Susi Qs – Week 22 – RJ Dark

This week’s guest is a very special treat! Spending his youth as an underground musician and occasional club promoter, RJ then moved on to stints as an advertising copywriter, trainer, playwright, music reviewer, amateur historian, TV cameraman, anarchist, contrarian, engineer and fraud investigator.

After a long battle with chronic illness, RJ finally settled on a career in writing. He lives in a crumbling ancient mansion somewhere in Yorkshire and is surrounded by books, music, animals and his family.

RJ is the author of the Mal & Jackie crime series – his debut novel A Numbers Game is published by Wavesback, and more will follow.

He looks suspiciously like award-winning fantasy author, RJ Barker.

Let’s hear it, RJ…

Who would you rather pay golf with? Michael McKintyre, Take That, or The Queen?

I think I would rather cut my hands off than play golf, and that’s only slightly hyperbolic. I have friends who play gold but they are WRONG, it’s an awful boring sport for people with too much money. I think you should commit, either go for a walk or do a sport don’t fence sit. If I REALLY HAD TO because you are some sort of Golf forcing monster, then the Queen is right out, as I’m not really a fan of the idea of hereditary power and I’d feel the need to tell her and she’s an old lady now, she doesn’t need that. I think walking round with a stand up comedian might make me a bit paranoid because you know they are always looking for material and I think I’d be gutted to be material for a middle of the road light entertainer.

So, now we’re left with Take That! Who I generally disagree with. BUT, I reckon Mark and Jason would be a bit of a laugh, Robbie would probably be quite needy but I can cope with that and then there’s Gary. A golf round takes a long time and I’d be stuck with Gary Barlow. 

There’s no good options and this is a mean question.

What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?

I’m quite lucky in that I’m blessed with the ability to put things very much to the back of my mind so if something is likely to disturb me, it’s hidden away and hopefully never accessed again – except in my subconscious writer brain bit where it bubbles up later on. So, scariest thing, that’s been put in my mental waste basket and thrown away. However, I suppose the most scared I’ve ever been for myself was when I was really ill, it wasn’t the illness because that becomes normal quite quickly and you accept it as part of your life. The fear was from incredibly realistic nightmares where some terrifying dark thing was coming for me and I couldn’t switch on the lights. But the dream would repeat, I’d think I’d woken up and then try and switch on the lights and not be able to and it would all start again. That’s the closest I’ve felt to the pure terror someone must feel when their life is genuinely in danger.

Well, that went all Debbie Downer, didn’t it? Let’s up the mood a bit. ONWARDS TO THE CRUISER!

How many times have you seen Top Gun?

No one sees Top Gun, we experience it. It’s a transcendental thing, a shared state of mind – we are together riding on the highway dangerzone. And yes, we all think that we’re Maverick, that we’re cool and out there and edgy and riding our motorbike along a runway in contravention of the law cos we’re not wearing a helmet and TOM IF YOU REALLY LOVED KELLY YOU’D INSIST SHE TAKE SENSIBLE SAFETY PRECATIONS. But he doesn’t, because he’s a small man who excels at doing a serious running face in films, and he thinks that makes him immortal. Tom doesn’t, can’t, understand that other humans are not immortal in the same way as him. And we all wish for that sense of invulnerability that only the Cruiser has.

But we know the truth is that we’re Goose and we’re destined to crash and burn just to make our cooler friend look good.

It’s a cruel world.

Who’s your favourite cartoon character?

I thought about this for an INORDINATELY long time. My immediate go to is Hazel from Watership Down as I love him but is he really a cartoon character? Or is he a literary character that was in a cartoon of his adventures and besides I take Watership Down and Hazel way, way too seriously to write a flippant comment about him so I decided not to choose him, though he is very cool, for a rabbit anyway.

But in a pure cartoon character way then I am here for Sylvester the Cat. Eat the bird, Sylvester, in fact, if I was your owner I would feed the bird to you. Sylvester is unfairly maligned, he’s simply an apex predator doing exactly what he evolved to do and being subject to scripts that constantly give the impression a canary would get the better of a cat which is a TRAVESTY and simply anti cat propaganda. It was probably written by a dog. EAT. THE. STUPID. BIRD.

When was the last time you were arrested?

I’ve never been arrested. Despite trying on a number of occasions. I once found myself a long walk from home without enough money to get back and I spent ages doing my best to look suspicious every time a Police Car went past; hiding in drives and all manner of nonsense. They never stopped, I guess that’s one of the disadvantages of being a white male is that it’s actually quite hard to get arrested.

The nearest I’ve ever come to actually being arrested was in my superhero persona, that of The Mighty Cone: friend to the weak, scourge of evil and redirector of Traffic, when some police told me that if I didn’t put The Mighty Cone’s superhero suit back on the roadworks I would be arrested.

Truthfully, my superhero career was very short lived.

Have you ever been punched in the face?

Remarkably. No.

Although I have always been a bit too ready to say something clever to the wrong people, and have never been the sort of person who was any use if there was violence, I’ve been remarkably lucky in my friends who were generally quite handy. I suppose that’s the genesis of Mal and Jackie in A Numbers Game. Useless friend with someone who knows how to look after themselves. I am remarkably good at hiding though.

Which actor do you fancy the most?

I don’t think I do. Cos they’re actors aren’t they? They are professionally not themselves and attraction is all about trust. They’re a bit shifty, if you ask me. I mean, imagine you’re married to someone and then they play Margaret Thatcher on TV and you see a clip. How would you ever find that person attractive again? No, it’s a minefield I’m unwilling to venture into.

Would you rather give up washing, smiling or reading?

How are any of these even possible. I worry about giving up smiling as that probably involves a stroke and you don’t know what else you are going to lose do you? And I KNOW I’m meant to say ‘I must keep reading!’ cos I write books and everything but I don’t care, it’s reading I’d give up. I’ve already read a lot and we live in a world where there are loads of different ways of experiencing story and words.

I am a very social person and where it might be a bit awkward explaining to other writers, ‘I can’t read your book because my friend Susi is some sort of witch stole reading from me,’ but I reckon being able to smile and not smelling would at least give me a head start on winning them over.

What’s your favourite kitchen appliance?

Well, we have a dry fryer and I wasn’t actually allowed to use it because it was my wife’s and I have a history of being a bit too adventurous with kitchen appliances, but I’m trusted with it now and have become slightly obsessed.

Is it the greatest thing ever?

Well, quite possibly.

Frozen chips? Dry Fryer. Chicken? Dry Fryer? Pizza? Oh yes you very much can dry fry it and don’t trust anyone who says you can’t. Salad? I’m frying it. Ice Cream? If my wife isn’t watching too closely, let’s give it a go.

Honestly, get a dry fryer, it will change your life.

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If you want to know more about RJ, you can find him on twitter @RJDarker. His books can be purchased HERE.


Susi Qs – Week 21 – Alice Hunter

Flying high in the charts this week, it’s the fabulous Alice Hunter! After completing a psychology degree, Alice Hunter became an interventions facilitator in a prison. There, she was part of a team offering rehabilitation programmes to men serving sentences for a wide range of offences, often working with prisoners who’d committed serious violent crimes. Previously, Alice had been a nurse, working in the NHS. She now puts her experiences to good use in fiction.

Take it away, Alice…

What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?

You’d think having worked in a prison, it would be related to that, wouldn’t you? And there WERE some hairy moments. But I have to go with the time I was thirteen and staying with a friend at her auntie’s house in Cornwall. I’ll try and keep it brief, which means leaving out some detail, but it went something like this: We’d gone off for the day by ourselves to Truro and were followed off the bus by a strange man in a Parka coat. I mean, a Parka – that’s bad enough, right? But he also kept one hand in his pocket, and we decided it was because that’s where he was concealing his knife. (My imagination was wild even then). Anyway, he stalked us for hours and we called Auntie on a pay phone (those were the days) asking her to meet us off the bus near her house as it was dark and we were scared. At one point we thought we might be imagining we were being stalked, and maybe this bloke was merely going to the same places as us – so we tested it out by sporadically walking to various different spots – and he still kept with us. Later, we managed to out-run him and double-back to the bus station, jumping onto our bus and hoping he didn’t find us and get on it too. Then we spotted him. We ducked down so he wouldn’t see us. We could just see him, though, as he walked up to each bus, looking in through every window. I kept trying to reassure my friend he wouldn’t see us, he wouldn’t get on our bus, all the while panicking. Luckily the bus pulled off without him getting on. I’m assuming had he boarded, we’d have alerted the bus driver like any sensible person – but who knows? Anyway, on the journey back, every time the bus stopped, I was scared we’d see the Parka man get on. It was a tense ride! And when we got off at our stop, Auntie was nowhere to be seen. We had to walk through a dark lane to get home and all I could think (then and still to this day) was: ‘What if?’ What if he had got on the bus and we thought we were safe because Autie would be there to meet us. I was horrified when I realised she wasn’t waiting. I never went to stay with my friend’s auntie again. But I often think of Parka man. (That story wasn’t as brief as I planned. You can see why I love my editor).

Who would you rather play golf with? Michael McKintyre, Take That, or The Queen?

Definitely Michael McKintyre – he’d need a sense of humour to play with me. I’ve never played real golf – my skill at hitting a ball with a stick begins and ends with crazy golf.

Would you rather have four arms or four legs?

Four arms! So many uses… Although, I’m useless at multitasking so they may well be wasted on me

Which actor do you fancy the most?

Depends on the day; I’m very fickle. Today it happens to be Robert Sheehan. *Those eyes*

What are you having for lunch tomorrow?

I plan my books, but I’m a pantster when it comes to meals. As my mum would say ‘It’s iffits for lunch”. If it’s there, I’ll have it, if it’s not, I won’t.

Do you have any weird habits?

Many. And I’m not sharing them with you because that would be weirder.

Have you ever been punched in the face?

I’m guessing no – as I’m having to think too long about that question. I feel that if I had, it would be a more memorable experience. I have, however, received body blows – a boyfriend’s ex took a dislike to me and she and a group of her friends surrounded me when I was leaving his one night. I managed to get to my car without being hurt too badly (although she’d scratched ‘slag’ into the paintwork of my car!) This took place without any intervention from my boyfriend, who watched from the safety of his doorstep. The relationship didn’t last long – and they WILL make an appearance in a future novel!

Who do you love?

Well, you have to say ‘family and friends’ to this question, don’t you? But assuming they’re not reading this… my dogs. Oh, wait… no, my husband.

Who was your first crush?

How young is too young to have a crush? I reckon I was about six. I went on a date with a boy from my class. He took me to the bus stop and we had a picnic on the grass bank. My dates didn’t ever really get better than that… (the answer to Q7 proves this point!)

How many times have you seen Top Gun?

Lost count. If I love a film I will watch it over and over until I know most of the script. One of my favourite lines from Top Gun: “If you screw up just this much, you’ll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong!” Iconic stuff.

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If you want to know more about Alice, you can find her on twitter @Alice_Hunter_1. Her books can be purchased HERE.


Susi Qs – Week 20 – Heleen Kist

This week’s guest is the very lovely Heleen Kist. Dutch-born, Glasgow-based Heleen received a spotlight at Bloody Scotland for her debut ‘In Servitude’, which won the silver medal for Best European Fiction at the IPPY Awards 2019. Having been told to smile by random men one too many times, she enacted delicious revenge in feminist thriller ‘Stay Mad, Sweetheart’.

So, Heleen…

Which actor do you fancy the most?

I lusted after Zac Efron in the movie “17 Again”. Nothing to do with his hot bod, of course, and all about the caring personality of the proper grown-up he’d switched bodies with. Ahem.

Who was your first crush?

A dreamy boy  in primary school in Mexico, who played a doctor in the school fair’s pretend hospital. For a small fee, you got ‘treated’ with slings and bandages. I went to see him so many times that I ended up a mummy.

Where’s the worst place you’ve been sick?

Food poisoning on a small diving boat on the Red Sea. Coupled with motion sickness induced by the airless, windowless below-deck toilet I had to cling to,  I ‘fed the fish’ a real buffet that day.

Which dead celebrity do you wish was still alive?

Frieda Kahlo, so I could join her in knocking back tequila and swearing a lot, surrounded by her menagerie of parrots and monkeys.

When was the last time you were arrested?

In a dream, after streaking across the stage at Bloody Scotland.

Did you like school?

According to my Biology teacher’s comment on my report card, I spent my lessons checking myself out in a mirror. I argue it was biology, of sorts.

Do you have any weird habits?

I can’t just place balled socks into a drawer after doing laundry – I have to stand at least 2 meters away and attempt to throw them in. You’d think I would be better at it by now.

Do you worry about swallowing spiders in your sleep?

I didn’t until now.

Would you rather have four arms or four legs?

Four arms, as it would be hard to floss with toes.

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If you want to know more about Heleen, you can find her on twitter @HKist. Her books can be purchased HERE.


Susi Qs – Week 19 – Tom Wood

Today’s extremely entertaining victim of the random-question-generator is Tom Wood – the author of the Victor series of novels, as well as the standalone thriller A Knock at the Door as T. W. Ellis. His Victor series has sold a million copies and been translated into ten languages at last count. His new novel, A Quiet Man, is the ninth in the Victor series and is out now in hardback and ebook.    

What have you got for us, Tom?

How many times have you seen Top Gun?

You can’t seriously expect me to answer this any other way than “It’s classified; I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you”? (Tom Cruise grin).

Have you ever been punched in the face?

Yes, a few times. Many if we count Krav Maga training. The last time I was punched in the face for real happened at a concert. My partner at the time was dancing in an enthusiastic manner, which annoyed some people adjacent to us. It was a dense crowd and there was inevitable physical contact. As their annoyance grew, they began dancing in a deliberately retaliatory way, and before long pushing and shoving ensued between my partner and another woman. It escalated rapidly and though I tried to get between them, my partner gave this woman a shove that sent her stumbling. The woman spun around and punched me in the face. She obviously thought I had pushed her and she responded by clocking me right on the chin. It really, bloody hurt, but I was more annoyed than anything. Martials saw the altercation and quickly intervened to drag us out of the crowd. They then escorted us to the front, which would have been great under normal circumstances but I was so pissed off I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the night. My (then) partner carried on dancing as if nothing had happened.

Do you prefer buttons or zips?

Buttons! I have a bad habit of not pulling zippers all the way up, which isn’t a big deal with a jacket but is asking for trouble when that zipper is on a pair of jeans.

Sum yourself up in one word

A rulebreaker.

Would you rather give up washing, smiling or reading?

Smiling for sure. I barely smile as it is since I’m such a miserable, joyless bastard, so it’s no great hardship giving it up.

Where’s the worst place you’ve been sick?

Like many teenagers I drank far more cider than my constitution could handle, and this resulted in many instances of vomiting. The worst place it happened has to be the laundry basket in my bedroom when I was maybe seventeen. The reason why this takes the top spot is because I was so drunk I forgot all about it when I woke up the next day. Given that I was a such a lazy, untidy person, I only realised what I had done when I opened the lid on the basket several days later.

What’s your most treasured possession?

I bought a replica medieval warhammer during lockdown last year. It’s historically accurate, made by a true artisan, and is as beautiful as it is lethal. Swinging it around is great stress relief too, and so far I’ve only given myself a handful of minor injuries with it. Bring on the zombie apocalypse, I’m ready.

Who would you rather pay golf with? Michael McKintyre, Take That, or The Queen?

The Queen. I’d let her win as she isn’t having the best time right now.

Do you empty your own hoover bag?

It has to be emptied?!

What are you wearing?

Now you’re just being creepy.

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If you want to know more about Tom, you can find him on twitter @TheTomWood His books can be purchased HERE.


Susi Qs – Week 18 – Will Carver

This week I’ve been chatting to Will Carver (and as you might expect if you have read anything of his, you are in for a slightly terrifying TREAT with these answers!) Will is the bestselling author of the January Series – Girl 4 (2011), The Two (2012), The Killer Inside (2013), Dead Set (2013) – and the critically acclaimed Detective Pace series, which includes Good Samaritans (2018), Nothing Important Happened Today (2019) and Hinton Hollow Death Trip (2020), all of which were selected as books of the year in mainstream international press. The books in this series have also been longlisted/shortlisted for the Amazon Readers Independent Voice Award, Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award, Not The Booker Prize and the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year Award. Will spent his early years living in Germany, but returned at age eleven. He studied theatre and television at King Alfred’s Winchester, where he set up a successful theatre company. He currently runs his own fitness and nutrition company and lives in Reading with his children.  

Take it away, Will…

How many pairs of shoes do you have?

I’ve never been one for shoes. I used to have two pairs. One for comfort and one for smart occasions. But, about five years ago, I did this thing for Reebok and they supplied me with new kit every month for a couple of years. So, every four weeks, I would get new shorts, top and trainers etc. Now I have about 30 pairs of shoes but 15 of those are exactly the same (Reebok Nano 5) but in different colours. So I can wear trainers that match the colour of top I am wearing whenever I work out. 

I guy at my old gym said I was ‘the Imelda Marcos of fitness’. That’s already better than 50% of the quotes I have on the front of my books.  

What is your most unrealistic ambition?

I’d like to be appreciated in my own time.

Did you like school?

I loved it. I always liked learning. I went to an all-boys school, so I didn’t have the distraction of girls. I could focus on studying and doing as much sport as possible. That was everything to me. I played some kind of sport every day but excelled in athletics and rugby. 

I could have played rugby professionally but found I had a much greater love of writing, so dedicated myself to the torment of the blank page and having no money. 

How many times have you seen Top Gun?

When I was 13, I went out with a girl a few years older than me – I developed early – and she was obsessed with Top Gun. We must have watched it two or three times a week. I was happy to go along with this because she was teaching me things. We went out for about four months. 

So, say 16 weeks, 2.5 times a week, that’s 40 times. 

Plus the other times I watched it on my own – another 20. 

Probably 60 times. (Though I’ve watched the beach volleyball scene at least double that.) 

What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?

I’ll give you three stories and you maybe it will help explain why I write the things that I do. 

1. One night, when I was a teenager, I woke up very suddenly. I was in pain. For some reason, I had shot out the bottom of my bed and was seemingly thrown into the wall. I whacked my head pretty hard and woke up on the floor. 

At the same time, my mother woke up. Yes, there was a large crash as I was flung into the wall that separated our rooms but she had woken up on the floor at the foot of her own bed on the other side of where I lay crumpled. She said that she felt hands on her ankles pulling her slowly out of bed.

2. I was twelve, walking back from my friend’s house at night. He lived about 100m from me but you had to walk through an undergrowth. I was heading home. It was creepy. I looked over my shoulder and saw a man at one end of the trees – I was about halfway through. 

I carried on walking. I looked back again and he was running at full pace towards me. I used to be a national-level sprinter and damn, I used that pace to leg it through the rest of the woods and into my house. I didn’t look back once. Absolutely terrifying. 

3. I don’t want to go into too much detail on this but it involved me at 9, getting up to go to the toilet, leaving the light off in the bathroom, finishing and turning around to see a man’s silhouette in the doorway, overweight, wearing only union jack boxer shorts and a gas mask. My dad’s idea of a joke and an image that haunts me to this day. I screamed. 

What is your most treasured possession?

This is tough because I don’t tend to put too much stock into ‘things’. I have a film collection of about 5000 but that’s kinda useless now in this streaming age. ( I still have 3000 VHS tapes in my mum’s loft because that’s the only place they will fit.) 

Then I thought that maybe it was my laptop because it has all my writing and photos on. But that’s all backed up in the cloud, so if I ever lost the thing, I still have my life’s work and pictures of my kids. 

So, I guess my most treasured possession is my time. And I try to fill it the best way that I can before it’s all gone. 

What’s your secret party piece?

It’s a secret. But if we are ever at a party and you can get hold of a cucumber and some tight, rubber hot pants…

What’s your favourite joke?

Here’s a quick one and a longer one:

SHORT ONE – A man jumps out of a plane. At 20,000ft he pulls the chord for his parachute and it doesn’t open. He pulls the safety chord. Nothing. He plummets. 15,000ft. 12,000ft. At 10,000ft, he passes a plumber. 

Panicking. ’My parachute won’t open. Can you help me?’ 

The plumber responds. 

‘Ah, sorry, mate, I only do boilers.’ 

LONGER ONE – A man walks into a bar and he has an orange for a head. 

‘Can I get a pint of Fosters, please?’

The barman returns with the drink. 

‘I can’t help but notice that you seem to have an orange for a head.’

‘Well, I was on holiday and found myself in this cave. There was a dusty, old lamp. I rubbed it and a genie popped out and gave me three wishes.’

‘Right. And what was you first wish?’

‘I wished that whenever I put my hands in my pockets, I could pull out wads of cash.’ 

‘And that happened?’

The man puts his hands in his pockets and pulls them out. 

Cha-ching, cha-ching. 

He drops a twenty on the bar to pay for his lager. 

‘What was your second wish, then?’

‘I wished that whenever I clicked my fingers, women would come up and talk to me and want to be with me.’

‘Sure.’ He rolls his eyes. 

The man clicks his fingers and whoosh, two women either side of him. 

‘Bloody hell. That’s crazy. So what was your third wish.’ 

‘I wished I had an orange for a head.’ 

Do you worry about swallowing spiders in your sleep?

This sounds like a question that I would be asked by the same people who said, ‘But where will you get your protein from?’ when I first turned vegan. 

Who do you love?

My kids. My partner, Kel. My mum. The inventor of hummus. Other family members. A few friends. These are the people I want around me. Well, not the inventor of hummus but certainly their creation. 

Then there’s the love I have for David Duchovny and Ben Affleck that I’m not ready to deal with, right now. Throw in a Ryan Reynolds for good measure. 

There are fictional characters that I adore: Dale Cooper, Lorelei Gilmore, Mrs Maisel, Liz Lemon, Hank Moody, Fox Mulder. (Mmmmm, Duchovny.) Jack Pearson. Randall Pearson. Kevin Pearson… 

Then there’s people whose work I love. Palahniuk, Bukowski, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Zusak, Torday, Allen, Scorsese, Coppola, Fincher, Ozon. 

And painters and musicians and thinkers and drinkers. 

Wow. I never knew I had so much love in me. Why am I such a miserable piece shit most of the time?  

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If you want to know more about Will, you can find him on twitter @Will_Carver His books can be purchased HERE.


Susi Qs – Week 17 – Amanda Jennings

Today’s guest is one of my favourite authors and all round favourite people: Amanda Jennings. Amanda writes psychological dramas including The Cliff House, In her Wake, and The Storm. She is currently writing her sixth book. Or should be. She is probably staring out of the window. 

Let’s have it, Jennings…

How many times have you watched Top Gun?

I’m not sure I can give you the exact number. More than ten less than 20? I had a huge crush on Val ‘Ice Man’ Kilmer and the volleyball scene was quite the moment for 13yo old me. When I watched it with my eldest daughter, and she saw the sad scene, you know the one (no spoilers), she turned to me in horror and said, ‘Please tell me he’s ok?’ I laughed and said, ‘Nope, this is the kind of trauma we had for entertainment growing up. That’s why Gen X are all so screwed up’.

Tequila Sunrise or Pina Colada?

Pina Colada, baby! On a beach. Sand in my toes. Sea lapping… Oh god. Why am I not there RIGHT NOW??

Why are coconuts so difficult to open?

Because if you are stranded on an desert island and the only food is coconuts you want to make sure it takes a few hours of your time to get the suckers open. Something to do, innit.

What’s your secret party piece?

I watched Audrey Horne tie a cherry stalk into a knot in Twin Peaks and thought, ‘That’s ridiculous, nobody can do that.’ Anyway, next time I had cherries I tried it. KNOCK ME DOWN WITH A FEATHER if I didn’t find I could do it. I have to gurn like I’m passing a hard-to-open coconut while I do it, so I wouldn’t call is a sexy party trick, but it’s pretty cool.

What was the first gig you went to?

I’m getting PTSD remembering this, but it was Iron Maiden when I was fifteen. My dad is a dentist and he was given VIP tickets to see them at Wembley by a patient of his, who happened to be Nicko McBrain, the drummer for the band. So my parents took my twelve year sister and I. My dad wore salmon pink trousers and a collared shirt, and my mum wore high heels and and a smart jacket, and seemed to think it was perfectly ok to wander around amongst all these hardcore, very cool, heavy metallers with our stupid VIP badges on. I walked the obligatory ten metres behind them, of course, but every moment was excruciating.

What’s your favourite joke?


Q: What do you do with a spaceman?

A: Park in it, man.

Did you like school?

I loved school. I know. I’m weird. I loved school dinners and the fact that all my friends were there. I loved breaking the rules and putting on plays and passing notes in class and getting gold stars. I even loved exams. School was basically a place where there was a lot of opportunity to have a lot of fun. I think, despite aspirations of being an unconventional rebel, I am essentially addicted to timetables, institutional food, and being told what to do. Unless the rule is ‘Don’t walk on the grass’. If I see a sign telling me not to walk on grass it’s a physical impossibility not to walk on the grass…

What’s your most unrealistic ambition?

I’m not a massively ambitious person. I don’t really have any hard and fast goals. But maybe winning a best actress Oscar? Yeah. That would be cool. I mean, I’d have to get an acting job first.

Do you find it hard to take criticism?

Nobody likes criticism, do they? I always feel floored by it, but then tend to get the bit between my teeth and say, ‘Right, fine, I’ll do again,’ then grumble and swear and do it again and realise the criticism was totally right and grudgingly admit it.

What’s the worst place you’ve been sick?

My best friend and I went down to my gran’s house in Cornwall for a weekend away from university when we were about twenty. Gran lived in a bungalow nowhere near anywhere to go out for a drink. So the two of got hammered on gin and tonics at home. When I ran to the toilet to be sick, my friend was already there, being sick herself. She waved me away. Hand over my mouth, I ran into the bathroom and was sick into my gran’s pink bathtub. I had to get up at six in the morning and try and force it down the plughole and unblock the drain outside. Well, you did ask.

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If you want to know more about Amanda, you can find her on twitter @MandaJJennings. Her books can be purchased HERE.


Susi Qs – Week 16 – James Oswald


This week I’m chatting to the extremely multi-talented James Oswald – author of the Sunday Times bestselling Inspector McLean series, the Detective Constable Constance Fairchild series and the five part epic fantasy The Ballad of Sir Benfro. When he’s not writing, he runs a 350 acre hill farm in north east Fife, where he raises pedigree Highland cows.

Go on then, James…

When was the last time you were arrested?

What are you suggesting? I’ve never been arrested! You’d have to catch me first. I was pulled over for a broken brake light in Aberystwyth once, then asked to step out of the car and take a breathalyser test the moment I wound down the window. As it happened, I was designated driver for the evening, but my two passengers were several sheets to the wind and smelled like seasoned winos. When they both explained this – at length – to the officers, and the test came up clear, the police took pity on me and waved me off without another word.

What was your first gig?

I was a chorus boy in the school panto, aged ten, I think. It was Jack and the Beanstalk, and I was originally cast as Jack’s girlfriend, Rosemary – all boy boarding school, these things happened. I could never remember my lines though, so I got booted. I was gutted; Rosemary’s costume was so cool, with a long blonde pigtail wig and make up and…

Oh, you meant first gig I saw? That would probably be Simple Minds at the Hammersmith Odeon in May 1984. I had a ticket to see David Bowie a year earlier, but I wasn’t allowed out of school and ended up giving the ticket to my sister.

If you were a kangaroo, what would you keep in your pouch?

If I was a kangaroo, I would probably keep a joey in my pouch. Anything else would be weird.

What is the most annoying thing?

Dog poo bags left on the path or hung on the fence. Really, this makes my blood boil. There’s footpaths all over the farm, and a lot of people walk their dogs here. Most either just leave the poo where it is, which is fine since it’s not a high traffic area and it’ll break down soon enough, or they bag it up and take it away. A few mindless fuckwits bag it then leave the bag in the path, or tie it neatly to the fence. Just what do you think is going to happen to that? Do you expect some dog poo warden to come and clean up after you?

The really annoying thing is that they probably think they’re upstanding and responsible citizens because hey, they’ve bagged their dog poo! But no, they’re not thinking at all. Selfish fuckwits.

What’s your most treasured possession?

I’m not really good at treasuring things. Maybe my copy (OK, copies plural) of 2000AD prog 865 which came out in December 1993 and features my first and only published comic script, the Tharg’s Future Shock It’s A Cold World.

Would you rather have four arms or four legs?

That entirely depends on what I’m cooking and how many mouths there are to feed.

Who was the best Beatle?

My older brother was into the Beatles, so I of course couldn’t stand them and hardly ever listen to them. I wear John Lennon specs, mind you, but then Paul McCartney gave us the Frog Chorus and Ringo is Thomas the Tank Engine. Might have to go with Pete, since he was clearly the Best.

Do you empty your own hoover bag?

What kind of a question is that? Only very occasionally. And in private.

Which dead celebrity do you wish was still alive?

Poor sods, can’t they have some rest now?

What was your favourite toy?

I had a few chemistry sets when I was little, which were great fun. I never learned any chemistry (apart from acid+alkali=salt+water, which stuck for some unfathomable reason), but the little methylated spirits based Bunsen burner was great for setting fire to things, and if you mixed all the bottles of chemicals together you got some weird things happening. I can’t quite believe the stuff we were allowed to have in the 70s. God only knows what I did to my brain with the fumes.

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If you want to know more about James, you can find him on twitter @SirBenfro. His books can be purchased HERE.

Susi Qs – Week 15 – CL Taylor

CL Taylor authorThis week’s wonderfully entertaining guest is C.L. Taylor – an award winning Sunday Times bestselling author of eight gripping psychological thrillers including SLEEP, a Richard and Judy Book Club pick for autumn 2019. She has also written two Young Adult thrillers. Her books have been translated into over 20 languages and have been number one in the Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, iBooks and Audible charts. [She’s also just been longlisted for the prestigious Dagger in the Library, but that wasn’t on her bio a few weeks ago – whoohoo!]

Take it away, Cally…

Have you ever been punched in the face?

No but I’ve given myself a few slaps for looking at my Goodreads reviews.

Have you ever broken a bone?

I’ve broken my little finger playing snaps and my baby toe by dropping a portable desk on it. In the ‘cool broken bones’ anthology my entry is in the bin.

What would you cook on Come Dine With Me?

 Nachos with dips for starter, Welsh rarebit for main and Angel Delight for dessert. I am very basic, in many, many ways.

Do you pair your socks?

No. I chuck loads of single socks in my drawer and make my life even more hellish by spending every morning searching for a matching pair.  Of course I pair my socks! What kind of fool doesn’t?

What’s your secret party piece?

I can whistle so loudly that people turn around to find out who that whistling knobhead is.

How many pairs of shoes do you have?

 Let’s just say several Tesco delivery men have died tripping over the mountain of shoes in my hallway.

Where was your best holiday?

My best holiday is any holiday where I don’t come back hating the person I went with.

What’s your favourite joke?

I can only remember two jokes and one of them involves something brown and sticky so here’s the other one:

Knock Knock

Who’s there?


Europe who?

No You’re a Poo.

Have you ever had your fortune told?

I have! I attended a psychic fair because I was considering writing a romantic comedy about a psychic and my boyfriend at the time was quite open minded and agreed to come with me. My boyfriend went to get his aura photographed (no, he wasn’t doing it for research…) while I went to get my tarot read. Now, I’d been having a few doubts about this boyfriend for a while. They started on our first date when he got out of his chair at the bar and I had to lower my chin to look at him. I’m six foot and I’d stipulated on my dating profile that I only wanted to date men six foot or taller. When I queried my date about the fact he’d put six foot on his profile he said, ‘I rounded up.’ Interesting. If he was 5’11.5 that was forgivable but at 5’9” he was REALLY rounding up. Anyway, it wasn’t just his height that made me unsure about our future together and when the tarot reader asked me what I’d like to know about I asked her to tell me about the future of my relationship. I gave her no other information and kept my face expressionless as she read the cards. Half an hour later my then boyfriend turned up. ‘How was it?’ he asked, looking from me to the tarot reader. Neither of us could meet his eye. ‘Great,’ I said. One month later I did what the cards had confirmed and I dumped his ass.

Where’s the worst place you’ve been sick?

On a coach from Italy to Australia in snowy February. It was a three hour journey, I was sitting next to my five year old son and the heating was on full because the windscreen blowers weren’t working and it was the only way for the driver to see the road. I’m not a great traveller as it is but the combination of coach, heat and bumpy roads made my stomach lurch. The first time I was sick I managed to swallow it back (sorry if you’re eating as you read this) but the very act of swallowing my own sick meant my stomach then lurched violently. It was 6am and still dark. Most of the other people on the coach were asleep or sitting quietly. I didn’t have a sick bag, or any time to ask my partner, sitting behind me, if he had a suitable receptacle. So, as quietly as I could, I puked into my coat on my lap. Thirty seconds later my son, who’d been looking at his Ipad as I puked, sniffed the air. His wail of horror filled the silent coach, ‘Oh my god what’s that smell? Mum, were you just sick in your coat?’

* * *herlastholiday

If you want to know more about Cally, you can find her on twitter @CallyTaylor. Her books can be purchased HERE.

Susi Qs – Week 14 – Ed James


This week’s “Victim of Silly Questions” is some layabout calling himself Ed James. The endlessly prolific author writes crime-fiction novels across multiple series. His Scott Cullen series follows the career of a young Edinburgh Detective investigating crimes from the bottom rung of the career ladder he’s desperate to climb. The spin-off Craig Hunter series focuses on a cop and overcoming his PTSD from his time in the army. Putting Dundee on the tartan noir map, the DS Vicky Dodds books star a driven female detective struggling to combine her complex home life with a heavy caseload. Set four hundred miles south on the gritty streets of East London, his DI Fenchurch series features a detective with little to lose and a daughter to find. Formerly an IT project manager, Ed began writing on planes, trains and automobiles to fill his weekly commute to London. He now writes full-time and lives in the Scottish Borders, with his girlfriend and a menagerie of rescued animals.

Let’s hear it, Edwin…

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Don’t be daft. I’ll never grow up.

Do you prefer buttons or zips?
Zips, but I seem to be having issues remembering to do them up after a visit to the little boys’ room. Lockdown doesn’t get much worse than that.

What’s your secret party piece?
Singing. Very loudly. I mean VERY VERY LOUDLY. And Tom Jones or Hall & Oates. Or Climie Fisher.

Are you any good at potato sculptures?
Does mash count? Or does using a spudgun?

What’s the last book you read?
For once I can answer this with something that’s hot and celebrated, rather than a book about searching for King Arthur etc. Blacktop Wasteland by SA Cosby, which was dark and twisted. Really cinematic. Loved it.

Do you pair your socks?
Of course. I’m not an animal. But mostly they sit in the washing basket.

What’s your favourite joke?
What’s blue and smalls like red paint?
Blue paint.

Would you rather give up washing, smiling or reading?
I’m a smelly bastard, a grumpy git and struggle to read much fiction. But I need to read for my job, so… I’ll give up smiling, which doesn’t feel too onerous.

Would you rather have no forks or no plates?
Plates. Forks can be used to eat from the packet/tub/baking tray/etc, but you can get away without plates.

Who was the best Beatle?
I mean, the Beatles are extremely overrated so it’s like would you rather get kicked in the balls, the arse or the face?
Ringo was a terrible drummer but had the personality of a Monkee, didn’t he?
George did “I Got My Mind Set On You”, which might be a cover but was one of my favourite songs as a kid and kids don’t care about authenticity.
McCartney is a berk, I hate the way he plays bass, and his post-Beatles material is generally as beige as a Weller album, though he does make me piss myself laughing with such weird shit as Band on the Run, Jet, Live and Let Die, Temporary Secretary and Listen to What the Man Says. Some of his Beatles stuff is okay, like Helter Skelter and… Erm.
Obviously, it’s John Lennon. I mean, it’s so obvious. His stuff had an edge to it, even though he was probably a bit of a prick, but in a different way to Macca, who is the “alrighty guys!” Radio 1 DJ to Lennon’s angry bastard who didn’t treat his family very well. But the good Beatles songs are pretty much all his.
That is the most I’ve ever thought about the Beatles. Actually, it might be George for I Got My Mind Set On You.

* * *skin and bone cove

If you want to know more about Ed, you can find him on twitter @EdJamesAuthor. His books can be purchased HERE.

Susi Qs – Week 13 – Louise Beech

Louise Beech1

This week’s guest searching for crumbs of normality in my tin of madness is the lovely Louise Beech. Louise’s fourth novel, The Lion Tamer Who Lost, was shortlisted for the Popular Romantic Novel of 2019 at the RNA Awards and longlisted for the Polari Prize 2019. Call Me Star Girl was longlisted for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize and was Best magazine’s Best Book of the Year 2019. I Am Dust was a Crime Magazine Monthly Pick. This Is How We Are Human will be published in June 2021.

Take it away, Lou…

Have you ever written a fan letter?

Oh, yes, hundreds. I used to do it as a bit of a hobby in my late 20s, back when snail mail was still a thing, and selfies were yet to be invented (which is what most people want now more than an autograph). I did my research, through agents and venues where certain stars were performing or filming, and wrote to them that way. I got some amazing replies. My favourite was from Edward Norton who signed a Fight Club poster and wrote ‘you are not your job’.

Where’s the worst place you’ve been sick?

I’m embarrassed to admit this – my own bed. But I was eighteen. To be fair, I could have died because it was while I was drunk and in my sleep. I literally, at 5am, just put myself and all the bedding in the bath because I was still drunk. Anyone still want to be my friend? No? OK. Understandable…

If you were a kangaroo, what would you keep in your pouch?


Would you rather give up washing, smiling or reading?

Jesus, three of the things most important to me. Erm… wow. Washing. I’d stink like hell, but I’d never be bored, and I’d light up the world with my shit-eating grin.

Who’s your favourite cartoon character?

Piglet in the Disney animations makes my heart melt because he’s my daughter’s absolute favourite. But I think my own favourite is Quagmire from Family Guy. We are soulmates. I have invited him many a time to join my husband and I, but no response so far…

Which celebrity do you wish was still alive?

Marilyn Monroe, without question. She was my idol growing up. I have probably close to a hundred books about her. She died before I was even born so we never existed together at any point on the planet. She was a lot cleverer than people gave her credit for.

What’s your favourite joke?

I probably couldn’t share any of them here. The first one I ever remember as a kid though was: What’s black and white but read all over? A newspaper. I just didn’t get it. I don’t think I even do now…

Why are coconuts so difficult to open?

Because they are selfish bastards.

How many times have you seen Top Gun?

Probably five times. I’ve listened to the soundtrack more and do a great Kenny Loggins Danger Zone impression.

What is your most unrealistic ambition?

To be the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion 2022. It won’t stop me trying though.

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If you want to know more about Louise, you can find her on twitter @louisewriter. Her books can be purchased HERE, or directly from the publisher, Orenda Books: HERE.