Capricious Kitty (or “when characters come to life”) – and win a book!

Today I’m delighted to welcome Ava Marsh to the blog to tell us a bit about the heroine of her fantastic second novel EXPOSURE. Ava’s debut UNTOUCHABLE was one of my favourite reads of last year, and her second is every bit as good. if you fancy something a bit different (brilliantly written, engaging, twisty and twisted, dark and sexy!) give them a whirl… plus, there’s a fun competition at the end of the post to win a copy of the book, where you can find out exactly what Kitty Sweet has been up to🙂

Over to you, Ava.

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I never believed all that guff you often hear authors say about their characters taking over the story. Thought it was just a fanciful way of making the endless slog of writing a novel sound more glamorous and mysterious than it really is. More magical, as if words and ideas sprang from some ineffable external source. Characters, I firmly believed, did exactly what you told them to do because, quite simply, you made them up. You, the author, were the one in control of this whole shebang – though of course, all readers bring their own stuff into the mix, and read between the lines things you never consciously intended to be there.

My author-as-god pragmatic approach remained intact until I met Kitty, the capricious ‘heroine’ of my latest novel, Exposure. I set about getting to know her the way I did most of my characters – deciding on her background, family situation, needs, likes, whatever. I carried out the exact same exercises I always use – a few character prompts, some brainstorming, a lot of thinking and scribbling ideas down on bits of paper. Armed with a rough idea of what I wanted to say via her character, and how the plot would unfold, I set forth into my first draft.

I quickly came unstuck. Kitty, apparently, had other ideas that didn’t seem to have anything to do with my original intentions for the story. It was all very frustrating. Whereas Grace from Untouchable was someone I got to know fairly quickly, someone I innately understood pretty much from the get-go, Kitty point-blank refused to cooperate. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get a sense of what made her tick.

This, needless to say, was all very disconcerting – I blamed myself, my methods, my inability to fully realise her character in my mind. Whatever I did, she remained slightly unknowable, as if I was peering at her obliquely through a pane of glass smeared with dust and dirt – I could delineate certain aspects of her personality, but couldn’t make out the whole. I began to feel genuinely sorry for her prison therapist, Yvonne, who seemed to be having the same trouble getting to the bottom of what was really going on inside Kitty’s pretty little head.

Looking back, I was being impossibly dense, but thankfully Kitty waited for me to catch up. Eventually, after drafting out most of the book, I finally got what she was trying to tell me – that nothing about her was quite what it seemed. As soon as I grasped this, everything fell into place. I had my character, and I had a much stronger grasp of the sort of book she wanted me to write. And Kitty, finally, sprang into life, in all her capricious, enigmatic, inscrutable glory.

The whole experience taught me a lot. Never imagine you’re in complete control of your characters or your world. Never assume that writing one book will be the same as writing the next. And never give up when your story stalls – the solution may be just around the corner.

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I’m a massive fan of both of Ava’s books, and I can tell you that Exposure is currently only £1.99 on Amazon – a bargain! But if you’d prefer a paper copy, I have one signed copy to give to one lucky reader… all you have to do is share this blog post on social media, and answer the question below (in the comments, please) – Ava will choose a winner on 31st October. (UK only, sorry!)

Good luck!

QUESTION: If you could choose a secret identity that meant you could do anything you wanted and no one would ever know it was you, who or what would you choose to be?

Why #TheDamselfly was a difficult book to write…


Ok, I realise I haven’t written anything on here for quite a long time. July, actually… and a lot has happened since July! There’s been three major crime writing festivals – Theakstons Crime in Harrogate, Bloody Scotland in Stirling and Bouchercon in New Orleans, plus I taught a creative writing workshop in a prison, and I took some time off from the day job to finish writing the third book in my Banktoun trilogy – The Damselfly.

I’m sure I might’ve blogged last year about ‘difficult book 2’ – in hindsight, Willow Walk wasn’t tricky at all. Deciding which idea to run with was the hard part, but once that was nailed down, I was able to outline and throw down the words pretty fast before a neat edit to add lots more creepiness🙂

So book 3 should’ve been easy, right? Well, no. It wasn’t… and it’s not for the reasons I originally thought.

I’ve managed quite well in the past, juggling day job and writing, but with this book, there was a horrendous crash of timings that meant I had to stop writing for a few months to deal with day job stuff and then when I was ready to get back to the writing, I had the release of book 2 and all the promo that entailed. This was the reason that I found writing book 3 so hard, I thought. That, and the fact that it was much more of a traditional murder mystery whodunnit, with lots of red herrings and more police procedure than I was used to writing. It wasn’t until I’d finished it (after many angsty calls to my agent and some brilliantly supportive writing friends) that I realised the REAL reason why it was so damn hard to write.

Here’s the thing: I knew I was going to write The Damselfly before I wrote anything else. You probably know that my first book, Black Wood, was sparked by a true story – a thing that almost happened to me when I was young – a thing I used as a starting point to come up with a dark tale of buried secrets. Well, The Damselfly is also based on something real – something awful and tragic that happened in my town, many years ago – something that rocked the community and destroyed lives.

It’s all very well to read about fictional crimes in fictional towns, but as always, the reality is always darker – fascinating, but when it’s real, it’s not always so easy to talk about it, or to read about it. Not when real people are involved.

I always knew I wanted to write my own version of this story, and I always knew I would use the real story as a starting point only – just like in Black Wood. But when I was writing it – when I got to the end of my version of the story – when I realised ‘whodunnit’ – I cried.

The Damselfly is not a true story, but there is an element in there – a horrible tragedy, a huge sadness – that reminds me of the real case that inspired it, and that – I think – is the reason that I found it so difficult to write. I hope I’ve handled the topic sensitively, and I hope you’ll be as drawn into the community as I was while I was writing it. Before you ask, I’m not going to share the real story. I don’t want to exploit it, as there are people in the town who will remember it; who were directly affected by it (however, if you really want to find it, it won’t be too hard.)

I might need to write something lighter next, as a palate cleanser… although whenever I try to do that, it inevitably takes a darker turn! The Damselfly is out on 2nd February 2017, available in all the usual places…

…and I absolutely LOVE the cover🙂

If you haven’t read the others, why not?!

Only joking😉 Each story stands on it’s own, but if you want to read them in order, you can get them here (or at all the usual places, e.g. Kobo, Waterstones, iBooks, WH Smith…)

Recent Reads

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 15.00.29Exposure – Ava Marsh

If you ever wondered what leads seemingly ‘normal’ people into the sex trade, this is the perfect book for you. A sharp, dark and edgy thriller with a cracker of a heroine and a neatly woven storyline. Ava Marsh is a talented writer with the wonderful knack of pulling the reader right in to the story, dragging them kicking and screaming right through to the explosive and completely unexpected ending. Highly recommended.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.58.36The Stepmother – Claire Seeber 

A psychological thriller in the style of a fairytale, this is something daring, different and impossible to put down. I loved and hated the expertly drawn characters in equal measure. I had butterflies throughout, awaiting the next twist, never quite knowing who was doing the dastardly deeds. This was an extremely clever read, and a refreshing change from the usual toxic marriage situation that is currently the fashion in crime thrillers. A quirkily written mystery from an excellent author. Read it now!

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.57.00Never Alone – Elizabeth Haynes

I’m a big fan of Haynes’ standalones thrillers, mainly because she writes creepy villains so, so well. This is a neatly woven story of a lonely woman, an isolated farmhouse cut off by inclement weather, and an old friend who may not be quite what he seems. Throw in some complicated family dynamics and a good dose of sex, and you’ve got a suspenseful, emotionally charged tale that will get right under your skin.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.55.25The Devil’s Work – Mark Edwards 

The office environment is a great setting for a creepy tale (nicely done earlier this year, too, by Tammy Cohen in ‘When She Was Bad’) and Edwards uses this dynamic to his advantage in his latest page-turning thriller. What’s the story with publisher Franklin Bird, who seems to know things about his employees that he shouldn’t really know? And what secrets from university are taunting Sophie Greenwood, as she returns to work and tries to take charge of a challenging project and an over-keen assistant who is seemingly doing all she can to bring her down? With his last book, ‘Follow You Home’ and now this latest offering, Edwards is tapping into his influences of King and Levin, to bring a good dose of horror into his everyday situations. Twisted and chilling, I dare you to try and put this one down.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.53.23I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid

This is a short, intense read (which I read late at night and early into the morning), a book that as soon as you finish, you really want to read again. Expertly written, stylish, oozing with suspense and in the end, very, VERY clever. If you want something a little different, that will stay with you and haunt you for a long time afterwards, read this.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.50.11Vanishing Point – Daniel Pembrey

An excellent short story by a writer who is fast becoming one of my favourites. This is about a rather dodgy sounding yoga retreat, and one man’s search for answers surrounding the death of his wife. Told with Pembrey’s characteristic wit and dark humour, not to mention his wonderful use of language, this is yet another tale that oozes so much authenticity that you just KNOW the author has spent time in a place like this. Brilliant.

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My latest novel WILLOW WALK has been getting rave reviews. You can buy it in all good bookshops, and the ebook is currently on offer on Amazon and Kobo. If you liked it, please leave a review🙂


Willow Walk News and Events

Willow Walk is out in paperback a week today, so to mark the occasion there are a few things happening, online and off… Firstly, the blog tour will run for two weeks, starting on Monday 6th June. Expect reviews, guest posts and Q&As🙂

As well as that, I will be curating BritCrime for a week from Sunday 5th, where I will be sharing crime fiction news from lots of authors & playing a hashtag game on twitter which will involve prizes! Then in the real world, I will be at Paddington Library with Simon Toyne, Claire Seeber and Graeme Cameron on Wednesday 8th, then Victoria Library on Monday 13th with William Shaw and Rebecca Whitney. On Tuesday 14th I will be launching Willow Walk with David Mark at Waterstones Piccadilly, then on Thursday 16th I’ll be at Rochester Library with William Shaw and Rebecca Whitney (again!) The following week, I will be in Scotland – signing in Toppings and Waterstones in St Andrews, doing an event with Neil Broadfoot at Waterstones Kirkcaldy, launching the book at Waterstones West End (Edinburgh) with Doug Johnstone, and finally, on 25th, I will be in my hometown – the real Banktoun – with a coffee morning signing at 10:30am… then I might need a rest🙂

Oh, and this month, I have an article (and a fab review) in Crime Scene Magazine.

Thanks to all who have bought the ebook so far and left fabulous reviews. If you want to read a bit more than the usual sample before you decide to buy, there is a FREE extended sampler available here.

What happens at Crimefest . . .

People often ask me what happens at these things – these things where 100s of crime fans (readers, bloggers, authors, editors, publicists, agents and anyone else who finds their way there) gather in a hotel for the weekend… and I always say a few words about how you can go and watch loads of talks by lots of very interesting people, talking about interesting things… many of them are funny, and it’s a very entertaining experience. but I must confess – I rarely make it to many of these interesting and entertaining talks because I am usually elsewhere.

The bar.

Because this is where the real action happens. This is where the real stories are told. From the minute I arrived in Bristol on Friday, I was bombarded with excited, happy faces of the many, many authors who generally spend their days locked in their garrets penning beautiful tomes (or perhaps in Costa, mainlining espresso, or at home on the couch, trying to get their families to shut the hell up so they can actually write something). On the train there, I found out I had been reviewed in The Sun. As this was my first ever national newspaper review, I was ridiculously excited, bought two copies at Bristol Temple Meads, and proceeded to tell everyone “I’m in THE SUN, I’m in THE SUN”. I then moved onto the terrace of the Marriott Bar, where somehow, and I don’t know how, I started talking about that controversial book Maestra. This became the day’s theme (along with the word ‘glistening’), and it is extremely interesting what interesting people will tell you when you ask them probing and interesting questions.

I’m not going to list all the people I talked to, as that would be ridiculous (mainly because I need to protect the innocent, but also because there are some I will surely forget… and there are some I may choose to forget, but that’s another story) – I talked (and laughed) for 16 hours straight. Yes. 16 hours. I got there at 2pm. You work it out. I talked about lots of authory things, like the world of publishing, and how hard it is to write things and the excitement of new book ideas, and marketing plans, and books I’d read. I talked about homemade cornish pasties, chess sets, and the new (nude?) version of Top Gun that I have cast (with a very low budget, but including travelcard for zones 1-6) using several crime authors as the leads. I talked about… things. Things that were in Maestra, mainly. I drank pink cocktails (paint stripper, raspberry & Jif), I made faces at the camera (I draw the line at sharing that photo publicly. I have a reputation to uphold, you know). I hugged (and stroked the hair of) so many people that I have sore arms. I was given a life-saving chocolate Mini Roll from the ancestor of all chocolate. I saw the actual Dr Who. I stole someone’s gin. I broke a new record in late-night revelry, along with a fellow Scot who is always there for me when it starts to get light outside and people think we’re actually up for breakfast.

Then I got up on Saturday* and had a day of quiet reflection**… and I had lunch ***, then did a panel about ‘dark pasts and complex characters’ with James Carol, Julia Crouch, Matthew Frank and Hilary Bonner, where I got a murmur of interested woos from the audience when I said my thing with secondary characters was to give them a couple of lines in one book, then give them a starring role in the next (I know, I’m a genius). I went out for dinner in a Cuban restaurant with a zillion of my best friends, where dancing girls and the world’s worst piano player threatened to ruin my zen. I spent lots of time with my favourite bloggers, one, in particular, who likes to stay up as late as I do and never shies from a probing question. I talked about childrens’ books and cashew nuts and there was horrible, horrible wine. I was trained in high-and-low-fiving (I was not a good student), I sniffed a shoe. And I got my hair plaited at 3am by one of the loveliest and prettiest (porniest?) people in the world.

On Sunday, despite very little sleep (again) I had breakfast with lovely friends, already starting to feel the comedown that was threatening to make an appearance. I had tea in the lounge, trying to squeeze out the final minutes of my time there, chatting about how I started writing ten years ago (on a train from Beijing to Moscow) and about ears and prostitutes and potato waffles. I chatted more, I said goodbyes… and then I got the train home with a beautiful blue-haired lady.

Amazingly, I still have a voice. Some lost theirs.

Then I came home, back to reality… back to work, but bursting with excitement about my writing plans for the rest of the year, and the rest of my life… and thinking it’s not long until Harrogate, where we can do it all again.

And that, my friends, is what really happens at Crimefest.



  1. *It already was Saturday, by several hours
  2. **hangover from hell
  3. ***drank loads of Coke
  4. Photographer credits: Jo Penn, Steve Dunne, Liz Barnsley, Sophie Goodfellow, Fergus McNeill (I think…)
  5. THANK YOU to everyone who made this such a memorable weekend – old friends and new – the most supportive, friendly and funny people I have ever met
  6. THANK YOU to the fantastic organisers of Crimefest, who work ridiculously hard to make us all so happy🙂
  7. If you want to know more about the panel events, try these:
    1. Vicky Newham – Crimefest 2016 Observations and Highlights
    2. Rebecca Bradley – Doctor Who Meets #Crimefest16
    3. Alis Hawkins – Crimefest 2016
    4. Matt Johnson – My First Ever Crimefest
    5. The twitter hashtag – #Crimefest16

This is my fab review in The Sun! As well as the full eBook still being 98p, Willow Walk is now available as a FREE extended e-sampler – click on the image to go straight there… Also – both Black Wood and Willow Walk are now available as eBooks in all worldwide English territories (US/Canada/Australia/NZ/India) – you’ll find it on your local Amazon/Kobo/etc.

Willow Walk is here . . .

It’s a cheers from Leo, and a cheers from me!

Happy eBook release day to me! Willow Walk is out NOW (this is both very exciting and very terrifying!) To celebrate release day, I am doing a Q&A on twitter with another four BritCrime authors who have books out today: Mark Billingham, Cal Moriarty, Steven Dunne and Chris Ewan. You can tweet us your Qs using the hashtag #CrimeFive and we will answer them from 5pm. You can also find me over at Jane Isaac’s blog today, Rebecca Bradley’s tomorrow and Anne Cater’s on Saturday.

One of the biggest things I learned from the release of Black Wood is just how important reviews are. Reviews help get a book noticed, and I read somewhere recently that 50 reviews on Amazon really helps get the book into their algorithms, so it is shared more. Obviously I want everyone to find my book – so if you read it, please review on Amazon, Goodreads and any other places that do reviews – they really help! One of my fab blogger friends, Vicki, has been campaigning on twitter recently, encouraging people to write reviews and to cherish books – both sentiments I agree with entirety – you can read about it HERE

Anyway, enough about the book – it’s out there now… and I am dying to know what you all think of it! FYI – Black Wood reached #14 in the overall kindle chart, and #1 in psychological, Scottish and several other categories. I wonder how Willow Walk will do?!

P.S. I had a fantastic time at Newcastle Noir last weekend – there are a few photos HERE

If you want to get in touch – you can comment below, or find me on TWITTER or FACEBOOK

Next stop: Crimefest (Bristol)

I’ve got a book coming out, you know . . .

One of my new photos🙂

Another mad week in the world of a statistician/author who wishes someone would event longer days… As well as work, this is what I’ve been up to: 

  • Finishing an article for a magazine that will be out in June (exciting, and more details to follow soon!)
  • Getting some new publicity photos taken by the lovely Melanie Moss (great fun and I am really pleased with them – you can view a selection here)
  • Having a ‘home alone’ writing retreat, where I managed to write 10,000 words on Sat/Sun (very tough, especially on day two)
  • Reading… I finished these:
  • Doing a library event at Molesey Library with Louise Voss (brilliant night with a lovely audience)
  • And now I am getting prepared for my trip to Newcastle Noir, where I am doing a panel with Sarah Ward, Helen Cadbury and Amanda Jennings, chaired by crime legend Barry Forshaw, author of Brit Noir (out now)

It’s all go, as usual. Oh, and did I mention that Willow Walk is out in eBook next week?? To celebrate that, I’ve got a Goodreads Giveaway for a signed paperback, running now – click here to enter …and I will have exciting news about the launch nights for the Willow Walk paperback very soon – but as a heads up – if you are in London on 2nd June, or Edinburgh on 23rd – keep your evening free🙂
Sign-up here if you want to read the opening chapters right now!
(Includes a free Davie Gray short story)

Some Lego. . . and some books I want you to read


Lego bricks! WTF?

Whether it’s a whodunnit or a whydunnit or a ‘WTF is going on?’ scenario, the thing that all crime fiction has in common is some type of mysterious element. Take this box of Lego, for example. What’s that about? Hmm? We’ll come back to that in a minute…

What have I been up to? Well apart from getting on with writing book 3 (while also being stupidly busy at work), I’ve been starting to prep things for the release of Willow Walk (launch details to follow soon!), I’ve been to my first crime festival of the year – Deal Noir (it was brilliant – some pics HERE if you’re interested), I’ve been to the first occurrence of First Monday Crime – London’s brand new monthly crime gathering, AND, I’ve been reading… ok, I actually read all of these a while ago, but I haven’t had time to write these miniscule reviews…

You know that I only tell you about books that I’ve really enjoyed and want you to read… so here is the latest batch:

Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts by A.K. Benedict

A hidden side of London, and the ghosts that walk among us. This is a terrific novel formed from elegant writing and filled with humour and many dark things. An exploration of grief turned into an intriguing story full of crime and the supernatural, with some genuinely terrifying images. And mudlarking… Who knew? I can’t stop thinking about this book. Read it.

The Missing by C.L. Taylor

A missing son, a mother with recurrent blackouts and some people acting very suspiciously… C.L. Taylor’s latest psychological thriller delves into the world of online chatrooms and explores the devastation of a family who all seem to be hiding something. Dark and twisty. Loved it.

When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen

Office Noir. Is that a thing? If you’ve ever worked somewhere where a new boss turns your previously idyllic working life into a daily living hell, this one’s for you. There is a very cleverly woven sub-plot about a heartbreaking case of abuse and neglect that will make you want to cry – but add the two together, and you’ve got an absolutely cracking read. Taut. Tense. Fantastic.

Tenacity J.S. by Law

Not technically a new book, but as the paperback has just launched and being that it is one of the best things I’ve read in years, I am recommending this again. Female naval officer boards the all-male environment of a submarine to investigate a suspicious death. No one wants her there, but she’s not giving up. This is completely unique and totally absorbing. The prologue alone is enough to give you a heart-attack. Claustrophobic and brilliantly written. In a word: Ace.

The Plea by Steve Cavanagh

Eddie Flynn is back! I must confess that I’m am not a huge fan of legal thrillers, but I really think that Cavanagh is doing something different with his series of novels about an ex-hustler turned lawyer. Set in New York and using the set-up of a classic locked-room mystery, this is the story of a high-profile man accused of murdering his girlfriend, merged with the very real threat that something bad is going to happen to Flynn’s estranged wife. Excellent characterisation, and enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes throughout. This is exactly what a thriller should be.

Anyway… back to the Lego. Well guess what – I’m not going to tell you what it’s about. But if you pre-order Willow Walk, you’ll find out soon.

Don’t forget  – if you fancy a preview – you can sign-up here and it will be delivered to your inbox, along with a subscriber-exclusive Davie Gray short story.


Three weeks to go… That came around fast!

This is how Willow Walk was sent out to bloggers - can't wait to hear what they thought of it!

This is how Willow Walk was sent out to bloggers. I can’t wait to hear what they thought of it! (Although I am slightly terrified too…)

Lately it feels like I’ve barely had time to breathe, with so much going on – travelling, working, writing, prepping things for the release of Willow Walk. It was only when I saw that some other authors (*cough* Mark Billingham… and Steven Dunne) mentioning their 5th May release dates that I realised it is only THREE WEEKS until Willow Walk comes out in eBook.

Shiiiitttt – that came around fast!!

How do I feel?

Well, thankfully, being so busy with everything else has kept my mind of it – but when I sit down to stare out of the window and think… (I am currently writing BOOK 3 (aka The Damselfly), therefore there is always an excuse to do anything else but that. As much as I love writing, it never really gets any easier – the ideas come thick and fast, but sitting down to write can be a struggle. As any writer knows, the words in your head are perfect – why don’t they come out like that on the page?!) – I start to think about what it was like when Black Wood came out.


That sheer terror that everyone is going to hate it, that I’ll be battered by awful reviews… that I’ll want to crawl into a hole and hide. As it happened, not everyone hated Black Wood. In fact, a lot of people loved it – and those people are looking forward to the next one… and also, I hope, I might attract some new readers for this one too – although the books share the same setting and have some characters that overlap, they are very different and can be read as standalones. So – maybe you didn’t like Black Wood, maybe it wasn’t your thing. Doesn’t mean you won’t like the next one🙂

It is VERY different. I know pride is a sin and all that, but I am very proud of it, and of the story – which didn’t have any origins in true-life at all – just some random ‘what if’s’ and ideas to mix things up a little bit in the broad genre that comes under the umbrella of ‘psychological’. Yes, there is a somewhat feisty female lead, yes there is a toxic relationship. But definitely not the type you might be expecting…

Oh, and my mum loved it. I don’t think I can get any higher praise Well, except for the cover quote – from one of my writing heroes, Sharon Bolton (cue massive fangirl moment) who describes it as ‘Creepy and Compelling’ and David Mark, who said it was ‘Dark as a smoker’s lung’ and all the lovely words inside (and on the back of) the cover from my early readers (authors and bloggers) who have been so supportive. I can’t thank them enough❤

You can pre-order your ebook now, and you’ll get it on 5th May:

And remember, you can still sign-up for your free short story (and your sneak peek of Willow Walk before it comes out)

For those who still love a paperback – it will hit shops on 10th June – details of a special giveaway and plans for my launch(es) to follow soon🙂

Oh, and I have read some brilliant books recently – I’ll share them with you very soon!

Willow Walk Available to Pre-Order

The countdown has begun!!

The eBook of WILLOW WALK comes out on 5th May, for a crazy introductory price of 98p.

That’s less than seven weeks away… SEVEN WEEKS! (But you’ll have to wait until 10th June for the paperback. Sorry!)

I can’t wait for you all to read it – and if you can’t wait, you can click HERE to get an exclusive preview of the first ten pages.

You’ll get a free short story too – it’s called Wrack Line, and it takes place between Black Wood and Willow Walk. My favourite crime blogger, Crimethrillergirl, said it had a nice twist (and she knows what she’s talking about…) so why don’t you put the kettle on, make yourself a drink and give it a read?

Maybe you can let me know what you think in the comments🙂

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WILLOW WALK can be pre-ordered from all good bookshops (links below):