Beautiful Star Blog Tour


History is brought alive by the people it affects, rather than those who created it. In Beautiful Star, we meet Eilmer, a monk in 1010 with Icarus-like dreams; Charles I, hiding in 1651, and befriended by a small boy; the trial of Jane Wenham, witch of Walkern, seen through the eyes of her granddaughter. This is a moving and affecting journey through time, bringing a new perspective to the defence of Corfe Castle, the battle of Waterloo, the siege of Toulon and, in the title story, the devastating dangers of the life of the sea in 1875.

Being married to a History teacher, I am well used to moments from the past taking me by surprise and allowing me to see things through new eyes as I look back at events unfolding. Andrew Swanson’s Beautiful Star was a fabulous read that allowed me to dip in and out of the past and experience those moments of connection with another time, place and person that we can experience through the very best historical writing. I loved the eclectic range of stories and voices here and warmly recommend it to readers who love a book that completely transports them to a different time and allows you to think about our connections to the past, even as we are experiencing our distance from it.

The range of characters and settings is wonderful in Beautiful Star: you’ll find yourself transported from the battlefields of Waterloo to a small village in coastal Fife and meeting people all across the social spectrum from a young drummer boy to the king himself. My absolute favourite was the story of Lady Mary Bankes, who bravely protected her beloved Corfe Castle when it was besieged by Roundheads and I will definitely be using this one in class when we look at heroes and bravery,  This story was definitely one I’d  never heard of, and as usual for me I was straight online, researching her story and making plans to visit beautiful Corfe Castle for myself


Lady Mary’s story

I loved the way that Bright Star felt like a treasure trove of ‘found’ stories that you could dip into and experience a spot of time travel for yourself. I love immersing myself in historical fiction and often feel that sense of ‘the bends’ when I finish a novel set in another time and have to return to the present day. If I had to use the time travel analogy for this book, I’d say that these stories are like time travelling ‘mini breaks’ in that they transport you utterly back into their time and then bring you safely home afterwards with lots to think about after all you’ve seen and heard.

This is the first book that I’ve read by Andrew Swanston and I will definitely look out for his other books now as his writing is fantastic at evoking a ‘voice’ and I found myself totally immersed in the details of the Scottish story in the collection: Beautiful Star. His research is absolutely meticulous and it is fascinating to find out tiny details about the past from his writing. The eponymous tale describes an 1875 event where a small fishing community in Fife community is devastated by a disastrous storm that swoops in on its fishing fleet. Swanston isn’t merely interested in the huge ramifications of this awful disaster, he allows us a real insight into the villagers’ routines and lives that really does feel like time travel. It really brings them to life and makes the impact of their loss all the more devastating. It really reminds me of the song Cargill by King Creosote from their album From Scotland with Love – definitely worth a listen if you are unfamiliar with it.

Bored yet busy with my hands
Cargill, you’ll have me round the bend
Cargill, you’re pulling all the strands
Of my heartstrings entangled in your net

My luck’s turned thrawn
Always the quayside chores
A sister on each arm
Strong of shoulder weak at the knees
Cargill, I’m the finest catch that you’ll land

Cargill do not presume to understand
The dread of counting home the fleet
The sudden thrill of seeing you’re safely back
Your catch has fallen at your feet

Cargill do not presume to understand
The dread of sounding the alarm
The sudden thrill of seeing you’re safely back
Cargill, I’m the finest luck that you’ll charm

Cargill do not presume to understand
The dread of counting home the fleet
The sudden thrill of seeing you’re safely back
Cargill, I’m the finest catch that you’ll land
Cargill, I’m the finest luck that you’ll charm
Cargill, I’m the finest catch that you’ll land


There really is something in this collection for everyone.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and have passed it onto my famously intolerant of fiction husband who is absolutely loving it. Thanks so much to Emily from @DomePress for inviting me to take part and being so lovely when I was involved in a terrible car accident a few weeks ago. It really does go to prove my theory – that Book people are the best people.



Writer on the Shelf


Andrew read a little law and a lot of sport at Cambridge University, and held various positions in the book trade, including being a director of Waterstone & Co and Chairman of Methven’s plc, before turning to writing.  Inspired by a lifelong interest in early modern history, his Thomas Hill novels are set during the English Civil War and the early period of the Restoration.  Andrew’s novel Incendium was published in February 2017 and is the first of two thrillers featuring Dr. Christopher Radcliff, an intelligencer for the Earl of Leicester, and is set in 1572 at the time of the massacre of the Huguenots in France.

Follow him on Twitter here

Buy yourself a copy of Beautiful Star here


Seas of Snow Q & A and #Giveaway


When I posted this picture of my #OnTheShelfie with Seas of Snow in September I wasn’t to know how much I’d absolutely fall for it and that four months later I’d have made friends with its author, the lovely Kerensa Jennings @zinca and be hosting this interview and #Giveaway on a VERY snowy Scottish January day

Now you can see the weather outside, you can probably guess what inspired me to hold my #SeasOfSnow giveaway on my blog today


I don’t use the word Narnia lightly, but this is very definitely a winter wonderland and perfect to snuggle up with a fantastic book and I have the very book for you.

What first attracted me to this book is its incredibly resonant name – I loved the way that it sounded, the way that it looked and once I’d read the premise I was intrigued to immerse myself in the narrative. Its poetic and beautiful realisation of Gracie’s story that absolutely held me in its spell. I loved it so much I wrote to Kerensa about it and that’s how I was able to interview her and get such a fascinating and detailed insight into her writing world. I absolutely loved her answers and found so much that echoed in my own reading history and I’m delighted to share it with you today on this extremely fitting snowy day



  1. What is your first memory of a piece of writing that made you feel proud? How old were you and do you still have it?


I remember starting to write little stories as soon as I could hold a pencil! I then by the age of eight used to start typing stories on my Mum’s computer (she was a software technical author so we always had computers at home even back then). I used to spend hours drawing on coloured paper to make the front and back cover, which I then covered with clear plastic veneer (a bit like laminate, but it came on a roll). One had a picture of a magical world where vegetables could talk and a miniature shrunk-down little girl had adventures with a giant ant and a giant caterpillar. Another had a picture of a glamorous, blonde journalist who wore her hair tied up with tendrils hanging down. She was sat at a desk, writing. I went on to become the journalist but so far exploits with a giant ant have eluded me…


I got a tape recorder as a Christmas present when I was nine, and started recording made-up stories orally on cassette tape – I used to pretend to be a DJ on a speech radio station.


And I really loved reading and writing poetry. The piece of writing I particularly remember from my childhood was a poem which was entered by my school into a competition and got published in a book. I was ten. I still remember the words, and in fact I used this very poem as one of the poems my protagonist, Gracie Scott, writes in Seas of Snow…


Hound chases fox

Fox chases shelter

Hound barks

Fox falls

Hound runs

Fox stalls

Hound sinks teeth in

Fox bites back

Blood is swirling

Fox sees black


The original went on for several more stanzas…. But this excerpt is all I could remember word for word. There is quite a lot of the literary me in young Gracie




  1. Your book, Seas of Snow recreates childhood very skilfully – have you included anything that resonates with your own childhood experiences; it’s so vivid…


Thank you – that is very kind. One of the toughest technical challenges in writing Seas of Snow was portraying accurately the vocabulary, dialogue, inner most thoughts and behaviours of young children as they grow up. I spent a huge amount of time researching online, and also listening to children of different ages on public transport, in parks, in my own friendship and family circles, and just generally when I was out and about – out shopping or pottering about. Getting the dialect right for North East England in the 1950s – the story is set in North Shields in Tyneside – was also difficult. Again I did a lot of online research, read dialect guides and channeled my memories from my own dear grandmother, who was a Geordie and never lost her vernacular.


However, your question specifically asks about my experiences. I think there were a vast array of inspirations… many of which I can pinpoint virtually to the moment they happened and end up manifesting in some way or other in Seas of Snow. Others come from inspirations which feel a bit more subtle and nuanced, for example some of the key themes in the book like the nature of maternal love, societal collusion, the need to fit in, and friendship.


I have vivid memories of being two and a half together with my mother, who was pregnant with my little sister. We sat out on the doorstep at the back of the house together, blowing bubbles. I channeled that feeling of childish contentment into some of the passages with Gracie and her mother. The scene relating to miscarriage also draws on a real life – one time I came home from school and my own mother was in jagged, heart-wrenching tears because a neighbour of ours had lost a baby. It wasn’t for several more years that I learned of my own mother’s painful and repeated experiences of miscarriage and death.


Gracie as you may remember, decides to chronicle her life. I kept a daily diary ever since I was eight years old. I remember at one point, someone at my publisher’s queried whether a little girl would bother noting down her take on world events, and the prices of things. Well, guess what… this little girl did. In fact, in the promo video we made as part of the publisher Unbound’s campaign for Seas of Snow, I brought along one of my actual diaries from when I was twelve, and it features in the film!


Another very visceral memory that made it into the book was the dead bird down the blouse incident. That scarred me forever. And to this day, I have a phobia relating to birds. I was at Thorndene  School in Camberley, a nursery before I started Camberley First, the primary school. A boy decided it would be hilarious to shove a dead blackbird down the back of my top. I still shudder and feel physically nauseous thinking about it. I must have been four years old.


And of course the key motivation for me writing the book came from a need for catharisis, prompted partly by some childhood experiences, but mostly because of a traumatising time I had in my adult journalism career. I had led the BBC News coverage of a major police investigation, spending many months working with the police and had borne witness to the evidence of the case, including police video tapes. I got to know in intimate detail the mind and behaviours of a psychopath, so wanted to understand better the motives and justifications of someone like that… many people are born psychopaths, but not everyone goes on to perform monstrous acts. I wanted to explore whether evil is born or made, the question at the heart of Seas of Snow.


There are countless other incidents and experiences and feelings I have drawn on… but I would invite anyone who has not yet read the book to do so and see what they think… Writing inspirations come from so many sources – what matters is whether it resonates in your readers. Have you created something with truth, and authenticity, that makes a reader feel something?



  1. Who do you remember loving reading as a child and how have your reading tastes altered as you’ve grown up?


This is such a good question, and I have to check myself or I will end up writing you a five page essay as an answer! My favourite childhood pre-12 years old reads were all the fairy tales of course, and The Little White Horse, The Secret Garden, The Phoenix and the Carpet, Ballet Shoes, The Faraway Tree, the Tim and Tobias series, the Enid Blyton ‘Five’ series, all the Winnie the Pooh books, The Railway Children, all the Narnia stories, Wind in the Willows, The Wizard of Oz… the list goes on.


At twelve and into my early teens I relished Dickens in particular – David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and A Christmas Carol being my favourites; and also the Brontë sisters, with Wuthering Heights my standout tale from that era. I also dipped into some rather racy books even before I left my middle school – so must be before I was thirteen. I read the Flowers in the Attic series (my diaries at the time chronicle my childish reactions to some of the themes!); and also the Shirley Conran novel Lace. I learned some valuable life lessons about things from that book… though I must say I have never experienced personally anything quite like the goldfish scene! Fascinating (and an education) though that was to a twelve-year-old…


As I became an older teen, I just devoured more and more books… everything from Lord of the Flies to a number of novels by George Orwell; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and some foreign texts as I got interested in French and German literature (which I went on to study at university), as well as DH Lawrence and Evelyn Waugh. I expanded my range of poets I read, with people like EE Cummings, Seamus Heaney, Brian Patton, Lord Byron, Percey Shelley, John Donne, William Blake, Siegfried Sassoon, Verlaine and Rimbaud being early favourites; and I also started reading a number of playwrights starting with Shakespeare and Marlowe and Beckett.


Through university, I was blessed and challenged to be doing a Joint Honours Modern Languages literature course which basically (I found out part-way through my first year) meant I was doing the exact syllabus each week n BOTH French and German as students who were doing Single Honours French, or Single Honours German. The problem was, no-one in my family had ever gone to university so this was new territory. When I got into Oxford, I just assumed they did a modular thing like the other universities I had applied for. I was staggered to find myself reading each week, the various oeuvres of a particular author, playwright or poet (times two as both in French and in German), as well as needing to acquaint myself with the culture, art, philosophy and historical contexts within which they were writing. So in one week, I ‘did’ Goethe and Balzac (France’s equivalent of Dickens); another I ‘did’ Kleist and Stendhal; another Baudelaire and Rilke; another Mallarmé and Mann. This would go on each week, every term, for my entire degree… A staggering amount of work, but gosh, such an education into the world of literature! And such an education into the art of wonderful storytelling and beautiful writing.


I then after graduating went on to discover Milan Kundera, F Scott Fitzgerald, Tolstoy, Conrad… writers who I would single out as the authors of some of my favourite texts. I also love Walt Whitman, Chekov, Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jon McGregor, Ian McEwan, Lisa Jensen, Alice Sebold, SJ Watson… the list goes on… The best book I read in 2017 is Stoner, by John Williams. Just remarkable in its intelligence and observations about life. My favourite books, for the record, are Immortality by Milan Kundera; Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy; The Beautiful and Damned by F Scott Fitzgerald; and the short stories of O’Henry. I also love The Uninvited by Lisa Jensen, and So Many Ways To Begin by Jon McGregor (I have not yet read his latest which won the Costa prize but would like to).


Basically, I fell in love from an early age with stories, language, words. I am a storyteller… I love stories. The best books are the ones with a gripping beginning, a compelling denouement, and an ending that resolves satisfyingly in some form or other. The best books from my childhood continue to delight me today. The best books, from my perspective, do not necessarily fall into any specific genre. The best books draw you in, compel you to read them, and hook you.


One of the best compliments I have been paid as an author was when Rowan Pelling, the famous writer (Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail) – and Editor of The Erotic Review and The Amorist – said of Seas of Snow: “Intense and haunting, this perfectly pitched debut novel hooks the reader from the first page and refuses to let go.” That is more or less my definition of a great book, so to receive this accolade from such a well-known writer and critic was just amazing.


Personally, I would not classify myself as a ‘classics’ or a ‘crime’ or a ‘thriller’ or a ‘romance’ or a ‘dystopian’ reader…. I am someone who loves to escape and float away with a damned good story. Whoever the author, whatever the genre, if you have written something that will whisk me away from real life for a bit and let me care about your characters, what happens to them, I am in.



  1. Which book do you wish that you’d written and why?


Wow you ask the most probing and brilliant questions! May I have two???


First, I think I wish I had written Animal Farm by George Orwell. I believe it is one of the most important texts ever written. A satire, imbued with truth about the human condition. A short, simple fable which brilliantly exposes our frailties and our angsts. Political, and yet a-political. A beautiful piece of writing, and an incredible story. A witty, existential piece which examines what it means to be human… our desires, feelings, ambitions. I believe Animal Farm will continue to earn its place in the literary canon, and in history, long after we and our successors are no longer around.


What I want more than anything with my writing, is for it to touch people, for it to matter. I wrote Seas of Snow partly as a process of catharsis for me, but mostly because I want victims of abuse, and those who are tasked with their care but feel utterly helpless in the bleakest of situations, to have permission to feel what is happening to them is not their fault. Animal Farm matters…. and it always will. That is what I wish, deep down, for my own story. For it to matter.


Second, I wish I had written Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. This is the book I have gifted to others more than any other in my life. A passage from it also becomes the talisman of Gracie’s life in Seas of Snow. Rilke (a slightly obscure Austro-Bohemian poet who wrote in German) is one of the world’s most beautiful lyrical writers. His work is astonishing. This book is prose (they are quite literally letters giving advice), but his prose is infused with the essence of poetry. It is stunning in every way. Exquisite writing, perspicacious advice. It is a series of letters to a young man, written by Rilke between 1902-1908 when he was merely in his late twenties and early thirties himself. But don’t rely on my word – you read them. They resonate even today, with our prosaic problems, our relationship woes, our existential crises. Simply brilliant. And again, it matters. If more people had the opportunity to read this amazing work… well, I believe the world would be a better place.



  1. Your book is very poetic in places, do you read a lot of poetry and which poets would you say have inspired you as a writer?


Anyone who has read Baudelaire, Rilke, Saint-Exupéry, Sartre, Malraux and Beckett will likely sense or read influences from their works in mine. Although I would not dare to compare my writing with theirs, I was very inspired by all of these writers in Seas of Snow. But also of course Tolstoy and Kundera… I am afraid we are the products of the writers we love. We echo their themes, we want to imprint on the world an element of truth and authenticity – even if just for a moment.


My writing style does not come from a specific place.. other than it comes from somewhere preternatural in me. I have mentioned in other interviews, the writing itself comes as an almost automatic process.. although I plan out plotlines, characters and their attributes arrive fully formed in my head. So I would not claim the style is influenced by anyone in particular, but perhaps by all the writers I have read? In terms of themes, I am always fascinated by our existential struggles around life and existence; our natural tendencies to blame ourselves for the fates that befall us; our inclination to take this or that course of action…


To answer the question more specifically… three writers in particular influenced Seas of Snow both thematically and in the writing. Vladimir Nabakov, who wrote Lolita – because of the extraordinary way he entices the reader in that book with a hint of salaciousness at the start, then gradually withdraws it, so all the darkest elements play out in the reader’s mind. I was very influenced by his subtle approach and you will find if you read Seas of Snow that all the horrific events that play out between Uncle Joe and Gracie are in your mind. I wrote with hints and circumstance, but never with explicit description when it came to the interaction between protagonist and the antagonist. Your mind fills in the gaps. You are invited by the author to fill them, based on what you know about Uncle Joe from his history. It is one of the reasons it is such an uncomfortable read for most people. All the dreadfulness happens in your own mind. Nabakov taught me that.


Secondly, Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The inaction of the protagonist in that play, his refusal to act, his resistance to intervene to make things better leads to unimaginable bloodshed. Gracie’s Ma is paralysed by social mores and convention… so feels unable to intervene. Her (albeit unwilling) collusion exacerbates the situation. Her behaviours were meticulously, and devastatingly, influenced by Shakespeare’s tragic hero. The tagline for Seas of Snow is ‘Trust. Betrayal. Consequences.’


Lastly, Rainer Maria Rilke, of course. I have already made reference to him so I shall not repeat myself… but his writing, his themes, his approach to life, his advice, his lyricism… all of this influences Seas of Snow more than any other writer I can think of. Of course there is also the talisman I mentioned, which is an extract from one of the Letters to a Young Poet and something Gracie and her Ma cling to. I wanted to share it here so you can get a glimpse of his magic…


How should we be able to forget those ancient myths

That are at the beginning of all peoples.

The myths about dragons..

That at the last moment turn into princesses.

Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses..

Who are only wanting to see us..

Once beautiful and brave.

Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being..

Something helpless, that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened..

If a sadness rises up before you..

Larger than any you have ever seen.

If a restiveness like light and cloud shadows..

Passes over your hands and over all you do

You must think that something is happening with you.

That life has not forgotten you.

That it holds you in its hand.

It will not let you fall.


Isn’t that lovely.. the idea that life has not forgotten you, it will not let you fall. That thought has comforted me so many times over the years, and continues to do so.




  1. Where do you write and do you have a regular writing routine?


I moved to the house I now live in almost ten years ago. My favourite spot to write here is at my dining room table, facing out through the French windows to the lovely garden outside. The main reason I fell in love with this house was its garden… it has a pretty pond and an abundance of white rose bushes. In London it is very hard to find a place with a proper garden… I was so lucky to happen upon this place. Being in, and being part of nature, makes me feel serene and happy. My garden is only very small, but it is a beautiful sanctuary. I love writing here, being able to look up now and then. My normal routine involves my cat Cabbage nosing around and trying to get a piece of the action, before settling at my feet or somewhere nearby to let me write. Or sometimes cosying up on my keyboard, as if that is by far the comfiest place in the house to snuggle down… which sometimes thwarts the writing endeavour, as you might imagine…


I wrote nearly all of Seas of Snow on my holidays between 2009-2013.  Large parts of the text were written on holiday in southern Spain, in the most lovely, secluded spot in the mountains. Only birds of prey circling the sky interrupted proceedings… Other parts of the text were written in North West Scotland, in an amazing little village called Achiltibuie. I love it there and have been many times.  The development edit was written at my dining room table, facing out onto my garden…


I love to write wherever it is peaceful and serene, ideally surrounded by the beautiful natural world. Having said that, I do write each and every day, and most of the time I write on the tube on my way to and from work – which is a million miles away from peaceful and serene!


I am not the sort of writer that sets word count targets. I just write what I feel like, when I feel like it. I have to be in the right frame of mind to create, especially with something as intense and committed as a novel. This probably explains why it has taken someone who loves writing so much so long to get their first novel out there!


  1. What’s your next writing project and can you tell us a little bit about what to expect – will it have any parallels with Seas of Snow – for those of us that loved it?


Awe thank you so much. I am so glad Seas of Snow touched you the way it did. It is the first of three psychological thrillers which are inspired by my life in the field of journalism. Where Seas of Snow explores whether evil is born or made, Edge of Rain asks how far you can push a person before they break. This is inspired by the Sara Thornton case – something I covered while working at ITN in the nineties. A woman murdered her husband, but in the end her charge was transmuted to manslaughter rather than murder, on the grounds of provocation. It was a landmark case – showing how women who are subjected to unimaginable abuses at home are sometimes provoked to a tipping point. Sara Thornton ended up serving time for manslaughter (rather than murder) because although she killed her husband in cold blood, it was the consequence of years of being subjected to the most dreadful, debilitating, demeaning acts.


I am currently writing Edge of Rain… and as you would expect from me, there are characters to care about, and to touch you…. so watch this space….


Writer On The Shelf


Kerensa Jennings is a storyteller, strategist, writer, producer and professor.

Kerensa’s TV work took her all over the world, covering everything from geo-politics to palaeontology, and her time as Programme Editor of Breakfast with Frost coincided with the life- changing events of 9/11.

The knowledge and experience she gained in psychology by qualifying and practising as an Executive Coach has only deepened her fascination with exploring the interplay between nature and nurture and with investigating whether evil is born or made – the question at the heart of Seas of Snow.

As a scholar at Oxford, her lifelong passion for poetry took flight. Kerensa lives in West London and has developed a career in digital enterprise to help inspire young people across the UK and unlock their potential.

Seas of Snow is her first novel.

Look out for my #Giveaway this afternoon on Twitter

Turning for Home – Blog Tour


‘Isn’t the life of any person made up out of the telling of two tales, after all? People live in the space between the realities of their lives and the hopes they have for them. The whole world makes more sense if you remember that everyone has two lives, their real lives and their dreams, both stories only a tape’s breadth apart from each other, impossibly divided, indivisibly close.’

Every year, Robert’s family come together at a rambling old house to celebrate his birthday. Aunts, uncles, distant cousins – it has been a milestone in their lives for decades. But this year Robert doesn’t want to be reminded of what has happened since they last met – and neither, for quite different reasons, does his granddaughter Kate. Neither of them is sure they can face the party. But for both Robert and Kate, it may become the most important gathering of all.

As lyrical and true to life as Norris’s critically acclaimed debut Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, which won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and Debut of the Year at the British Book Awards, this is a compelling, emotional story of family, human frailty, and the marks that love leaves on us.

So many people that I trust implicitly as readers have loved this book that I knew that it was going to be something really special before I even unwrapped it. I absolutely loved  Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain and if you haven’t read it you need to add it to your TBR pile without delay as it deserves every single one of its plaudits and more.

Although I was totally absorbed in the story in Turning for Home, it is Barney Norris’ writing itself that makes it such a treat to read.  The two stories of Robert and Kate are perfectly balanced and play beautifully against each other like separate instruments in an orchestra – making the power of the narrative much more resonant and memorable as a result. Some of the descriptions in this book are stunningly beautiful and sit perfectly against some of the difficult aspects of the narrative – such as Robert’s experiences through the Troubles and Kate’s difficulties with her eating disorder. Perhaps it is the contrast between the difficulties that the characters have experienced and the beauty of the writing that makes it so affecting but at times I stopped and read whole paragraphs again for myself in order to feel that I’d fully appreciated them.


Robert and Kate are distant in terms of their ages but their relationship has always been close thanks to the annual family gathering which has brought the whole family together, year upon year. Of late though, cracks have begun to show in the family dynamic. Kate has been struggling after her hospitalisation and the tragic accident that took life as she knew it and smashed it into tiny pieces. This year the party will be a very different affair – it’s the first one after losing her grandmother and there is also the prospect of seeing the mother that she’s been estranged from for years. It is far from the idea party atmosphere and this feeling is skilfully conjured through Barney Norris’ deft description and believable characters.

As well as Kate’s present-day struggles being so well crafted, we are also given a very vivid insight into Robert’s traumatic experiences during The Troubles. Barney Norris has revealed that the Boston Tapes – where many truths about this turbulent period were revealed – was his original starting point for writing this novel and through the character of Robert he certainly humanises this brutal and dangerous time in modern history.

Robert’s story is also very vividly described and I was soon immersed in his dramatic past. It was a period that I didn’t know as much about as I thought and I was engrossed by Robert’s role as we travelled back in time with him and discovered the true nature of his role in these bloody events. I really enjoyed the film 71 but knew very little else about the role of government officials at that time and how close many of them sailed to the wind as they attempted to navigate at a time where no-one could really be trusted

It is the power of the past to affect our present and the past’s hold over us which Barney Norris conveys so skilfully in this wonderful novel. Even though on the surface they are dealing with very different issues, Kate and Robert are essentially connected by more than divides them. The catalyst of the party where everyone will be coming together for a celebration is an ideal ‘crucible’ to explore how the past haunts us and Barney Norris really makes us feel like we are there with them, experiencing the pain of the past and the fights that we’ve all struggled with on our journeys as human beings.

I absolutely recommend this read for people who really like to get their teeth into a story and those readers who enjoy a novel that is as far from formulaic and predictable as it is possible to be. In the present reading climate, many books can seem very same-y and this was a real palate cleanser for me. I loved the characterisation as much as I enjoyed the narrative style and I will definitely be recommending Turning for Home to friends of mine who enjoy a thought-provoking and beautiful read. Bravo, Barney Norris – it’s only January but Turning Home is really looking like a contender for my ‘Best of 2018’ list already. Look how fantastic it looks in my latest #OnTheShelfie



Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to participate in the Blog tour for
Turning For Home  which was published by Doubleday / Transworld 

Writer on the Shelf


Barney Norris was born in Sussex in 1987, and grew up in Salisbury. Upon leaving university he founded the theatre company Up In Arms. He won the Critics’ Circle and Offwestend Awards for Most Promising Playwright for his debut full-length play Visitors. He is the Martin Esslin Playwright in Residence at Keble College, Oxford. Barney’s new play Nightfall is one of the three inaugural productions at Nicholas Hytner’s new Bridge Theatre, beginning early 2018.

Follow @barnontherun



Hydra – Blog Tour

Hydra blog poster 2018.jpg

One cold November night in 2014, in a small town in the north west of England, 26-year-old Arla Macleod bludgeoned her mother, father and younger sister to death with a hammer, in an unprovoked attack known as the “Macleod Massacre.” Now incarcerated at a medium-security mental-health institution, Arla will speak to no one but Scott King, an investigative journalist, whose Six Stories podcasts have become an internet sensation.

King finds himself immersed in an increasingly complex case, interviewing five witnesses and Arla herself, as he questions whether Arla’s responsibility for the massacre was a diminished as her legal team made out. As he unpicks the stories, he finds himself thrust into a world of deadly forbidden “games,” online trolls, and the mysterious Black-eyed Children, whose presence extends far beyond the delusions of a murderess.


If I were to tell you that I was excited to receive Hydra, it’d seriously be one of the hugest understatements of my life. I absolutely loved Six Stories and Hydra was every bit as gripping and absolutely lived up to my level of anticipation. Matt Weslowski has a divine talent for grabbing you by the lapels and pulling you right into his story and I literally barely looked up until I’d turned the final page.

I love the way that Matt’s books give us a diverse range of voices so that we build up a steady accumulation of detail, just like you would in real life. I’m a real true-crime junkie and this definitely filled the gap that Serial, S-Town and Making a Murderer have left in my life. Arla is such a fantastic character that you really feel comes alive as you uncover more and more details about her story.  In the same way that I felt a strong connection with Adnan after reading Serial, I really felt like I’d come to know Arla by the final page and although I’m firmly committed to my ‘No Spoilers’ rule, I can’t wait to have a good chat with someone else who’s read Hydra so that we can mull over it together and talk about what a fantastic creation it is.

It’s even the kind of book that is a physical pleasure to read – the matt blackness of the cover and the hypnotically beautiful design mean that Hydra appeals to all of your senses at once – it’s not just the story that made me love it so much but the book as an actual physical object. Just look how beautiful it is:

Hydra final jacket image.jpg

The fact that it was described as an ‘Episode’ of Six Stories also got me really excited as I thought about the fact that hopefully there are another four more where this came from to look forward to as I really can’t emphasise how much I loved this dark and delicious read.

Scott King is a fantastic character – even though on a conscious level I know that he is a device to keep the story going and to stitch all of the interviewees’ perspectives together I absolutely love the way that his questions coax the truth/s out of his interviewees. I am a huge fan of podcasts in general and particularly true crime and murder podcasts. Six Stories feels absolutely real in every way and I almost feel like I am ‘hearing’ the book that I’m reading like a podcast in the night – it really is so evocative and skillfully realised.

I also liked the way that like the very best True Crime podcasts – Weslowski allows space for our own feelings and responses. Arla’s actions are not tied up in a neat little package with the ‘why’ on top tied up with a pretty pink bow. There is enough room for us to ask ourselves questions about who we believe and why that makes Hydra such an involving and ultimately rewarding experience.  I found myself genuinely being convinced to see things from a constantly shifting perspective as the novel bore me towards the conclusion and this was a rollercoaster ride that I definitely didn’t want to get off…


This book has a little bit of everything – mystery, social commentary, a ‘true crime’ feel, a fresh and interesting narrative structure, credible characters and a real sense of chill and menace. As you can probably tell, I loved Hydra and felt like sleeping with the light on for about four days after reading it. It is a book that you’ll want to pass on to other people so that they’ll have had the same experience you did, reading it for the first time. Matt Weslowski could be your favourite new writer. Buy Hydra here so that you can find out how brilliant it is for yourself

I’d like to thank the lovely Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, it was such a privilege to spread the book love for a book that I loved reading so much. Karen from Orenda told me herself about hearing Matt’s pitch for the first time and yet again, her unerring feel for writing talent hits the bullseye. I bloody love this book and cannot recommend it enough. Get out there and experience it for yourself as soon as you can!

Writer on the Shelf


Matt Wesolowski is from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor for young people in care. Matt started his writing career in horror, and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous UK- and US-based anthologies such as Midnight Movie Creature Feature, Selfies from the End of the World, Cold Iron and many more. His novella, The Black Land, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015.

His debut thriller, Six Stories, was an Amazon bestseller in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, and a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, and film rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio.

You can follow Matt on Twitter here

Why don’t you check out some of the other brilliant blogs taking part in the tour?

Hydra blog poster 2018

The Last Mrs Parrish – Blog Tour

The Last Mrs Parrish blog tour banner (1)

How far would you go to make all your dreams come true?

Amber Patterson is tired of being a nobody: an invisible woman who melts into the background. She deserves more. She deserves a life of wealth, luxury and leisure.

Daphne Parrish is the golden girl of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut. With her model looks, her picture-perfect mansion and her millionaire husband, Jackson, she has everything Amber wants.

Amber’s envy could eat her alive―if she didn’t have a plan. Before long, she has become Daphne’s closest friend, and is catching the eye of Jackson. But a skeleton from her past could destroy everything, and if discovered, Amber’s well-laid plan may end in disaster…


Just how far would you be prepared to go to snare the lifestyle of your dreams?  Liv Constantine’s The Last Mrs. Parrish asks us to think about this as she seduces us into that ‘just one more chapter’ feeling that will resonate with many ‘Girl on the Train’ fans and have them reaching for this book to grab a ‘fix’ throughout the day

Please be aware that there are some scenes that involve domestic violence in this novel, so if that us something that you feel would affect you then it’s perheps one to avoid…

We begin the book by being introduced to the scheming and sly Amber, a young woman in her 20s who is on the run from a background that sounds ‘sketchy; in the extreme. On the hunt for a vacancy to become a ‘Trophy Wife’, Amber has migrated east from her Nebraskan hometown to the swanky community of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut. She’s already done her homework on a suitable ‘target’ who will allow her to tick ‘Trophy Wife’ off her bucket list and we are soon introduced to Jackson and Daphne who unwittingly become her ‘life to be’


Amber is a natural born con-artist. She inveigles her way into the life of Daphne and her circle effortlessly with a seemingly bottomless instinct for weakness and endless talent for ‘grooming’ Daphne into believing whatever meets Amber’s needs. Or so Liv Constantine would have us believe. As part of her meticulous ‘research’ Amber invents a mythical sister who passed away of Cystic Fibrosis after learning that Daphne runs a charity for families suffering from Cystic Fibrosis as her sister also passed away from it many years ago. Daphne seems very warm towards Amber, as she feels a unique bond with someone who has also lost her sister to Cystic Fibrosis. This friendship blossoms as Amber turns herself into everything that she feels Daphne needs and lacks and they are soon totally inseperable.

Amber doesn’t stop her scheming at insinuating herself into Daphne’s life, but is also determined to make herself irreplacable to Jackson too. He eventually hires Amber as his assistant after she cons Daphne with a sob story about being sexually harrassed by her boss and she persuades her husband that the ever helpful Amber is just what his office needs to run perfectly.  Amber transforms herself from ‘girl next door’ to a Jackson’s dream woman inch by inch and step by step – and soon they embark upon a passionate and exciting affair underneath Daphne’s very nose. Where this book really starts to gerexciting is just when Amber thinks that she’s finally got what she’s always wanted: there is a stunning plot twist with a hefty dose of ‘be careful what you wish for…’

It’s so hard to review The Last Mrs Parrish without revealing any spoilers, but rest assured you will love the way that this post takes everything you thought you knew about these three characters and the world they inhabit and turns it 100% on its head Jackson is far from the prize that Amber has dreamed of being possessed by, and Daphne is perhaps not as weak malleable and trusting as the bold Amber thought she was. This was genuinely a very entertaining read and it is sure to attract a huge number of readers who love a ‘Grip Lit’ tale and are fascinated by domestic arrangements seem though a glass darkly. If you loved ‘Pretty Little Liars’ you will absolutely love this book and will definitely be desperate to find someone else who’s read it to talk about its twists and turns.


Writer on the Shelf

Thank you to HarperFiction and NetGalley for the opportunity to participate in the blog tour for The Last Mrs. Parrish.

Liv Constantine two together, cr Erika Livingston[1]

I was really intrigued to discover that Liv Constantine is the pen name for sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine who actually wrote this book over Skype together! What a fantastic story – it’s certainly made me wish that I’d been there for some of their late night phone calls

Here is the link to their website so you can read all about it for yourselves- it’s also very exciting to read that Reese Witherspoon has nominated it as one of her book club choices which means that we definitely stand a better chance of meeting Amber on screen in the not too distant future. I’m already casting it in my head…

Appetite – Anita Cassidy Blog Tour



Because everyone hungers for something…

Food and Sex: two appetites the modern world stimulates, but also the ones we are expected to keep under control. But what happens when we don’t?

Embarking on an affair, lonely wife and mother Naomi blossoms sexually in a false spring while David, the fattest boy at the local comprehensive and best friend of her son, struggles to overcome bullying and the apathy of his divorced mother.

David finally starts to learn about the mechanisms of appetite through a science project set by his intelligent but jaded teacher, Matthew. David’s brave efforts to change himself open Matthew’s eyes to his activist girlfriend’s dangerous plans to blow up VitSip, a local energy-drink company where Naomi works.


I am very excited to be on the #BlogTour for Appetite by Anita Cassidy today Thank you to Red Door Publishing for sending me this lovely copy.  For the whole week that I was reading it, it grabbed SO much attention as the ARC was just GORGEOUS.

Its colours were as bright and enticing as the storyline inside and meant that I ended up recommending it to so many people who just loved the cover. The photo by Kelly Lacey at LOVE BOOKS GROUP just sums it up to a tee, and I’m sure that her spotlight on Appetite earlier really whetted lots of APPETITES to read the book.

Here is a link to the lovely Kelly’s article and I’m looking forward to seeing what she thinks about it when she takes her place on the tour on the 14th Love Books Appetite Spotlight


I loved this tale of three different characters with very different ‘hungers’ : David who is locked in a hopeless cycle of overeating self-loathing and despair. Matthew whose epiphany following his trip to Brazil pushes him into following his love-interest Polly into making sure that what he’s seen there can be put into practice back in the UK and making sure that more people understand the way  that large companies gamble with our health in the pursuit of profit and finally Naomi whose successful business head is soon led into dangerous waters as her online flirtation with her friend’s partner suddenly transforms into something much more illicit and morally complex.

All three characters were very well realised and I loved the way that their lives all overlapped and intersected with one another. Lots of novels with multiple narrative strands can feel a little ‘unconnected’ and I’ve sometimes found myself preferring one of the voices and skipping ahead to that part over and over again. Appetite is very well balanced in the way its narrative unfolds and although all three characters are very different in terms of their ‘hungers’, their stories are very well calibrated and you find yourself thinking about them as a whole rather than three diverse and independent stories.

David’s tale stood out for me the most as I think we are so used to looking at food and body image from the perspective of an adolescent female that David’s voice was fresh and compelling. His journey in the book ( no spoilers…) is very well realised and the other characters served to make me even more convinced by him as someone who refuses to let their ‘hungers’ define them and is driven to rise above his circumstances to make a difference to his life. The description of his attitude to food and eating is very well done indeed and I can definitely see me using it with my students to cast some light on an often overlooked area of young people’s health and wellbeing.

I loved Anita Cassidy’s reflection on David’s story on her website:

All the different parts of Appetite are parts of me but it is David’s story, about his learning to accept and love himself, that is the most important to me. That need to remind everyone, including myself, just how hard it can be to see through how we think about ourselves to the truth of what we are: acceptable and loveable in, and because of, our flawed glory.

All of the issues in this book: activism, overeating, infidelity, social media, education, food health, relationships and managing our destiny are very skilfully woven into the narrative so that they never feel ‘bolted on’ or tokenistic. As an educator myself, I really enjoyed reading Appetite and it certainly gave me a lot to think about. It would make a great reading group book, I feel, as there are so many angles and perspectives on offer here that it would provide hours of debate.


Appetite paints a compelling and sometimes frightening picture of the way that our society fixates on and obsesses about food, particularly sugar, and makes us think hard about the way that many of us  use food, sex, social media or relationships to deaden the pain we feel and allow us to ignore the things that we hope and dream about rather than embark upon the difficult task of tackling the challenges in our way and achieving our full potential…



I can’t wait for someone else I know to read it so that we can chat about it some more and discuss some of the personal and societal issues it raises as they are certainly very pertinent. The important thing about Appetite is that first and foremost it’s a rattling good read with credible and sympathetic characters that you’ll think about for a good while after reading their story. I look forward to hearing more from Anita Cassidy and am very intrigued by the premise of her next book, but I suppose I’ll just need to be patient and wait…


Writer On The Shelf : Anita Cassidy


I am a writer, a relationship radical, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a friend. I am also a lover of old books, new music and (mostly) clean food. Whilst I understand the limitations of labels, I do identify as bi-sexual, polyamorous and kinky. Above all else, I am curious about everything: about life, about learning and about love.


I have, of late, begun to learn the true value of listening and being listened to. Please get in touch. I would love to hear what you have to say.

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