Thursday 27 August 2015

Black Wood by SJI Holliday **** #BookConnectors / Trip Fiction Blog Tour ***

Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. 
But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo's story. 
Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. And at the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on a disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun. 
But what is the connection between Jo's visitor and the masked man? 
To catch the assailant, and to give Jo her long-awaited justice, Gray must unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendship and tainted love. 
But can he crack the case before Jo finds herself with blood on her hands?

I am delighted to welcome you to the #BookConnectors All Around The World Blog Tour, our first stop on the tour is Scotland, and I'm thrilled to team up with author Susi Holliday to talk about her thriller Black Wood which is set in the fictional small town of Banktoun, based on Susi's hometown of Haddington in East Lothian.

Black Wood was published by Black & White Publishing in March 2015, and is the author's debut novel.

The Around The World Blog Tour is a partnership between TripFiction and #BookConnectors ~ bloggers and authors, travelling the world, through fiction.
TripFiction was created to make it easy to match a location with a book and help you select good literature that is most pertinent and relevant to your trip. A resource for armchair and actual travellers, it is a unique way of exploring a place through the eyes of an author. We blog, and chat books and travel across Social Media, and love to meet authors and bloggers as we take our literary journey.
Book Connectors  was created as a place on Facebook for Bloggers, Authors and small Publishers to share their news. We encourage book promotions; information about competitions and giveaways; news of events, including launch events, signings, talks or courses. Talk about new signings, about film deals .... anything really.Book Connectors is  a friendly group, there are no rules or guidelines - just be polite and respectful to each other. 

My thoughts about Black Wood:  Black Wood is a clever, intriguing and intelligent thriller. Crime fiction fans who like the more formulaic murder investigation stories may struggle with this one as it has a depth to the story that can be challenging at times. For me, it was the perfect blend of mystery, thrills and shocks combined with an exploration of the human brain and how the mind can be damaged by the actions of others.
Twenty three years ago, in Black Wood, on the outskirts of the small Scottish town of Banktoun something happened to two young girls. Those girls have been left scarred by their encounter with two boys on the river bank. Claire's scars are visible, there for all to see, a constant reminder to everyone. Jo, on the other hand, carries her scars deep within her, the only outwardly signs are seen in her behaviours. Her failed relationships, her history of suicide attempts, her general air of hopelessness.
Local people have always doubted Jo's version of the events of that day, and Claire has no memory of what happened. When, one day, a man walks into the bookstore that Jo works in, everything comes rushing back to her. Is Gareth Maloney really one of the two boys who ruined her life?
Jo is determined to uncover his true identity and prove to the doubters that she is not liar. However, what she really does is begin to uncover long covered secrets and horrors that will affect not just herself and Claire, but those around her too.
Black Wood has a large cast of characters, and for a short while it can be a little difficult to keep track of them all. However, Susi Holliday has personalised each of them so very well that they soon become familiar, each with their own unique identity and behaviour. For me, Sargeant Davie Gray is the star of the novel. He's a local man, born and bred in Banktoun and whilst he is the local copper, he's also a trusted friend to many of the residents. His involvement in the case, both now and twenty-three years ago brings the whole story together so well, he's not just the person who keeps Banktoun on the straight and narrow, he's the character who helps to keep the reader on track too.
Black Wood is a well-grounded, fascinating and powerful story that kept me gripped from the opening paragraph. Reviews have criticised it as being too 'Scottish' - whatever that means? I'm not a fan of local dialect in novels, and to be honest, if it wasn't for a couple of reminders within the dialogue every now and again, I would have forgotten that the setting is Scotland, so I'm really not sure what 'too Scottish' means?? Other reviews have been critical of the many threads to this story but for me, this is what makes it really work, and what sets the author's writing apart from many other crime thrillers on the market today. I'm a fan of the unusual, I like to make my brain work when I'm reading a thriller, I really don't want to work everything out by halfway through the story, and I didn't, and that makes Black Wood a winner for me.
Black Wood has atmosphere and tension. The writing is assured and confident and I really enjoyed it.
I bought my copy of Black Wood.

I am thrilled that the author Susi Holliday is joining me today on Random Things to answer a few of my questions. Susi has been really busy with editing her next novel, so I'm really grateful that she has taken the time to answer these so well.  Thanks Susi, and I'm really looking forward to the next book!

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?  
I try not to anymore! When Black Wood first came out, I read all the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as they came in. Of course there are lots of nice ones, but there are lots of awful ones too – and as a first timer, they can really hurt! I don’t think the ‘keyboard warriors’ actually realise that the author is a human being who might get upset!

I do read all blog reviews. I’m a blogger myself, and I know how much work it can be to read and review a lot. There are some fantastic bloggers out there, with great insight into what they’re reading. I think that on the whole, they are very professional and very balanced in their views. Those are the ones I take seriously.

Ultimately, though – everyone reads a book differently. I certainly don’t like every single book I pick up, but I do appreciate the work that goes into writing a novel, and I would never publicly slate anyone. If I don’t like a book, I stop reading. Life is too short, and there are so many books out there – why waste your time on ones you don’t like?

How long does it take you to write a novel?    
Well I’ve just finished my second, and I thought I was doing it differently from the first – but it turns out that my method was pretty similar for both books. I start with an idea and a title, a rough theme. I email myself with the subject line ‘Idea: [title]’ then I write notes. Every time I think about something for that book, I reply to the email – so I have all the notes together. I do this when any new idea crops up, as they inevitably do when writing something else – it means I can store the notes and go back to them when I’m ready.

The notes part, might take about a month. Then I start to write. I don’t have a set amount of words that I write every day, I just keep going, writing where and when I can. For the recent one, I wrote in notebooks on planes, trains and on the underground, as well as typing straight in to my word document. I write 20k quite quickly, maybe over a month. Then I get stuck! The next step is to take a break, then go back, re-read and attempt to plot out and finish the rest. My first drafts come in at about 70k, and for the latest, I wrote the final 50k in a month. It’s do-able, but it’s exhausting. I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t outlined it chapter by chapter after that initial 20k.

So, in short – it takes me about 6 months if you include the gaps where I’m ‘percolating’. Then there’s the agent edits and the publisher edits, of course. I’m not there yet for the second book, but for the first that was probably another 3 months of work.

Do you have any writing rituals?
 Nope. “Just get on with it” is my mantra! Write wherever you can, write as many words as you can. It’s not a ritual, as such, but I do drink a lot of tea when I’m writing. It’s even better when my husband is around so that he can keep me topped up.

What was your favourite childhood book? 
Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown. I felt sorry for Stanley when he was tragically flattened, but he made the most of his predicament. I particularly like the idea of being posted around the world. It would make travel so much more convenient.

Name one book that made you laugh? Name one book that made you cry?
 Laugh: The Wrong Boy, by Willy Russell. The main character’s woeful life is just hilarious and it’s such a unique premise. Seek it out, if you haven’t already. Especially if you like Morrissey. Or even if you don’t.

Cry: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I cried from the first page. It was such a difficult read, but a beautifully written book. I had to know if justice would be served. I thought the film adaptation was brilliantly done, too. Which is not always the case.

Which fictional character would you like to meet? 
Hannibal Lecter would be a fascinating dinner companion. He’s witty and intelligent – he’s travelled the world and met so many different people. He does have a tendency to eat people though, which is a drawback in any friendship. I’d have to make sure he was caged. I’d also be closely checking what he’d put in the casserole.

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present? 
 I’d give them Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The voice of Holden Caulfield is completely captivating. I’d urge anyone to read it.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book? 
 I love Mo Hayder. The Jack Caffrey books are my favourite crime series ever. She does a great line in character quirks, and a nice horror/crime crossover. My favourite book is Tokyo (now called “The Devil of Nanking”) – it’s brilliantly odd, quite terrifying, and full of very interesting history. It led me to seek out more information on the Nanking Massacre, which is harrowing but fascinating stuff.

What is your guilty pleasure read?    
 Nothing currently, as I mainly read crime and horror these days, but in my younger days I read a lot of Jackie Collins. Essential reading for teenage girls (and boys too, I expect!)

Who are your favourite authors? 
 Too many to list, and I will think of ten others as soon as I finish writing this, but I love discovering debuts, and have recently enjoyed books by Jenny Blackhurst, Ava Marsh, James Law, Clare Mackintosh and Helen Cadbury. Some of the crime stalwarts that I rush to read as soon as they come out are Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, Steve Mosby, Elizabeth Haynes and Mark Billingham. I love Stephen King. He’s definitely one of my inspirations. I read all of his old stuff when I was a teen. That and Jackie Collins. Bit of an odd mix!

What book have you re-read? 
 Not many recently. I don’t have time! I remember re-reading To Kill AMockingbird about ten times when I was at school, so the whole re-reading thing doesn’t really appeal. I have little time to read now. One of the downsides of becoming an author!

What book have you given up on?
Too many to mention. Some I give up and pick up again later. Sometimes I put things down because I’m not in the right frame of mind, but I know I’ll enjoy it later. Some things I put down as they just don’t grab me, and I know they never will. I often have several books on the go so I can flit between them. I hate this though – I think it’s a consequence of my writer’s mind. Before I started writing, I read one book at a time and never gave up.
I might go back to the one book at a time thing, but I won’t go back to ploughing on with something that doesn’t grab me. When someone says “keep going, it gets better” I think, well no – that’s not the way it’s meant to work. If we can’t grab the reader in the first few pages, we’re not doing our job properly!

SJI Holliday grew up in East Lothian. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham competition. She is married and lives in London.

You can find out more at
Find her author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @SJIHolliday


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