Monday, 27 March 2017

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Nuala Ellwood @NualaWrites #MySistersBones

My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors and people in publishing to share with us a list of the books that are important to them and have made a lasting impression on their life

I'm delighted to welcome author Nuala Ellwood to Random Things today. Nuala's debut thriller, My Sister's Bones was published in hardback by Penguin in February this year.  I read and reviewed My Sister's Bones here on Random Things in October last year.
Here's just a snippet of what I said about it:
"My Sister's Bones is exceptionally well written. It is brimming with suspense and unease, there are dark dark uneasy themes but the elegant and clever writing lift the story. Compelling and haunting, I'm certain that My Sister's Bones is going to be one of 2017's big sellers."

Nuala Ellwood moved to London in her twenties to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter, but ended up writing novels instead.
She went on to do an MA in Creative Writing at York and was awarded funding from the Arts Council for the research and development of My Sister's Bones, her debut thriller.
Her father and sister are both journalists, and their experiences inspired the events of this novel.

Follow her on Twitter @NualaWrites

My Life In Books ~ Nuala Ellwood

Long before Harry Potter and Hogwarts there was Mildred Hubble struggling to fit in at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. I first discovered this series of books when I was seven years old and felt that I’d found in Mildred a true kindred spirit. Like her, I struggled to fit in at school, particularly when it came to PE and Maths. But though Mildred messed up royally in potion making class and broomstick formation she always managed to come good in the end, though her methods were anything but conventional. I was just the same and to this day I’m still a little bit Mildred Hubble in my approach to life.

I loved this book so much when I was little. It had everything I could wish for in a story: an ancient haunted house surrounded by water, a demon tree and three seventeenth century child ghosts who befriend the main character, ten year old Tolly, when he arrives at Green Knowe to stay with his grandmother. I also fell madly in love with Alexander, one of the young ghosts. At the age of eight, a seventeenth century flute-playing phantom was pretty much my idea of perfection!

Pat Barker’s novels have been a huge inspiration to me over the years. I first read Regeneration when I was thirteen. At that age I didn't really have any idea about war, let alone the horrors of trauma and shell shock. Yet as I read Pat Barker's spare, haunting prose something sparked inside me: an anger, a questioning. I remember reading The Ghost Road in one sitting with tears streaming down my face as Barker described the final moments of Hallet, a young soldier. Before he dies he attempts, several times, to say something, but his injuries make speech almost impossible. Finally, the psychiatrist, Rivers, manages to work out that he is saying 'it's not worth it.' As Hallet takes his final breath the other patients in the ward repeat his words over and over like a mantra. That scene is one of the most powerful reminders of the futility of war and I return to it again and again when I want to remind myself just how good writing can be.

 I read Dubliners when I was seventeen and had never been so drawn into a world, its sounds, smells and voices. It was like shining a spotlight onto a stage and seeing a life unfold in the space of a few moments before the light faded again. Coming from an Irish background I could recognize the inherent Irish melancholy that seeps through each scene. It made me want to write stories, tell stories and explore those hidden worlds beyond the light.

There are some writers that you appreciate, admire, even love, and then there are the ones that become part of your soul and for me, that writer is Virginia Woolf. From the moment I read Mrs Dalloway as a teenager I felt that I’d been re-introduced to an old friend, someone that I had known forever. At each stage of my life there has been a Woolf novel to guide my way.  As a writer I love her use of language and her boldness in creating a whole new literary form. I love the beauty of her sentences and the way she uses words like scattered petals, throwing them up into the air and seeing where they will land. But it is in her diaries that the real Virginia Woolf shines through. It is here that we see all her doubts and insecurities as well as her triumphs, the vital human being behind the cool Bloomsbury façade. Whenever I’m in need of guidance or reassurance I open the diary up at random and the answers I’m seeking, whether emotionally or professionally, will be there.

This novel had such an impact on me when I read it and it has inspired my writing in so many ways. The title is taken from a Henry James line -  ‘never say you know the last word about any human heart’ -  and that quote pretty much sums up what novel writing is all about for me. This book is a beautiful evocation of an ordinary life played out against the pivotal moments of the twentieth century. Written in diary form, the protagonist, Logan Mountstuart, starts the novel as an idealistic 15 year old, determined to make his mark and become a literary star, and ends it as a frail, jaded yet content eighty-five year old man. Along the way, he meets some of the key figures of the twentieth century including Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Ian Fleming, men and women who not only shape their times but Logan’s destiny too. But it is the smaller incidents in Logan’s life, the ordinary times, falling in love, becoming a father, dealing with death and loss and ageing, that deliver the most impact. When I finished this book I wanted to go back and start all over again, rather like Logan felt when he reached the end of his remarkable life.

This collection of short stories, written by the neuroscientist David Eagleman, imagines richly different afterlives in order to answer the question of what happens to us after we die. In one afterlife, God is no bigger than a microbe and completely unaware of your existence, in another you are recreated based on your credit card records. But it was the story entitled ‘Prism’ that really affected me. In this afterlife you live alongside yourself at different ages. So the vibrant seventeen year old you, full of dreams and ambition will encounter the jaded, exhausted forty year old you juggling job, kids and house and just about managing; your careworn eighty year old self, all wrinkles and creaky joints will bump into the smooth skinned, energetic eleven year old you while swimming in a lake. And your twenty-eight year old self may break up with a lover in a restaurant and then encounter the thirty-five year old you sitting at the next table wistfully thinking of what could have been. But it was the last line, spoken by an invisible committee of gods, that has stayed with me ever since and made me look at my life in a completely different way: ‘You were all these ages, they concede, and you were none.’

Nuala Ellwood ~ March 2017

Friday, 24 March 2017

Boundary by Andree A Michaud #BlogTour @noexitpress #BoundaryBook

It's the Summer of 1967. The sun shines brightly over Boundary Pond, a holiday haven on the US-Canadian border. Families relax in the heat, happy and carefree. Hours tick away to the sound of radios playing 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' and 'A Whiter Shade of Pale'. Children run along the beach as the heady smell of barbecues fills the air.

Zaza Mulligan and Sissy Morgan, with their long, tanned legs and silky hair, relish their growing reputation as the red and blonde Lolitas. Life seems idyllic. 

But then Zaza disappears, and the skies begin to cloud over...

Boundary by Andree A Michaud is published in hardback by No Exit Press on 23 March 2017. It is translated by Donald Winkler.

Boundary is a crime novel, it is also a novel of great beauty, of lyrical and ethereal prose that is often challenging and complex, but gradually draws in the reader as the story unfurls.

Boundary Pond is an all-American holiday park, nestled on the Canadian border and popular with families. The summer of 1967 is warm and the strains of popular music flavour the air, This is a place of idyll and fun, relaxation and games. Until the body of teenage Zaza is discovered, caught in a hunter's trap. Boundary begins to feel darker and more oppressive, with stories from the past revealed. Ghostly obsessions and long-ago passions become a central feature of the story.
Zaza and her friend Sissy are well known within the small Boundary community. Self-centred, haughty, admired, feared, they are the centre of their own worlds, and when Sissy disappears too, residents become overwhelmed with suspicion, grief and fear.

Told from different perspectives, primarily through the investigating police officer and young local girl Andree, the author sows many seeds into the reader's mind. She creates an intimacy that can feel oppressive and quite dark at times, yet it still feels like a thriller.

The atmosphere of the setting is wonderfully done, The expertly described location adds a depth to this story and thrusts the reader right into the heart of that small holiday park, that has big big secrets.

Boundary is a stimulating and elaborate story, sometimes it can be difficult to follow, it certainly takes a little time to settle into. However, it is immensely satifsying and the reader is rewarded with fine writing, elegantly crafted characters and a immersive setting.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Andrée A Michaud is a two-time winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction (Le Ravissement in 2001 and Bondrée in 2014) and the recipient of the Arthur Ellis Award and the Prix Saint-Pacôme for best crime novel forBondrée, as well as the 2006 Prix Ringuet for Mirror Lake (adapted for the big screen in 2013). As she has done since her very first novel, Michaud fashions an eminently personal work that never ceases to garner praise from critics and avid mystery readers alike. In 2010, her thriller Lazy Bird, set to the rhythms of jazz, was published by Les Éditions du Seuil in France, as part of the Point Noir Collection.
Donald Winkler is a Canadian Documentary maker and French-to-English literary translator. He won the Canada's Governor General's Award for French to English translation in 1994, 2011 and 2013.


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Deadly Game by Matt Johnson @Matt_Johnson_UK @OrendaBooks #BlogTour #MyLifeInBooks

Reeling from the attempts on his life and that of his family, Police Inspector Robert Finlay returns to work to discover that any hope of a peaceful existence has been dashed. 
Assigned to investigate the Eastern European sex-slave industry just as a key witness is murdered. Finlay, along with his new partner Nina Brasov, finds himself facing a ruthless criminal gang, determined to keep control of the traffic of people into the UK. On the home front, Finlay’s efforts to protect his wife and child may have been in vain, as an MI5 protection officer uncovers a covert secret service operation that threatens them all… 
Picking up where the bestselling Wicked Game left off, Deadly Game sees Matt Johnson’s damaged hero fighting on two fronts. Aided by new allies, he must not only protect his family but save a colleague from an unseen enemy … and a shocking fate.

Deadly Game by Matt Johnson was published in paperback by Orenda Books on 15 March 2017 and is the second in the Robert Finlay series.  I read and reviewed the first, Wicked Game here on Random Things in March last year.

I'm delighted to welcome the author, Matt Johnson, here to Random Things today as part of the Blog Tour for Deadly Game.  Matt is sharing with us the books that have inspired him and left a lasting impression on his life, This is his My Life In Books.

My Life In Books ~ Matt Johnson

When asked to look back at a life reading, it’s surprisingly hard to remember the names of authors and the titles of work that you’ve enjoyed. I read, not simply for pleasure, but to learn, and as I’m now approaching my sixth decade on this earth, I’ve worked my way through quite a few books.

So, I’ve decided to concentrate on those that I really remember, as this must be because they had a sufficiently marked effect to have burned their content into my conscious memory. I have quite eclectic taste, as you will see.

I start with a book I read during my early teens. It’s Mike at Wrykin by the well-known author P.G.Wodehouse.
As a lad, I was very keen at sport and was house-captain for both rugby and cricket. So, a tale set in a school about a boy of my age excelling at sport – and all told with the author’s brilliant wit – was bound to appeal.
It did. And it’s a story I remember with fondness.

As a teenager, I was fascinated by science. Man had just landed on the moon – no, I don’t subscribe to the conspiracy theories – and the idea of space travel and life on other worlds sparked the imagination of many a writer.
One of the very best exponents of this genre was Frank Herbert.
Dune is one of the most famous science fiction novels ever written and needs little by way of introduction. It was described as one of the landmarks of modern science fiction.
Fans of ‘Game of Thrones’ and similar incredible worlds could do well to read this and learn where these ideas first started.

Although not a fan of graphic horror films, I do admit a weakness for an imaginative book that can leave the gore to your imagination.
Chiller-fiction, I believe it is called, and James Herbert was the UK’s best exponent, to my view. The Fog was the first of his books to grab my attention but I soon went on the read others such as The Rats and Survivor.
Herbert’s writing has been a huge influence on my own. His twenty-three novels sold more than 54 millions copies worldwide and in many translations. I’m sad that, as he died in 2013, I will never get to meet him to thank him.

One of the masters of the genre I have entered with Wicked Game and Deadly Game has to be Lee Child.
Killing Floor introduced the world to Jack Reacher, a character who has become even better known than his creator.
Reacher has such universal appeal, to readers of all ages, male and female, that he has set the bar, the target to which all other authors in this genre must aspire.
I haven’t read the most recent Reacher books, but the early ones never failed to grip me. Killing Floor, given that was the first time I met the 6’7” military cop, is to my mind the best.

In more recent years, I have tried to broaden my horizons, to read outside my favoured genres and look at the work of fine authors. It was with this in mind that I started Birdsong.
This is one of the very first books that, when I finished the final page I put it to one side and just sat there, stunned. I really enjoyed Birdsong that much.
 Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Sebastian Faulks at an event and we enjoyed a good chat about football – a shared passion – about writing and about my first literary events, which were on the horizon. Sebastian was kind enough to share a tip with me, and then to demonstrate it to the audience. He advised me to be careful, and not to spill my wine all over my notes as I started to talk!

When my partner first handed me a copy of Pillars of the Earth, I felt quite daunted by its length. I’m glad I persisted.
This incredible novel kept me occupied for weeks. I found the story drew me in and I really needed to follow as the stories of the characters unfolded.
If you haven’t read it, try it. After all, Ken comes from Wales, which speaks volumes in itself!

Matt Johnson ~ March 2017

Matt Johnson served as a soldier and Metropolitan Police officer for 25 years. Blown off his feet at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1992, and one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent's Park bombing, Matt was also at the Libyan People's Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital.
Hidden wounds took their toll. In 1999, Matt was discharged from the police with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While undergoing treatment, he was encouraged by his counsellor to write about his career and his experience of murders, shootings and terrorism. One evening, Matt sat at his computer and started to weave these notes into a work of fiction that he described as having a tremendously cathartic effect on his own condition.
His bestselling thriller, Wicked Game, which was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger, was the result. Deadly Game once again draws on Matt's experiences and drips with the same raw authenticity of its predecessor.

Find out more about Matt Johnson at
Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Johnson_UK


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Ali Land @byAliLand #MyLifeInBooks

My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors and people in publishing to share with us a list of the books that are important to them and have made a lasting impression on their life

I'm really thrilled to welcome author Ali Land to Random Things today. Ali's debut novel, Good Me, Bad Me was published by Penguin on 12 January 2017. I read and reviewed it here on Random Things back in December last year. It's an amazing read, here's a snippet from my review:

"Original, intelligent and so very tense. Good Me, Bad Me is a psychological thriller that will leave the reader wondering, and questioning every character. 
Ali Land is a talented, imaginative author, this is certainly going to be one of THE books of 2017."

After graduating from university with a degree in Mental Health, Ali Land spent a
decade working as a Child and Adolescent 
Mental Health Nurse in both hospitals and schools in the UK and Australia.

Ali is now a full-time writer and lives in West London

Follow her on Twitter @byAliLand

My Life In Books ~ Ali Land

I longed to be in Jo, Bessie and Fanny’s gang. They had an enchanted forest, a gigantic magical tree and a colourful group of extraordinary friends with names like Moonface and Dame Washalot. Blyton’s writing lit so much magic in me as a child and even now as an adult, I love reading her books and when I share them with little people I know, I can see her stories working their magic all over again.  

It wasn’t just the horror of this story – the abuse, the betrayal, the violence – that kept me turning the pages, it was the intensity of the sibling relationships that resonated with me. I was twelve when I read this and I’d been at boarding school since I was nine. As one of the youngest at my school I’d experienced being ‘parented’ by other children, and as I got older, I too became a ‘parent’ to the younger ones. Cathy and Chris turning the attic into an imaginary garden for their siblings made so much sense to me, and the strength of the bonds they formed, their bravery, their sadness and the love they felt for each other was comforting and familiar.

My English teacher gave this to me to ‘stretch my curious mind,’ and boy did it ever. Philosophical in nature, and set in medieval times on a Mediterranean island, Walsh tackles the notion of whether the knowledge of god is innate. Reading it made me question why we believe the things we do, and highlighted the cruelties that happen in the name of religion. I felt outrage and sadness and love, especially for Amara, a feral child raised by wolves that the church use in an experiment. It was this book that piqued my interest in how children survive extraordinary circumstances.

One of my favourite books of all time. I remember reading it and looking at my classmates and wondering what would happen if it was us that were stranded on an island. What would I be capable of? What would they? It led me to think about forgiveness. Could a child be forgiven for doing something dreadful if it was in an attempt to survive their circumstances? This notion went on to become one of the central themes in my debut novel, and Golding inspires me to be provocative and bold in what I explore in my writing.

The first book to truly terrify yet absolutely thrill me. I used to read passages out to my dorm mates, cue faux-hysteria and screaming! FBI agent Clarice Starling fast became one of my heroes. The relationship between her and serial killer Lecter, and the conversations they have is pure genius. In Lecter, Harris constructs a character hair-raisingly dangerous, yet one that’s almost impossible not to admire for his twisted intellectual finesse. The tension never lets up, and clearly my predilection for the darker read began at a very young age, because even though I feared for Clarice’s safety and sanity, and perhaps even my own while reading it, I couldn’t help but read on.

The opening line to Lolita, that’s all it took for me to fall madly, deeply in love with this book. Granted, it took me years after university to unpick the genius in it, the wordplay, the literary allusions, the phonetics, the double consonants, the references to Edgar Alan Poe and so on. Nabokov’s glee at alchemising language shines throughout and I suppose, part of the appeal also, was that the subject matter was so taboo and shocking. I felt almost criminal reading it, and it wasn’t until I reached my early twenties that I met other people who had not only read it but loved it like I did.

I was twenty-six and had just bought a one way ticket to Australia and this was the book I took in my hand luggage. Cassandra was the most welcome and magical travelling companion. Her sweet and astute commentary on her chaotic, bohemian family nudged its way into my heart. There are so many layers of love and hope in this story, and it left me feeling brave and excited for the new life I was embarking on.

At Sydney Children’s Hospital, where I worked as a nurse, there is a group of very special ladies who volunteer as Ward Grannies. They spend hours cuddling and reading to the children whose families can’t always be there, and it was through them that I discovered The Velveteen Rabbit. It tells the story of a toy rabbit who wishes he could become real. He has a wise and kind mentor called Skin Horse and a magical fairy who kisses him and grants his wish. It’s such a beautiful love story that every time I read it, it reminds me that books can often be the best medicine.

When I signed with my agent, Juliet Mushens, she said, ‘I think I know a book you’d really like.’ Well, she was right. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is now, and always will be, in my top five books. I have such admiration for Jackson’s writing, the perfect restraint she executes, slowly lifting the curtain on the bizarre daily routine Merricat, her sister Constance and their uncle share. The narrative is peppered with magical thinking and superstitions which gives the overriding sense they’re content in this strange existence and because of this, the insanity drips off the pages. Jackson is one of the best examples of an author who leaves as much ‘unsaid’ as possible and I aspire to do the same in my writing.

Poetry and me have only recently become friends, but what an intense friendship it has been over the past year, so much so that I would choose this collection of poems as my Desert Island book. There’s a beautiful devastation in the way Sexton writes, the language, whilst often simple is arranged in such a way it feels like an arrow to the heart. I feel changed when I read her work, as if I understand things better, like my insides have somehow shifted. Opened. I feel myself drift when I read poetry and I love being able to dip in and out, it’s like a shot of tequila for me, I don’t want it all the time but when I have it, I’m like ‘oh yeh, that’s the one.’ 

Ali Land ~ March 2017 


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

#Giveaway Three Signed Books ~ The Real Press @TheRealPressPub #MadToBeNormal

I'm delighted to be working with The Real Press today on Random Things, and am offering a set of three signed non-fiction books. 
The books are biographies and all link in with the promotion of the new book from The Real Press; Ronald Laing: The Rise and Fall and Rise of the Revolutionary Psychiatrist.

The publication of this book coincides with the release of a film of a snapshot of Laing's life at the height of his fame and controversy, Mad to be Normal, which is released in the UK on 6th April and stars David Tennant. The book covers Laing's life and brings to life the 1960s and 70s when he had reached a level of notoriety.

Entry is simple. Just fill out the competition widget at the end of this post to be in with a chance to win SIGNED copies of the following books.  UK ENTRIES ONLY PLEASE
Good Luck!

Ronald Laing: The Rise and Fall and Rise of the Radical Psychiatrist The radical psychiatrist R. D. Laing took the world by storm in the 1960s and 1970s with his ideas about madness, families and people’s need for authenticity. At the height of his fame this fascinating man could fill stadiums like Bob Dylan, and often did so. Then he fell from grace, flung out of the medical profession. Yet, despite this, his influence is still everywhere - but largely unnoticed and unremarked.  This book tells the remarkable human story of his life and his struggles, first with the authorities as a psychiatrist in the army and then a series of mental hospitals, and sets it in the vivid context of the psychedelic 1960s and 70s.  It looks at what we can still learn from Laing today - he still has an unexpectedly potent message. 

The Secret History of the Jungle Book The Jungle Book has captured the imaginations of successive generations by bringing the Indian jungles alive.  But there is a mystery at the heart of the book. There is a tale hidden in the very conception of the book and its characters, for Kipling was intricately enriching his Mowgli stories with the symbolism of Indian mythology.  How did an Englishman, dismissed as an imperialist, who wrote the books in Vermont, and is credited with believing that “East is East and West is West/And never the twain shall meet”, manage to conjure such authenticity from a mixture of Indian folk tales and dialect words, and weave them into such a magical and compelling mixture? It isn’t just that Kipling spent so long in India or that he felt so at home there. This book tells the real story behind Mowgli, Shere Khan and Baloo and the Jungle itself. Anyone who loved the characters and adored the Jungle Books as children needs to read Swati Singh’s journey into the soul of Kipling, and his own journey into the soul of India. Do that, and you will open up the real meaning of the Jungle Book. 

Scandal: How Homosexuality Became a Crime The strange story of how homosexuality came to be criminalised in 1885, a story that takes us from the notorious Dublin Scandal to the unique moment of fear - now largely forgotten - after Oscar Wilde's arrest. The events involved the author's ancestor, who he traces from prominence in Dublin to an escape in disguise to a secret life in Camberwell in London in the 1890s.  But even in London, he wasn’t safe, escaping a second time ten years later in a moment of fear that was unprecedented in modern British history that swept through the gay community.  This book explains how the events of those years led to the persecution of tens of thousands over the next eight decades. It looks at the strange story behind that decision, and the furore that tore apart Irish society in 1884, and how the roots of the whole business lie in the furious world of Irish politics after the Phoenix Park murders. This is a ground-breaking book, part history part detective story, that looks back at the moment society turned on homosexuality with such venom, and why it happened.

Three Signed Books from The Real Press

The Real Press  We publish short books, ebooks and print on demand books that fit with our values and philosophy, and which seem likely to encourage debate about what really matters. These are available on Amazon and elsewhere, but also here in the shop.

We are not numbers. We are not cogs. We are not pixels.
The Real Press is dedicated to publishing books, in all genres, that point beyond the present technocracy that reduces human beings to one-dimensional machines.
We aim, in a small way, to publish books which we really believe in – whether they are works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry or anything else. It is dedicated to human beings, as they really are, uncategorisable, imaginative, spiritual . . .

Facebook: The Real Press


Monday, 20 March 2017

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Catherine Ryan Howard @cathryanhoward #MyLifeInBooks

My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors and people in publishing to share with us a list of the books that are important to them and have made a lasting impression on their life

I'm delighted to welcome author Catherine Ryan Howard to Random Things today. Catherine is the author of Distress Signals, I read and and reviewed here on Random Things back in May last year.

I was thrilled to see a quote from my review in the paperback edition, it takes pride of place on my bookshelf!

Catherine Ryan Howard was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Prior to writing full-time, Catherine worked as a campsite courier in France and a front desk agent in Walt Disney World, Florida, and most recently was a social media marketer for a major publisher.
She is currently studying for a BA in English at Trinity College, Dublin

Find out more about the author and her writing at
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @catherineryanhoward

My Life In Books ~ Catherine Ryan Howard

It was so hard to whittle these down, but these are the books that I think had the biggest impact on my life, for various reasons. We’re going to do this chronologically, so let’s start with…

I first read Jurassic Park in the summer of 1993, when the movie hit cinemas. I still have my ragged movie tie-in paperback, held together now with only strips of Sellotape and hope. I was only 11 at the time, so I did have to skip the genetic engineering and chaos theory bits the first few times through. I often say this is my favourite novel, and that’s partly because I think it is all the things a popular novel should be: incredibly imaginative, utterly riveting and an entertaining adventure from beginning to end. I remember thinking, ‘Someone made this all up! I can’t believe it.’ It was the first proper adult novel I read and it made me think, ‘I want to make stuff like this up too.’ I re-read it every year and recommend it to everybody. It’s a fantastic tech-thriller – and it’s not just about dinosaurs. (Although I admit it is mainly about them…)

Growing up I was obsessed with the Point Horror series and the novels of Christopher Pike, but it was only when I discovered Patricia Cornwell that I graduated to actual crime fiction. It was the Christmas holidays from school when I was 12, and I somehow got a hold of three Cornwell paperbacks from my classmate’s older brother: Postmortem, Cornwell’s debut, and the two that followed, Body of Evidence and All ThatRemains, featuring Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta. I was hooked by the mystery element and terrified as I watched it unfold. I really think this is what started me on the path to writing crime fiction myself. (Fun fact: when I went out with writing friends to celebrate getting my book deal a couple of years back, we let the waiter choose the wine and he randomly – I swear – brought us a bottle of Scarpetta wine!)

But originally I was going to become a virologist, thanks to The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, which I read when I was 13. I bought it (or asked my parents to buy it for me) because there was a blurb on the cover by Stephen King that said something like, ‘The most terrifying true story I’ve ever read.’ It was about an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Virginia back in 1989, but it was the insight into the lives of BSL4 virologists – the guys in the space suits; think the movies Outbreak or Contagion – that really struck me. My dream became to end up working at USAMRIID (the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infection Diseases, don’t ya know) – even though I was Irish, squeamish and didn’t fancy becoming an actual medical doctor. Obviously I didn’t end up doing that, but I think spending all of my teenage years telling people I had this ridiculous dream made it easier for me to dream as an adult, and be quietly confident that no matter the odds, I was going to get published.

Things are very different now, thankfully, but growing up in Ireland in the 1990s it felt like it could be slim pickings when it came to authentic, contemporary crime fiction set in Ireland. I think that’s one of the reasons that Gemma O’Connor’s Sins of Omission stands out so clearly in my mind. This was a very unsettling tale set in present day Dublin with flashbacks to a rural Irish town, and it had an absolutely devastating, shocking, incredible twist that I won’t forget for as long as I live. Honestly, I can still remember the sick feeling in my stomach, the utter shock, as realisation dawned. It made me think, okay, amazing crime fiction can just easily be set here in Ireland, and it also made me want to shock readers in the same way O’Connor did me. This book is out of print now, but I managed to track down a second-hand copy not too long ago and it was every bit as good as I remembered.

I met my true (literary) love when I was 16, purely by chance. I was browsing the book selection in a newsagents’ in Cork, the kind of newsagents that does remaindered books like hardbacks at knock-down prices, when I spotted Void Moon by Michael Connelly. I even remember the price: £5. I bought it because it looked new and I happened to have £5 – and thus discovered my favourite crime writer of all time. I went back and read everything else he’d written up until that point, and every year since – almost twenty years and counting – I buy his new novel on the day of release and go home and read it all in one go. I’ve even done this when I’ve been abroad and had to pay through the nose for an English import. What’s funny is Void Moon is a standalone, it doesn’t even feature his detective, Harry Bosch – who feels like an old friend to me now!

Catherine Ryan Howard ~ March 2017