom. The boys live to a strict religious regime and learn their bible by rote and fear. A greater terror, however, is the possibility of a calling to assist with strange night-time ‘experiments’ run by senior members of the White Canons from which some boys do not return.

As you may expect from tale which concentrates on three different storylines, there comes a point when the plots start to converge. The deeper into the story that we progress the greater the influence of ‘magic’ or ‘mysticism’ on the plot. The eventual reveal of Sylvian’s master plan was unexpected and horrifying – great build up from Karen Maitland with a satisfying delivery that is sure to captivate readers.

From a personal perspective, however, I think I ruined The Raven’s Head for myself. Halfway through the book I lost a little focus, the White Canon’s were not holding my attention and Vincent was annoying me. I put the book to the side and did not return to it for a couple of weeks. Although I was able to pick up the story without problem (and I loved the build-up and delivery of the finale) I just felt that my enjoyment suffered during that two week reading break.

I do still believe that this is a good story and I have picked up a second Karen Maitland book since finishing The Raven’s Head as I like her writing. I just don’t think The Raven’s Head arrived at the right time for me – stick with it and you will get a story that is well worth reading.

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