Posts

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BOOK LOVE: The Hunger Games trilogy

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

This mega-selling trilogy is down as YA fiction (as is Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, another of my Book Loves), but I definitely want to read more if this is where YA is at these days. I refrained from this series for a while as I thought the premise sounded pretty macabre. And it is, but after a few recommendations from trusted reader friends, I shook off my reservations and I’m glad I did. From the first chapter, I was completely absorbed in Katniss Everdeen’s journey. I’ve obviously got a thing for dystopian fiction – I love their vivid re-imagined worlds, the fast-paced action, and the exploration of control and subversion. I’m obviously not alone. Why do these stories appeal to so many people, and teenagers in particular? Perhaps it is because there is obvious and terrible injustice in the real world as to how powerful people control and manipulate others, and in these books there is an opportunity of redress by an everyday, ordinary person. The story of Katniss Everdeen might belong to a fantastical world, but I found one of its strongest themes was that there is hope to be found even in the most powerless, grotesque and overwhelming situations.

The month that was… February 2011

DURING FEBRUARY I’VE BEEN…

BUSY WITH… Promotion for Beneath the Shadows. So far I have visited three gorgeous independent bookshops and four libraries proudly supported by Dymocks, and met lots of lovely people. I have only noticed one person nod off briefly during my talks (FTW!), and I think I managed to speak fairly coherently to a brilliant turn-out of 80 at one of my local libraries, Joondalup, on Tuesday night.

THINKING ABOUT… Natural disasters – surely everyone is due for a break right now. My heart goes out to those who has been affected this past month, whether by fires and storms in Perth or the earthquake in Christchurch. I first saw the terrible news from New Zealand on twitter, and it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t a good idea to watch streaming coverage. I’ve been very interested in the subsequent debate about how the media should/shouldn’t report such events, I think it’s a really important issue but a difficult one to resolve. If you are interested, check out these two articles by Jonathan Green on ABC’s The Drum, and the response from Lyndal Curtis on the same site.

READING… I am alternating between Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step (I’m a big fan of the Buddhist monk/Zen master genre!). I’m also desperate to get back to The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.

WRITING… I’ve been working on an article about London-inspired books and films for the holiday goddess travel book that will be out later this year (www.holidaygoddess.com). It’s been a wonderful piece to research, and as a result I now have an extra-long list of books to read and films to watch.

PLAYING… I’ve been building a lot of towers in my spare time, with an array of multi-coloured blocks. I’m busy trying to teach my daughter to understand that ‘per-pol’ is not the default colour of everything, and loving all the new words she comes out with every day.

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GUEST BLOG: LISA HEIDKE, author of Claudia’s Big Break

I’m delighted to welcome the lovely Lisa Heidke to my blog. Claudia’s Big Break, her most recent bestselling book, is a hilarious and heartwarming read that I couldn’t put down. I asked Lisa what she thought were the linking themes running through her work so far. Over to Lisa:

I have written before how my characters are formed first before I consider plot but I have been forgetting a crucial element, theme.

The theme in Claudia’s Big Break — women, generally in their thirties, who are at a cross roads in their lives —is a theme that runs through my other two books, Lucy Springer Gets Even and What Kate did Next as well.

When starting a new manuscript, I’ll think about the general theme and develop it more specifically, for example infidelity and its’ repercussions, and then create a character to embody that crisis. Whilst the characters in every book are very different, they are all struggling with real issues women face such as aging, betrayal, divorce, teenage sexual awakening, career frustration, loss of independence, friendship, etc.

In each of the novels, the characters start in a difficult place but by the end of the 85,000 words they are on their way to resolving those issues. They are not going to lead perfect lives but the characters have developed the strength and determination to keep going and moving forward in a positive direction.

I always write in the first person so while developing Claudia, Kate and Lucy’s stories, I imagined living inside their heads to make their personalities, motivation and dialogue as emotionally authentic as I could.

While Claudia is the main character in Claudia’s Big Break, the story revolves around the relationship between three long-time best friends: Claudia, Tara and Sophie. All are in their thirties and are struggling with personal issues: Claudia has a less than stellar career and love-life, Tara is trying to overcome personal demons so she can finish writing her novel, and Sophie is dealing with the transition from corporate lawyer to stay-at-home mother.

What excited me about writing this novel was creating the intricate and often tricky relationship these women have, and playing that out against the idyllic Santorini back drop.

With What Kate did Next, the focus is very much on Kate and her coming to terms with the fact that the dreams she had at twenty are no closer to becoming a reality as she approaches her thirty-sixth birthday.

Lucy’s husband in Lucy Springer Gets Even walks out on her in the first sentence, so her journey starts in a very bad place, that of being totally blindsided and having to rebuild her life.

I can’t see the general theme of my books changing. I like writing about women, what drives them to succeed (or fail), how they react to adverse situations and how, even though they may start from a dark place, their strength of character pulls them through in the end. My characters generally aren’t going to get ‘the happily ever after’ of fairytales, but I hope that they are interesting and inspirational regardless of how flawed they appear.

You can find out more about Lisa at www.lisaheidke.com. Thanks for visiting, Lisa!

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Don’t get rejected before they’ve even read a word…

writing (2) 75 dpiPeople who work in book publishing always have a ridiculous amount of reading to get through. I once worked on what is pejoratively termed the ‘slush pile’ in the HarperCollins fiction department, where I would often be the first reader. As such, I would get to decide if the story was worth further consideration by those higher up the chain. There were so many submissions I don’t think I was ever on top of it.

So, when submitting your work, to give yourself a head start you need to make your book stand out. Why does the publisher HAVE to read it? (If you’re not sure, how can they be?) Why do you believe in what you are doing? What is it about this book that warrants the attention of the book-buying public? If you are able to provide an agent or publisher with this kind of information BEFORE they look at it, then – as long as they are enthusiastic, of course – you’re a step ahead.

How can you make a potential agent or publisher want to read a script? It’s a big question, and you should take your time and consider your approach. First and foremost you need to stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like a marketeer. Can you condense your story down into one or two awesome sentences? If you can, you’ve developed a pitch, and depending on the policy of the publisher/agent in question, you can use this to get people interested – either on the phone or via cover letters/emails. I realise this can be scary, as you might get an immediate no. But the pitch will remain important right through to the book-buying stage, because in this frenetically paced market you never have very long to grab anyone’s attention.  Don’t start pitching until you’re ready, as a publisher isn’t going to take very seriously the person who develops a new pitch every few weeks. They want to know you are focused and serious about what you are doing.

Do you know which market you’re aiming for? Have you thought about how your book will compete with others on the shelves? Why is it different? Why will readers pick up your travel book on Rome rather than the Lonely Planet’s? If you can give a publisher answers to these kinds of questions (without them having to ask), you will pique their interest. Otherwise, if such questions come up and you have no reply, you will look naïve.

Look at submissions policies very carefully and use them to your advantage. A script that comes in clean, tidy, correctly formatted according to guidelines, and with a concise covering letter will get more attention than the dog-eared, single-spaced tome with a rambling two-page explanation. Are there small embellishments you can use to draw people’s attention – artwork, for example? Be careful with using unusual fonts – only attempt it if they fit the kind of book you are working on, and remember they must still be easily readable. If you make the presentation too much of a challenge for a publisher, you are shooting yourself in the foot before you’ve begun.

Can you do anything else differently to get people’s attention? Your ploys need to be subtle, as at this stage a busy agent/publisher is doing you a favour by reading your work. When I worked in-house we would get writers ringing up demanding why we hadn’t yet got to their synopsis and outline, and that didn’t go down well. Never mind the writing, who wants to work on publishing a book with a stroppy, argumentative author. If you haven’t heard anything for a while, keep your inquiry courteous. You can remind them why they really should read your book, but be careful how far you push.

The submissions stage is one where books and dreams are made or broken. Success is a combination of skill, perseverance, patience and good fortune (and much more besides) – but the only way the final line is ever drawn is the moment you give up. Good luck!

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On pursuing publication

Book pages 1This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 9th April 2010

I was recently asked advice on how to become a published writer.

Here’s my take on what it takes:

Originality
In general, the more original your concept, the better. But originality must still be able to be placed within the market. Sometimes what’s original to one person can be just a bit too way out to the next reader, so don’t go too far. Alternatively, you may want to follow a trend – vampires, anyone? – but you still need an original take on it. And you need to get the timing right, so the market isn’t oversaturated by the time you finish your book.

Determination
You have to really want to succeed, be prepared for knockbacks, not get bogged down in them but use them to make you stronger.

Stamina
First of all to finish the book. An enormous feat. Then to go over and over it yourself, figuring out how you can make it better. Then to allow other people to do the same.

Enthusiasm
To learn from those who have been there. Listen to published writers. They can give you so many ideas, and to hear them talk is often inspirational. No one begins life as a published writer, they were all once in unpublished shoes, without exception. Read lots of books. They all have something to inspire you – even if it’s only, ‘I could do better than this!’

Listening skills
Listen to critique. While it’s great to wholly believe in what you have written, it’s also good to remember that your readers might just have a point. Try to look dispassionately at your writing, and pay particular attention if you hear the same comment more than once, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

Insight
Put yourself in a busy publisher’s shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? I can guarantee you that it will usually be the one sent with a bit of razzmatazz from an agent. So then perhaps you should find an agent. If you decide to go this route, put yourself in their shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? The one that’s double-line spaced, interestingly presented, with a quick-to-grasp concept. And a covering letter that stands out. From someone who phoned or emailed first with a great, succinct pitch (although do check what type of contact each agent prefers before doing this)? Or the single-spaced scruffy sheaf of papers, appended to a meandering cover letter, from a person they’ve never heard of or from. I know which I would choose.

And finally: Passion
For the written word. For writing for writing’s sake, not just for publishing’s sake. Because that joy and commitment will be immediately recognisable to the reader, and there is little more compelling than that.

Pages

Come Back to Me

Book Group Questions for Come Back to Me

1. Explore the different ways that the title theme of ‘Come Back to Me’ resonates throughout the book.

2. What do you think of Alex’s dilemma and choices? Can a person be truly in love with two people at the same time?

3. The changing nature of relationships between parents and children features prominently in the book. Discuss the nature and complexities of adult children’s relationships with their parents.

4. Each character goes on some kind of figurative journey within the novel. By the end, what do you think they each have learned, and how might it change them?

5. Different types of loss feature heavily in the novel. Which types of loss stand out most for you? How have these losses shaped the characters’ lives?

6. Each character in the book has personality traits that appear to be holding them back in life. Can you identify them? Do they change during the course of the story? If so, how?

7. Explore Alex’s motivations and experiences in the story. How much is he a victim of circumstance, and how much does he bring on himself through his decisions?

8. Where did your sympathies lie during the course of the novel, and why?

9. **NEW** At one point, Chloe asks: ‘What had she done to cause everything that was happening to her?’ This may be a harsh question to direct at herself, but it is an understandable one. Discuss how the notion of responsibility plays out in the novel, and the extent to which the characters are responsible for themselves or each others’ actions or reactions.

10. **NEW** Chloe, Alex and Julia/Amy have all pushed memories away or suppressed them in order to get on with their lives. Explore why they have done this, and what it means for them.

11. **NEW** Towards the end of the book, Margaret suggests to Chloe, ‘…maybe Alex is trying to protect you…’ Do you agree with this statement? Is that what Alex was trying to do?

12. **NEW** Throughout the book, there are lots of references to opportunities for connection between the characters, opportunities that might not come round again, or moments when they have to choose whether to speak or to withhold information. Can you identify these, and what do you think of the choices each character makes?

Come Back to Me

CBTM for web‘As a writer, an exceedingly good book to me, is when I don’t notice how it’s written, but find myself completely wrapped up in the story. Come Back to Me by Sara Foster was one of those books. I couldn’t put it down and lacked sleep for a few days.’ Michelle Dennis Evans

 

‘Set in both London and Perth, this is a moving story about impossible choices, about love, and about keeping a promise you made years ago, even if it risks everything you have now. I read this in one day and was left thinking about it for days afterwards. Keep a tissue close.’ July 2011 book of the month, www.ourbookclub.com.au

 

‘Come Back to Me is a complex story of relationships and how ones long ago finished can reappear at any moment and change the path you’re on. Despite the intricacies and twists in the storyline, it’s a quick and engrossing read – I powered through it in an afternoon. So very readable  – will keep you wondering and guessing (and in my case, praying that two certain people end up together) until the very last page.’ 8/10, 1girl2manybooks – to read the full review, click here

‘…this is a book that is big on secrets, everyone seems to be keeping secrets from everyone else, and it is a book that everybody’s stories seems to somehow intertwine with others, it is a story of love and loss, how being strong and taking charge can make us a better person, and how others perceive decisions that have been made even though they were too young, or not involved enough to know the reasons behind those decisions. 4.5/5.’ The Hungry Bookshelf – to read the full review, click here

 

CBTM Kindle for webSuspenseful, heartrending and transcontinental, Come Back to Me’s dynamic scenes extend from debauchery at an office party to a shocking outback crime. A complex psychological tale, Sara Foster’s debut novel…throws us headfirst into marital distress. Set in a middle-class world of city lawyers and designers, Come Back to Me is essentially a story of consequences…With its easy prose and short chapters, this is a novel suited to air travel. Yet it is sophisticated in two ways: it carefully considers the ramifications of split-second decisions on human relationships, and it highlights the importance of a strong question to a narrative…Each character, trapped in  this undercurrent of longing, makes the story somewhat earnest. But there is a balance in carefully placed moments of the everyday, like those in the relationship between Chloe and her wayward cousin. As a result, we, the avid readers, are continually reminded of the particular strength of the characters. It is a gentle strength, but a relatable one: the strength that comes from the simple, gallant act of moving forward.’ Kirsten Law, Australian Book Review, March 2010

This taut psychological drama will keep you enthralled as the mystery and tragedy of ten years ago gradually unravels.’ Northern Daily Leader, 20 February 2010

‘Come Back to Me is a wonderful debut novel. The stories of the four main characters are interwoven, with the reader taken on a journey through their past lives and the present, with revelations continuing right till the end… There is nothing not to like about this story – intriguing characters, plot twists, action and beautiful writing combine to produce a satisfying package.’ Sally Murphy, www.aussiereviews.com

‘The novel is both a stunning thriller and complex love story. It is an entertaining read.’ Border Mail, 27 February 2010

‘A new voice on the Australian fiction scene, Foster has taken an incident that she read about years ago when travelling and uses it to tell a haunting tale about relationships and the history that binds them.’ The Examiner [Launceston], 20 February 2010

‘…a dark psychological guessing game that will surprise you all the way till the end.’ ‘Read of the Week’, NW, 22 February 2010

‘Alex is happily married when he unexpectedly comes face to face with the girl he once loved. He has to decide if he should revisit the past, and risk everything with the wife he adores. This clever novel is deftly pulled together with secrets revealed right through to the last page.’ New Idea, 13 February 2010

‘Come Back to Me is a book for anyone who likes to be surprised by multiple twists and turns. Brilliant.’ http://www.thereadingstack.blogspot.com/

‘This is a very promising debut, with a storyline teeming with slowly revealed secrets and unexpected turns.’ http://www.chicklitclub.com

‘There’s no leisurely introduction to this story. Chloe and her husband Alex go to dine with her colleague Mark and his new date, Julia. But when Alex is introduced to Julia, it is soon apparent that something is very wrong. Julia vanishes, Alex is silent, Mark is furious, and Chloe struggles with her own secret as well as wondering about Alex’s past. Alex decides the only way for closure is to take Julia back to Perth where something dreadful happened. But in doing so, will he lose all he has? Can Julia face the past – and finally tell the truth? It’s a book to read in one sitting – you’ll be enthralled by the disquieting possibilities.’ Woman’s Day, 1 February 2010

‘What-ifs are the heart and soul of any good relationship story: what if we had stayed together, what if I had married someone different, what if I wasn’t having a baby? Here, Foster ties together all those life-crisis questions with the mysterious arrival of a missing ex-girlfriend. Although this will almost exclusively appeal to women, it is far from light and fluffy… [Rated 4/5 stars]’ The West Australian, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

‘A gripping read. Rewarding to the very end.’ Nicole Alexander, author of The Bark Cutters

For author interviews and general media, click here

Come Back to Me

Come Back To Me

NEW AUSTRALIAN EDITION

COMING JULY 2017

Do you have to honour a promise you made in the past

if it means losing all that you have now?

When Mark introduces his date, Julia, to Chloe and her husband at a London restaurant, it’s obvious something is very, very wrong. Alex and Julia pretend not to know each other, but the shocked expressions on their faces tell another story.

As the mystery of Julia’s identity unravels, a terrible tragedy from ten years ago gradually comes to light. While Chloe struggles with a secret of her own, Alex has to decide whether he should take Julia back to Australia to try to lay the past to rest, when doing so will risk all he has with the wife he loves.

And Julia must decide whether to finally confront Alex with the whole truth about what happened back then.

Set in London and Perth, Come Back to Me is a taut psychological drama that will keep you enthralled until the very last page.

‘Sara Foster’s debut novel is both a stunning thriller and complex love story.
She is a wonderful new arrival in Australian writing.’

Jessica Adams

Australian ISBN (paperback): 978-1925456714

E-book ISBN: 978-1925456721

Available in Australia and New Zealand from this website, and in all good bookstores, including Booktopia, Dymocks and independent retailers.

INTERNATIONAL READERS:

You can find the Kindle international edition of Come Back to Me on all Amazon stores outside Australia (ASIN: B00CEYC4T0 )

If you are overseas and you would like to purchase a print edition, please send a message of enquiry using the Contact form.

Book Group Questions

1. Explore the different ways that the title theme of ‘Come Back to Me’ resonates throughout the book.

2. What do you think of Alex’s dilemma and choices? Can a person be truly in love with two people at the same time?

3. The changing nature of relationships between parents and children features prominently in the book. Discuss the nature and complexities of adult children’s relationships with their parents.

4. Each character goes on some kind of figurative journey within the novel. By the end, what do you think they each have learned, and how might it change them?

5. Different types of loss feature heavily in the novel. Which types of loss stand out most for you? How have these losses shaped the characters’ lives?

6. Each character in the book has personality traits that appear to be holding them back in life. Can you identify them? Do they change during the course of the story? If so, how?

7. Explore Alex’s motivations and experiences in the story. How much is he a victim of circumstance, and how much does he bring on himself through his decisions?

8. Where did your sympathies lie during the course of the novel, and why?

9. **NEW** At one point, Chloe asks: ‘What had she done to cause everything that was happening to her?’ This may be a harsh question to direct at herself, but it is an understandable one. Discuss how the notion of responsibility plays out in the novel, and the extent to which the characters are responsible for themselves or each others’ actions or reactions.

10. **NEW** Chloe, Alex and Julia/Amy have all pushed memories away or suppressed them in order to get on with their lives. Explore why they have done this, and what it means for them.

11. **NEW** Towards the end of the book, Margaret suggests to Chloe, ‘…maybe Alex is trying to protect you…’ Do you agree with this statement? Is that what Alex was trying to do?

12. **NEW** Throughout the book, there are lots of references to opportunities for connection between the characters, opportunities that might not come round again, or moments when they have to choose whether to speak or to withhold information. Can you identify these, and what do you think of the choices each character makes?

Reviews

As a writer, an exceedingly good book to me, is when I don’t notice how it’s written, but find myself completely wrapped up in the story. Come Back to Me by Sara Foster was one of those books. I couldn’t put it down and lacked sleep for a few days.

Michelle Dennis Evans

Set in both London and Perth, this is a moving story about impossible choices, about love, and about keeping a promise you made years ago, even if it risks everything you have now. I read this in one day and was left thinking about it for days afterwards. Keep a tissue close.

July 2011 book of the month, www.ourbookclub.com.au

Come Back to Me is a complex story of relationships and how ones long ago finished can reappear at any moment and change the path you’re on. Despite the intricacies and twists in the storyline, it’s a quick and engrossing read – I powered through it in an afternoon. So very readable – will keep you wondering and guessing (and in my case, praying that two certain people end up together) until the very last page. 8/10

1girl2manybooks – to read the full review,click here

…this is a book that is big on secrets, everyone seems to be keeping secrets from everyone else, and it is a book that everybody’s stories seems to somehow intertwine with others, it is a story of love and loss, how being strong and taking charge can make us a better person, and how others perceive decisions that have been made even though they were too young, or not involved enough to know the reasons behind those decisions. 4.5/5

The Hungry Bookshelf – to read the full review, click here

Suspenseful, heartrending and transcontinental, Come Back to Me’s dynamic scenes extend from debauchery at an office party to a shocking outback crime. A complex psychological tale, Sara Foster’s debut novel…throws us headfirst into marital distress. Set in a middle-class world of city lawyers and designers, Come Back to Me is essentially a story of consequences…With its easy prose and short chapters, this is a novel suited to air travel. Yet it is sophisticated in two ways: it carefully considers the ramifications of split-second decisions on human relationships, and it highlights the importance of a strong question to a narrative…Each character, trapped in this undercurrent of longing, makes the story somewhat earnest. But there is a balance in carefully placed moments of the everyday, like those in the relationship between Chloe and her wayward cousin. As a result, we, the avid readers, are continually reminded of the particular strength of the characters. It is a gentle strength, but a relatable one: the strength that comes from the simple, gallant act of moving forward.

Kirsten Law, Australian Book Review, March 2010

This taut psychological drama will keep you enthralled as the mystery and tragedy of ten years ago gradually unravels.

Northern Daily Leader, 20 February 2010

Come Back to Me is a wonderful debut novel. The stories of the four main characters are interwoven, with the reader taken on a journey through their past lives and the present, with revelations continuing right till the end… There is nothing not to like about this story – intriguing characters, plot twists, action and beautiful writing combine to produce a satisfying package.

Sally Murphy, www.aussiereviews.com

The novel is both a stunning thriller and complex love story. It is an entertaining read.

Border Mail, 27 February 2010

A new voice on the Australian fiction scene, Foster has taken an incident that she read about years ago when travelling and uses it to tell a haunting tale about relationships and the history that binds them.

The Examiner [Launceston], 20 February 2010

…a dark psychological guessing game that will surprise you all the way till the end.

‘Read of the Week’, NW, 22 February 2010

Alex is happily married when he unexpectedly comes face to face with the girl he once loved. He has to decide if he should revisit the past, and risk everything with the wife he adores. This clever novel is deftly pulled together with secrets revealed right through to the last page.

New Idea, 13 February 2010

Come Back to Me is a book for anyone who likes to be surprised by multiple twists and turns. Brilliant

http://www.thereadingstack.blogspot.com/

This is a very promising debut, with a storyline teeming with slowly revealed secrets and unexpected turns.

http://www.chicklitclub.com

There’s no leisurely introduction to this story. Chloe and her husband Alex go to dine with her colleague Mark and his new date, Julia. But when Alex is introduced to Julia, it is soon apparent that something is very wrong. Julia vanishes, Alex is silent, Mark is furious, and Chloe struggles with her own secret as well as wondering about Alex’s past. Alex decides the only way for closure is to take Julia back to Perth where something dreadful happened. But in doing so, will he lose all he has? Can Julia face the past – and finally tell the truth? It’s a book to read in one sitting – you’ll be enthralled by the disquieting possibilities.

Woman’s Day, 1 February 2010

What-ifs are the heart and soul of any good relationship story: what if we had stayed together, what if I had married someone different, what if I wasn’t having a baby? Here, Foster ties together all those life-crisis questions with the mysterious arrival of a missing ex-girlfriend. Although this will almost exclusively appeal to women, it is far from light and fluffy… [Rated 4/5 stars]

The West Australian, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

A gripping read. Rewarding to the very end.

Nicole Alexander, author of The Bark Cutters

For author interviews and general media, click here