Q&A with author Alex Day

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Where did the idea for The Missing Twin come from?

Strangely, the idea came from a number of different things – people I met, stories I read in the papers and saw online and a Mediterranean location that inspired me. All of these factors were swimming around in my mind rather randomly until they suddenly coalesced into a fully formed outline of a plot. So I started writing and The Missing Twin is the result.

 

 

What emotion do you most hope to inspire in your readers?

It’s very hard to empathise with people when they are anonymous, or when there are so many in desperate need that the problem seems too great to solve. So I hope that, in the characters of both Edie and Fatima, I’ve given readers women they can believe in and dilemmas they can understand, namely, Edie’s increasingly fragile mental health and Fatima’s horrific suffering on her terrible journey.

We know you’re a teacher – how did your experiences in the classroom affect this story?

I retrained as a teacher only a few years ago and the school that I was first placed in has a large refugee/migrant/asylum seeker intake. The nationalities of the pupils tracked the recent history of the world’s wars like strata in a rock: Somalian, Palestinian, Sri Lankan Tamil, Iraqi, Afghan and, most recently, Syrian. As the Syrian children started to arrive it was impossible to ignore how deeply traumatised they were. Most could not tell their story as they spoke no more than a few words of English but, over time, and with the help of other Arabic speaking students, more and more details began to emerge and the narratives were exactly as you might expect – villages bombed, family members killed, the loss of everything, desperate flight, refuge in another country – Egypt, for example – and finally arrival, somehow, in the UK. Can you imagine how hard it must be to go through such horrendous events and then to have to start again in a completely alien country and culture in which you have nothing, are nothing? I felt so sorry for the children and their families.

It’s also extremely worrying to think about the entire generation of Syrian children whose education has been disrupted or destroyed. As a teacher, I believe passionately in the power of education to change lives. Without it, it’s very hard to see how those young people will achieve their potential or build a better life, let alone how they will rebuild Syria when the time comes.

 

How do you go about writing? Do you know the entire plot before you sit down to write, or do you prefer to see where the writing takes you?

For my first book, Garden of Stars by Rose Alexander, I didn’t know the entire plot before I started and as a result it took me about five years to write! But with The Missing Twin I had the whole thing mapped out before I wrote the first word. It just all came flooding out one day – what would happen, when, to whom – and the finished book doesn’t differ much from that initial plan. This made the writing process much, much easier and more enjoyable, as well as quicker, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way now.

What is a typical day for you?

On a typical day during term time, my alarm goes off at 6am. I’m out of the house and off to work by 7am at the latest, having made sure my own three children are up and getting ready for their school day. I don’t generally get home much before 6pm and I’ll try to do two hours writing before eating supper and falling asleep, exhausted, by 10pm. My husband works from home these days and he is handling the cooking and the school run for our youngest daughter who is still at primary school, which is brilliant. I did it all more or less single-handedly for over 10 years so he’s happy to be redressing the balance now. I try to spend at least one full day at the weekend writing, doing odd hours here and there in between the children’s activities and other commitments. The problem I’m finding now, with three books published and more underway, is finding time to write and do all the social media that is necessary to make sure your name and your work is out there, getting noticed.

When you manage to find some spare time, what do you most enjoy doing?

I love to dress make and I’m trying to make all my own clothes these days. I’m so fed up with the poor quality of fabric and manufacture of so many garments, but more than that it’s about the pleasure I get from making something from scratch. It also forces me to slow down, as you have to carefully read and follow a pattern if the product is to come out right, not to mention the pleasure of browsing online fabric shops to select the perfect fabric, colour, pattern etc. Another favourite hobby is scuba diving; I’m a PADI advanced diver. Any moments left over will always find me buried in a book. I tried writing reviews but found I was absolutely rubbish at it and that it’s far harder than it looks. I’m full of admiration for all the fabulous book bloggers out there who do such an amazing job reviewing books and supporting authors.

We get a wonderful flavour of the Mediterranean in this story – do you enjoy travelling?

I think I got the travel bug as a teenager, partly from reading Graham Greene’s Travels with my Aunt and The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay. I was lucky that, in my misspent youth, I had the opportunity to live for a year in Israel and a year in Brazil, as well as travelling widely throughout South America. Diving holidays have involved trips to far-flung destinations such as Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia. I’ve also spent time in Kenya and Tanzania as well as many European countries, with the Med always being a favourite destination; I was blown away by the beauty of Turkey when I first visited many years ago. More recently, the tiny ex-Yugoslav country Montenegro has captured my heart – and played a starring role in two of my books – and I’m planning on visiting Albania very soon.

In my previous career as a TV director I worked for a while on the BBC’s Holiday programme, and that took me to places that I wouldn’t normally have chosen to visit, from Benidorm to Rabat. There’s so much to see in the world and so little time to see it all so I’m a confirmed armchair traveller, too; I love to read books set in different locations and to watch travel documentaries.

Can you tell us your 3 favourite books?

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Your 3 favourite films?

The Great Gatsby (the Robert Redford version)

Thelma and Louise 

The Deer Hunter

Your  favourite TV shows?

Anything with David Attenborough!

Location, Location, Location – I just love Phil and Kirsty and getting to see inside other people’s houses.

The Durrells – I first read My Family and Other Animals when I was a child and I fell in love with it then. I’ve adored seeing it brought to life again, plus the Corfu setting is similar to that of The Missing Twin.

 

The Missing Twin is out now.

Your August Classic Crime Picks

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The Detective club is BACK! The exhilarating series of crime fiction with all the whodunit feel of ‘the Golden Age’ of 1920s and 1930s classic crime. The Detective Club present a series of storylines set against glamorous backdrops with their original vintage covers. With a mixed set of tragedies and subtle romances, these books are known for their surprising endings and solutions that the reader won’t see coming! In the words of the master Bernard Capes: ‘a successful crime [is] but a crime that does not appear to be a crime at all.’

This August, our monthly pick is none other than E.C Bentley’s Philip Trent series – three mysterious crime classics. Beginning with Trent’s Last Case, which Agatha Christie called one of the best detective stories ever written, Bentley introduces us to Philip Trent – the all-too-human detective. Trent is intent on finding out the truth, even if the criminal sometimes escapes…

 

 

Trent’s Last Case:

In Bentley’s first of the series, Philip Trent is the all-too-human detective that not only falls in love with the chief suspect but reaches a brilliant conclusion that is totally wrong. When millionaire American financier Sigsbee Manderson is murdered on holiday in England, Trent is sent to investigate. With witty inspector Murth by his side, they both seek to probe deeper into the mystery – whilst a series of twists and turns ensure that the solution is constantly out of reach.

 

 

 

Trent’s Own Case:

The second novel from this celebrated author introduces Philip Trent’s very own case.  James Randolph is murdered early one evening and his body found a few hours later. His safe has been ransacked and discarded wrapping paper litters his bedroom floor.  Whether it be by chance or design, Trent was the last person, other than the murderer, to see Randolph alive. When a long-time friend confesses his guilt, Trent, doubting the confession, becomes intent on finding the truth.

 

 

Trent Intervenes:

Here, Philip Trent, the unshakable artist, journalist and urbane unraveller of highly problematic crimes, appears in twelve tales of misadventure. The crimes he investigates range from fraud and embezzlement to criminal assault and murder yet they all succumb to his adept methods… even if the criminal sometimes escapes.  Now is your chance to get lost in the criminal world with Philip Trent in short story form.

 

Get the Philip Trent series now!

 

 

 

Exclusive extract of The Forgotten Dead by Tove Alsterdal

Category: Extract

Can’t wait to read The Forgotten Dead by Tove Alsterdal? Neither can we! Read on for a sneak preview:

Please let this be a nightmare, thought Terese Wallner when she awoke, lying on the beach. Let me wake up again, but for real this time, and in my own bed.

Slowly she sat up, a terrible pounding inside her skull. The sea was in motion, darkly surging towards her. A flock of slumbering gulls stood in a pool left by the receding tide. Otherwise the shore was deserted.

She closed her eyes, then opened them again, trying to comprehend what had happened. There was nothing around her, that much was true. He was gone.

Her white capri trousers were filthy, and the sequinned camisole and cardigan offered no protection from the cold. The wind cut right through them. Her mouth was as dry as a desert and filled with sand. She spat, cleared her throat, and tried to rub away the sand with her fingers, but it had settled under her tongue and seeped way down her throat. She would need a giant bottle of water, at the very least, to rinse it all away. But where was her purse?

Terese dug her hands into the sand around her. It was hard to see in the dim light. A dark-greyish dusk intermit­tently pierced by flashes that hurt her eyes, coming from the lighthouse beam. She knew it was out there on an island. Isla de las Palomas, island of the doves. Off limits to tour­ists. A military area. Reached by a causeway, but with signs posted at the gates. The waves slammed against the rocks out there, spraying high into the air.

Then she caught sight of her purse, and her heart leaped. It was lying half-buried in the sand, less than a metre from the dent where her head had lain. She grabbed it. Everything was still inside: her wallet and hotel room key, her mobile and make-up bag, even her good-luck charm, which was a tiny frog on a keychain. And the bottle of water, thank God. She always carried water with her when she went out, since the tap water tasted so terrible in Spain. There was still a little left in the bottle. First she rinsed her mouth and spat out the water. Then she drank the rest of it, wishing there was much more. She picked up her wallet and opened it, her heart racing. The banknotes were gone. She’d had almost a hundred euros when she’d gone out for the evening. She couldn’t possibly have spent that much on drinks. What about her passport? She rummaged through her bag, but it wasn’t there. Terese was positive she’d brought her pass­port, as she always did, even though everyone said it wasn’t necessary.

Her shoes were also gone. She stared at her feet. They were suntanned, but white around the edges, with sand clinging between her toes. She looked all around, but the ballet flats she’d worn were nowhere to be seen. When had she taken them off? Before or after? She rubbed the palms of her hands against her forehead to stop the uproar inside.

I need to think clearly. I need to remember.

Had she been barefoot as she ran across the sand with him holding her hand, urging her down towards the sea, both of them laughing loudly into the wind, wondering if their laughter would be blown away?

She pictured his tousled, sun-bleached hair, his eyes gleaming as he looked at her. His arms were hard and sinewy, muscles taut from working out. His shirt fluttered open so she could see his brown abdomen, not a scrap of fat anywhere. She couldn’t believe she was the one he’d taken by the hand as they closed up the Blue Heaven Bar. He’d whispered in her ear that they should move on to someplace else. ‘You can’t go home yet,’ he’d said. ‘Not when I’ve just found you.’

Terese ran her hand lightly over the sand next to her. It was cold. Was there a slight indentation, an impression that his body had left behind, a trace of warmth? But that might simply be her imagination, because the wind blew more steadily in Tarifa than anywhere else on earth, wiping away all tracks in an instant.

No one needs to know what happened, she thought. Nothing did happen. Not if I don’t tell anyone.

The whole beach swayed as she stood up. She leaned forward with her hands on her knees and stayed like that until things stopped moving, swallowing over and over to keep herself from throwing up and having to smell everything that spewed out of her. She couldn’t bear to be so disgusting. That was why she staggered down to the water. It wasn’t far, maybe twenty metres.

She moved slowly, setting her feet down carefully, so as not to step on anything unpleasant. The sand felt cold under her feet, and she was surprised when the first wave reached her. The water was almost lukewarm and silky smooth. She waded out a few steps to meet the next wave. When it broke, she caught the foamy water in her hands and splashed it over her face. It was refreshing and made her think a little more clearly.

To her left a low, black ridge rose from the sea, a jetty of large rocks that extended at least ten metres out into the water. It looked like a big prehistoric animal resting on the shoreline, the spine of a slumbering brontosaurus. She waded towards it, thinking that she would climb up and sit on the rocks at the very end. Let the sea wash over her wrists for a while. That usually helped against nausea. If she did throw up, the vomit would vanish into the water in seconds and be forgotten.

The water surged over her ankles. The wind from the sea picked up force. She’d thought the jetty would be hard and sharp, but when she set her foot on the first rock to clamber up, it felt soft and slippery and slid away.

She shrieked and fell forwards onto the rocks, striking her shoulder. She hauled herself up onto the jetty, quickly drawing her feet out of the water. Then she leaned forward and peered down. She had to find out what sort of revolting fish she’d stepped on.

The waves receded and the sea prepared to send in the next onslaught. Terese stared, the roaring sound growing inside her head.

It wasn’t a fish. A hand was sticking up out of the water, attached to an arm below the surface. For a long moment she stared at the place where the arm transitioned into a shoulder and then became an entire body. A person was lying there, wedged between the rocks. A black person.

She whimpered when she realized that was where she’d placed her foot. She’d stepped on a corpse. On the chest or stomach. She didn’t want to know where. She sobbed and stammered and slid backwards up onto the ridge, scraping her soles hard against the rough surface, trying to get rid of that soft and slippery feeling on the bottom of her foot.

But she couldn’t resist taking another look. It was a man lying down there. That much she could clearly see. His skin was black and shiny with water. Like a fish, an eel, some­thing slimy that lived in the sea. He was naked. She thought she could make out an animal creeping along his shoulder, and against her better judgement, she leaned forward. The next wave struck the rocks and the shore, spraying up into her face and then receded, the water foaming and roiling around the body. It looked as if it were moving. For an instant she thought the black man would rise up, grab hold of her ankle, and pull her down into the water. What if he was alive?

At that moment the first traces of morning light appeared beyond the mountains, and the colour of the sea changed to green. She was looking directly into the face of the dead man. His eyes were closed, but his mouth was wide open, as if uttering an inaudible drowned scream, his teeth gleaming white and swaying under the water.

Dear God in heaven, thought Terese. Papa, please help me. I’m all alone here.

Then her stomach heaved, and she pressed her hand to her mouth as she made her way across the rocks and tumbled down the other side. She was still throwing up as she ran, staggering, away from the scene.

Intrigued? The Forgotten Dead will be out in paperback on 10th August. Pre-order your copy now!