Sunday, 15 January 2017

Erica Ferencik on research for The River at Night - Into the Woods and Off the Grid

TITLE: The River at Night
AUTHOR: Erica Ferencik
PUBLISHER: Raven Books

PUBLICATION DATE: January 12, 2017

Amazon - Goodreads

'A thought came to me that I couldn't force away: What we are wearing is how we'll be identified out in the wilderness.'

Win Allen doesn't want an adventure.

After a miserable divorce and the death of her beloved brother, she just wants to spend some time with her three best friends, far away from her soul-crushing job. But athletic, energetic Pia has other plans.

Plans for an adrenaline-raising, breath-taking, white-water rafting trip in the Maine wilderness. Five thousand square miles of remote countryside. Just mountains, rivers and fresh air.

No phone coverage. No people.

No help.

Portrait of Billy: Into the Woods and Off the Grid
by Erica Ferencik

In December of 2012, in order to do research for my novel, The River at Night, I embarked on a nine-day trip to the hinterlands of Northern Maine, the storied Allagash Wilderness which sprawls out over 5,000 square miles of rivers, lakes, and forest. The plan was to interview people who had decided to leave traditional society behind.

I didn’t know a soul up there, so I called the chambers of commerce in towns from Orono to New Sweden to Fort Kent, as far north and west as you can go until the road ends and the forest begins, which is just past a little town called Dickey.

Everyone I spoke to on the phone said: well, these folks don’t want to be contacted. That’s why they live off the grid…but I do know someone who knows someone…soon I was able to line up half a dozen interviews with people who had decided to disappear. Armed with a reluctant blessing from my husband and a backpack filled with power bars, warm clothes and mace, I took off on the twelve hour drive from my home in Massachusetts.


There wasn’t a lot of eye contact when I shook Billy’s hand on the shoulder of the road at the 101st mile marker on Route 1, just north of Caribou, Maine. Along with his horse, Freedom, Billy and I stood next to my car on the desolate highway, arranging the saddle so I could climb on behind him. A full bearded, gruff looking man in his mid-50s, Billy had agreed to an interview only if he could take me to his place on horseback, an hour’s journey through the Maine woods in winter. After we shook hands he asked me if I was still up for this; I said I was.

I got on the horse behind him, wondering about my sanity. Billy had been described to me as a family patriarch who said goodbye to society thirty years previous, decades before off-the-grid was a “thing.” As we rode, my arms around this stranger’s waist, he didn’t talk much except to say that his wife didn’t like him a whole lot these days, having borne him five children, each a home birth, something he had insisted upon and she dreaded. Our boy’s nearly three years old and she’s still pissed about it, he said. He turned around and grinned at me, adding, but hey, maybe she still likes me. She hasn’t left me yet.

We rode through the woods on a path only he knew, coming up on a ridge that looked down on an empty looking valley. I felt like I had entered another century when I walked onto his land. His log home was painted black, and I saw no one around, just some sheep and sad looking dogs. I was fingering the small aerosol can of mace in my pocket, wondering if its time had come...but soon his wife came out to meet me; grey hair, grey-faced, grey man’s coat, smiling like she rarely did it. Billy showed me his vast collection of guns and knives, the smoking house where the meat hung, and the root cellar. His wife and two older daughters, one with a sixth finger, fixed me a lunch of eggs and bear meat, with some kind of wild potatoes. The younger kids played with plastic knives and guns. Billy told me he had enough food stocked to survive the end of the world, and that he had dug half a dozen bunkers in secret locations.

Before we left, he made me sign a piece of paper, the old fashioned carbon copy kind, that said I would not disclose any information about him, his family, or the location of his homestead. After I did so, he looked me in the eye long and hard, tore off and handed me my copy of the agreement, and swung back up on his horse.

We got back to my car just before dark.

The River at Night is out now in hardcover (£11.98) and currently just £1.49 for Kindle.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Reviewed: Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent.

TITLE: Lying in Wait
AUTHOR: Liz Nugent

PUBLICATION DATE: December 26, 2016

Amazon - Goodreads

'My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.'

Lydia Fitzsimons lives in the perfect house with her adoring husband and beloved son. There is just one thing Lydia yearns for to make her perfect life complete, though the last thing she expects is that pursuing it will lead to murder. However, needs must - because nothing can stop this mother from getting what she wants ...

Lying in Wait has a killer opening sentence and the intrigue continues right throughout the book as I developed quite the obsessive fascination with Lydia, Andrew and Laurence Fitzsimons. This is a really difficult book to talk about without giving too much away and that is because every little detail means something and so when reading the book, I found it incredibly easy to become absorbed in the story and not want to put it down because my mind was always trying to work out what was to come next.

I read Liz Nugent’s first novel Unravelling Oliver a couple of years ago, and whilst I did like it, it didn’t grab me as much as I had expected it to. One thing I really did love about it though was the author’s style of writing and her control over the story and the ability to slip pieces into the narrative that mess with the reader’s mind as much as it messes with the characters’. In Lying in Wait, which I found a much more compelling and enjoyable book than Unravelling Oliver, she did it again. Whereas the reader already knows the life of the Fitzsimons family is a carcrash waiting to happen, little twists caught me by surprise and changed the course of the story.

This is a book full of messed-up characters and situations that spiral out of control. The nature of those characters (Lydia in particular) is evident from the start – actually from the first line – but the fun is in watching everything unravel. It’s a tense novel from the first page to the last, deliciously twisted and intelligently written. Because the death of Annie Doyle is known about from the first page, it was difficult to predict what could possibly happen next or if anybody else would get caught up in the messed up world of Lydia, Andrew and Laurence. I was constantly surprised by the events in this book and it was difficult to second guess. I found myself convinced of things that never did happen and expecting things to happen only for Liz to send things in a completely different direction. I love how the author kept me on my toes throughout in a story she had complete control over.

There are so many layers of twistedness in this book, much more than I’d been anticipating even after the shock-factor of the first sentence. What I noticed was that everything really came back to Lydia, who was a manipulative, crazy character who I could do nothing but love to hate. Really she became one of my favourite fictional characters ever – yet I hated her. Her need for control and obsession, the way everything had to be on her terms or how she wanted them to be – otherwise she’d just have to figure out a way to make things work out exactly right in her favour. She was a control freak of the highest order, just as powerfully messed up when she was in control as when she was out of control – such a mess psychologically as she was. Regardless of whatever Lydia was, though, she was a truly brilliant character to follow in Lying in Wait. She made it a completely unforgettable novel.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

CJ Carver on the practice behind creating a page-turner that keeps the reader up all night

TITLE: Tell Me A Lie

PUBLICATION DATE: January 12, 2017

Amazon - Goodreads

How do you protect your family when you can't remember who's hunting them?

A family in England is massacred, the father left holding the shotgun.

PC Lucy Davies is convinced he's innocent

A sleeper agent in Moscow requests an urgent meeting with Dan Forrester, referencing their shared past.

His amnesia means he has no idea who he can trust.

An aging oligarch in Siberia gathers his henchmen to discuss an English accountant.

It's Dan's wife

Compelling. Compulsive. Enthralling. Unputdownable. The practice behind creating a page-turner that keeps the reader up all night.
by CJ Carver

Let’s assume we already have our story, that we’ve created a vivid, realistic location, layered with noises, smells and sensations. Our characters are fully realised, with a clear goal or life-affecting desire they are working towards. The reader is fully engaged in the world you’ve created.

Now comes the craft of suspense.

First, you have to withhold information. You can’t give your reader what they want to know straight away. In a murder mystery, the killer will be revealed right at the end of the story, but meanwhile there should be plenty of other – smaller - questions that need answering. For example, the first opening lines in Chapter One of Tell Me A Lie read:

‘Russia?’ Dan Forrester stared at Bernard. ‘You want me to go to Russia?’

‘It’s not on the moon.’ Bernard looked amused. ‘A four-hour flight, that’s all.’

I set this up specifically to hook the reader into reading on to find out why Dan is being asked to go to Russia. The next page sets up his tricky relationship with his wife and when Dan agrees to go to Moscow at the end of the chapter, we’re on tenterhooks to find out what on earth his wife is going to say about it. I reward the reader for turning the page to Chapter Two by having his wife standing right in front of Dan, eyes crackling with fury.

However, at the end of Chapter Two, I create a really juicy twist between them that is going to massively change their lives. This launches a longer-term question about their relationship which I don’t answer until Chapter twenty-two.

The Dan Forrester series is multi viewpoint, which I love because it means the hero doesn’t know when the helicopter is launched to gun him down. However, the reader has their heart in their mouth because they saw it taking off in a previous chapter and are now watching with bated breath to see what happens next.

Cutting away is a great technique I use a lot. As soon as I introduce a new element to the plot, or send my character’s life spiraling in a new direction, I stop that storyline and cut straight to something else. This is much easier to do when you have multi-viewpoints because you can switch between characters. For example in Tell Me A Lie, my character Milena, a beautiful delicate Russian woman, has just been punched straight in the face. I cut immediately to the next chapter, to follow someone on the run. The reader has to wait until the following chapter until they find out what happened to Milena.

William Goldman said, ‘Make ‘em laugh. Make ‘em cry. But most of all – make ‘em wait.’

My point exactly.

© CJ Carver 2017

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Reviewed: Rupture by Ragnar Jonasson

TITLE: Rupture
AUTHOR: Ragnar Jonasson
PUBLISHER: Orenda Books

PUBLICATION DATE: January 15, 2017

Amazon - Goodreads

1955. Two young couples move to the uninhabited, isolated fjord of Hedinsfjörður. Their stay ends abruptly when one of the women meets her death in mysterious circumstances. The case is never solved. Fifty years later an old photograph comes to light, and it becomes clear that the couples may not have been alone on the fjord after all…

In nearby Siglufjörður, young policeman Ari Thór tries to piece together what really happened that fateful night, in a town where no one wants to know, where secrets are a way of life. He's assisted by Ísrún, a news reporter in Reykjavik who is investigating an increasingly chilling case of her own. Things take a sinsister turn when a child goes missing in broad daylight. With a stalker on the loose, and the town of Siglufjörður in quarantine, the past might just come back to haunt them.

Rupture is book four in Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series involving Ari Thor. It’s actually the first book in the series I’ve read but it took me no time at all to immerse myself in the story. The first thing that struck me was how atmospheric Ragnar’s writing is, and this is something that really appeals to me as I love being able to get a sense and picture of the places and people in the books I read. The story in Rupture really came to life with the way Ragnar built the atmosphere, with the chilling cold, gloomy darkness and the feeling of dread and claustrophobia all pieces which made the book come alive in my mind.

Siglufjordur is a place in quarantine due to fear of a life-threatening virus. With the residents remaining locked in their homes and local shops remaining unopened, the town appears quiet and calm from the outside. For Ari Thor, however, he is kept busy investigating the mysterious death of a woman that happened over fifty years ago. The appearance of a stranger in an old photograph adds another lead to the case, and whilst Siglufjordur is in lockdown, the opportunity arises for Ari to investigate further.

Rupture was gripping from the first page to the last. The author steadily controls the pace as he builds up the tension with each page as the claustrophobic Icelandic feel takes over in a way which sent shivers down my spine. It’s definitely a perfect winter’s read, with its cold atmosphere and chilling turn of events ensuring you’ll want to spend the day wrapped up warm amongst the pages of a book which grabs you from the start and doesn’t let go. With each new thing Ari Thor discovers, I was more and more engrossed in the mystery and couldn’t wait to reach the moment when things became clear and the truth was unveiled.

Ari Thor’s inimitable character was one I really grew to love during Rupture as he looks like, four books in, someone with still so much more to give. I picked up on things mentioned during the book which had referred to the development of Ari’s character during the past three books, and they are books I definitely want to go back and read sooner rather than later as getting to know the police in a crime series holds almost the same amount of appeal for me as discovering the crimes within the stories.

Ragnar Jonasson’s style of writing is utterly enthralling. With the pacing quite slow and the prose relatively understated, this book could have been something else entirely. But it wasn’t too slow or uninspiring, it was the complete opposite. I loved that as the reader we’re allowed to draw our own conclusions from what is discovered during the case. There’s no need for the author to exaggerate a huge twist that will stop the reader in their tracks as it is the subtle way he delivers surprising pieces of the investigation that makes Rupture so damn satisfying to read. It was the tiny hints of something amiss that kept me up late at night refusing the put the book down. And I did refuse to put the book down for so long that I finished Rupture over the course of one late night. I have a feeling this won’t be the last time Ragnar’s Dark Iceland series keeps me up all night.

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