Guest Post for ‘The Golden Key’ by Marian Womack @titanbooks – WELCOME!

I’m really happy to be hosting a ‘Guest Post’ today from Marian Womack, author of the fabulous ‘The Golden Key‘ and published by one of my favourite publishing houses, Titan Books, on 18th February 2020. Marian Womack is writing about the real life inspirations behind the characters in her novel – scroll down to read.

The book blurb:

After the death of Queen Victoria, England heaves with the uncanny. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms.
Helena Walton-Cisneros, known for her ability to find the lost and the displaced, is hired by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens.

But the Fens are an age-old land, where folk tales and dark magic still linger. The locals speak of devilmen and catatonic children are found on the Broads. Here, Helena finds what she was sent for, as the Fenland always gives up its secrets, in the end…

GUEST POST

The Golden Key – Real Life Inspirations

by Marian Womack

My new novel, The Golden Key, is a work of fiction. Its protagonist, the detective Helena Walton-Cisneros, came to me gradually, over the course of many years. I wanted to explore a world in which things are not what they seem, in which women are forced to perform a role in society, at times hiding their real abilities. I soon realized that, in order to make this world more plausible, it would help if I populated it with real-life people and events. Luckily, my research for the novel helped a lot, as it uncovered many interesting people and events that spoke so much of the epoch, of the trials women feared and the tribulations they faced, that it was no problem to pick a few and include them in the book. These real-life inspirations, both people and places, include the following:

George MacDonald: I have always loved fairy-tales. The first short stories that I ever wrote were fairy-tale retellings, as dark and strange and unnerving as I could manage. I have a large collection of fairy-tale books from around the world, covering many cultures and epochs. I am not an expert, though, and my knowledge of the vast Victorian fairy-tale corpus was patchy, composed of what had found its way to my hands via second hand bookshops. I was introduced to George MacDonald’s work as an adult, and it shook my entire conception of what “a story in the fairy-fashion” should be. I became obsessed with MacDonald. He seemed to speak to my deeper concerns as a writer: the unavoidable sense of indeterminacy of his tales, of porous borders surrounding us, between the real and the unreal. I think it is fair to call MacDonald a true weird-fiction fairy-tale writer. His world found its way into my novel, partly because I could not write about worlds that mixed together without recognising a huge debt to him.

Peter Henry Emerson: I thought I had seen Norfolk, I thought that I knew Norfolk. Then I was introduced to the work of the early photographer, Peter Henry Emerson. The eeriness of his Norfolk images helped redefine the “feeling” of the entire novel. Here was a pictorial representation of everything I had felt about the place since I first set foot on it in 2002-2003: a haunting, ghostly feeling about the Fens and the Broads; a sense of more things, hidden, happening beyond the frames of the pictures. Even in his more “normal” rural scenes, one has the sense of looking upon another realm, a sort of parallel world. True, he did not own a camera until 1881, so it is a stretch to think that he might have photographed the hunting weekend for the Matthews family, but a writer has to imagine, after all, and my active imagination placed him firmly in the middle of the events.

Eunice Foote: Foote is perhaps the most important real character mentioned in the novel. An American physicist, she was the first person to establish a connection between the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and what we now identify as climate change. However, she has been swallowed by history, and now it is John Tyndall whom everyone associates with this scientific discovery.

https://titanbooks.com/

Blog Tour for ‘SOOT’ @danvyleta and published by @orionbooks #CompulsiveReaders

Wishing ‘Soot’ every success on its blog tour and with the publication. I’m really pleased to be contributing today with some content into the characters of the novel, and the world they inhabit. With thanks! Check out the tour list below for other fabulous contributions from the book loving community.

Book Blurb

Welcome to a world where every desire is visible, rising from the body as a plume of Smoke. A world where bodies speak to one another and infect each other with desire, anger, greed. It is 1909 and this world stands on a precipice – some celebrate this constant whisper of skin to skin, and some seek to silence it forever.

Enter Eleanor, a young woman with a strange power over Smoke and niece of the Lord Protector of England. Running from her uncle and home, she finds shelter in a New York theatre troupe.

Then Nil, a thief hiding behind a self-effacing name. He’s an orphan snatched from a jungle-home and suspects that a clue to his origins may lie hidden in the vaults of the mighty, newly-risen East India Company.

And finally Thomas, one of the three people to release Smoke into the world. On a clandestine mission to India, he hopes to uncover the origins of Smoke and lay to rest his doubts about what he helped to unleash.

In a story that crosses continents – from India to England’s Minetowns – these three seek to control the power of Smoke. As their destinies entwine, a cataclysmic confrontation looms: the Smoke will either bind them together or forever rend the world.

I. The Story


Imagine a symphony made up of distinct themes and melodies.
It starts with a young woman, Eleanor, afraid that the long reach of her uncle will at last discover her in her Canadian exile and summon her home. She has a ‘talent’—a special relationship to the Smoke—that she fears others will want to put to use. Then she meets a playwright, a master of the new art of Smoke Theatre, and he offers her shelter within his troupe.
Then there is Nil—No-One, Nothing—a thief and confidence man, getting by on his wits. His latest mark is the New York City branch of the mighty East India Company, a trading corporation that controls the Indian Raj and is one of the dominant economic powers in this world after the ‘Second Smoke’, for they hold a monopoly on the only substance that can supress the Smoke. Nil is an orphan who does not know where he was stolen from when still a young child. He suspects that somewhere in the Company vaults slumbers the truth of who he is.
And then there is Thomas, hero of Smoke, who has travelled to India to learn what really happened in the revolution he helped to start ten years ago. He meets the Singhs, a local couple who themselves are revolutionaries of sorts, dreaming of freedom from Company rule. Will what Thomas finds lay to rest his guilt and doubts about what he helped to unleash?
These three melodies soon begin to intertwine, tying together events in North American and on the Indian subcontinent, and leading back to Britain, that sundered, Gale-haunted ‘Isle of the Smoke’, where the Smoke-affirming North of Minetowns and the Smoke-denying South under the stewardship of its Lord Protector are fighting over the country’s future.

About Dan Vyleta

Dan Vyleta is the author of four previous novels: Pavel & I, which gathered international acclaim and was translated into eight languages, The Quiet Twin, which was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, The Crooked Maid, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and winner of the J.L. Segal Award, and the critically-acclaimed Smoke.

His is the son of Czech refugees who emigrated to Germany in the late 1960s. After growing up in Germany, Dan left to attend university in the US, where he completed a PhD in History at King’s College, London.

He lives in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Praise for Dan Vyleta

‘For once both comparisons (with Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights) are apt . . . this is a novel that stays in the imagination long after it has been read’

  • The Guardian

‘It’s detailed, multi-layered and feels authentic – and might just win over historical fiction fans too’

  • The Pool

‘Mr. Vyleta writes with intricacy and imagination and skillful pacing’

  • New York Times

‘Vice is made visual in Vyleta’s sprawling, ambitious novel, a Dickensian tale tinged with fantasy’

  • Entertainment Weekly

‘One of the most original and enthralling books I have read in a long time.’

  • Shelf Awareness

Blog Tour – BLACK SUMMER by M.W. Craven.

Winner of the 2019 CWA Gold Dagger Award

Blurb

Jared Keaton, chef to the stars. Charming. Charismatic. Psychopath…He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found and Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

My Thoughts

What a deliciously creepy and utterly brilliant opening! Huge applause to M.W. Craven – you hooked me in with style! An utterly grotesque style… but it certainly does the job and creates an extremely tense and repulsive moment for the readers to start to unpick. It was even worse when I googled the Ortolan Bunting and found out the dish is actually true!!! I was truly horrified! To understand what I am referring to it’s best to order the book and read it yourself…so off you go, get it ordered!

There are other reasons to order this book, Craven’s plotting and pace is exceptional. The crime solving duo of Washington Poe (what a name!) and Tilly Bradshaw (you can’t help but adore her), make this book extra special. Oh, and if you don’t already know, this is the second book featuring Poe and Bradshaw; the first book is ‘The Puppet Show’ which I would also highly recommended reading.

The hook and central conundrum in ‘Black Summer’ is how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time. It is soon apparent that Poe and Bradshaw are embroiled in a twisted, dangerous game that might defeat them both and even destroy Poe’s life. Craven is the ‘King of Plotting’ and I love the journey he takes the reader on, inserting inventive clues with great subtly, and dropping dastardly clever red herrings. It’s smart and pulls in all the devices required of this genre and more.

I’m not saying anything else about the actual plot; I don’t want to spoil anything at all, (the book blurb is enough) you really need to pick this book up. It’s inventive, character driven, complex, tense with delightful touches of humour to lighten the darkness of the crimes, and balance the character relationships.

I loved it and am lucky to also have one of the Goldsboro first 250 editions! Thank you to Beth, at Little Brown, for also sending me the paperback, I can re-read the book without fear of spilling my tea on those precious first edition pages. Thank you to Mike for getting in touch so I could be a part of this blog tour and for the most marvellous storytelling!

Inventive, dark, witty and addictive – if you haven’t met Poe and Bradshaw yet… what are you waiting for?

Author

A brand new voice in British crime fiction, M.W.Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle. He joined the army at Sixteen, leaving ten years later to complete a social work degree. Seventeen years after taking up a probation officer role in Cumbria, at the rank of assistant chief officer, he became a full time author.

The first in the Washington Poe series, The Puppet Show, won the 2019 CWA Gold Dagger, has sold in numerous foreign territories and has been optioned for TV by Studio Lambert. M.W.Craven has been shortlisted for the Goldsboro Glass Bell Award, an Amazon Reader Award and a Cumbria Life Award. He is also the author of the Avison Fluke novels, Born in a Burial Ground (shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger) and Body Breaker.

SHADOW by James Swallow and published by @ZaffreBooks #CompulsiveReaders #blogtour

Published 12th December by Zaffre

Blurb

A ruthless far-right terrorist is broken out of captivity.

A mysterious scientist with a terrible secret is abducted.

A lethal contagion threatens millions of lives across Europe and the Middle East.

Ex-M16 officer Marc Dane faces a deadly race-against-time to stop a devastating attack before a new kind of weapon is unleashed…

My thoughts

This is the fourth book in the Marc Dane action thriller series. It’s my first read of this series… although that really didn’t seem to matter at all.

This book doesn’t mess about, and you are hurtled into an action packed opening, swiftly moving between two high pressured and dangerous situations. It’s a relief (and great plotting) to calm down as we are introduced to people on a smuggler’s ship and the plot develops and deepens; it’s not long before the tension and action creeps back. I don’t read that many action thrillers, but I was drawn easily into the story. The central characters of the book series were introduced well and with enough background information to easily pick up who these people are and what has lead them to this point. Marc Dane, our lead and Ex-M16 officer, and Lucy Keyes, Ex Delta Force and now a private contractor with Dane, are brought into a kidnapping case and are soon off on a dangerous mission.

‘Shadow’ is an action thriller novel that is driven, well-researched with engaging lead characters that work aplenty to hook the reader into a dramatic plot of kidnapping, terrorism and mass destruction as a new threat is uncovered. Thank goodness Marc Dane has at least 9 lives; he’s literally leaping constantly into dangerous situations! Keyes is not much better, so they’re quite a pair. It’s one of those novels where you need to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the ride. I had a great time reading this. Dane’s character make-up is along the lucky lines of characters like Bond, Bourne, Reacher and Ryan and it’s dramatic action fun. I think the difference here with some lighter reads, is the book is very well researched, I found it easy enough to pick up unfamiliar subject areas of the military, technology, digital and terrorism. The world building and descriptions of the landscapes were also really atmospheric and detailed. The scene on the Icelandic tundra made me turn my heating up!

If you are looking for an incredibly pacy, very well-written action thriller read, that is tense, full of drama with non-stop action moments – then join Marc Dane and Lucy Keyes in ‘Swallow’.

Author

James Swallow is a New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author and script writer with over 750,000 books currently in print around the world. He was nominated for a BAFTA for his writing on the acclaimed video game DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION. His new novel and Marc Dane thriller Rogue is coming in May 2020.

Follow James on Twitter @jmswallow

Previous books in the Marc Dane series: Nomad, Exile and Ghost.