Spotlight on Holly Seddon- character study.

 

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All this week there will be a series of blog posts about Holly Seddon’s novel Try Not to Breathe. Today I am delighted to welcome to my blog Liz Barnsley asking Holly about her characters.

Holly Seddon – Character Questions.

Meet Amy – tell us a little about building Amy as a character. She is telling us her story from a very different place to the others. How did you make that work, giving her a voice?

Amy is at the heart of Try Not to Breathe’s story. She’s a victim, a hero and in some ways the narrator. Throw in the fact that she’s unconscious for most of the book, it was a challenge!
Luckily I could see Amy so clearly in my mind. Everything about her from the way she looked, spoke and dressed to her inspirations, her ambitions, the things she was passionate about and the things that drove her mad. She was fifteen in 1995, like me, and culturally we had similar backgrounds and interests but she is a braver girl than I was, someone with whom I’d have loved to be friends.

And Alex? What made you decide to give her the problems you did, tell us a little about how you built her personality – and talk a little about tying the two together within the narrative.

Because the story started with Amy, the Alex role started from a practical point of view – I needed someone to find Amy and become interested in her story. It made sense for that to be someone naturally curious – a journalist – and someone with some of the skills needed to start investigating.
But why would such a competent and experienced journalist be covering local news stories and living in a small town? From there, her challenges appeared. I hadn’t planned what they would be, but as I started writing her more, it became clear to me.
Alex is challenged but she’s not useless, that was very important to me. She has the skills – deep down – to help Amy and get her justice, but she also has a lot of layers of rot getting in the way.
Alex has lost everything, but unlike Amy’s broken life, her losses come from her own actions. Alex is also stuck in a very deep rut. But unlike Amy, it’s down to her alone to drag herself out. And until she meets Amy, she has no reason to try.
The two women have other similarities too: the same age, growing up in similar towns, same aspirations. Alex achieved hers and then threw them away while Amy never got the chance to try. Alex feels a debt to Amy for that reason.

In between these two is Jacob – struggling to move on in a world without Amy. Talk a little about his motivations and personality. How you fit him into the wider picture…

Ah yes, Jacob. My only male point of view! Without giving anything away, Jacob is connected to Amy in a deep way but it’s an anachronism, out of time, he’s not supposed to be connected to her at all, not any more. So although he is fundamentally good and honest, he has to behave in dishonest and devious ways. And because he’s not a fundamentally dishonest and devious person, he makes a pig’s ear of it.
When I was first inspired to write a story about patients like Amy, it was in part because I was moved to tears by stories of the loved ones left behind. Unable to grieve because there’d been no death, but living with a huge loss all the same. That experience deserved space in the story.

How do you come to your characters generally speaking – is it the basic premise for the story first, then the characters appear? Or do you tend to get a strong sense of “somebody” then build a narrative around them?

Generally I have the rough idea of the story, or the nub of it, but before I get into any intricate plotting, the characters come into play. I can’t plot anyone’s actions (and most stories are driven by characters’ actions) without knowing who those characters are and why they might do the things that they do.
Amy was the first character who ‘came to me’, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious! Her condition – persistent vegetative state as it was called at the time – was the spark of inspiration behind the story, but as I imagined her life and the people in it, the other characters bubbled to the surface. That’s not to say they all stayed prominent or even made the final cut, but it all started with Amy.
Sometimes I make notes on the characters, other times I build Pinterest boards and Spotify playlists but honestly, I soon abandon all of this because they live so vividly in my head. It means I’m not quite ‘there’ in my real life because there’s an intricate competing world in my imagination, I’m probably not fun to be around when I’m in the thick of a work in progress, but it’s the only way I can do it! These people have to be real to me, so they can – hopefully – be real to readers.

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With thanks to Liz and Holly for their time. You can see my review here

You will be able to read more on Christine’s blog tomorrow

Blackwater by James Henry.

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About the book

January 1983, Colchester CID

A new year brings new resolutions for Detective Inspector Nicholas Lowry. With one eye on his approaching fortieth birthday, he has given up his two greatest vices: smoking, and the police boxing team. As a result, the largest remaining threat to his health is now his junior colleague’s reckless driving.

If Detective Constable Daniel Kenton’s orange sports convertible is symbolic of his fast track through the ranks, then his accompanying swagger, foppish hairstyle and university education only augment his uniqueness in the department. Yet regardless of this, it is not DC Kenton who is turning station heads.

WPC Jane Gabriel is the newest police recruit in Britain’s oldest recorded town. Despite a familial tie to top brass, Gabriel’s striking beauty and profound youth have landed her with two obstacles: a young male colleague who gives her too much attention, and an older one who acts like she’s not there.

January 1983, Blackwater Estuary

A new year brings a new danger to the Essex shoreline. An illicit shipment, bound for Colchester – 100 kilograms of powder that will frantically accelerate tensions in the historic town, and leave its own murderous trace.

Lowry, Kenton and Gabriel must now develop a tolerance to one another, and show their own substance, to save Britain’s oldest settlement from a new, unsettling enemy.

My Review

I had never read any books by James Henry before reading Blackwater. I’m sometimes slightly dubious when starting a new series but I didn’t need to have any concerns, I think that the series will be good.
Its slightly different. For one, its set in the 1980s. The army feature heavily and there are a few references to the Falklands War ‘last year’. The music and fashion are obviously different and there is no modern technology such as computers used in policing.
The main character is Lowry, he is trying to give up smoking and boxing much to his superior officer Sparks disgust. He also has problems in his marriage, while the reader is aware of this he isn’t. I think it will take time to get to know Lowry, he’s more distant than some other fictional detectives but I liked him. Sparks is an old school detective, politically incorrect in just about everything and it doesn’t even occur to him that he might cause offence. He also wouldn’t think twice about using his fists. I loved the parts where he featured.
The other two officers are Kenton, a pretty boy who has a lot to prove to the uniformed police and WPC Gabriel, an ex-model who became disillusioned with her former career and had family connections within the force.
The case itself is nothing new but obviously being set in 1983 the policing methods are different. The army being involved also gave a different slant. Both approached the situation differently, and each thought the other was crossing boundaries. It was good to read and it was a change to read a novel that wasn’t solved by science and technology.
With thanks to Real Readers for the copy received.

When the Music’s Over by Peter Robinson.

 

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All this week there have been a series of blog posts discussing the work of Peter Robinson and today I am delighted to feature him on my blog answering a couple of questions about his latest novel in the Inspector Banks series followed by my own review.

Day Four

A Modern World

The events in When The Music’s Over reflect recent celebrity scandals, I am sure most readers will be aware of Operation Yewtree. Is researching and writing about topics which may make readers uncomfortable an unwelcome challenge?

It’s not unwelcome, but it is a challenge, and it can be uncomfortable. Both subjects in the book, grooming and historic abuse, are so complex and controversial that it can be very difficult to stay on track and remain honest. That to me is the main thing, to illuminate honestly many of the complexities and ambiguities as possible, while being careful not to be exploitative towards the victims.

How do you decide which dastardly deeds will feature in the next novel? Is there a pressure to make the crimes more grand/lavish/despicable with each new book?

No, I don’t feel any pressure to make the crimes more dastardly. If they are, it may be reflection of the fact that the world is becoming more dastardly, but I don’t think so. It’s not so much the sordid or gruesome aspects crime itself that grabs my attention as the psychology of the characters and their relationships. Sometimes the crimes are shocking in their details, and I do believe it’s important not to fudge that aspect. But there can be a thin line between realism and gratuitousness in crime fiction.

About the book

While DI Annie Cabbot investigates the circumstances in which a 14-year-old could possibly fall victim to such a crime, newly promoted Detective Superintendent Alan Banks is faced with a similar task – but the case Banks must investigate is as cold as they come.

Fifty years ago Linda Palmer was attacked by celebrity entertainer Danny Caxton, yet no investigation ever took place. Now Caxton stands accused at the centre of a historical abuse investigation and it’s Banks’s first task as superintendent to find out the truth.

While Annie struggles with a controversial case threatening to cause uproar in the local community, Banks must piece together decades-old evidence, and as each steps closer to uncovering the truth, they’ll unearth secrets much darker than they ever could have guessed…

My Review

I have enjoyed reading and watching on TV the Inspector Banks series for a few years now so jumped at the chance to read an advance copy of the latest book. I have missed a few of them but it hasn’t really mattered, even though the character’s personal lives are ongoing the book could easily be read as a stand alone novel.
There are two cases that Banks is involved in. Both are investigations that appear far too often in our news. One is a cold case, a celebrity accused of rape and the other is child sex grooming. Neither were easy to read but both were very well written and made very compelling reading. Banks was mainly involved with the investigation into the celebrity who was one of the most convincingly obnoxious characters that I have come across. I can only admire an author who can create such a despicable character. The other is being handled by Annie Cabbot, and a new DC Gerry. Banks has to get involved to smooth over ruffled feathers. The police in the area concerned don’t appreciate having two women from another force on their patch.
It’s very modern, the first crime novel I have read that features a historical sex case alongside modern day sex abuse and murder. Some may not appreciate its storyline, I don’t think it will be for everybody but I really liked it. Its gritty, topical, and thought provoking. There were twists, not everything was how I assumed it to be. It’s one that I will read again, I will probably appreciate the writing even more on a second read.
With thanks to Hodder for the copy received.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware.

 

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This was meant to be the perfect trip.

The Northern Lights. A luxury press launch on a boutique cruise ship.

A chance for travel journalist Lo Blacklock to recover from a traumatic break-in that has left her on the verge of collapse, and to work out what she wants from her relationship.

Except things don’t go as planned.

Woken in the night by screams, Lo rushes to her window to see a body thrown overboard from the next door cabin. But the records show that no-one ever checked into that cabin, and no passengers are missing from the boat.

Exhausted, emotional and increasingly desperate, Lo has to face the fact that she may have made a terrible mistake. Or she is trapped on a boat with a murderer – and she is the sole witness…
My Review:
Having loved Ruth Ware’s debut novel In a Dark, Dark Wood last year I was looking forward to her latest book. A stand-alone it features a young travel journalist Lo who is excited to be given the chance to report on a new cruise. She has had a few problems, had a break in that left her injured and suffers from anxiety.
There were only a few people on the ship, all of them were on board to publicise the cruise and she was eager to make a good impression. She is nervous, feeling claustrophobic and has quite a bit to drink. When she finally gets back to her cabin she hears a disturbance from the cabin next door and sees what she thinks is a body being thrown into the sea. She reports it to security and is told that she must be mistaken because the cabin is unoccupied.
The level of claustrophobia was quite high and I found it to be a little intimidating. I felt the same tension as Lo when she was walking through the ship. There was also a feeling of isolation, being out at sea with no way of making contact with anybody who wasn’t on board.
I thought that Lo was a great character, she had her faults but refused to back down to the ones who didn’t take her seriously. There were a few parts that I really admired her for how she coped with what she experienced. There were also parts that didn’t really work for me but I still did enjoy the book a lot. It has convinced me not to go on a cruise though.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy via NetGalley.

All Things Cease To Appear by Elizabeth Brundage.

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Upstate New York, 1980s

The farm stood at the foot of the hill. Around it, an aching emptiness of fields and wind. Within, a weight, a sense of being occupied, with more than its inhabitants.

The Clares got it cheap. George knew why, though he didn’t let on ­- he didn’t want to give Catherine any excuses. He’d given her an easy excuse to get married. He wasn’t prepared to give away much more.

Catherine, at home with their young daughter, has the feeling they’re not alone. She is helped by the Hale boys, young Cole and his brothers. Though they never tell her what happened to their mother in this house.

As the seasons burn and then bite, the Clares will find their place in this small upstate community. George, the inscrutable professor; his beautiful, brittle wife. He will try to tame the hollow need inside him. She will pull strength from the friends she makes. But as their marriage splinters, so too does the border between sanity and rage; between this world, and the inexplicable beyond.

With masterful tension and understanding of human nature, Elizabeth Brundage has crafted a novel that is at once a community’s landscape spanning twenty years and an intimate portrait of a disturbed mind. This is new American fiction at its most piercing, ambitious and chilling.

My Review:
I had expected this novel to be everything I enjoy in a novel, a combination of crime, history and ghost but ended up being a little disappointed. It started well, discovering what happened to the Hale family and then moving abruptly to the murder of Catherine Clare. It then covers the years that they spent together, starting from when they first met and finishing with her murder.
Unfortunately, most of this was slow going and it was only in the last third of the novel where I felt the need to read a little bit more. It was here that you started to realise exactly what type of person George was, self-obsessed, cruel and controlling. I could only admire Catherine for the way she tried to stand up to him.
The last part of the novel was mainly about the detective still haunted by the case twenty years later. I felt this part of the novel didn’t connect properly to the rest of it. Franny reappears, now an adult with no clear memories of her mother. I would have liked to get to know her more but she only had a fairly small role and I felt slightly unconvinced by her. Despite my misgivings about the actual story I liked the way it was written. I found it beautiful, atmospheric and the isolation was very convincing.
With thanks to Real Readers for the copy received.