Did you know? THE WOUNDED SNAKE by Fay Sampson

9780727889300_FCHilary Masters and Veronica Taylor are hoping to find inspiration at a weekend-long crime writing masterclass. However, when the guest of honour suddenly falls ill that evening, it triggers a series of sinister incidents which draw Hilary and Veronica into a real-life murder mystery. Can they separate fact from fiction to solve a deadly puzzle?

 

 

Each novel in Fay Sampson’s new West Country mystery series is inspired by a different ancient site. Find out what mysterious location inspired THE WOUNDED SNAKE below . . .

I love to visit places connected to our ancient past. In the course of this I have visited a great many sacred wells. Almost all are named after saints. Totnes, in Devon, is different and intriguing. Three narrow lanes converge on the three Leechwells (healing wells). Three separate springs pour into three rectangular basins within a larger hollow. Their names are not saints, but the Toad, the Snake and the Long Crippler. The latter is a local name for a slowworm.

This is an out of the way part of Totnes, hidden away behind the busy main street. It’s not the sort of place you would find accidentally. It has a secretive air.

There is a tradition that these narrow high-walled lanes leading to it are the paths that lepers would take from their hospital on the outskirts of the town to the parish church. But this dates only from the nineteenth century. The hospital would have held services in its own church.

All the same, these wells have an air of mystery and a shiver-in-the-spine sense of otherness. Perfect for a detective novel.

THE WOUNDED SNAKE is available from 28 Feb in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Read more here.

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Inspired by the North: THE MAUSOLEUM by David Mark

 

mausoleum

1967. Grieving the loss of her son, Cordelia Hemlock seeks out the company of the dead, taking comfort in the local churchyard. During a storm, she sees a corpse that doesn’t belong among the crumbling bones. Cordelia begins to investigate, but there are those who believe the village’s secrets should remain buried . . . whatever the cost.

How did David Mark’s family and early years in northern England inspire the characters and setting for his exciting and compelling new thriller, THE MAUSOLEUM? David gives us a fascinating insight into his childhood below.

 

My family, on my father’s side, are from a market town called Brampton, nine miles from Carlisle. When I was a kid I used to go through to see my grandparents at least once a week and invariably we would go for walks in the local woods or up to the ruins of the Roman wall. It was all rope swings and den-building and mucky-kneed fun; the memories tasting of toffees, conkers and flak tea. My grandad might have looked like a taciturn and grumpy old sod, but he was a great storyteller and had a gift for bringing the landscape to life with yarns about battles fought on the very ground we were trudging over and speculating about the grisly things one would find if we could just lift the ground up like a blanket. Swords. Treasure. Bodies . . .

I’ve always written books set in East Yorkshire and have been reluctant to try and bring the landscape of my childhood to life for fear of doing it wrong, or being unable to capture the proper spirit of a place that resonates both within me and without. I eventually chose to write the book that became The Mausoleum because if something scares me, I force myself to attack it head on. To find the two narrative voices I actually imagined rather more extreme versions of my own grandmothers. My mum’s mum was a southerner who was always a bit cleverer and more worldly wise than the rest of us. She became Cordelia, although Cordelia is a lot less batty than my nana, Milly, who loved to butcher the language wherever possible, and who, to the best of my knowledge, never sought a multiple murderer.

Felicity is heavily influenced by my dad’s mum, Phyllis. She grew up in Brampton, married a local man, and never left. She died without having ever been abroad, driven a car or eaten a lasagne. She was brilliant. Lovely, a bit neurotic and very funny. She once told me how, as a young woman, she had been on her way to visit the chap who would become my grandad when she encountered a group of Prisoners of War, out mending a wall for a local farmer before heading back to the PoW camp. She said she was terrified, as if she had just seen a group of demons. ‘They were so polite,’ she said. ‘And they looked just like us.’ That stuck with me, and definitely helped set the tone for the book.

Throw in the fact that the local airfield was where the UK Government ran its space programme, the fact that the whole area is cut in two by the Northumberland border and then folded again around the Roman wall, and chuck in a convalescent home for soldiers that became an evacuation station for Newcastle’s pregnant women, and you’ve got quite the setting for a story of friendship, intrigue, spies and mysterious vanishing bodies.

THE MAUSOLEUM by David Mark is available from 28 February in the UK and 1 June in the US. Read more here.

 

Behind the book: THE WOMAN WHO SPOKE TO SPIRITS by Alys Clare

9780727888686_FCAccounts clerk Ernest Stibbins approaches the World’s End investigation bureau claiming his wife Albertina has been warned by her spirit guides that someone is out to harm her. Lily Raynor is initially sceptical, but after attending a séance she realizes Albertina is in terrible danger . . . but how do you investigate threats from beyond the grave?

 

 

THE WOMAN WHO SPOKE TO SPIRITS is the first book in the brand-new World’s End Bureau Victorian mystery series and introduces private investigators Lily Raynor and Felix Wilbraham. Alys Clare explains her inspiration for this new series . . .

Having written series set in earlier times, the late Victorians seem incredibly modern. So many aspects of society were in the process of change in the 1880s: the education of women and their position in society; medicine; forensics; the investigation and prevention of crime.

I wanted both my lead characters to have a Past. Long before beginning to write The Woman who Spoke to Spirits, I mapped out Lily’s family history,  back to an antecedent named Rachel Dakin (1678-1768) who was a herbalist and healer of Sussex. She lived in the area inhabited by her ancestors, the deeply-forested and gently-folding hills and valleys of the land between the north and south downs . . . the Great Wealden Forest. Writers of fiction can do pretty much what they like, certainly in the early stages of creating a work, so I decided that Rachel Dakin was descended from Meggie, Joanna and Josse d’Acquin in the Hawkenlye Series and that Dakin was a corruption of d’Acquin.

Seances were extremely popular in Victorian England, the intense interest in the dead, and what happened on the other side, no doubt influenced by Queen Victoria’s long and obsessive grief for Prince Albert. While not wishing to disrespect the beliefs of others, I’m with Tamáz, a character in the novel, on messages from the dead. His concept of a sort of telepathy between people who are very close to each other is based on an experience I shared with my elder son. I was out walking one day, thinking about nothing in particular and my mind freewheeling, when I remembered a friend who wrote a play in which the word agape was used, in the sense of charity, love, and, later, a meal or a feast. When I got home and checked my phone, there was a text from my son asking the meaning of the word agape.

THE WOMAN WHO SPOKE TO SPIRITS is available from 28 Feb in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Read more here.

Love is Not Loving: Luke’s notes on love

Valentine's tree

 

Happy Valentine’s Day! In celebration of the fourteenth of February, Severn House’s Luke reflects on the feeling called love in its many guises.

What is there to say about love that hasn’t already been said? Much more, I would have thought. It is, some might say, an inexhaustible source of inspiration; a source so rich it cannot be counted; and so lofty, it cannot be courted by anything but lovers feathered by the wings of chance. Indeed, the only thing it seems to exhaust is any effort pointed at resolving the sharp riddle it stands to symbolise: the riddle of the human heart.

To have an answer would be a lie; and an immediate distrust of those claiming to do so is perhaps wise to develop. There is no such thing. Love is not answered, it is experienced. It is felt; and felt hard. It courses through one’s flesh as if one’s very blood had been replenished with a foreign, glittery substance; at once pleasant, and at once piercing. It floods one’s senses with an overflow of life, and cascades deep into the well of one’s being. It swirls around one’s mind as if to be cleansing it, and echoes forgotten imaginings swallowed by the cavern of time. With it, the stars shine brighter; the sky’s blue appears a little lighter; and the faces that were once etched in misery, radiate sublime, placating looks, alleviating the burden of the day with the Herculean profundity of hope.

Its manifestation is an all encompassing enigma, just as Giaconda’s smile wryly mocks those who rest their gaze intently upon her, in vein (and vain) attempts, at unravelling her secret – so too, does love. Indeed, if it were to be given a face, hers it might well be. But, love being so often associated with thoughts light, delicate, and airy, (it is, perhaps, no coincidence that St. Valentine’s Day was conceived during what was once spring time), the harsh reality it may reflect often balks at the very idea.

That little feeling called love, then, takes on many guises. There is love. There is being in love. And there is loving. Each bear a significant distinction; but are almost impossible to imagine as separate to one another entirely. Just like it is in the films, so too we imagine it can be in reality. And who’s to say? There are many things far more unlikely. Either way, the piano of life continues to play, with nobody there to perform but the ghost of possibility, the delicate concerto of past, present and future, tracing the keys like the fecund soil of the transcendent, tilled and toiled by many a dreamer’s blistered hand, as what we imagine to be the final note, continues to softly resound throughout the engulfing silence.

Read more from Luke here.

Love is in the air . . .

Looking to lose yourself in a classic romance novel this Valentines Day? Check out some of our recent titles below, all from veterans of the genre.

More information available by clicking on the titles.


9780727888549Duncan‘s Bride

When Reese Duncan is looking for a new wife after his first took half of his wealth, he places an advert for one willing and able to work on his ranch. The plain-spoken New Yorker Madelyn Patterson arrives and seems perfect. She’s willing to work and bear children, but also wants love, and that is a price Duncan feels he can’t give.


9780727888419The Name of the Game

TV producer Johanna Patterson has worked hard to make a name for herself in a man’s world. She’s tough, self-sufficient and isn’t about to be impressed by a man like actor Sam Weaver, whose good looks have propelled him to movie stardom. The problem is that Sam has an uncanny way of making her lose her self-control . . .


9780727888297Fulfillment

Diandra Casey and Gregory York are childhood rivals and longtime adversaries, both vying for the same powerful position at one of the country’s most elite department stores. In order to determine who is best suited for the job, the two are confined together for a week in an elegant Boston town house, where they must catalogue and store a priceless collection of antiques. But away from the pressures of corporate life, their feelings for each other suddenly seem less clear as attraction flares between them . . . surprising them with a sense of destiny that they are powerless to resist.


9780727888259_FCFair Juno

When the Earl of Merton finds himself playing knight in shining armor to a damsel in distress, he knows his days as a notorious rake are numbered. But though the lady seems grateful for his help, she flees without giving her name. Past scandals and present dangers threaten his pursuit of the mysterious lady, but he knows she is to be his destiny.


9780727888013Chances Are

Unconventional Veronique Delacroix enjoyed nothing more than shocking New Orleans society. A gambler by nature, she can’t say no when a challenge comes from Brandon Rhodes, heir to one of the biggest business empires in the country. But when Veronique accepts his dare, she finds herself linked to this man by an act of deceit that occurred many years before – a wrong that when made right, will become a double-edged sword.


9780727887849The Treacherous Heart

Anne Symons has a good job in a solicitor’s office and a kind, reliable boyfriend, Joe. But when enigmatic, sophisticated Michael Conrad arrives in their sleepy Dorset town, Anne suddenly feels something was missing from her life. Should she risk a safe future with loyal Joe for the dangerous allure of this fascinating stranger?

 

 

Behind the Book: THE WOUNDED SNAKE by Fay Sampson

9780727889300_FCHilary Masters and Veronica Taylor are hoping to find inspiration at a weekend-long crime writing masterclass. However, when the guest of honour suddenly falls ill that evening, it triggers a series of sinister incidents which draw Hilary and Veronica into a real-life murder mystery. Can they separate fact from fiction to solve a deadly puzzle?

 

 

THE WOUNDED SNAKE is the second novel in Fay Sampson’s new mystery series set in the West Country. She explains how each novel in the series is inspired by a different historic location . . .

I’m a keen family historian. Since half my family are from Devon, where I live, this has involved me in finding a great deal more about the local history.

I find crime novels which are only about the crime unsatisfying. What I enjoy are novels where the author brings their own specialist knowledge and enthusiasm to enrich the book. Tony Hillerman’s crime novels contain a great deal of fascinating information about Navajo sacred beliefs and customs. I like my own crime novels to have this extra dimension.

With the Suzie Fewings novels, it was genealogy. This was not just about using stories from the past I had discovered in my research, but the adventures incurred in the research itself.

In the West Country Mysteries, that extra dimension is richly evocative places. The series began with The Wounded Thorn, set in and around Glastonbury. The town and its overlooking Tor are rich in history, and fascinating for their vibrant life today. I drew on this, not only as background, but as an integral part of the crime story.

The new book, The Wounded Snake, takes its inspiration from Totnes, again a town steeped in history: its Norman Castle, its sacred Leechwells, its Elizabethan market, and so on. The Leechwells, in particular, dedicated to the Toad, the Snake and the Long Crippler (Slowworm) play a crucial part in the book.

I’ve also taken inspiration from historic buildings in the area: the splendid Dartington Hall, where you can stay in Tudor splendour and attend talks in the Great Hall, Drake’s house of Buckland Abbey, where the ancient religious buildings were converted to a secular home at the Reformation. For the purposes of the novel, I have invented Morland Abbey, which draws on features of both, and other notable houses as well.

I have sent my redoubtable sleuths Hilary and Veronica on a crime-writing weekend at Morland Abbey, but events take a sinister twist that proves more dramatic than their fictions.

THE WOUNDED SNAKE is available from 28 Feb in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Read more here.

Behind the book: A WEB OF SILK by Fiona Buckley

9781780291130_FCAugust, 1582. Ursula is ordered to keep an eye on her new neighbour, Giles Frost, who is rumoured to be spying for King Philip of Spain. But events take a decidedly sinister turn when a body is found in the woods near Ursula’s home. What secrets are contained within Knoll House . . . and is Ursula being lured into a lethal trap?

 

 

A WEB OF SILK is the seventeenth novel to feature Ursula Blanchard, in a series that started back in 1997. Author Fiona Buckley explains why she decided to set a crime series at the Elizabethan court, and how she came up with her main character . . .

URSULA BLANCHARD: HOW DID SHE HAPPEN?

Ursula Blanchard was  created in the late nineties, when I wanted an idea for a new series.  I wanted to start a historical crime series and was drawn to the Elizabethan age, because it is so rich with plots and counterplots.  Reading Elizabethan history makes  one think that in those days, espionage was a national sport, what with merchants riding up and down the land or crossing repeatedly to France with secret messages folded  into their boots . . . it looked fruitful.

So, my first decision was that I would deal with espionage rather than just plain crime. And, just to be different, I decided on a female main character.  In the 16th century she would have extra difficulties, and that made a challenge.  Who could she be?  She would need to know people in high places and perhaps should have access to the royal court.  I wanted Elizabeth herself to appear sometimes;  she’s an interesting character. But why on earth would a court lady become involved in espionage?  For money?  A court lady, then, who is hard up . . . Ursula was beginning to take shape.

I try to vary the plots.  In some, espionage is the start:  in others, because of her growing reputation, she may be asked to undertake a private assignment.  Sometimes she is pursued by events from the past. She keeps trying to settle down to the life of an Elizabethan country lady, but she is always pulled away from it.  New synopses arise quite easily. Sometimes I have ideas that just seem to drift together.  When seeking ideas for A WEB OF SILK, I recalled a visit some years ago to Buckfast Abbey on Dartmoor, which has a spectacular modern stained glass window.  The glaziers had deliberately created flaws in the glass to replicate the way that medieval glass glitters.  I would have stained glass in the next book, I decided.  Then, from somewhere, came the idea of some kind of hangover from the previous book, THE RELUCTANT ASSASSIN. Maybe one of the villains has a vengeful brother . . . and from those little seeds, the story began to grow.  Ursula has grown too.  By now, she almost has a life of her own.

A WEB OF SILK is available from 28 Feb in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Read more here.

#BookExtract: DEVIL’S FJORD by David Hewson

9781780291123_fc

New District Sheriff Tristan Haraldsen is looking forward to a peaceful semi-retirement in the beautiful yet isolated Faroe Islands. But when the suspicious disappearance of two boys leads to the discovery of a series of dark secrets, Haraldsen comes to realize that this may not be the rural paradise he imagined . . .

The stunning beauty of the Faroe Islands provides a dramatic and wild setting for the latest compelling mystery from David Hewson. But it seems that something dangerous, deadly and unimaginably dark lies beneath its breath-stealing surface. Read an extract from the book below!

He was on the roof of their little cottage mowing the thick and umber turf, briar pipe clenched tightly in his teeth, happy and a little lost in his own thoughts, when his wife called from the front porch to say the killings were on the way.

‘Tristan! Grind! Grind! Are your cloth ears listening? All those cars a-tooting in the village! They are here! You must come! Come now, man. Oh what a time to be mowing the roof! What will people think?’

A strong man of fifty five. Not tall, not short. Not fat, not thin. Clean-shaven with a good head of sandy-coloured hair edging towards grey. It went with a friendly, freckled face, pale since Haraldsen was by trade and nature a man for the office, never the country. Eight weeks out of police headquarters in Tórshavn. A civilian latterly responsible for systems, newly-retired on medical grounds – his mild cardiac arrhythmia failed to pass the adjusted health diktats put in place by the government health officer – he had now only the part-time job of District Sheriff for the fishing to occupy a few working hours each week.

‘I do not hear you moving, husband.’

It was a sunny September day. A brisk easterly wind from the Atlantic buffeted Tristan Haraldsen as he went about his work on the shallow turf roof of the cottage. Four fat sheep grazed in the backyard next to a flock of white and brown chickens picking for worms in the grass. Out on the water, framed by the two high cliffs on either side of the fjord, past the line of snag-toothed rocks called the Skerries, a small flotilla of multi-coloured boats dotted the bright horizon. Fishermen often gathered at the mouth of the snaking, narrow inlet to the Atlantic from which Djevulsfjord took its name, searching for cod, haddock, redfish and mackerel, anything they could catch and transport down to the market in Sørvágur for ready cash.

The vessels flocked together, like sharks slyly closing on the prospect of prey. This was the end of summer. The season the pilot whale pods were on the move, coming close to land. He was the District Sheriff. It was time – the first occasion – to earn his keep.

DEVIL’S FJORD is out now in the UK and available from 1 May in the US. Read more here.

A Love of Life and Literature: introducing Luke, our new blog contributor!

Severn House has a new blog contributor – our very own staff member Luke Bradford! Luke will be posting each month, sharing his own insights into literature and the publishing world. Read his first post below! 

Dear reader, welcome to my section of the Severn House blog. I thought it best to keep this first post short and sweet. I can only hope it serves well as an introduction and is found to be at the very least entertaining, if not illuminating.

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.

― James Baldwin

To those who love literature, the magic need not be described. It is known to all who have ventured into the pages of a book, ordinary; and come out with imaginations set aflame, soaked in the effervescent fire of life’s pains and pleasures, dancing in the midst of the shards of a shattering sky, or weeping at the most exuberant of twilit sunsets. Hand in hand with humanity, like a warm embrace with the very same energy that sculpted one’s entire being, one may become, if only for a moment, extraordinary.

The pictures painted on the canvas of one’s mind hold transformative power. They are keys to doors one thought locked, or never even to have existed. They are keys to the depths of the heart and mind. Such are the sentiments a book lover may wish to express, such are the bold truths that act as guiding lights in hours of darkness for many a jaded soul.

But the question may arise, what occurs when one no longer feels inspired to read, when the book no longer is, as Ezra Pound would have it, “a ball of light in one’s hand”? Perhaps, books cannot be the sole source of one’s nourishment, for books are crafted from the delicate silk of life, and without it, the former is in danger of losing all meaning. That is to say, to pursue, and pursue alone can be a dissatisfying lot. The path may be false yet brightly lit; as a fire may be destructive as well as protective. Too much of a good thing may have negative consequences. It is important to acknowledge the raw material that starts the fire cannot be found in the blaze of the flame itself: the destination is not necessarily the path. Life and literature complement each other, and beauty is to be discovered in both, resting at ease in the most obvious and peculiar of places for those who wish to find it.

Man is born to live, not to prepare for life.

— Boris Pasternak

 

 

CURTAIN CALL by Graham Hurley: Introducing Enora Andresson

Curtain Call

 

Actress Enora Andresson has a brain tumour that could kill her, she’s struggling with the wreckage of her marriage and has a strained relationship with her son. When investigative journalist Mitch Culligan appears on her doorstep, asking for her help, she is thrown into danger . . . and must confront her past while facing an uncertain future.

CURTAIN CALL introduces us to a tough and intriguing new heroine – actress Enora Andresson. It’s an interesting departure for author Graham Hurley, but what led to the creation of this strong new female voice and his determination to bring her to readers’ attention?  

As a politics nerd, I’ve followed the Tory party’s obsession with Europe for years.  When David Cameron foolishly offered an In-Out referendum, and Tory navel-gazing warmed into something more interesting, I made it my business to explore the manifestos and funding sources on both sides of the debate.  What I discovered – plus the eventual result – shocked me into pondering fictional ways of putting the seemingly inconceivable on the page.

The above plants the seed.  It’s the summer of 2017. We’re in Normandy for yours truly to address the good folk of Caen on the D-Day anniversary. The theme of mon petit discours?The ups and downs of the Entente quelquefois Cordiale. 

That night, in the hastily called UK election, Jezza nearly unseats Theresa May.  To the Tory government’s astonishment, the prospects for Brexit have suddenly darkened.

Two months later, still in France,  I awake in the middle of the night with a single sentence on my lips. My memory isn’t all it was.  I slip out of bed and grope my way to pen and paper. The neurosurgeon has an affection for metaphor. Present tense. Female voice.  Hours later, conscious again, I re-read the sentence and know that I’d found the key to an important fictional door.

In a thirty-six-book writing career, I’ve adopted the voice of a female protagonist on a number of occasions and have always found it oddly liberating (see Thunder in the Blood, Nocturne, and Permissible Limits). I try and tell my wife not to be alarmed – the gender re-assignment classes are going really well – but the female voice on the page seems to offer fictional freedoms denied the male characters I write. And so it proves.

That morning, sitting in the bright Touraine sunshine, I ponder where that opening sentence might lead.  Whose lips might have shaped it.  Why, in the first place, she’d ever have the need to consult a neurosurgeon.  And what surprises her life, to date, might have held.  By nightfall, I’m on speaking terms with actress Enora Andressen. And by the end of that week we’re enjoying a relationship of some intimacy . . . and a great deal of trust.

The book takes less than a month to write. It’s a joy to accompany Enora on her journey and – more importantly – every word on the page feels both fresh and true.  This isn’t as common for a writer as you might imagine but my pride on giving Enora a voice is matched only by my determination to get her published.

This isn’t as simple as you might imagine. Agents, publishers, libraries, bookshops – all the key players who bring the writer to the marketplace – prefer scribes who behave themselves, who chose a genre and stick to it, who – in short – know their assigned place on the bookshelf.

For my part, I started by writing so-called international thrillers.  These were big, fat one-off airport books, your fave holiday read, each new title scored for a different set of characters.  Then came sixteen cri-fis, or perhaps police procedurals, a long series of gritty books set in Portsmouth with recurring characters that attempted to grapple with a society in free-fall.  After that, a very different series of novels set in World War Two, loosely linked in terms of character and treatment, under the rubric The Wars Within. Very different to the Pompey books but a huge pleasure to research and write.

Maybe you begin to get the picture here . . . yours truly periodically straying off the reservation, twice hopping from one genre to another, but always offering a plea in mitigation.  These are story-driven books, I always insisted, and they seem to work on the page. Boys’ books? Probably. But lots of room, too,  for strong female voices.

So far, so good.  I think I got away with it.  But now, Houston, we have a real problem.  Publishing’s patience with yours truly – the serial genre-hopper – may be coming to an end.  In the shape of Enora Andressen I’m convinced that I’ve unearthed an undeniably strong female voice with the potential to attract a significant readership. Might my agent be able to find a publisher with the vision to make this leap of faith?

The answer, thankfully, is yes.  And Curtain Call, with Sight Unseen to come,  is the result.

CURTAIN CALL is available now in the UK and from 1 May in the US. Read more here.