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Books Interviews Reviews

Secrets Spoil Relationships

You can’t have a proper relationship with someone if you can’t be open with them. Rachel and her sister Imogen have discovered this…

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of an exciting new novel: Façade by Helen Matthews.

Façade by Helen Matthews

My review is followed by an interview with the author.

Review

Family secrets abound in this thrilling saga, and they’re revealed to us at different stages of the novel. Rachel is the one who has had to shoulder the most secrets, causing rifts between her and those closest to her. But even she has more to discover. Her older sister, Imogen, has been sheltered from a lot. Why is that? Being kept in the dark has fired her jealousy; she was always wild and selfish. The biggest secret of all, the truth about Rachel’s and Imogen’s brother, is mentioned throughout the book, but only revealed at the end. And it wasn’t what I was expecting.

This novel has taught me a lot about careful plotting. It has also made me rethink the secrets in my own family and the way they affected me. Nothing quite as dramatic, although Imogen did remind me of someone.

Façade is a gripping story, highly recommended.

Interview

Hello, Helen, and welcome to the blog. You are new to Crooked Cat / Darkstroke, but you’re not a new author. Can you tell us briefly about your other books?

Thanks for inviting me onto your blog, Miriam, and for reading and reviewing Façade. I’m thrilled to know you enjoyed it.

Façade is actually my third novel. My debut, published in 2017, was After Leaving the Village – a  suspense thriller about human trafficking and modern slavery. I’m often asked how I came to write about such a dark and gritty subject but once I hit on the idea it wouldn’t leave me. I should add that the story is realistic and I couldn’t entirely shy away from the violence but it is not gratuitous.

I’m interested in how someone’s life can change in an instant: one poor decision, trusting the wrong person, or being desperate to escape from poverty can spark a chain of events. My main character in After Leaving the Village, is seventeen-year-old Odeta, from a village in Albania. She’s left school and is working in her father’s shop. Her life isn’t especially grim, but it’s dull. She knows there’s a big world out there and, when an enigmatic stranger walks into the shop and offers to take her to London to start a new career, she jumps at the chance. Her life is about to change, but not in the way she expected.

I wanted readers to stand in Odeta’s shoes and really get to know her and recognise that she’s an ordinary woman – just like you or me or one of our daughters. I didn’t want her to be a one-dimensional character or a stereotypical victim.

While researching my novel, I discovered a charity called Unseen, that works to support survivors of modern slavery. They answered my research questions, fact-checked the novel for me and their Director wrote a Foreword for the book. I’m now an Ambassador for the charity.

My second novel Lies Behind the Ruin, published in April 2019, is also psychological suspense but it’s not about human trafficking. It’s domestic noir about a family who flee overwhelming problems in England and escape to France to renovate a derelict property. The main part of the story is set in and around Limoges with authentic detail of the city and nearby villages which, I hope, shows some of the magic of France and explains why people crave a simpler life. Emma and Paul Ashby and their children  are a ‘blended family’ and face heartbreak when they make the move because Emma’s son from her first marriage refuses to come. But their challenges aren’t the everyday ones that impact all would-be ex-pats because their marriage is beset by secrets and lies. Once these problems escalate, both their dream of a new life, and their daughter Mollie’s safety, are at risk because – how can you build a new life on toxic foundations?

What about Façade? How does it compare to your previous novels?

Façade is psychological suspense, like my previous novels, but it’s standalone. I’ve never wanted to write a sequel or a series because I always have new ideas, new characters, and new worlds to explore. If I tried to reopen a story with some of the same characters from a previous novel, I’m not sure I could make it fresh.

The story of Façade opens in 1999 when the main characters, Rachel and her sister, Imogen, are still in their teens and their baby brother drowns at the family home The Old Rectory. Grief shatters the family except for Imogen, who escapes to live abroad with her musician boyfriend, Simon, who she later marries. Fast forward twenty years and Simon dies in a mysterious accident in Ibiza. Imogen returns, bitter and resentful and determined to reclaim from her family what she believes should be hers. The carefully constructed veneer that has kept the lid on secrets and held the family back from disintegrating begins to shatter and Rachel and her teenaged daughter, Hannah face unexpected loss and danger.

I always try to make my novels multi-layered. On the surface, I hope readers will find them gripping page turners with multiple mysteries to be solved but, for book club discussion, and those who like to reflect on what they read, there are deeper underlying themes. In Façade these include memory, property and houses, and the meaning of home.

Your novels all sound fascinating. Why did you choose that genre?

It seems amusing to me now but, when I started writing novels (including ones I’ve abandoned), I just thought I was writing ‘a book’.  I didn’t understand about genre and how important it is for a publisher to be able to target readers, who might enjoy your book. I had to learn fast! A few years ago I won a novel competition and had a one-to-one with a big five publisher. They told me my book was ‘high end women’s fiction with book club potential’ so I was surprised when my publisher categorised After Leaving the Village as a ‘suspense thriller’, which is a sub-division of crime. Since then, I’ve gravitated more towards writing psychological suspense and have read widely in the genre so I can learn from the masters.  Early exponents of this were authors like Daphne du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith, and Barbara Vine but it’s had a huge boost in popularity in the last ten years since Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train  were published. I read widely in the suspense genre to understand the tropes and what works, what doesn’t. Some hugely successful novels are deceptively simple, like Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris, which was a massive million-selling best seller (and is very clever) but others are more literary, such as The Wych Elm by Tana French and Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – both excellent books.

Psychological suspense suits me because I’m not so interested in violent and gory deaths or in the painstaking work the police undertake to solve a murder. I don’t mind a bit of terror but I’d rather this was in the character’s and reader’s heads. I prefer writing about flawed characters, people who make mistakes or bad choices and, if their life experiences have made them sociopathic, so much the better. I’m fascinated by that too. Personally, I don’t have a problem reading about unlikeable characters but that can be a challenge for a novelist because you have to keep your readers interested in a flawed character, even if they don’t sympathise with them.

Your bio says, “She fled corporate life.” Why was that?

After a degree in English, I went travelling, then joined the British Council as a graduate trainee. Working on the educational and cultural side of  international development was intellectually stimulating and satisfying but quite badly paid so I changed direction. Later on, that turned out to be a good thing because my husband was made redundant and I became my family’s breadwinner while he looked after the children and ran a small business he fitted in around them. I ended up in the Energy industry where my specialisms were HR, Employee Benefits and Pensions. I always wrote fiction in any spare time – late at night or when I was on holiday. In my day job, I did a lot of writing: reports, legal documents, strategy papers and financial analysis. I found it was sapping my creativity and turning my prose into business speak. So, for a few years,  I stopped writing short stories and novels and turned to writing articles instead. My freelance journalism was published in a few newspapers and lifestyle magazines. A highlight was recording some columns I wrote about family life for a BBC Radio programme called Home Truths, presented by the late and lovely John Peel.

As every author knows, if you don’t write it makes you unhappy so, once my children were older, I decided to quit my job and go back to university to study for an MA in Creative Writing. I don’t believe writers need to do a course like this – there are other paths – but, for me, it was because I needed to get my imaginative writing back on track after years of working for big companies. It wasn’t possible to give up paid work altogether, so I carried on with consultancy alongside my studies and, over the next few years, gradually switched to freelance copywriting, which fits in well with writing fiction.

Tell us about the charity, Unseen. How does it go about eliminating slavery from the world?

Unseen is a small UK charity with a big reach and is dedicated to working towards a world without slavery.

Unseen runs the UK’s national Anti-slavery Helpline where victims, survivors and concerned members of the public can get help and advice 24/7. They run safe houses for women survivors and for men. These aren’t just hostels but places where survivors get medical and psychological support and counselling to help their recovery. They run outreach schemes to help people who have been  resettled in the community. They are also working on a project to support child victims of trafficking, which is a particularly tricky area. A high proportion of children rescued from slavery and placed in local authority care abscond and return to their trafficker because they don’t get the specialist support they need.

Unseen also provides training for employers, police forces and medical professionals to help them recognise the signs of slavery and they give advice to government to help them formulate strategies and legislation.

I make a monthly payment to sponsor a room in a safe house. Since becoming an Ambassador for Unseen, I’ve raised over £2,000 from donating a small percentage of my book royalties and from my author talk fees.

Thanks for featuring me, Miriam. It’s been fun answering your questions.

Thanks for answering them, Helen.

***

The publication date for Façade is 17 September 2020.
Pre-order it on Amazon.

Find out more about and get in touch with Helen at:

website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook

Helen Matthews

Categories
Books Reviews

Grab it While You Can

Cultivating a Fuji (Kindle version) is free this weekend.

Cultivating a Fuji also received another lovely review, which ends:

From a difficult and challenging subject matter, Drori has crafted an intelligent, compelling and thoroughly enjoyable book, one that everyone would benefit from reading.

And here’s the new trailer:

Categories
Books

An Appreciated Editor

I don’t often write about my other job as an editor, but now is a good time to do exactly that.

I just finished working with Joan Livingston on her new novel, Killing the Story, out on August 26th (the day after my birthday) and available for pre-order now. This is the fourth novel of hers that I’ve edited, and I love them all.

I also enjoy being appreciated – don’t we all? – and this post shows that to be the case. However, the editor in me wants to change the tense of a verb in this sentence:

She’s originally from the UK, but has lived in Israel for many years and does a lot of traveling.

I did a lot of travelling. I hope to do a lot of travelling. But just now… nope. But that single l in ‘traveling’ – I know that’s fine in the US.

The first time I was asked to edit a novel in American English, I worried that I wouldn’t know all the correct idioms or get the dialogue right. “Don’t worry,” I was told. “The author comes from the UK but lives in the US and she knows all that.” That was almost entirely true, but I did query one word (I can’t remember which) that I thought might not be understood by Americans. The author was surprised to discover I was right. I think living in Israel has opened me up to more Americans than the average British person would come into contact with.

That doesn’t mean I know all the idioms, but I trust Joan, who has lived there all her life. And, yes, I keep her writer’s voice. I think that’s important.

Editing a book is a long process, but it’s also enjoyable, especially if the book is interesting and the author is easy to get along with. Fortunately, I haven’t worked with any stroppy authors, but I’ve heard stories! And I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve worked on.

I’m currently editing a memoir by a non-native speaker of English. She writes English very well, but the mistakes she makes wouldn’t be made by a native speaker. Sometimes, they’re not even mistakes, and I find myself saying, “It’s not wrong, but it doesn’t sound quite right.” Yes, we actually talk, via Zoom. It’s quite fun.

There are different types of authors. Some accept all my suggestions, while with others there’s more discussion. With the first type, there’s less of the back and forth, and that saves time. But  discussion probably leads to a more polished result and that, after all, is the point of the exercise.

Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

Spice of Life

Categories
Books short stories Social anxiety

News

There’s so much happening, I can’t keep up with it all.

Some of it is private. Some of it is yet to take place.

But this is what I can tell you.

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Social Anxiety Revealed is taking part in the Smashwords July Summer/Winter Sale.

Social Anxiety Revealed by Miriam Drori.

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This book is suitable for teachers, parents, employers, employees, group members. In fact, it’s suitable for everyone, because it’s NOT a self-help book. It explains what social anxiety is, so that you can understand.

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Both volumes of Dark London have now been published.

Find them at Volume One and Volume Two.

Dark London, Volumes One and Two

Eighteen fabulously dark stories centred in the famous city of London.

My story, Gruesome in Golders Green, begins with an unusual encounter in the suburb of Golders Green.

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That’s all for now, but watch this space….

Book News is the Best News!

Categories
Books short stories

Gruesome in Golders Green

In a way, I feel sorry for Katy. I imagine she had a tough upbringing and was left to fend for herself long before maturity found her. Even now, aged twenty-six, she makes some pretty bad decisions and seems unable to protect herself or plan any sort of future. I expect her outlook on life will change soon, but whether that change will be for the better remains to be seen.

Katy is one of the two women in my short story, Gruesome in Golders Green. The other woman? I’ll let you meet her when you read the story.

I’ve always liked the alliteration in the name Golders Green, which is a London suburb that borders Hendon, where I grew up. I enjoyed adding another G-word to create my title. ‘Gruesome’ fits the story perfectly.

My familiarity with north-west London led me to choose it for my setting and helped me to write the story. Google Maps also played a part in adding to my knowledge. So did Wikimedia Commons:

Rotherwick_Road, Golders_Green
Rotherwick Road, Golders Green. © Todd Keator / Rotherwick Road, Golders Green / CC BY-SA 2.0

The only other research I did for the story revolved around Katy’s lifestyle and UK police procedures.

Gruesome in Golders Green is the first of eighteen fabulous stories that comprise the two-volume anthology, Dark London, published by darkstroke. All proceeds will go to two charities: Centrepoint and The London Communities Foundation.

The first volume will be released on 25th June and the second on 2nd July, but both can be pre-ordered now. Click on the pictures if you dare!

Dark London, Volume TwoDark London, Volume One

Categories
Books Social anxiety

Standing on the Platform

Social Anxiety Revealed by Miriam Drori.

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My non-fiction guide to social anxiety has begun the next stage of a long and exciting journey.

The first stage, which lasted for thirteen years, transformed it from a collection of random ideas to structured text.

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Cover - Bestseller

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The second stage saw it travelling together with the many wonderful books – mostly fiction but also non-fiction – of the publisher, Crooked Cat Books.

As Crooked Cat changes direction, Social Anxiety Revealed had to part company and continue alone.

Social Anxiety Revealed by Miriam Drori.

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And so, my little book has now changed platforms and is standing proudly, thrilled to be beginning a new stage of the journey. Yes, you can now find it, with a few minor enhancements, on Smashwords.

 

 

 

 

 

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About Social Anxiety Revealed

Fear of other people? Most of us feel this occasionally, when giving a presentation or being grilled in a job interview. This is not social anxiety disorder.

Fear of what other people think of you? We have all felt this, too. It is why we dress as we do and generally try to behave in a way that is expected of us. This is not social anxiety disorder either.

But when those fears become so prevalent that they take over your life? When they cause you to hide away, either literally or by not revealing your real self? When you keep quiet in an attempt to avoid those raised eyebrows and the possible thoughts behind them? That is social anxiety disorder.

And it is much more common than you might think. In the mental health table, it comes third – after alcoholism and depression – and yet most people don’t even know it exists.

If you have social anxiety disorder, this book is for you.

Even if you don’t have social anxiety disorder, you might have a friend, a relative or a work colleague who does. You might see it developing in your son, your daughter, or a child you teach. This book is for you, too.

Social Anxiety Revealed is created by people who yearn to ditch all these problems and live their lives to the full.

Can you help? When you have read and understood, you’ll be in a much better position to do that.

Categories
Books

Bored? Not Me

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been bored at all since lockdown. In fact, I’ve had more to do than usual.

I miss going out to folk dancing, which won’t take place for another month, and that date, of course, relies on the coronavirus figures going down. Fortunately, they are, despite the gradual relaxation of the rules.

What have I been doing all this time? It’s hard to remember. There have been a lot of Zoom meetings of different sorts. I’ve written, and edited, and submitted. Lately, I’ve been trying to keep afloat in a vast sea called Self-Publishing. (More about that, later.)

What I want to tell you now is that this book:

Dark London Volume OneDark London Volume One

is available for pre-order from Amazon and will be released by Darkstroke on 25th June.

This is a collection of short stories from authors across the world – Miriam Drori, Jess Popplewell, Ted Bun, Anne-Marie Ormsby, Kate Braithwaite, Donna Cuttress, Sue Barnard, Sam Hall and Cathie Dunn – with a special foreword text from international bestselling London author, Alice Castle.

Yes, that’s me up there.

All monies received will go to two London-based charities – The London Community Foundation and Centrepoint.

If you pre-order now, the book will land in your e-reader on launch day and you’ll have helped those charities. Here’s the link again.

UPDATE: Volume Two can also be pre-ordered now from here.

Categories
Books Holidays Israel

Number Seven

I’m author number seven out of the eighteen who have written stories for Dark London, the new anthology to be published by Darkstroke.

Dark London Authors

I’ve long thought of my lucky number as twenty-five. Why?

  • I was born on 25th August.
  • The house I grew up in was at number 75 (25 x 3).
  • I came to live in Israel on 25th October.
  • When I was 25, I lived at number 25.

However, seven is a rather special number in Judaism because:

  • The menorah (the 7-branched candelabrum) has been a symbol for Judaism for about 3000 years.
  • The festival of Sukkoth, which involves eating (and sometimes sleeping) in booths, as a reminder of the years when the Israelites wandered through the desert, lasts for 7 days.
  • Simchat Torah, the Rejoicing of the Torah, includes parading around the synagogue 7 times.
  • The wedding ceremony includes 7 blessings.
  • The festival of Shavuot, commemorating the receiving of the Torah, is celebrated 7 weeks after Passover, which commemorates the exodus from Egypt.
  • The shivah, the period of mourning, lasts for 7 days.

 

Ruth&David'sSukka
Inside a Sukkah (booth)

I couldn’t be author #25 because there aren’t 25 authors in the anthology, but I’m happy to be #7, and I imagine one of the characters in my short story is, too.

Publication will be this summer. I’m excited!

Categories
Books Letters from Elsewhere Social anxiety

Letters from Elsewhere: John

Letters from Elsewhere

Today, there’s a letter and two announcements for you.

The letter comes from John, who is Martin’s boss in Bournemouth, UK. John has popped over from the pages of my novel, Cultivating a Fuji. It’s 1976, shortly before the start of the novel.

The announcements follow the letter.

Dear Martin,

I’m at my wits’ end. I’ve tried other ways to no avail, and now I’m resorting to a letter. At the very least, I can now be sure you’ll understand how I feel about this matter. But I’m hoping for much more. I’m hoping you’ll write back with an explanation, and that you’ll give me hope to believe things will gradually change. I promise I won’t show your reply to anyone, if you don’t want me to.

You know, I’m sure, how much I appreciate your work – how much we all do. We all know you do the work of ten other programmers, and we’re always confident you’ll complete all your tasks on time and with extreme efficiency.

But employment in an office doesn’t end with producing output. There is always a social aspect to it. We expect all employees to interact sometimes, as this adds to the convivial atmosphere in the office.

I would have thought that you, too, would welcome more interaction. No one can work all the time without a break. Instead of spending your breaks hunched over your desk, you could be having a word with your colleagues. It doesn’t have to be anything deep – just a little something to break the ice and ease the tension.

I don’t know anything about your past life. Exam results don’t tell me much. I suspect something happened to make you so quiet. Maybe a lot of things happened. If you want to tell me about them, I’m here to listen. You can do it by letter, if you prefer. I repeat my promise: I won’t tell anyone what you confide in me.

But please, please do respond in some fashion. I’ve tried many different paths to reach you – not because I’m nosy, but because I really, really want to help. Because I’m sure you’d be much happier if you opened up a bit. If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what else to try. I genuinely want to help you, but I can’t think of any other way.

Yours,
         John

More information about Cultivating a Fuji and about its author (me) is available by clicking the tabs at the top, as well as at the Amazon link in Announcement 1 below.

Cultivating a FujiAnnouncement 1

Cultivating a Fuji (the Kindle version) is completely free this weekend. Do download it from Amazon while you can. I hope you enjoy reading it. That was my main intention in writing the story. I also hoped you’d think about the story after reading it not so that you feel uncomfortable, but so that you’d consider changing your behaviour in the future. Because, probably, everyone knows someone like Martin.

Announcement 2

I’ve been waiting for a long time to be able to make this announcement. I have a short story in the two-volume anthology, Dark London, that will be published by Darkstroke this summer. All royalties from this anthology will go to London-focused charities. I’m very excited about this, delighted to find myself in this amazing lineup of authors and looking forward to the publication.

Dark London Authors

Categories
Books Letters from Elsewhere

Letters from Elsewhere: Joan

Letters from Elsewhere

I’m delighted to welcome Joan to the blog today. Her letter speaks for itself. I expect the sentiments in the letter have been echoed by many over time, even if they weren’t written down. Joan comes straight from the pages of Finding Nina by my good friend, the fabulous author, Sue Barnard.

16th May 1944

My darling Stella,

I really don’t know how to begin this letter.  If I’m honest, I think I’m writing it as much to myself as to you.  I need to get things clear in my own mind.

I’ve never been in this position before, and I find I’m thrilled and terrified in equal measures.
I’ll never forget what Mother said to me when we brought you home: “Babies don’t come with an instruction book.”  I’ve heard that said before, when my friends and work colleagues had babies of their own.  Now I fully understand what it means.  But in my case there’s an added layer of complication.  You were given to us, which in some ways brings even more responsibility.

With effect from yesterday, when we went to court, I am now officially your mother.  But I still can’t get out of my mind the image of that poor young girl at the adoption offices.  I don’t even know her name, but she looked no more than seventeen at the most.  My heart went out to her as she handed you over to me.  The social worker told me afterwards that she’d insisted on doing this herself, even though it isn’t normally allowed. 

All she said to me – and I can still hear her voice now, six months later – was “I can’t keep her because I can’t marry her father.  Please look after her.”  Then she started crying, and the social worker led her away. 

That was the moment when I first realised that our happiness – having a child of our own after so many years of waiting – is the direct result of someone else’s heartache.  Yes, you will call us Mummy and Daddy, but there’s no escaping from the harsh fact that somewhere out there you have another mother who was forced to give you away.

A friend who adopted a baby a few years ago told me that I need to start telling you the truth as soon as possible – before you’re even old enough to understand it – and that way, there will never be a time when you haven’t known.  “Tell her that you chose her,” she said.  “It will make her feel extra-special.”

So that’s what I’m going to do.  Starting tonight.  It will be our own bedtime story.  You’re still only six months old, but the sooner it begins, the easier it will be.

One day you will have to know the truth.  I can only hope and pray that when that day arrives and you fully understand what this bedtime story really means, you will not stop loving us.

With all my love, from your new mother,

Joan

About Finding Nina

1943: A broken-hearted teenager gives birth in secret.  Her soldier sweetheart has disappeared, and she reluctantly gives up her daughter for adoption.

1960: A girl discovers a dark family secret, but it is swiftly brushed back under the carpet.  Conventions must be adhered to.

1982: A young woman learns of the existence of a secret cousin.  She yearns to find her long-lost relative, but is held back by legal constraints.  Life goes on.

2004: Everything changes…

Sue Barnard: Books

FINDING NINA is part-prequel, part-sequel to the bestselling NICE GIRLS DON’T, but can also be read as a stand-alone story.

You can find these two books on Amazon: Finding NinaNice Girls Don’t.

About Sue Barnard

Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet whose family background is far stranger than any work of fiction.  She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Sue BarnardSue was born in North Wales some time during the last millennium.  She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.  Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird”. The label has stuck.

Sue now lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Sue is also in these places:
Blog   Facebook   G+   Twitter   Instagram   Amazon  Goodreads  RNA