The reality behind the fiction – guest post by CJ Carver

I’ve had CJ Carver as a guest on the blog before and I’m delighted to welcome her back for a second appearance. CJ has a new book, the follow-up to her fantastic Spare Me The Truth. It’s called Tell Me a Lie – more of that later.

First, CJ is here to talk about the reality behind the fiction and how the culture of a country influences the story.

Ready? Sitting comfortably, with a large mug of your beverage of choice? Of course you are. Over to CJ…

For a thriller writer, Russia has everything you could possibly want.  Spies, oligarchs, corrupt officials, gulags, the FSB and vodka.  Lots of vodka.  Which is why, when my character Jay McCaulay in Back with Vengeance awakes in a Moscow hotel with no idea how she got there, she initially blames her memory loss on the vodka.

I’m fascinated by Russia.  I visited Moscow during its dissolution in the early nineties.  I met with factory workers in Samara and farmers in Bishkek.  I learned that the people chain smoke, that they’re flashy and love their bling.  They’re deep thinkers and blunt to the point of rudeness, but more interestingly, they’re passionate and fiercely loyal to their country.  And so, the beautiful Ekaterina Datsik was born in Tell Me a Lie.  She’s a combination of all the Russians I met, good and bad, generous and mean, which makes her the perfect enigmatic foil against Dan Forrester’s quest for the truth.

The plot for Tell Me a Lie is driven by Russia’s culture.  The peoples need for a great leader even if he (never a she) imprisons, exiles or executes millions of people without due process.  Look at President Putin.  He’s a ruthless, cold-blooded, corrupt ex-KBG officer but the majority of Russian’s revere him for being a “strong man” thanks to being brainwashed by the media.

I always play the “what if?” game when plotting a new book.  And with Tell Mea Lie I wondered: what if the people found out about Putin’s media manipulation?  His siphoning off billions into his and his cronies’ accounts in the Cayman Islands?  Would they rise up against the government officials like they did against the Tsars and tear down their dachas, kill them?

As I said, Russia is fertile ground for a thriller writer.

And so is Australia.

The land down under doesn’t just have sharks, deadly snakes and spiders, it has a dark and bloody history of their treatment of Aborigines, where over 100,000 children were taken from their families in the 1950s in an effort to try and “breed them white”.

I didn’t set out to write about what is now called the stolen generation, but when my protagonist India Kane in Blood Junction starts looking for her roots, this ugly history begins to make itself known through an Aboriginal policeman who befriends her.  I used it as a sub-plot, which enriches the story and hopefully informs as well as entertains.

Australian culture is perceived to be barbecues on the beach, but there’s a nasty underbelly under all that golden sand.  There’s political corruption, xenophobia and misogyny, all good fodder for novelists, but this is counterbalanced by the Aussies immense generosity, forged from surviving the outback perhaps, or even their convict history.

The culture of a nation isn’t just defined by the social behavior of its people, but by its arts and psychology, and its history, and when I delve into each, a plethora of plots and sub-plots appear until I’m clutching my head wondering which to choose.

Thanks CJ.

Tell Me A Lie by CJ Carver is published by Zaffre on 12th January 2017 in paperback and eBook. I loved Spare Me The Truth, so can’t wait to read this one! You can follow CJ Carver on twitter @C_J_Carver

tell-me-a-lie

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
From acclaimed and award-winning author CJ Carver, this is the next gripping international thriller in her brilliant Dan Forrester series.

1,342 QI Facts to leave you flabbergasted – a guest post by Literary QI ELF Anne Miller

Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for 1,342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, James Harkin and Anne Miller.

Today we’ve got Anne Miller here to tell us about how she became the chief Literary QI Elf.

Without further ado, over to Anne!

I did a Sociology and Politics degree and spent a lot of time on extra curricular activities – one year I ran the campus magazine, another year the university tango dancing society. When I graduated I was lucky enough to win a place on the Edinburgh TV Festival’s talent scheme The Network. (It’s fantastic – if you’re interested in working in TV you should definitely look them up!) We had a wonderfully busy weekend of going to workshops and talks from people like Jay Hunt, who runs Channel 4, and Charlie Brooker about how the TV industry works.

I worked in various TV jobs and then met the team at QI when I had a day shadowing on the QI set all the way back in Series I. They said to stay in touch and I emailed in a fact that I saw on the wall of the Dundee Science Centre that said ‘an eagle can swallow enough botulism toxin to kill 300,000 guinea pigs.’ They liked the fact and said that if I sent them more they might employ me. I like a challenge so sent more facts and a few months later I joined an internship scheme at QI and began helping out on the Twitter feed (@qikipedia) and organising their databases.

That was five years ago and now I write scripts for the TV series, am the Head Researcher for our sister BBC Radio 4 show The Museum of Curiosity and have just co-authored our new book 1,342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted. My favourite facts from the new book include:

  • In the time it takes to listen to The Proclaimers’ ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’, the ISS travels 500 miles, then 500 more.
  • Until the 1950s,
the rural poor in Norway warmed their feet
 in cowpats.
  • Hans Christian Andersen wrecked his friendship with Charles Dickens by staying with him three weeks longer than planned.
  • The Pieza genus of fly has species called Pieza kake, Pieza pie, Pieza rhea
and Pieza deresistans.
  • During the launch of BBC2 in 1964, a kangaroo got stuck in a lift
at Television Centre.
  • In 2016,
the Swiss city of Lausanne banned silent discos for being too noisy.

Thanks Anne! I do love a quite interesting fact…

1,342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted is out now at Amazon and Waterstones.

The blog tour continues…
qi-blog-tour-use-this

Mothers and daughters – guest post by Sanjida Kay

Today I’m delighted to welcome Sanjida Kay to the blog. Sanjida is the author of Bone by Bone. More about that later. First, over to Sanjida

Mothers and Daughters

My mother, in spite of her strict Protestant upbringing, applauded my creativity as a child. She sewed a costume entirely out of crêpe paper when I wanted to be Queen of Hearts at our village fancy dress competition, and didn’t say a word when I painted one my bedroom walls black, splashed with red, white and blue Dulux gloss. Like most mothers and daughters, we had our issues, particularly when I was a teenager. I wince at some of the things I said and did, and no doubt she regrets a few of her actions too – although, to be fair, she had four children, a full time job and little help at home from my dad, so it was no wonder she was a little sharp-tongued at times over my shenanigans.

In my thriller, Bone by Bone, there are three generations of female characters – Autumn, who is nine years old, and is being bullied at school; her mother, Laura, who, like her child, is shy and unconfident, and her rather more forthright mother, Dr Vanessa Baron-Cohen, a well-known anthropologist. The bond between mothers and their children, particularly their daughters, is usually the strongest one that exists in human beings. Mothers shape their daughters, but daughters often rebel against being moulded. I was interested in exploring this most tight and intimate bond; how some women raise their daughters to be like them, and their daughters then reject their values, but in doing so, may make mistakes of their own with their daughters – a tale familiar to some of us! As Oscar Wilde so glibly said, ‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.’

Vanessa’s field work is in Namibia, and she shuttled Laura back and forth between Africa and London as a child, so she could continue to have a career in the sciences – and see her daughter. Laura is bitterly resentful; as a result, she now puts Autumn’s needs before her own. Unlike her mother, though, she doesn’t have the confidence or the inner-strength to help her child properly – because, thanks to her peripatetic childhood, she was bullied as a girl too. If she just asked her mum for help with Autumn…!

The first part of Laura’s healing process occurs when her mother describes how awful she found it, leaving baby Laura with a Namibian man, so she could carry on studying. Laura hadn’t realised she’d mattered so much to her mum, who she thinks of as completely career-driven. But then, as so often happens between mothers and daughters, Vanessa says something that Laura misconstrues, and she turns away from her mother, deciding not to ask for her help. Autumn’s relationship is similarly complicated, not just with her mother, but with her grandmother too.

She could already feel the dryness in her throat, the catch in her voice, when she’d have to stand up in class and tell everyone what her grandparents did. After the other kids read out their work on grannies who baked them squidgy chocolate chip cookies, she could imagine how the others would look at her when she talked about Grandmother Vanessa who strode through the desert with her binoculars, counting kudu.
Bone by Bone

One of the books I read for research on this topic is Deborah Tannen’s You’re Wearing That? which gives some eye-watering accounts of conversations between mothers and daughters. As Tannen says:

The smallest remark can bring into focus the biggest question that hovers over nearly all conversations between mothers and daughters: Do you see me for who I am? And is who I am okay? When…the answer implies there’s something wrong with what you’re doing, daughters can feel the ground on which they stand begin to tremble.

Recently, I read a gentler interpretation of mothers and daughters in the brilliant book, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley:

You bring a child into this fractious, chaotic world out of the heat of your womb, and then spend the next ten years walking beside them while they figure out how to be a person.

I hope Laura and Autumn learn to walk companionably alongside each other for the next decade.

Thanks Sanjida!

Bone by Bone  is published by Corvus Books and is out in paperback from  1st September 2016.

You can find Sanjida at her website: www.sanjida.co.uk, on Facebook: www.facebook.com/SanjidaKayAuthor or on Twitter: @SanjidaKay and Instagram: @Sanjida.Kay

Bone by Bone | Sanjida Kay

How far would you go to protect your child? When her daughter is bullied, Laura makes a terrible mistake…

Laura loves her daughter more than anything in the world.

But her nine-year-old daughter Autumn is being bullied. Laura feels helpless.

When Autumn fails to return home from school one day, Laura goes looking for her. She finds a crowd of older children taunting her little girl.

In the heat of the moment, Laura makes a terrible choice. A choice that will have devastating consequences for her and her daughter…