Sunday, 25 September 2016

Book Review & Rant. "Pippa: Simple Tips To Live Beautifully" by Pippa O'Connor.

Let me start off by saying that I presume I am not the target audience for this book.  I am in my early forties, married with 5 kids, a full-time student and have passed the stage in my life where I give a shit what kind of contouring helps me look thinner/younger/more appealing to other women (and we all know that we are not doing this for men, right?).  I buy glossy magazines occasionally, but get more excited about  the articles than the current trend of face creams that have a starting price of ten million euro.  I love the fashion supplements of the weekend broadsheets as they provide many elements of entertainment in the vein of "who is the name of Jaysus has €3,800 for a SKIRT?" and occasional input from the males in the house that go something like this: "For feck's sake! Is she wearing an ACTUAL swan? Where would you be wearing that to? Tesco? €8000? Sure, you can have two." 

 I embrace the odd make-up tip. I'm currently loving the coconut cooking oil that doubles up as hair balm, eye-make up remover and skin moisturiser and smells like holidays - all for €3.99 in Aldi.

(Don't be fooled into buying the more expensive versions.  They are exactly the same thing).  I adore the humorous beauty chat from Marian Keyes and India Knight.  I think they know their stuff (usually expensive) but they are not at all patronizing.  Here is where I have qualms with this 'guide'.

Pippa is obviously beautiful. She smiles out at us from the cover of this coffee table book with amazing teeth, flawless skin and a flawless sofa.  There are hundreds of photos of her looking fantastically relaxed, coiffed and, well, perfect.  The title states she has 'Simple Tips To Live Beautifully'.  I would suggest that the book could have been much shorter.  It could have been a poster that said 'I was born with great DNA, have no money worries and a house that is decorated in varying shades of off-white (ie, we are either not allowed move very much, or we have an amazing lady who comes in to 'help-out').'   For example, Pippa has a section called 'Office', where we are shown a basically all-white room with a top-of-the-range white computer and printer (not a electrical cord to be seen) on a white desk, which is placed against a white wall hung with white pictures in white picture frames.  There are white candles and a white shelf which displays another white picture frame.  But the text says "I am gold obsessed.  If it's brass and shiny, I want it.  I love gold".  There is a teeny, tiny bit of gold on the candle jar (white) and some gold lettering within the picture frames, but it's hardly what I would call "gold obsessed".  Some 'wise' words then appear further down the page; "I believe it's really important to have a space somewhere that's just for you, that you love".  Indeed.  I'm sure there are thousands of young mums who never thought of that...

Fashion and beauty tips are dotted throughout the book, with drawing of body shapes (reminding me of 1980s Jackie Magazine), advice on "How To Look Slimmer" (The right bra and slimming shoes seem to trump the concept of avoiding fatty foods) and four pages about buying jeans.  There is then some life-changing advice on buying investment pieces. "when spending a month's rent on an 'investment' piece, it's important to make sure you're purchasing wisely".  Ground-breaking stuff. *sighs*

One of the most entertaining sections, in this household, was How To Take A Selfie.  We had a family dinner where we decided we should use Pippa's tips.  So, "go to a window.  A frosted window in a bathroom works really well" (I made do with kitchen as I wanted to actually spend time with my family).  "Hold your arm higher than your face" (My kids were shouting "higher, higher!" as I got cramp in my shoulder). "tilt your head to the side, chin slightly angled down" (Like you are looking for dandruff, maybe?).  "Eyes wide open but don't lift your eyebrows or you'll just look shocked" (I over-played this for entertainment purposes).  All in all, an afternoon photo session which had us in hysterics.  The pictures were awful, but who cares?

I was surprised at this book and its content.  While it is produced with lavish care and attention, high quality glossy paper and beautiful photographs, it is beyond basic.  I think I may have read home economic books with more advice.  Certainly a cursory glance at any regular magazine since 1980 would give you the same information, albeit without selfie tips.  I felt huge unease with the overall concept and the tone was dumbed down to a playschool level.  Ireland is full of strong, independent young women who need to be told that image is NOT everything.  You can live beautifully without red lipstick and 75 make-up brushes.  If you look shit in your selfie, so what? Laugh about it and take another.  If you can afford to spend a months wages on one item, fair play to you.  Go for it. 

  But, for most of us, those days will not last forever (says the voice of experience).  Sometimes a bargain in Pennys can produce an equally thrilling experience, albeit with brown paper bags rather than gold, rope-handled ones.

In the spirit of fairness, I asked a seventeen year old to look at this book.  She follows Pippa on social media and thinks she is great.  However, she rolled her (beautifully made-up) eyes and was dismayed.  Like me, she thought it was insultingly simple and felt let down.

Pippa is a beautiful woman, who seems to have a wonderful family and great genes (and jeans).  I just wish she had given some depth to accompany the fantastic photos.  Instagram is one thing, a book is another....

Pippa: Simple Tips To Live Beautifully is published by Penguin Random House Ireland and is published in HB on 8 October 2016.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

A Book-Lovers Affliction: Pleasurable Pain.

It dawned on me earlier today that if people could actually see my thoughts, they would be concerned for my well-being.  Not because I have murderous musings or melancholic tendencies, but because I simply cannot turn off the book-related thoughts that have taken up permanent residency inside my mind. Ever.
It all starts as soon as I open my eyes, when I see the pile of books beside my bed and long for bedtime, so I can pick up the one at the top.  I then check my tweets to see what super-important book stuff I may have missed between the hours of 1am and 6.45am. (Not much, it transpires). I grunt a morning greeting to my family as I read the Culture section of the Sunday Times, paying particular attention to the Books section.  I then wash, dress and pack up for college, all the while thinking about a manuscript I am reading for a cover-quote.  Can I finish it today?  Will I do the author justice is so few words? On, and on, and on....

I place some fiction and non-fiction into my Books are My Bag tote and start thinking about my dissertation topic for this semester (Funerals in Contemporary Irish Fiction, in case you're wondering) and head off for the 30 minute commute.  What do I do on the way?  Think about what book I am going to review for this blog next.  I'm listening to Newstalk on the car radio and they are discussing a referee stopping a GAA team from speaking Irish, as he could not speak the language himself.  This makes me think of Brian Friel's Translations and off my mind goes again.  By the time I have parked, I have moved onto The Plough and the Stars, touched on The Importance of being Earnest (random inclusion) and then ended on Jo Spain's latest thriller, Beneath the Surface, which is based in Leinster House.  Parking paid for, off I go with The Gathering by Anne Enright tucked under my fabulous new notebook, all set for a new day of learning.

 Not long into the lecture I realise that my mind has again wandered as we are going to be working on an essay based on slave trade in the Atlantic.  I think of all the insightful memoirs and non-fiction titles I shall HAVE to buy (I know I don't actually have to buy them, but you and I both know that has never stopped me before) and then I progress to more modern novels that were inspired by the horrendous and inhuman treatment of slaves.  I mentally pick these off my bulging (and alphabetical) bookshelves and plan when I can re-read them.  I have forgotten my phone (a mini-meltdown was averted by the existence of my Kindle Fire in my book bag. Obviously) and wonder what super-important emails I am missing.  All book related, of course.  I avoid another panic-attack by getting nice college IT guy to install relevant software on my Kindle.  Sorted.  On to more lectures and the cogs begin turning again as I think of a submission I recently read that I was very impressed with.  I wonder what the finished product will be like (as I'm sure it will be published) and then recall all the fantastic debuts that have hit the shelves in the past year.

This train of thought continues throughout every waking hour of the day.  I can manage to dial it down for very short periods of time, usually whilst immersed in a good novel or short story, but that's about it.  It is worth noting that all of the above happened before 11am.  It continued until this very moment, and will continue until I sleep.  I do interact with humans (to the extreme, some would say) but there is always a book related thought floating around my brain.
 I seriously wonder if that will ever change.  I had a brief respite in my late 20s and early 30s, but that was due to parental exhaustion and the lack of alone time (many, many children will do that to you) but, as Taoiseach Enda Kenny would say, I have got my mojo back.  It's just a bit of an affliction.  Not so much painful, as inconvenient.  It is a pleasurable pain, for sure, but one that is hard to describe to a non-bookish person.  Thank God for social media.  It is basically drip-feeding my addiction and helping me find the most amazing friends who can  also walk around with random books dominating their thoughts.  We can all feel each others pain.  And pleasure.  Without resorting to Fifty Shades of Erotic Fiction.

(See? More book thoughts).

Friday, 16 September 2016

Blog Tour: 'The Book Of Shadows' by ER Murray. Review and Q&A.

Thanks to ER Murray for inviting us to take part on her Blog Tour for Book 2 in the Nine Lives Trilogy, The Book of Shadows.  Mia was a massive fan of Book 1, The Book of Learning and you can read her review HERE.  There is also a great Q&A with Mia and Elizabeth further down this page.

Review by Mia Madden, aged 13.

This is the eagerly anticipated second part in the Nine Lives Trilogy.  It catches up with Ebony Smart two months after the events in the previous book, The Book of Learning.  Aunt Ruby introduces Ebony to another family from the Order of Nine Lives, the O'Haras.  Within the family are snooty Seamus, who copies his dad's every move, and cheery Chiyoko, Ebony's number one fan.  The Book of Learning has been dormant since the last installment but when Chiyoko picks it up, it spells out the message "They're coming".  These words start the unveiling of new secrets for Ebony, including the discovery of an anime show based on her life.  While in Stephen's Green Ebony stumbles across a silver box and is given the task of returning it to its owner.  As mysterious as it already is, things get worse when Chiyoko is taken by strange creatures called Shadow Walkers.  Ebony has to figure out what is coming and how to stop it, return the silver box when she has no idea who its owner and also find a way to get Chiyoko back.  On the bright side, she has made a few friends (some characters old and new) to stop the oncoming threat.  Can Ebony and faithful rat Winston complete their missions? Confusing, right?

Even though this all sounds a bit mind-wrecking, it is one of the best books I have read this year. A potential award winner, methinks.  There is one thing I can't mention as it could spoil the first book and I wouldn't want to ruin it for anyone.  I HATE spoilers!  Let's just say it involves a traitor, but one which side?  I enjoyed it so much that I had to re-read it.  There is a major cliffhanger, so hurry up with book three ER Murray!  I want to see what happens next. 

I recommend this book for ages 10+


Q&A with Mia and ER Murray

If you could ride the Shadowlands, what would be the first thing you would do?

I’d go to Japan. It’s been my lifelong dream to visit Japan, but for some reason, I haven’t managed it yet, so I would use the Shadowlands to transport myself there immediately. I’d look for some beautiful gardens and feast on a huge plate of sushi and I would be in heaven. That’s if I managed to master the Shadowlands, that is: I imagine that creating them on the page and mastering them are two very different things.

Who would you prefer to be real; Mr. O'Hara, Mrs. O'Hara, Seamus or Chiyoko?

I love Mrs O’Hara – she’s so mysterious and she has a very calming effect on the people around her. I’d love if she could be brought to life. I’d like to sit next to her and read books and watch her shadow puppet plays. I think she’d be a good person to go and see when you’ve had a bad day – she’s really intuitive and you wouldn’t have to explain anything. She would instinctively know and her naturally gentle aura would make the world feel a nicer place.

If you were to have three past selves, what era would each one come from?

I’m going to choose eras I’m really, really interested in; Wild West, Celtic and Victorian. They’re all pretty gruesome in their own right, but I’d love to have a poke around and see them in all their glory for myself. What we know about the Celts is pretty limited, but I adore mythology and I’d love to see the Celtic religion and worship in action, how it affected every day life. I’m a huge fan of Westerns, and that rugged landscape, so I’d love to witness the atmosphere at the time; it was a crazy free for all, and truly wild (though I’d rather be a Native American Indian than a cowboy). I’m also fascinated by the morbidity of Victorian times, the strangeness and quirkiness of it all, the contradictions; it’s no surprise that gothic horror arose from this era. But I don’t think I’d like to stick around in any of these eras for too long – they all seemed pretty dangerous!

Where did you come up with Shadow Walkers?

I’m fascinated by shadows, by how they are simply the result of an object in between light and a surface, and yet they have an eerie and unsettling quality. People always imagine things going bump in the night climbing out of the shadows – it’s like we have a natural instinct or aversion to them, so I thought that would be fun to play with. Shadows are fun to explore. The Shadow Walkers represent our worst nightmares – Ambrose is controlling them but they’re pretty terrifying, and so they’re a worthy foe for Ebony Smart and the Order to deal with.

Which would you prefer to have; The Shadowlands mask, the silver box or the soul-swap machine?

Masks can be a bit scary – I don’t like looking in the mirror when I have one on – so I’ll leave that one. I like the silver box, and would love to hear the tune, but… at the risk of sounding like a baddie, I’d take the soul-swap machine. That way, if I decided to make myself immortal, I could choose some of my favourite people to bring with me.

Who is your favourite character in the Nine Lives Trilogy?

I really like Ebony. I think she’s brave and clever, but also flawed. She has a bit of a temper but is really kind and thoughtful and she’s had a tough time but dealt with it pretty well. Many people would buckle under all that pressure but I think she’s shown great courage. I admire her strength of character. 

Would you choose Seamus, Chiyoko or Winston to be your sidekick?

Winston all the way – he’s so loyal and smart and funny. If Ebony didn’t have Winston by her side, I feel like she’d have taken more wrong turns. Rats are such intelligent creatures and also very loving. And seeing as Winston is extra special, you’d definitely want him on your side when you’re trying to solve mysteries and beat curses. 

Who do you think you're more like, Aunt Ruby or Mrs. O'Hara?

I wish I could say Mrs O’Hara, but in reality, I’m more manic and hyperactive, so I’m much more like Aunt Ruby. Dashing around, switching from one project to another, half finishing sentences and butting in other people’s conversations; that sounds a bit like me. Also – and I didn’t think of this before you asked this question – I don’t drive. I actually based her on a friend originally, but my characters are always fusions of many different people, so maybe there’s actually a bit of me that’s sneaked in there too?

What is the next book in the Nine Lives Trilogy called?

The final piece of the puzzle is called: The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3. I’m writing it right now! I’m on the third draft and it’s shaping up nicely. I’m looking forward to see where the characters take me.

What is your current favourite movie?

I love films so it’s really difficult to pick a favourite, but I’ll try... I like quite dark films, so Pan’s Labyrinth and Mirror Mask are still favourites. I loved Where the Wild Things Are and I really like anime like Princess Mononoke, The Wind Rises and Spirited Away. It’s an old film, but Kes is still up there (also a favourite book) – as a child, it really spoke to me. Other than that, I like films set in other cultures, like Rabbit Proof Fence and The Whale Rider.

What is your current favourite book?

For this age group, I think My Name’s Not Friday by Jon Walter is one of my favourite books of all time and difficult to beat. Knights of The Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden is an incredible read, and also Gold by Geraldine Mills. I’m excited about The Ghosts of Magnificent Children by Caroline Busher (out in October) and The Ministry of Strange, Unusual and Impossible Things by Paul Gamble is outstanding. We’re so spoiled, aren’t we?

Team Captain America or Team Iron Man?

Team Iron Man, definitely. I think he’s darker, more broken. He has more depth. I love to love a hero that we shouldn’t love! 


The Book of Shadows is published by Mercier Press and is available in Paperback and ebook format. You can order your copy via amazon link below. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Book Review - 'Beneath the Surface' by Jo Spain.

A government official is brutally murdered in Leinster House, the seat of Irish parliament, and DI Tom Reynolds leads the investigation into his death.  Ryan Finnegan was renowned for his honesty, integrity and is survived by his wife and newborn baby.  Just who would have the motive to murder such a high-profile man?  In a building full of politicians Tom  and his dedicated team begin trawling through the world of party politics and powerful personas...

Traditionally, politicians are not known as the most honest people in the world.  Corruption, back-handers and personal advancement are nothing new.  But murder? When a printed photo is discovered beside the victim's body, Tom fears a blackmail attempt gone wrong.  But all the research shows Ryan to be a scrupulously honest man, highly unlikely to stoop to such methods.  With the help of team members, Ray and Laura, he begins to unravel the tightly woven secrets contained within the walls of the government building.  With hundreds of guest attending a party on the night of the murder, their work is cut out for them.  One-to-one interviews,  background checks and liaison with An Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) are just part of the investigation.  Tom also has his own family to deal with.  Having to abandon his wife in the middle of a mini-break has not gone down well and his daughter is threatening to move out, along with her baby girl.  Tension in the home is not what he needs in the middle of such a media-frenzied case.

This is the second in Jo Spain's Inspector Tom Reynolds series.  While it is not essential to have read book one, With Our Blessing, Tom's character becomes more endearing with more reading.  The standalone case in this novel is based in the house of Irish government and politics and may be a little difficult to acclimatize to initially.  The author has included a glossary of terms at the beginning of the book to aide with the Gaelic terminology.  The corridors and vast rooms in Leinster House are brought to life with decadent description and the reader can feel the atmosphere in the historic building.  The ins and outs of  government minister duties and ambitions are an  integral part of the narrative as the team wades through potential suspects.  The case needs to handed with meticulous care, as government officials can be a secretive bunch.  Throughout it all, Tom is his usual steady and calm self, always keeping a watchful eye on his team.  Like a throwback to a Nintendo DS game of Professor Layton, old-style detective work and a host of hunches  lead Tom to a thrilling conclusion.  Red herrings,  hidden secrets and unreliable  witnesses all result  in a a classic murder mystery.  There is a lot of political content to be waded through, but no need to panic if this is not your forte.  DI Tom Reynolds is a wonderfully crafted character.  Almost fifty years old, with no airs or graces, he could be a friend to just about any of us.   Jo Spain's writing is smart and astute and flows effortlessly.  There are no high-speed car chases or hovering helicopters, just  some clever detection by a small team of well-led Gardai.  Just like in real life. 

I received a copy of this title, from the publishers, in return for an honest review.
Beneath the Surface is published by Quercus and is available in TPB and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage and 19% discount, HERE.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

Monday, 12 September 2016

Book Review - 'The Memory of Music' by Olive Collins.

Ireland 2016 and Isabel is approaching her 100th Birthday.  Born during the Easter Rising, she has lived through some of the country's most turbulent times.  The daughter of a spirited woman and gifted violin-maker, the memories come to life when she hears the music of her past.  

Dublin 1916 and Betty is about to give birth, alone.  Irish rebels are taking over the city and she fears for her husband's safety.  Huddled in a tenement building, close to the GPO, she vows to improve her circumstances, with or without her husband's consent.  

Ireland's battle for Independence has been the subject of many novels in  recent months.  The brave men and women of our nation have been re-worked into some fine narratives and every child in the country celebrated this years centenary.  Olive Collins has added on something extra by bringing the story forward.  From the Rebellion, subsequent executions and treaty negotiations through to the end of civil war and its bitter aftermath.  She uses Betty, Isabel and their extended family to show how determination can sometimes lead to despair.  Betty's husband Seamus is a gifted man, full of musical talent and is an unparalleled creator of  exquisite violins. However, his Republican values outweigh his love of his personal life and he becomes increasingly distant from his family.  Late night visits, hidden arms and secret societies become the norm and Betty fears for her future.  Her hardened determination results in her own secrets.  As the years slip by,  the female descendants of Betty are unaware of the murky details of their matriarch's early years, until the discovery of some hidden letters...

Historical fiction can sometimes be weighed down by the authors research and the characters can become victims of their historical relevance.  This is not so with The Memory of Music.  While it is obvious that the author has an intensive knowledge of 20thC Irish History, especially the years surrounding our desire to break from English rule, she does not drown the reader with facts.  Rather, she gives enough detail to relate the characters to their situations and leaves the reader with a taster that may result in further research, if desired.  A teaser, if you like.  The writing is fluid and clear, with the novel split into three parts; the first part centered around the events of 1916, the second on Treaty negotiations and the War of Independence, whilst the final part leads the novel towards current times.  There are a gaggle of female, cross-generational characters in part three and I found myself struggling to retain their relevance to Seamus and Betty's story.  The idea of discovered letters is nothing new, but add in some torn photos and antique violins and furniture and it ups the game.  This is a great read, ideal for fans of Marita Conlon-McKenna's Rebel Sisters or RTÉ's recent TV drama, Rebellion.  A very worthy debut, ideally timed for the 1916 centenary celebrations and the upcoming anniversary of the War of Independence.  

The Memory of Music is published by Poolbeg Press and is available in TPB and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with 30% discount, HERE. The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Book Review - 'The Accidental Wife' by Orla McAlinden

Northern Ireland has a history of secrets and lies.  Decades of religious, political and social turbulence have added extra tension to communities contained in the top corner of a small island.  The roots of one family have spread over the years and the extended clan all have their own lives; some content, some troubled.  This collection of short stories brings the individuals to life, connected by land, blood and family.  The overall package is a window into the minds of Northern Ireland's residents, young and old.

Orla McAlinden's knows first hand what it was like growing up during the Troubles.  From Portadown, she has memories that are all too real.  In her Q&A section, at the back of the book, she says:

 "I have written my own stories through the eyes of my characters.  But some events were pretty universal and some fears were absolutely shared among the entire population.  Every single person of my age or older knows someone who died, or was injured, or who committed these awful crimes, or ministered the wounded.  It's not possible to write a book about Northern Ireland's Trouble without stirring up memories belonging to other people.

 There are stories from all age groups within the pages of The Accidental Wife.  From teenage Collette, who garners her control via her weight, through to elderly farmer, Alo, who craves a grandchild that may never arrive.  Generations of men and women continue their daily chores with a tremor of fear and uncertainty, not knowing what if feels like to live in a relaxed atmosphere.  Each story sheds a new light on the larger family unit.  Religious intolerance, racism, homophobia and sexism are all addressed and the patriarchal figures are blunt and inevitably lonely.  The younger generation are rising up the ranks but seem to be managing to screw things up just as nicely as their predecessors.  The Celtic Tiger appears and the light shines briefly on Northern Ireland, only to be extinguished in a flurry of abandoned buildings and dreams.  Throughout the narrative, human folly is at the forefront.  Sometimes you just can't blame politics or religion for your own personal failures.

The Accidental Wife is a raw and inspirational read.  The stories vary in pace and length, but each one is as deserved as the last.  The characters are brought to life using vivid and precise prose, with a litany of deceit, despair and disappointment blended in.  There are lighter moments peppered throughout, lending a more relaxed feel to the collection but the underlying atmosphere is one of tension.  This is an author with a sharp, concise and engaging literary edge.  McAlinden is sure to impress with her debut and is definitely one to watch out for.  Highly recommended.     

Thursday, 1 September 2016

"The Drowning Child" by Alex Barclay. Author Q&A and Giveaway.

Thanks to Harper Collins in Ireland I have five copies of Alex Barclay's latest Special Agent Ren Bryce novel, The Drowning Child, to giveaway.  To be in with a chance of winning one, just enyter via the rafflecopter link below.  Good Luck!


The heart-stopping new thriller in the Ren Bryce series by Alex Barclay, bestselling author of DARKHOUSE and KILLING WAYS.
When Special Agent Ren Bryce is called to Tate, Oregon to investigate the disappearance of twelve-year-old Caleb Veir, she finds a town already in mourning.
Two other young boys have died recently, although in very different circumstances. As Ren digs deeper, she discovers that all is not as it seems in the Veir household – and that Tate a small town with a big secret.
Can Ren uncover the truth before more children are harmed?


The Drowning Child is the sixth book in the Agent Ren Bryce series. Can you tell us a bit about Ren and how she found a place in your imagination?

Ren is an FBI agent working with a violent crime squad – The Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force in Denver, Colorado. Ren’s bright, funny, bipolar and all that comes with that. I created Ren because I wanted to write about the FBI, and feature an agent who automatically had extra dramatic potential. She has traits that are two sides of the same coin, so can benefit or scupper someone in a high-stress work environment. Is she fearless or reckless, dedicated or obsessed, justifiably wary or paranoid… 

Setting your books so far away from Ireland is a brave move. How much harder does it make research?

I actually knew more about U.S. law enforcement than I did about Irish, having spent so long reading U.S. crime fiction growing up. It was a version of writing about what you know. I’ve visited most of the locations Ren has worked in, and met most of the type of experts who feature in the books. With email contact and phone calls, it’s never too hard to get the answers I need from the right people. I’m very lucky they are all so generous with their time and knowledge.

Crimes against children are a feature in many of your novels. Why is this?

It breaks my heart that there are monsters out there who hurt children. I have a horror of hearing how they can excuse their crimes or twist the reality to either lessen their involvement or lessen what they see as the impact on the victim. These kind of criminals think their crimes have an end point, when they cause immeasurable lasting damage. It’s so disturbing how someone can think this way, and it’s interesting to explore on a psychological level. In crime fiction, when a crime is committed against a child, it has a powerful impact on the investigators, and this raises the stakes, heightens the intensity, and creates more urgency, which drives the plot forward.

Ren’s character really develops with each book. Does she hover around in your head even when you are not writing about her?

Yes, she does. Ren is like a friend. I can see everything through her eyes so easily that writing her dialogue and thoughts in particular are the easiest part of writing the books for me. She gives me a laugh too, which is important!

You obviously have access to the routines and procedures of the FBI. How did this come about?

I mentioned to another writer that I needed to talk to an FBI agent for my next book, and he introduced me to one, who put me in touch with the main FBI office in Denver. The agent I was dealing with there told me about the Safe Streets task force, and I spent time with them, which was fantastic. The agent who I deal with for all the Ren books is the equivalent of Ren’s boss. When I started writing Killing Ways, I told him that Ren was really off the rails in this one, and he said, “You know I think Ren is always out of control.”

Do you think Ren is typical of a woman working in a predominately male dominated role?

I always just wanted Ren to be herself. She doesn’t do anything differently because she’s a woman and her colleagues are mostly male. But, every now and then, I love introducing her to the kind of man who thinks he can patronise the lil’ lady.

Ren’s relationship with alcohol is addressed from the very first chapter of the first book in the series.  Was that to show a vulnerable side to her or just a way of adding depth to her character?

In Blood Runs Cold, I wanted a dramatic opening that would highlight the striking difference between the two female agents who feature: Ren Bryce, and Jean Transom. Jean, for me, is the more traditional and earnest FBI agent, whereas Ren, yes… is passed out on her bathroom floor after a massive bender, and wakes up to have a huge row with her boyfriend. Ren is a woman of extremes – I wanted to kick the story off with a bang. Her relationship with alcohol operates on the following loop: love, denial of the love, fear of the love, rekindling of the love, fear of the effects of the love, rejection of the love, rekindling of the love…
This is her first scene in The Drowning Child – she’s in a bar where she knows that – on a previous case – a victim was picked up by a serial killer.
Special Agent Ren Bryce was sitting in Manny’s Bar on 38th and Walnut in Denver.
It has been six months since my last alcoholic beverage.
She was five beers down.
Until tonight.

If Ren had a playlist, what songs would feature?

Well, it’s going to be eclectic… 

Kiss Me I’m #1@*faced by Dropkick Murphys
The Bomb by Pigeon John
I Fink U Freeky by Die Antwoord
Burn This Town by Battleme
Black Skinhead by Kanye West
I Drink by Mary Gauthier
Nobody’s Crying by Patty Griffin
Mr. Shiny Cadillackness by Clutch
Uprising by Muse
Black T-shirt by Rod Picott
Come Join The Murder by The White Buffalo & The Forest Rangers
Let Me Blow Ya Mind (feat. Gwen Stefani) by Eve
Crucify Your Mind by Sixto Rodriguez
Starlight by Muse
Done by Frazey Ford
Take Me To Church by Hozier
This Night by Black Lab
Nicotine Love by Tricky
Candy Shop by 50 Cent
Shut Up and Dance by Walk The Moon
Drink You Sober by Bitter:Sweet

There is a strong presence of Irish crime writers on the bestseller lists.  Do you get a chance to read many crime novels these days or do you prefer to read other genres when in writing mode?

It’s fantastic that so many Irish crime writers are up there! For various reasons, I haven’t read as much crime fiction as I would have liked in the past year, but I did read and love the superb Little Bones by Sam Blake – Cat Connolly is a heroine I want to hang out with. Along with crime novels, I like literary fiction, and non-fiction books on psychology/crime.



Alex Barclay lives in County Cork, Ireland. She is the bestselling author of Darkhouse and The Caller, as well as the Ren Bryce series.
For more information about Alex and her books, visit
You can also follow Alex Barclay on twitter @alexbarcs.

The Drowning Child is published in TPB by Harper Collins Ireland and you can order your copy with Free delivery in Ireland and UK, from

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