The Bird Tribunal

From the PR: “Two people in exile. Two secrets. As the past tightens its grip, there may be no escape… TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44- year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough…”

the-bird-tribunal-a_w-v4When I think of short books there’s many a favourite read that springs to mind – Pereira Maintains, Mother Night, Of Mice And Men… These are novels that manage to deliver  a cracker of a plot, great characterisation and plenty of punch without ever feeling rushed. There’s not a wasted full stop. And now I’m going to add The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn to that list.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover but I’d been eagerly anticipating this book since its cover was revealed back in April – there’s something mesmerising about that boat, empty and adrift on the fjord that’s not only intriguing but most certainly helps set the tone – after all, we all know what lurks beneath such still waters.

I wasn’t disappointed – I hungrily devoured this book in two sittings. It’s an intensely captivating read.  The Bird Tribunal is an intense, beautifully written book which pulls you in with its chilling atmosphere, weighted with an undertone of menace and barely-concealed dread as the initial calm and tranquillity is soon consumed by the darkness in the shadows, leaving you absolutely gripped as it builds to its thrilling conclusion. 

The pacing is superb, the characters and their motivation captivating, the plot gripping and original and the atmosphere – making full use of the stark, imposing nature of its remote Norwegian setting – is chillingly beautiful and spell-binding.

If there were stars at the bottom of these reviews this one is an easy five.

Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for sending this to me and do check out the other stops on the The Bird Tribunal blogtour:


A Suitable Lie

I saw her curled up in a chair. Fast asleep. Even in the weak light I could make out the silted lines of mascara that ran from her eyes and down the pale expanse of her cheeks, almost past her nose.

She had obviously fallen asleep waiting for me.

And that was the first time I thought about murder.


From the PR: “Andy Boyd thinks he is the luckiest man alive. Widowed with a young child, after his wife dies in childbirth, he is certain that he will never again experience true love. Then he meets Anna. Feisty, fun and beautiful, she’s his perfect match … and she loves his son like he is her own.  When Andy ends up in the hospital on his wedding night, he receives his first clue that Anna is not all that she seems. Desperate for that happy-ever-after, he ignores it. A dangerous mistake that could cost him everything.

A brave, deeply moving, page-turning psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie marks a stunning departure for one of Scotland’s finest crime writers, exploring the lengths people will go to hide their deepest secrets, even if it kills them…”

A Suitable Lie AW.inddI’ll put my hands up; after the initial hook, most certainly an attention grabber, I started to wonder where this one was going… the courtship of Andy and Anna makes for a pleasant and often humorous read but not one that I was expecting after the opening quoted above.

But then… well, then I realised just how crafty Michael Malone is. All the gentle domesticity, all the loved-up courtship and redemption for Andy -the average guy trying to raise his son after the devastating loss (and here Mr Malone writes with a convincing and affecting sense of emotion) of his wife…. it’s just the lure to get you on the hook because this book.. this book is a sneaky bugger; lulling you into a false sense of security before delivering a read stuffed with a palpable sense of dread and tension and one which is, more frequently than not, a disconcerting and terrifying read.

Sitting at the core of this novel is the theme of domestic abuse and here Michael Malone takes a familiar trope and flips it on its head in a way that many have tried before but few have done with such startling and genuinely harrowing results. Malone deals with a very difficult topic with both sensitivity and boldness, delivering scenes of raw emotion and – frankly – horror which manage to skilfully tread the line between exploitation and being shocking realistic. There are scenes in this novel that make for an uncomfortable read but a story that doesn’t challenge the reader isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on and A Suitable Lie both challenges and rewards.

I don’t want to give anything resembling a spoiler away here as I’d rather recommend all to go out and read but I will say that there are parts of this story that left my mouth open. The conclusion is both heartbreaking and gripping in its intensity and twist – to use an oft-overused phrase – a real roller-coaster.

Michael Malone has a clear and unarguable talent when it comes to prose and story and A Suitable Lie is an engaging read  that will remain with you long after the final page has been turned – it went very quickly from being a “where’s this going?” to costing me sleep as I simply had to find out.

Huge thanks once again to Karen at Orenda Books for sending me yet another great read and do check out the other stops on the BlogTour:


Currently Listening

In any shooting gallery where promises are made….

I’ve been finding comfort in familiar sound recently so those newer releases by the Pixies etc haven’t really been given a listen. But, here’s an idea of the current playlist:

Jack Rose and his mastery and innovation of the acoustic is actually a new discovery for me. I think the lack of vocals made it easier for me to get into over the last couple of weeks. A huge body of work still to hear for the first time as Mr Rose made a lot of music before his untimely passing but this, from the brilliant album I Do Play Rock and Roll is hypnotisingly awesome.

Because I’m still gobbling up House of Cards

I don’t think I’ve even mentioned Mr Petty on here… odd. Anthology; Through The Years is one of those rare compilations that’s absolutely perfect and, after starting to watch Runnin’ Down A Dream on Netflix, is now back in rotation in my car. Eddie Vedder says, at the start of the documentary, “The first time you hear a new Tom Petty song is sounds like, you know, a classic song.” – he’s not wrong. If you only have the aforementioned compilation you’ll know just how many sheer belters the man has written.

Going back to an earlier discussion on Dire Straits… I’ve been listening to Making Movies the last couple of days, in particular this opening track (and Skateaway). It’s made me wonder something though; in 1980 Mark Knopfler borrowed both a producer (Jimmy Iovine – having loved the production sound of Patti Smith’s ‘Because The Night’) and band member (Roy Bittan) from Bruce Springsteen to make what was the band’s breakthrough third album (Iovine had a thing for making third albums). A few (seven to be precise) years later Bruce dropped his own (and arguable one of his finest) album and song called Tunnel of Love. Where Knopfler’s track featured lines like “Come on and take a low ride with me girl, on the tunnel of love”, Bruce used “Cuddle up angel cuddle up my little dove, we’ll ride down baby into this tunnel of love”… Now, while both album’s dealt fairly prominently with love’s broken promises, Bruce’s album and lyrics were significantly different, more nuanced and the sound very much of his own but… I have to wonder; surely Bruce must’ve heard what his piano player and produce had been moonlighting on and did that plant a seed that, over a few years, grew into one of his most brooding and significant albums?

Adversity and inspiration…. Louise Beech – Guest Post

Something a little different today. I’m delighted to host a guest post by the wonderful author Louise Beech as part of the blog tour for her latest novel The Mountain In My Shoe – published by Orenda Books.  Louise’s novel How To Be Brave was one of the best books I read last year and The Mountain In My Shoe promises to be a contender for this year’s list too.

Without further ado..


Adversity and inspiration….

During the Hull launch of my second novel, The Mountain in my Shoe, writer Russ Litten asked about what it was like writing a first novel compared with later ones. It’s a fantastic question, one I’ve been thinking about a lot since, and one I perhaps didn’t fully address in the excitement of a public interview, and with my mum heckling on the front row. What I think the question is referring to, is that writing without having been published (that is without acceptance, that magical YES) is different to writing with the safety net of a deal. Or is it?

The first book I penned (Maria in the Moon which is ‘pencilled in’ for publication next year) and my new one, The Mountain in my Shoe, were both initially written under the shadow of uncertainty. When I wrote Maria we had just endured the worst floods in UK history, those that hit Hull and other cities in 2007. We lost our home, belongings and car in hours. Worse still, my daughter became ill and I gave up my job in travel to care for her. As she got a little better, and while she was at school, I began writing. And writing and writing and writing. At a rickety metal desk that my husband had fashioned for me, with workmen banging away, rebuilding the town, I typed away. At that point I wasn’t thinking of publication; only getting the words out.

Adversity is a great place for inspiration. It’s not a great place to permanently live, but without it we don’t grow, survive, or scream to be heard.

When I wrote The Mountain in my Shoe a few years later I’d had thousands of rejections for my first two manuscripts. In many ways, I was changed. I was tougher. On both myself and on my work. I was hungry. I use this word not in a Scarlett O’Hara way, as she quite literally digs for food in the ground at Tara, but in an ‘I must make this happen’ way. And being hungry, I feel, is good. Wanting something makes you work. It makes you perfect your craft. It makes you rewrite and edit harshly. It teaches you.

So yes, I think there’s a difference in writing before publication and after. When editing The Mountain in my Shoe recently I was able to see it more clearly. The hunger is great for driving you, but having been accepted gives you clarity. You can breathe, you can calmly assess what works and what doesn’t. You can take on the edits suggested by your publisher, you can really see it.

In currently writing my fourth novel, I’m in a better place. I’m lucky enough to see the success of my debut, How to be Brave, continuing; lucky enough to see great reviews for The Mountain in my Shoe coming in; and lucky enough to be doing this writing stuff for real. To be writing for actual readers.

But no matter what happens, how many books I write, how much success I do or don’t have, I’ll never forget that hunger. That rickety desk, the tears of frustration and sadness, the loneliness, while hearing my world getting rebuilt. Because I created something I’ll never quite create again.


Do check out the other stops on The Mountain In My Shoe blog tour.


I’ve often said that when it comes to this blog and what I can devote time-wise there’s a line and that real life comes first.

As such, while my family and I come to terms with a recent tragic loss, there’s a pause here.