Eva Jordan reviews The Women by @SELynesAuthor published by @bookouture

 

The Women

This is the second psychological thriller I’ve read by this author (read my review of Mother here) and she is fast becoming one of my favourite writers in this genre. Inspired by the #MeToo movement, for me, this story brings to mind writer Neil Gaiman’s quote – “I like stories where women save themselves” – which is just what this story does.

However, at what price?

We begin in Rome where newlyweds Samantha and Peter are on their honeymoon. They are queuing to visit a famous stone carving of a man’s face called Bocca della Verita (The Mouth of Truth) where, according to legend, if you place your hand in the mouth and tell a lie, the stone jaw will clamp down and bite if off. Samantha is intrigued. “The gargoyle is disconcerting, she admits. But the urge to put her hand inside the mouth is almost overwhelming. At the same time, she imagines the mythical severance, the bloody stump of her own wrist, the horror on the faces of the crowd as she staggers, bleeding, onto the street.” Peter, on the other hand, seems harassed, reluctant to be there.

But why?

We are then taken back in time and introduced to Samantha Frayn, a university student from Yorkshire studying in London, where she meets the rather handsome Peter Bridges. Peter, who is much older than Samantha, is an accomplished, charismatic history lecturer. “He is slim. He dresses well—how she imagines an American academic might dress: soft blues, fawns, tan brogues.” He spots Samantha at a university social event and begins chatting to her, offers to take her for a drink. Samantha, both young and impressionable, is completely swept away by his charm and sophistication. She is flattered that a man such as he, a man with a wine cellar, who whistles classical music, drives a sports car and lives in a beautiful house on a hill, would single someone like her, a nobody, out. Their ensuing romance is immediate, thrilling and intense. Quite unlike anything Samantha has experienced before, especially with boys her own age, and before she knows it, she has moved in with Peter.

Later, when she looks back, Samantha will wonder at what point the subterfuge began.

As in her previous novels, the author’s prose, which is succinct yet brilliantly informative and descriptive, completely draws you in, making The Women an enthralling psychological thriller that is perfectly paced with just enough tension to keep you turning the page to the very end.

 

If you’d like to purchase The Women, or find out more about the author, go to Amazon here and here.

 

Five Centuries – Five Influential Female Writers #InternationalWomensDay #IWD2020 #EachforEqual

Yvey IWD 2020

Today, Sunday 8th March, is International Women’s Day. With its humble beginnings going as far back as 1911, International Women’s Day helps shine a light on the economic, social and political achievements of women. The call to action this year is #EachforEqual drawn from a notion of ‘Collective Individualism’. The idea being that, “Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world”.

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As an author I have been inspired by many female writers over the years, many of whom defied the rigid rules of society, often risking ridicule and reputation in order to pursue a writing career. Trailblazers, if you will, that both individually and collectively paved the way for future generations to come.

So, in order to mark IWD 2020, here are my thoughts on some of those trailblazers, whose lives and work have both inspired and intrigued me.

 

Aphra Behn – a celebrated poet and novelist, was also one of the most influential dramatists of the late 17th century. Working as a spy for the British Crown after her husband passed away, then refused remuneration for her services, she found herself in desperate need of money. She vowed never to depend on anyone else for money again and took up writing to support herself. Her first play, The Forc’d Marriage was produced in London in 1670. She became of the period’s foremost playwrights and continued earning her living in the theatre and as a novelist (links to The Rover here) until her death in April 1689.

Virginia Woolf said of her:

“All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn… for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds… Behn proved that money could be made by writing at the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind but was of practical importance.”

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Mary Wollstonecraft – was an 18th century philosopher and proto-feminist, best known for her feminist philosophy A Vindication of the Rights of Women, written in response to educational and political theorists of the time who did not believe women should receive a rational education. Instead of viewing women as ornaments or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintained that they were human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men. Her daughter, Mary Shelley, also went on to become a writer, best known for her Gothic novel, Frankenstein.

 

Elizabeth Gaskell – was a 19th century English novelist, biographer and short story writer that I was first introduced to whilst studying at university. Like Charles Dickens, Gaskell’s stories offer detailed portraits on a wide variety of Victorian society including the poor, and the appalling state of impoverished workers in the industrial centres of the North. Her novels are therefore of great interest to social historians as well as lovers of literature and because of the social realism in them, her stories attracted the attention of Charles Dickens, who in turn invited her to write for the periodicals he edited: Household Words and All Year Round which included my favourite Gaskell novel, North and South – if you haven’t read it, you should.

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Jean Rhys CBE – best known for her critically acclaimed novel Wide Sargasso Sea – the prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (written over a hundred years later) – Jean Rhys was a 20th century novelist born on the Caribbean island of Dominica to a Welsh doctor and a third generation Creole. However, when she was 16 she moved to England for education purposes. In Wide Sargasso Sea she turns to the themes of dominance and dependence, especially in marriage, depicting the mutually painful relationship between a privileged English man and a Creole woman from Dominica – namely a certain Mr Rochester and his first “madwoman in the attic” wife, (Bertha) Antoinette, who is drawn in quite a different light than she was in Jane Eyre.

I love this quote by Jean Rhys:

“Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.”

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – is a 21st century Nigerian writer of novels, short stories and nonfiction, and was described in The Times Literary Supplement as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young Anglophone authors [who] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”. My first introduction to her work was We Should All Be Feminists, an essay based on TEDx talk of the same title that the writer gave in London in 2012 (here). She shared her experiences of being an African feminist and said gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. However, she also said she is “hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better”.

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Eva Jordan in conversation with author @AuthoJon @EyriePress

 

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Last month I reviewed the beautiful novella Silence and Songbirds (which you can read here), a thought provoking tale that transports the reader across the sea to the beautiful islands of the Marlborough Sounds, written by author Jon Lawrence. This month we get to know him a little better…

 

  1. Hi Jon, thanks for chatting with me. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself? I understand you used to be a singer-songwriter?

 

Yes, I trained as a musician and ethnomusicologist (which has fed quite nicely into my writing). I was lucky enough to perform all over the country and Europe as singer-songwriter. I released a number of albums, then my literature work started to take over. However, I still teach music and I enjoy writing musicals every year for the school I work with.

I was born in Pontypridd, so I am a child of the valleys. I moved out east with my work as a music lecturer, where I taught song-writing and world music. I have a wonderful wife, Kerry-Ann and two children, who always support me.

I love working with young children and have written some illustrated songbooks for them. Children are a huge inspiration for me. The way they view the world is unique and they represent an innocence that I have been searching for in my writing since I started writing books.

I am interested in all areas of written expression and I don’t feel pigeon-holed in any area. I have published poetry, plays, children’s books, essay and magazine article because I simply love to write.

I am also interested in travel. The world offers many wonderful landscapes which intrigue me. I have a particular fascination with New Zealand – a place which has a special place in my heart. I have based two novels there (Silence and Songbirds and Playing Beneath the Havelock House). Indeed, in all of my novels and novellas, stories have come out of the landscape. When I see a desert, a forest, a mountain range or an island, I ask myself, ‘Who lives here? What is their story?’

 

 

 

  1. You’ve recently completed a touring show called “Good Grief” – can you tell us what that was about?

 

My father died of cancer just over two years ago. Before he died I promised him that I would do five 100k treks on five deserts on five continents to raise money for a cancer charity. So, between August 2018 and April 2019 I walked the Atacama in Chile, the Sahara in Morocco, the Rangipo in New Zealand, the Wadi Rum in Jordan and finally, the Mojave in America. My journey gave me a lot of time to think about my father and the sometimes difficult relationship we had. It afforded me a little time and space to work through my grief.

I documented each part of the trip and published a book last year called Good Grief. To promote the book, I have been performing a one-man show around the country telling the story of my adventures around the world and how the journey helped me to come to terms with things. The show contains video footage from my trips, photographs, anecdotes and music specially written for the show. It’s light-hearted, informative but also moving (I hope). I resume the tour in Stamford Arts Centre on February 4th with the tour visiting Diss, Bungay, Wells-next-the-sea, Doncaster, Birnam in Scotland, before concluding in Auckland, New Zealand in April.

 

  1. How does writing songs compare to writing books?

 

The thing about writing songs, is that you have to compress what might be a huge subject (life, death, world peace), into about twenty lines, sometimes less. You have to be able to move someone emotionally in two, verses, a middle-eight and a chorus. It has to get to the listener’s heart straight away. There’s no time to set scenes, establish characters or consider subplots. You have to be very clever with words. That’s why Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is so brilliant. It gets you hooked form the first line and by the time it has finished it has you questioning everything you ever thought you knew about life!

Conversely, when you write a book, you start with what might be a small idea – a quote, a title, something you have seen – and then expand it to establish the bigger picture.

Some people might say that a song only takes fifteen minutes to write (such as ‘Every Breath You Take’) but some songs take months even years to shape and mould into the final version (Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Thunder Road’ are perfect examples of this).

They are both tremendous art forms.

 

  1. And finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of becoming a writer?

 

My view is that everyone is a writer; some people just have a go, some people never do it for fear of what others might say. If you write a diary, you are a writer – you express your thoughts and feelings through words. In the first instance, write for yourself.

Then when you have a story, make sure you plan it. If I have a story idea, I go through a number of planning stages before I start to write (despite the desire to get writing straight away). A book might take up eighteen months of your life so you need to know that the story and the characters will still be of interest to you at the end. I have made the mistake of starting stories without proper planning, only to lose my way three months in. That’s a lot of time to waste.

Just have a go!

 

 

If you’d like to know more about Jon, click on the links below:

Website

Facebook

Book Reviews – And How To Get Some

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Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

So, it’s January 2020! Whatever your plans for the year I hope you see them through, including those of you that have decided to make this the year you sit down and write that book that’s been rattling around in your head for a while. However, once written and published, either traditionally or as an indie author, the next hurdle for most writers is drumming up interest in your book and generating honest reviews. In fact, “how can I get more reviews for my novel” is one of the frequently asked questions put to me by newbie authors. As the current published author of just three novels, I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I have learned a few things during my writing journey, which I’m more than happy to share with you.

However, before we begin, the first rule of thumb is to remember that lots of reviews don’t necessarily equate to lots of sales, but they can help, and here’s why.

Reviews help build your credibility and integrity and encourage new readers to try your books. Plus, reading reviews of your own work can help you as a writer, hone your skills by giving you a better understanding of what your readers are looking for – answering questions like, what readers enjoyed about your work? What they think is missing? And what they connected with? Which does a lot to help you understand your audience.

So for those of you just starting out, here are my top tips.

 

Build like-minded friendships. Before you even think about approaching anyone to review your book, I strongly recommend you join the reading, writing and blogging community online. Twitter is a good place to interact with the book world – try using, or searching various hashtags like #writingcommunity #BookReview #booklove #bookbloggers #FridayThoughts #FridayFollow and #FridayReads. Facebook too, is a great place to find lots of fab groups where readers, writers and reviewers can all interact together (see some my recommend groups below). Just be aware though, each group has a different set of rules (and some do not permit random self-promotion posts) so please be sure to read the group rules of each one you join. This gives you the opportunity to build friendships with readers, writers and reviewers and eventually reach out to those you think might be interested in reading and reviewing your book(s).

 

Image by Thought Catalog from Pixabay

Image by Thought Catalog from Pixabay

Author Joanne Harris suggests that writers should:

“Engage with the book community. It’s not a question of “us and them”: many of us are readers, authors and bloggers all at the same time”.

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Book Bloggers. Reviews by Book Bloggers can be extremely influential. Again, I refer to Joanne Harris, and number one on her list of #TenThingsAboutBookBloggers – which she tweeted last year:

“Over the past ten years, book bloggers have gradually overtaken print reviewers when it comes to informing readers about books. That’s because bloggers are passionate readers, with no editorial agenda to push.”

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However, not all Book Bloggers review all types of books. Most prefer to read and review the genre they like best. So if you do reach out to book bloggers, PLEASE read their review policy beforehand. Book Bloggers are inundated with requests, so I cannot stress how important it is to do this! Click here to read editor Emma Mitchell’s useful guide on how to approach Book Bloggers. You’d also do well to remember that bloggers don’t get paid for reviews, therefore, as Joanne Harris suggests (above) they also have no agenda. If a blogger does agree to read an ARC of your book, it is in exchange for an honest review, which is no guarantee it will be a glowing one. Joanne Harris suggests:

“By all means thank a blogger for a good review. But don’t argue over a bad one, even if you think it’s unfair”.

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Book Bloggers don’t owe authors good reviews.

 

Book Blog Tours. I’m a huge fan of Book Blog Tours. My publisher, Matthew Smith, at Urbane Publications kindly arranged the Book Blog Tour for my third novel, Time Will Tell, with the lovely Kelly at Love Books Group Tours. They’re also a great idea if you don’t feel confident enough to approach individual reviewers or book bloggers yourself.

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However, I do feel it’s important for writers to get grips with the true value of Blog Tours, which doesn’t necessarily equate to more book sales.

In 2016, author and blogger Barb Drozdowich wrote a post for ALLI (Alliance of Independent Authors) here, mainly in response to some of the negative comments she kept hearing from authors who were clearly disappointed with the results of their Blog Tours, particularly those that couldn’t see a relatable rise in book sales. Barb wrote, “let’s be clear right up front: BOOK BLOG TOURS DON’T SELL BOOKS”.

Ok, fine, you might be saying if you’re reading this, why should I invest in one then?

Well, let me tell you.

A Book Blog Tour is about social interaction. A virtual meet and greet version, if you will, of some of the (real life) author/blogger meet ups I’ve attended. It’s the coming together of a group of likeminded individuals with the aim of sharing information about books.

Going back to Barb Drozdowich’s post, she quotes Aimee, a blogger who arranges blog tours:

“I know when you think ‘Book Tour’ most authors immediately think ‘book sales’ but it’s not true.  I always try to tell my authors that book tours don’t sell books, they get people talking about your book, which in turn may help sales at some point but really it’s about getting you as the author and your book out into the interwebs to be found!”

Which is true, readers are always looking for new recommendations from sources they trust. So, while a Book Blog Tour may not result in an immediate spike in book sales, as Sandra Poirier Smith points out here in her Bookbub guest post, Tips on Using Blog Tours for Book Marketing, “a nod from a book blogger with an avid fan base in your genre is pure gold”.

You will, of course, be charged a fee if you ask someone to arrange a Book Blog Tour for you (see my list of Book Blog Tour organisers below) however, it’s also important to remember that the book bloggers that take part in these tours (many of whom have full time jobs and busy family lives) don’t get paid – they do it for one reason, and one reason only – the sheer love of books. So always be polite, and don’t forget to say thanks.

 

ARC Groups. Crime writer, Tony Forder suggests that “forming your own ARC (Advance Reader Copy) group on Facebook works well. If you can get 30-40 interested readers who will provide an honest review on Amazon in exchange for the ARC, then it can really give you an early boost. Amazon, of course, are notorious for changing their rules and how they apply them, so sometimes reviews won’t be accepted for reasons Amazon will not reveal, so you tend to need more readers in your ARC group than you might think. All you need to do is create a locked group on Facebook and invite people, explaining how it works”.

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Others: I haven’t actually tried all of these myself (so there may be some pitfalls) but some of my writing buddies suggest taking a look at the following to help generate reviews:

GoodReads

BookBub

Reedsy

Kindlepreneur

NetGalley

 

Good luck. I hope this helps.

 

Some of my recommended Facebook groups:

The Fiction Café Book Club

Book Connectors

THE Book Club (TBC)

Chick Lit and Prosecco (Chat Group)

Writers authors and readers

Women Writers, Women’s Books

Good Housekeeping Book Room

Crime Fiction Addict

 

Book Blog Tour Organisers:

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Kelly Lacey – Love Books Group Tours

 

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Anne Cater – RandomThings Tours

 

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Rachel Gilbey – Rachel’s Random Resources

 

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Emma Welton – Damppebbles

 

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Sarah Hardy – Book On The Bright Side

 

Eva Jordan reviews Silence and Songbirds by @AuthoJon published by @EyriePress

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Silence and Songbirds is a thought provoking tale that transports the reader across the sea to the beautiful islands of the Marlborough Sounds, an extensive network of sea-drowned valleys at the northern end of the South Island of New Zealand. Tane, the story’s narrator, is an indigenous islander whose name means ‘man’ in Maori culture. He shares his name with the god of forests and light who, the Maori believe, is also responsible for creating the tui bird. Tui, like most songbirds have two voice boxes which enables their complex variety of songs and calls. Early European colonists called them mockingbirds, and for good reason. Like parrots, the tui bird has the ability to clearly imitate human speech.

The story begins with Tane heading towards the end of his life. “My ancestors’ voices are sounding. When I close my eyes at night, I can hear them calling me in my native tongue… It is a little unnerving, yet beautiful. There are shifting rhythms that sway and swirl like sand in the wind, while the lilting melodies of their voices slide and glide through the lulling lows and haunting highs… Soon I shall take a final voyage, this time into the mysterious underworld. I am not afraid of death.” Tane reflects on his long life, and in particular, his formative years when, after a terrible accident that resulted in the loss of those closest to him, he not only suffered great pain and sorrow but also his ability to speak. However, by striking up a carefully nurtured and mutually respectful friendship with a local tui, plus a chance encounter with a young English girl called Emily, Tane once again discovers his voice, enabled by the healing power of love and friendship.

Silence and Songbirds is a novella that, less than a hundred pages long, can easily be read in one sitting. Beautifully written, it is a story everyone can relate to. An evocative tale of love and loss but also a coming of age story that demonstrates the positive power of friendship, in whatever guise it manifests itself. Sad and joyous, Tane’s thoughts and feelings are as complex and colourful as his surroundings, “where the dolphins play and the orca hunt, where the plates of the earth rise up in thunderous earthquakes, and, of course, where the tui sings.”

 

Kindle Edition: 77 pages

Publisher: Eyrie Press (2 Nov. 2019)

 

Amazon buying links here and here.

Bah Humbug!

Merry Christmas!

 

Christmas is almost upon us, so this is the last post on my blog for the year. As ever, I’m extremely grateful to all the readers, reviewers, bloggers and other writers (many of whom I class as friends) that have taken the time to read my third novel, Time Will Tell, which was released earlier this year, and to all those that continue to read my books and support me.

 

Writing wise it’s been a tough year for me. Much of my time has been taken up caring for poorly family members, which at the moment doesn’t look set to change much next year. However, although my writing time is minimal, I’m determined to keep at it until my fourth novel is finished. In the meantime, over the festive period, I look forward to spending time with loved ones, and taking some time out to read. Snuggled up with a good book, a small glass of Baileys and a mince pie at hand is my idea of heaven, and the book I’m currently reading is Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. It’s one of my absolute favourites and has now become a bit of a tradition of mine to read every Christmas.

 

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For those of you that don’t know it, this famous Victorian tale tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a solitary miser who is shown the true meaning of Christmas through a series of ghostly visitors on Christmas Eve – namely the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, as well as a visit from the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley. First published in December 1843, the first edition of A Christmas Carol sold out by Christmas Eve, and by the end of the following year (due to public demand) a further 13 editions were released. In 1849 Dickens began public readings of the book, which proved to be so successful he undertook another 127 readings, right up to the year of his death in 1870.

 

A Christmas Carol (which has never been out of print) has been translated into several languages and adapted many times for film and stage. Some of the lesser known versions include: Carry on Christmas starring Sid James as Ebenezer, and The Six Million Dollar Man – “A Bionic Christmas Carol”, whilst some of the better known adaptions include Mickey’s (Mouse) Christmas Carol, Bill Murray’s Scrooged, Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and my favourite film version, Disney’s A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey.

 

Back in October this year I was honoured to the great-great-great-granddaughter of Dickens, namely author and historian Lucida Hawksley. With a keen interest in her family history, she was speaking at Wanstead Library (as part of the Fabula Festival) where she discussed Dickens’ life, including his early childhood and how his constant fear of poverty, despite being the greatest celebrity of his age, always stayed with him, due to time spent as a child labourer. She also explained that not only was he a superb novelist, but that he was also a brilliant campaign journalist, philanthropist and social reformer.

 

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Above all else though, at a time of year when many families feel the financial burden of Christmas in what too often becomes a celebration of wealth and consumerism, A Christmas Carol reminds us that a joyful Christmas does not require Ebenezer Scrooge’s gold and that instead, “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”

 

Here’s wishing you all a wonderful Christmas, and a healthy, happy New Year xxx

“God bless us, every one!”

Eva Jordan reviews Miss Marley by the late @VanessaLafaye, and @rebeccamascull @HarperCollinsUK

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Every Christmas it has now become customary for me to read Charles Dickens’ wonderful Christmas story, A Christmas Carol; the tale of solitary miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who is taught the true meaning of Christmas through a series of ghostly visitors on Christmas Eve, including his old business partner Jacob Marley. However, for those of you who don’t know, there is a prequel to this great Dickensian ghost story, namely Miss Marley.

Written almost two centuries after A Christmas Carol, Miss Marley tells the story of orphans Clara and Jacob Marley. The siblings spend the first happy years of their young lives living in a grand house with their parents. However, some years later after the tragic loss of both parents, Clara and Jacob then find themselves homeless and penniless. Living on the streets of London, in the shadow of the workhouse, the youngsters scavenge for food as, “Every Friday afternoon, the butcher threw scraps from his back door to the hungry street children, but all the best morsels went to bigger boys and vicious stray dogs”, relying on their wits and one another to keep each other safe. Then an opportunity presents itself, one that will allow the intrepid youngsters to flee the dangerous city streets and escape poverty. Jacob seizes it, despite the great moral price to his soul. Later, after much hard work, with the siblings once again elevated in society, Jacob meets Ebenezer Scrooge… and so begins their infamous partnership.

The author’s note by Vanessa Lafaye states how she often wondered about Marley’s backstory; an exercise that eventually consumed her imagination. Sadly, Vanessa passed away in February 2018, unable to finish this beautiful prequel. But at the request of Vanessa’s husband, and her publisher, it was, I’m pleased to say, completed by Vanessa’s good friend and fellow author, Rebecca Mascull. 

Written in third person, this is the bittersweet story of Jacob Marley as seen through the eyes of his sister, Clara. Clara is a character entirely invented by the author who believed “that the idea of inhabiting Marley himself felt too much like trespassing”. Masterfully written, this evocative fable offers insight into the social observations of Victorian life, which at times reflect some of our current issues, whilst also capturing the Dickensian spirit of Christmas, complete with ghosts, goodwill, hope and redemption.

 

Hardcover: 176 pages

Publisher: Hq (1 Nov. 2018)

Amazon buying links here and here.