The first book of 2017 I read was a novel by Amy Engel called The Roanoke Girls. A mystery with deep dark roots, The Roanoke Girls left me rattled, thrilled and moved. Last week I was lucky enough to ask author Amy Engel a few questions about The Roanoke Girls.
This is your first novel for adults, how was it transitioning from YA to adult fiction?
The transition was actually pretty painless. For me, the crux of any story is the characters and that doesn’t change whether I’m writing YA or adult. I was, of course, able to go to some darker places with the adult book, but the actual writing process wasn’t all that different.
The Roanoke Girl is so dark and provocative. What was it like to write something so emotive, was it difficult? Did you have any special processes to help you write?
The book wasn’t actually that difficult to write, although at times I did find myself having to shake it off after a day of being immersed in the world of Roanoke. I didn’t really have any special processes unique to The Roanoke Girls that helped me write it. I tend to write all my books in a certain spot in my house (a big comfy chair in my living room) and that didn’t change with The Roanoke Girls. I definitely think this is a story that wanted to be told, because I never had much trouble getting it to flow.
I loved the setting of The Roanoke Girls, the hot Kansas landscape really transported me. What sort of research did you have to do for the book?
Very little research when it came to the setting, actually. I was born in Kansas, my mom grew up in a small town there, and I spent many, many summer in rural Kansas. So I know the rhythms of small time life well, along with the stifling, oppressive heat and the relentless boredom. I pretty much just plucked from my own past for those parts without having to do any research.
What was your favourite thing about writing The Roanoke Girls?
Honestly, all of it. For such a dark book, it was a tremendous joy to write. I especially loved writing Lane, who I know can be awful and difficult at times, but I always felt such sympathy for her. She’s doing the very best she can, and I admire her strength.
Were there any writers or stories that inspired you when writing The Roanoke Girls?
My love for gothic novels definitely inspired The Roanoke Girls. In fact, the first line of the book is my own little homage to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Gillian Flynn is always an inspiration when it comes to diving into very dark places. And Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell inspired me with its strong evocation of place, which I really wanted to achieve with The Roanoke Girls. There’s also a little nod within the novel to the story of the lost colony of Roanoke, Virginia, but so far only a couple of people have made the connection.
Finally, what’s next for you?
I’m working on a new adult novel, psychological suspense again. I’m hoping to have the first draft done soon!
The Roanoke Girls is published 9th March by Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN: 9781473660311
With thanks to Trish Brown for author images.
I couldn’t wait to start The White Road by Sarah Lotz, I kept seeing a whole load of social media buzz when the proofs of this came about. I loved The Three and Day Four was really enjoyable, so I had a rare lay in, grabbed a cup of tea and started The White Road.
The White Road starts on a grey, drizzly day in the Welsh countryside. Simon, part-time barista and co-founder of new buzzfeed-esque website decides that he’s going to spelunking in some closed off underground caves. Simon hires a guide via a caving forum by the name of Ed. Ed is grizzled, slightly unhinged and totally paranoid, not exactly the sort of person you want leading you through confined, narrow caves.
The first part with Simon caving is claustrophobic, intense and Lotz’s writing is manic and panic and you really end up putting yourself in Simon’s shoes as the situation escalates.
The second part of the novel follows a climbing called Juliet and her attempt to submit Everest. Juliet’s extracts of her journey are really exciting. I have a family member who has taken part in big climbs like Kilimanjaro so I got completely lost in this part of the story. Part two was so exciting, I was hooked by the time I got to last the journal entry it was so tense and there was a looming dread that overtook the book. I yelped out loud as I read Juliet’s entries, partly because it was creepy and partly because I live in an old house and it makes all sorts of terrifying sounds.
In the third part of the novel Lotz’s writing has you believing that Everest is it’s own intimidating character. I was reading this book on a bitterly cold night but it was nothing compared to the endurance and harsh conditions our characters. Every page tickled you with dread, her characters were all believable. Juliet was determined and climbing to redeem her name and make a better life for herself and her som, whereas Simon was a bit of mess of a human, he didn’t really know what he was getting himself into. Even after his ordeal in the caves at the start you can tell he’s quite self-destructive and denies being traumatised by what he went through.
Towards the end you get another part of Juliet’s diary which I was thrilled to read, I found myself reading until 3AM just so I could finish this unnerving, sinister plot. When I put this book down a chill went down my spine. It was everything I was looking for, chilling and disturbing. With the expedition on Everest taking just over a month I was worried this novel would drag but Lotz doesn’t fanny around and gets straight to the point. She doesn’t unnecessarily drag anything out and it’s the sort of book which would make a brilliant screen adaptation.
Ages ago a proof turned up from Sceptre books called The Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar. Remember that old saying ‘never judge a book buy its cover’ thats only ever partly true. This book looked super cool, sprayed red edges and beautiful cover illustration to boot.
What I wasn’t expecting when I started Spaceman of Bohemia was a warning letter from the editor, which left me buzzing with excitement.
Jakub Prochazka, Czech scientist sent into space to investigate a dust cloud that has formed near Venus. As Jakub embarks on his eight month mission, his marriage starts to deteriorate and potentially his mental health when he starts conversing with a spider named Hanus.
Considering I hate spiders (I don’t want them in my vicinity and I don’t want to read about them), this book was tremendous. The writing is intelligent, witty and incredibly humane. The book goes back over Jakub’s political upbringing, there’s chapter towards the beginning about the annual slaughter of a pig. It was written in such a visceral and morbid way but was a happy childhood memory for the main character.
There’s a bleak beauty to Kalfar’s writing. It’s well paced and I can’t wait to see how Kalfar is going to follow up this novel.
Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar is realised on 9th March 2017 published by Sceptre Books.
In October one of the fanciest proofs came my way. It was beautiful, intriguing and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel… Then I moved house and lost my copy of The Roanoke Girls.
Flash forward three months to when I final get round to unpacking one of the six boxes of books I refuse to make eye contact with, you know the old saying “Don’t unpack your stuff, just buy new stuff.” and I find my copy of The Roanoke Girls.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Engel’s novel but within a few pages I was completely hooked.
Lane finds herself uprooted when her mother commits suicide. From the busy, loud landscape of New York she’s taken in by her estranged grandparents who live in the dusty, middle-America town of Osage Flats, Kansas. Upon arrive at the Roanoke estate Lane finds the Roanoke’s to be nothing but welcoming, her grandmother, grandfather and her cousin, Allegra. For the first time in her life Lane has a family and begins to find out about the old Roanoke family.
The novel then jumps forward to present day. Lane receives a phone call from her grandfather, Allegra is missing and Lane must return to the Roanoke household.
When I started The Roanoke Girls it was obvious that this is a beautifully written novel yet every sentence hints towards something dark and nasty. As you start to find out about fifteen year old Lane and present day Lane, Engel’s writing makes you feel a little awkward and uncomfortable so when you hit the first real “OH!” moment it makes you shudder. It’s an isolated story and Osage Flats reminded me of something out of a Steinbeck novel, I haven’t read a huge amount set in small-town America so I was completely captivated.
Engel’s writing really does keep you wanting more and the novel doesn’t lose pace at any point. It took me all of a couple of days to finish The Roanoke Girls and as soon as I put this book down I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it.
I’m so glad I started 2017 with this dark little gem of a book.
The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel will be published 7th March 2017 by Hodder &Stoughton.
It’s taken me over a year but I finally got round to reading The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. This book has been recommended to me more time than I can count, by colleagues, friends and strangers. I think I was putting this off because all I rarely read science fiction or books set in outer space.
Being the first sci-fi novel I’d read in a long time I wasn’t the most enthusiastic going into the novel but within a couple of hours I was 100 pages in. This book was… out of this world.
TLWTASAP starts with Rosemary Harper joining the crew of The Wayfarer, a ship built for making tunnels in outer space. Rosemary is a brilliant point of view to see the Wayfarer’s crew for the first time.Captain Ashby and the crew of the Wayfarer are given job of a lifetime, when they’re offered the opportunity to build a tunnel to a unfamiliar and far-off planet.
Chambers writes non-human characters in such a non-threatening and interesting way so that science fiction novices like myself aren’t intimidated or put off by entities that are so bizarre and you feel the initial excitement that Rosemary feels when meeting the more alien-like crew members. Chambers also goes out of her way to excellently describe how aliens perceive us. Her description of human beings and humanity as a whole is fantastic.
When you enter the story with Rosemary the crew takes her under their wing so quickly and so naturally that you as a reader feel like you’ve been upon the Wayfarer for an age.
Even though there were a couple of characters that I found irritating, it didn’t stop me from enjoying every page of The Way To A Small Angry Planet. Becky Chambers takes on standard science fiction ideas in new and unconventional ways.
Drama and action are beautifully written and blended together in such a way that you’ll find yourself roaring through this book. This is easily one of the best books I’ve read in years, it’s fun, exciting and wonderfully humane. It’s the sort of book I never want to see an adaptation of as every page is perfect.
Read this amazing book, I guarantee it’ll make you a better person.
HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt was a book that was cropping up time and time again on my twitter feed and at work. People we’re singing this book praises and there was a big fat quote on the front from Stephen King so I knew that our paths would cross at some point. Obviously they would, everything’s eventual.
Going into HEX I knew nothing and nobody close to me had read it. Weirdly I was also putting off reading The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. Why? Because I had heard so many good things about it, what if I didn’t like it? What if it was another Gone Girl, nothing hype and bad writing?
So what better way to distract myself by reading HEX.
I started reading HEX on a rainy summer night. I was exhausted from work was only prepared to dip into HEX. Before I knew it I was a quarter of the way through. When I went to sleep that night I had a nightmare. I woke up, completely freaked out. HEX WAS BRILLIANT.
Set in the small American town called The Black Spring the residents are plagued by a dark and undeniably evil presence. Her name is Katherine and when you see her you report her to HEX. Katherine goes from home to home, shop to street to woodland. Her eyes and mouth are sewn shut and no one dare unstitch them.
It wasn’t until I was a 100 odd pages in that a colleague informed me that HEX was translated from Dutch. I had no idea as it’s so rooted in America it’s impossible to think that this book had started in another language.
HEX took no time at all to read. From the off this book is incredibly unsettling. The writing is powerful and eerie. It’s really scary and there’s a couple of chapters which got to me. It’s the first time since Misery that a book has given me real nightmares.
HEX is a must read horror novel and it escalates in a totally brutal manor. It’s a book that’ll leave you completely cold, it’s every bit as nasty as you’d want it to be and I can’t wait to see the forthcoming adaptation.
Since finishing HEX I’ve started The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers and I was a fool to not start this sooner.
Next to my bed for the past two months there has been a proof copy of Slade House by David Mitchell. I read the first chapter of Slade House four times. Why read the first chapter of a book four times?
My first excuse was “my baby doesn’t let me read!”, it’s true that during the daytime it’s full on baby mode so the chance of stopping to have a cup of tea and a read is non-existent. My second excuse was less of an excuse and more of something I was a bit scared of. I knew that Slade House was something to do with The Bone Clocks and last year The Bone Clocks was the most outstanding books I had read. I LOVED The Bone Clocks. What if Slade House ruined it or didn’t live up to the enjoyment of The Bone Clocks. And a little part of me thought, once I finish this book I’m going to have to wait years until the next David Mitchell book!
So after two months of putting off this mysterious short novel, I settled in with a glass of wine and finally started Slade House.
The novel begins in 1979, with a drugged up thirteen year old Nathan Bishop on the way to the lavish Slade House with his mother Rita. Upon arrival at Slade House Nathan is introduced to Lady Norah Grayer and young Jonah Grayer. After a few pages readers will realise that something strange is afoot. Much like it’s predecessor, Slade House then jumps forward to 1988. Unlike Mitchell’s other novels that brush with fantasy and strangeness, Slade House goes full on bizarre and eerie. I consider myself a semi-grownup and I’m only phased by spiders but as I was reading Slade House I got genuinely freaked out.
The latter parts of Slade House will have Mitchell fans bubbling with excitement. There’s about five “oh my goodness” moments in the third chapter alone. You suddenly realise exactly what direction this novel is going in.
This is a David Mitchell book for David Mitchell fans and he indulges us by making what I personally think is his best story to date. It’s the sort of book you can tell he enjoyed writing. Slade House is certainly the most chilling of Mitchell’s novels and reads like a gothic mystery at some points. When you’ve finished Slade House don’t forget to check out the twitter feed for @I_Bombadil
BEST BOOK EVER.