A very happy Publication Day to Fiona Cooke! I’m a huge fan of Fiona’s writing and if you haven’t checked out her previous work, you should do so. Her collections of short stories are fabulous dark tales, deliciously creepy, and are guaranteed to give you sleepless nights!
Martha’s Cottage is Fiona’s first novel and is a heart-warming and humorous story (see blurb below). The book is published today by SpellBound Books.
Today, I am delighted to have Jen Faulkner in the library for a chat. I was lucky enough to meet Jen for the first time at Harrogate Crime this year. Her visit to the festival coincided with the publication of her debut novel, Keep Her Safe. Already there are some great reviews up for this book and I’m looking forward to reading it soon.
Keep Her Safe by Jen Faulkner
A mother is gripped by fear as her daughter approaches adulthood, in this novel of attachments, anxieties, and buried secrets . . .
How far would you go to protect your daughter?
Catherine’s daughter is about to leave for university. Although she knows worrying about this is normal, she’s becoming increasingly anxious about Anya’s safety. And that anxiety is starting to take over her life . . .
She’s fallen back into a habit of going into Anya’s bedroom when she sleeps to watch her breathe, and is secretly tracking her daughter’s movements on an app.
Anya, struggling with her mum’s suffocating behaviour, hides her own anxieties about leaving home for fear of panicking her mother further.
But with Anya preparing to move out, who will check on her and keep her safe?
Do other people pose a threat or is her own mother the one she should be afraid of?
Jen Faulkner completed an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in 2015, where she was shortlisted for the Janklow and Nesbitt Prize. Since then she has run creative writing sessions for a charity in Bristol and volunteered at Mothership Writers, a year-long programme of writing workshops for new mothers run by the novelist, Emylia Hall. She also teaches English Language to college students. When she’s not writing or teaching she enjoys karate. She is currently plotting and writing her next book, about how a shared traumatic event can affect two people in very different ways. Keep Her Safe is her debut novel.
Which genre do you write in, Jen, and what draws you to it?
I find genre a tricky thing to pinpoint with my novels, but they are marketed as psychological suspense. I’m drawn to writing about real people and their lives. I find people and their behaviours infinitely fascinating and love writing about everyday lives… with added suspense of course.
Are you an avid reader? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?
I read all the time and always have done. I love losing myself in other worlds and read most genres, although I would say I’m not a huge science fiction fan. I mainly read in my genre, but the ‘crime’ umbrella is so huge that it spans many different types of books. I love character driven books, especially when you end up rooting for a character you don’t particularly like.
Are you a self-published/traditional or hybrid author?
I am published with a fantastic independent publisher called Bloodhound. They have been incredible and the whole experience from start to finish has been relaxed and I’ve felt very well supported. There are so many ways to get published these days and I think that can only be a good thing!
Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
This is such an interesting question. And to be honest I don’t now how to answer succinctly. Everyone I’ve ever read, is probably the easiest way to sum it up. As a writer I am inspired and influenced all of the time, I think when you are a writer you do read books as a writer and that changes everything. I’m always learning. But it’s not just authors and poets who influence me; conversations with friends, disagreements, chance encounters, human behaviours, they all play a part in making my writing what it is.
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?
I LOVE the first write of a new draft where the story is unfolding and even though I’ve planned it, new and exciting things emerge. I think for me, once I get going I do like the editing process and fixing issues and plot holes, but it’s definitely the part I find the hardest. Responding to (often brilliant) feedback takes time, and sometimes I find it overwhelming, even though I know I always do find a solution in the end. I find taking time to process feedback is important. I can have a mini strop that I haven’t nailed something and it needs yet more input, and then I go for a dog walk or chat to a friend, and then I knuckle down and work it out.
Editing is not as much fun as writing, but it is where the magic happens.
What was the best piece of writing advice you received when starting out?
I was lucky enough to be tutored by Fay Weldon when I did an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Her advice was to write less, think more. It’s brilliant advice because it makes me stop forcing myself to write when inspiration isn’t striking. I’ve learnt to wait for the right time and for the right words, which is huge because I am usually anything but patient. She also taught me to persist. There have been many times when rejections have come and I’ve questioned giving up, but she always said if I wanted to be published I had to persist. And she was right. If I hadn’t persisted I wouldn’t be published.
Do you have a favourite time of day to write?
Late afternoon has always been a productive time for me – it’s currently 4.50pm as I’m writing this – I get a lot of writing done in the hours between school pick up and dinnertime, when I’m not ferrying my children to after school activities, of course. Mornings are also good, but I’m not an early riser so won’t ever be part of the 5am writers club even though I wish I could be!
If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?
Good question! I’d still be writing, of course, but also I think I’d be a full-time teacher again. I tutor teenagers part-time and absolutely love it. The students are amazing. And so yes, if I couldn’t be an author then I’d be a full-time English teacher for sure.
If a movie was made of your book, who would you like to play the lead roles?
I love Suranne Jones and think she would be a great Catherine. She plays troubled women so very well. As for Anya, I’m not sure. I have such a firm image of her in my head that doesn’t fit with any actor I can think of, although I am sure the perfect person is out there somewhere. Now if only I could secure that film deal…
If you could travel back in time, what era would you go to? What draws you to this particular time?
Would it be weird to say my childhood? I’d love to go back and see if it’s really how I remember it and relive some of those times. Obviously I wouldn’t want to change anything as if I did I wouldn’t end up where I am now, and I like where I am now. But I’m a very nostalgic person and I’d love to relive it and be more present at the time. Either that, or I’d want to go back to the Victorian times. I once visited a National Trust house as a child and was convinced I’d been a servant there in a previous life. I find the kitchens in these buildings fascinating and love everything to do with the way of life and all the history of the families and people who’ve lived in them.
And finally; you have been chosen as a member of the crew on the first one-way flight to Mars – you are allowed to bring 5 books with you. What would they be?
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier, Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, The Island by Victoria Hislop and The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the Brothers Grimm.
Thanks so much, Jen, for dropping by. Wishing you all the best with your new release.
If you would like to know more about Jen and her writing, please check out her links below:
Follow the Mallory family as they attempt to live a peaceful life on the PA frontier in 1756. They face tragedy and loss as they become embroiled in The French and Indian War – Clash of Empires. In Paths to Freedom, the colonies are heading to open revolt against King George III, and the Mallory’s are once again facing the spectre of war. Crucible of Rebellion continues the Mallory story through the early years of The Revolutionary War. Book 4, A Nation is Born completes the Revolution and The Mallory’s have played their part in the victory. In book 5, A Turbulent Beginning, the nascent nation finds it hard going to establish a peaceful existence. The Natives of this land resist the westward expansion of white settlers.
Lady Merryweather has had a shocking year. Apprehended for the murder of her husband the year before, and only recently released, she hopes a trip away from London will allow her to grieve. The isolated, but much loved, Cragside Estate in North Northumberland, home of her friends, Lord and Lady Bradbury, holds special memories for her.
But, no sooner has she arrived than the body of one of the guests is found on the estate, and suspicion immediately turns on her. Perhaps, there are no friendships to be found here, after all.
Released, due to a lack of evidence, Lady Ella returns to Cragside only to discover a second murder has taken place in her absence, and one she can’t possibly have committed.
Quickly realising that these new murders must be related to that of her beloved husband, Lady Merryweather sets out to solve the crime, once and for all. But there are many who don’t want her to succeed, and as the number of murder victims increases, the possibility that she might well be the next victim, can’t be ignored.
Journey to the 1930s Cragside Estate, to a period house-party where no one is truly safe, and the estate is just as deadly as the people.
[Trigger Warnings: Description of murder scenes and bodies]
Cragside – Excerpt – Lady Ella and Detective Inspector Aldcroft discuss their suspects
“So,” Aldcroft turns to me. “We have a number of suspects who while thinking they have an alibi, actually don’t. Miss Lilian Braithwaite is one of them, as are Lord and Lady Bradbury and Mr Hector Alwinton. They were all alone at one point or another yesterday afternoon, after luncheon and before the victim was found.”
“I’m intrigued by the notion that Lord Bradbury heard dogs barking and came to let his hounds inside. Lilian is adamant she arrived back only just as the body was discovered.”
Aldcroft nods, brooding.
“Yes. She might well have returned earlier. Slit our victims throat, and then scampered back along the road way. No one was looking for her. It was expected that she’d be a long time, because the dogs needed a good run, and it’s a fair distance to Cragend quarry and back.”
It always comes back to this. Why had Lady Carver and Mr Harrington-Featherington needed to die? What did they know, or suspect, that made someone so desperate that only their death could make them feel safe?
“There’s been a great deal of speculation that this is all connected to your husband’s death.” There’s sympathy in Aldcroft’s voice. Not many ever show it. Most people believe me guilty. It’s taken my clever solicitor to argue for my innocence, and to pick apart the terrible report that the London detective cobbled together, with all his supposed witnesses.
I turn, hearing the scuff of a boot over the stones, and see my driver, Williams. I’ve not seen him since he returned me to Cragside yesterday, but he seems well enough. That pleases me. I know that Williams isn’t happy with his room in the servants wing. It’s quite distant from the main body of the house.
Williams nods at me. He’s dressed in his usual chauffeur garb. He looks smart but competent. I notice that he has flushed cheeks and mud along his boots and trouser bottoms. Where has he been?
“Detective Inspector,” Williams voice is gruff. He has no love for Aldcroft, and is unaware that we’ve reached an accommodation to help one another. I couldn’t find him earlier to let him know everything that had transpired last evening, and yet I believe he knows enough for I suspect where he’s been.
“I walked to Cragend quarry and back early this morning. I’ve taken all the different routes, past Slipper Lake, and along the carriage drive, and even through the many rock paths. I did find some evidence of dog prints on the higher path, but nowhere else, and yet, I discovered this,” and Williams holds out what can only be the murder weapon, its edge sharp and glistening with menace as he holds it in a white handkerchief, “crammed down the side of one of the rock paths. I’ve marked it and can show you exactly where it was.”
Aldcroft beckons one of his constables closer, as he peers at the sharp knife.
“Have you an evidence bag?” he asks them, and the youngster rushes to get one from a black bag, similar to a doctors bag, lying on the ground close to the garden alcove door.
“Put it in here,” Aldcroft instructs Williams. “But first, hold it out so I can look closer at it.”
Williams, watching me the entire time, does as he’s asked. Aldcroft grunts softly.
“It seems as though there might be a fingerprint in the gore. I’ll have someone look at it. Now, place it in here, carefully.”
I watch the two men as the knife’s lowered into a brown paper bag. Williams is entirely loyal to me. Aldcroft isn’t, and yet I can determine that both men see this as yet another indication of my innocence, if more were needed.
“Explain what you think happened,” Aldcroft asks my tall chauffeur.
I nod swiftly, to show that Williams should speak freely with the Detective Inspector. It warms me to know that he would have been circumspect if I’d implied it was necessary.
“I think the dogs were walked yesterday afternoon, but I don’t believe they went as far as the quarry.” I consider how Williams knows this, but servants often know everything that happens in a country house such as this. “While accepting that it rained a great deal last night, I don’t accept that it would have entirely washed away paw prints, not when the animals have such sharp nails that dig into the ground.”
“How far do you believe the dogs were walked?” Aldcroft queries. I’m pleased he considers Williams observations.
“No further than just beyond Slipper Lake.” Williams speaks of a lake that Edmund’s father constructed for fishing. It’s half way to the top of the slope, a more gentle climb for a man in his older years.
“So far enough away that their howls might not have been heard. But, what of Miss Lilian Braithwaite? She said she walked them to Cragend quarry.” I’m impressed that Aldcroft shares such insight with Williams. I consider then that they might have already spoken about what they think happened.
“She may well have done, but Miss Braithwaite returned by a different route to the dogs. I believe she tied them up, and left them while returning to the house to kill Mr Harrington-Featherington.”
Aldcroft’s lower lip twists in thought, but he doesn’t dismiss the suggestion.
“And what? She discarded the knife when rushing back to the dogs via a different route?”
“Possibly, yes. It’s certainly a quicker route if you needed to run.”
“And then, she returned more slowly, bringing the dogs as her alibi.”
“But why would Lilian have wanted to kill Mr Harrington-Featherington ?” I muse. “I can’t see that she could have been involved in my husband’s murder, either. She didn’t know either of us before our house party. Why then would she have felt the need to shoot him with a pistol?”
Williams is shaking his head, as perplexed as I am.
“I don’t know the answer to those questions, but there’s certainly something strange going on, even if she’s not responsible for leaving the knife wedged down one of the stone steps. She didn’t walk to Cragend quarry. Or rather, she didn’t take the dogs all that way or there would be prints in the mulch.”
“Couldn’t she have taken a different route.” I press. I know how many routes there are to Cragend. There’s anything from a gentle walk to a more strenuous climb.
But Williams shakes his head. “The paw prints simply stop. The dogs stopped there. They didn’t go any further.”
Author Bio: MJ Porter
MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author’s writing destiny was set.
Today on the blog, I am delighted to be hosting William Todd, one of my favourite authors. William’s new release, Murder in Keswick, a Sherlock Holmes mystery, is a great read.
You are very welcome, William, could you tell us a little bit about the background to the book?
I always enjoyed the stories of Sherlock Holmes when he left the confines of London. The Final Problem, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Devil’s Foot, and The Disappearance of Lady Carfax are some of my favorites, and the latter introduced me to the English Lake District. Ever since, that rugged and lovely setting has held a great fascination for me. I decided with this story to once again take the great detective and his raconteur to the Lake District.