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My Month in Books: June 2022

The only thing the books I've written about this month have in common is that I loved them both! So from epic fantasy to grounded-in-gritty reality historical fiction, here are my thoughts on Samantha Shannon's The Priory of the Orange Tree and Andrew Taylor's Bleeding Heart Square . The Priory of the Orange Tree , Samantha Shannon (Bloomsbury, 2019) Fantasy fiction can demand a great deal from its readers. There’s so much information to absorb, not only getting used to new characters and their settings, but learning how their worlds work. Unfamiliar histories, mythologies, places, technologies and politics come at you from the first page. Even the characters’ names can be confusing, and it can be harder to remember made-up names than ones you’re already familiar with. Many fantasy authors get around this by using names that sound like ones we know, as Shannon has done with some of her characters – Niclays evokes Nicholas; Margret, Margaret and so on.  You have to h
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My Month in Books May 2022

The books I've selected this month are The Writer's Tale , a "tell-all" discussion of Russell T Davies's creative life, with lots of fascinating insights into how Dr Who is made. Of the fiction I read, the highlight was Lisa See's wonderful story of two women in nineteenth-century China, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan . The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter , Russell T Davies with Benjamin Cook (BBC Books, 2010) I read a lot of books about writing and creativity. I think, though, they are two different things. Books about writing are about the nuts and bolts – how tos and guides. Books about creativity are explorations of what creativity is, how and why we create books or art or whatever we create, how creativity happens or how we make it happen, what it means, what it does. I love all the different approaches there are to creativity, the variety of experience, reading a book and thinking “yes it’s like that for me” or “no it isn’t like that”, and knowing th

The Victorian Origins of Crime Writing - A talk given at HULF, 30 April 2022

This is an extended version of a talk given at the Crime, Thriller and Mystery Books event, Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival, 30 April 2022.    This is a "long read" and if you prefer to download and read it, there is a pdf version on my website here .      “How are you this morning, Betteredge?” asked Franklin Blake.   “Very poorly, sir,” answered Gabriel Betteredge.   “Sorry to hear it. What do you complain of?”   “I complain of a new disease, Mr. Franklin, of my own inventing. I don’t want to alarm you, but you’re certain to catch it before the morning is out.”   “The devil I am!”   “Do you feel an uncomfortable heat at the pit of your stomach, sir? and a nasty thumping at the top of your head? Ah! not yet? It will lay hold of you…, Mr. Franklin. I call it the detective-fever; and I first caught it in the company of Sergeant Cuff.” Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone   The new disease of Detective Fever was first diagnosed by Wilkie Collins in