Tuesday 27 May 2014

Interview with Johnny Mains

Johnny Mains is a force to be reckoned with in the horror genre and that is only going to increase with his editorship of Salt Publishing’s new flagship anthology series, “Best British Horror”.  Passionate, enthusiastic and vocal, he helped bring back the Pan Books Of Horrors (including providing the facsimile of the cover art), he’s a supporter of new and old talent (and shares my love for the older, sleazier extremes) and his knowledge of the genre is extensive.  Generous, amusing, cutting, he doesn’t suffer fools gladly but he’s a genuinely nice bloke and he’s agreed to answer some questions.

So to start with, can you give us a little of your history?

photo courtesy Peter Coleborn
JM:   I have been a fan of horror since I was small, crossing over to reading adult horror anthologies and novels when I was thirteen. Remained a fan ever since; was completely and utterly ignorant of a UK horror scene as I was growing up because I spent many years going to the best and most highly illegal raves that the country had to offer. You wouldn’t find out where the location was until about an hour or so before it started, you dashed to a warehouse or field in the middle of nowhere, consumed vast amount of mind-bending substances and then danced your little hearts out until either the sun rose or the police came. Not that I raved forever, I knocked it on the head when I was 25 or 26 then consumed hundreds and thousands of another mind-bending substance. Books. In 2008 I had my first short story sale in The Third Black Book of Horror and then burst onto the scene proper in 2010 with my first anthology, Back From The Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories which won the British Fantasy Award the year after and project editing the 2010 re-launch of the very first volume of The Pan Book of Horror Stories.

MW:   What can you tell us of Best British Horror?

JM:   I was offered the gig in July of last year, so was already seven months behind in the terms of the reading I had to do. But the publishers and authors soon sent their stories in and I spent many hours locked away in the office, books and a notepad all over the floor and would aim to read an anthology in two days, a collection in one. Collections are the easiest, because sometimes there are only two or three original stories and the rest are reprints; that cut the workload down. Some books proved to be a real struggle because there were one or two stories that were so awful that it would utterly disrupt the rest of the book because you were on tenterhooks that the rest of the anthology would be awful.

We have 22 strange, and eclectic stories. Some really gruesome ones; some that will stay with you for a long time to come. Some I’ve chosen because I believe that the authors have written out of their skin and they deserve a wider audience than the small press affords. At the end of the day, these types of books are subjective and there will be people who will disagree with my selection – but I came at this to simply be entertained. If it didn’t entertain me, then it wasn’t going in. I did the book for me first, you lot second. As it should be. Same as when you write something. You write for yourself first, your audience, if you’re lucky to have one, second.

The book will also be honouring Joel Lane. His passing has deeply affected many people and it’s only right that his incredible legacy be honoured. We’ve actually used a story that was published in 2012 – the reason being is that I think the story shows Joel at his absolute best. And in following volumes I will be using a story from a fallen author from any given decade – to honour those authors that made a marked impression on me when I was growing up.

MW:   How did the deal with Salt come about?

JM:   They approached me, which is always lovely. I accepted and then the hard work began.

MW:   What is your plan for Best British Horror?  How do you see it sitting alongside the other ‘best of’ anthologies, such as those from Steve Jones and Ellen Datlow?

JM:   As BBH only focuses on homegrown talent it has nothing to do with the other best of anthologies, so they can continue to fight it out for themselves as to which one is the best. In my mind it has to be Steve Jones’ Best New Horror. Year after year he shows why he is the very best in the field

Paula Guran is another editor who has her finger on the pulse, and I really enjoy reading her selections They offer so much and I’m really looking forward to this year’s volume. She truly is at the top of her game.

MW:   Charlie Higson is quoted as saying that you have “extraordinary energy and [are] fighting a one man battle to preserve and revitalise the noble tradition of the horror anthology”.  What is it that draws you to anthologies?

JM:   They let me snack little and often.

MW:   You have a deep affection for “old horrors”, from writers to publishers and have certainly steered me well with recommendations of both books and second hand shops.  What is it about this strain of the genre that appeals to you?

I think the older horrors are more honest. More entertaining. Written with style and fun and always done with tongue in cheek. You think Conrad Hill ever sat down at a typewriter and that every word was wrenched from the deepest parts of his soul and a little bit of him died with every story he finished? Did he fuck. In goes the paper, here comes the smile, let’s be entertaining. Let’s have fun. Why on earth would you ever want to write if you didn’t enjoy it?  Please note I'm not saying that writing isn't hard, because it is - incredibly so at times.

MW:   In addition to your editing (five anthologies to date and counting), you’ve also written two collections - With Deepest Sympathy and Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories For Nervous Types.  First of all, how do you find the time and secondly, what did you hope to capture with those books?  And do you think you succeeded?

JM:   In the early days of me jumping into the small press pool I had more time. Now I have an occasional understanding wife.  I do a lot at the weekends from around 4pm onwards. When I get down to it though, I can type really fast. Once I have the story mapped out in my head, I’ll just go for it until the missus wants me to do something or I’m exhausted.

The collections – the first was a bit of a mess, in truth I wasn’t ready for it, even though there are a couple of really strong stories in it. The second collection (Frightfully Cosy) I had a lot of fun writing, it does stand up to repeated readings and it doesn’t take itself too seriously, even though there are some rather disturbing stories in there (‘The Cure’ and ‘Dead Forest Air’). The reviews have been kind too, with everyone citing 'Aldeburgh', a sequel to M.R. James' 'A Warning to the Curious' as being worthy.

MW:   What is your preferred writing style (I ask this purely because of 'The Cannibal Whores of Effingham')?

JM:   I prefer writing with my tongue firmly in cheek, and love to go down the black humour route in my writing – but certainly a couple of people have said that my best stuff is when I play it straight down the middle and more firmly grounded in the everyday.

MW:   “Back From the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror”, which was published through your Noose & Gibbet imprint, won the Best Anthology Award at the 2011 British Fantasy Society Awards.  I was there and it was a very well received win.  Did you take that as vindication of the hard work you’d been doing to get to that point?  What did the award mean to you?

JM: The award has meant a great deal, it’s opened up a lot of doors. I was worried that getting an award so early (first book, first win) would mean that my career was over before it began! Since then I’ve always stayed true to myself, have published the books that I want to see published and not because they are popular, etc. Same as the editing – I take it very seriously, am not swayed by anyone – the books are my vision, I know what I like and I’m only ever doing books that I want to read.

As to vindication etc… Let’s look at it this way: I am working hard to become a name in the mainstream. I’m willing to put the hours in, make the sacrifices needed and I will not take no for an answer. I am a firm believer that if you constantly push yourself and be the best that you can be then good things will happen. Take every opportunity that’s given and wring every last drop out of it. Throw a grenade and blow the fucker wide open. Make your own luck. I’ve got this far because nobody told me that I couldn’t do it. I have drive, passion and no shame.

MW:   You've recently announced REMAINS, a imprint of Salt Publishing that you are heading.  How did this come about?

JM:   Again, the head’s at Salt, Chris and Jen asked if I would be setting up my own horror novella e-book imprint. Whilst it was lovely to be asked, e-books are not really my thing. I’m a traditional book man, I know that many of my friends who are authors prefer ‘real’ books and convincing them to write an e-book only would be a tough sell. So we agreed to have a joint e-book and POD (print on demand) structure, giving us the best of both worlds. I have some great names lined up – Laura Mauro, Nathan Ballingrud, Lynda E Rucker, V.H. Leslie, Stephen Volk, Mark Morris, John Llewellyn Probert, D.P. Watt and others!

We will also be doing a Remains Classics line where I will be reprinting (in e-book only unless it’s something really special, then it will be released as a POD) novels from the 1700s till the 1970s. First up we have Frank Walford’s TWISTED CLAY, a 1930s ‘lesbian horror shocker’! And as it’s the first release, it will be published as a paperback, with some never before unearthed facts about the author.

MW:   That sounds right up my street!  So what are your aims for the imprint?

JM:   My aims for remains is to have a brilliant list of contemporary horror novellas, a much maligned area in the bookshop, I feel. I just want to give horror a bit more of a footing in the market.

MW:   I'm really looking forward to what you come up with through REMAINS.  But in the meantime, what can we expect next from you, beyond Best British Horror?

JM:  What day is it?

Next up is the Robert Aickman tribute anthology. Reprinting Frank Walford’s Twisted Clay. Some articles in Illustrator’s Quarterly. Back From the Dead being reprinted. A novella called The Gamekeeper being published. The launch of BBH in May. Co-editing Dead Funny with Robin Ince. Publishing Sarah Pinborough’s debut collection. Possibly a third collection. Might even get some sleep.

MW:   Thanks very much Johnny!

Welcome To The New Home Of Horror

Edited by the British Fantasy Award winning editor Johnny Mains, Salt’s ‘Best’ series takes a journey into the bottomless depths of horror. You will find no ‘pleasing terrors’ here.

‘Mercy stands before her, wielding a mud-caked pickaxe in both hands…’ 
—When Charlie Sleeps, Laura Mauro

‘Too much Semtex was an obvious, beginners mistake, and I noted I needed to remove more brain in future…’ 
—Exploding Raphaelesque Heads, Ian Hunter

‘There isn’t much time. Blood is already spattering the paper on which I am writing…’ 
—The Secondary Host, John Probert

‘It appeared to be an insect of some kind, perhaps a beetle or a spider with a bloated body…’ 
—Come Into My Parlour, Reggie Oliver

Best British Horror is a new anthology series dedicated to showcasing and proving without doubt, that when it comes to horror and supernatural fiction, Britain is its obvious and natural home.

“Johnny Mains is the go to man for horror in the UK. His extensive knowledge of and unbound passion for the genre is amazing. If there was a government ministry of horror (which there should be) Johnny would be in charge. He is the Minister For Horror. He has extraordinary energy and is fighting a one man battle to preserve and revitalise the noble tradition of the horror anthology. Oh, and he is a nice bloke as well.” 

From Salt Publishing, Best British Horror is available from all good bookshops for £9.99

Friday 23 May 2014

Help save our bees

"When you see a bee on the ground that isn’t moving, it’s not necessarily dead, it’s probably just dead tired from carrying lots of pollen and needs re-energizing. 

If you mix a tiny bit of water with some sugar and let it drink it will give it the boost it needs to continue on its way. Please pass this message on to others."

The bee population in the UK (and worldwide) is declining and this has serious implications for all of us.  Bees are vital to our lives as they are among the primary pollinators of plants in the UK and it's been deduced that if our native bees were to die out the effect on crops and wild flowers would be catastrophic. As these crops and flowers provide food for our wild and farm animals we could easily lose up to a third of our regular diet. This is a very real problem, and one that is not getting the attention it needs.

There have been many suggestions as to the causes of the decline, one of the most popular of which is the widespread use of pesticides. Insecticides such as this may well have an adverse effect on bees and could explain the large numbers that are dying out each year.
(information from save our bees)

There are plenty of ways you can help the bees - for my part, I'm a member of the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust.  This is from their website:

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust was established because of serious concerns about the 'plight of the bumblebee'. In the last 80 years our bumblebee populations have crashed. Two species have become nationally extinct and several others have declined dramatically.

We have four main aims:

* The prevention of the extinction of any of the UK’s bumblebees

* A long-term future for our bees and other pollinators which support the ecosystem service of pollination
* The protection, creation and restoration of flower-rich habitats
* An increase in the understanding and appreciation of bumblebees

Help save the bees!

Thursday 22 May 2014

Star Wars and time

This note appeared on the Internet earlier in the week (though it's dated as last Friday), written by JJ Abrams and sent to the cast and crew of "Star Wars Episode 7" (I blogged about them here).

In a strange coincidence, the night before last saw me lying in bed, re-reading an old Cinefex magazine about "The Phantom Menace".  There was an interview with George Lucas to open the coverage and it mentioned that the prequel was due to appear sixteen years after "Return Of The Jedi" was initially released.  I thought about it and realised that Episode 7 will appear sixteen years after "The Phantom Menace" debuted, to a lot of scorn but huge box office.

Let's think about this for a moment.

In 2015, we will get to see "Episode 7" at the cinemas and, as I've said before, I'm guardedly optimistic about it, though I'm really looking forward to taking Dude to see a "Star Wars" film at the cinema.

Sixteen years before that, in 1999, I went to see "The Phantom Menace", even though I'd heard mostly negative things about it and I think it's fair to say that I was quite disappointed.  I loved Darth Maul (though he wasn't used anywhere near enough), the double-ended lightsaber was cool but the rest of it wasn't so great.

Sixteen years before that, in 1983, I went to see "Return Of The Jedi" (which I blogged extensively about here) and really enjoyed it.

Where did that time go?  I remember, in the early 90s as the "Star Wars" legend died down somewhat, thinking that the original trilogy would fade into obscurity and I would be one of the few fans left (it seems stupid now, I agree, but this was before the Internet made me aware of how huge the international fandom was).  I remember the build-up to the Special Editions - and I remember going to the cinema to watch them and loving the experience - and I remember the build-up to "The Phantom Menace", but in my head the gulf between the end of the original trilogy and the start of the prequels feels much further.

In 1983, I was 14 years old and a big "Star Wars" fan.  In 1999, I was 30 and still a big "Star Wars" fan, hyped up by the Special Editions.  When 2015 rolls around, I'll be 46, as big a fan as ever (I'm not a big fan of the prequels but hey, the original trilogy wasn't affected by them) and I'm already looking forward to taking Dude to the cinema with me.

Monday 19 May 2014

BlogHop: Three Things I Don’t Write (& Three Things I Do)

This is one of those blog-hop things where one writer makes a blog post and tags others to follow on with a post on the same subject.  I've been nominated by the wonderful James Everington (you can see his version of it here) and my nominations to go forward are listed at the end of this entry.

Three Things I Don’t Write About

*  Gore for gore’s sake.   I used to, back in the day, because I loved reading it and I loved writing it and it worked for me.  But then things slowly shifted and I moved into writing quieter, darker pieces that might still feature blood and guts but not in the same, gung-ho fashion.  As I’ve got older, as things in my life have changed, I’ve realised that splashing around the claret does work but it also runs the risk of being so OTT that it blands itself out.  I’d much rather give you a character, make you care about them and then hurt them, rather than have a maniac running around with power tools.  I do still enjoy reading it on occasion though.

*  Cosmic horror.  I don’t mind reading it on occasion, but it doesn’t work for me in terms of my own writing and I'm not entirely sure why.  Though, of course, if I did know then it might make this point a bit more interesting.

On rhythm, lyrics not pictured
*  Poetry.  Okay, I nicked this thought from Keith Brooke but the reasons are my own.  I’m a simple soul, sometimes a poem will speak to me, sometimes it won’t.  I have written poetry in the past and, to a piece, it’s a dire waste of time and good paper.
   In my early twenties, I was in a band and wrote the lyrics for all the songs and I loved it but it was a different rhythm and process (and, besides, I haven’t written any lyrics for about fifteen years).
   As a band, we weren't pop and so most of love songs tended to have a fairly dark heart to them.  I wrote one about a car crashing in a snow-storm and, oddly, was the only person in the group who liked it!

Three Things I Do Write About

*  Real people.  Okay, not close enough that you could go to one of my friends and say “hey, weren’t you the second baddie on the left in Mark’s last short story”, but close enough that I get complimented on the believability of my characters and their dialogue.  And that’s always a nice thing to have happen.
   If you write within the speculative genre - and I most assuredly do - then you’re already asking the reader to take a leap of faith with you, so I think it’s essential that you give them real people to go on the journey with.
   Six-foot-seven stud-muffin and male model Sven is striding through the forest when he comes across an opening in the hedge.  When he gazes in with his cobalt blue eyes, his strong jaw clenched, he notices a movement.  Something is coming towards him…. (and who cares?  In real life, who the hell knows someone like Sven?).
   My character would be a normal bloke, about my height, who works in an office or factory, be thinking about his wife or girlfriend or family and he’d be hesitant to peer into the hole, especially when he notices the movement.
   Real people - and, importantly - their realistic dialogue is what grounds the reader and gives them a solid base for the weird stuff you’re going to subject them too later.  Plus, of course, it’s more fun to put the bloke-next-door into peril than someone who escaped from the set of Zoolander.

*  Real fears.  Always.  What scares you is probably going to be scary to the person next to you too and that's a recipe that never gets old for a horror writer.  Whilst I have employed genre tropes before - a vampire on a couple of occasions (both in black comedies), a werewolf (which was great fun to write) and a witch (in Conjure) - mostly I focus on what makes us tick as human beings and what it is about our fragile lives and bodies that can be completely and utterly terrifying.  Even worse, I write about what would happen if what we loved and needed was taken away from us (as I did with The Mill - and getting emails from readers saying that it made them cry was lovely, in an odd sort of way).

*  Real places.  Virtually every one of my stories - be they shorts, novellas or novels - takes place in and around the environs of Gaffney, my fictional town set in the heart of Northamptonshire.  I used to set my stuff in local places I knew and understood but then it occurred to me that I might, have a villain called Mr Smith who lives in Acacia Avenue and is having an affair with his brothers wife and then receive a snotty letter from him asking how I knew all about his life.
   Following the lead of Stephen King, I decided to create my own town (I wish I could remember where I got the name from, though I know it wasn't from the 'actor') and have used it ever since.  A curious amalgamation of Rothwell, Kettering, Northampton and Leicester, over the years it’s grown somewhat (What Gets Left Behind, my Spectral Press chapbook, added a railway line to the town) but there’s always a bandstand on the common and the old cinema is always on Russell Street.

My nominations are romance writer Sue Fortin and horror hounds Stephen Bacon and Stuart Young.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

I (am on) The Jury

It's just been announced on the BFS feed, so I thought I'd let you know that I've been asked to serve on the jury for the British Fantasy Society Awards 2014 in the category of Best Horror Novel (the August Derleth Award).

Armand Assante reading in a quiet moment of "I, The Jury" (see what I did there?), a brilliant and brutal 1982 adaption of Mickey Spillane's novel.  I'm having to explain this so much that I'm beginning to wonder if this post has the right title...
I was thrilled to be asked, obviously and more so when I discovered my fellow judges are Cate Gardner,
Jim McLeod, Pauline Morgan and Thana Niveau.

From the release:
The juries for the British Fantasy Awards are appointed by the Awards Administrator (Stephen Theaker) under the supervision of the British Fantasy Society committee. The BFS committee itself is the jury for the Special Award (the Karl Edward Wagner Award).

The juries have begun the process of deciding whether to add any egregious omissions to the nominees decided by the voters of the British Fantasy Society and FantasyCon. We hope to announce the resulting shortlists at the British Fantasy Society Open Night on 6 June 2014.

As soon as I can announce the shortlist I'll do so, but in the interests of fairness I won't be posting reviews of the nominated books before the awards are announced.  In the meantime, the full list of jurors can be found at this link on the BFS site.

Monday 12 May 2014

The Mystery Of The Moaning Cave, by William Arden

Since 2014 marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Three Investigators being published, I thought it’d be enjoyable to re-read and compile my Top 10 (which might be subject to change in years to come, of course).  I previously read all 30 of the original series from 2008 to 2010 (a reading and reviewing odyssey that I blogged here), but this time I will concentrate on my favourite books and try to whittle the best ten from that.

So here we go.
Collins Hardback First Edition (printed between 1969 and 1971), cover art by Roger Hall
Whirling around, The Three Investigators stood transfixed as a great black horse galloped towards them, its rider hidden by a black scarf and sombrero.  Suddenly there was a glint of metal - and the boys saw that the cowboy’s gun was aimed straight at them…

When eerie noises are heard coming from lonely Devil Mountain, rumour blames the ghost of long-dead bandit El Diablo.  Jupiter, Pete and Bob are sure there must be another explanation - until they realise that the legendary horseman really does ride again!

This internal illustration by Roger Hall
only appeared in the hardback editions
Pete has gone for a two-week vacation at the Crooked-Y ranch, as a guest of the owners Mr and Mrs Dalton.  Jess Dalton was a famous rodeo rider who’d worked with Mr Crenshaw on several Western films.  But there’s trouble, as a local cave - thought to be the resting place of famed bandit El Diablo - has started moaning again after being silent for fifty years.  Quickly joined by Jupiter and Bob, The Three Investigators need to figure out where the moaning is coming from and if El Diablo has really come back to life, whilst also trying to understand how two old prospectors and a man with an eye patch fit into the mystery.

This is the first Three Investigator mystery not written by Robert Arthur - though he tends to get the credit in the paperbacks I’ve seen - but was actually the first book in the series by William Arden (the pseudonym of crime writer Dennis Lynds).  It’s clearly in good hands though as the story is well written, clever and full of atmosphere.  Arden makes great use of locations, especially Moaning Valley and its cave network and the sequence set in local town Santa Carla (an invention of Arden’s, though the name was re-used in “The Lost Boys” film) is vivid and fun with real historic figures - Father Junípero Serra and John C. Fremont - adding to the authenticity.

The mystery is sound, the boys are well portrayed and have some great moments to shine and the supporting cast of misfits, cowboys and academics all weave together well.  Great fun and with a terrific pace, this is a cracking read that I’d highly recommend.

Collins Hardback Second Edition (printed between 1973 and 1979), cover art by Roger Hall

left - Armada format a paperback, printed between 1972 and 1979, cover art by Peter Archer
right - Armada format b paperback, printed between 1981 and 1983, cover art by Peter Archer

The internal illustrations for the UK edition were drawn by Roger Hall.

Thanks to Ian Regan for the artwork (you can see more at his excellent Cover Art database here)

Friday 9 May 2014

Interview with Jane Isaac

Jane Isaac is a new voice in crime literature (to me, at least) and I first met her last year at a dinner with the Corby Writers group I occasionally go to.  I read her new novel, "The Truth Will Out" this week and really enjoyed it so here's a little interview I did with Jane, plus my review of her book.

MW:  So, tell us a little about yourself.

JI:   I am a working mum who lives in rural Northamptonshire, UK with my husband, daughter and dog, Bollo.

My first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, was released by Rainstorm Press in February 2012 and was very fortunate to be nominated as best mystery in the 'eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013'. The Truth Will Out is the second in the DCI Helen Lavery series, although can be read as a standalone novel, and was be released by Legend Press on 1st April 2014.

MW:  What led you into writing and how long have you been doing it?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, although I’ve never thought of it as a career. This changed almost fourteen years ago, when my husband and took a year out to travel the world and kept a daily diary recording our experiences. On our return I found that the photos we took drew on memories, but it was reading the diary that transported me back to the sweet smell of Kuala Lumpur, to hear the of street music of Bangkok, feel the thick heat that pervades the wonderfully clean Singapore, see the red earth of Australia. Realising the power of words, it was this diary that prompted me to study creative writing, first at The Writers Bureau and later with the London School of Journalism.

I wrote a few short stories and in 2008 I decided to embark on my first novel.

MW:   “The Truth Will Out” is the second DCI Helen Lavery novel, are you planning a series?

JI:   Yes, I have an outline and an opening for a third. I love working with Helen and feel that she certainly has a lot more to offer.

MW:   I’ve seen the book described as a psychological thriller but I would also argue that it’s a police procedural, what’s your feeling on it?

JI:   I describe my novels as psychological thriller/police procedural crossovers. I’ve always been fascinated by people and what happens when ordinary people face extraordinary circumstances. With this in mind, I decided very early on that I wanted to write part of the story through the eyes of a victim involved in the case, and the police investigation through the eyes of DCI Helen Lavery.

MW:   How much research was involved in the novel?

JI:   Tons! I would never claim for my novels to be entirely procedurally correct, but it’s not for the want of trying. I love the research aspect; it’s been great to meet and spend time with so many interesting people that I probably wouldn’t have got to know otherwise, many of which I’m honoured to now be able to call friends.

MW:   The novel has a great pace, do you find it comfortable to write at that length or do you also write short stories/novellas?

JI:   I have written several short stories, but when I’m mid-project I tend to immerse myself in the novel that I’m writing. That said I generally write in scenes and often write out of order and slot them all together later. Before I was half way through my current work in progress, I’d already written the denouement chapter.

MW:   Do you read widely in the crime genre?  For someone just starting out, what would you suggest they read?

JI:   I try to read as widely as possible, but crime is really my comfort read. I like Peter James and Jeffery Deaver for police procedurals and also aim to try out new writers, or authors I haven’t read before, on a regular basis. Recent such reads have included Alex by Pierre Lemaitre and The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald.

MW:   I liked your invented town and county of Hampton (especially since I live in the real one), what made you decide to do that and how much of what we read is real?

JI:   I decided to base my novels in a fictional place based on Northampton so that I didn’t have to stick to the exact layout of the town. However, I was amazed at how many local readers recognised landmarks in the first novel, such as the Brampton Valley Way, even though I’d called them different names. I like to visit the location of scenes to smell the air, touch the stone, take in the scenery before I write so I guess there is an awful lot of the real Northampton in the book, even if I have re-named some places.

MW:   Are you happy with the way the novel turned out and the reception it has received?

JI:   I’m delighted with the finished product and incredibly thankful to Legend Press who worked very hard to make it look so classy. I’ve also been extremely lucky with the wonderful reviews I’ve had so far and am so grateful to all the readers who’ve given it a go, especially those who’ve taken the trouble to send emails, comments and tweets to tell me how much they enjoyed.

MW:   So what’s next from you?

JI:   I’m currently reviewing the first draft of my latest work in progress, a crime thriller based in the very real Stratford upon Avon. I had to undertake lots of research field visits to Stratford whilst I was writing the novel which I enjoyed immensely!

MW:  Thanks very much for your time, Jane.

JI:   Thanks so much, Mark, I really enjoyed answering your questions!

“Everything’s going to be okay.”
“What if it’s not?”
Suddenly, she turned. For a split second she halted, her head inclined.
“Naomi, what is it?”
She whisked back to face Eva. “There’s somebody in the house... ”

Eva is horrified when she witnesses an attack on her best friend. She calls an ambulance and forces herself to flee Hampton, fearing for her own safety. DCI Helen Lavery leads the investigation into the murder. With no leads, no further witnesses and no sign of forced entry, the murder enquiry begins.

 Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. But as Helen inches towards solving the case, her past becomes caught up in her present.

 Someone is after them both. Someone who will stop at nothing to get what they want. And as the net starts to close around them, can Helen escape her own demons as well as helping Eva to escape hers? 

[Naomi] whisked back to face Eva.  “There's somebody in the house...”

With this shock opener, the book hits the ground running and barely lets up as, horrified by what she’s seen, Eva Carradine flees to Scotland - after calling an ambulance - fearing for her own safety.  The murder investigation is led by DCI Helen Lavery, though it’s quickly taken out of her hands by the Midlands Organised Crime Team (MOTC), led by her former lover DI Dean Fitzpatrick.  As suspects are bumped off, it becomes a race against time for Helen to establish what happened and help protect Eva.

The second book to feature Lavery (I haven’t read the first but they seem to stand alone), this is well written and plausible, taking the time to build the relationships between the characters as they investigate the case, with each clue being hard fought for.  I liked DCI Lavery a lot, a resourceful, strong, flawed and complicated widowed mother to two teen boys, who manages to juggle family life and a tough job in a believable way.  Succumbing to the charms of her ex-lover, whilst dealing with her eldest sons own forays into carnal knowledge, adds another dimension to her and Isaac handles the character superbly well.  In fact, characterisation is a strong suit of the book across the board (especially Chilli Franks, the local crime boss who has a long-standing with the Lavery family) though it took me a while to warm to Eva, who effectively leaves her friend in the lurch even after she’s witnessed the attack.  Set in a Hamptonshire (a barely disguised Northamptonshire) but taking in locations across the Midlands and Scottish Highlands, this does well to create a sense of place and the town is well used, especially the rabbit warren.

The book has a good pace and a tight central mystery with a couple of nice twists and turns.  A smart mix of police procedural and psychological thriller, this works very well though I felt that a bit too much of the action in the climax took place ‘off-stage’.  Having said that, I’m very much looking forward to reading more of DCI Lavery’s adventures and would highly recommend this.

The book is available from all good bookshops and from Amazon on this link

Jane's website can be found at this link and she's also on Twitter here