Midas PR Blog Tour: The Coming Darkness – Greg Mosse

“These so-called bleak times are necessary to go through in order to get to a much, much better place.”

— David Lynch

Welcome to my stop on The Coming Darkness blog tour. A big thank you to Sofia at Midas PR for the invitation to take part, and to Moonflower Publishing for the gifted copy of the book.

A little sidenote on the author…

Greg Mosse is an actor, director, and writer with a long career in the theatre producing plays and musicals. He is also husband to the bestselling author Kate Mosse. So, he had quite a lot to live up to when in 2020, he decided to take advantage of the unending stream of COVID lockdowns (for which I have nothing more to show than one short story) to fulfil a long-held ambition of producing his first novel – The Coming Darkness.

NB. I will confess to having never read any of Kate Mosse’s work – not even Labyrinth. It’s one for the ‘to read’ list.

Onto the book….

I’ve had a love of dystopian fiction, ever since taking a glorious module on ‘utopias and dystopia’ as part of my undergrad politics degree. And, while it’s unlikely anything modern will ever surpass Make Room! Make Room! or 1984 (though Naomi Alderman’s The Power was damn good), this sounded scarily relevant to what is going on in the world today, so I was very excited to give it a go. I was not disappointed.

Mosse’s The Coming Darkness is set just a few years into our own future, and all too familiar themes of infection control, quarantine, climate change, and extreme geopolitical unrest that make it feel more of a prediction of things to come than a work of fiction. A prophecy of the bleak future that awaits us as we carry on along a path of almost certain destruction.

Set in Paris in 2037, in a time of poverty, exclusion, and disease, with the earth tipping dangerously close to complete environmental collapse (uncanny isn’t it?), The Coming Darkness follows the tale of Alexandre Lamarque, a disillusioned French special agent on the hunt for eco terrorists.

Alex notices signs of a new terror group – one that is widespread and reaches the highest levels – but experience has taught him there is no one he can trust. In search of the truth, Alex follows a trail of clues through an ominous spiral of events – from a theft from Norwegian genetics lab and a sequence of brutal child murders, to a chaotic coup in Northern Africa.

Finally, the stories come together, and the full picture is revealed in the coming darkness. Looming like a spectre on the horizon, the darkness foretells a plot of global level destruction the likes of which the human race has never seen before. It’s up to Alex to try and stop it before it’s too late.

I will be honest and say that I struggled a little with the book at first. The author has quite a distinct style – fast paced, with short chapters rapidly switching between merging storylines, and there is an awful lot of scene setting in the preliminary sections, with a seemingly unending list of characters, and a huge amount of technical information. As such it was a bit difficult to try and tie everything together. That said, I persevered – and would thoroughly recommend other readers do the same, because you will be rewarded.

The Coming Darkness was a great read. The book would probably benefit from a cast list of bios to allow readers to look up characters mentioned in previous chapters (I certainly would have appreciated this), but this is really my only gripe. The plot was gripping, and well executed, and I certainly found it difficult to put down as I got further into the story.

On the whole, I would thoroughly recommend this book for anyone interested in discovering new thrillers, or looking for an exciting read to get them the darker months.

To find out more or to purchase a copy of the book please visit Moonflower Publishing online.

I was sent a free copy of The Coming Darkness in exchange for an honest review.

Charco Press Blog Tour: Salt Crystals – Cristina Bendek

“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”

― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Another Spanish translation to add to the list – though so very different from the last.

The island of San Andrés, a little seahorse floating in the Caribbean Sea, is a troubled paradise. Officially part of Colombia, but much closer to the shores of Nicaragua, San Andrés is home to a rich mix of cultures – the native ‘Raizals’, themselves of European and African Descent, mix with Arab traders and Spanish-speaking tourists from the mainland.

The population of the eight-mile strip of land, a modest 20,000 in 1973, has ballooned in the last few decades, bringing drought and unrest. In the high season visitors from the mainland come in droves, and jumbo jets roar overhead as natives blockade the streets protesting a lack of water, but nothing changes for the better.

That’s how we were built: out of historical circumstance, a mysterious process that landed us all in this cooking pot, in this blockade, including the cachaco and the other mixed folks who chat and share the need and the spell of San Andres, who question and refuse.

Salt Crystals is the story of Victoria Baruq, an island native who, having spent many years living abroad in Mexico City, returns home following the breakdown of a relationship. She returns to the whitewashed house of her childhood, now empty, save for the pencil marks that she gouged into the banister as a child, and seeks to find her place in the world.

For Victoria, travelling back to San Andrés is a journey self-discovery. An insulin-dependent diabetic, she recites her upper and lower blood glucose levels like a mantra, seeking sugar hits in cemeteries, mango trees, and bakeries. Life on San Andrés is less certain, more unpredictable, and challenging – her supply of glucose monitors a constant reminder of her vulnerability.

Her appearance, inability to speak Creole, and time spent away from the island mean that most of the locals she meets assume she is from the mainland. She seeks to find out more about her originals, at the local library, ‘thinking rundowns’, and places undiscovered and perhaps unsafe. On a search for answers about her heritage she discovers some dark and uncomfortable truths.

‘Those places are dangerous.’ I was always told. But the whole island is my mother, I tell myself: I came out of the ocean and rose up here on the sand that’s existed for millions of years, through the blood of all my dead.

Salt Crystals is a complex book: think genealogical study meets political commentary in a poetic fever dream. A tale of discovery and understanding of one’s place in the world, shaped, but not dictated, by those that came before.

We belong to the Earth, and that’s what we need to honour: this rain that been everywhere for millions of years, the air we breathe, the ocean that’s the womb of absolutely everything. It’s true. I’ll never know the whole truth about my ancestors, the mind can’t connect the dots; that’s an impulse of the heart.

Translated from the original Spanish by Charco Press, and translator, Robin Myers, Salt Crystals (Los cristales de la sal) was first published in Colombia in 2019. To find out more or to purchase a copy of the book (in English or Spanish) please visit Charco Press online.

I was sent a free copy of Salt Crystals in exchange for an honest review.

Charco Press Blog Tour: The Forgery – Ave Barrera

“We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it.”

– Tennessee Williams

As a fan of translated fiction, and decade-long learner of Spanish, I’m not sure why it took me so long to pick up a Spanish translation – but I’m very happy to have rectified this, and even happier that my first dip into Mexican fiction was Ave Barrera’s The Forgery.

I’ve been burned by translated works in the past – and know that not all languages lend themselves well to an English translation – but I can’t deny that I was well and truly ready to fall in love with this book and I’m so relived to say that it did not disappoint.

I was drawn to The Forgery on a very personal level. Mexico as a country is very close to my heart – my husband’s family are from Mexico, and we recently honeymooned in Guadalajara, I’m also a huge fan of Mexican art (Frida Kahlo in particular) so The Forgery ticked all my boxes.

José Federico Burgos is a suffering artist turned copyist, and soon to be forger– any dreams he once had of making it big have failed, he is down on his luck and struggling to make rent, his beat-up truck and a half-pack of crackers the only possessions to his name. That is until he meets Horacio Romero.

Horacio is an antiques dealer, collector, and hoarder of fine things. At the very heart of Horacio’s collection is La Morisca, a splendid sixteenth-century panel, around which the very bones of his family home have been constructed. Horacio can offer José the money he needs to make all his problems disappear if he can create an exact forgery of La Morisca – perfect enough to fool ‘the heirs’.

At first wary of falling once more into the murky waters of forgeries, José is powerless to resist Horacio’s offer – or is it something else? – after first setting eyes on the magnificent altarpiece.

“Young man, do not look too long at that painting, or you will sink into despair”

The Forgery jumps between timelines: Ella Fitzgerald LPs and almond-scented memories in the dilapidated artist’s studio and confused fever dreams of painted flames in the high-ceilinged hallways of the city hospital give way to José’s entrapment and resulting surrealist nightmare.

I’ve no doubt that the Forgery is just as compelling in its native Spanish as in the translation by Ellen Jones and Robin Myers. It is authentic, unspoiled, and evidently very well researched, paying homage to many great Mexican artists and revealing the bloody secrets behind historical artistic techniques. The book comes alive – from the dusty, sun-stained streets, cafés, and cantinas of Guadalajara to La Tona’s tiled kitchen, the deserted pool, and the twisting jacaranda tree by Isabel’s French doors. I feel as though I could walk through the grounds of Horacio’s house – though you’ll understand my reluctance to enter the chapel. 

This curious novella will send you through a bizarre and dreamlike labyrinth where you encounter all manner of weird and wonderful characters – including a charming vagabond with toothache aptly named ‘Socket’ – and leave you desperately attempting to reach your own conclusions on the real story behind La Morisca within 170 short pages.

If you are a fan of the surreal, and up for asking a few questions that you may not find an answer to, then I would thoroughly recommend you add The Forgery to your ‘to read’ list.

Translated from the original Spanish by Charco Press, and accomplished translators, Ellen Jones and Robin Myers, The Forgery was originally published in Mexico to critical acclaim in 2016. To find out more or to purchase a copy of the book (in English or Spanish) please visit Charco Press online.

I was sent a free copy of The Forgery in exchange for an honest review.

Cheltenham Literature Festival Blog Tour: The Melting – Lize Spit

“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.”
― Danielle Bernock

It’s really hard to believe that this is Lize Spit’s first novel – if she has more in store then I have no doubt that the literary community will be well served.

The Melting was difficult to put down, but also really quite challenging to read. Reader beware, this is a very dark book, definitely not for the faint of heart, and worth a trigger warning or two. It makes for uncomfortable reading, but is at once fascinating, thrilling and disturbing – like watching a disaster unfold in slow motion.

I went into this book with my eyes half open and little more than a vague notion of what Spit had in stock. I got a general gist of the few key themes from scanning the blurb – switching between past and present tense, a journey, the promise of revenge – I also skimmed over the testimonials on the back cover – a few words stood out to me, terrifying, disturbing, challenging. That said, I wasn’t that well equipped to handle what was thrown at me.

Eva is a young Flemish woman travelling back to her hometown in rural Flanders to attend a party being thrown by one of her childhood friends, Pim. She hasn’t spoken to Pim, or her other childhood friend, Laurens, for more than 13 years – since the summer of 2002. In the boot of her car is a large block of ice. The Melting is Eva’s tale, it traces her movements, from her small flat in Brussels, to the milk shed on Pim’s farm, switching between past and present tense, to reveal the real reason for her journey.

Eva’s life is tragic. Along with her siblings, she suffers neglect and abuse at the hands of her incompetent, alcoholic parents. There is a profound sadness in the family’s existence, and despite the carelessness, and apparent disinterest with which they treat their children, it’s difficult to feel anything but pity for the mother and father. Eva has a very obvious and devastating desire for love, compassion and warmth. She doesn’t really take any joy in anything, she plods through life, desperate to be accepted, willing to do anything, to comply, to stay quiet – until it’s too late.

While The Melting is Eva’s story – it also reveals, the suffering of her younger sister Tessie. Her name the diminutive of a sister who passed away years before she was born. She is the ‘little runt’ of the family, slight, fragile, her skin practically translucent. She encompasses disfunction. While Eva internalises her issues, quietly accepting her fate, Tessie is outwardly troubled, neurotic and broken. Eva is desperate to help Tessie, without ever really knowing how, and it’s clear that she blames herself for not doing more.

I was three quarters of my way through the book when the penny dropped, and I realised what Eva planned to do with the block of ice in her boot. Eva reveals story bit by bit, slowly drip feeding the summer of 2002, alluding to the climax without ever going into detail. The effect is quite extraordinary – finally discovering what happened to Eva at the end of a summer of darkness, despair, and devastation, and immediately realising her plans for one terrifying act of revenge.

Needless to say – I absolutely love The Melting – but I would be very careful when recommending this novel.

The language is extraordinary. I’ve no doubt that the translation has been perfectly executed. The translator’s notes hint at the challenges involved in translating Spit’s mother tongue and ensuring that the minor details were not lost. Spit describes the most mundane things in the minutest of detail, focusing on features and images which most would ignore, or shy away from, and painting scenes with an uncomfortable intricacy.

The story is compelling and it’s easy to lose several hours through desperation to know what comes next. Equally, it is does make for uncomfortable reading – and there was a point where I thought I might need to put the book down and walk away. It is a work of fiction, but I feel slightly emotional writing this review, whether real or not, The Melting is explicit in its portrayal of childhood trauma and the devastating effect that this can have on adult life.

If you are intrigued by this review, then I would strongly suggest giving The Melting a try, just be prepared.

If you would like to find out more – Lize Spit will be discussing her portrayal of childhood trauma in an event as part of the Cheltenham Literature Festival tonight at 6.30pm: https://bit.ly/2X2yFow

I was sent a free copy of The Melting in exchange for an honest review.

The Familiars – Stacey Halls

“The ghosts of things that never happened are worse than the ghosts of things that did.”― L.M. Montgomery

71h4m38ZS1L

I really enjoyed this book.

The old saying goes you should never judge a book by its cover, but I have to confess, that I often do – and it actually normally works out in my favour. I regularly pick up a book because I am drawn to the cover artwork – admittedly, I will always check out the blurb too, and if I like the sound of it as well I will normally buy. I’m sure there are books out there with beautiful covers and stinking interiors, but so far this method has worked fairly well for me. The Constant Nymph, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and The Unforgotten all found their way onto my book shelf because I fell in love with their covers.

This is another one to add to the list. I was drawn to the striking full cover wrap, the slinky fox and personal artefacts hiding amongst moonlit trees. The ‘familiar’ title (I’m so sorry) let me know the subject matter would be up my street, and the blurb reinforced my decision to pop the book in my shopping basket.

The Familiars is an evocative, haunting tale, set upon the backdrop of seventeenth-century industrial Lancashire, and the loosely based on the folklore of the Pendle witches. The place time, and characters are real, though the story is one of Halls’ own – a tale of two women’s fight for freedom in an age of oppression, subjugation and superstition.

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir.

When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn’t supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy. Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong.

There were two things I loved about this book.

Firstly, the despair – and I don’t mean this is a heartless way at all; I love to be moved by a book. Fleetwood’s anguish was palpable – her fear at losing her child, what this would mean to her as a wife, but also as a mother. The abject terror at having something so personal so utterly out of her control. Combined with this, is the creeping suspicion of her husband. What are his motives? What’s he trying to do? What is his aim? And finally, her utter helplessness when trying to save Alice.

I was anxious for Fleetwood –desperately trying to save her unborn child, and indeed herself, while fighting against the oppressive force of male privilege. Knowing that Alice awards her the best chance of survival and of giving her husband the heir he so desires, but being helpless to save her, bound by the chains of her sex. I felt connected to Fleetwood, a part of her emotions – angry, sad, afraid, anxious, with a final burst of release and acceptance.

I also loved the darker, more mysterious element which emerged through the backdrop of the Pendle Witch Trials. I was drawn into the pages by the secrets which didn’t ever fully emerge: the fleeting familiars in the woods, the oppressive walls of Malkin Tower, the waking nightmares, the unknown horrors in Alice’s prison cell. I like the fact that some questions were left unanswered. Real life is so often mysterious – and though Halls wrote the book to answer some of her own questions, there is much that is left unanswered. This is an open book, for interpretation by the reader.

I’ve been struggling a lot with reading recently, and this book was just what I needed to get myself moving again. It’s engaging, but also easy and enjoyable to read. I consumed the whole thing in a few short days between Christmas and New Year while nursing a particularly fierce head cold. It was refreshing, after a dismal 2019 spent struggling through books I felt I ought to read, to rediscover the delight of a really good book.

Illustrated Children’s adventure series launched at Cambridge’s Sedgwick Museum

The first in a series of illustrated children’s books, aimed at encouraging children to take an interest in visiting museums, has been launched by an independent group of adventure-seeking artists, just in time for the summer holidays.

Riddle of the White Sphinx is the first of the ‘Hidden Tales’ – a series of adventure stories with inbuilt treasure hunts, where children are invited to trace the journey of characters, follow clues, crack codes and uncover a hidden artefact located somewhere within their city.

More than 300 young bookworms attended the launch event at the Historic Sedgwick museum on 29th June, where they were joined by author Mark Wells, producer Sorrel May and illustrator Jennifer Bell.

IMG_20190629_150000
Author Mark Wells signs a copy of Riddle of the White Sphinx at the Sedgwick Museum book launch.

Attendees were able to get their hands on a pre-release copy of the book, as well as take part in themed activities and competitions being held across the museum – though many were seen heading into town, eager to get stuck into the treasure hunt.

Speaking about the inspiration behind the book, author Mark Wells said that he hoped the book would instil a “spirit of adventure” in all those who read it.

“When you open a book or step out your front door, there are so many things to discover – but you have to open your mind to see them,” said Wells. “The Hidden Tales is all about going outside and embarking on a real-life adventure, one where you physically visit places and work collaboratively with others to solve a mystery together.”

To find out more about the inspiration behind the Hidden Tales, check out my interview with the author.

The book follows the adventures of two children, Nina and Leo, who discover a dark secret lurking in Cambridge after they hear a mysterious, bodiless voice, calling out to them from a museum exhibition.

The story guides readers on a journey through the city streets, to locate secret portals in seven of the city’s historic museums, identify a trapped historic figure and discover the artefact that binds them there.

Want to know more? Click on the image below to open up a handy Hidden Tales infographic for a rundown of how the book works.

Hidden Tales Inforgraphic 300dpi

Speaking at the launch event, producer Sorrel May said: “Seeing so many children and their families gather for the launch of the Hidden Tales was a wonderful feeling. The excitement on the faces of the children as they opened up their new books made all the hard work we had put into the project over the last two years feel worth it.”

It’s not just children who couldn’t wait to see what the book had in store, check out my video review below:

The launch was also attended by a small group of lucky ticket holders chosen from schools around Cambridge, who were given a special tour of the Sedgwick with the first clues to the treasure hunt whispered to them over the museum’s audio guides.

“The launch was really fun,” said Kim Wheeler, a trained teacher, and one of the many Cambridge locals who attended the event. “It was great to see so many things for the children to get stuck into, to leave them raring to start the puzzles in the book afterwards.”

“I really love how the clues you need are embedded in the story,” she continued. “It makes you dig deeper and think about the writing more. It would be great for getting children to use their comprehension skills in a really meaningful way.”

If you missed out on the launch, you can still get a copy of the book online or from Heffers bookstore. The Hidden Tales are also planning a series of fun and immersive events relating to the launch throughout the summer – check out the website for more information.

 

Author Interview – Mark Wells, Riddle of the White Sphinx

I am delighted to be able to share with you my exclusive interview with Mark Wells, author of the new children’s series Hidden Tales.

The first book in this exciting new series, Riddle of the White Sphinx, was launched on Saturday 29th June in a themed event held at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences in Cambridge’s historic city centre.

I caught up with Mark ahead of of the launch to discuss the inspiration behind the book, how the project came together, and more.

Hidden_Tales_Riddle_of_the_White_Sphinx_1


Where did the idea for the Hidden Tales come from?

A couple of summers ago, Sorrel and I were sitting outside her mum’s house, chatting about our childhood. We both remembered reading books like Kit Williams’s Masquerade and going on adventures with our friends or exploring different places with our parents and grandparents. Sorrel was worried about the time children spend nowadays in front of a screen and wondered if it would be possible to do a treasure hunt book for children in today’s digital age.  A few weeks later, Sorrel came around for a cup of tea to discuss the idea further. In the subsequent months, we kept meeting up in the evenings around the kitchen table to chat about the possibility of turning it into a series of illustrated children’s books. I suggested that it might be sensible to test the idea in one city, like Cambridge, and Sorrel asked if I could come up with a storyline. That was probably the moment when the Hidden Tales was born.

Was it a sudden ‘aha!’ moment, or a gradual coming together of ideas?

After agreeing to come up with an outline, one Sunday morning I left home with a notepad and pen and went walking around the city looking for inspiration. I wandered into a museum that I hadn’t visited since I was a child and decided to hire an audio-guide to look around the exhibits. As soon as I put the headphones on, something magical happened. The sounds of the other visitors became muffled, and a disembodied voice began speaking to me about the exhibits around me. And that’s when I thought – what if I was the only person the voice could talk to? And what if the voice was not coming from the headphones but from another entity entirely. A soul, trapped here, hiding from a sinister keeper. A Hidden.

An hour later, I was back at my desk typing away, and I didn’t stop until the early hours when I finally went to bed. The next morning, I read through what I had written, and the hairs rose on the back of my neck. I sent what has become Chapter 1 to Sorrel and asked her to tell me what she thought of it. Later that evening, Sorrel called me back to say she had read it to the girls and they loved it and could I write some more? Each weekend after that I went to another museum and wrote another chapter, sending it through to Sorrel for another reading, and before long we had our first book: Riddle of the White Sphinx.

In your bio, you speak very fondly about your time studying in Cambridge, and, in particular, about your curiosity about the secrets of the older buildings around the city – are there any buildings, in particular, that stand out in your mind as having offered the most intrigue?  

There are so many! Everywhere you look in Cambridge there are iron-studded doors, archways or parapets concealing all manner of secrets, while from the rooftops, gargoyles and grotesques watch your every move. In my own college, St John’s, it’s hard to beat New Court with its Eagle Gate and cloister leading to the Bridge of Sighs as a setting for a gothic mystery like College of Shadows – particularly at night with the moon shining through its iron-barred arches. But the Fitzwilliam Museum can look equally mysterious, especially at night when its darkened windows peer out at passers-by like sunken eye sockets.

I understand that you have written several books before now, how has your experience as a writer so far influenced this latest work?

Before coming back to Cambridge, I used to work for Games Workshop, and I loved the dark gothic fantasy worlds of Warhammer. When I left, they published a couple of my short stories set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe before I decided to switch to urban fantasy and set my debut novel College of Shadows, here in Cambridge. Ever since reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of parallel worlds, and when the opportunity came to create one for the Hidden Tales, I took it. The World of Secrets, which is where the Hidden come from, is definitely dark, gothic and mysterious, and it has been great fun imagining a place where those lost souls are trapped.

What did you enjoy most about writing the Riddle of the White Sphinx? Are there any aspects that you didn’t enjoy?

Discovering museums that I didn’t know existed has been brilliant. There are 13 museums in Cambridge, and I visited all of them before focusing on 7 of my favourites for Riddle of the White Sphinx. But to be honest, the whole project has been a joy. Working with the museums, who have been incredibly supportive, local teachers, as well as the rest of the creative team has been wonderful, like seeing the first illustrations come through from Jennifer Bell, our illustrator. One of the most memorable moments was when we applied to the Arts Council to fund the first book, and we received the email telling us they given us the grant. That was special. It has been hard work at times but in a good way.

What would you like children to take away from the experience of reading this book and cracking the codes? Is there any particular message you are trying to convey?

A spirit of adventure. When you open a book or step out your front door, there are so many things to discover – but you have to open your mind to see them. What saddens me is how many people walk around this fantastic city, with their faces buried in a mobile phone, ignoring the buildings and people around them. The Hidden Tales is all about going outside and embarking on a real-life adventure, one where you physically visit places and work collaboratively with others to solve a mystery together. When designing the book, for example, we included a Passport page where you can get your book stamped at each museum. These stamps each contain a word that spell a sentence that will help you find the missing artefact hidden somewhere in the city. We did this to reward those readers who make the effort to go to all seven museums. The true heroes of the tale.

I see from the website that the book has a ‘producer’ as well as an author – how did your roles differ when creating the Riddle of the White Sphinx?

There are so many aspects to the Hidden Tales, it wouldn’t have been possible for one person to do it on their own. If self-publishing an illustrated hardback book wasn’t enough, we always wanted to make the Hidden Tales as immersive and accessible as possible for children and families. This meant taking it into schools, organising events for families throughout the holidays and creating a unique launch event at the Sedgwick Museum in the style and character of the Hidden Tales. Add to that the importance of liaising with the Cambridge museums to ensure the story, illustrations and outreach activities worked for each of the venues was a massive task. Without a producer of Sorrel’s experience and abilities, it would never have happened.

Were there any aspects of writing this book that you found particularly challenging?

A couple of the artefacts and characters from the original draft had to be changed after consulting with the museums. One exhibit, for example, was only on loan to the museum, and there was always the risk that the owner would want it back, which would have been a problem! Another aspect was ensuring the level of difficulty in the clues was sufficiently challenging without being impenetrable. The Hidden language for example, which was designed by Fiona Boyd of the Cardoza Kindersley Workshop, is introduced through a series of messages in the illustrations. It took me several weeks to work out how best to reveal the identity of the letters in each chapter. I even went to Bletchley Park to look at some of the techniques that they used to crack ENIGMA to get the approach right.

What stands out to you as the most memorable part of writing this book?

There have been so many, from getting the first illustration through from Jenny to seeing the colour proofs running off the press for the first time at the Lavenham Press. But for me, it was probably my first reading to an assembly hall of children and looking up at the end to see their wide-eyed faces, wholly immersed in the story. For a writer, that makes all the hard work worth it.

Where do you expect the next Hidden Tales adventure to take you?

That’s an excellent question! We haven’t decided yet, but we are open to suggestions. If it works well in Cambridge, we would love to do it in other cities. There may even be a sequel here. The Keeper of Secrets is not going away without a fight!

Is there anything else that you would like say?

One of the features of the Hidden Tales is that it is all produced locally. Other than Jennifer Bell who is based in Nottingham (though she is often in Newmarket teaching equine art workshops) all of those involved in the project live in and around East Anglia. From the Cardoza Kindersley Workshop, the Lavenham Press, book designer, editors, teachers and volunteers, we are all based here. Even the cakes for the launch event came from Fitzbillies!


 

Riddle of the White Sphinx is available to buy online or instore at Heffers bookstore in Cambridge. If you would like more information on the Hidden Tales including the quest, events, schools programme or AHA! Club (Association of Hidden Adventurers) just visit www.hiddentales.co.uk.

Many thanks to Mark for taking the time to sit and chat with me.

 

The Grotlyn – Benji Davies

I am a little late to the party with this one – but I love it all the same!

It was the cover that first drew me to this book. Some might call it clichéd, a sparse bedroom, complete with gas lamp, lit only by the pale glow of the moon, a wrought iron bed, a tiny, pale figure peeking above the heavy sheets. I think it’s timeless. This is exactly the kind of cover, and theme I would like to have for my children’s book – if I ever get around to finishing it…

9780008212759

I know when the Grotlyn’s been
Slipping through your house unseen…

The Grotlyn is a new(ish) rhyming picture book by lyrical genius and acclaimed children’s author Benji Davies. This is more than a book about things that go bump in the night though, it’s beautifully illustrated, playfully constructed and comes complete with an important life lesson for all children afraid of the dark.

As much as parents might like to try to stop their little ones watching scary movies or frightening YouTube videos, some ghostly goings on in story books is almost like a rite of passage. You know as soon as you see the cover of a creepy children’s book that it’s not going to be ~that~ scary, but I’m willing to bet that the majority of children who own this book were hoping it would be…

The story itself, though short and sweet, is loaded with suspense created by Davies atmospheric Victorian-esque illustrations, and simple, almost creeping, rhyming style. The two combine to create a spooky yet playful scene – a mysterious shadow slinking through the smog slicked city streets, slipping from page to page, raising the neck hairs of all it passes.

The Grotlyn.

This mysterious creature is causing quite a stir among the townsfolk, and has even stolen a pair of PC Vickers’ knickers.

So what could it be?

Don’t worry, the Grotlyn isn’t some horrific Babadook type – and this book is not going to make any little Klaus’s dance with the likes of Freddie Krueger.  As the, equally magnificent, trailer for this tale so cleanly alludes:

But what at first we think to be
The eye does blindly make us see.
So don’t be scared to sleep – to dream!
For things are not quite what they seem.

Rest easy with the knowledge that the creeping, crawling, knicker-stealing culprit in the story poses no harm, and will be easily, and perhaps hilariously, revealed to be something much less scary than the name ‘Grotlyn’ conjures up.

I can say no more.

I don’t like to judge a book by its cover – but I 100 per cent did with this one and it completely paid off. I won’t be gifting my copy of this book to any little people, quite simply because I want to keep it for myself. That said, I think that ‘The Grotlyn’ is the perfect book for sharing with little ones who like a thrill.

Big Data: A Very Short Introduction, by Dawn E. Holmes

9780198779575

A very short introduction to a very big subject, Big Data: A Very Short Introduction by Dawn E. Holmes is arguably the most topical of this book series. Big data is everywhere, and not just in the sense that it is constantly being gathered and amalgamated to carry out all manner of market-based and statistical analysis – it is also an immensely overused buzzword, present everywhere from the daily news to popular culture, and all points between. This very short introduction is perfect for anyone who is a little bit baffled by the very concept of big data. Holmes introduces the subject in a format that is both concise and manageable, drawing on the fields of statistics, probability and computer science to illustrate the power of big data in everyday life, the associated security risks of such information falling into the wrong hands, and the issues surrounding the use of big data by companies and businesses today.

This review was first published online for E&T Magazine

Projects: A Very Short Introduction, by Andrew Davies

9780198727668

In this Very Short Introduction Andrew Davies delves into the world of projects. It may sound like a dry subject, but the history of projects is nothing short of fascinating – and a very long history it is too. By definition, a project is any sort of collaborative mission planned to achieve a particular aim, a temporary measure with a limited lifespan. Throughout history mankind has used projects to reform and transform the natural world, creating innovative spaces for people to work, live and play. Throughout the course of this very short introduction Davies references some of the greatest projects of all time, including examples such as the Erie Canal and the Apollo Moon landing, to highlight how different projects are managed and organised to cope with the changing conditions and immense uncertainties unveiled within any form of breakthrough innovation. Moving forward, Davies presents his own ideas for how future projects can be organised to best address the challenges of modern post-industrial societies. If you are considering a career in project management or are already involved in one or more projects and want to know how to improve the system then let this book become your bible. Projects: A Very Short Introduction by Andrew Davies offers a veritable goldmine of insights, anecdotes and analysis of the very basics of project management, showing how it is done, and advising on how it can be done better.

This review was first published online for E&T Magazine