Spring Reading 2022

The Other Child by Lucy Atkins ****

Another psychological thriller by the talented Lucy Atkins, and this doesn’t disappoint. Photographer Tess – who is divorced from David – has fallen in love with Greg, a paediatric surgeon and as a result, has moved with her young son Joe, across the Atlantic to be with her new husband. But right from the start, all is not as perfect as she had hoped. Greg – who I distrusted from the first incidentally 😉 – has a dangerous secret…

Tess feels isolated, Joe is not settling into his new school, her neighbour Helena is manipulative, and Tess is sure that someone is coming into the house when she is not there. And then there are the unsettling and disturbing notes that Greg is receiving… Something is definitely not right…

Tess is a realistic character and it was easy to tune in

with her emotions and fears – the author skilfully shows her growing sense of unease, suspicion and isolation. Greg was certainly a bit too perfect!

I found the story well-written, fast paced and suspenseful and would recommend if you like getting your teeth into a gripping and psychological drama.


The Castaways by Lucy Clarke ****

This latest and very successful thriller starts very strongly. Two sisters, Lori and Erin are on their way to Fiji for a holiday, they argue, one misses the flight, and the plane gets into trouble… It’s highly atmospheric; you can taste the fear.

Onboard the plane are the pilot, the flight attendant, an elderly couple, a young mother with a baby, two men, and Lori. The pilot manages to crash land the aircraft on one of the many small, uninhabited islands in the Pacific. Meanwhile, the island setting descriptions are vivid and evocative.

The survivors must find a way to survive in the dense jungle, searing heat and shark-infested waters, and they must get along. There is growing distrust between them however, and slowly they realise that a rescue is unlikely since no one knows where the plane went down.

Journalist Erin however, does not give up hope. She is determined to find out what has happened to her sister.

This unsettling book is well-written and there is plenty of tension to make the reader want to carry on turning the pages. Highly recommended.


In a Good Light by Clare Chambers ***** 

Clare Chambers is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. Her precision with language and her attention to fine detail expertly draws the reader into the world she has created. And what an interesting world…

Esther is the narrator. We learn that her brother Christian is confined to a wheelchair following an accident and we join the fray just as Esther is told that Christian is to marry his bossy carer Elaine – thus destroying the cosy household he currently shares with his sister. Esther will now have to move out. But how will her meagre earnings as a book illustrator enable her to pay rent? And what will become of her unusual relationship with married Geoff, her ex-GP?

Once the main details are established, we are taken back to Esther and Christian’s childhood. The household was eccentric. Their mother liked to give to the ‘less fortunate’ rather than provide any extras for her family, whilst their father, a vicar, was always determined to see the good in everyone. The house meanwhile, was left to fall apart.

Other characters flit in and out of the action as we move inexorably towards the events that led to Christian’s accident. There is alcoholic Auntie Barbara, her practical son Donovan, Christian’s long-suffering, rich girlfriend Penny and troubled Martina. In the end, Christian’s accident seems inevitable.

Following the accident, we move back to current narrative time. Christian’s forthcoming marriage brings some of these characters back out of hiding, with rather surprising results. A compelling story that is highly recommended and wins my Book of the Season vote.


The Night she Disappeared by Lisa Jewell *****

Not her latest, but this one has just appeared on my radar and it’s a goodie. The story opens in Kim’s viewpoint. Her daughter Talullah is out with her boyfriend Zach and they haven’t come home. This is worrying – they have a baby boy and as more time goes past, Kim realises that some harm may have come to them. Where are they? It is a mystery that remains unsolved for a year.

Jump to a year later and Sophie, a crime writer and girlfriend to the new head of a nearby private school, moves into a cottage in the grounds of the school, also close to a wood and an old mansion known as ‘Dark Place’. She becomes intrigued by the mystery, even more so as someone is leaving her clues which seem to strangely echo plots of her own novels. She contacts Kim and together they try to solve the mystery.

We then go back in time, further this time, into Talullah’s point of view before the disappearance, and we learn the complexities of her relationship with Zach and much more besides. We gradually learn her connection with ‘Dark Place’ and finally what happened to them both on the night they disappeared.

Kim and Sophie get there too with a bit of help from Dom of C.I.D. and finally, we learn the truth.

As always with LJ, the book is written, crafted and structured with consummate skill and it kept me gripped and admiring to the very end. Highly recommended and my second 5 * of the season.


Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson ****

Nelson won the Costa Book Awards first novel award with Open Water and I was looking forward to reading it, so chose it for my book club.

It’s primarily a love story between two young people – both black, both living in London, both involved in the creative arts, he as a photographer, her as a dancer. They are hopelessly drawn towards one another – there is a sense of destiny and ‘rightness’ which adds a poignant note, but they resist embarking on a relationship beyond friendship (although it’s very intimate for friendship!) for various reasons including their reluctance to ‘come out’ into ‘open water’. But at last and inevitably they do.

Open Water is not just a love story however. It is also about being a young black male in London, the sense of alienation and suppression and the need to find somewhere to call home. For me, this was the strongest and most powerful element of the novel.

The writing is poetic and rhythmic and becomes almost hypnotic in places. Nelson uses the rhythms of jazz and hip-hop and drops in cultural references and language which were unfamiliar and interesting to this reader; this is a world that was new to me and I felt privileged to learn more about it, although it was also unsettling and disturbing at times. However, I did find the prose hard-going – it is written in second person and this seems to give both immediacy and a conflicting sense of distance. It is certainly not an easy read. As a stream of consciousness, it was also repetitive in a way that didn’t always work for me.

But it gave some fascinating insight and members of our book club all said they were glad to have read it. Open Water felt like an important read and its author definitely a talented new voice to listen out for.


Someone to Love by Tracy Corbett ****

Tracy is my queen of romantic comedy – she has such a fluent writing style and the story is peppered with her usual wit and warmth.

Maid of honour Beth Lawrence and best man Matt are not best pleased to be left to organise the wedding of her sister Meghan to his nephew Zac. The time scale is minimal, they would both rather be doing other things and to cap it all, they simply do not get on. Firefighter Matt is just too laidback for Beth’s liking while she is way too organised for him. But as they get to know each other better, it seems that this could be the basis of a relationship after all, and not just any relationship – this could be something special.

As always with Tracy’s books, there is a cast of interesting characters to keep things off the wall and entertaining. Plus a spanner in the works that threatens to de-rail the wedding altogether. But Matt and Beth must make teamwork a priority in order to make this wedding a success.

This book is fun and flirty and is a perfect holiday read.


Flash Fiction Slam at BAC

Full marks to the Bridport Arts Centre for putting on this event – partly designed to encourage writers to enter The Bridport Prize (which includes a prize for flash fiction and one for a local writer).

I was asked to judge, along with Kim Squirrell of Ink and Page, a poet and short story writer. I love a slam – the slightly nervous, buzzy atmosphere; the very fact that writers are brave enough to stand up on stage and read out their own 250 words.

The MC was Declan Duffy who kept a smooth hold on proceedings. Kim and I made frantic notes as everybody read, so that we could remember each piece and what we liked or didn’t like about it.

The evening passed in a flash 🙂 Kim and I retired to a quiet room to discuss the readings and meanwhile The People (the audience) also cast their vote.

Judging is partially subjective, of course. There were certain pieces that we both admired; others that we were able to ‘dismiss’ quite easily. A successful piece of flash fiction will have a point, perhaps a theme; certainly it will be more than an anecdote. It will hopefully be entertaining (perhaps even funny) and hopefully also thought-provoking. A good piece will contain gems that make us stop and take note.

It is hard not to be influenced by presentation – this is a slam after all, so make it count. If a reader speaks in a whisper, how can we hear the gems..? But interestingly, a few days later, Kim and I got to read the three winning entries. Would we have judged differently if we could have read the entries as well as listened to them, before making a decision? Possibly…

But a slam is about immediate impact. No time for second thoughts. Kim and I were in broad agreement (though we placed the top three in a different order) and for the first time ever, our number 1 matched the People’s number 1.

Was the evening a success? Most definitely.



Writing at the Finca March 2022

It was bliss to be back in Andalusia at the Finca el Cerrillo for the first time in two years. There were sixteen of us in all (two people brought their partners which is always rather nice and adds to the social mix). And it was busy…

For the first time ever we had no less than five published writers in the group… This may sound daunting to an inexperienced writer who is thinking about coming along, but believe me, the reality is nothing of the kind. Others would class themselves as ‘beginner writers’, we are all readers and the combination works as long as the morning exercises can be used beneficially by all. Everyone helped everyone else – this was an incredibly supportive and inclusive group.

The favourite ‘morning exercise’ was probably the one we did to explore dialogue-writing in pairs. We began by creating characters from pictures, continued with some guided writing to get to know them better and then found their voices in a shared script that was passed to and fro within each pair. The results were funny, thought-provoking and sometimes unexpected (in a good way…)

We also had a productive discussion about publishers, agents and submitting work in which we were able to call upon the differing experiences of our group. The publishing world is very fast-moving and it’s important to keep up to date with developments and opportunities.

The late afternoon workshops featured readings from poems to novel extracts to writing developed from one of our morning exercises. As ever, there was a great variety with plenty of constructive feedback from the rest of the group.  We also divided into groups for a précis task which was a bit like consequences but with the aim being to précis the previous writing rather than continue the story. The results were hilarious.

The food was better than ever, the hospitality second to none. Only the weather let us down (first time ever) but even the calima (sandstorm) provided an er… interesting experience.

The final night of ‘Desert Island Discs’ finished off another fabulous fun and productive week at the Finca el Cerrillo. Roll on July… (And for more information check out my previous post ‘February at the Finca’ and the Trip Advisor site below)



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