Sunday 22 September 2019

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood @MargaretAtwood @vintagebooks #TheTestaments

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

‘Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.' Margaret Atwood

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood was published on 10 September 2019 by Chatto & Windus / Vintage Books.

I bought my copy on publication day and then went to the cinema to watch the live stream of the interview with the author from The National Theatre, London. I finished reading the book the following day.

Like many many people, I was incredibly excited when it was announced that Atwood would be publishing The Testaments; a sequel to her iconic cult classic The Handmaids' Tale; originally published in 1985.  I was just 22 years old when I read The Handmaid's Tale, and it was so far out of my comfort zone at the time. My usual reading matter was bonkbusters written by Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz and the like, along with a lot of crime fiction. I was working with a lady who recommended Atwood to me, and I read a lot of her books. I can't say that I understood all of them, but they stayed with me over the years.
Since the TV adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale, I've revisited the book many times. Dipping back in to remind me of things, but haven't yet read it again the whole way through.

I've avoided reviews of The Testaments, but have seen a lot of chat online from those who don't think it should have been written. They say it's 'not needed', or are confused by its contents.

Atwood was clear from the outset that this was not the continuation of June's story. She wasn't going to begin The Testaments where The Handmaid's Tale finished. No, this is set fifteen years after the end of the first story and it is the author's way of answering the many questions that have been asked about it.

Nobody HAS to read it. It's purely a personal choice, however, it really is the right of the author to continue her story as she wishes, and expressing outrage because she decided to do that, at last, is in my view, just a bit silly.

So, back to The Testaments.

As one would expect from this magnificent author, it is extremely well written. I felt that the style was easier than The Handmaid's Tale, but that could be because I am thirty years older now and my reading has matured, and so has my outlook on the world.

There are three narrators, beginning with Aunt Lydia; the aunt who terrified us all in The Handmaid's Tale; her narrative is in the form of a memoir. She's writing it and hiding it as of course, reading and writing are forbidden, and anyone who dares to expose any of Gilead's secrets will be severely dealt with.
The other two narrators are as yet, unknown to the reader. A young girl who has lived in Gilead for most of her life, and has no recollection of the days before the regime started, and a slightly younger girl who lives across the border in free Canada. She has spent her life knowing about Gilead yet has never been there.

Atwood allows the reader to learn so much more about Gilead. Previously we had only heard about it through June's eyes, and she could only tell us what she saw. She knew nothing of the inner workings of the creators of this oppressive and cruel regime, she couldn't know for she was just a woman, and one of the lowest in the pecking order.

Aunt Lydia can, and does tell us. We learn just how she become an Aunt, and although it's still difficult to see eye-to-eye with her choices, we can surely now empathise about that choice. Atwood's stark and non-flowery language hits the solar plexus with a bang that resonates throughout the body and leaves an imprint seared onto the brain. Don't be fooled though, for although this is a fiction book, it's all too real and there are multiple times when the events played out upon these pages can be lifted and applied to events that have happened, and are still happening in our world. 

The last thing anyone would expect to find when reading about Gilead is humour, but Atwood incorporates some fine touches within her narrative, especially when discussing the Aunts; how they choose their 'Aunt name', and their dealings with each other. She captures the essence of a female orientated community so very well, revealing that despite the outside restrictions, little changes within the female relationship; jealousy, bitching, betrayal, and also real friendships are all played out so very well.

The differences between the narratives of Daisy; brought up in Gilead and Jade; living in Canada are multiple and complex, yet they have their similarities, and those are understood as the story comes to a close with startling reveals. I have to admit that I had worked a couple of these out before the end, but that only increased my enjoyment, racing towards the end to find out if I was right, and incredibly pleased by how it all played out.

The Testaments is not as dark as The Handmaid's Tale; whilst we learn more about Gilead, and much of it is anger inducing and heavy and despairing; there's a touch of hope within this story. We are told that Gilead is 'rotting', we see that many of its founder members are no longer as committed to the cause. We witness the work of Mayday - the underground resistance movement that have tirelessly worked to bring Gilead to its knees. Questions are answered, loose ends are tied up ... but not all.

This is not The Handmaid's Tale, this is not just a sequel, it's also a prequel. This is writing from an author who is at the very top of the game, and surely the greatest author of our time.  I applaud Atwood, I adore The Testaments. Shake off any gnawing feelings of unease you may have about this, read it for what it is; the author's answers to questions raised over thirty years. Enjoy!

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. Her novels include Cat's Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin and the MaddAddam trilogy. Her 1985 classic, The Handmaid's Tale, went back into the bestseller charts with the election of Donald Trump, when the Handmaids became a symbol of resistance against the disempowerment of women, and with the 2017 release of the award-winning Channel 4 TV series.

Atwood has won numerous awards including the Booker Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2019 she was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to literature. She has also worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, librettist, playwright and puppeteer. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

Saturday 21 September 2019

Morcambe & Vice - Crime Writing Festival BLOG TOUR @BOTBSPublicity Jacky Collins - My Life In Books @CollinsJacky @MorecambeVice

In September 2017, Morecambe & Vice made its sparkling debut at the glorious Morecambe Winter Gardens. Described as a weekend 'full of warmth, wit and wisdom', authors, speakers and guests from across the globe flocked to the sunny seaside for a weekend filled with criminal shenanigans.

Now, in 2019 it is back for the third year running! This year the North West's quirkiest crime-writing festival will be bigger and better than ever before! Keep an eye out on our Facebook page and Twitter stream, as they start to announce authors and panels.

What's new for 2019?

In 2018 they themed their entire festival around the idea of 'hidden talents': they had cocktail making, singing and even fire-eating! 

This year, the theme for Morecambe & Vice is (rather fittingly!) :
'Bring Me Sunshine' 
They'll be shining a bright positive light on the world of crime fiction, filling their festival with tales of inspiration, overcoming hardships and that warm fuzzy feeling you get when good things happen!

Find out more at

I am absolutely delighted to be part of the Morcambe & Vice Blog Tour, huge thanks to Sarah from Book on the Bright Side Publicity who invited me to take part.

I am doubly delighted to welcome the one and only Jacky Collins (aka Dr Noir) to Random Things today. Jacky is an absolute force to be reckoned with in the crime fiction community and her own crime fiction festival; Newcastle Noir is a wonderful event too.

Jacky is sharing with us the books that are special to her in My Life in Books.

My Life in Books - Jacky Collins

Thank you for inviting me to take part in the Morecambe & Vice Blog Tour.
The following texts have left an indelible mark. I had the good fortune to read them at various stages of my life and my short explanations should provide some good insight as to why.

I Remember You, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Having come to appreciate the crime fiction writing of this fabulous Icelandic author, when I Remember You my respect for Yrsa’s craft grew even more. Before this, I had never been a fan of genre-fusion, but as I made my way eagerly through the pages, continually scared out of my wits, I realised that a skilful author makes the merge most effective

Chalk Circle Man, Fred Vargas
In 2010 I experienced a bout of severe depression and I see this text as the start of be beginning to emerge from that sad time. The quality of Vargas’ transported me to another place. As I followed Adamsberg’s great detective work, I was able to find a new perspective for my own life.

The Draining Lake, Arnaldur Indriðason
This is the first book I ever discussed with the European Crime Fiction book group that I set up at Newcastle City Library in 2012. Arnaldur’s exquisite storytelling showed us how the past and present could merge together, as contemporary and former crimes were solved. It’s also this novel that ignited the spark that would develop into the immense passion that I have for Iceland and Icelandic crime fiction.

The Reykjavik Trilogy (Trap, Snare, Cage) Lilja Sigurðardóttir
I’m aware that my list is heavily biased towards Icelandic authors, but I just have to include Lilja’s work here since her writing serves to challenge the traits we have come to know & love of Nordic Noir. Against an Icelandic backdrop, The Reyjavik Trilogy combines elements of the Mexican soap opera, mixed beautifully with a gripping love story. She’s also skilled in providing insight into Iceland’s 2008 crash, banking fraud, the aluminium industry and global drug trafficking in such an engaging way that you really have to admire her writing skill.

The Hobbit JRR Tolkien
As a very young girl, my English teacher provided me with the first text that affected the way I saw myself and the world around me. Being even shorted then, Tolkein’s work encouraged me to believe that being small didn’t mean that you didn’t have an important part to play. The Hobbit helped me understand the power of bravery and standing firm against all odds.

Chronicles of Narnia CS Lewis
Following on from the previous text, these novels were where I learnt how to escape through the written word. Once again, the notion of bravery and teamwork in the face of adversity spoke deep into this adolescent heart. I am not a big fan of fantasy writing, but the idea of slipping into another world is something I wish I could still do to this very day.

Involuntary Witness Gianrico Carofiglio
Back to the world of crime fiction for this one. Carofiglio’s courtroom drama is one that I’ve used in teaching undergraduates. I chose this because of how it clearly demonstrates the genre can be used to provide insight into the way other nations’ justice systems work. Involuntary Witness also draws our attention to the plight of refugees and how the system can so often fail them and this issue is something very close to my heart.

The Murder Farm Andrea Maria Schenkel
The final text I have chosen is yet again one I have used in my classes. I was impressed by the author’s use of fact, fiction and folklore. Despite the fact of the story being set in post-WWII Germany, the message around the abuse of women and young girls certainly resonated with similar atrocities and injustices that are happening in the world today. Schenkel’s text certainly generated some excellent discussion and we also enjoyed the film adaptation.

Jacky Collins - September 2019 

Dr Jacky Collins (aka Dr Noir) is the founder and director of Newcastle Noir, the annual crime fiction festival that is held the first May Bank Holiday weekend in Newcastle upon Tyne. 
Inspired by Iceland Noir and the bigger UK crime fiction festivals, Jacky wanted to bring local, national and international crime writers together, so that people from the North East could enjoy a weekend together discussing all things crime fiction without having to travel far. 
Jacky is also responsible for the Edinburgh Noir at the Bar, a quarterly event where published, emerging and would-be authors get to read their work to a very appreciate audience.  

Twitter @CollinsJacky       @NewcastleNoir

The Story of John Nightly by Tot Taylor @tottaylor1 BLOG TOUR @unbounders #Giveaway #Win #TheStoryOfJohNightly

The Story of John Nightly is a novel about the nature of creativity at the level of genius. It mixes real and imagined lives in the tale of a young singer-songwriter.

John Nightly (b. 1948) finds his dimension in pop music, the art form of his time. His solo album becomes the third best-selling record of 1970. But success turns out to have side effects.

After a dazzling career, John renounces his gift, denying music and his very being, until he is rediscovered thirty years later by a teenage saviour dude who persuades him to restore his quasi-proto-multi-media eco-mass, the Mink Bungalow Requiem.

Can John Nightly be brought back to life again?

The Story of John Nightly by Tot Taylor was published by Unbound on 19 September 2019

As part of the #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour today, I'm delighted to be able to give away one copy to one lucky reader.
Entry is simple; just fill out the competition widget at the end of this post.

UK Entries only please.


One Print copy of The Story of John Nightly by Tot Taylor

Tot Taylor is an author, composer, songwriter, curator and record producer. He works in music, film, theatre and the visual arts. His theatre work includes the eight hour play with music 'Picasso's Women' (by Brian McAvera) for The National Theatre in London. He released an album of 'Music for the Left-Handed'. He co-founded the Riflemaker art space in London, whose artists have featured at Tate Modern, MoMa, LACMA, the Pompidou Center, Paris and museums worldwide. He lectures at Sothebys Institute, London.

From 2007 Taylor has curated an international feminist art program, with exhibitions dedicated to unsung female artists from the 1970s and '80s, including Judy Chicago, Penelope Slinger, Liliane Lijn and Yoko Ono – artists work is now being re-appraised in the 21st century. He is the author and editor of several books about art; Gavin Turk 'Me as Him', a history of The Indica Gallery & Bookshop, a look and the changing world of Digital and Analog and an investigation into the heightened state which is 'Voo-Doo' (published by Riflemaker London).

'The Story of John Nightly' (916 pages, published by Unbound, 27 August 2017 | Hardback & eBook) is Tot Taylor's debut novel (below).


What happens when we press RECORD
And FAST FORWARD … all at the same time?

'THE STORY OF JOHN NIGHTLY' is a novel about the nature of creativity, specifically at a heightened level - the level of genius. A level with which many of you may well be familiar. It mixes real and imagined lives in the tale of a young singer-songwriter briefly active in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The artists Bob & Roberta Smith have produced a painting specially for the book’s cover.

John Nightly (b. Cambridge 1948) finds his dimension in ‘pop’ music - the art form of his time. 
In previous decades, he might have been a novelist or poet, a painter or a playwright. In previous centuries, a grand chef or gardener, astronomer or plant-hunter, when these occupations were revered as highly as that of ‘Artist’. The book follows his rise and downfall, from Carnaby Street to Carn Point in Cornwall. His growing up and development as a musician, the tragedy of his ambition and success, followed by his subsequent withdrawal from everyday life. John Nightly’s period of creation, his ‘spirit-wind’, lasts a mere five years. 

We meet him first as a child prodigy in 1950s Cambridge, finding fame in the London music scene of the mid-60s, then supermaxed at various retreats in Los Angeles during the ’70s. John Nightly sleeps through most of the 1980s until he moves to his ‘saven-heer’ on the coast of Cornwall.

In 1986, after too many ‘lost years’, John begins a new life as a cultivator and exporter of exotic plants but his past comes back to haunt him via the rediscovery by a superfan of his magnum opus, the Mink Bungalow Requiem - a pseudo-quasi-multimedia eco-mass which was to have been his parting shot. Meeting this teenage saviour dude, can the Master be brought back to life again? 

A tangled love story, the recording-studio as creative hub, the entertainment industry as dramatic backdrop, ascent and downfall, astronomical tables, Methodist hymnals and surfer culture as well as some serious ‘gardening notes’ play important parts in this 916 page novel. 

'THE STORY OF JOHN NIGHTLY' is a work of pure fiction. 

Friday 20 September 2019

The Bad Place by MK Hill @markhillwriter BLOG TOUR @HoZ_Books #TheBadPlace

The newspapers called it The Bad Place. A remote farm out on the Thames estuary, where six children were held captive for two weeks. Five of them got out alive.
That was twenty years ago. Now adults, they meet up annually to hold a vigil for their friend who died. The only rule is that no-one can talk about what happened the night they escaped. But at this year's event, one of them witnesses a kidnapping. A young girl, Sammi, is bundled into a van in front of their eyes.
DI Sasha Dawson, of Essex Police, is certain that the key to finding Sammi lies in finding out the truth about The Bad Place. But she also knows that with every second she spends trying to unlock the past, the clock ticks down for the missing girl...
Is history repeating itself? Is one of the five responsible? Or is someone sending them a twisted message?

The Bad Place by Mark Hill was published by Head of Zeus on 5 September 2019. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review and invited me to take part on this Blog Tour.

The Bad Place is the first in a brand new series from this hugely talented author, and features DI Sasha Dawson as lead character.

I'm a huge fan of this author; his writing is skilled and so easy to read. He creates characters who are incredibly vibrant, yet complex and multi layered. The reader really does invest in them, and in their story.

The Bad Place of the title is the nickname given to an old farmhouse in which six teenagers were kept after being abducted during a Youth Club outing. It happened twenty years ago, and is something of a local legend, especially as only five teenagers returned. The aftermath of the murder of young Becky and the subsequent police shooting of her killer was long and painful for the Essex Police; something that locals, and family have never forgotten. Nor have the five remaining victims; now adults who meet once per year to remember their experiences, and Becky.

It's happening all over again, young people are being abducted from the street, in broad daylight - and each time there seems to be a link to those five who escaped all those years ago.

DI Sasha Dawson also has a link to the case. Twenty years ago she was a rookie WPC, just a week into the job and The Bad Place case has haunted her ever since. Now a Detective Inspector, she's in charge of the latest investigation and is determined that this time nothing will go wrong.

Oh, this is a cleverly plotted, intricate and extremely clever thriller that kept me reading way past my bedtime. It's a book that calls 'just one more chapter' every time you attempt to put it down.

This is such an intelligently written thriller that concentrates on the long-lasting impact of one horrendous event on those who were affected. It's not just the young people who were abducted, but everyone who was connected to the case has allowed the happenings to shape their futures. There's an air of sadness, regret and anger overwhelming these characters which add to the ever increasing tension as the novel progresses.

I adored Sasha Dawson; I love how the author has created a realistic, flawed and hugely likeable police character. She has issues, but don't we all?  These personal issues often conflict with her professional life and as a reader I was almost as intrigued by her own family set up as by the case that she was investigating.

The Bad Place is fast paced, with an intriguing and compelling premise. The characters are excellently drawn. I loved it and can't wait to read more about Sasha Dawson
Highly recommended.

About the author

It's nice to see you here, thanks for coming. 

I've been a journalist and an award-winning music radio producer. I worked for about five minutes in PR. But I write the Drake and Crowley thriller series now, which is just as well, because I love writing. It's my dream job.

If you enjoyed His First Lie or It Was Her, do get in touch. There are plenty of ways to do it! 

Follow Mark:  
Facebook: @MarkHillAuthor
Twitter: @markhillwriter