Review of ‘Letters to Paul’ by Keith Hachtel

I discovered this little book by accident, and that’s often the best way. Immediately I was drawn into the story with the first line:  ‘Its been three weeks since everything happened’ – I wanted to read more.

The story is a one-sided insight into the suffering of Lacie as she communicates with Paul – a young man who is introduced to us while lying comatose in his hospital bed. It was touching to read how the ‘relationship’ between Lacie and Paul developed in its intensity throughout the book, and I was frequently put in mind of ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ in many ways while reading.  I particularly liked the graduation story, and found myself a little tearful at what youngsters will do for each other. 

But the story wasn’t just the tale of Lacie and Paul – it was also the tale of what went before and what went after Paul’s hospitalisation. And it really worked. Undoubtedly, the language was a little coarse at times, but it was nothing inappropriate for these young, intense characters. Anything less, and it wouldn’t have felt real.

This epistolary form isn’t popular nowadays, but those of us who enjoy it, REALLY do. And I do.  Also, ultra-short novels aren’t the most popular art form and don’t usually sell brilliantly, but this is a book that transcends its genre – I believe the reader could return again and again, and get something different out of the story each time. And that ending! I loved it.

Message to author: Have you produced this as an audio book or podcast – or even a radio play? I think it would work so well.


Review of ‘The Loves of a Liverpool Lad’ by Peter McGeehan

This book is the story of Liam Parry, and he is quite a guy! Throughout the course of the book, he enjoys psychiatric nurse training, nursing, management, following round gig tours and lots more, including plenty of steamy and graphic sex. He’s also an accomplished dude, a bit of an opportunist, a product of his generation and birthplace, and an all-round nice guy who certainly seems to attract the girls and the (older) women.

Though Liam was, at times, a rogue, he was also romantic, sweet and a very likeable character – and this is largely to do with the way he has been created by Peter McGeehan. Because the book has been written in the style of an autobiography, the reader gets good insights into the mindset, past and present, of this young and vibrant northern man. Peter M writes a tale of its time, though in many ways young Liam is a man ahead of his time.

This book is endearing and sentimental, yet also practical and basic. There’s not a trace of pretentiousness or literary fumbling in sight, but what the reader does get is a huge big slice of a Liverpool lad’s life from the early 60s to the early 90s – with accompanying characters and mood-setting. I feel like I would have liked Liam, had I met him. And I liked this book too.

I’ve started and stopped reading quite a large number of books recently. I don’t know the reason, but I’ve been unable to get into them, and have quickly lost patience. But this book didn’t affect me like that. Though it has almost 300 pages, I didn’t skim. I didn’t rush. I didn’t grudgingly sit through my reading time with a pained expression on my face. Instead I smiled at the happy bits and found myself moved at the sad bits. This is the kind of historical fiction I can really get my teeth into.

I greatly enjoyed this romp into the past, and can’t wait to read any sequels that may be in the pipeline.

Eleanor Duvivier, author of ‘Helios Sphere’ – interview

Eleanor Duvivier is publishing ‘Helios Sphere’ with Scott Martin Productions – due out in mid-2019. She was also a contributor to ‘Survival’ – and the winning competition entrant.

Eleanor Duvivier, author of ‘Helios Sphere’

‘Survival’ is available for purchase here. Special offer £4.49!

Keep an eye on for updates on the publication of ‘Helios Sphere’.

Read a pre-publication interview with Eleanor below

Q1: Hi Eleanor, it is so good to have this opportunity to speak to you… First of all, I was wondering where the idea for ‘Helios Sphere’ came from. I know you’ve an interest in running and the classics, but it’s such an unusual story and has been told in such an engaging manner… Perhaps you could let us know the background to the story and how it came to you.

Hi Lesley, thank you for asking! The story of Helios Sphere manifested itself due to a couple of reasons.  Firstly, in 2014 I went to Athens to run the marathon and genuinely stumbled across the artefact itself in the museum that Ben visits.  I love the idea of giving ancient artefacts and mythologies a new spin.  The character of Ben was created during my degree in Classical History and Creative Writing.  Ben and The Sphere seemed to fit so well together, both sons with long lost or unspoken powers trying to make their way in the world. 

Q2: Did you write any of the manuscript while in Greece, or did you perhaps make notes during a holiday, with this story in mind? Did you always know the conclusion to the tale or did the story emerge organically?

I did a bit of both.  I was the first of my group to arrive at Athens, my two friends due to arrive a day late.  I spent the first day prowling the museums and then I sat in the Café of the New Acropolis Museum in which I wrote my thoughts on The Sphere of Helios.  I started writing on the plane home.  A year later I revisited Athens to gather more information for correct scene setting for the Cape. 
I didn’t always know the conclusion and the conclusion changed as the characters grew. 

Q3: Five words that describe you. Five words that describe your writing…

Quirky, creative, aspiring, active, learner.
Evolving write what you know.

Q4: Do you find Greek architecture, statuary and art particularly inspiring?  

I absolutely do!  My mum used to read me stories like the Iliad and the Odyssey as bedtime stories when I was younger.  I grew up loving Greek and Roman history.  I remember being terribly bored in history at secondary school as it all focused modern history.

Q5: I’d love for you to tell me more about what the bombweed means to you. Also heliotrope and poinsettia – why did you choose those plant names for your character families? Does heliotrope have connections with the helios sphere?

Bombweed is a wartime novel by my Great Grandma Margaret Smith which was published by my Great Aunt Gillian Fernandez Morton and Grandmother Maureen Armstrong.  The novel was written in 1947 and published in 2018.  It seems that writing was passed on to the generations of this family and it is an honour to have a book that I’ll be able to put on a shelf next to hers.  Bombweed grew rapidly on bombsites in World War Two.
Poinsettia and Heliotrope are witch family surnames.  Poinsettia was a surname assigned to Ben as I created his signature look.  He enters the book with a Poinsettia flower adorning his waistcoat and the family links itself to the bright colours.  The flower is a star-shape which seemed appropriate to link to a pagan family and I started to write properly during the Christmas period of 2014.  The Poinsettia is a favourite Christmas flower.
Heliotrope is the name given to the Priestess of Helios.  It means ‘Sun’ and ‘to turn’ due to the direction of the flowers growth.  The flower is named after Clytie, an Oceanid scorned by Helios.  It seemed in keeping with her power and ultimate fortunes.

Q5: So, what’s next for you and your writing? Have you got any further works in progress? 

At the moment I’m doing a Masters in Creative Writing with The Open University.  This means there is little time for ‘pleasure’ writing.  There is the beginnings of a second book: Ben finds out his biological history and the true legacy.  But that will have to wait until the Masters allows me the time.  I also discovered another little written about ancient artefact in a museum when I last went away which I would love to write about one day.
Thank you for reading.

Thanks so much for answering our questions. Look forward to seeing what happens to Ben in the next book!

Viva Miss Merryweather – Politics Warning

Joanne Merryweather’s speech to the Republican-Democratic Party Conference in Blackpool, 2021, promised to be quite a spectacle. Not only because Joanne had triumphed brilliantly in her most recent commons speeches and had transformed the stubborn British electorate from a fragmented, angry mass into the most weirdly aligned voter-pool this group of countries had ever experienced…

Not only that. But also because it was to be her inauguration as party president (for life). Such was her reward for the reversing of the previous two years’ worth of both pro and anti-Europe decisions, in a way that each and every person on all sides of the argument could nod their head and say. ‘Well, well, well, that’s one hell of a solution. Of course. That Miss Merryweather’s a genius, for sure.’  

And as befitted such a major inauguration event, the like of which had never before been seen, the ceremony promised pomp and ceremony to exceed even the most jingoistic of American electioneering, with accompanying preachy speeches and crowds of overly-enthusiastic supporters. Two weeks before the event and Blackpool was already awash with slogan t-shirts, specially-written conference anthems, flags, posters, and banners. Even more unusually, there were no dissenting voices and no disrespectful slogans. The Indomitable Joanne Merryweather had managed to get her message absorbed by the inner souls of each and every Briton. All now met in the middle, yet nobody lost any ground.

Five days before the scheduled event, gigantic portraits of the dynamic Miss Merryweather appeared on every billboard in the Blackpool area, winning the universal approval of all residents and visitors. And every pole flew a flag of her face, overprinted with the words: Unity through Federalist Independence.

Joanne Merryweather’s speech had been eagerly awaited by politicians on both sides of the house – male and female, youngs and old, and both front and back benchers. The media in all its forms dedicated hours to detailed anticipation of the speech’s content, mainly during radio and television programmes usually more well known for pig-headedness and bigotry.

Historically, and internationally, no speech had been more theoretically dissected, and all political commentators were claiming insider knowledge of its contents. The broadsheets congratulated Miss Merryweather on the speech’s energetic intellectualism and analytical capacity. The tabloids simply stated ‘Jo’s got balls’.

The Republican-Democratic Party Conference was soon in full swing. Blackpool was buzzing, but for Danny Beacon, Miss Merryweather wasn’t just a well-respected party leader with an uncanny ability to entice compromise. She was his life. A long-term Republican-Democrat, Danny had never before allowed himself feelings for a fellow party member before, let alone an MP of such high-standing.

As was his usual practice, Danny had purchased his Party Conference ticket five months earlier, and had also booked his room in the Royal Hotel, where the curtains were referred to as ‘drapes’ and the bed linen wasn’t only  changed daily, but was also hand-sewn organic Egyptian cotton with a thread count of 1200, and was topped off with a high quality duck-down duvet. He’d advance-purchased his train ticket, and had booked a week off work. His boss asked ‘Where you off to, Danny-lad? Canaries again?’ – and Danny had nodded absently. Although the country was buzzing with Merryweather mania, he was reluctant to share his interest with his workmates. Why should he? Every person in the country seemed to have something to say about Joanne Merryweather, but nobody knew her as he did.

Danny had sat next to her at the bar twenty years earlier when she was simply a local party member who was considering taking baby steps towards a political career. And Danny had provided a sympathetic ear for her semi-drunken ramblings. He had walked with her along the sea front, and had even rescued her from being hit by a late-night tram. She became the reason why he retained his party membership card, why he attended each year and why he told all his friends he took a yearly trip to the Mediterranean. Each year they’d meet up, chat and enjoy each other’s company. Always innocent, and always intense. Perhaps she’d been a little busier in recent years, but she always made time for him. He knew she loved him, and this year was to be ‘their year’.

Of course, the key note speech was a rip-roaring success. Danny had been there to congratulate her, but was just one face amongst the crowd of acolytes. She scanned the crowds, but failed to notice his face. He watched her stand on tiptoes and saw her talk, knowing her lips formed the words, ‘Danny, where are you?’ He watched her brows twitch. He saw her shoulders hunch and noticed how she scratched her scalp. A nervous twitch that nobody else would interpret as he would. He knew more clearly than he ever had before – she needed him, and him alone.

‘Joanne, Joanne,’ he called, his voice lost in the melee of glib shouted questions and sycophancy.

That night was to be their first night together, and a fitting celebration of her untouchable victory against all she despised. And only Danny knew that night was to mark the end of her political career. He’d purchased tickets – one way to Tasmania. He’d found them a home and had arranged their marriage licence.

It therefore came as a shock when Danny found himself escorted roughly from the conference centre by a battalion of eight soldiers. He was forced to the ground in the delivery area of the converence centre, and whined at the large man who sat on his back. As the man brutally rummaged in Danny’s pockets, Danny moaned.

‘Mr Danny Beacon?’ came the man on top’s voice. ‘We know all about the tickets and the marriage licence. Oh yes, Danny. Miss Merryweather told us all about your stalking, your letters and your internet messages. Now perhaps you could tell us who you really are.’

The flattened man shivered. ‘Never,’ he whispered. ‘Long live the revolution.’

And the pistol held to the back of his skull was activated. The danger of Danny was no more.

‘Hard Times’ by Charles Dickens. A Review

What is the point in writing yet another review of a classic? None. Other than for personal satisfaction and as a reminder of what I managed to finish. Just.

This isn’t one of my favourites, even though I feel as though it should be. Written in 1854, ‘Hard Times’ was originally serialised in 20 parts, and explores the world of fact and a simultaneous neglect of the world of the imagination – and does so in a way that is clearly a satire on the society of the day. ‘Hard Times’ (originally called ‘Hard Times – For These Times’) was Charles Dickens’ tenth novel and the world it explores is a fictional northern England town, Coketown. So far so good. But yet not good at all.

I have little time and even less inclination to read books I don’t find compelling, just for the heck of it. Unfortunately, I became impatient quite early on in my reading of this book, my inclination being very much reduced.

Because of this I went onto YouTube and decided to listen to an audio version first – just to get me in the mood, and to see if I could better connect with the story and the characters. But even this didn’t help.

‘Hard Times’ is a terrifying voyeuristic tromp through the realms of good old-fashioned Victorian misery. The fear and stifling practicality of Mr Gradgrind’s school destroys the joy of many of its children. The foul-smelling canal accompanies Josiah Bounderby’s rise from the gutter and his proposal of marriage to the much-much-younger and ground-down Louisa. I’ve read elsewhere that strong-yet-pathetic yet likeable Louisa is a fictionalisation of John Stuart Mill. But I just found her incredibly sad and depressing, and not in a way that I could extract inspiration from her.

Ok yes, this is an intricate and complex story. Sub-plots abound.  Personally, I wonder if it might be a better book if the sub-plots (such as Sissy’s story) were to remain in the foreground and not be side-lined.

My reading group were irritated by the dialect writing, and so was I. I was even more annoyed by the writing of Sleary’s lisp. Stephen Blackpool with his alcoholic wife and his sweetheart Rachael were a good and endearing story, but the way the dialogue was written removed any softness and identification by me. It is as if Dickens uses dialect as a substitute for deep characterisation. And it grates.  

To me, ‘Hard Times’ is a essentially the constant and predictable moaning of opinionated middle-aged, middle-class, annoying old men: shallow characters who go over the same ground over and over and over and over again.  The book could have been reduced by about a third and not have lost anything substance-wise.

There is enough morality and politics in this book to satisfy anyone who enjoys that kind of social commentary, but perhaps not enough story and humanity to satisfy those of us who enjoy psychological depth and complexity.

Interview between ‘Bound’ author Hannah Pike and Scott Martin Productions 29/03/2019

Q1: Hi Hannah, good to have this opportunity to speak to you… First of all, I was wondering where the idea for ‘Bound’ came from. Perhaps you could give us a brief precis of the story and why you felt it was a tale that needed telling…

The idea for where ‘Bound’ came from was a bit of a strange one! I was working on the first draft of this novel when I was sixteen and was introduced to the concept from many different TV shows and some films,  but never really knew what it was called.  However,  after a bit of research everything was a lot clearer for me to proceed with writing.
The story follows Emma Winters,  a seventeen-year-old that has had quite a traumatic childhood and always felt like a bit of an outsider.   However,  her life begins to fall apart once again when she is abducted and faces new challenges that she shouldn’t have to face at her age.
I think it’s an important tale to tell mainly because situations like this do happen in real life.  I’ve seen all sorts of things in the news lately about students going missing who were in their early 20s and it is something that’s quite scary to think about!

Q2: How long did it take you to achieve the first draft manuscript? Was it difficult to fit in with all your other commitments?

It took me roughly around one year and three months to complete the first draft.  At the time,  I was attending college studying IT, so it was quite hard to fit in writing and college assignments.  But I did manage to finish all of my work early most of the time,  so I spent the rest of the lessons writing!

Q3: Are any of your fellow students also published authors?!

Not that I’m aware of! Although I do have some budding writers in my friendship group that are absolutely brilliant at writing,  even if they don’t hold that opinion themselves!

Q4: Which other authors do you find inspiring? Other art forms? I, for example, love Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Art Nouveau, true crime programmes, and British comedies from the 50s-80s. Perhaps not a mix that anyone would expect, but all these things make us the people we are.

Tabitha Suzuma is one of my biggest inspirations! She writes some really intriguing novels on controversial themes and mental health.   I remember being introduced to her writing in secondary school by my librarian,  falling in love with it and discovering my writing style along with what type of genre I wanted to be mainly associated with.
Another art form that’s especially important to me are films and media.  I am especially influenced by European and international films,  in particular their uses of colour pallets,  cinematography and some of the storylines! One of my favourite European films is Suspiria by Dario Argento,  mainly because of the gorgeous and vivid colours!

Q5: Five words that describe you. Five words that describe your writing…

Five words that describe me would be:   Optimistic,  Perseverant,  Ambitious,  Driven and Eccentric!
Five words that describe my writing:  Unconventional,  Thrilling,  Gripping,  Descriptive and Emotional

Q5: So, what’s next for Hannah Pike and her writing? Have you got any further works in progress?

I am working on something new at the moment,  another tale of forbidden love but with a fusion of genres….

Thanks so much for your time, Hannah. Let’s talk again soon…