Category Archives: Ebook

The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows

It’s grisly. That’s what it is. And good. Here is Marnie Riches’s third George McKenzie novel, and it is as bloody as the first two. It deals with child trafficking in Europe, so is not easy to read about. Nor are the murders, where the reader as always is sitting in the front row of the stalls, seeing everything.

At one point I paused to think, wondering whether it’s good for me to read about this much blood and gore, accompanied by generous dollops of swearing and sex. I decided it probably was, and that the difference lies in the fact that the books have been written by a woman.

Marnie Riches, The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows

We meet first hand, parents whose children go missing, live through their agony, seeing how their lives fall apart. We are cold, too. Both London and Amsterdam are freezing, caught in exceptionally low temperatures and masses of snow.

Criminologist George is busy visiting jails as well as being annoyed with her lover van den Bergen, until he calls her in to help with his murder hunt and the missing children.

Should I have seen the end coming? I don’t think so. You just know that something not terribly good is about to happen, while hoping there will also be some positive news for a few characters. (If there are more books, I’d like some solutions for Elvis and Marie, please.)

Marnie has put more of herself in this book, giving it more of a raw edge. If you can cope with the grisliness, this is great stuff.

(Order your ebook here.)

The Greystones Press

It’s not every day that a new publishing company is born. The Greystones Press is a brand new publisher’s of quality books, started by Mary Hoffman and her husband Stephen Barber.

Very sensibly they are sticking to what they care about most, which is literature, art, music, history, mythology and fairy tales. This will sound silly, but I feel quite excited at the thought of this, in a world too full of publishing companies who concentrate on, well, other things. And it’s because they do, that people like Mary and Stephen are needed. They want to publish the kind of books that won’t necessarily appeal to everyone, or sell in vast numbers. (Although it’d obviously be nice if they did.)

We’ve got used to self-publishing by now. Authors who either can’t get commercially published, or who want to have some level of control over what happens to their books, publish either ebooks and/or print copies. But most of them don’t go all the way and start something that will publish other people’s books as well.

This is quite a brave thing to do, but then where would we be if no one tried something new occasionally? Mary clearly has a lot of experience after her years of writing over a hundred books. One of them, the one about David, is going to be part of their first list, and it’s a book that personifies what The Greystones Press stands for. They also have plans for translated novels later on, which I look forward to.

Among the other first books will be Seven Miles of Steel Thistles by Katherine Langrish, whose knowledge of fairy tales I have long been in awe of, and here she will expand on what she’s been writing about for several years on her blog with the same name.

Mary also has a YA/adult crossover book for The Greystones Press, called Shakespeare’s Ghost, which rather suitably will be published on April 23rd. Jules Cashford and Kate Snow complete the first list of books this spring.

The Exclusion Wars

The Exclusion Wars by Sheila Agnew is a dystopia set in New York in about ten years’ time, and one which is looking increasingly likely. Many such stories feel as if they would require considerably longer before they might happen, but this one features a Trump-like President with a hatred for one group of the population; the Latinos.

Sheila Agnew, The Exclusion Wars

The novel is self-published because all the publishers Sheila approached a couple of years ago felt that the scenario was far too unlikely…

The main character is teenager Mateo Rivera, aka Matthew Rivers, who is alone after his mother escaped to Alaska, the only safe place for Latinos to go. He is looked after by the Underground, whose goal is to restore Latinos in the community, while helping people to disappear safely, or to live in disguise.

There are government agents everywhere, equipped with ‘fake’ dogs, and there are inspections in schools to find children who are pretending not to be Latino. One way to trick people to give themselves away is seeing if they speak Spanish, when caught unawares.

Matthew himself joins the Underground as a minor agent, and along with his best friend he runs messages between the adults. We don’t see so much of President Trent, but the schools inspector is a pretty terrifying man, who is quite hands-on with the searching.

This plot could be true almost anywhere, with almost any group of people as the unwanted ones. If you stop and think for a few seconds, you can probably come up with some. Maybe not as totalitarian as this set-up, but we’re not far from it in places.

It’s a shame the book couldn’t find a mainstream publisher. As you know, I often wonder what they are thinking a lot of the time. Sheila did the kind of thing I could see myself doing; she sent her book to Eoin Colfer, who liked it.

Not here you don’t

‘Would you like a different ending with that?’ Or how about a new first chapter?

Book publishing is hardly the same as ordering chips with your meal, instead of the boiled new potatoes. And still, publishers will insist on things being done their way. Sometimes that’s probably wise, because they have the experience. On the other hand, the author has the book in his or her head.

I remember Fletcher Moss being bemused by Chicken House telling him that his competition winning – first – novel had to be turned round quite drastically, to be publishable.

And now Cornelia Funke has been told the Americans need a different beginning to her new book, already published in Germany. Americans are a bit more cautious about what’s acceptable or not. But the book is already out there, and it’s not as if they were forced to buy Cornelia’s book.

So she’s self-publishing, which feels the last thing you’d expect someone like Cornelia having to do. But she’s lucky, because it seems she was handed back the rights to the entire series (the ‘problem’ is with the third book), thus enabling her to do this. Many authors struggle for years getting the rights back to their books, even when the publisher wants nothing more to do with it. Perhaps because she’s Cornelia Funke and not some minor, unknown writer?

Cornelia Funke

I think I have heard of novels where there are differences in other languages. But I trust only minor ones. I’m thinking of the discussion I had with my First Best Friend in our teens. Strangely enough we both liked the same band, and the same track too. Except we argued about what album the track was on. We were both right, of course. I’d bought my LP in London, and she hers in Sweden. The LPs were different. But I’d rather not have the same argument over how a novel ends; did they live happily ever after? Or not?

The Girl Who Broke the Rules

Marnie Riches’ ‘Girl’ really does break rules. A lot. The first novel was exceptionally good. So is this one, as long as I can manage not to dwell on the actual murders in too much detail. They are far more gruesome than those bodies blown to bits in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die. Proceed with caution. And do keep in mind that George swears a lot, comes from a rough background, and is actually still only 24 years old.

She’s the most fantastic of heroines. I’d like her to be more sensible occasionally, but then she’d not be the George McKenzie we love.

Marnie Riches, The Girl Who Broke the Rules

In Amsterdam immigrant women are being murdered in a way I’d rather not describe here. And van den Bergen is unwell, he misses George, and he needs her to come and help solve this case. But she’s busy, and can’t get permission to travel, and she misses him too, and is troubled by her – lack of – feelings for her boyfriend.

As in the first book, aspects of George’s life in England have a bearing on the Amsterdam murders. It’s simply that she has a rich background to draw from, and it’s hard to work out what and who. If there’s a pervert out there, George will know him.

Very cliffhangery sort of cliffhanger at the end. There will be a third book. I’d rather not speculate on how Marnie will kill her victims in that one.

(Buy the ebook here.)

The Girl Who Did Blog Tours

Today I welcome Marnie Riches, as she writes about what she writes about. 

From Middle Grade to Murder: a children’s writer’s descent into depravity

As an avid reader of middle grade fiction at the time I wanted a complete career change, writing for children seemed the obvious thing to do. I understood children because I owned two and had once been one myself. I knew quite a few words. Great. More to the point, as my children were toddlers at the time, I decided that ideally, since I could paint as well, I should be creating picture books. Perfect! So, I knocked up a 32 page dummy of a story about a selfish, lazy hippo, called Billy the Messy Hippo. It was a didactic, overly long story, where Billy got his comeuppance for being a shitehawk to the other toys.

Whoops.

Billy Bathroom

Really, I wanted to punch Billy on the nose for spilling his drinks and bullying teddy. Maybe a spell locked in the freezer would cool him down. Or maybe I could disembowel him and throw his plushie stuffing in the bin. OK. Perhaps this short format wasn’t working for me. And the illustrations took weeks and weeks to do – it just wasn’t practical. There were better illustrators out there, anyway. I laid my picture book aspirations to rest (no bludgeoning or shallow graves were required).

Next, I wrote a middle grade novel about a girl called Zeeba, who goes on the hunt for aliens, sighted above the hills in Huddersfield. She got roped into a high octane world of spies, subterfuge and gangsters. There were some menacing, corrupt policemen and a disembowelled cow.

Er, whoops.

There were more children’s novels – the first six books in the Time Hunters series for 7+, published by HarperCollins under the pseudonym Chris Blake. Lots of fighting and peril in them, of course. Plus a puzzle to be solved.

Everything I had written for children included a high concept mystery, a great deal of tension, thrills a-plenty and violence. But I felt my nasty narrative was stunted by the age-banding. Perhaps I needed to try something else…

So, having developed the sparing, highly visual style of a children’s writer, I started to pen a crime novel for grown-ups. The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die was the first novel in a gritty, gripping, often violent Euro-noir series, featuring a young criminologist called Georgina McKenzie. In writing these books (I’m currently working on book 3 – The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows), I feel like I’m home. Everything fits. My writing style is still very akin to that used by Young Adult authors – I use very little exposition. Each chapter contains a distinct, often visual scene. I try to keep my dialogue snappy and realistic. But importantly, I am now able to make people have sex, drink heavily, smoke drugs, commit criminal offences, be utterly unpleasant to one another and, yes, disembowel other people. I think I’ve found my literary calling.

Marnie Riches, The Girl Who Broke the Rules

The Girl Who Broke the Rules is the second instalment in the series. In this book, I feel I’ve really got into my stride with my characters. It’s a story, seemingly about the brutal murders of sex workers, that flits between the red light district of Amsterdam and the strip-clubs of Soho. I wanted to explore themes of parent/child relationships, sexuality and the abuse of vulnerable migrants. I hope readers will see shades of Nesbø, Larsson and Thomas Harris in there, since these three are my biggest influences.

The question remains, however, as to whether I regret trading middle grade for murder? The answer is no. Because I will still continue to write children’s novels when my adult fiction deadlines allow. For, although a warped, adult imagination lurks behind my terribly boring, respectable middle-aged exterior, there is still a part of me that laughs at fart jokes and wants to tell utterly daft, touching stories about discovering the world through a child’s eyes; making sense of their relationships with adults and peers.

In fact, I predict I might well be working on a high concept children’s thriller before the year is out and maybe, just maybe, there won’t be a single disembowelling!

(Respectable middle-aged exterior?? She’s got pink hair!)

Mythwinter

I don’t know how he does it. I was under the impression Nick Green was taking things easy, but here he is with a new book. Again. Mythwinter is a sort of fairy tale, about snow and ice and Jack Frost.

Nick Green, Mythwinter

At first I thought it would have been better to wait for winter to read, and even publish, a book like this, rather than do so in summer. I like getting into the mood. But you know, it’s just as well I read this in August. Winter would have been too scary.

Anna is enjoying the snow and the fact that her school is closed due to the weather. She and her dog Casper go out to play in the wintry park, just like everyone else. But then the snow games get a little out of hand and Anna falls out with the others. And when she does, she suddenly meets this boy, who seems both real and not real.

They share the same surname, Frost, and Jack is so pleased to have a sister at last. He does things to entertain Anna, and to impress her, and as so often happens under circumstances like that, he takes things too far.

And too far in winter terms is actually a bit scary.

It takes everything Anna’s got to set things right again and save the world and her friends, and Jack.

As I might have mentioned before, this is just what a children’s book should be like. I’m glad Nick feels he can concentrate on his stories, self-publishing* them, rather than bend in any direction because a publisher believes it might be better. This is good. It doesn’t need changing or adapting. What the world needs is for people to recognise what a great children’s author Nick Green is.

(*£1.99 only. You know it makes sense.)