Categories
Books

What’s it all about, Asaf?

In another month or so, my murdery mystery, Style and the Solitary, will be republished under the Ocelot Press banner.

I thought this would be a good time to tell you what the novel is about, tweaking a post I first wrote for friend and author, Jo Fenton.

Belief in Another Person

The story of Beauty and the Beast was first written in 1740 by a woman called Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. It wasn’t intended as a children’s fairy tale, but rather as a tale with a moral. It is Beauty’s belief and love for the Beast that turns him back into a prince. Similarly, Nathalie’s belief in Asaf will help him in his attempt to become the person he was meant to be.

The similarity of my novel to Beauty and the Beast is, of course, the reason for its similar title.

Loners

People who shun society are considered strange by the rest of society. Sometimes, they might even be thought dangerous, due to a tiny minority of loners who have turned to violence. This gives vulnerable people, who probably only chose to live their lives alone because of bad experiences, less of a chance of ever returning to society.

Friendships

We all need the help of friends. Nathalie gets her two flatmates on board to help her solve the mystery. Other friendships crop up in the story. Even Asaf, the “loner”, acquires some friends, eventually.

Immigration

The process of fitting into a new place can be long and difficult, especially when it involves a new language and culture. Nathalie has some advantages. She’s young, sociable and good at languages. Still, she struggles sometimes, and also misses her family and her home town of Strasbourg. Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market brings a bit of France to her.

The Law and its Failures

I was moved by a documentary I heard once, in which a woman wanted to testify against her rapist, but found herself struck dumb when standing in the witness box. Asaf is similarly worried about being tried in a court of law. He thinks he’ll find himself incapable of answering questions in such a setting. He’s probably right.

I do think laws fail to protect those who can’t speak or who freeze in certain situations.

Jerusalem

Why is the setting a theme? When I wrote my first novel set in Jerusalem (Neither Here Nor There, currently unavailable), I was worried people wouldn’t be interested in it because they’d expect a story set in Israel to include war and conflict. I was glad to be proved wrong; the book sold well and was appreciated. Yet, with this current novel, perhaps due to the timing, I’ve had questions like, “I wondered if you were deliberately setting out to show Jerusalem as a modern ‘Western’ city compared to the views we normally see on TV, or just reflecting life as you live it.” My response is that it absolutely reflects life as I live it and as most of the residents live it. People go about doing normal activities and talking about normal things. On the TV, they like to show everything in a different light. They seek out extremists and do all they can to exacerbate conflict. But even those extremists do and say normal, mundane things most of the time. And the rest of us go about our normal lives as much as we’re allowed to, which is most of the time.

I’m not suggesting murder is normal. But this murder is not the sort of abnormal you might expect from Jerusalem.

Secrets

Many stories thrive on secrets and Style and the Solitary is no exception. But I won’t reveal any secrets here. You’ll discover them when you read the novel.

What would Asaf think of the book?

Asaf would consider himself unworthy of having a story written about him, just as he feels unworthy of having Nathalie in his life. He blames no one but himself for his woes. Being suspected of murder is admittedly unfortunate, but anyone else would have succeeded in clearing all suspicion long ago.

The new Style and the Solitary will be out soon. Watch this space.

The Strasbourg image is by Monika Neumann from Pixabay. Nathalie’s photo is by Andrea Piacquadio and Asaf’s is by fauxels.

Categories
Books Editing

And Here is the News

“About time, too,” you might think.

And you’d be right. I’ve been quietly busy and remiss in telling you about:

  • Ocelot Press
  • Dark Venice
  • Following the Lead

Ocelot Press is a co-operative of independent authors, and my series of Jerusalem Murder Mysteries will be published through them, starting in a few weeks with Style and the Solitary. You can read more about Ocelot Press here. I’ll be posting more about the novel.

Dark Venice, the next in the series of charity anthologies of dark stories from Darkstroke, will be published on 1st October. My story is called Teamwork. I’ll be posting more about this.

Following the Lead is the next in the Isabel Long Mystery Series by the accomplished author, Joan Livingston. I had the pleasure and honour of editing it. In fact, I edited all the novels in this series and thoroughly enjoyed the process. I love these stories and I’m sure you will, too. Five are available on Amazon (just search for her name). Following the Lead is due out on November 3rd and ready now for pre-order. You can read more about it here on Joan’s blog.

Categories
Books Bullying

From Distort to Despair

Sometimes, there’s just too much technology to learn when all I really want to do is to write and edit.

This month, I’ve been taking part in one of those Instagram challenges. Here it is:

Today’s word (yesterday’s actually), DISTORT, led me to insert an extract from my book, Cultivating a Fuji, or at least to try. I struggled to insert the extract in a post, so I decided to put the extract in a comment, but that didn’t work either.

I think it’s an important extract that shows a lot about people and life. So I’m putting it here instead. What does it make you think of? Does it remind you of any episodes in your past?

July 1968

Trevor’s dad looked up from reading Trevor’s end-of-fourth form report, a sour grimace distorting his countenance. He particularly disliked the comment from the maths teacher: “What has Trevor been doing for the last four years? Certainly not studying maths. His mark in the last exam is atrocious.”

“A son of mine should be able to do better than that,” Dad told Trevor.

By this time, Trevor had picked up a thing or two from all those around him. He might not have bothered with studying, but he’d filled his brain with tips for navigating his way through life. Searching for one that would help him now, he soon came across it. Point the finger back at them. Yes, that would work. “Were you good at maths, then?” he asked.

“No, but I knew how to just squeeze past the red line by the skin of my teeth.”

Hmm. Next tip. Get sympathy. “But I don’t understand half the stuff we’re learning. I need help. Can’t you get me a private teacher?”

“Private teachers cost a lot of money, son. Look, this is what you need to do. Find some kid who’s good at maths and offer him something he needs in return for helping you.”

“What if I don’t have what he needs, or I don’t want to give it to him?”

“I didn’t say you have to give it to him. Listen to me. I said offer it. When you don’t need him any more, you find a way of getting out of your part of the bargain.”

Seven-year-old Trevor would have found it hard to accept such advice, but at fifteen he had a completely different sense of fairness. The new sense told him it was fair to look after number one first. In fact, he generally took it even further and looked after number one exclusively.

Trevor soon had a victim in mind, one who fitted the bill perfectly. He was good at maths; he needed something; Trevor could promise it; Trevor could easily renege on his promise. As soon as the new term started, Trevor went in search of his prey.

As usual, he stood alone in a corner of the playground, feet together, back straight, and head down. As if he’d been given a punishment. In that position, it was easy to, well, corner him and announce a proposition. Trevor went over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Martin, I’ve been thinking. We could be friends. Would you like that?”

Martin blinked and nodded.

“You could come round to my place sometime, and I could go to yours.”

Martin’s eyes opened wider. His mouth, too.

Trevor could hardly believe how easy this was. “We’ll have to arrange it. In the meantime, I’m having a bit of trouble with differentiation. I missed some lessons, or I didn’t pay attention. You know what it’s like. Can you explain it to me?”

“Yes.”

Poor Martin. But also, poor Trevor. Because it takes many years for Trevor to realise that looking solely after number one isn’t a good policy for life.

Cultivating a Fuji is available from Amazon.

Categories
Books Bullying

Pieces of Narrative

Today, I have a new author for you, from the US – new to me, at least. I don’t need to look any further than his writing for this post to know that he is someone whose work I’m eager to read. Henry Corrigan.

Do read on. You will find a thought-provoking article, a striking bio, a book blurb describing a highly promising plot, and a compelling excerpt.

A Man in Pieces will be published in four days and can be pre-ordered now.

The Narratives We Choose for Ourselves
by Henry Corrigan

High school is hell on earth. There is absolutely nothing new about this. There are myriad songs, books and horror movies written about its universally accepted brutality. Before high school, I was practically a straight-A student. I did my homework, studied for tests and I mostly enjoyed the work. That all changed once I reached high school.

Now, to hear my mother tell it, this sudden deviation was due to hormones. She said I hit puberty in eighth grade and it all went downhill from there. I became rebellious and lazy and stupid. And she told me this often enough that for many years after, it became my narrative. I believed that I’d let both myself and my family down by simply being a horny teenager who didn’t want to work.

It wasn’t until I sat down with a therapist and started talking about high school, what it was like and what I went through, that I began to understand how wrong that narrative actually was.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying my hormones didn’t contribute to the problems I had. I’m simply saying they were not the root cause.

In my freshman year of high school, my parents went through a nasty divorce which stemmed from domestic violence. It was also in high school that my grandmother both fought and lost a protracted battle with cancer. During this time I was bullied by both men and women and while this may not have happened in high school, I’m still counting it, because my grandfather fought and lost his own battle with cancer during my first year of college.

I barely made it through high school. I did not make it through my first year of college. I dropped out and spent the next couple of years working crappy jobs, hanging out with my friends, and trying desperately not to think about the future because it all felt like more than I could possibly handle.

When I finally finished telling my therapist about all this, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d failed somehow. But my therapist (God bless her) looked at me, shook her head, and said it sounded like I’d been in mourning.

She was right. I had been in mourning. I’d been grieving the loss of my grandparents and, in a way, the loss of my parents because after their divorce, my relationship with them was never the same. But I’d also been mourning the loss of myself as well, because it was during this tumultuous time that I changed in ways it would take me literally decades to understand.

But one of the things I did learn from all of this, is that while narratives can be helpful, they can also be constricting, even detrimental. Narratives often guide our lives in more ways than we choose to believe, which is ironic, considering they require our belief to function in the first place. So, we must always be careful which narratives we choose to put our faith in, and most especially when it comes to how we define ourselves over the course of our lives.

Author BIO

Henry Corrigan is a bisexual, omnivore author, poet and playwright who writes every kind of story. Whether it’s horror or science fiction, erotica or poetry, high fantasy or children’s books, he writes it all because every story matters to him. They’re what keeps him going. Always an avid reader, Henry started writing poetry in middle school but it wasn’t until he started writing erotica in high school that he really learned the mechanics of writing. What started out as private stories and love letters, soon became publications in anthologies.

To date, he has the rough drafts of two science fiction books, one horror novella, one play, four children’s books, numerous poems and several song lyrics waiting in the wings. Above all, he wants to be known for not staying where he’s been put. To always surprise people, especially himself. Because that’s what makes it fun. The feeling that even he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.

Social Media Links

Twitter. Amazon. Medium (articles). Facebook. Website. Blog.

Book Blurb

Driven by bad choices and worse options, a desperate father-to-be must battle his abusive boss for the last slot at a dead-end job, but the fight may lead one of them to murder.

Mike Harper would like nothing more than to burn his dead-end job to the ground. But with a wife on bed rest and a son on the way, discovering that the company is downsizing couldn’t come at a worse time. Now, struggling to stay afloat, Mike is forced to fight for the last remaining spot to secure his family’s future. It’s too bad that Tom, his obnoxious boss, is in the same boat.

Tom Downes is a man with few friends and even fewer prospects, but the aging veteran has never gone down without a fight. Now, with his health failing and his marriage falling apart, Tom is willing to do whatever it takes to keep his job.

With a blinding snowstorm closing in, these two desperate men will battle each other on a long and twisted road fraught with heartbreaking losses – and murder.

For when it comes to staying afloat, the American Dream can break anyone…

Pre-order/buy link to Amazon

A Man in Pieces: Excerpt

Friday January 22, 2016

Tom almost smiled, despite the pain.

Maybe it was how the kids laughed, or the way they moved, all flailing limbs and flapping jaws, their shrieks pealing across the street like remote controlled planes. There were four of them, all boys, and the tallest one, broad-faced with a nose like a putting wedge, dove headfirst into a snow drift before rolling easily to his feet. Every inch of him came up frosted, and his smile was as bright as the ice.

Two others, one thin and four-eyed, the other all braces and freckles, wordlessly dropped to their knees and started building a snowman together. The fourth, chubbiest by far, peeked sneakily from behind one of the cars in the driveway, a growing pile of snowballs at his feet.

With only one good hand and leg left to his name, Tom wobbled then hip checked the storm door open. He scowled at the flakes as they swept by. Light as confectioner’s sugar and deceptive as hell; the kind of shit that should fall apart but would pull at your tires in every turn.

The cold put his teeth on edge as he hobbled out on his stoop. Too late; he realized he’d put his keys in his usual pocket. He held his lunch bag between hip and cast and contorted himself until his muscles strained painfully, but the keys came out before any other part of him gave in.

He locked the door behind him, turning just in time to see the door across the street burst open. Out of it bounded a little one, half the size of the rest, same nose, same broad face as the tall one, but she lacked his coordination, and her long dark hair flew behind her like a personal flag.

From his hiding place, Chubby watched her too, and Tom didn’t find it hard to know what he was thinking. The minute she hit the snow she started running around the other three boys in chaotic circles. She wore a parka that was the pinkest thing Tom had ever seen in his life, and she chattered non-stop.

Chubby would peg her first, hard, and she’d probably cry and shriek, which would bring mommy out, but there was nothing for it. It was the way of boys and girls at that age. It’s what Tom would have done if he’d been Chubby.

As if he was keeping to a script, Chubby ducked back down and mashed two snowballs together until he had a real bellringer in his hands. Tom saw him smile and straighten; his arm cocked back with all that flabby weight behind it.

A small, white missile caught him right in the eye.

Chubby yelped like a kicked dog. He wiped furiously at his face. Tom blinked and shook his head in surprise.

The kid sister was beaming like a spotlight, both arms high in a celebratory V. It took less than a second for the other boys to start the pointing and laughing. Chubby’s face turned red, and Tom thought he saw the glint of tears, but that might’ve been the snow melting on his cheeks. Older brother gave kid sister a high five and then they went to help the others with their snowman.

Chubby and his stockpile were forgotten, and play resumed.

Tom glanced towards his car, which seemed a million miles away. The kids couldn’t see how fast it was coming down, or how it was sticking to everything in sight. They wouldn’t have to feel the ice beneath their tires and the ruts and the cracked roadways and the salt and sand so thick it could strip the paint off a car. The most they’d see of it would be watching their parents white knuckling the wheel.

Tom envied them for that. It had only been a couple hours since his last dose of pain meds but already he could feel it. His broken bits were starting to throb again, but it was a groggy kind of pain, almost slipshod, as if someone had laid a shawl across his shoulders that just happened to weigh forty pounds.

In the back of his mind he knew it was a risk heading out, even if he’d been a hundred percent. Already he anticipated the slip of the wheel and the stupid fucks out there driving like traction was something the other guy had to worry about.

Nothing for it, troop. Get your ass in gear.

The voice was right. He never called in yesterday and this was the wrong time to make a mistake like that. Who knew what Asshole Mike had been up to while he was gone? He couldn’t afford to let that sonuvabitch get a foothold, not this close to the end. If he did…if management even thought it was a contest…

Fuck it. Won’t happen.

So what if he hadn’t called in? It was his first sick day in what, a year? Hell, longer than that, had to be. He didn’t need to explain himself. He just had to walk in as he was.

Hey guys! How’s it going? Oh this? Yeah, it was nothing. Had an accident yesterday, but I’m here now. No big deal. Why am I not home, Pat? Come on, man. Got work to do, don’t I?

Nodding to himself, Tom pulled up the collar of his jacket, took a step down the walk, and almost had his feet shoot out from under him.

He teetered and staggered, nearly fell, managed to get his balance but at the cost of his bad foot hitting the ground hard. The bones twisted and howled, sending tracer rounds of pain across his whole body. Tom cursed loudly and sucked in a great big mouthful of burning winter air and then he was hacking like he’d never stop. He coughed ’til his chest burned, ’til his eyes watered, like there was something wet and sickly inside him he couldn’t get out.

He ended up bent over double with a bitter taste in the back of his throat. He breathed as deep and slow as he could ’til his heart stopped its panicky scramble, and he could see straight again. Straightening slowly, he filled his mouth with all that gunk, and spat it, long and wet, into the snow.

Being sure to keep his head high, he turned towards the kids, a hard glare ready for any of them stupid enough to be staring. But the effort was wasted. None of them noticed. Chubby had rejoined the ranks and their play had evolved into a bastardization of football and dodgeball, one kid tasked with making it to the curb before the others pelted the living hell out of him.

Tom wiped his chin and thought about the drive ahead. It would be a bitch, no doubt, but if he got his ass in gear, he could still make it with time to spare. That was all he needed, really. Just enough to fend off Asshole Mike and prove that he deserved to be there.

Stepping carefully, limping heavily, he inched his way down the walk. He’d forgotten his gloves inside, so by the time he cleared the headlights and all the windows, his hands were as white as porcelain and ready to crack.

It took more maneuvering but eventually he opened the door, and his ass met the front seat. As soon as the Crown Vic barked to life, Tom cranked the heater as high as it would go. He couldn’t afford to give it any warmup time, but he forced himself to sit there for a couple minutes anyway. The Vic was ten years old and not in the best of shape. Stressing it, even a little bit, in the middle of winter, was a bad idea. He stared at the dashboard clock as the seconds passed. The clenching in his gut, the way his skin and bones and fucking everything itched to get moving, made it seem like the seconds were taking their time. Out for a stroll through a warm and sunny park Tom would never find.

He closed his eyes and sucked in one long breath, hoping it would steady him, but before he could get that far, the hacking came back, stealing away what little breath he had.

This coughing fit hurt even worse than the last, and when all that wet filled his mouth again, he rolled down the window and hocked it into the snow. By the time he looked back at the dash, the last minute had passed. He threw the car in gear and peeled out of the drive. The kids didn’t notice his passing and he paid them no mind. He was too busy praying for a break in the lights.

Out in the street, he twisted the wheel, and headed for the main road. As he picked up speed, the wind stripped away everything he was too weak to reach – the icicles off his bumpers, the slush off the wheels, even the little bit of red off the door, the thin, drooling streak that stretched from the window to halfway down the paint. It slipped away unnoticed in the gray and white morning.

Categories
Books Social anxiety

An Excerpt from Social Anxiety Revealed

My non-fiction book, Social Anxiety Revealed, is half price until the end of the month at Smashwords.

“Not for me,” I hear you say. “I don’t have social anxiety.”

That’s where you’re wrong. You might not have social anxiety, but someone you know does. Some family member, friend, colleague or stranger is struggling alone and needs your help, which you’ll be able to provide once you’ve read this book and gained understanding.

Parents and teachers should read the book to help stop children from reaching adulthood with this noose around their necks.

So, grab it now while it’s on sale.

Here, I read from the book. This excerpt is about avoidance.

Remember to get Social Anxiety Revealed while it’s on sale.

Categories
Books Holidays Israel

Hangovers

This post is about a hangover. No, it’s not what you think. I haven’t taken to the bottle. Well, not in excess, anyway.

Living it up on safari in South Africa.

No, it’s about a hangover from childhood. And the town of Akko, called Acre in English.

I first discovered this ancient and modern town from a book I read as a teenager. I think the book was The Source by James A. Michener, a fascinating story of a fictional archeological dig and the ancient stories it uncovers. For some reason, at that young and impressionable age, I couldn’t accept that a town would have a name that I knew to be a unit of measurement. (It’s about 4047 square metres, which I didn’t know then and won’t remember now). Every time I came across that name in that book, I thought how weird it was.

After moving to Israel, I learned the Hebrew name for the town, and I’ve always used it, even when speaking in English. I wouldn’t say Yerushalayim in English, or Natzrat. I’d use the English names: Jerusalem and Nazareth. Yet Akko remains Akko because, in my mind, Acre is a strange name for a town.

Jerusalem – centre of the world.
(Last time I was Nazareth, there were no digital cameras.)

Recently, because this town appears in the novel I’m currently writing, the sequel to Style and the Solitary, I asked a group of authors which name they thought I should use. None of them had a problem with that name: Acre. It’s just me, then.

That led me to wonder about hangovers from childhood. I’m sure I must have a lot more. Do you? I’d love to hear about them.

Categories
Books Rhymes Social anxiety

Loneliness

In the UK, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year’s topic is loneliness.

In the US, it’s Mental Health Awareness Month with the message of “Together for Mental Health.”

I always feel social anxiety gets forgotten in any discussion of mental health, and this year it’s more relevant than ever to the topic.

When I had time to be active in a social anxiety online forum, I came across an enormous number of lonely people. Most of those were also alone, while others were alone with their thoughts and emotions.

Why were they lonely? Because social anxiety is that voice in the head that says:

  • They don’t want you.
  • You’re not good enough.
  • They’ll laugh at you.

and similar negative remarks.

Social anxiety leads to avoidance, which leads to loneliness. It’s that simple.

You can turn away from this or decide to help.

***

About My Books

I don’t write only about social anxiety, but, as it happens, it crops up in all of these books:

Categories
Books The Power of Belief

Style and the Solitary is One Today

Yes, 𝓢𝓽𝔂𝓵𝓮 𝓪𝓷𝓭 𝓽𝓱𝓮 𝓢𝓸𝓵𝓲𝓽𝓪𝓻𝔂, my first venture into crime, is 𝓸𝓷𝓮 year old.

To celebrate, I’m delighted to have the assistance of Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources, who produced this beautiful banner:

Birthday Blitz for Style and the Solitary, 26 April 2022

and arranged for some special posts during the day.

I plan to update this post to include the links. Watch this space…

Here’s the Amazon link: Style and the Solitary.

Categories
Books Poetry

LifeTimes

I’m delighted to welcome back novelist and poet, Tim Taylor, to tell us about his new collection of poetry, due out in two days.

Hello Miriam, thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog today. I’d like to share a poem from my second collection, LifeTimes which will be published shortly by Maytree Press.

LifeTimes is a collection of poems about human life: its phases, from birth, through childhood, adolescence, adulthood and middle age to the final years and beyond; and its pivotal moments: the shifts and connections between one phase and another, and the events that can change its course irrevocably. These themes are explored from a wide range of perspectives and through different forms and styles of poetry. Here’s an example:

Childhood      

There is an art to being a child:
to play heedless of consequence,
learn without toil, love
without possession.
Skills we gather, unaware
how fine a garment
we are weaving for ourselves.

Yet, at the moment of perfection
childhood becomes an old shirt
that no longer fits, stained
with poster paint and play-dough.
Embarrassed to be seen in it
we can’t wait to put on cooler clothes,
anoint ourselves initiates
of a world we don’t yet understand.
How comical it seems, from here,
this casting off of consummate childhood
for cack-handed adolescence:
neither one thing nor the other.

There is a point to this –
the world cannot be run by children –
but it still hurts to see
the beauty of the life we threw away
only when we are, once and for all
quite different people.
What use then for a worn-out shirt
that once belonged to someone else?

For any interested readers who happen to be in the north of England, I will be holding a launch event at Marsden Library, Peel St, Marsden, Huddersfield HD7 6BW at 7.30pm on Thursday 28 April – all welcome! I’m also reading at the Stag Café in Canterbury, 7pm Thursday 21 April and at Attic Stories, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, 7.30pm on Monday 25 April. Signed copies of LifeTimes can be ordered from the author at BOOKS | tetaylor. The book will also be available via Maytree Press and on Amazon.

Tim Taylor writes fiction and poetry. He has published two novels, Zeus of Ithome and Revolution Day, with Crooked Cat and a poetry collection, Sea Without a Shore, with Maytree Press; a second, LifeTimes, will be published in March 2022. His poems and stories have won, or been shortlisted in, a number of competitions and appeared in various magazines (e.g. Acumen, Orbis, Pennine Platform) and anthologies. Tim lives in Meltham, West Yorkshire, teaches Ethics at Leeds University and enjoys playing the guitar and walking up hills (not usually at the same time).

Blog: Tim’s Blog | News, thoughts and writings from Tim (T E) Taylor (wordpress.com)

Website:  T E Taylor

Facebook:  T E Taylor | Facebook

Twitter:  @timetaylor1

Categories
Books

The Plot Thickens but What’s the Story?

I’m delighted to welcome author Helen Matthews back to my blog. She’s going to tell us about a complex story with three plots… I may have got that wrong, but here she is to explain all.

Yes—oh dear yes—the novel tells a story.

That’s a quote I remember from my university days reading English. It’s from E M Forster’s Aspects of a Novel (1927). Forster goes on to give examples about the difference between story and plot. Plot needs an inciting incident and causality and a suspense novel, such as The Girl in the Van, needs extra ingredients. Complex characters to give it spice; a pinch of twists; a ladle of settings and a heaped tablespoon of time shifts to mix everything up.

But while we’re cooking up a plot, we mustn’t neglect story. While editing The Girl in the Van. I noticed how the characters’ stories were multi-layered and inter-locking. Some stories were true, and others were not. Some were full of missing pieces that had to be unearthed by the characters (or guessed by the reader) Some stories differed, depending on whose point of view we were following. All these stories were on a collision course towards jeopardy and huge danger for the characters. I imagine the hidden stories, nested like a Matryoshka (those wooden Russian dolls) inside one another, waiting to be revealed.

The Girl in the Van is a twisty page-turner with serious themes at its heart. The strapline is: A tormented mother, an abandoned girl, a deadly game of survival.

There are three interwoven plots (Laura’s story, Ellie’s story and Miriana’s story) and to begin with there’s some necessary confusion about which of them is ‘the girl in the van’.  Perhaps there is more than one girl (or woman) in the van at different times. The main narrative is from the viewpoint of Laura, a former teacher, who’s lived a solitary existence since a life-changing event involving her sixteen year old daughter, Ellie. Escaping from Wales to London, Laura cuts all ties with her partner Gareth (Ellie’s father) and refuses to tell anyone her new address. For two years she struggles on in a mundane job before making an attempt to re-join the world. She buys an old campervan and joins a group holiday at a campsite in Tenby. Here, Laura’s path crosses with Miriana, a teenage girl who  bears an uncanny resemblance to Ellie. As Laura discovers more about Miriana’s story – and who knows if that story is true? –  chilling parallels to her own life emerge. Laura’s life is at risk because someone out there is determined to stop the truth about what happened to Ellie coming out.

The book poses the question: What happened to Ellie? Her mother, Laura, believes she knows but has blocked the story from her mind and doesn’t want to think about it. Her former partner, Gareth, (Ellie’s father) has exactly the same information as Laura but reacts differently. Refusing to accept it, he’s on a mission to investigate further. As Laura says: ‘He was like a vulture scavenging on roadkill, picking over every detail’.

Ellie’s story forms the scaffolding of the book and gradually unfolds as the stories progress.

When Laura leaves Wales and moves to London, she cuts herself off from everyone she knew in her old life, refusing to tell even her  mother her new address. But why? Is it because her mother is close to Gareth and Laura  can’t trust her not to reveal her whereabouts?

A further twist in Laura and Gareth’s story is the harassment they’ve suffered at the hands of the gutter press and social media. Like some real-life families we’ve heard about, at a time of crisis, they lost the support of their community because some people chose to believe vicious rumours or trolls on social media.

Who is Miriana, the girl with a thousand stories? When Laura first encounters her, she behaves as if she’s an elective mute, refusing to speak, holding up hand-scrawled notes asking for help. It’s as if she’s not yet sure what story to tell. She tries out a few. Some may be true. Others not. Or perhaps even Miriana doesn’t know what’s really going on.

Miriana trades stories about her family’s connections to an ‘old country across the sea’ though she was born in Croydon and has never been abroad. The stories her father told her about social norms and the position of women in that country terrify Laura.  How could she  fail to be moved when she hears about the exploitation the teenager has suffered? It seems as if Miriana is trying to win Laura’s compassion and protection. As Laura reflects:

I shiver. Not because my chair is in the shade, but because her offer to trade her story for safety brings the legend of Scheherazade to my mind. For a thousand and one nights Scheherazade fended off her execution by telling fascinating stories to her husband King Shahryar, and ending at dawn on a cliff-hanger. Is Miriana really in danger, or is she playing me? I used to be a good judge of character, but no longer. Her story had better be good.

If you enjoy a story, or several linked ones, you can discover what happens by downloading The Girl in the Van at this link:

International / Amazon UK.

A paperback will also be available.

About Helen

Helen Matthews writes page-turning psychological suspense novels and is fascinated by the darker side of human nature and how a life can change in an instant. Her latest novel The Girl in the Van was published on 17 March by Darkstroke Books. Previous novels include suspense thriller After Leaving the Village, which won first prize in the opening pages category at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and was followed by Lies Behind the Ruin, domestic noir set in France, published by Hashtag Press. Her third novel Façade was published by Darkstroke Books in 2020.

Born in Cardiff, Helen read English at the University of Liverpool and worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management. She fled corporate life to work freelance while studying for a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University. Her stories and flash fiction have been shortlisted and published by Flash 500, 1000K Story, Reflex Press, Artificium and Love Sunday magazine.

She is a keen cyclist, covering long distances if there aren’t any hills, sings in a choir and once appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall, New York in a multi-choir performance. She loves spending time in France. Helen is an Ambassador for the charity, Unseen, which works towards a world without slavery and donates her author talk fees, and a percentage of royalties, to the charity.

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