Epeolatry Book Review: Music Macabre


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Title: Music Macabre (A Phineas Fox Mystery)
Author: Sarah Rayne
Genre: Historical Thriller
Publisher: Severn House Publishers Ld.
Release Date: 30 August 2019

Synopsis: Researching a biography of the composer Franz Liszt, Phineas Fox uncovers evidence of a brutal murder – and finds his own life in danger.

Music researcher Phineas Fox has been enjoying his latest commission, gathering background material for a biography of Franz Liszt. But although he has – as anticipated – uncovered plenty of scandal in the 19th century composer’s past, matters take a decidedly unexpected turn when his investigations lead to Linklighters, a newly-opened Soho restaurant built on the site of an old Victorian music hall, and unearth evidence of a possible murder involving the notorious music hall performer known as Scaramel.

Just what was Liszt’s connection to Scaramel … and, through her, to the infamous Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper? As he delves further, Phin’s enquiries uncover clues to a fascinating and extraordinary story – and plunge his own life into jeopardy.

‘Liszten for the Killer’

I have been reading Sarah Rayne’s thrillers for years and always await her next one with baited breath then devour it one gulp. This is the fourth novel in the series, starring music researcher and academic Phineas Fox, his girlfriend Arabella  in a more peripheral role than previously) and best mate, the hapless Toby.

This time Fox is researching a book about the composer Franz Liszt and it’s a piece of his strange eerie music which provides the lead in in to the mystery. Rayne often uses this motif in her stories. How did Liszt know a Cockney music hall performer, the luscious but scandalous Scaramel? Is she linked in some way to Jack the Ripper, who terrorised Whitechapel in 1888? And does the newly refurbished theatre café Linklighters, with its eccentric owners Loretta and Roland, hide deadly secrets both past and present?
Well you can probably guess the answers to these questions but this review doesn’t want to give away any spoilers.

As in many of her books Rayne uses mirroring time lines – present day and 1880’s London- switching smoothly between the two, bringing each set of characters (now and historic) to vibrant life. Linklighters and the horrible underground sluice gate which lies below the restaurant is the physical doorway to the past and as usual Rayne uses old letters, playbills, sketches (by a young artist known only as ‘Link’), programmes, and newspaper reports as a series of informational signposts for us and Phineas Fox to follow. The way she overlays all this is very well done. 

The scenes set in the sewers were dark scary and very unpleasant. Rayne has done some research on the ‘ghost rivers’ which proliferate beneath London. She is very adept to at depicting the smells, sights and sounds of Victorian London. The story hops over to Paris for a brief digression too 

(both in the past and present day).         

Jack the Ripper hovers over the narrative, a shadowy figure who haunts Scaramel and her feisty maid, Daisy) and Rayne’s fictional solution to why Jack stopped killing is interesting, possible and thought provoking.

There are some violent scenes depicted and if you like your crime cozy with a ‘z’ this may not be for you. 

I would say that this time Fox and Arabella are overshadowed as characters by Loretta (the current black widow style owner of Linklighters) and Scaramel the Victorian songstress, who leapt off the page for me. If you’re looking for loads about Liszt and his music this isn’t the right book for you. His role is peripheral.

A dark, elegantly plotted historical thriller romp through Victorian London and current day Soho.

Bonus Content

Sarah Rayne has kindly given us an insight into the research which allowed her to bring her characters to life so vividly:

‘Taking on the man who is probably the best-known serial killer ever – presenting an aspect of him that nobody had so far thought of – was a slightly daunting prospect.  Linking Jack the Ripper, via a music hall performer, with the eminent composer, Franz Liszt, was more than daunting – it was formidable.

There were, though, lighter sides to the research.  It appears that Liszt, early on, almost led the life of a modern-day rock star, mobbed and adored, his fans fighting to secure scraps of his garments, and fainting in the aisles at his concerts.  

One anecdote in particular stood out for me.  During a youthful affair with the infamous 19th century night-club dancer, Lola Montez, Liszt found himself forced to sneak out of a Constantinople hotel bedroom in the early morning while she was still asleep, since, he said, he ‘feared her importunities were starting to damage his sanity, his constitution, and his virility’.

La Montez, on discovering her lover’s absence, gave way to extravagant fury and smashed up the entire room.  Mirrors were angrily splintered, and what was delicately referred to by the hotel staff as ‘bedroom china’ was hurled out of windows.    

It’s these odd snippets that bring the past vividly to life – although it should perhaps be added that Liszt’s later years were quieter and more seemly, much of his time being spent in a monastery near Rome, where he composed many religious and liturgical works.

It wasn’t just the people that came colourfully to life – it was the places, too.  At various parts in Music Macabre, characters become trapped, lost, and generally menaced in the remains of one of the lost London rivers that lies beneath Linklighters, the fictional music hall.  

Working out this section of the plot, it turned out that there were far more of these ‘ghost rivers’ than I had realized – from the Westbourne to the Fleet, from the Black Ditch to Earl’s Sluice, to Pudding Mill River and Carbuncle Ditch and Mutton Brook. Their names reflected their origins – some of which were ancient – and there was no discrimination as to where they wended their way.  For the purposes of the plot, the dried-out Cock and Pye Ditch fitted the bill beautifully. It once circled an area of St Giles – now more generally known as Seven Dials – which meant that Linklighters could be sited to be directly over it.

There was, though, a touch of dark humour in the fact that the old Tyburn was – and still is – directly beneath Buckingham Palace.  As one character in Music Macabre observes, it’s tempting to imagine times when, if there was an overflow, royalty might have had to wade through sewage, complete with gumboots and mops and buckets, to help with slopping out.’

I’d rate this 4/5 stars and yes would recommend it especially if you enjoy history/mystery with some horror. Great title too.

Music Macabre is available on amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories


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Title: Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories
Author: Deborah Sheldon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: IFWG Publishing Australia
Release Date: 18 November 2019


Brutal. Compelling. Sinister.

From wheat farms, roadhouses, caravan parks and beaches to quiet suburban streets and inner-city apartments, award-winning author Deborah Sheldon tells distinctly Australian stories about violence, loss, betrayal and revenge.

Figments and Fragments includes three new stories written especially for the collection.

“He was wearing a balaclava, but you didn’t have to see his face to know he was dead.”

This is the latest collection from Australian award winning author Deborah Sheldon. There are about 35 short stories here including some flash fiction (i.e. pieces under 1000 words). Some of the short stories have been published elsewhere, revealing an impressive range of magazines and anthologies in Deborah Sheldon’s CV but there are three new stories written just for this collection as well.

I first came to a Deborah Sheldon novel when I read and reviewed (for the Horror Tree site) her bio-horror novella Thylacines which I hugely enjoyed and so I became a fan of her fiction. 

It is always an enjoyable experience to venture into her fictional worlds, conjured up so vividly and so succinctly in these shorter pieces.

These are dark tales, which step into the underbelly of society and the fringes where folk scurry around to make a buck. They are set in hospitals, the outback, (the powerful punch to the gut opening story Basket Trap), on wheat farms, on roads in cars, in caravan parks (the bitter sweet The Sequinned Shirt where the past is a trap and the present is pretty grim too), in roadhouses, in urban offices (the clever twisting Cash Cow where comeuppance is brutal and final) and on the beach. 

Deborah Sheldon is adept at drawing you in, writing fast, furious dialogue, making you smell and taste the landscape and the characters’ sweat, taking you on a journey with the lost, the displaced, the broken, the runaways, the misfits and the mad, who populate the pages. Many of her characters are in transition, running away from their dangerous past.

I did say the tone was dark. 

This is not always the most comfortable of reads, be prepared to be challenged even disturbed by some of the narratives. There is violence and not many happy endings to be found, though there is some delicious dark humour to be savoured.

But the characters leap off the pages, real, flesh and blood, smoky and smokin’ hot sometimes. You might not want to meet up with them but in these stories you can hang out and still be safe.

My personal favourites – tough call but – the opener Basket Trap, took my breath away; it’s about one woman’s fight for survival in the outback in brutal circumstances, with whole back stories evoked in one sentence. Man with the Suitcase (reminiscent to me, of Donald E Westlake, author of The Hot Rock) in tone, and is a smartly written, slick caper story which reads like a mini movie and pays rereading for its twists and turns and White Powder set around an air plane journey, simply because it was funny and made me laugh.

Definitely worth buying and dipping into.

Bonus Content!

Deborah Sheldon shares a little of her thoughts behind the creation of the collection.

‘I chose the title Figments and Fragments because the collection largely comprises stories based on figments of my imagination or memory fragments.

This is my go-to technique for coming up with story ideas: allowing something to germinate. Something small. An image from a bad dream, perhaps, or a snippet from a painful event in my past. A strong, disquieting emotion that won’t ease up. An overheard conversation. I hold onto the figment or fragment and allow my subconscious to work on it for a while. More often than not, a story begins to form.

I think writers are, by definition, troubled souls! Fiction is about conflict and this is true for every genre, even upbeat ones such as romance. Like many writers, I’m drawn to the exploration of what it means to be human. I just explore it from the “glass half-empty” perspective.

Emotion is the universal human experience. It’s the common language we share, regardless of sex, age, nationality, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic status or any other kind of identification label. Writers strive to put emotion into words. As readers, that’s what we look for in fiction; the shared experience of emotion, the mutual understanding, the reassurance that we’re all in this thing together.

Dark fiction digs beneath the social façades, the pleasantries, the polite smiles. I believe that horror, crime and noir are the most authentic genres of all.’

5/5 stars

Epeolatry Book Review: Contrition


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Title: Contrition
Author: Deborah Sheldon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: IFWG Publishing Australia
Release Date: 3 September 2018

In her late teens, Meredith Berg-Olsen had all the makings of a runway model. Now in her late forties, after everything she had been through – including horrors that John could only guess at – she looked bloodless instead of pale, skeletal instead of slender, more dead than alive.
John Penrose has two secrets. One is the flatmate he keeps hidden from the world: his high-school sweetheart, Meredith. His other secret is the reason he feels compelled to look after her.
Contrition is a horror story with noir undertones and an atmosphere of mounting dread.

The nurses burst into Meredith’s room….What do you reckon they saw?…..Bite marks.

This is the latest horror/thriller from Australian writer Deborah Sheldon, published on 3 September 2018 from IFWG Publishing and is available on amazon to purchase. Sheldon has created a seemingly ordinary Mr Average, John Penrose, as her protagonist, however it becomes clear very quickly (and at 240 pages there is no extra fat on the bone in this tale) he lives a not so ordinary life. He might have a boring dead end job, rent in the suburbs, no friends and no social life and drink too much beer, but he has an extraordinary secret lodging with him. Both literally sharing his rental home and sharing his back story, set 30 years previously, which still casts long toxic shadows into the present day.

The unravelling of the past when the young, shy college lad John Penrose meets and becomes entwined in the lives of the twins Lyle and Meredith Berg-Olsen, both of whom he loves in different ways but with deadly consequences, is slotted in beside the current day narrative describing John’s tedious existence – moving from rental house to rental house, whenever issues arise with Meredith and her behaviour.

John still loves his Merry, he still sees her with the eyes of his first teenage love, but to us the reader, it is apparent Meredith is not the girl she once was and John is blinded by devotion. Sheldon cleverly gives us clues and hints, but avoids the full reveal about what ails Meredith, until the climax, which is exciting and well constructed and takes an unexpected turn in the last few pages.

A neighbour, a single mother, Donna with a daughter in tow, takes a shine to John, and they begin a sweet gentle courtship but in the neighbourhood animals keep going missing, Meredith never goes out of the house in daylight hours, a ‘witch’ is seen outside Donna’ s windows and John learns new facts about his past from an old school mate now working for a circus performing in town. The mundanities of life are being undermined.

 John has a truly unnerving night time encounter with Meredith’s homeless friend, Sebastian, which has John racing for his life through the suburb’s back gardens. Meanwhile at home the tension mounts. Long before John asks the killer questions, we the reader are suspicious – of Meredith and her hobby boxes and of what did happen that summer day with Lyle down by the river, for which John has carried a lifetime of ‘Contrition’ and provides the motivations for all that he does thereafter.

This is a pacy, exciting read with strong horror content and some gruesome scenes which are well written but not for the faint hearted reader. If you don’t like shocks and scares this is not for you. There are noir currents at play here too, John Penrose is very much a man trapped by his femme fatale and one fateful act carried out one long ago summer’s day, which changed his life and from which he cannot get out from under. The guy just never catches a break. You’re hoping he will turn things around, but just like for Elisha Cook, Jnr in all those noir B movies of the 1940’s, you know deep down, it’s not going to happen.

Contrition is for sale at Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Auguries


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Title: The Auguries

Author: F.G. Cottam

Genre: Occult Horror

Publisher: Severn House Digital

Release Date: 1 April 2019

Synopsis: An unexpected lunar eclipse. A poisonous fog that cripples the capital. Statues that weep blood.

As the catalogue of calamities mount, fear and paranoia provoke rumours of terrorist attacks. But from whom?

History professor Juliet Harrington is an authority on sixteenth-century mysticism and a long-time believer in the existence of the Almanac of Forbidden Wisdom, a potent spell-book legend insists was compiled in that period by a cabal of powerful occultists. Its magic is summoned though only at disastrous cost, signaled by The Auguries. Juliet is convinced that the recent plague of disasters means someone reckless is using the book – and she has little time left to stop them.

“Dawn Jackson frowned, (It’s) ‘The Auguries’, she said . . . It’s like fallout, a … contagion. It’s a phenomenon they called ‘the unrestful dead.’

I have read all of F.G. Cottam’s book – so I am a fan of his dark horror with its accompanying chills and creepy settings ranging from a haunted house to a haunted boat. His trilogy, The Colony, is in my opinion a peak piece of writing for Cottam and when I read the first Colony novel I could almost believe it was a true story with a bit of faction thrown in – it was grippingly realistic and set on an isolated island. I think claustrophobic settings might be part of the Cottam charm; when the walls close in you know there’s nowhere to go..
This latest novel from him is, I felt, rather different in scope, tone and even style. In The Auguries the whole of London is showing signs of entering the End Times :- statues weep blood, a poisonous fog descends, a plane falls from the sky, the city floods and the infrastructure breaks down with bloated bodies floating in the streets and the accompanying looting (only Crouch End remains barely touched- there is a reason for that). However of these staggeringly devastating events are somewhat skimmed over as though they are a list to get through, but then the entire novel is a compact 208 pages, and Cottam has a lot to fit in and he does set a terrific galloping pace. So on the plus side this story is speedily told, fun, action packed and cracks along. You could read it in one or two sittings.
However the choice of a teenager, Dawn Jackson, (harbinger of a New Dawn perhaps?)as the main antagonist who holds the ‘Almanac of Forbidden Wisdom’ (inherited from her looter great grandfather) doesn’t work for me. She may/may not be autistic (a comment which is repeated to lesser effect each time throughout the book) but as she ignites the ancient spells to gain her own desires – she seems more of a psychopath than anything else and a not very believable one at that. Perhaps it’s an attempt to attract the Y.A. horror market?
The creepy scenes in her basement where Dawn imprisons what was once her rather nice brother, Peter, one of the most likeable characters, work very well indeed. They are miniature gems of Cottam writing at his best and her weird reanimated grandfather sent chills through me; but the good guy adults – a rather two dimensional female Professor and her academic male colleague (with military training which comes in handy) chase around Europe as though in a speeded up caper movie, (if it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium) following the clues to the sixteenth century Almanac and its origins and creators. There is much jumping back in time and changes of points of view. The sixteenth century magical almanac chapters are interesting enough but there is too much detail.
This leaping around is somewhat disjointing and there is a lot of it for a 200 page book; so there is not much chance to settle into one point of view or time period.
I would say this is for Cottam die hards and if you knew to his oeuvre, start with an earlier one.

The Auguries can be found on Amazon:


The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with Sarah Rayne

Alyson- Hi Sarah and welcome to the Horror Tree. Growing up, what books did you read and love?


Sarah- A very wide range of books.  Enid Blyton’s school stories were always a huge favourite.  I do know they were unbelievably classist, of course, but I did love them, and there does seem to be an echo of them in today’s young adults reading the Harry Potter books – boarding schools and all that goes with them, although Enid Blyton certainly didn’t dabble in magic.

I also remember plundering my mother’s own store of school stories – Angela Brazil mostly, and being fascinated by the glimpses into that far-off world.

And I absolutely loved Pamela Brown’s Blue Door Theatre books – I still have the entire set.

In my teens I was fascinated by Dennis Wheatley’s black magic books as well – I can still remember devouring and being terrified by The Satanist and, of course, his classic story, The Devil Rides Out.



Alyson – Have you always been a writer? When did you start to think of yourself as one? Was there a definite turning point? Have you pursued other jobs along the way?


Sarah- I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write.  At school, I wrote plays for the Lower Fourth to perform – it was a convent school, and the nuns were always very enthusiastic about encouraging that kind of thing.

As for jobs – I had a wide variety, from newspapers, to the legal profession, and property selling.  But I used to write in my spare time.  In fact, for years I lived a kind of double life, because when most people were heading for the TV or a wine bar after a day’s work, I was pounding an elderly typewriter on the end of the dining table with Mozart on the stereo.  I would turn up at the office each morning, pink-eyed from lack of sleep, giving rise to a belief that whatever I did in my spare time, it might be somewhat colourful.



Alyson- How did you get your first novel accepted and published? How did you deal with the rejections which are so much a part of a writer’s life?


Sarah -It took four years of writing and of submitting work to various publishers.  I finally had a series of light historical mysteries accepted by a publisher who is now (sadly) no longer in existence.  At the end of that time, I acquired an agent.  Writers do need one or two bits of luck along the way and being taken on by my agent was certainly a massive piece of luck for me. She’s been an unfailing support and a very good friend.

As for rejections – they have to be accepted and any advice that might be dished out has to be taken on board.  You just have to keep believing you can get there.



Alyson- Do you have a writing routine? Or a dedicated space? Pen or pc or iPhone? At home or on the go? Music playing or complete silence? Coffee or tea?


Sarah- Desk and computer – sometimes the laptop from a prone position on the sofa, but that’s usually late at night, or maybe if I’m working on editorial re-writes.  Mugs of tea throughout the day.

I usually work from around 8.30 am to lunchtime – which can be anything from 12 o’clock if work’s going badly, to half-past two if it’s going well.  Then a couple of hours’ break in the afternoon, and back to the desk between around 4.30 and 6.30.

As for where I work – after the eventual transition from working by day and writing by night to becoming a full-time novelist – I initially thought I might adapt the attic for a study. The idea was to emulate the romantic 18th century poets starving in garrets, and I was all set to buy a skull as a paperweight when it was pointed out that at its highest point the attic was only four and a half feet deep.  That meant I would have had to work lying down or scrunched into one of those peculiar and painful positions like medieval torture victims locked in cages.

So, in the end I turned the corner of a bedroom into a study.  My desk faces a framed photograph of a Victorian actor-manager called Sir John Martin Harvey – one of those soulful young men with black hair that needs cutting and an alluring line in dishevelled Edwardian evening dress.  (Think Aiden Turner after a night on the tiles).  In the photo, Sir John is portraying the all-time romantic anti-hero, Sydney Carton, in his own stage version of A Tale of Two Cities.

Mozart is usually on the stereo, or Classic FM, while I work.

From the desk, if I look to my left there’s a view of trees and fields through the window, and around dusk an owl emerges from the foliage of a large oak, surveys its realm in lordly fashion for a few moments, then silently glides across the sky.  Lovely.



Alyson – How long does each novel take to research and write? (e.g. your latest ‘Song of the Damned’) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Song-Damned-Phineas-Fox-Mystery/dp/0727888145/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1536230034&sr=8-1&keywords=sarah+rayne+song+of+the+damned

Sarah – On average about a year – some of the time is taken up with research, which I tend to do as I go along.  Some, of course, is taken up with staring in indignant frustration at the blank screen, vainly trying to think what happens next.



Alyson – How much do your interests – history, music, theatre and old houses – shape and influence your writing?


Sarah – A great deal, I think.  The theatre interest probably filtered through from my father, who was a comedy actor in the 1920s and 1930s, and in ENSA during WWII.  He wrote a good deal of his own material.  Even in later life he maintained a tenuous connection with the theatre – giving single performances at clubs and for charity organisations.  When, as a starry-eyed teenager, I announced I wanted to go on the stage, he guided me towards the amateur theatre instead.  I can see now he didn’t want me to have to face the hardships and uncertainties of an actor’s life, but he did it very subtly and tactfully and I did have a very enjoyable time acting and directing plays.

My brother was a music researcher – he was immensely knowledgeable, and in fact there’s a section of a University Library in Cork which now houses his CD collection and has a dedication to him.

My mother loved houses – all houses.  When I was very small we used to take walks together, and she would say we would pick out the houses we liked best along the way and think what kind of people might live in them.  She, too, wrote – she never attempted to get anything published and she wrote for the pleasure of doing so, in the main.  She certainly completed her memoirs and several novels and was still writing almost up to her death at the age of 91.

So most of the influences for my work were all there within my family from the start.



Alyson- Music is very important in your novels. It’s often crucial to the whole plot. How do you choose the pieces of music you write about? Do they reflect your personal favourites or are they chosen for the purposes of the plot?


Sarah -If the plot calls for a certain type of music, I look for something that will fit.  If I can’t find anything, I create a fictional piece of music.  In the Bell Tower, (Book 6 of the Haunted House series), I discovered the eerie and hauntingly beautiful death song called The Unquiet Grave, sometimes known as How Cold the Wind Doth Blow. It’s believed to date to around 1400, but, incredibly, it’s survived to the present day.  Singers including Joan Baez, the Dubliners and Steeleye Span have recorded it, and at the other end of the scale several arrangements of it have been made by the great romantic composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams.  The first time I heard it I found it immensely moving, but I didn’t want to use such a well-known piece outright.  I did, though, base Thaisa’s Song on it – which is at heart of The Bell Tower, and I’ve paid tribute to The Unquiet Grave in the book.

A few years before that, writing What Lies Beneath I discovered an eighteenth-century opera called The Deserted Village, (composed c.1880) and written about and around Oliver Goldsmith’s poem of the same name (first published in 1770).  The plot of the book centres on an abandoned village with all its secrets and its strange tragedies, and the opera chimed so well with the story that I ended in altering my original structure to make more use of the music.



Alyson -You have written a series of thrillers (six) starring Nell West/Michael Flint and then moved on to introduce your current protagonist, music researcher Phineas Fox, in three books. How did you create these regular characters? Do you plan ahead as to how many books each series will have? Or is it more spontaneous? Will you go back to write another West/Flint story?


Sarah- When I wrote the first of the Nell West/Michael Flint books I didn’t know it was going to be a series.  I had always written stand-alones, and I thought I would continue to do so.  I was convinced that having written an emotional, emotive closing scene, there was nowhere else for the main characters to go.  Could you keep them happily together, letting cosy domesticity into the plots, so that they solved murders while shopping or washing up, or disinterred ancient secrets in between choosing new bedroom curtains and worrying about the central heating boiler?  Or should you scrub the sunset finale altogether, and let them go along on their own, book by book, from one love affair to the next?  Difficult.

But when I finished Property of a Lady, I saw that my Oxford don, Michael Flint, couldn’t possibly be banished to the obscurity of that stand-alone title.  Having discovered ghosts – having also discovered a fellow ghost-hunter in Nell West – he was keen, in his own understated way, to embark on more exploits.  I was keen, as well, to explore the sometimes difficult, but gradually developing, relationship between the two characters.  So what had originally been a stand-alone ended up as a series of six – at least, it’s six so far, because I do hope there are going to be more!  Michael and Nell haven’t retired, they’ve just been put on the back burner for a while, and there are certainly more spooks for them to investigate.

The Phineas Fox series, on the other hand, was definitely conceived with the idea of it being a series.  I have no idea how many books will result, though.



Alyson- You’ve written under at least two pen names that I am aware of- Frances Gordon is one I remember when I was collecting and reading your entire back catalogue! How did the use of pen names come about? Why the change to Sarah Rayne?


Sarah -It’s simply because I switched genres.  Publishers like to pigeon-hole writers.  I had written mostly contemporary horror and some fantasy, and I was embarking on psychological thriller territory.  So, a different name for a different kind of book.



Alyson- In the last couple of years most of your back catalogue has been reissued in digital format. How did this happen and was it a surprise after so many years had passed since you’d written them? e.g. The Wolfking quartet.

Sarah- Yes, it was a great surprise I don’t write in the same way now, but it’s so good to have that back list in circulation again, and the Wolfking fantasies especially were such fun to write.  In fantasy, the rules are different – sometimes easier.  For instance, if you write yourself into a corner, you can escape by creating a spell – newly-woven or disinterred from a cobwebbed crypt, or possibly stolen from a sorcerer.  And you can have exotic punishments.  In fantasy, it isn’t a question of turning up at Court No 3 and being sentenced to two years in the nick, or even an afternoon in the stocks.  In fantasy, people can be exiled from kingdoms.  They can be turned to stone or drowned in lakes of blood or sacrificed in a ritual specially written for the occasion.

As for the contemporary horror books, they were immensely satisfying to write.  I loved investigating the astonishingly macabre life of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory for Blood Ritual, and then creating the ‘Black Chant’ for The Devil’s Piper.


Alyson- Do you have a favourite out of all your thrillers? (For me it’s ‘Ghost Song’, partly because I love the theatre background). https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghost-Song-condemned-London-deadly-ebook/dp/B002RI99UK/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8


Sarah -I’d usually say my favourite is the one I’m writing at the time of the question.  But I will admit that I too have a definite soft spot for Ghost Song, partly for the theatre settings, but also because it touches my father’s era in the music halls.  I did, in fact, name a character for him – his stage name was Frank Douglas, and the Frank Douglas of the book is very like him – light-hearted and insouciant, and capable of finding humour in almost any situation.



Alyson- Do you watch films? Are you influenced by any movies in particular?


Sarah- I have a great weakness for old black and white films – usually, although not exclusively, British ones.  I love the old Ealing comedies – and films such as The Ghost Train with Arthur Askey.  Also, any of the Will Hay movies.

When I was about eleven years old, one rainy Saturday afternoon there was nothing much to do, but the Radio Times was advertising an old film from the 1940s.  Those were the mystical days when there was only one TV channel.  I thought, vaguely, that it would be boring, with people talking in impossibly clipped accents and ladies with corrugated hair.  But I curled up in a chair to watch it anyway.  (There may have been tea and toasted crumpets with butter halfway through viewing, which would have added to the cosy eeriness).  The film enchanted and mesmerised me.  It was never televised again, but I never forgot it.  Some people will know it as The Dream of Olwen, and it was also titled While I Live.  It’s based on a play called This Same Garden by Robert Bell, and the plot centres on a girl coming into a clifftop house, not knowing who or what she is, sitting down at the piano and playing an unpublished piece of music that had been composed twenty years earlier, by a girl long since dead.  For me that film ticked all the boxes – eerie music, secrets from the past, and, of course, a faint whiff of the supernatural.  While working out the plot for the book that was to become The Bell Tower, that long-ago rainy afternoon came back to me vividly.  Music – specifically a lost, sinister piece of music – and a wild clifftop setting.  Some of those elements certainly got into my plot.

Two or three years ago, While I Live was in fact released on DVD.  I’ve watched it several times, and it still works the magic for me.



Alyson – How involved are you with social media? Do you do book tours or library visits or speak at book festivals?


Sarah- Moderately involved.  I’m on Facebook and I have a Facebook author page, at https://www.facebook.com/SarahRayneAuthor

There are also some YouTube clips which were made a few years ago.  www.youtube.com/user/SarahRayneAuthor


I’m happy to speak at libraries or book clubs, etc, if I’m asked, although I don’t particularly seek that out.



Alyson- What would be your top tips for aspiring writers?


Sarah- Write.  Just keep writing and keep submitting work to agents and editors and keep looking ahead to the goal of being published.

If a rejection contains advice or suggestions, try to take that on board, because agents and editors do know what they’re talking about, and they’ll often take trouble with a writer they see as a potential author.



Alyson -What are you currently working on? Do you still have unfulfilled writing ambitions?


Sarah- It’s Book 4 of the Phineas Fox series at the moment – scheduled for publication around next August, I think.  I’m liking it very much – I’m finding out all kinds of things about Phin that I hadn’t previously known!  No title yet, because I find titles harder to think of than plots.  Fortunately my editor has a great knack for coming up with a good title.


One day I would like to write a massive theatre saga – on the lines of Clemence Dane’s extraordinary book, Broome Stages.

That’s a book I probably read about once every four years. I discovered it about thirty years ago and lost an entire four-day bank holiday reading it.

In a very general way it’s a family saga, but it’s like no family saga I’ve ever read, before or since. It spans 1715 to 1930 and covers seven generations of a theatrical family. The story begins with travelling players in tavern courtyards and traces the family’s rise – through the Victorian actor managers, those lovely fruity characters who re-wrote Shakespeare to suit themselves – and on into the early years of the 20th century, with the onset of the early movies. It’s about the changing world of the theatre, but it’s also about the Broomes themselves – their loves and hates, and feuds and plots.  It’s about their fortunes in the theatre world – the buying of theatres, the building of a theatrical dynasty. A wonderful book, exquisitely written.



Alyson – Where can readers follow you online?


Sarah- My Author Page on Facebook is probably the best way.  That’s at https://www.facebook.com/SarahRayneAuthor

I try to put on it brief details about new books and other snippets of information that might interest readers.

I also have a blog – it’s a bit erratic, but I try to post articles on the background to the writing of each book, or odd things about writing/reading/publishing that, again, I hope might be of interest to people. https://sarahrayneblog.wordpress.com/

And my website is at  www.sarahrayne.co.uk



Alyson -Your first novel was published in 1982. Your books have been published in the US and elsewhere and translated into several languages. You’ve had a very successful career lasting over 3 decades- is this something you ever thought would happen? Has it all been a surprise? How would you describe the writing journey you’ve been on?


Sarah- When I started writing, I didn’t really look beyond getting a book accepted by a publisher.  Since then, I’ve just gone from book to book, hoping after I’ve finished each one that readers will enjoy it.  The translations and foreign deals are all lovely bonuses.


Writing books isn’t always the easiest of careers, but when it goes well – when your books are published, and people read them and enjoy them – then without question it’s the best job on the planet.


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