Friday, 28 September 2018

News: Snow Angel and Boxset Bargain!

By JJ Marsh

Beatrice Stubbs is back!
The old girl retired at the end of Bad Apples, but there's no way she'll stop having adventures.

By JD Smith Design
This book has been coming for a long time. I always wanted to write an homage to the Golden Age of Crime and its literary ladies: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey and Georgette Heyer. Even as a kid, I loved all that intrigue masked as innocence and the mucky truth behind the public façade. Locals have their own traditions and codes of honour, creating a wall of secrecy outsiders rarely penetrate.

The cover is by our resident genius JD Smith Design, and below is the blurb.
Release date is 16 November for ebooks and 6 December for paperbacks.
Pre-orders  available at Amazon and all other retailers.

Then I have a present for you.
Snow Angel: Old secrets, new lies

Love is a driving passion.
So is hate.

December in a small Devonshire village is the perfect time for a Yuletide fête, a wedding or a murder. Now retired, Beatrice Stubbs is busy with wedding preparations. Not for herself – co-habiting with Matthew is as far as she’s prepared to commit – but Adrian and Will are getting married. She’s Chief Bridesmaid and the theme is Narnia.

When a local celebrity dies in suspicious circumstances, Matthew encourages Beatrice to do a little private investigating. Her enquiries turn up more than predicted and she discovers her nearest and dearest are capable of deceit.

A snowstorm hits the village and Beatrice chases a lead, throwing everyone’s plans into disarray and threatening lives. Ancient forests conceal a complex web of connections and loyalties, false reputations and poison.

To celebrate the seventh book in the series, Boxset One is on sale until Sunday. This weekend only, you can get the first three novels at the criminally low price of £1.99/$1.99.
On Amazon
At all other retailers

If you're still not sure this is the series for you, why not try the prequel, free of charge?
Subscribers to my mailing list get Black Dogs, Yellow Butterflies as a welcome present.

Have a great weekend! 

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Big 5 Winner!

The Winner of the Triskele Books/Words with JAM 2018 Big 5 Mentorship Competition is ...

Philippa Scannell!!

An incredibly strong field of entrants led to much wrangling over the shortlist. But once chosen, we were absolutely sure any one of the finalists would be worth a year of support, advice and shared expertise.

Over to judge Roz Morris, whose job was even tougher. Here's her report.

How to choose a winner in such a breadth of entries? There were narrators who were unreliable or dreaming; narrators who were hiding or tormented or unsure if they could trust their senses. Narrators who were on the brink of terrible events. They wrote in voices that were defensive, or confidential or sassy or secretive. Some were fiction; some were not. You might as well compare apples to airspeeds.

To begin with, I was at a loss. But as I read, I realised there was a common value I was picking up. It was this: the strength of the writer's relationship with the reader. It's a quality all books stand or fall by, how intimately they win the reader's confidence. Explaining this is not easy; it's more a feeling - a feeling that the author is in step with your thoughts as they place their words. Our job title even says it - an author has authority.

And so I chose Rape And The Road To Recovery.

The clincher was this sentence:
'Although I was raped, I promise never to say, ‘I know how you feel’.

A simple statement. But reader, it knows your biggest question before you've even figured it out yourself. It creates a tone, too, of plain speaking, truth seeking. It establishes trust. Indeed, you might notice a charming paradox because its effect contradicts its literal meaning. By saying 'I don't know how you feel', it proves that it does.

You might argue that this author had an advantage because the material was real experience. But that is not what gives it this power. The treatment is.

The excerpt goes on to consolidate that relationship with the reader, with facts that speak of the author's scope and sensitivity. It mentions resources, words that survivors often use, experience teaching self-defence, research beyond the immediate subject on attitudes and education. Although the writer's journey may have started from a personal trauma, this book will be wider than that, and wiser. It has - in short - authority.

All of us at Triskele Books are delighted with Roz's choice. It is a privilege to work on such a book, not to mention a challenge. This is the first step on a journey which will educate all of us.

But let's hear from the winner: here's how Philippa reacted to the news of her mentorship.

I can't believe it! I created Rape & the Road to Recovery to give a voice to the voiceless and to show that rape can happen to anyone, anywhere. Writing the book was a journey in itself and winning this prize makes it feel like all the tears and rejections along the way were worth it. I can't wait to tell all the people who contributed to the book.
It is hard to put in to words how happy I am to know that my book has a real chance of getting published now and getting to the audience it was written for. Winning this mentorship is such a huge opportunity. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Roz Morris and everyone at Triskele Books.

Philippa and the Triskele Team will check in regularly to report on progress. But for now, we raise a  glass to say congratulations to Philippa and well done to the shortlisted authors. All the very best on your publishing journey!


Friday, 17 August 2018

SIX OF THE BEST : Literary Welsh Connections

By Gillian Hamer

For a small country, Wales certainly has a huge amount of literary clout - not only in the talents of Welsh authors but as setting for some superb fictional triumphs. Below, I list six of my personal favourites.


No foray into Welsh literature would be complete without a mention of this book; it is the original, earliest and probably the best collection of Welsh prose stories. Legend tells that the stories of the Mabinogion were carried down from oral versions and were translated and compiled in the 12th and 13th century into a collection of eleven stories that we know today that appear in either or both of two medieval Welsh manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest.
The topics are wide and varied from philosophy to tragedy to humour many heavy with Welsh folklore and Celtic traditions. The stories were translated into English and modern Welsh in 1838 and are today part of the Welsh national curriculum.

I’m not a huge follower of much of Dylan Thomas’s work, but I fell into love at school with the drama Under Milk Wood from the moment our English literature teacher told our class that the name of the fictional Welsh fishing village – Llareggub – was actually Bugger All spelled backwards! With that kind of dark humour attracting me, I enjoyed both the 1954 BBC radio adaption and the 1972 film version.
The narrator takes the listener on a journey through the dreams and nightmares of the inhabitants of Llareggub, showing the dark and innermost thoughts of those who no one believed had ever owned a dark side. With fantastic characters such as Captain Cat, Myfanwy Price, Jack Black and Evans the Death this is a fantastic exploration of real people’s desires and fears from a hugely talented writer who found it easy to explore human nature.


And what connection can this iconic novel by Sarah Waters have with Wales? Well, none is the honest answer. But the author certainly did. Born in Neyland, Pembrokeshire in 1966 Waters has often mentioned the beauty of the Pembrokeshire countryside as one of the greatest inspiration for her work. The Little Stranger is a brilliantly told story of family, mistrust and even ghosts if you believe in that kind of thing. It is currently being adapted into film.
For me there is a Celtic essence through much of Water’s writing and for that reason I believe she should be included in the Welsh connections.


Another author with strong Welsh connections. Born in Cardiff, Follett was a reporter at the South Wales Echo and said his love of literature was sparked by visits to the Cowbridge Road Library in Cardiff, which he joined when he was seven.
My favourite work is his 2012 epic Fall of Giants, with follows the lives of  five families through the trials and dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for votes for women and features a coal mining family based in part on his grandfather’s experience of working in the pits from the age of thirteen.


Jan Ruth's series of contemporary women's fiction novels is set in one of my favourite places in the world - the North Wales coastline. Her use of location as a character in its own right brings her writing alive for me. And her passion for horses combined with the beauty of the landscape gives the reader the feeling of being in safe hands. For anyone who doesn't understand the power of location, I certainly recommend this series, or any other book by this author, and can imagine many people have chosen to take a visit to Conwy and the surrounding area after reading this author's work.


Written by Kit Habianic a fiercely proud Welsh author and based on the fiercely proud past generations of her Welsh forbears, this is a spine-tingling read about a period in history that put Wales in the news for all the wrong reasons. When the miner's strike devastated normal working families in the South Wales valleys in the mid-1980's there were a huge number of stories of individual triumphs and disaster like the one detailed here. This novel screams everything that it means to be Welsh - the history, language, passion, tragedy and the intensity of the time comes across brilliantly here. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Six of the Best: Books Set in British Cities

by Catriona Troth

You could often be forgiven for thinking – at least as far as fiction is concerned – that British urban life begins and ends at the boundaries of Greater London. In the immediate postwar period, books like John Braine’s Room at the Top and Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning featured northern cities. But it is hard to find modern equivalents.

Birmingham is relatively well served, with books such as Nice Work by David Lodge, Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters Club, Meera Syall’s Anita and Me or – more recently – Kit de Waal’s My Name is Leon. But my beloved Coventry – so rich in music and stories – scarcely appears in novels at all. (If anyone knows better, I’d love to hear from you!)

But here are six books that do capture a slice of urban life outside the Metropolis.

BRADFORD: Girl Zero by AA Dhand

Like all the best crime writers, Dhand explores the dark underbelly of the place he loves – and his Bradford can get very dark indeed. His first novel tackled drugs and racial violence. This second book opens with his detective, Harry Virdee, confronting the body of his own niece. To begin with it seems likely that her death is linked to his brother’s nefarious activities. But (reminiscent of Craven in the incomparable 80s television series, Edge of Darkness) he soon finds she has been uncovering some dark and dangerous secrets of her own – in this case the activities of a child grooming gang. These are modern atrocities crying out to be explored through the medium of crime fiction. Yet there is so much danger of either tarring a whole community with the sins of a few, or looking away for fear of causing offense, that perhaps it’s taken a writer from a British Asian community to dare to turn this into fiction.

Read my full review on BookMuseUK. 

BRISTOL: The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

This book won the 2013 Costa Book of the Year for mental health nurse Filer, who has used his experience to create a rare and honest portrayal of schizophrenia. But the book is also an examination of the impact of grief and loss on a family. And if this all sounds heavy, it is also at times both funny and touching.

In the end notes, Filer describes envisaging the book as ‘the crumpled stack of Matt’s writing and drawings; the typewriter pages with their smudged ink; the letters from Denise; the words that Patricia cut up and stuck down with Pritt Stick.” What a joy that would be to discover in a book shop – if hopelessly expensive to produce.

Read my full review on BookMuseUK. 

GLASGOW: Psychoraag by Suhayl Saadi

Psychoraag takes place in the course of one evening. It is the last night of broadcasting for an Asian radio station in Glasgow, and DJ Zaf is alone. Zaf’s thoughts range over the changing nature of the South Asian community who are his audience, his parents’ long journey from Pakistan to Glasgow, his sometimes rocky relationship with his girlfriend Babs, and his even rockier relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Zilla, whom he may or may not have started on a path that led to drug-addiction and prostitution. As the long night wears on, it becomes harder and harder to work out what is really happening and what is the product of Zaf’s exhausted brain.

Written in broad Glaswegian dialect, peppered with expressions in Urdu, Arabic, Punjabi and even Gaelic, Psychoraag is a rollercoaster of a ride, not for the fainthearted.

Read my full review on BookMuseUK.

IPSWICH: 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

A wonderful, lyrical novel exploring what is means for a small family to have been separated by a war, to have undergone terrible experiences and keep secrets from each other – and then to have to pick up the threads of their lives again after the war. The main characters are, like many others in East Anglia, Polish. The father fought with the Polish arm of the RAF; the wife and son are refugees, traced to a Red Cross camp after the War. 

LIVERPOOL – An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge

Bainbridge’s classic captures life Liverpool as it must have been when my parents met there in the late 1940s. She also captures the now all-but vanished world of the repertory theatre, as the action is set in the midst of a Christmas production of Peter Pan – with the title referencing Peter’s chilling quote: “to die would be an awfully big adventure.” So much of post-War British society is encapsulated – from the shabbiness and deprivation to the entrenched classism and the repression of its sexual politics. You know this is a world that is on the point of vanishing. 

SHEFFIELD: The Year of the Runways by Sunjeev Sahota

< The story opens with a scene that echoes the early episodes of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. Young men, far from home, packed together in cramped, basic conditions, working long hours on a construction site to send money back to their families. Through the lens of these four lives, Sahota reveals the human face of economic migration, the myth of return, and such headline fodder as illegal workers, scam marriages and abused student visas. This is a book that will shake your belief that we are in any way a ‘fair’ or ‘equal’ society. Like Dickens’ Victorians, we climb on the backs of an army of invisible poor. The only difference is the poverty is now globalised.

Read my full review on BookMuseUK.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Big 5 2018 Mentorship Competition Shortlist Announced!


Triskele Books and Words With Jam are happy to announce the six shortlisted entries of our Big 5 2018 Mentorship Competition –– from manuscript to publication –– worth over £5000!

Pleased with the multitude and quality of the entries, three members of the Triskele team read each and every one before finally coming to a joint decision.

We enjoyed reading through the variety of genres: everything from non-fiction to young adult, crime thrillers, sci-fi-fantasy, historical and literary fiction.

The winners have been contacted and invited to send the first 10 pages of their manuscript before September 1st to our independent judge, Roz Morris, who will select one winner to be announced on Friday 4 November 2018.

Thank you to all who entered, ensuring our competition was a huge success. From the shortlist, I just know we’re going to have so much fun working on a great book to bring it up to publishing standard!

So, without further ado, here are the six shortlisted winners, in no particular order:

Eleven Bodies by Rachel McHale

Doll Face by Dianne Stadhams

The Legend of Anon Ra by Elinor Perry-Smith

Shadows From Yesterday by Natalie Smith

Rape & the Road to Recovery by Philippa Scannell 

Still Breathing Air by Wendy Storer 

Look out for more details soon!

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Six of the Best: Powerful Women in History

by JD Smith

We have all heard of Cleopatra, Boadicea, Helen of Troy, Elizabeth I. They are famed for their  prominence in a man's world, but what of those who are lesser known yet equally influential, powerful and dominant. Here's a peek at my top six lesser known women in history:

Grace O'Malley (1530 - 1603)

O'Malley became lord of the Ó Máille dynasty in the west of Ireland following the death of her father, Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille, despite having a brother, Dónal an Phíopa Ó Mháille. 

Marriage to Dónal an Chogaidh Ó Flaithbheartaigh brought her greater wealth and influence, reportedly owning as much as 1,000 head of cattle and horses. In 1593, when her sons and her half-brother were taken captive by the English governor of Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham, she sailed to England to petition for their release. She formally presented her request to Elizabeth I at her court in Greenwich, refusing to bow because she did not acknowledge Elizabeth being a queen.

Ching Shih (1775 - 1844)

Shih was a Chinese pirate who led one of the largest piracy fleets to ever exist, commanded up to 40,000 pirates. She enter into conflict with the British and Portuguese Empires, as well as the Qing dynasty.

The Chinese government attempted to destroy her fleet in a series of battles, but were unable to do so. Shih captured the government's ships and took them over, adding to her own fleet, and the Chinese were left with only fishing vessels and the like for military use. 

Artemisia I of Caria (5th Century BCE)
Artemisia was a Greek queen of the ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus and of the nearby islands of Kos, Nisyros and Kalymnos. She fought as an ally of Xerxes I, King of Persia against the independent Greek city states during the Persian invasion of Greece. She personally commanded her own five ships in the Battle of Salamis in 480 BCE. She is mostly known through the writings of Herodotus, himself a native of Halicarnassus, who praises her courage and the respect in which Xerxes held her.

Borte Ujin (1161-1230) 
Borte Ujin was empress of the Mongolian Empire, the largest land empire in history. She was also one of Genghis Khan’s wives and most trusted advisers. Whilst many of Genghis Khan's wives accompanied him as he went to war for long periods, she ruled the Mongol homeland and managed her own court.

Wu Zetian (690 - 705)

Wu was the sole officially recognized empress regnant of China in more than two millennia. Her political and military leadership includes the major expansion of the Chinese empire, extending it deep into Central Asia, and engaging in a series of wars on the Korean Peninsula.

Wu's leadership resulted in important effects regarding social class in Chinese society and in relation to state support for Taoism, Buddhism, education, and literature.

Queen Hatshepsut (1507–1458 BC)
Hatshepsut was fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. According to Egyptologist James Henry Breasted, Hatshepsut is also known as "the first great woman in history of whom we are informed.

Hatshepsut officially ruled jointly with Thutmose III, who had ascended to the throne as a child of about two years old. Hatshepsut was the chief wife of Thutmose II, Thutmose III’s father.

During her reign she established many trade routes, funding trading expeditions and building the wealth of the eighteenth dynasty. She was also one of the most prolific builders in ancient Egypt, commissioning hundreds of construction projects.

Credit: Wikipedia

Friday, 6 July 2018

Six of the Best: Books on WW2 French Resistance

By Liza Perrat

The French village in which I live originally inspired me for the first novel, Spirit of Lost Angels, of my French historical trilogy, The Bone Angel.

An exhibition in a museum in Saint-Martins-en-Haut, a neighbouring village, gave me the idea to base the second novel of the trilogy, Wolfsangel, around the French Resistance to the Nazi occupation during WW2.

 I realised that this region, like many others in France, was a hotbed of French resistance. During my research, I was fortunate to speak with several members of the Resistance, who were only too happy to relive their days of fighting for the liberation of their country.

But for further information, I consulted both fiction and non-fiction books on the subject.

Here are six of my favourites, four non-fiction and two fiction works, with Goodreads links:


by Lucie Aubrac

Lucie Aubrac (1912-2007), of Catholic and peasant background, was a history teacher in Lyon, married to Jewish engineer, Raymond Aubrac, when WW2 broke out.

The couple soon joined the Resistance movement in opposition to the Nazis and their collaborators, and Outwitting the Gestapo is Lucie’s harrowing account of her participation: of the months when, heavily-pregnant, she planned and took part in raids to free comrades—including her husband, under Nazi death sentence—from Montluc, the prison of Klaus Barbie, infamous Butcher of Lyon.
Her book was also the basis for the 1997 French movie, Lucie Aubrac, which I greatly enjoyed.

by Agnès Humbert

Agnès Humbert was an art historian in Paris during the German occupation in 1940. Stirred to action by the atrocities she witnessed, she joined forces with several colleagues to form an organized resistance.

In fact, their newsletter, Résistance, gave the French Resistance its name. During their struggle for freedom, the members of
Humbert’s group were betrayed to the Gestapo; Humbert herself was imprisoned.

In immediate, electrifying detail, Humbert describes her resistance against the Nazis, her time in prison, and the horrors she endured in a string of German labor camps, always retaining — in spite of everything — hope for herself, for her friends, and for humanity.

by Vercors

The Silence of the Sea, written in Nazi-occupied France, is an intensely dramatic story of an old Frenchman and his niece, and of the German officer billeted in their house. Both the story, and the circumstances of its publication, bear eloquent witness to the triumph of the mind of man over terrible circumstances.

The identity of the author, “Vercors” is unknown, though he was undoubtedly one of that large number of French men of letters who, like the old man in “The Silence of the Sea”, refused to compromise with the Nazis in any way.

This novel, written in mortal peril, published clandestinely in France and smuggled to freedom, is a real victory for the human spirit, showing that humans have cared enough for things of the mind to risk their lives to breach the impenetrable wall of silence the Nazis built around France.

by Anne-Marie Walters

On a cold, moonlit night in January 1944, Anne-Marie Walters, just twenty years old, parachuted into southwest France to work with the Resistance in preparation for the long-awaited Allied invasion.

The daughter of a British father and a French mother, she was to act as a courier for George Starr, head of the “Wheelwright” circuit of the Special Operations Executive. Over the next seven months, Walters crisscrossed the region, carrying messages, delivering explosives, arranging the escape of downed airmen, and receiving parachute drops of arms and personnel in the dead of night, living in constant fear of capture and torture by the Gestapo.

Then, on the very eve of liberation, she was sent off on foot over the Pyrenees to Spain, carrying urgent dispatches for London. It is a tale of high adventure, comradeship and kindness, of betrayals and appalling atrocities, and of the often unremarked courage of many ordinary French men and women who risked their lives to help drive German armies from French soil. And through it all shines her quiet courage, a keen sense of humor and, above all, her pure zest for life.



by Elisabeth Gille

A haunting and powerful book written by one of the daughters of Irène Némirovsky, author of Suite Française. Némirovsky and her husband died in Nazi concentration camps, but their daughters were hidden and escaped death.

In this story, Elisabeth Gille gives a fictionalized account of when, as five-year old Lea Levy, she was hidden away by the nuns of a Bordeaux convent when the Nazis deported her parents.

But there is no happy ending for her after the fall of Nazi Germany, which is what makes this book so powerful, to see the pain and suffering for the Jews that came after liberation.

by Sebastian Faulks (French Trilogy #3)

Charlotte Gray is the story of a young Scottish woman who becomes caught up in the effort to liberate Occupied France from the Nazis while pursuing a perilous mission of her own.

In blacked-out, wartime London, Charlotte Gray develops a dangerous passion for a battle-weary RAF pilot, and when he fails to return from a daring flight into France she is determined to find him.

In the service of the Resistance, she travels to the village of Lavaurette, dyeing her hair and changing her name to conceal her identity. Here she will come face-to-face with the harrowing truth of what took place during Europe’s darkest years, and will confront a terrifying secret that threatens to cast its shadow over the remainder of her days.

Resistance museum poster

Resistance museum poster

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Six of the Best: Books set in European Cities

By JJ Marsh
That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.” – Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
Dubrovnik, Croatia

For someone like me, born in Wales who spent formative years in Africa and Asia, continental Europe has a attraction like nowhere else. There lies history, romance, culture and stories. It has a wealth of geographical attractions such as Portuguese beaches, Swiss mountains, Italian lakes and French vineyards. But my passion is for the cities.
Amsterdam in January: discarded Christmas trees beside canals; bikes, bridges and gables.
Madrid at Easter: dramatic daytime parades, roasted garlic and parties that start at midnight.
Porto at São João: everyone out with squeaky hammers, eating sardines and watching fireworks.
Stuttgart in the autumn: beer in open squares at communal tables, with new friends and brass bands.
Pardubice in winter: frozen lakes, steaming saunas, freezing attics and extremely strong cheese.
Naples in July: ripe tomatoes, brown skin, tiny trucks and the sensory overload of the harbour.
Each has an atmosphere all its own and I never tire of exploring their present - in person - and past through literature.

I’ve chosen six books to transport you to another time and place while relaxing into the story. If you have any novel ways of exploring a city, I’d love to know.

Delft 1660s: Girl with a Pearl Earring – Tracy Chevalier

As delicate as a work of art, the book explores the complex relationships of the Vermeer household. The artist who has come to represent the Dutch Golden Age completed only two to three paintings a year, putting the household economy under pressure.
When Griet, the new maid, seems to inspire the master, tensions build between his wife, his mother-in-law and the observant Griet. Delft’s canals, markets and Calvinist culture all spring to life on the page, creating a beautiful background to what might have been.

Paris 1785: Pure – Andrew Miller

Jean-Baptiste Baratte is summoned from the quiet town of Bellême to Paris, to complete a rather unusual task. He is to clear the cemetery of Les Innocents. Miller describes the city of Paris, the cemetery and its long-dead inhabitants, the local people and his own arc of change with such graceful sensory evocation, I was reminded of Suskind’s Perfume.
The characters are fascinating, all portrayed through Baratte’s perceptions and prejudices. But it’s the setting that makes you feel you’ve been in another world, another time, another place and experienced it so vividly that you put it down feeling a little disorientated to find yourself on the bus.

Barcelona 1945: The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Cemetery of Forgotten Books is where ten-year-old Daniel encounters The Shadow of the Wind. He is charged with protecting that copy as the only one in existence. The book enthralls him and he wants to find out more about the author.
But Julián Carax is dead and Daniel’s commitment to the book is attracting enemies. Not least a mysterious man seeking out all Carax’s work with the aim of total eradication. Barcelona through the eyes of a child in a country under a different kind of shadow.

Naples 1950s: My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante

On the surface, this is a coming-of-age novel set in a poor, violent suburb of Naples. Yet it has depths of love, beauty, politics, social observation, spite, generosity and anger all rendered in sparkling prose.
The reader is immersed in this Southern Italian environment, narrated by Elena Greco, whose entire story of her growth and development into her late teens is refracted through the lens of comparison. Ferrante’s cast of characters is broad and its hierarchy rigid. Brutal threats between neighbours, families, lovers are rarely idle and an undercurrent of honour, vengeance and blood runs just below the surface.
Passions and dramas abound on the small stage of their little community, set against a greater backdrop of the recent war, political extremism and the importance of having the right connections.

Lisbon 1960s/1970s/now: Night Train to Lisbon – Pascal Mercier

A chance meeting with a Portuguese woman on a bridge in Bern provokes Gregorius, a Swiss teacher of Classics, to follow his curiosity. It leads him to a book, ‘Um Ourives das Palavras’ (A Goldsmith of Words), written by Amadeu de Prado.
In an uncharacteristic act of spontaneity, Gregorius walks away from his life and boards a night train to Lisbon, just to discover more about the author. He discovers the city as a stranger and the language through sheer determination, constantly learning the harsh truths about the recent dictatorship and effects on its people.

Moscow early 2000s: Snowdrops – AD Miller

The eponymous snowdrop refers to a body buried under the winter snow which only comes to light in the thaw. The image is relevant both literally and metaphorically to AD Miller’s Moscow tale of corruption and moral erosion.
The book is ostensibly a letter from Nick to his fiancée, cleaning the slate by confessing his past. He was working as a lawyer in Moscow, where he met Masha and Katya, and so began his decay. The author uses the setting of wintry Moscow, and the period just before the credit crunch, to great reflective effect. Nick’s moral choices are underpinned by a sense of ‘Right here, right now, this is just how it works’. But one day, the snow will melt …


JJ Marsh is the author of The Beatrice Stubbs Series. Each book is more than a heart-racing crime novel; it's a European adventure. From the snow-capped peaks of Switzerland to a deserted Welsh beach or golden vineyards in the Basque country of Spain; each story is immersed in the landscape, culture, cuisine, architecture and personality of its location.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Story of a Novel: The Rise of Zenobia

A friend once told me I could write, and so I did. The Rise of Zenobia wasn't the first novel I wrote, nor the first I published, but it was one of my earliest pieces of work and was put through its paces on various peer review sites before finally being enshrined on the page.

The stories of lesser known heroes have always intrigued me. There are many reasons they are untold, barely noted in the tombs of history, a footnote here and there.

Zenobia was one.

Popular in the Arab world, she was lesser known to westerners. I first read about her in Antiona Fraser's Warrior Queen, giving me an insight into the life of this remarkable woman, who rose from the daughter of a merchant to marry the King of Palmyra, capital of Syria, and an important city on the eastern caravan route.

Two things struck me about Zenobia. First was that she led one of the most threatening rebellions ever faced by the Roman Empire, yet it remained largely untold. The Empire relied heavily on Egypt for it's source of grain, with a third of the Empire's consumption coming from the land of the pyramids alone. Cut off, the Empire would starve.

The second was the country in which she rose to a hugely influential position. It was a vast contrast to the middle east today; war torn, religious conflict and oppressive toward woman. In the third century Zenobia was not only given a voice, she held command over armies and was worshiped as a god. Further still was the descriptions of many religions living peacefully, side by side, with citizens choosing who they worshiped, many praying to several gods. Indeed Zenobia herself courted both Jews and Christians to name but two in a bid to secure friendship and support. These details fascinated me when in so many other areas of history you read of seemingly constant religious conflict, where religion is the reason for the story, the cause of war, the very character of conflict. Here was a story where religion was barely a player. An so I embarked on a mission to write a story where religion is constantly referenced, but it is the colour of the sea or the shape of the moon or the smell of spice. Not the cause or the reason for the characters' motives and interaction.

The first draft of The Rise of Zenobia took years to complete and many rewrites, particularly of the first chapter, in a bid to introduce the characters that would see them live through several volumes of the series. The research was unending and still is. Little is known of Syria in the third century. Like the dark ages of Britain very little historical documentation existing and what does is unreliable.

I left it too late to visit Syria to do any on the ground research. My children were babies when I first started writing and by the time I had the time and resources to make the venture war was, in real life as well as my book, tearing the country apart.

From the clothes to the armour I made educated guesses. Syria was a client kingdom of the Roman Empire and would be heavily influenced by the language, customs and dress. But it was also close to Egypt and in perpetual war with Persia, so everything I imagined for the land ruled by my heroine would be a mixture of them all in a bid to demonstrate local and political influence.

An Extract:

We walked a long line of tents, taller than ours, but still the soldiers stooped in and out. We paused outside one, six soldiers standing sentry, and I felt a flutter of apprehension, our mission riding on the next few moments; our second and last chance.

We ducked inside. Gallienus sat behind a table as Valerian had sat behind a desk in Rome, the tent otherwise bare. They were different in approach. Valerian did not wish to see us, made no pretence at humouring us, and believed what he had wanted to believe, what his own commanders told him. Gallienus sat with a serenity I had not imagined a man of war to emanate. Scars marred his face, cutting through a short beard, no thicker than my own. He stood up and genially gestured we take chairs opposite him. An aide stood to one side, four soldiers lining the walls, and the soldier who had come for us sat down at one end of the table.

‘My sincere apologies,’ the emperor said. ‘You caught me on a long march home. I am not entirely sure who it is I address,’ he smiled, eyes flicking between Zenobia and myself.

‘We are honoured to be in your presence, Caesar. I am Zenobia Zabdilas, consul of Palmyra, and this is my personal guard and cousin, Zabdas. We were sent to Rome on behalf of King Odenathus …’

‘Of Syria?’ Gallienus interrupted.

‘Palmyra, indeed.’

Gallienus relaxed into his seat and traced a wide scar close to his ear.

‘But you are not in Rome. You are west of Rome, seeking an audience with me.’

The man sitting at the end of the table gave a low snigger and leaned forward on the table.

Gallienus appeared amused as he waited for a response.

Zenobia remained unmoved.

‘Indeed, Caesar. I am here to plead for reinforcements …’

‘Wait a moment,’ Gallienus said, and my patience tore. ‘Two questions. Firstly, why come to me? My father is at this very moment in Rome. Surely he could have listened to your plea?’

Zenobia did not hesitate. ‘We have pleaded with your father already, but alas to no avail. Roman commanders report that the east can hold for now, as it always has, against the Persian invaders. He makes his decision based on this.’

Gallienus closed his eyes momentarily.

‘I see. And so you have come to me in the hope that my opinion might differ?’


Gallienus chuckled, and the man at the end of the table laughed, too.

‘I admire your honesty.’

‘You had a second question?’ she said.

Gallienus tilted his head and studied Zenobia.

‘Why would a woman come with only three soldiers and a guide? Surely you travelled from Syria with a larger escort?’

Zenobia shrugged off her cloak.

‘We came with an escort of more than a hundred men. Our leader and company felt we had done all we could having spoken with your father.’

The emperor’s smile evaporated.

‘I see. This man, this leader with whom you came, he thinks my father holds imperium, hmm?’

Zenobia said nothing. Clever, I thought. She touched on delicate matters.

After a while Gallienus said, ‘What makes you think my answer will differ from my co-emperor’s?’

‘You are a lord of war,’ Zenobia replied. ‘You know enough to understand and sympathise with Odenathus’ position and the problems he faces. The Persians threaten Syria, but it is also under invasion from many other tribes, including the Tanukh.’ She leaned forward and they held one another’s gaze with ease. ‘My king has held the Syrian frontier — your frontier — for many years with success. But our enemies become more powerful, and yet the legions in Syria remain the same. It has become increasingly difficult to continue to maintain control. Numerous cities have been lost. My own father led men to the Euphrates two years ago. He came out of retirement to protect the Empire.’

My mind was filled with Julius, whether he still held the southern frontier, and if he were dead or alive. I felt the draw of home, a heavy pull in my stomach. I craved, then, to return to Palmyra.

‘My father will have seen your problems in the east as part of a greater problem, as part of the Empire’s problems; something that weighs heavily on us both. When he and I became colleagues, Rome was close to collapse; it still is. Maintaining and securing the frontiers is a huge problem. A massive undertaking. If Valerian Caesar thinks you can hold, he makes his decision based on how much pressure he is under elsewhere.’ Gallienus barely looked at me as he spoke, eyes fixed intently on Zenobia. ‘It is an easy choice to make, when the people whose lives are immediately at risk are not people you know, when there are enemies closer to home. Believe me, I understand the troubles your country faces, and I have a great deal of respect for Odenathus. He is an incredibly loyal man.’

‘He is the best of men,’ Zenobia replied. ‘You could not wish for a more trustworthy ruler to a client kingdom.’

A mild hint that Odenathus could turn against Rome without notice was not lost on the younger emperor.

‘You can leave us now, Posthumus,’ Gallienus said to the man sat at the end of the table.

‘Caesar,’ Posthumus acknowledged.

He bowed and stooped out of the tent. Only the guards, Zenobia, Gallienus and I remained.

‘I understand,’ he said. ‘Odenathus has my full support in all matters, but whether it is physically possible to push more legions to Syria’s frontier is another problem entirely. That may be difficult to accept, but it is also quite probably the case. I know my own men are stretched.’

‘Give me a day,’ Zenobia challenged, ‘and I will change your mind.’

Gallienus grinned, boyish and amused. He rose from his seat, took Zenobia’s hand and assisted her to her feet.

‘I have no doubt you would try. Your escort waits for you in Rome?’

‘They are camped on the outskirts of the city.’

‘Then you can travel back with me. And you can have two days to plead your case.’

Hope gripped once more.


"If you're a fan of historical fiction and like Douglas Jackson, Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow - then you will adore this novel. The Rise of Zenobia is the first in the series and I can't wait to read more from this talented author."

"I do love a warrior queen! Boudica is perhaps the best known of all but this is a tale told of another, Zenobia, who also went up against the might of Rome. An intriguing and atmospheric insight into a part of history I knew very little about. It is very well written but easy to follow too - no mean feat considering all the unusual place and character names. Set in ancient Palmyra (modern-day Syria) the descriptions throughout, of the people, the places, are particularly vivid, transporting you to a bygone age. Packed to the hilt with tension and adventure, it kept me spellbound. Thankfully, as part of a trilogy, there is more to come!"

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

BOOKCLUB: Smash All the Windows by Jane Davis

It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.
It will take courage to learn how to live again.

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.
If only it were that simple. 

Tapping into the issues of the day, Davis delivers a highly charged work of metafiction, a compelling testament to the human condition and the healing power of art.

All the members of Triskele Books have long been fans of Jane Davis's books and there was no doubt we'd read her latest novel. Here, Gillian Hamer, Catriona Troth and Liza Perrat respond to JJ Marsh's questions about Smash all the Windows.

JJ: The first thing that struck me about the book was the structure. The book starts with the coroner's verdict. Then it moves back in time to before the disaster happened and to the aftermath. How did the fact that we know what happened in the end affect your experience of the story?

CT: A chronological telling, with the focus on a sequence of events, would have made the book more like a disaster movie. By telling the story in the way she did, Davis ensured that the focus was on the impact of the events on the lives of the characters.
LP: For me, the coroner's verdict was not the crux of this story; it was rather an exploration of the effects of the disaster on the different people involved. Therefore, my story experience was in no way affected by this beginning.
GH: Yes, I agree with Kat, it changed the tone of the book completely because we already knew the people were without fault and helped us focus on the character's stories rather than the guilty or not guilty issue.

JJ: Davis employs a large cast of characters, and as a result, many different points-of-view. What do you see as the advantages of that?

CT: There are so many different human responses to grief, loss and trauma. The multiple points of view of the families of the dead - all written in that close third person point of view that makes the reader inhabit the characters skin - allow us to explore and understand a huge range of those responses.
LP: Yes, I agree with Kat and as such, each individual reader will certainly be able to identify with at least one of these characters.
GH: I think it gave the book a much more rounded and balanced feel, each character had their own story, their own baggage, their own guilt and their own way of coping with their grief.

JJ: Was there a single character you identified with more than most?

CT: Probably Gina. I have been through the phase of having two embattled teenage kids in the house. It's all two easy to imagine what it would be like to have that life cut short - to have everything frozen in a bad moment that you would otherwise have lived through and grown out of. (I've also been a London commuter through two pregnancies, so I had a lot of empathy for Cassie too.)
LP: I identified with many of the characters, but mostly, I'd say, with Jules. I found it amazing the way he could sift through the physical and literal rubble, and create something beautiful and evocative.
GH: I think I connected most with Maggie. I've walked streets and drove to places just to evoke memories and remember what it was like to be there with a loved one I've lost. And I felt a great deal of empathy both for her loss and what she went through trying to defend her daughter's name.

JJ: I was impressed by the way the author made a completely fictional disaster feel so convincing. What were the elements that contributed to its believability?

CT Again, this has something to do with points of view. By showing it to us through the several pairs of eyes, Davis allows us to see it evolve as in a four dimensional reconstruction. But it is also to do with carefully chosen details that would conjure up the Tube to anyone familiar with travelling on it.
LP: I think it was entirely believable as I could truly envisage this kind of disaster occurring. Coupled with the fact that we have actually experienced just these kind of disasters in real life.
GH: There was something of the tragic events of Hillsborough that echoed through my mind as I read this book, and because we know these awful, life-changing events can happen, and that miscarriages of justice aren't as rare as they should be, it added to the whole believability factor that the author created.

JJ: The novel is full of powerfully affecting moments. Are there any that particularly stood out for you?

CT: Very difficult to pick just one. The opening of Ollie's room, Eric's breakdown, Helene finding her role - they were all deeply moving. But I think the opening of the exhibition stands out for me, for all the reasons I explain below.
LP: For me it would have to be when Ollie's room was finally opened.
GH: Again, Maggie coping with her inner grief stood out for me because it felt so real. Gina's battle with her emotions and coming to terms with her son's death in gradual stages was also very powerful.

JJ: There is a sense of closure for some of those left behind at Jules Roche's exhibition, Objets. Why does an artistic representation of people's pain and grief have such an effect?

CT: Visual art, like poetry, distills emotion down to its essence, so it connects directly with our own emotional centres. The descriptions of art pieces probably shouldn't, in theory, be quite so powerful. But I was blown away by Davis's description of the different pieces in Objets. Envisaging each of those art works was a tour de force in itself. Not to give too much away, but crib was an especially stunning concept. I think Davis may be a visual artist manque!
LP: I think because, as each of us is an individual, each person views, loves, hates and/or appreciates, art in completely entirely ways. Just as it is with each individual's perception of pain and grief.
GH: I felt the exhibition acted as a form of closure because it brought everyone together in a 'beautiful' way - rather than in a courtroom. It's difficult not to give the plot away but the objects themselves had real meaning too that seemed to heal those left to cope with the aftermath.

JJ: Jane Davis recently wrote a guest blog for us on the ghosts of fictional characters. This book is shadowed with the spectres of lost individuals, even those not yet born. Yet it did not make me melancholy, instilling if anything a feeling of reverence. What was your feeling when you finished Smash All The Windows?

CT: I think there was an immense feeling of hope, as if Jules has allowed the bereaved - those with whom we have shared this journey at least - to reconnect with those they have lost. This wasn't an anodyne 'everything's all right now' ending - more that each of the characters could now begin a healing process that had been denied them for years.
LP: It definitely left me with hope too; that the characters had been able to acknowledge their grief and could thus continue their lives on a more hopeful and peaceful, arc.
GH: A feeling of closure, not just in the book but in the journey of the characters. The victims' voices had been loud and clear in the earlier sections and flashbacks, and it was as if they had finally fallen silent. I felt sure that the bereaved would now be taking the first small steps towards the rest of their lives with the acceptance that they could never change what had happened but could finally start to learn how to live with it.

Read Liza's Bookmuse review here