Book Review – Under Your Skin

Floating between the aisles of UK bookstores is a very regular pastime, and it is the crime/psychological thrillers that currently receive the top billing. A great number of these novels catch my eye, but to read them I need to be thoroughly compelled by the suspenseful synopsis and review quotes that adorn the cover. It plays out as a measured yet unsophisticated selective process.

One of the more recent additions to the promoted list is Lie with me by Sabine Durrant. On the surface, this seemed both the ideal book and the ideal author for me to continue my sample of works that engage the many complex workings of the mind. However, I felt a duty to start at the beginning and read Durrant’s debut novel, Under Your Skin.

Durrant had dabbled in young adult fiction previously, but this was her first attempt at appeasing a more mature audience. The transition is not entirely seamless, but she immediately shows a clear aptitude for capturing the extent of human emotion and thought processes, as well as a very descriptive and dynamic way with words.

One feature of psychological thrillers has become increasingly ubiquitous, and that is the first person narrative, which is already beginning to lack originality. The protagonist on this occasion is Gaby Mortimer, a daytime television presenter for a well-known magazine show, and thus a minor celebrity.

Despite displaying a persona of calmness and reassurance in front the camera to act as her public face, in reality Gaby is socially insecure and self-conscious. She is married to financier Phillip and has a daughter called Millie, who is often looked after by her Polish nanny, Marta.

She also isn’t entirely likeable, but Durrant attempts for the reader to sympathise  with Gaby after she discovers the dead body of a young woman while out running, but then in an unexpected about turn, becomes the main suspect in the subsequent police investigation.

This has far-reaching consequences, as she is then forced to spend a night in the cells, she is stood down from her presenting job, and then has to cope with a group of reporters taking residence outside her home.

The police investigation is led by DI Perivale, who it appears has a peculiar obsession with Gaby, seemingly at the expense of following up alternative lines of enquiry. It all adds to the intrigue, but ultimately the police procedure is flawed, and Durrant is guilty of opting for an unreasonable amount of artistic license.

A vast amount of the novel sees Gaby battling her increasingly frenzied thoughts as her life begins to unravel, while at the same time enlisting the help of a crafty journalist to investigate the murder of Ania Dudek in an attempt to clear her name. The pair have a neat camaraderie, but a tinge of suspicion exists on both sides as interesting facts about the case come to light.

Throughout Gaby’s ordeal, husband Phillip – admittedly well on the road to estrangement – is on a work-related trip to Singapore, but returns by the end for the mystery to be solved in flimsy fashion. The ending (I’m giving nothing away!) may divide opinion, but for me it was a massive disappointment.

After considering all of the evidence provided in the novel and questioning how Gaby and Ania had become inextricably linked, the solution was far less original than I would have expected. An unsatisfactory conclusion to a story that never had me completely gripped.

The entire narrative is played out in Gaby’s confused, indeed slightly traumatised thoughts. She is clearly a complex and vulnerable individual, but at times the prose is a little too long-winded and the supporting characters are merely spare parts who vanish into thin air by the end.

On the whole, reading Under Your Skin has made me think twice about trying out Lie with me’. While my no means a bad novel, it is one that for me could have been so much more, had Durrant cut out the waffle and the poor dialogue, and cooked up a more effective resolution.

Book Review – I See You

It is often said that after a very successful debut novel, it is extremely difficult to provide something just as warmly received the second time around. Indeed, it is the same in all branches of the arts, with musicians under pressure to ensure that their second album is every bit as good as the first, while many film sequels aren’t met with the same level of endearment as the original.

Author Clare Mackintosh provided an instant hit with I Let You Go, a chilling psychological tale of tragedy and isolation. The plot twists left us completely stunned and filled with awe, having been led to believe one thing only to realise the truth was something completely different. In short, it was an absorbing, compelling read.

After the awards that came her way as a result of producing a standout entry among the plethora of psychological thrillers that currently inhabit the literary sphere, Mackintosh set to work on I See You, another novel that intertwines the nitty-gritty of a police investigation with narration from the main protagonist.

We are immediately introduced to Zoe Walker, a 40-year-old mother of two who works for a London estate agent. She left her first husband Matt some years previously, and now new partner Simon – a journalist at the Daily Telegraph – has recently moved in, much to the resentment of her son Justin.

Justin works at a café owned by next door neighbour Melissa, who is Zoe’s closest friend and confidant, always seeking a new business opportunity. Daughter Katie is a budding actress who suddenly finds an opportunity to showcase her talents in a theatre production of Twelfth Night, falling for her streetwise producer in the process.

Zoe is, generally speaking, a very unremarkable human being. She complains about her job and the daily slog of commuting to and from work; she is overprotective of her children, and she is besotted by Simon, with whom she has a touchy-feely, but not entirely open relationship.

However, her life changes when she notices her photo placed randomly in the London Gazette, and further investigation shows that a new female face is placed in the newspaper each day. It soon emerges that several of these women have been a victim of crime, leading Zoe to move into a state of red alert and to fear everyone around her.

She informs Kelly Swift of the British Transport Police, who has recently been demoted having undergone disciplinary proceedings for assaulting an offender. She uses her vital input in Zoe’s case to earn a three-month placement at the Metropolitan Police’s Murder Investigation Team and a partnership with the well-respected DI Nick Rampello.

As the case progresses and more leads are found by police, it becomes clear that a website has been created that allows people to download the daily commutes of countless individuals – including Zoe – through the London underground network, revealing a tremendously sophisticated criminal operation.

Kelly continues to impress with her detective work, while Zoe becomes increasingly suspicious of those around her, becoming completely enveloped by the case, and the fear that anybody she encounters on her daily commute could subject her to a brutal attack.

It is here where Mackintosh excels the most, capturing the true depth of human emotions such as fear and vulnerability. She also keeps you guessing as to who the offender really is, and while on this occasion the truth isn’t so well hidden, the rather violent denouement is a real page turner, purely due to the tension that builds during a gripping final encounter.

The themes of the novel are very clever and thought provoking, but I See You is not quite at the level of I Let You Go. Many of the characters are incidental and lacking any real substance, while the twists don’t quite have the same effect. It is still a good read which raises questions until the very last page. And after reading said page, the prospect of a sequel seems not altogether fanciful.

A Rueful Regime

The first few weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency were always going to be eventful. The thinly veiled objective was to set about destroying the scarcely blemished legacy of predecessor Barack Obama by implementing a range of controversial and radical policies that were outlined during the election campaign.

There was universal disdain when he shamefully spoke of banning all Muslims from entering the United States, as well as anger in Mexico after vowing to build a huge wall across the border between the two nations. Those claims seemed far-fetched at the time. After all, he still needed to win an election. But that he did, and the former businessman has immediately set about making them a reality.

It all began at his inaugural address, a bombastic display of fierce and furious rhetoric, all uttered in front of a crowd of (I suspect) quietly seething onlookers. For many in the United States and across the globe, it was a day which confirmed that their worst fears had been realised, as someone who showcased some of the least desirable human values and characteristics gained passage to the White House and all the power it brings.

Some of the more optimistic members of the sizeable percentage of the US population that is against Trump pledged a willingness to give him a chance and see how things would play out. Surely he wouldn’t be as cruel and subjective as he was suggesting he would be during his grudge match with Hillary Clinton? He said all those things so he could win an election, right?

Wrong. A series of social media outbursts and tense press conferences in the run up to his inauguration hinted that Trump would never allow anyone to undermine his authority. Not the media; not the Clinton supporters still raging at his triumph, and not even the most distinguished of Hollywood actresses such as Meryl Streep; disgracefully lambasted for expressing an opinion – and one shared by many.

After only an approximate number of 250,000 people gathered outside the US Capitol building for the ceremony on January 20, the tone was set for the new administration’s relationship with the media. Following a series of accusations from Trump himself, new White House press secretary Sean Spicer led the assault, erroneously asserting that the crowd was the highest ever for such an event.

This was a lie, and Spicer knew that all too well. At a time where fake news seems to be  ubiquitous in muddying the editorial waters and misleading the public, this unsophisticated remark from such a high ranking government official was not only irresponsible, it  has left the people doubtful as to whether they can trust the legitimacy of White House press statements. Not a good idea when faith in politicians worldwide seems to be at an all-time low.

A week into Trump’s reign came the visit of UK Prime Minister Theresa May, which the media on both sides of the Atlantic never tired of serenading as his first meeting with a foreign leader. For May it was a bid to secure the best possible trade deal and the continued endurance of the ‘special relationship’ between the two countries, the importance of which was added to by the upcoming departure of the UK from the European Union.

Trump has been consistently unequivocal in his support for the UK’s decision to leave the EU, a process that will dominate the political arena in the months to come. He is unlikely to change his stance on that matter, but Theresa May has been able to convince him of the benefits of NATO. Be grateful for small mercies.

Indeed, when facing the customary media conference during her trip to the States, May openly stated that she would not hesitate to tell her counterpart if she disagreed with him on a particular issue. That it seemed, was typical of her character – throughout her time on the cabinet she has come across as steely, resilient and single-minded.

But she even went as far as to announce that Trump would make a state visit to the UK later in the year. A dubious promise given the widespread hatred that exists for Trump, and one which was to have severe ramifications barely 24 hours later.

For Trump then passed an executive order, restricting entry to the United States for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.  The order amounted to the groundless and unjust persecution of millions of innocent individuals, with these nations unfairly targeted despite no evidence that any are involved in terrorism.

It is oppression of the kind that shouldn’t exist in the 21st century, let alone in a country which likes to be known as the Land of the Free. As the new president, Trump can now claim to be the leader of the Free World. Instead he is using his office to forcibly remove people from US territory, simply because of the country that they happen to be from, or because they are seeking to escape bloody regimes and landscapes overseas.

The level of disgust resulting from the order has been unsurprising, understandable and completely justified. Some have questioned the legality of such a policy, with Supreme Court judges taking a dim view, but despite his failure to retain its enforcement, a begrudging Trump has stuck to his guns and decided to rid himself of anybody who is against the new measures.

Take the acting Attorney General Sally Yates. She spoke out and was made to pay with her job, which was a particularly worrying development. On Twitter I likened the decision to 1930s/40s book burning ceremonies, where the most notorious 20th century leaders would create a cult of personality where any contrasting or dissenting voices would be silenced without good reason.

Such vilification for simply having a perfectly reasonable and well-considered opinion is making a rather ominous comeback through the guise of social media. Well respected public figures are voicing their opposition to Trump’s values and measures, at the expense of receiving vile messages. This represents a rather frightening aspect of modern societal attitudes.

The executive order may have been put on hold, but the resulting barrage of tweets from Trump, which have basically lampooned dignified public figures such as court judges and elected representatives, have been ill-becoming of a national president, and frankly irresponsible.

As was Theresa May’s refusal to condemn the executive order, a decision which saw her go down in the estimation of many. Having hot-footed it to Turkey, she was admittedly put in a tricky position, but she failed to stand up for our values and reinforce the promotion of human rights and in doing so received the criticism she probably deserved.

I, like many other UK citizens, do not want Donald Trump to make an official state visit. However, any notion that he will be barred seems preposterous, given that the United States is our greatest ally. That it has elected a buffoon as its president will hardly change that.

In the weeks since his installation, Trump has never been away from the headlines, many of which have involved crackpot new measures, social media backchat or a possible scandal. Just look at the resignation today of Michael Flynn, the US National Security Advisor, for apparently discussing sanctions for Russia before the new administration assumed office. The dust just isn’t being allowed to settle.

Not even a month has passed, but already so much has happened and so much has been said, and you would be surprised if that didn’t remain the case during the years to come. One striking (often described as eerie) moment of the inaugural address saw Trump quote the Batman villain Bane, promising to ‘give it (America) back to you, the people‘. From what we have seen so far, Trump also favours Bane’s favoured choice of punishment: Death by exile.

 

Writing Without Hands

As those old iPhone television adverts used to profess, there is an app for just about…anything. Each obscure subject or facet of our everyday lives now seems to be supplemented by an app, which is designed to remove the supposed stress and preserve many valuable seconds of our precious time.

In terms of writing, things are no different. Technology giants Google and Apple have developed their own voice dictation programmes which allow users to speak into their mobile devices, which transfer the words you utter into the written mode.

It does all the writing for you, without the need to type. Isn’t that ingenious!

Of course, this is very common now when it comes to submitting online searches. Just tap the amplifier icon on your mobile phone or tablet and say ‘Ok Google’ in your cheeriest voice, and you are away, although make sure you speak clearly, as the kind female voice that responds to your search could end up telling you about something completely different..

Which leads me on to the subject of accuracy. The ability of many applications to recognise one’s voice and pick up the full spectrum of words, phrases and sayings cannot be underestimated. These are very strong and capable resources, but mistakes can creep in, and sifting through the prose to make the necessary edits can be time consuming.

In my experience, speaking too fast can be an issue which throws the application off course, especially when uttering a word which sounds very much like another. And then we have homophones, which can leave the text sprinkled with absurd grammatical errors before the inevitable proofreading session ensues.

My other main concern here is punctuation. This is a vital part of my writing style, so how does the technology know when I would like to use a comma, or a dash, or indeed an exclamation mark? This reservation alone has me reaching for the keyboard, where the backspace key provides undying reassurance.

But in my case, the overriding fact of the matter is that I write better than I speak. When explaining a subject such as this orally, I have a tendency to hesitate and find myself searching for the correct term or ideal point of discussion, whereas when I’m writing it comes fairly easily.

To put it plainly, while I would love the thought of saving time and energy by using a voice dictation app, using the keyboard/keypad prevents my ramblings from becoming a disjointed, convoluted mess of tag questions, misplaced verbs and incomprehensible utterances.

The ability to write eloquently and interactively for various audiences is the biggest skill that I possess, and I’m reluctant to jeopardise that it favour of adopting these superb, resourceful, but ultimately non-foolproof applications.

Moreover, the thought processes that go into writing in the conventional manner cannot be underestimated. Using the written mode requires a unique method of brain stimulation, while the spoken mode is something different entirely.

Top 10 random facts I learned in 2016

As a lover of random facts and general knowledge, I am always looking to pick up pieces of trivia which could come in useful for answering quiz questions I may be faced with in the future. Even if such facts are only needed once in my life, retaining them would have been more than worthwhile.

So as we look back on 2016, here are 10 of the most obscure facts I obtained during the previous year:

  1. Despite its name, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919 did not originate in Spain. It actually started in the US state of Kansas, but due to Spain’s neutrality during the First World War, the press was free to report on the illness while it spread there.
  2. The inspirations behind the fairy tales Rumplestiltskin and Beauty and the Beast are at least 4,000 years old.
  3. The 18th president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, was once fined for exceeding the speed limit on his horse.
  4. Protmusis is a type of pub quiz game which originated in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, and is popular among students.
  5. The first country to allow women to vote was New Zealand, in 1890.
  6. The term ‘Cyberspace’ was coined by the author William Gibson in his 1982 book Burning Chrome.
  7. Cormoran is a giant associated with the folklore of St. Michael’s Mount in the English county of Cornwall.
  8. In 2001, Argentina was in such political turmoil that they had five presidents in the space of two weeks.
  9. The longest winning run by a top-flight football club is 27, by Welsh side The New Saints. This run is still currently ongoing.
  10. DNA was not first discovered by Francis Crick and James Watson. It was actually discovered by Swiss biologist Johannes Friedrich Meischer in 1869

Over the next 12 months I hope to be a few steps further on the way to becoming a top quiz player.

Happy New Year!

My 2016 – Writing

This calendar year has been one of major transition in terms of my writing exploits. Whereas in previous years I have had a basic agenda which has followed very consistent, unchanging structures, 2016 has seen me embrace new styles; explore new avenues; sample new media, and handle a parting of ways.

I had decided late in 2015 that I would finish my regular contribution to A Different League after three years of dedicated and indefatigable service, in order to have more time to myself, and focus on other writing pursuits. It was a choice which hadn’t been taken lightly, but one that I was sure would benefit me in the long run.

I owe that website an incredible amount. They gave me my first opportunity to write for an online audience about one of my greatest areas of expertise and bestowed all kinds of responsibilities upon me regardless of my previous lack of experience. Within months I was writing various different articles, and was even able to upload them using its Content Management System.

Then came the route into magazine writing and eventually the greater creative freedom afforded by the migration to a Fanatix-powered web host in May 2015. It was through this where I truly developed my skills and became the expressive writer I am now, and as such the standard of what I was producing increased immeasurably.

I had always gone the extra mile for the site since beginning in May 2013, but I decided to take things an extra step further for my final flourish, completing preview articles for all 380 Premier League matches during the 2015-16 season – which amounted to a minimum of 6,000 words per week.

Then I took on the responsibility of writing a whole batch of season review pieces, singly doing work which would ordinarily be done by a team of four. I then took sole ownership of A Different League’s Euro 2016 coverage, writing 29 articles of at least 500 words throughout its month-long duration.

In my humble opinion, the quality of those articles are incredible when compared to the material I was producing when I started out. When I left A Different League it was with many good wishes, positive feedback, and a sense that it was mission accomplished.

Despite this particular separation, I remain a contributor to the Soccer 360 magazine, a publication whose production values never cease to amaze. The articles I have been assigned this year have occasionally sent me away from my comfort zone and I often wonder whether I’m as good as my fellow writers, but seeing the finished product is always extremely reassuring, while it serves as a massive degree of vindication for the work I produce.

I look forward to hopefully contributing to Soccer 360 for many years to come, but it is now just one of many writing ventures I’m working on. My main one is a book about football, where I take on the role of modern historian and look back on a five-year period just past the turn of the century with the help of childhood memories. It has become a forensically detailed account of events, with no shortage of personal touches. Now over 50,000 words long and counting, I expect for it to be completed by March or April 2017.

Although exceptionally happy with what I have written thus far, I am still mindful of the fact that I need to find a clearer definition of its purpose, and whether or not the sheer detail I have incorporated into the book will appeal to a wider audience. Those who prefer to see short snippets of information will be sorely disappointed.

And of course there is this blog. The blog that I began back in February, then gave up on, and later decided to return to with open arms. I may never master the art of running a successful blog, with regards to the number of page views, likes or comments it receives, but it provides an ideal platform to document my many musings, pointless or otherwise.

Returning to this blog reminded me of the need for freedom. Back in September I tried to give myself a new online identity called Everyday Literature, where I was required to become a literary expert almost overnight. Lessons were quickly learned and the project was soon shelved, so in this way, 2016 has taught me to show a greater appreciation of what I’ve already got, and what I’ve already achieved,

My 2016 – Films

Never before have I watched so many movies in a year than in 2016. It came to be a personal resolution that I made up for lost time and took in many of the quality motion pictures that I had missed over the years, and on the whole it has been a fruitful journey.

Visits to the cinema have been infrequent. Seeing The Revenant was almost a new sensory experience, given the freedom to appreciate and acknowledge the incredible filmmaking feats that it pulls off, from the constantly stunning visuals to the directorial mastery of Alejandro G. Inarritu to the remarkable realism of the CGI.

That film earned Leonardo DiCaprio his long awaited first Academy Award for Best Actor, but the overall execution of the project is where it succeeds the most. I was also lucky enough to see the Best Picture winner itself, Spotlight. This one falls under an entirely different genre, but its equally compelling and thought-provoking and provides a sensitive account of real-life events.

My most recent rendezvous with the big screen was for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, a movie which I had been looking forward to for so long with a mixture of childlike excitement and apprehension. Any fears that it wouldn’t live up to its billing were soon extinguished, as it considerably surpassed my expectations; my face when the credits began to roll was an absolute picture of mesmeric delight.

The special effects on display on that film were beyond anything that I had previously seen, a huge treasure trove of eye-catching imagery. The story was also not to be found wanting, and the anticipation for sequels has already begun.

As with any piece of new technology or any craze that seems to capture the attention of most of my peers or indeed the global population, I was slow on the uptake when it came to using online streaming websites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. I put this right by accident, getting Amazon Prime unexpectedly after forgetting that I had signed up to the 30-day free trial which then leads to you making an automatic £79 payment to get the application on a permanent basis.

Through Amazon Prime I have managed to discover films which I hadn’t previously come across, such as the truly incredible adaptation of The Book Thief, a movie I would recommend to everyone. I have also had the opportunity to sample films which I didn’t watch at the time of their release.

Among those are the stunningly picturesque Gravity, the engrossing and very English drama  An Education, a brilliant dual acting performance from Matthew McConnaughy and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyer’s Club, and an interesting take on an oft-adapted character where Ian McKellan portrays Mr Holmes.

Over the course of this year I have also gained a much greater understanding of the many processes that go into filmmaking and how each scene is constructed and shot in order to create the finished product. It all amounts to an intriguing array of complexities which are not necessarily appreciated by us viewers.

So for that reason among others this year has been something of a learning experience and has helped me develop a new perspective on film. But all that said, I still remain very selective about the films I watch – they must be intelligent, multi-layered, suspenseful or capable of telling a good story with a clear underlying message.

Here’s to more in 2017!

How I became a confident writer

When I first began as a writer I had no confidence whatsoever, regardless of the faith that was being shown in me by others. At least part of the reason for this was the fact that my breakthrough coincided with the beginning of the most challenging period of my life to date; a time when the once sturdy walls of opportunity began to tumble down around me.

I was only 17 when I sent off two of my less senseless ramblings over to the editors of an established but relatively obscure website called A Different League, which I had discovered through browsing on a more obscure jobs website run by the same people.

I fully expected to be knocked back, and two weeks without a response seemed to confirm that view, but eventually they got back and to my surprise, I was accepted as the latest member of their writing team.

Full of motivation and determined to make an immediately positive impression, my early articles were promising and substantial, but contained more than a hint of using me using all the writing techniques I knew. I was on the brink of achieving my English Language A-Level, yet there was still plenty more I needed to learn.

I soon moved on to writing news articles, which followed a very basic structure, albeit a very rigid one. The subject matter dictated that there was a lot of repetition involved – particularly regarding football transfers – but I was plagued by doubt; constantly worrying about possibly being told that my writing was not good enough, and receiving negative feedback from the online audience.

But the new inroads just kept on coming. Three months down the line and I was asked to write analysis pieces because my writing was deemed to be of a reasonable standard. Another two months and I was given my own project: Feature articles, where I would consult with the website’s editors themselves, and then write a whole new section of content.

The final ‘promotion’ came soon after, where I was very kindly asked to write for the Soccer 360 magazine, only one of the most popular publications of its kind in North America. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, but one which filled me with terror.

I was so inexperienced and the demands were so high. I had to write a 1,750-word article along with two sidebars within a strict timeframe. I also had to conform to strict formatting rules, suggest images and captions, and meet the unfamiliar requirements of writing for a magazine which wasn’t due to be published for two months.

The pressure I felt was unbelievable, removing all sense of happiness and fulfillment at being asked to write an article of such relative prestige. As I wrote my piece I was inwardly cursing myself frequently over my perceived inability to write anything of reasonable quality. I feared the prospect of someone else reading my work and dismissing it as a pile of uninformed garbage.

When I sent my finished article to the magazine, the feedback I received was positive, but minimal. My article was fine, although there were a couple of areas where I needed to make sure the text was ‘timeless’ – in other words relevant at the time when the issue is published rather than only applicable at the time of writing.

Did the fact that I was now a published magazine writer help boost my confidence? Sadly not. I continued writing almost robotically for A Different League before the chance arose for the next Soccer 360 article, which I regrettably turned down due to my nerves.

But I was back soon enough, and this time I had no choice. The Soccer 360 articles were now assigned to its writers without prior consultation, so I was given one of the main feature articles, which I completed to a high standard, according to those who read it.

Over the course of the following year I began to turn my hand to blogs, writing about different subject matters and finding that moving out of my comfort zone resulted in rather disjointed prose. So I realised I needed a clear focus; an objective for every piece of writing I produced in the future.

Having long developed an individual style of writing, I decided to create a more personal, conversational relationship with the reader, and test the boundaries of the style guides to which I was forced to adhere.

The more informal tone of Soccer 360 allowed me to do that, but with A Different League it was a matter of fortune. With the site having been passed over to new administrators in May 2015, I was given total creative freedom on the articles I produced.

By this time my personal circumstances had dramatically improved as a result of taking up my role as a university administrator, and that certainly helped me develop a more positive approach to my writing. But the creative freedom acted as a new lease of life, providing the opportunity to manufacture higher quality content. Although I stuck to the style guide, I could now implement many more of my own personal touches.

With around 3,000 online articles as well as a handful of magazine articles under my belt, I had naturally made great strides and was now an accomplished writer, but for the first time I began to acknowledge it. I had reached a level where only the most important articles provoked a sense of nervous tension.

Nowadays, when I look back on the vast majority of my articles, I read them with pride rather than the urge to cringe with perceived notions of ineptitude. Some of my early writing was not of the greatest standard, but I now realise that it was acceptable enough, and merely just part of the journey to being the writer I am today.

Book Review: I Let You Go

While browsing in a Swindon bookstore back in August, I came across the name Clare Mackintosh. Having been consumed by a desire to read one of the numerous psychological thrillers that seem to be appearing everywhere these days, I was soon overcome by intrigue following a quick glance at the cover.

The blurb screamed out at me. This author’s card had been marked.

Fast forward two months later and I eventually decide that it’s time to bite the bullet and buy her debut novel I Let You Go, and on the whole that proved to be a very good decision. While I’m not normally the kind of person to judge a book by its cover, there was just something in the description which told me that I just had to choose this as my latest reading foray.

Almost immediately I am hit with a dose of familiarity, as much of the story (including the tragic accident around which it is based) takes place in Bristol, my glorious hometown. The prologue sets everything up, as a excitable five-year-old boy escapes from his mother’s grasp and is struck dead by a passing car, which fails to stop.

The journey from then on takes us to a rural Welsh community, where protagonist Jenna Gray finds refuge and attempts to rebuild her life after what happened. Meanwhile, the police investigation continues back in Bristol and sub-plots are introduced such as the overly amicable relationship between Detective Inspector Ray Stevens and his junior officer Kate Evans.

Although some of the first part can be reasonably described as prosaic and at times predictable, it always remains captivating, and it ends with an incredible twist which will have the reader questioning every event in the novel that has previously taken place. All I will say is that there is more to Jenna’s story than bereavement.

The full police investigation takes place over a timeframe of two years, during which time DI Stevens and Kate go deeper into the case and ultimately discover truth. Meanwhile, Jenna’s past is detailed at length, as we discover the sequence of events which ultimately led to the accident.

These passages are written using both the first and second person narrative, a fine insight into the innermost feelings of the characters concerned. It is interspersed with occasional acts of violence which do not make for comfortable reading, but in the context of the story they are massively effective and reflect a painful hidden reality.

Another amazing twist takes place very late on in the novel; one which forced me to stop reading and engage in a brief period of contemplation. It leads on to a dramatic finale, while the closing epilogue is ominously ambiguous, just to compound the suspense.

Over the past year, I Let You Go has been the recipient of some literary awards, and it’s easy to see why. It is a very strong, powerful novel, as well as serving as a bold debut from Mackintosh, whose former experience as a police officer really shines through.

This is the age of the psychological thriller, as exemplified by the success of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, adapted into a film in double quick time. I Let You Go acts as a very worthwhile contemporary, and should be enjoyed by anyone partial to crime fiction too.

My final word of advice regarding I Let You Go: Never assume anything!!!

Benched

Today I was sent the commission for the January 2017 edition of the Soccer 360 magazine, the print publication to which I have happily contributed to for three years with distinction. But there was a problem. For the first time since I began, except for occasions where I had made myself unavailable, I was not assigned an article.

Let me first begin by making it clear that this has nothing to do with my writing ability, but merely a reflection of the fact that putting this particular commission together proved to be massively problematic for the magazine editors. My writing has always received strong feedback and a prominent position within the finished product.

As the magazine is published every two months, one of its most important aspects is the need to be ‘timeless’ and not to refer to current issues at the time of writing. That, along with the fact that the January/February edition is the period of the football season where talking points are at their most scarce, made sure that ideas for feature articles didn’t present themselves easily.

The commission I received today is the shortest I’ve ever seen by a long chalk, and sadly there was no space for me to be included. There are of course, numerous other writers and several others have missed out too, while perhaps it was felt that not many of the articles assigned were suited to my style of writing.

While I am obviously disappointed to have been sidelined until the New Year, I am very understanding and always appreciative of being given the opportunity to write for a magazine with such outstanding production values. My latest article will be published later this week, which will allow me to take pride in my work.

And to be truthful, the absence of a feature article provides me with an opportunity to focus on other things, such as the book (non-fiction) that I’m currently in the process of writing, as well as this blog. There is also the small matter of trying to find a new administrative job – preferably at the university where I currently work, as my current fixed term contract comes to an end in mid-March.