Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Marion Todd Interview

On the day of publication, of her fifth book in the DI Clare Mackay series from Canelo. I was afforded the opportunity to interview the prolific author Marion Todd to talk about the gestation of her lead protagonist and her growth as one of the best authors to appear on the scene in recent years and just what is it like to write during a pandemic

  • How did Clare Mackay come into your life? – See Them Run’ was my first published novel but it wasn’t the first book I had written. A year earlier I wrote a novel set in St Andrews in which a murder took place. The focus was very much on the relationship between the killer and the victim. When I’d finished it I realised I’d learned a lot during the writing process and that it had flaws which might be too great to fix. But what it had given me was a feel for the setting and a ready-made cast of police characters I could use in the future, including my protagonist, Detective Inspector Clare Mackay. So I set about writing another novel and that became ‘See Them Run.’ I had chosen a female detective because I’m female and it felt easier to try and get inside her head than a man’s.


  • What got you into writing? – In common with most writers, I’ve written since my schooldays. I have a 6-chapter mystery story I wrote when I was nine and I just carried on from there, writing children’s stories, short articles for my local newspaper, short stories for magazines etc. I love the idea of creating worlds and characters that haven’t previously existed


  • Why base the action in your hometown of St. Andrews? – Actually I grew up in Dundee, eleven miles from St Andrews, although I moved closer to St Andrews when I married. I also lived in the town for a year and my children went to school there so I know it very well. It’s steeped in history with its ancient buildings and university. But it also has an eclectic mix of people, the population swelled each year by thousands of students and tourists from all over the world. It has a ruined castle, two beaches and is surrounded by rich countryside – it’s a gorgeous place to live. The only downside is it’s quite small (fewer than 17,000 people) so, six books in, I’m having to branch out of the town to avoid repetition.


  • How have you coped during the pandemic, while releasing three new books? – I was one of the lucky ones. I found it easy to write during lockdown. I love company but I’m also good at being solitary. So I swapped the time I would have spent socialising for writing. I did miss seeing friends and family so much but, workwise, I was quite productive. I felt so sorry for those with young children, though, trying to home-school, work from home and stay sane – it wasn’t easy for lots of folk.


  • Do you feel DI Mackay is a fair representation of current policing in Scotland? – Yes and no (hedging my bets, here!) She is careful, and mindful of regulations, rights and ultimately the law. She knows that evidence obtained without authority can be disallowed and even weaken the prosecution’s case. So she tries to stick to the rules. But, in terms of how she runs an investigation, the reality is quite different. St Andrews doesn’t even have its own Inspector, and murder investigations would be run by a Major Investigations Team which could include officers from across Scotland (we have a unified force). So I give Clare power and authority which wouldn’t exist in all these cases. But it’s fiction so I feel entitled to take some liberties. I have had positive feedback from serving officers which is the highest praise I could ask for.


  • What is your opinion on current guidance for women to safely walk the streets at night? Do you feel safe yourself or is that not the problem? – That’s a difficult and complex question. Feelings run very high at the moment and a response is needed but it has to be considered, with input from all concerned, rather than a knee-jerk reaction. As a parent with children of both genders I’m concerned for them when they’re out and about. I want every single person to be safe but the reality is there are people out there who seek to harm others. In an ideal world we would spot these behaviours at an early age and intervene but I don’t feel qualified to say how that could be managed. I was married for many years to a police officer and, as a result, I became highly risk-averse so I am watchful when out at night, very aware of who is around me. I’ll go the long way round rather than down a poorly-lit street. I wish it wasn’t so but I do what’s necessary to feel safe.


  • Do you write every day? – when I’m in the middle of a novel I try to write every day to avoid losing track. But I don’t have a routine. I tend to be more productive in the evenings so I’ll often work from 8 pm to midnight (or beyond, if it’s going well). But I’ll happily take a break when I’m between books. For me, thinking time is as important as writing time so I’ll dig the garden, walk the dog, all the while muttering to myself about plots and characters. And then there are other things to do – talks to prepare, social networking, answering emails from readers etc – great excuses for putting off writing!


  • Do you read, I see so many similarities between stable mates MJ Lee/Sheila Bugler and yourself – That’s a lovely compliment. Thank you! Sheila and Martin (Lee) are wonderful writers and I’m thrilled to be compared with them. I suppose the three of us being Canelo Crime authors means there are certain similarities in how our books are edited and marketed but I love that I can dip into their books and enjoy a thoroughly good read. I do try to read as many different crime authors as I can so I always have a book on the go. At the moment I have an advance copy of Jane Shemilt’s new book, ‘The Patient’ and it’s a thrilling read.


  • What is in store for Mackay, will she be happy with DCI Gibson? – now there’s a question! At the moment they are rubbing along together but it’s always in my mind that I might throw some rocks in to upset things. I’m still playing about with how to end book 6 (published in July next year) – I might just upset things. Watch this space!


  • Any tips for new writers starting out, you started later in life, so is it never too late? – I don’t think age is a factor. It’s time and head space that matter. To write well you need to find time when you’re not distracted by the rest of life – not easy for lots of folk. Writing is like exercising a muscle. The more you do the more naturally it comes. A novel is a big commitment though – months of work – so start with smaller things. Look for opportunities online. FutureLearn offer free courses. The Scottish Book Trust is a great source of ideas for writers in Scotland. Look at The BBC Writers Room online. Immerse yourself in the writing world and become a writer. Join a book group and, as well as reading, listen to what the others in the group are saying about the books. What they like/ dislike, what works/doesn’t work. Attend author talks and listen to what they say about their process. Above all, read. Read widely, particularly in the genre you’d like to write in. Good quality prose will seep into you almost by osmosis and it will help your own writing. Start now and good luck!

My thanks to Marion for her time in answering my questions.
Please download, buy and read the DI Clare Mackay available from all good retailers.

Next In Line is out from Canelo on 21st October 

Oscar and the Wolf - The Shimmer

New album from Belgian artist Oscar and the Wolf out on 22nd October

The alter ego of Max Colombie returns in a new work with his contemporary influences of electronica and soulful RnB delivery colliding with the heritage of European electro-pop and beats.

Hailing from Belgium, his debut album Entity (2014) went platinum in his homeland selling out arenas in the lowlands. 2017 saw the release of Infinity that went gold and has helped garner him a huge fanbase in Turkey and beyond into the Middle East - Israel, Egypt and Iran.

The new album 'The Shimmer' is a culmination of his sound and vision crystallizing into a record of transformation and lo-fi perfection with bold and rich production entwined as he becomes a more mature artist.

Lead single and album opener, 'James' sounds like a dream in its structure and to Colombie it came in a dream, 'the complete structure, with the chords and a beat, a vocal melody, even lyrics - is multi-faceted all on its own', and this dream-like quality to his work can be appreciated as not only coffee-shop chic but desirable magic music.

Going from lamenting love songs such as 'Ghost of You' to the instrumental 'PIC' you are never far from a track that can be relatable and holds universal appeal to any listener, even the summery 'Live Stream' about falling for a movie star has this sense of unrequited love and is a well told short story in the lyrics

This album is not merely a work of music, but an experience that can help the listener and performer become one as they gravitate towards each other to seek understanding in this confusing day and age.

Reminiscent of Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens, for Colombie this is revered company to be mentioned in the same breathe as but a work of this maturity and dynamism deserves such platitudes.

The Shimmer is out from [PIAS] Recordings on October 22nd

My thanks to One Beat PR for the review opportunity.

Friday, 8 October 2021

S. Raekwon 'Where I'm At Now'


Debut album by S. Raekwon, NY based artist out via Father/Daughter Records on 8th October

S. Raekwon, born Steven Raekwon Reynolds in 1995 is a singer/songwriter/producer from New York by way of Buffalo - the pseudonym of S. Raekwon embodies Reynolds upbringing in the Big Apple and the various genres that he would grow up around from a mother who adored musicl theatre and the sound of piano in the house.

Recorded over a six-month stint during the pandemic at his girlfriend's parents home in Illinois, extracting him out of his New York City lifestyle - Raekwon wrote a feverish demo of tracks in his studio apartment which gave him a purpose to write and finish with the sounds around him.

Snippets of the album cut in and out with amazing frequency of influence ranging from Frank Ocean and D'Angelo to the sound of rap troupes yet there are flourishes of rock, pop and folk popping up throughout the ten track album.

You need only listen to album opener 'Darling' and not be hit by the similarity in beauty of the track with that of Bon Iver's sophomore self-titled album from 2011. The pacing and momentum of the album is a joy to experience, moving through all manner of emotions ranging from turmoil to love as from 'Do You Feel the Same?' to the social message of 'T.D.T.K.A'

The end result is an album by an artist who refuses to be pigeonholed by a specific genre either as a musician or a person; an album full of sweeping moments that will be embraced by those far and wide from New York to old York.

Where I'm at Now is out from Father/Daughter records now.

My thanks to One Beat PR for the review opportunity.

Papur Wal - Amser Mynd Adra


Debut album from highly touted Welsh trio, Papur Wal, out via Libertino Records on October 8th

Papur Wal have been on the cusp of stardom for some time, going the devout route of releasing the odd single and live shows with the eventual culmination in an album release, this has become protracted due to the global pandemic and inability to record. 

Now the trio comprising of Ianto (vocals/guitar), Gwion (vocals/bass) and Guto (vocals/drums) who formed in Cardiff in 2017 after stowing away from North Wales; this slacker mentality feeds into the infectious pop we have in the new album Amser Mynd Adra; a devil may care mosaic of melody and power.

The band where there heart on their sleeve, and they are not afraid to show emotion either through the natural storytelling or the rich harmonies combined with the unflinching fuzz. Working with long-time producer who worked with Super Furry Animals, the album is a coming of age album in the mould of early Neil Young perhaps - that mixture of mature beyond their years and golden pop sound.

'Rhwng Dau Feddwl' opens the album with a glorious guitar sound follwed hot on the heels of 'Arthur'; but from strong guitar play you also have the contrast of 'Llyn Llawenydd' sounds like a lost Crosby, Stills and Nash harmony with the Hollies beat - but it is a song about reminiscing and getting away from it all.


Amser Mynd Adra offers the listener a mixture of melancholy as the three men come to terms of moving into their mid-20s and adulthood but married with catchy upbeat sounds that will leave you humming. There is something for everyone on this album and for novices to Welsh-language music do not be put off and enjoy, there is much value to listening to something from a different point of view.

Hot on the heels of The Lathums debut album going to Number 1 on the album charts; guitar music may be coming back to rule the roost from all four corners of the United Kingdom no less with other works from Mt. Misery also gaining traction.

Amser Mynd Adra is out now from Libertino Records.

My thanks to One Beat PR for the review opportunity.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Bloody Orkney - Ken Lussey


A new Bob Sutherland story set during WW2

Ken Lussey is an author based in Scotland, and he has come to prominence in recent years by writing an entertaining series of novels helmed by the charming protagonist Bob Sutherland, an Air Force captain who becomes a member of Military Intelligence 11 (MI-11), think of it as a forerunner for that guy with a licence to kill.

Sutherland with his partner, in more ways than one, Monique Dubois, investigate nefarious going-ons amongst bases up and down the Scottish Highlands.

An unidentified body has been found, and people are staying quiet about how the body got there and why. Sutherland and Dubois travel to Orkney one of the most heavily defended anchorages in the world especially during 1942 at the height of the second global conflict.

Men are in danger and the safety of the homeland could be compromised, it is down to Bob and Monique to solve the case as quickly as possible before more lives are at risk.

With these military espionage thrillers, there is always a certain amount of exposition with context having to be explained due to the situation the world and the characters find themselves in and when reading you have to allow the auther some leeway in this regard, and for the first third of this novel this reader struggled to maintain concentration and flow, however, by the second half of the novel Lussey is able to create another rip-roaring page-turner that is exhilarating and memorable - an author like perhaps Fleming, not afraid to put his hero in jeopardy and make the reader wonder if it may happen.

The climatic shootout amidst a church layout is brilliantly handled and he gives scope for more action to come from the intrepid duo with three years left of the war, this course is most certainly not run yet.

This reader for one cannot wait for more from Bob Sutherland via the pen of Ken Lussey.

Bloody Orkney is out now from Arachnid Press

Next In Line - Marion Todd


Fifth book in the DI Clare Mackay series, Marion Todd does it again

Marion Todd is an author this reviewer has followed since the inception of her lead protagonist in the debut novel See Them Run which was released back in late 2019. A lot has happened to not just Mackay but the rest of the world and to the DI also; from losing a fiance to her re-locating away from Glasgow to the more sedate but just as murderous St. Andrews, to then losing a new boyfriend to a job relocation in Boston, USA. Clare Mackay remains as a resolute and durable character who has much to overcome in her own life as well as solving the swath of murders that ruin the picture postcard quaintness of the university town; the influence of Marple and Midsomer resonate through the five book series thus far.

This new novel NEXT IN LINE tells the story of a murder by shooting at a remote holiday cottage of a business entrepreneur celebrating his 40th birthday, at the same time Clare is overcoming a personal obstacle by attending the wedding of her ex-fiance Tom when the call comes in of the new case. Clare has started a new burgeoning relationship with DCI Alastair Gibson who seems charming and perfect for the DI.

As the case grows, it becomes known that the victim Russell Fox, is related to a TV presenter Gaby (imagine Holly Willoughby), who was at the same wedding as Clare that a brief prologue allows us to introduce each other. The title refers to the idea of family and hereditary traits - Gaby is the next in line, yet there is a dead brother from the 2004 Christmas Tsunami with no body ever recovered; and cleverly, the title also extrapolates Clare's current relationship status with Gibson next in line to her heart while she still vulnerable from the leaving of Geoffrey previously.

Throughout the novel, the compassion between Clare and Gaby is key to show that women can be safe around police forces and the empathy of a victim's family is key to any investigation - the recent unseemly details of the last hours of Sarah Everard's life in the case against Wayne Couzens brought the conduct of police to light.

The camaraderie continues between Clare and partner, Chris, a tenacious soul who always has Clare's back and will fight her corner no matter the situation - the loyalty of the siblings in blue is paramount to a good case and story.

As ever, with familiar Canelo Crime publications, there is an editorial richness to the swiftness of narrative pacing as we go from suspect to suspect amongst the cases. Coupled with the work of MJ Lee, these two authors should be read side-by-side of how to write tightly constructed detective stories - you never lose sight of the fact thanks to the week long structure that time is of the essence and the need for resolution is not faraway.

Gripping, enticing and pleasing in equal portions, this book much like Todd's other tomes was devoured in short order and this reader looks forward to the next crime thriller starring DI Clare Mackay.

Next In Line is out from Canelo on 21st October

Thursday, 23 September 2021

When The Guilty Cry - MJ Lee


The Seventh book in the DI Ridpath series is out now on Canelo 

MJ Lee returns with another entry into the DI Ridpath series, another tale of crime and conspiracy in the Greater Manchester area while overcoming personal difficulties.

Fans of my blog will know that I have followed the genesis, birth and growth of DI Ridpath ('just Ridpath') from the beginning under the penmanship of Mancunian author, MJ Lee. This series is a thrilling clash of thrills, spills and chills - combining the thumb turning efficiency of Lee Child with the prolific nature of James Patterson. Lee is able to weave a wonderful world of police work, the pressures they are under to get results whilst there being changes in the world as computer analysis and data seemingly attempts to alter the hunches a policeman would have had in the past.

This tale set amidst the still ongoing global pandemic makes the book feel current and now with its heart on the pulse of current affairs much like the work of pulp and dime novels would have been in a by-gone era; and there is a by-gone quality to our lead character. He seemingly is a maverick who works with the coroner but also has a foot in the police camp - this makes him a rogue in some people's eyes but also respected by others, and not adverse to putting some people's noses out of joint.

This case starts with the discovery of human hands in a backpack by a team of YouTube ghost hunters in an old abandoned children's home. The case then collides with that of an 11 year disappearance of a 16 year old in 2009 and the requirement for a death certificate to be approved to the family of that young girl. Ridpath uncovers the connection between the two cases thanks to a missing social worker who looked the other way when sexual abuse occurred at the children's home with shady callbacks to one Jimmy Saville.

The book does take a while to come together, but the timeline of one week for everything to unravel helps propel the second half of the book to something that is all consuming and impressive.

Lee writes again with such panache that it does surprise this reader that the book is not read by a larger more deserving audience. Go read this book and you shall not be disappointed.

WHEN THE GUILTY CRY is out now on all book formats