April 23, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books

Stephen Bywater: ‘Why I wrote The Devil’s Ark’

Author Stephen Bywater explains how he went about writing his horror masterpiece THE DEVIL’S ARK…

Everybody knows Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at God’s destruction of Sodom. What’s less well know is that his two daughters, fearing for the future of mankind, plied their father with wine and seduced him. ‘Urrgh,’ was my reaction in Sunday School – having read too far ahead – and that’s still my reaction today, if not – with two daughters of my own and a curious wife who’d certainly have a few words to say to an omnipotent being about to destroy her vegetable garden – an even bigger ‘Urrghh!’

But Lot’s story is not the only one which is rarely told in full and the Old Testament is a mishmash of tales taken from Assyrian and Babylonian myths. The tale of Noah’s Ark, for example, can be traced back to a tablet found in Mesopotamia, which is where The Devil’s Ark is set, albeit in Iraq, a country created by the British, or more specifically by an English woman named Gertrude Bell at the end of the Great War.

Therefore I would say it was the Bible, or those half-told tales, and my interest in the cradle of civilisation which prompted my writing of the novel. Wanting to know more about Lilith, Adam’s first wife, was certainly part of why it came to be written. Lilith is only briefly mentioned in the Bible, but she was created as Adam’s equal and, having tested the idea of equality, was cast out of Eden, making way for Eve.

The idea of having a narrator traumatised by the Great War and stumbling across an archaeological dig where strange things are starting to happen gave me the opportunity to explore the mind of one mentally scarred by the brutal fighting in Mesopotamia. Harry Ward is distressed by memories and self-doubt and his mental stability is tested by desire, for both the earthly and the ethereal, when his own shameful thoughts come into conflict with his understanding of what he is, or was.

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‘Creepy, classy … full of dread and lust and echoing with the sorrows of war. We need more stories like this’
Christopher Golden, New York Times bestselling author of Snowblind

THE DEVIL’S ARK is published in paperback and ebook on May 8th 2014. ORDER HERE

Follow Stephen on Twitter: @authorbywater

April 10, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books, Film & TV

6 Best Film Adaptations of Books

Everybody says that the book is always better than the film and, to be honest, we usually agree. However, here are our picks of the films that did a pretty good job of living up to the original.

Do you agree with our choices? Tweet us your favourite film adaptations: @StareAtBooks

Rich: The Godfather (Mario Puzo)

Before Al Pacino started appearing as himself in Adam Sandler movies and being lampooned by Rob Brydon, he was actually a ruddy good actor. The famous restaurant scene from The Godfather is testament to this. Add a cotton-wooled Marlon Brando in the most extraordinary performance of his career, and you get three solid hours of Mario Puzo’s amazing power-struggle. Part II is often argued to be better than one, but of course the less said about III the better…


Tom: The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

As with reading the book it’s based on, watching The Road isn’t exactly an enjoyable experience. Following the father and son team as they struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it’s pretty bleak and harrowing stuff as they try and avoid various murderers, cannibals, and other bad eggs.

Beautifully shot and with superb performances from King Aragorn himself, Viggo Mortensen, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as his son, you won’t be able to tear yourself away.


Beau: Jaws (Peter Benchley)

I first watched JAWS in the summer holidays of 1991 when we were staying in a cottage in Devon. We’d had fish and chips, my little brother was put to bed and mum said we were about to watch “a film about a shark”.  I even remember it being on ITV because the stings for the channel were different from the London ones (I used to love that).

I was left a wreck. Thrilled, scared and completely absorbed by what I was watching. The opening scene of the skinny-dipping girl being dragged around the moon-lit ocean by an unseen shark is THE perfect opening. It was perfectly paced, edited and the sound of her screams still leave me a wreck. Have a listen.

This was the film that made me fall in love with cinema.

Years later I got the book for Christmas. Written by Peter Benchley in 1974 (a year before the film’s release) the film strayed very little from the book’s story. For me, the main difference between the book and film were how the characters were written. The book’s characters are incredibly unlikeable. You’re rooting for the shark. There’s infidelity, greed and the difference in social class is played on much more. But what makes the book a fantastic read is that (like the film), it’s all about fear, the unknown and what’s lurking below.

This year the film was released in cinemas in a beautiful restored print. It looked incredible and made me want to reach for the book again for one more trip to that seaside town of Amity.

If I were you, I’d put a weekend aside, and sink your teeth into both book and film.


Ben: Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk)

The best thing, for me, about Fight Club (the movie) is that it is quite possibly the film most true to its bookish origin. The first-person, in-the-protagonist’s-head narration allows us to hear out loud all those awesome Palahniuk turns of phrase. It looks as dark as the book feels. It’s got Brad Pitt in it.

Sure, everyone knows the twist at the end (it is one of the most famous film twists of all time), but can you tell me what Edward Norton’s character’s name is? No? That’s because, like in the book, he doesn’t actually have one. He is simply The Narrator. Interesting, no?


Simon: Couldn’t decide so picked a couple

I’m going to be greedy and pick two. First,Into The Wild, based on Jon Krakauer’s brilliant non-fiction account of Christopher ‘Alexander Supertramp’ McCandless’s inspiring but doomed journey into the American wilderness. It’s brilliantly brought to screen by Sean Penn. It is also scores a rare triple whammy: great book, great film, great soundtrack (by Eddie Vedder).

Second,Wonder Boys, a funny, clever and touching novel by Michael Chabon and a great example of a sensitively-made adaptation – completely true to the book, even though some scenes have been missed from the movie (the snake has gone altogether!). Michael Douglas is a revelation in the lead role, playing against type and with real warmth and humour.


John: The Shining (Stephen King)

It’s got to be The Shining. And not just because I used to look a lot like Danny when I was a boy (bowl haircut, denim dungarees etc).

God only knows how many times I’ve read the book. It’s definitely one of my favourites. Much of what I love about the Stephen King masterpiece – the topiary animals, the bug bomb, Jack Torrance’s final act – isn’t in Stanley Kubrick’s film. But somehow that doesn’t really bother me.

I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of watching it. Hallorann showing them around the kitchen, the steadicam shots following Danny on his tricycle, Jack getting drunk at the empty bar, those freaky twins … everything just works. It’s perfect.


Do you agree with our choices? Tweet us your favourite film adaptations: @StareAtBooks

April 9, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books

Mark Mills: ‘I’m deep in research for the next book’ | Interview

Mark Mills, author of THE LONG SHADOW, answers our questions…

Mark, THE LONG SHADOW covers the complex relationship between two friends over time. Was balancing the different time strands difficult?

Balancing is the right word. It’s a question of what to reveal and when in each of the time periods so that the two narratives are continually complementing each other, feeding off each other, but not in a way that leaps out at the reader. I suppose it’s like flashbacks in film – they don’t work if they feel too expositional.

Were there any books in particular that you’ve read or that you were reading whilst writing THE LONG SHADOW that were especially influential?

It’s my first contemporary novel, and therefore the first time I haven’t had to steep myself in months of research before turning on the laptop. The only book I read specifically for the novel was ‘The Big Short’, Michael Lewis’ superb account of those who made a mint from the 2008 financial crisis by betting on the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage-bond market.

In THE LONG SHADOW, lead character Ben Makepeace is offered what initially seems like the dream job. But what’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

That’s tough, there have been a few! The most mindless and repetitive would have to be Eden Vale yoghurt factory in Burgess Hill back in the 1980s. I spent all day in front of a huge machine, clipping sachets of muesli to the top of yoghurt pots. There was so much noise you couldn’t hear yourself think, which was probably no bad thing!

Ben is a proud father; how much has your writing changed since you had children?

That’s interesting. I was writing screenplays when we first had kids, and I remember a distinct shift in my tastes when it came to the sort of material I was drawn to. Graphic tales about serial killers were in at the time (as they are now) and I definitely felt more soiled at the end of a day’s work, to the point that I eventually turned my back on those kind of projects.

What’s next for you? Have you started thinking about your next novel? Or are there any other projects on the horizon?

I’m deep in research for the next book. It’s a crime/mystery thriller set in the 1930s, a pan-European chase, quite different from my other novels, which take place in clearly defined, rather static locations.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished reading ‘Land’s Edge’ by Tim Winton (the quiet power of his prose is something else). Next up is some research, a book on life in the East Anglian Fens in the 1920s.

Moving away from books: we know know you’re a big Arsenal fan, so how hopeful are you for the Gunners next season? Arsene knows or Arsene goes?

Pah! Arsene knows, of course.

April 8, 2014, Posted by Ben Willis in Books

Paul Fraser Collard’s top cultural picks

THE SCARLET THIEF author Paul Fraser Collard picks his favourite cultural items…

Band/Artist:  This changes all the time. Right now, I am listening to a lot of Brad Paisley, an American country singer. I do most of my writing on the train so I always listen to music to drown out the background noise.

Film:   Zulu. Ignore all the historical inaccuracies (and there are a few), sit back and enjoy. The film that really first inspired my love of military history.

Book/Author: Has to be Sharpe’s Enemy, by Bernard Cornwell. The best in the Sharpe series with some amazing battle scenes. I must have read this book a dozen times and will certainly do so again.

Beverage: Sam Adam’s Boston Lager, preferably the autumn special, Oktoberfest. And tea. Lots of it…

Holiday destination: Saumur in the Loire Valley, France. Living in the southeast of England means the channel tunnel is close by, making the Loire Valley an easy drive. We go every summer, drawn by the wonderful food, fantastic wine (with Sancerre my favourite!), bustling markets, fascinating chateaux and lively towns and cities.

Sport/Team: I love watching rugby but the best sport to play (now that I am getting old) is golf. After a long working week in the office, spending three to four hours outside is a real pleasure, especially as my home course has wonderful sea views. I am finally closing in on an 18 handicap, not great but good enough for me!

April 8, 2014, Posted by Ben Willis in Books

On the road with travel writer Ben Hatch | Interview

Editor Richard interviews Ben Hatch, author of ROAD TO ROUEN:

1. Road to Rouen is set in France, a country you obviously have a bit of a love/hate relationship with. How do you feel about France, and the French, now the dust of the trip has settled?

I hate them a lot more. No, that’s not true. I love France and the French. If they didn’t exist and you invented them, you’d be accused of exaggeration. You’d have to change bits. Sorry, that’s too many cheeses, they’d say. What? Their best game is boule? Come on, that’s gotta go too. They’re like teenagers, the French. They make it hard to love them. They sulk and huff around because you don’t understand them and they’re also very lazy. Probably the most frustrating thing in fact about France, famed for its food, is actually finding the opportunity to eat some, especially if you have kids. Restaurants don’t open until 7pm, bedtime for our children, and half the boulangeries shut at lunchtime, exactly when you want to buy bread. I mean, imagine Greggs closing for lunch. Also they take ages to say anything. Do you what it says on a French ambulance? In French it says this: “vehicle for the transportation of people who’ve had an accident to hospital.” It says that on the side of the ambulance. This, remember, is an emergency vehicle where speed and brevity is of the essence. In French zoos keepers talk to their animals in English because French is too unfathomable. When your own Rhinos aren’t growing up talking native French, you’re in big trouble. Though what I love about the French is that they don’t care what anyone thinks of them. They do their own thing. And they’re also incredibly uncool. They don’t slavishly follow fashion. They walk about in clothes a 10-year-old would baulk at in England. And they appreciate the finer, slower things of life – sleeping, food, family, wine and more sleeping. As a lazy person myself, you have to love them.

2. You are extremely honest in your writing, touching on some very personal themes – the death of your father in Are We Nearly There Yet? And some marital problems in Road to Rouen. Is that honesty important to you when writing?

I think if you’re trying to sustain comic writing over 300 or so pages you can’t just make it a series of set-piece gags and funny situations. That would become like watching a boxset of Frank Spencer. Somewhere there has to be some real life happening. On the first trip that was my dad being sick. It’s not that I particularly wanted to write about this, it was more that I couldn’t not write about it. It was as much a part of the trip as the kids sat in the backseat demanding chocolate buttons was. The same is true of the marriage wobble in Road to Rouen. That said I do have occasional sleepless nights that I’ve given away too much. The trouble is I don’t actually imagine anyone reading anything I’ve written. In fact it’s only the day or so before publication that I wake up sweating and think shit, did I really just write about a sexual pulley system?

3. You had a series of unsuccessful jobs when you were younger – do you think you could have stuck at anything else other than writing?

No. Impossible. I was too much of an idiot. I’m still too much of an idiot. In the space of a couple of years in my 20s I was sacked as a lawnmower salesman and as a McChicken sandwich station monitor at McDonalds. I worked in the unemployment benefits office and in a bank. I sold insurance, adverting space. I was a recruitment consultant, a postman, a painter and decorator and, for a while, a private detective. Inspired by Jim Rockford, I set up the private detective agency using my parents’ home telephone number and put an ad in our local paper, the Bucks Examiner. I found having your mother shouting up the stairs, “Benjy, get out of the bath. There’s a man on the phone who wants you to follow his wife,” tended to put off perspective clients. After this I was thrown out of home by my dad who called me an oaf and told me to grow up. I was then a local news reporter for a while. I left journalism in 1997 and I’ve been a full-time writer ever since. Though during this time I’ve done other things to keep the wolf from the door. I was a property developer for a while, for instance, and disastrously bought a flat above a pickling factory. If I hadn’t been writer I’d be dead now.

4. Both you and your wife write for a living. If your children said they wanted to be writers too, what would you say?

I’d immediately put crosses on their charts ands cancel that night’s Frube yoghurt. No, if that’s what they wanted to do I’d say go ahead, but warn them they’d never be rich and might become dependent on toast-based lunches. Plus I’d tell them that the novelty of gnawing blocks of cheese whilst wearing just pants in the middle of the day soon wears off and can be troubling when Tesco Direct arrive with the shopping.

5. There are some slightly sketchy moments in Road to Rouen – I’m thinking of running with the bulls in Pamplona and getting into some real trouble with some American tourists. Do you find yourself thinking ‘this will make a great chapter in the book’ or is it only after the event that you realise the potential?

I actually hate getting into scrapes. My wife is a magnet for them though. I don’t know why but when I’m with her things just go wrong. On my own I’m fine. If she’s beside me somebody is going to fall down a manhole.

6. Travel-writing has some stand-out figures like Tony Hawks and Dave Gorman who seem to define the genre. Do you think it’s difficult for writers who are writing on similar themes to find their own ‘voice’?

I think every genre has stand out figures. But you’re right those writers are the writers everyone knows. I’d add to that list Danny Wallace and Bill Bryson, of course. They’re stand out figures because they’re very good. But everyone has a voice it’s just whether a) anyone wants to hear it or b) you get the lucky break to test out whether anyone wants to hear by getting published. With travel writing I think voice is very important. On a journey you want to be with someone you’d like to spend time with. That’s why Michael Palin is so good on the telly, I think. I’m now regretting the sexual pulley system.

7. You’re first book Are We Nearly There Yet? has been option by Island Pictures. Tell me how that came about? And also I gather you’re in contact with the BBC about developing a sitcom.

The first came about after film director Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) got in touch after reading my book on a plane to LA. I was thrilled that he loved it. He helped me get the book to Dominic Minghella at Island pictures, who optioned the book. Now they’re collaborating on a film. What’s great is that I love Dom’s work and I am big fan of Kirk’s films. The sitcom came about because a BBC TV comedy producer had read The Lawnmower Celebrity, my first novel, and thought it could be transferred to the telly. I’m working on that right now.

8. Music plays an important part in Road to Rouen – there are certain songs that seem to galvanise you as a family.

When I’m driving, especially if it’s quite late at night and the whole family is in the car together, I become highly susceptible to songs involving a lilting piano that have lyrics suggestive of a) the road and how long/windy/ and or wide it is, b) oceans and rivers and how deep and wide they are and also C) lyrics that focus on being a long way from home. I like to sing along to these tracks and I try and persuade the family to join in. I think it comes from childhood and the long drives to Devon to see my Gran and Aunty Romey who we always spent the summer with. I loved those drives. It was the start of the summer. All my family together in the car and my dad wasn’t working.

9. Where is your next adventure taking you?

We are off to Italy this summer. So far we’re going whale watching (someone I know will be swallowed by a whale), and also truffle hunting in Umbria with dogs in the middle of the night, another potential disaster. The craziest thing of all we’re doing is bear watching. Watching actual bears. I’m trying not to think of that one.

10. Finally, and most importantly, if you had to pick a favourite cheese, what would it be?


April 8, 2014, Posted by Ben Willis in Books

Hugh Dennis’ top cultural picks

The TV stand-up star of Mock The Week Hugh Dennis picks his all-time favourites:

Band/Artist: ‘The bands that affected me most were definitely The Clash and The Smiths.’

Film: ‘How do you pick your favourite film? Either the original Italian Job or Passport To Pimlico. Or Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead. Or maybe Heat?’

Book/Author: ‘That I read in the last 12 months… Any Human Heart by William Boyd.’

Beverage: ‘Coffee. White coffee. You know those light green Nespresso Pods…?’

Place: ‘The top of the hill which overlooks Kingley Vale.’

Food: ‘Hmm. Toast and peanut butter, followed by toast and apricot jam.’

April 8, 2014, Posted by Ben Willis in Books

Hay Festival 2013 review

In a rare treat, the sun shone down on the Hay Festival this year, or at least for the two days I visited. The festival is in its 26th year and is going from strength to strength. As a publisher it is a great event, as it unites the two most important parts of our business: the author and the reader. And seeing so many people engaging so enthusiastically with books and writing is a wonderful thing. I saw a number of great events, including the always brilliant Robert Macfarlane, but I want to make special mention of one in particular – John Le Carré in conversation with Philippe Sands.

Le Carré (aka David Cornwell) opened by describing the event as his swan song, the last public event he would do (until the next book at least) and describing himself as a reluctant publicist (he’d much rather be writing). But there was certainly nothing reluctant about his performance. After a discussion about the themes of his latest book A Delicate Truth, he kept his audience spellbound for ninety minutes. One anecdote followed another, from meeting Yasser Arafat,  Russian Defence Ministers and Guantanamo prisoners, to a story about filming The Spy Who Came in from the Coldwith Richard Burton – and Burton receiving a slap from Elizabeth Taylor for his late night drinking (with the author) – and on to remarkably candid stories about his own life.

Speaking about his upbringing he quoted Graham Greene: ‘the credit balance of a writer’s life is his childhood’ adding that by which measure ‘I was born a millionaire’, before going on to tell some bittersweet stories about his decidedly crooked father. More stories followed, ranging from teaching at Eton, to his life as a spook, the books and the films. In the question sessions someone asked him if he felt any duty to write a non-fiction account of what he had witnessed as a member of ‘the secret world’. Le Carré demurred. But after such a brilliant and captivating performance it is hard not to wish for a memoir one day. That, I am sure, will never come – but sat just behind me was his biographer, Adam Sisman, and we’ll just have to wait for his version in a year or two. It will be a remarkable story. Meanwhile we have the novels, which are as simultaneously entertaining and thought-provoking as the talk I was lucky enough to hear at Hay.

Simon Thorogood – @simnthrgd

andy mcdermott

October 15, 2013, Posted by Ben Willis in Books

Andy McDermott: the return of Wilde & Chase

That’s right, Andy McDermott’s most famous characters are back. With the 9th Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase thriller, THE VALHALLA PROPHECY, publishing later this month, what better time to look back at their previous adventures? If you’re new to the series, here’s what you’ve been missing…

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Kicking off the series, THE HUNT FOR ATLANTIS sees Nina tracking down the location of the lost city of Atlantis, although there are some who will do anything to stop her. With the help of ex-SAS bodyguard Eddie Chase and beautiful heiress Kari Frost, Nina faces a breakneck race against time around the world, pursued at every step by agents of the mysterious – and murderous – Brotherhood of Selasphoros.


In the second adventure, Nina and Eddie are following a violent trail of corruption and conspiracy around the globe. From Switzerland to Shanghai, Botswana to London, it’s a race against time to find the Tomb of Hercules before it falls into the most evil of hands . . .


Said to make whoever holds it unstoppable in battle, the sword Excalibur has been coveted across the ages, and was thought lost for over a thousand years. Thanks to a cryptic message to Nina, this may be about to change, as she and Eddie are propelled into a deadly race to find Excalibur.


Off the coast of Indonesia, Nina makes an explosive find: evidence of a settlement that existed over a hundred thousand years before any previously known civilisation. But when her ship is attacked, it becomes clear that the clandestine religious group calling itself the Covenant of Genesis will stop at nothing to prevent her from revealing this knowledge.

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Following a run of pretty bad luck, Nina and Eddie are discredited, jobless and broke. That’s until a plea for help sends them on a deadly quest across the globe, as they try to reach the mysterious Pyramid of Osiris. Oh, and they need to get there before Khalid Osir, the charismatic leader of a sinister cult.


The world is in shock when Michelangelo’s David is stolen from a museum in Florence, Italy. The latest in a series of audacious thefts of historical treasures, it’s only a matter of time before another priceless artefact is targeted. However, it soon becomes clear that the thefts form only part of the raiders’ ultimate plan, Nina and Eddie are off on another adventure as they look to recover a treasure beyond price, and help prevent global annihilation along the way . . .


When Nina and Eddie, are given the chance to work on an Interpol investigation into smuggled artefacts, they are stunned to realise that the artefacts hold clues to the location of a lost Inca settlement hidden somewhere in South America. As Nina and Eddie dig deeper, it soon becomes clear that finding the settlement may only be the start of an incredible quest. But they are not alone in their search, as they face corrupt soldiers, murderous revolutionaries and ruthless drug lords.  With so much at stake, what price will they pay for the greatest of fortunes?


Eddie is on the run, falsely accused of murder, and Nina’s only distraction from this has been investigating the origin of three strange statues stolen from her just before his disappearance. When Nina discovers they may be relics from the lost civilisation of Atlantis, it’s clear that she has to get her head back in the game, and fast. They both have their own troubles as they face what could be their most dangerous quest yet.

So that’s the story so far. Eight adventures, each more epic than the last, have brought us here for the ninth all-action Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase adventure…

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Nina and Eddie Chase are sent to recover a Viking runestone that has been stolen by a gang of raiders. For the stone holds the key to an ancient evil that cannot be allowed to escape – one that has been confined in Norse mythology’s most holy of places: Valhalla.

They find themselves in a race against time to locate the legendary hall of the Viking warriors before rival powers claim its deadly contents for themselves. Their quest leads them to Scandinavia, where Eddie is forced to revisit a dark chapter from his days as a mercenary that he has kept hidden from everyone … even his wife.

A primordial terror is about to be unleashed from the depths of the Earth and the best chance of surviving its threat lies with Nina and Eddie. But even if they succeed, will the cost to their lives be worth the price they must pay?

THE VALHALLA PROPHECY is published 16th January 2014!

Follow Andy on Twitter: @AndyMcDermott