Book Review – Killing Time in Cambridge by Philip Cumberland

“AI is likely to be either the best or worst thing to happen to humanity”­­––Stephen Hawking

This month I interviewed local author (to me) Philip Cumberland (see here), who is also one of the coordinators and founding members of a local U3A Writing Group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths. As well as a contributing author of several anthologies written by the group, Philip has also recently published his debut novel, Killing Time in Cambridge, and this is my review.

The story opens with an axe wielding knight of old, dressed in full body armour, clanking down the corridor of a software company, who then hacks down the office door of the managing director, demanding to know who the ‘master’ is. The poor MD then has a heart attack, the knight disappears, and a short time later the building is besieged by medieval catapults. At this juncture, we are introduced to the main protagonist of the story, Detective Chief Inspector Cyril Lane, better known to everyone as Arnold, a self-effacing individual who likes his food and has a keen, pragmatic approach to his work. It’s Arnold’s job, and that of his colleagues, to figure out what is going on. However, as the story unravels and the plot thickens, it quickly becomes apparent that time travel plays a huge role in this quirky tale, which also includes several eccentric secondary characters including the quick-witted Sylvia, who provides some fine moments of comic relief, not to mention Marvin, the mind reading AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Set in the present day (with glimpses through time) in the beautiful historic city of Cambridge and the surrounding fens (including Ely, Hunstanton, Heacham, and Ramsey) Killing Time in Cambridge is a good old whodunnit (think Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders, and Inspector George Gently) featuring a mix of light-hearted whimsey and dark humour and, rather unexpectedly, time travel and AI.

Killing Time in Cambridge is available at Parker’s newsagents, on Amazon, from Niche Comics and Books Huntingdon, Waterstones and whittleseywordsmiths.com.

Eva Jordan in conversation with writer Philip Cumberland.

This month I’m chatting to local author Philip Cumberland. As one of the founding members of a local writing group, Phil reached out to me several years ago to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing a book the group had put together called Where the Wild Winds Blow: an eclectic mix of fact and fiction, featuring short stories, poems, and memoirs, contributed by the various members of the Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Honoured, I said I’d love to. Since then, Philip has released his own debut novel, Killing Time in Cambridge, which was also my choice for this month’s book review.

Welcome Phil, thanks for being my guest. Can you tell everyone a bit about yourself?

Thank you for inviting me, Eva.

I grew up in Huntingdon and have lived in Cambridgeshire all my life, the last thirty-five years in Whittlesey. 

I was originally a motor mechanic, then an engine tester. During the thirty years before I retired, I was a metalworker, with my own business.

Have you always wanted to be a writer, and if so, what writers have inspired you?

I suppose off and on I have always wanted to write but couldn’t find the time until I retired.

I read sporadically. After leaving school at fifteen I finished reading the recommended books for O level English, of them, Catcher in the Rye made the biggest impression. My reading is mainly crime fiction and espionage thrillers. I read some science fiction and of course humour.

Favourite authors include Peter Lovesey, Isaac Asimov, P D James, John le Carre, Len Deighton, and Douglas Adams. I also enjoy some more local authors among them Alison Bruce, Tony Forder, and yourself.

My favourite author of all is Raymond Chandler, he paints wonderful pictures with his words, capturing perfectly for me the time, place and characters that inhabit the pages of his books. Chandler’s dialogue is brilliant, it is said Billy Wilder had him write the dialogue for Double Indemnity, he thought there was no one better for the job.

Your debut novel, Killing Time in Cambridge, is, I would argue, a good old whodunnit featuring a mix of light-hearted whimsey and dark humour, and includes, rather unexpectedly, time travel and AI. When did the idea for this story come to you and how important was it to keep the setting real and local?

I am pleased you liked it, Eva. As you know, if people enjoy your writing that is a real joy.

I started writing Killing Time in Cambridge in 2010, while still working full time, its original title was Bernard the Twelvicator. The pressure of work forced me to put the book on hold until I retired in 2016.

I used to drive a lot and part of my mind would go walkabout while driving, designing new products for the business and on this one occasion thinking about computer processors. Before I knew and I suspect most people knew of Quantum processors a processor could only be in two states, on or off. I speculated that if a processor was able to be in twelve different states at the same time, it could be capable of things beyond our imagination.

I enjoy Cambridge and the fens. Fenland sunrises and sunsets painted over the vast canvass of a 360-degree sky have always filled me with awe, I think I am digressing, not many people know I do that.

It was important to me that I kept the story local it gave me the excuse to wander around Cambridge for research, sometimes my brother-in-law would accompany me travelling on the guided bus from St Ives, other times I went alone.

I feel comfortable in the territory of my book and have a great affection for the area it inhabits. I had worked in Ely and used the area known to me in the story. Heacham and Hunstanton are for most of us living locally familiar holiday destinations, myself included.

And finally, my favourite question! For anyone thinking of becoming a writer, what advice would you offer?

Just write.

If you have a story to tell and imagination or see the world differently, share it, other people may like the things you see. Remember you are your first reader, if your writing captivates you, entertains you and makes you laugh or cry it will do the same for other people. Not everyone but those who enjoy the same things you do, and that is a lot of people.

If you need support, encouragement, and help, join a writing group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths have helped me enormously.

Killing Time in Cambridge is available at Parker’s newsagents, on Amazon, from Niche Comics and Books Huntingdon, Waterstones and whittleseywordsmiths.com.

Book Review – The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton By Edith Wharton Published by Wordsworth Editions

“One can remain alive … if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity interested in big things and happy in small ways” ––Edith Wharton

The nights are drawing in, there’s a nip in the air and with Halloween just around the corner, it feels like the perfect time to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a good ghost story or two. So, this month I’m reviewing The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton; a collection of well-paced, atmospheric, spooky short stories.

Wharton (1862–1937), Pulitzer Prize winner for her novel The Age of Innocence, claimed she didn’t believe in ghosts whilst paradoxically admitting she was frightened of them. Her interest in the paranormal began during her childhood and continued into her adult life with writers like M. R. James and Walter de la Mare some of her favourite authors in the field.  The writing style of this beautifully written compilation is comparable to Henry James including the speech and dialect that is very much of its time, which some readers may find a little dated but I feel only adds to the intrigue and suspense of each brilliantly crafted story. With fifteen separate stories in total, set in or around the period they were penned, the reader is also given a window into the social history of the time, which, although not that long ago, almost feels other worldly itself. Be warned though, if you’re looking for horror stories, or out-and-out tales of terror, this is not the book for you. 

Wharton’s style of writing is both subtle and sublime, weaving a sense of foreboding, menace, and mystery into her stories rather than outright revelation, cleverly building a sense of dread before leaving the reader hauntingly intrigued. And, with fifteen tales to choose from, The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton is the perfect ghostly companion for those whose reading time is limited.

“Literature is doomed if liberty of thought perishes” –George Orwell

This month’s book review may interest all the writers and would be writers out there. Written by Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, Why I Write is part of Penguin’s Great Ideas series. Pocket-sized works of, largely, non-fiction inspired by pioneers, radicals, and visionaries, including subject matters such as philosophy, science, politics, and war.

Orwell, born in 1903, is most famous for his fictional works including the political satire Animal Farm, published in 1945, and the dystopian nightmare vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which, first published in 1949, is a sci-fi story centred around a country known as Oceania (in 1984), controlled by an overbearing, paranoid government insistent on manipulating every aspect of its citizens’ lives. A place where information is suppressed, history re-written, and propaganda reigns supreme. It is also, one could argue, as a work of fiction written over 70 years ago, a story that feels eerily remarkably current.

Considered one of England’s most accomplished authors and social commentators, this collection includes four of Orwell’s essays. However, the title is deceiving, with only the first, brief essay dedicated to writing. The other three examine Orwell’s views on society, politics, and the economy during WW2, which I found equally fascinating. “As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me” he wrote in one.

At only 100 pages long, Why I Write is short enough to read in one sitting and littered with humorous nuggets of writing advice. I’ll leave you with one of my favourites which, if you’re a writer, you’ll completely understand. If not, and it’s a profession you’re thinking of taking up, all I can say is, be warned!  

“Writing is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

Book Review—Why I Write by George Orwell Published by Penguin; 1st edition (2 Sept. 2004)

Book Review – Mine by @kellyflorentia published by @bloodhoundbook

“I remained too much inside my head and ended up losing my mind” ––Edgar Allan Poe

This is Kelly Florentia’s fourth novel (read my fab interview with her here) and first psychological thriller. It is also a first for me by this author, and as a huge fan of the genre, I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint. Easy to read, intense, and full of twists and turns, ‘Mine’ will keep you gripped from start to finish.

The story opens with a prologue; the voice of the narrator, anonymous, says, “I know what you did and you have to pay. All I’ve got to do is figure out a way to get rid of you. For good”.

Chapter one then introduces us to Lucy Harper, the main protagonist; endearing, suspicious, and at times quite gullible. Reeling from her recent divorce to ex-husband, Andrew, who left her for her long-time school friend, Jasmine, Lucy relies a little too heavily on alcohol to get by, which often clouds her judgement and makes her recall unreliable. She wakes from an evening out unable to remember how she got home, and worse still, who the man in her bed is. He seems pleasant enough, and as he replays their boozy night back to her, Lucy slowly but surely remembers who he is; Teddy Fallon, the new gardener of her best friend Alison, who, with the help of her mother, Karen, set the pair up on a blind date. Teddy is keen to meet again, Lucy less so. However, when Lucy receives an anonymous text message, including a photo, accusing her of something she’s sure she didn’t do, her life begins to spiral, setting off a chain of events that sees her shunned by her friends and suspicious of everyone around her. The texts keep coming with the emphasis on blackmail, and the only person Lucy can confide in, the only person who seems to believe her, is mild-mannered Teddy, but even that’s questionable at times.

Full of believable, well rounded characters, ‘Mine’ is a gripping, fast-paced debut thriller that will see you turning the pages long into the night. I did figure out the final reveal, however, guessing the ending didn’t make reading this fab novel any less thrilling. On the contrary, it is full of so many intriguing revelations and surprises, I often found myself doubting my hunches as much as poor Lucy did.

Eva Jordan in conversation with writer @kellyflorentia published by @Bloodhoundbook

This month I’m chatting to the lovely, Kelly Florentia. Like me, Kelly was published by Urbane Books, but sadly, back in April this year, we both received the sad news that our publisher was closing. Luckily though, the news wasn’t all bad and both Kelly and I were fortunate enough to receive the offer of a new home for our books with Bloodhound Books.

Welcome Kelly. Can you tell everyone a bit about yourself?

Hi Eva, thank you so much for inviting me! I’m a north London girl, born and bred. I started off writing short fiction for women’s magazines, then went on to release a collection of short stories in my eBook To Tell a Tale or Two. My first novel ‘The Magic Touch’ was rereleased by Headline in 2019. The Audrey Fox series followed with No Way Back and Her Secret, originally published by Urbane Publications and republished this year by Bloodhound Books. All three novels are romantic suspense. My latest novel ‘Mine’ is a psychological thriller, also published by Bloodhound Books in February. I’m now working on my fifth psychological thriller, so it’s all go!

Have you always wanted to be a writer, and if so, what writers have inspired you?

I’ve always enjoyed writing but had a few other jobs before I embarked on my writing journey, which included working in travel and in a family restaurant. Reading has always been a passion. I’d often buy the weekly magazines just to read the short stories at the back. Then one day I thought, why don’t I have a go? I took a short story course and the rest, as they say, is history. I feel very fortunate to be a published author, there’s a lot of great talent out there. As far as inspiration goes, I just love reading contemporary novels in most genres, so can’t name just one or two authors who’ve inspired me.

Your most recent novel, Mine, is a psychological thriller. However, your previous books were, I believe, contemporary and romantic fiction. Why the change in genre, and do you prefer writing one above the other?

Yes, that’s true, although Her Secret has a thriller-esque edge and has been described by readers as a psychological thriller. I can only say that as a writer I always like to challenge and push myself, hence the change of genre. I can’t say I enjoy writing one over the other as they’re both quite different yet equally enjoyable. I’m not sure where my writing journey will take me in the future – maybe another thriller, or perhaps a comedy. I do quite fancy stepping back into Audrey Fox’s Louboutins and making it a trilogy.

And finally, my favourite question! For anyone thinking of becoming a writer, what advice would you offer?

Writing a novel isn’t easy, so you’ll need as much help as you can get. I’d advise anyone thinking of becoming a writer to take a course in creative writing, even a short one. If that’s not an option then buy a few books on novel writing. Join a writing group, there are lots online, so that you can share your writing journey and also get feedback on anything you write. Read, read, read!  Grab a few books in the genre you’d like to write in and glean as much as you can from them. Plan your book, break it down into chapters and get that first draft down. You can always change it as you go along. I do! And finally, work hard, persevere and never give up. Dreams do come true. 

If you’d like to know more about Kelly, you can find her on the links below.

Website: www.kellyflorentia.com

Twitter – @kellyflorentia

Instagram – @kellyflorentia

Amazon page – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kelly-Florentia/e/B004O1CP7W%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Book Review – Foyles Philavery by Christopher Foyle Published by Chambers; Reprint edition (27 July 2007)

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and look at it, until it begins to shine” –Emily Dickinson

This month, I thought I’d choose something a little different to review. A book that has been in my possession for a number of years and is the perfect companion for all writers and budding writers alike. Scrabble players too, would love this. Anyone, in fact, that like me, has a fascination with words.

Foyle’s Philavery (pronounced fil-a-vuh-ri), a word invented to describe the book, is, according to the introduction, “an idiosyncratic collection of uncommon and pleasing words”. Written by Christopher Foyle; businessman, philanthropist and writer, who took over the running Foyles, the eponymous family bookshop in 1999, first began making a note of unusual words in 1990. This was around the time of the first Gulf War when US commander, General Norman Schwarzkopf, described information he deemed of no value as, ‘bovine scatology’. Not familiar with the latter word, I quickly thumbed the relevant page for its meaning, which immediately saw me laughing out loud. Simply put, bovine scatology is another, more sophisticated way of saying, stupid crap!

Some of my favourite words include, samizdat, which (in the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe) means “the clandestine copying and distribution of writings banned by the government”. Then there’s scriptorium, which is “a room set apart for writing”. And finally, kakistocracy, which, feeling particularly relevant at this present time, stands for, “a system of government in which the rulers are the least competent, least qualified or most unprincipled citizens”.

This treasury of unusual, quirky and obscure words is a pure delight. It’s not the kind of book you’ll read in one sitting, but rather one you’ll be drawn to time and again. A must have for all word lovers.

Book Review – My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell Published by @4thEstateBooks #MyDark Vanessa #BookReview

“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse” –Edmund Burke

Disturbing, compelling, and haunting are just a few words I’d use to describe My Dark Vanessa, which as the title suggests is a dark tale, concerning abuse. Set in and around Maine in the US, and recounted across two timelines, this is the story of 15-year-old Vanessa Wye’s love affair with her 42-year-old high school English teacher, Jacob Strane. At least, that’s how Vanessa prefers to remember it. What it really is, of course, is the complex story of a young girl who was targeted and groomed by an older man.

The opening chapter begins in 2017. Vanessa is in her early 30s and disillusioned with life and masks her disappointment by smoking too much pot and drinking too much alcohol. She discovers, via social media, that a former pupil from a private school she once attended has publicly accused her former English teacher of abuse, making Vanessa reconsider what she believes was the great love affair of her life. “When Strane and I met [she says], I was fifteen and he was forty-two. A near perfect thirty years between us. That’s how I described the difference back then––perfect.”

As the story unravels, we flit back and forth in time between Vanessa as she is now and Vanessa as she was before; a young, impressionable, lonely schoolgirl with a burgeoning crush on her charismatic teacher. Sadly though, Vanessa struggles to accept she was abused, convinced her relationship with Strane was “different”. However, the author uses Vanessa’s heightened sense of uniqueness to show the reader what it feels like to be groomed. How Strane uses Vanessa’s vulnerability to his advantage by telling her she’s “special” and how, like him, she is a “dark romantic”.

Brilliantly written, tragically sad, and emotively dark. My Dark Vanessa makes for an uneasy, troubling, but insightful and compulsive read.

Eva Jordan in conversation with award winning book blogger @annecater

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of bringing you some great interviews with some amazing authors, however, this month I thought we’d take a look at one of the many unsung heroes of the book world, namely Book Blogger Anne Cater, whose award-winning Book Blog, Random Things Through My Letterbox, recently celebrated its 10th birthday. Among other things, Anne writes book reviews for the Daily Express, the Sunday Express Magazine, the Daily Mirror, and regularly organises blog tours for authors.

Hi Anne, thanks for chatting with me. Can you tell us all a bit about yourself?

Hi Eva, thanks so much for inviting me.  I’m 54 years old and live in a small market town in Lincolnshire, with my husband and our cat.
I spent most of my career working in the voluntary sector and the NHS but am now a full-time Blog Tour organiser. I work with big publishers, small independent publishers, PR agencies and directly with authors.

Have you always enjoyed reading books? When did you first become a book blogger?

My Mum taught me to read at an early age. She was a big reader, she loved romance, and sagas and I read all of her books after she had.

I am never without a book. The only time that I didn’t read for more than two days was when I was very ill in hospital, but other than that, I have read every single day since I was aged around 4.

I started my blog, Random Things Through My Letterbox in March 2011.

As such a prolific reader, have you ever considered writing a book yourself?

Lots of people ask that question!  People have told me to write a book, but honestly, I just don’t have a story to tell. I wish I did.

And finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of becoming a book blogger?

It’s hard work. Building a name takes time and dedication. It’s not just about ‘free books’, whilst it is an honour to receive so many books in the post, it can also be incredibly stressful.

Everyone wants you to read and review their book. You really have to pace yourself, only accept the books that you really want to read.

Do it your own way, there’s no right or wrong way at all, just don’t include spoilers in your reviews.

Join the bookish community on social media. Talk to other bloggers, to publishers, to authors online. Share your blog posts. Don’t just Tweet them once and then never mention them again. If you love a book, shout about it, and keep shouting.

Enjoy it. If it starts to become a chore, or feel like work, then stop. It’s supposed to be a fun hobby, something different from work. A release, a place to be happy.

Of course, if you wish to generate an income from blogging, then that’s fine too, but again, it will take a lot of work. Book Blogging is not something that will make you rich!

Thanks for being such a great guest, Anne xx

If you’d like to know more about Anne, I highly recommend a visit to her wonderful website and Blog Random Things Through My Letterbox

Eva Jordan in conversation with @SVaughanAuthor

This month I’m really honoured to be chatting to the lovely, and very talented Sarah Vaughan. Sarah is the author of four novels, including her current international bestseller, Little Disasters, which was released as a paperback on the 4th March and is also my book of choice for this month’s book review, which you can read here. Sarah’s critically acclaimed third novel, Anatomy of A Scandal (read my review here), is at present being filmed as a Netflix series with an all-star cast including Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery, and Rupert Friend, which I for one can’t wait to see! Fingers crossed it does the book justice. If the cast is anything to go by, I’d say that’s highly probable.

Welcome Sarah, thanks for being my guest today. Can you tell us all a bit about yourself? I understand you used to be a news reporter and political correspondent on the Guardian?

I read English at university then did a regional newspaper journalism course and joined the Press Association as a trainee. After 20 months I was working on the Guardian, first as a news reporter, ultimately working on stories like the murder of Sarah Payne and the Soham murders, and then as a political correspondent – joining just as we went to war with Iraq under Tony Blair. I left the lobby after my first baby, and left the Guardian to freelance, in 2008, after my second was born. But I hated freelancing and the week that I turned 40 and my youngest started school I started my first novel, The Art of Baking Blind. It was bought in a pre-empt 13 months later.

Having read English at Oxford as a student, I assume you’ve always had an interest in writing? And if so, what writers have inspired you?

Absolutely. As a teen, I remember reading Jane Austen and DH Lawrence and trying to tease out what they were doing with language. I also devoured Agatha Christies and some Daphne du Maurier (I read Rebecca at 13 but, as with my reading Jane Eyre at nine! failed to understand the darkness of it all). As a writer, the list’s endless but I’m always interested in anything new by Kate Atkinson, Hilary Mantel, Elizabeth Strout, David Nicholls. I’ve also learned from writer peers writing clever psychological thrillers such as Lucy Atkins, Susie Steiner, Louise Candlish, Erin Kelly, Sabine Durrant, Eve Chase.

Although a difficult subject matter, I thought your fourth novel, Little Disasters, was brilliant, wonderfully written. However, for me, out of the two, Anatomy of A Scandal is probably my favourite. Not by much, I hasten to add, but at the time of reading it, with global movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp taking place, it felt, and still does, very socially and politically poignant. How do you feel about this story being turned into a Netflix series? The cast looks amazing. Have you had any input or say in the casting or the filming?  

There is absolutely no negative to having your novel filmed by Netflix and I have loved the process. I’m very lucky in that I’m an executive producer so have felt very in the loop re casting, though I’ve no creative control, and have been able to offer feedback on various drafts of the scripts. Filming started at the start of November and will continue into the spring, but because of covid I haven’t yet been on set. Beyond wanting it to be filmed in the UK, I haven’t had any input into that locations, but they are incredible. It’s being part produced by the team behind The Undoing and I think it will look equally visually stunning.

And finally, the question I love to ask all writers! For anyone thinking of becoming a writer, what advice would you offer?

It’s a real cliché but read. Read in your genre and out of it and read thoughtfully. What is Austen saying about Mrs Bennett there? How is she doing it? How is Mantel getting us inside Cromwell’s head? I’d also pick apart a novel in the genre you want to write. Where are the peaks and troughs, the cliff-hangers, the twists? How does the author make you want to read on? Are there plot holes? Are the characters consistent and psychologically credible? I’d also recommend John Yorke’s Into the Woods, which I read before writing Anatomy. Don’t show it to anyone too early – you don’t want your confidence crushed; be persistent; be diligent; keep going. And good luck!

Little Disasters is on sale in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda, and all independent bookstores.