The Pyre by David Hair – a review by Jeanette Greaves

Cover art for The PyreThe Return of Ravana by David Hair

Book 1 – the Pyre

Disclaimer – this book was sent as a review copy by the publishers.

Followers of fantasy writer David Hair may already be aware of his ‘Return of Ravana’ trilogy, written for a young adult audience. This version of the first book (formerly known as ‘Pyre of Queens’) has been updated and revised for the UK re-release.

The book is set in Rajasthan, India, and follows the adventures of two groups of young people. Our modern day heroes meet at school. These three teenagers, who were strangers to each other, are brought together by fate in a moment of mutual recognition. Gradually, through a series of supernatural encounters, visions and episodes of sheer academic research, they come to realise that they are a part of an eternal story that they are bound to play out to the end.

The time slip trope, where a group of modern characters echo the steps of a long dead tragedy, is not new, and has been used to great effect by writers such as Alan Garner (‘The Owl Service’, in particular, comes to mind.) Alan Garner’s work played in the background of my mind as I read ‘The Pyre’, and I would love to know if the author is a fan of Garner.

The myth of Ravana, the Demon King, is the foundation stone to the story. In eighth century Rajasthan, a powerful king plots his own godhood, planning his own death, and his subsequent resurrection as a reincarnation of Ravana the demon king. This rite of power is to be fuelled by the obscene sacrifice on his funeral pyre by sati (suttee) of his seven queens. The sacrificial pyre is where the tale really begins, for our heroes in the past. Their adventures are echoed by the modern characters who are fated to follow in their footsteps, and maybe, just maybe, avoid some of their mistakes.

Although this is the first book of a trilogy, it actually stands well as a novel in its own right. Although I would be interested in finding out more of the story, and would love to read the next two books, The Pyre pulls together enough strands at the end to give a feeling of completion. I enjoyed the characters, and found the modern day teenagers more rounded and fully fleshed as characters than the eighth century ones, who drifted into stereotype occasionally.

In summation, this is a reasonably fast paced young adult novel that can be safely read by someone who is unsure about committing to a trilogy, and can be enjoyed by the adult reader. I read it in two long sessions, and was sorry to say goodbye to the cast. I look forward to reading Book Two.

The Pyre is available now.

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I wrote this a dozen or so years ago, after an epic trip to London to see the Manics. I was awake for nearly 24 hours, which explains the spaceship and the elephant, but nothing else.  It turns out that I wasn’t constipated, the pain was from gallstones, but that’s another story.

This will probably be impenetrable to anyone who isn’t a fan, or is unaware of the Manic Street Preachers but …

Here we go:-

Five Fans and a Nissan

Relic got up ridiculously early that Monday morning, setting out to brave the heavy rush hour traffic between Preston and Sowerby Bridge. Luckily it was a road not well travelled, and she reached Sheila’s International Brigade Hostel in plenty of time. Collecting Itay and Jan, and dropping off Sheila in Halifax, she headed back out of town, and tried to find Glossop.

After realising that it wasn’t to be found in the hills around Oldham, her fallible sense of direction finally located the M60, and before noon, she was outside Michelle’s home. Shell and Mel piled in, and the fearless five set out on their long journey. Five minutes later they stopped, for fuel, sweeties, pop and copies of City Life magazine with the Manics Move interview in it.

The next task was to find a road South. The M1 seemed suitable, but the hills were in the way. The day was getting hot, and the journey over the Pennines in a small car was scenic but a little cramped, especially when traffic got heavy and the breeze from the open windows failed to revive the three in the back.

By the time relic found the motorway, time was getting on, and Sheila had started to ring to ask if they were in the queue yet. As a distraction, they listened to Mark and Lard on the radio, to the bemusement of those passengers who were unfamiliar with their sense of humour. As they swept past Junction 31, relic observed that her mother-in-law lived ‘just over there’, and suggested visiting her. The idea went down like a lead balloon.

Miraculously, the M1 was light on traffic, the sun beat down, relic got sunburned, and people began to fall asleep. Every half hour or so, Mel would poke rel and ask if she was OK. Jan made a superhuman effort and didn’t snore. Not once. Honest. After a stop for loos, Skittles, more pop, and a leg stretch, during which Itay was temporarily misplaced and rel clucked around like a mother hen, they resumed the journey. They arrived at the outskirts of London and came off the motorway and onto the North Circular. Relic reminded all four passengers that she had a present for Nicky, and they weren’t to let her forget it. The Quest for a Parking Space began, and for the first time that day, Michelle began to lose the will to live. They passed an interesting looking recycling centre, and relic suggested they go there, instead of HMV. The idea was vetoed. The power of prayer was suggested, until it became apparent that the car was filled with atheists. The power of observation and common sense was then applied, to no avail, and eventually the power of luck and blind chance led them down a side street to a previously unheard of Underground station with all day parking for £2. Prayers of thanks were offered to Nicky (by relic), and as the five of them, plus Itay’s guitar and the men’s luggage, waited for the train, she passed round yet another birthday card for Sean for them to sign. As they sat on the train, getting excited at last, relic looked up and reminded her four ungrateful passengers that not one of them had reminded her to pick up Nicky’s present. Still, they had Sean’s birthday cards. Wristbands were checked carefully, and eventually the five of them emerged from Oxford Circus tube station into the hot dusty glare of a London summer’s day. The Northern women stared like yokels, and eventually they got their bearings and headed for HMV, rel bought Lipstick Traces from a puzzled clerk who failed to understand why anyone would travel more than five miles to see the Manics perform from a tiny stage to a sweaty crowd. Michelle and Mel retired to the pub, where Shell threw up enthusiastically, but had seemingly regained the will to live. Jan and Itay marked their places in the queue with a bag and a guitar, and rel waved to her friends at the front of the queue, and settled down to chat to a nice young man who was standing behind her. Nicky Wire (no, not that one, the Welsh one … no, the really really Welsh one, you know, that pretty teenager with the nice hair … Rhys! That’s the one.) was in front of her, with Starlight and her friend.

Mel and Shell came back from the pub, and gradually more friends started to arrive, Sheila with the rest of the International Brigade, Tracey, etc. As the afternoon wore on, drinks and food were passed round, and Starlight and her friend suddenly revealed that they had guest passes, and disappeared into the building. They returned half an hour later with an unsatisfactory bag of Walkers crisps, rejected by Nicky Wire (the real one, the impossibly good looking tall one with the great smile and the long legs and the perfect collarbones and the blue blue eyes), but seized on eagerly by several fans.

It was about then that the great HMV Queue singalong started, with Itay and Rhys taking turns to play Itay’s guitar, and Amanda in superb voice at the front of the queue, leading the fans in amazing renditions of Manics songs. Relic mimed. Shell and Mel disappeared again, for Shell to puke. More food, but people were beginning to ration their liquid intake, with an eye on bladder control. Nervousness spread like wildfire, after all, this wasn’t just a gig, it was a signing, a chance to meet the band. Fans were showing each other the albums, collectibles and projects that they had brought to be signed. Several people had brought guitars.

Eventually security guards came out, and asked everyone to stop singing, because the Manics were trying to sound check. The queue got organised, and at last, at long last the fans filed in, the International Brigade, and Mel, Shell and rel trying to stay together. In a frustrating display of sheer bloody mindedness the HMV staff herded the fans into tiny enclosures, in a system that meant that those who had arrived ten minutes before the doors opened had a better chance of actually seeing the Manics than those who had been there all day. Shell was nearly in tears, and was obviously ill, she sat on a rack of CDs. Jan noticed that rel couldn’t see a thing, and hauled her closer to the front, where she found herself behind a hugely fat guy with the worst BO in the history of civilisation. Still, she realised that she could actually see Nicky, which was more than she’d achieved at Move. Mel was taller and could see, Shell was not well at all, but everyone felt better when the gig started, the Manics ripping through a set of B sides and rarities that was lapped up eagerly by the audience. Screams of ‘I love you Nicky’ and ‘Shag me James’ were heard, and then the girls started to shout too. A chant of ‘Sean! Sean! Sean!” was picked up enthusiastically, in tribute to the drummer. Nasmyth and Havers were introduced, and got cheered, the crowd was in a hugely good mood. All too soon, it was over, and after a short break, a queuing system for the fans was set up. Mel, Shell and rel were determined not to be parted. Rel saw James first, and her knees went. He looked gorgeous. Then she saw Nicky, and forgot all about the singer. Mel and Shell had gone ominously quiet. Rel confessed that the sight of Nicky was almost curing her constipation. “Know your Enema” Shell joked.

First, to Sean, who accepted the birthday cards with a smile, and chatted to everyone. Rel fell in love there and then, and hasn’t got over it since. Nicky laughed at her when she had an attack of teenaged babbling all over him, but he wasn’t nasty at all, and he didn’t have his sunglasses on, and he was the most perfect vision of male beauty that she’d ever seen. She forgot to check that James had signed everything, just thanked him with a quick smile and tried to move on, dropping the insert from her new CD. Doubling back for it, she was stopped by an over anxious security guard, who obviously thought she was making for James. In hindsight, that might have been a good idea, but no, she was still besotted after her first sight of Nicky close up. She waited for Mel and Shell, Shell was gutted, she’d been too shy to speak to James, and he’d not spoken to her. Mel had been similarly struck dumb, and although she’d got a very nice smile, the whole experience had been a disappointment. It was universally agreed that Nicky and Sean had been lovely, but that James had let Shell down. Shell went to puke, again, Mel went with her. Rel tried to go to the loo.

They all said their goodbyes, getting hugs from friends and FD forumites who were meeting for the first time, and made their way to the tube station. Michelle was heartbroken, and Mel was furious. James could have tried harder. He was to redeem himself the following week, at the Manchester signing, but after the day of travel and queuing, it was all too much, and the women were exhausted. They found the car, complete with Nicky’s present, and started the long drive back home. They stopped for almost an hour at Gateway services, rel was still having odd pains, and Shell was still ill. Pizza and orange juice helped, and they were back on the road, playing Lipstick Traces and beginning to feel better, talking about the gig and meeting the band. Suddenly an alien spaceship appeared in the middle of the M1. Rel was slightly alarmed, but not as alarmed as her passengers, who were abruptly aware that their driver was hallucinating. Shell offered to drive, but she was half dead, and rel decided that she stood a better chance of making it back to Glossop, if not Preston. Sheffield was the next stop, and for some reason the fates had decreed that the three fans had to be diverted off the motorway, around Meadowhall, and through a huge slick of human sewage. At that point, all three lost the will to live. It seemed like the final straw. Opening the window to get rid of the smell wasn’t an option, as the stuff was spread in a noxious clinging layer to the bottom of the car.

They decided to take the Woodhead road back to Glossop, a good idea at the time, but soon a thick ground fog descended. Relic was driving on trust, as long as the wheels turned smoothly, she assumed that they were on the road. Finally, Shell said it. “I’ve lost the will to live.” At that precise moment, dead ahead through the fog, a set of headlights was approaching them at some speed. “That’s convenient.” replied rel, preparing for death, and thinking about Nicky’s eyes. For some reason, Mel and Shell were laughing hysterically, and rel joined in. The headlights were on the other side of the road, and death was averted. Shell showed that she had brains as well as beauty by suggesting that rel pull over until an HGV went past, pointing out that the huge one that was halfway up the Nissan’s exhaust pipe might be a likely candidate. The HGV cabin was above the fogline, and the driver could obviously see where he was going. Rel took on the suggestion, and the rest of the journey was easier. With the exception of an hallucinated elephant on the road into Glossop, and a stranded milk float with a man lying underneath it on Shell’s estate, the next half hour passed uneventfully. At Shell’s house, rel dropped off her passengers, and set off home, slightly bemused by the 3 am traffic jam at the mini roundabout in Glossop. She turned the volume up on her CD player, put ‘Can’t take my eyes off you”. on repeat, and finally got home just before 4 a.m.

The phone rang at 11 a.m. and she struggled out of bed. It was Shell. “Jeanette, how much do you love me?” she said.

Rel struggled for an answer. “Wha?”

Adam’s got spare wristbands for Manchester tomorrow, and he’s promised me that you can have one.”

Rel was happy. And that’s another story.

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The Grasshopper’s Child by Gwyneth Jones. A short review.

This book arrived in the post mid morning, and I’d finished it by bedtime. Every minute away from it was a minute I wanted to be back in Heidi Ryan’s difficult, terrifying world. Gwyneth Jones has given us another heroic protagonist in Heidi, but so many of the young teenage girls and boys in this book show strength and resolution in the face of the power of Empire and the equally inescapable threat of local corruption.
Set in the near future world of the Bold as Love series, ‘The Grasshopper’s Child’ continues the story of an England managed by a foreign power, where austerity, officially sanctioned tech, and the nationalisation of the means of production are an accepted part of life for many, but where the evidence of deeply hidden crimes bubbles to the surface of life in a seemingly idyllic Sussex village.
Recommended for adults and young adults alike.

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The Eight Pane Sash

hauntings_coverWhen we wake up naturally, when our bodies are rested and safe, the ghosts of our dreams linger for a while. In those ghosts lie the memories of places and people, of action and adventures that are far from our waking lives. For some, those ghosts cry out to be made real. And so came ‘The Eight Pane Sash’, almost fully formed in the first draft.

When Hannah Kate invited submissions on the theme of ‘Hauntings’ for her third dark fiction anthology, I wondered if there was another ghost story in me. My first attempt at a ghost story had been ‘Mistfall’, in the Impossible Spaces anthology. I was a bit bemused when ‘The Eight Pane Sash’ story turned out to be a better candidate for the Impossible Spaces theme than ‘Mistfall’ had been. I love the crossover between the two stories, and the two anthologies, and that this new story gave me a hat trick of acceptances with Hannah Kate’s collections. Thank you Hannah, for all your support.

The book is out now, in paperback and ebook formats. Here’s the link, and if you haven’t checked out ‘Impossible Spaces’ and ‘Wolf-Girls’ yet, don’t worry, it’s not too late.

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Queen of the Darkness – a review by Jeanette Greaves


untitledFive months ago, I picked up the first book of the Black Jewels trilogy. It had been a while since I’d been invited into a new fantasy world, and I had simultaneous feelings of excitement and trepidation. A trilogy is a fairly big commitment, even to a voracious reader, and I wondered if it was going to be good, if it was going to capture my attention and make me hunger for the next books in the series. Well, to be honest, it took a while. The first book introduced a world and a society of deep complexity, and after a few chapters in which I struggled to make sense of the interlocking ranks, jewels, states of being and dimensions involved, I put it aside. The next day, I realised that I’d been caught up by the plot, and I wanted to know what happened next.

Three books later, I’m so glad that I persevered after the first few chapters. All the complexity serves to provide a rich background for a simple story – the battle between good and evil. In this case, good is represented by the need to serve the land, and the decent people of the land. Evil is represented by greed and the lust for power.

The power for good is Jaenelle, an immensely powerful Queen. From her beginnings as an unloved and abused ‘difficult’ child, through a dark period as a survivor of a terrible crime, we have seen her grow under the love and protection of powerful men, and the friendship of her peers. She has learned to extend her own power and protection over the Realm of Kaeleer.

Throughout this, the forces ranged against her in her home Realm of Terrieille fail to recognise her power, seeing her as a mere pawn in the hands of the men who are, in fact, pledged to her service. They want a war, a war that will discredit Jaenelle’s new family, and deliver her back into bondage in Terrieille.

Jaenelle understands that such a war will destroy everything that she loves. The challenge arises at a time when she is finally healed of her psychic wounds, reunited with her fated lover, the beloved Daemon, and outwardly happy and settled in her life. The pressure is on for her to use her vast power to destroy her enemies, but she knows that the only way to protect everything that she loves is to make an enormous sacrifice.

I’ve found the Black Jewels trilogy to be a thoroughly enjoyable read. It wasn’t an easy read at first, and in the first few chapters it was tempting to dismiss the characters as stereotypes, and many of the scenes as naked wish fulfillment, but I was drawn in, the ambitiously large cast of characters became real and sympathetic, and in the end I found the story irresistible.


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The Child Eater by Rachel Pollack A review by Jeanette Greaves

childeaterIn The Child Eater, we have a novel that follows two separate strands of a story, two different sets of characters, in two worlds separated by time and magic. The stories are linked by The Tarot of Eternity (much, much more than a pack of cards), and by the threat of The Child Eater.

The villain of the piece is well named, and the book contains some descriptions of body parts and mutilation, and a sense of threat and helplessness.

Pollack presents us with three imperfect heroes. In the modern day, ‘real world’ strand of the story, we are introduced to Jack Wisdom, a child with unusual abilities who learns to stifle his gifts, and grows up to become father to Simon, another extraordinarily talented child who hides his skills because of his father’s fears and insecurities. Both characters are prey to enormous self doubt and guilt, which works to the advantage of their fated enemy, The Child Eater.

Meanwhile, way back in the past, we meet Matyas, the battered and unloved child of an innkeeper, who one day discovers his destiny and goes in search of it. Matyas has a good dollop of self loathing in his psyche too, but is blessed with a lot more confidence than Jack and Simon, and as he rises to his own power, he encounters the story, and the reality, of The Child Eater and the Tarot of Eternity that ties everything together.

The two stories work in different ways. Whilst Jack and Simon seem to be helpless in the face of danger, Matyas is blithely unaware of it, as he grows in knowledge, power and rank.

In contrast to the human and imperfect men in the story, the female characters are spiritual and almost supernaturally forgiving. The women and girls are there in supporting roles, and the support they give is vital and integral to the plot.

I found this an easy book to read, and although it wasn’t a gripping page turner, I was drawn back to it consistently, admittedly more for the plot than the characters, who I found to be unsympathetic. My main problem with the characters was that they didn’t grow or learn much from their experiences until the end of the book. It was frustrating to see them make the same mistakes again and again. The plot made up for it. I wanted to know who The Child Eater was, why he existed, and if he could be defeated. I’m happy to say that all these questions were answered in a very satisfactory manner. I would recommend this book to the reader of fantasy, but beware, there are no dragons here.

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Lancashire Authors at Chorley

Chorley and District Writers’ Circle, of which I am a member, will be joining Lancashire Authors at their Chorley event on Saturday 21st June at 1:30 pm at St George’s Church Hall, Halliwell Street, Chorley. I have quite a long reading slot, and will be giving a taster of my new story, ‘The Eight Pane Sash’ as well as looking at other examples of my writing.

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Heir to the Shadows – A review by Jeanette Greaves

untitledMuch as I enjoyed ‘Daughter of the Blood’, the first book in the Black Jewels trilogy, I have to admit that at times it was hard to read. The world in which our heroine (Jaenelle) lived, was a dark dystopia, under attack by power hungry men and women who used their sexual and political abilities to destroy any chance of real love and relationships between their subjects, and to ruin potential rivals before they reached adulthood and power.

The middle book of the trilogy, ‘Heir to the Shadows’, provides welcome relief from the darkness of the first book. The complex social dance of the landen and the Blood, the Jewel hierarchy, the living and the dead, men and women is spiced up even more with the addition of the The Kindred – magical, intelligent animals such as wolves, unicorns, big cats and spiders.

Against this background, Jaenelle’s relationships with her adoptive father Saetan and his son Lucivar deepen and grow, giving her a safe harbour in which to mature. The trauma she suffered at the end of the first book has been forgotten, locked away deep in her soul. Along with that pain, she has forgotten about Daemon, her destined mate and one true love, who has fallen into madness, having been convinced by his enemies that he was the agent of her pain.

This book is set mostly in the Realm (dimension) of Kaeleer, and firm distinctions are drawn between the political system there and that of Terreille, which is Jaenelle’s ‘home dimension’. Kaeleer’s vast open spaces, owned by The Kindred, are a magnet for immigrants from Terreille. This immigration has been largely encouraged by Jaenelle’s enemies, who are hungry for yet more power and influence, and see Kaeleer as a soft target. Inevitably, conflict arises, and Jaenelle’s Kaeleer friends and allies are threatened.

The traditional villains plot and plot again, but as Jaenelle grows in power and knowledge, her enemies become less and less relevant. Whilst her foes draw up their destructive schemes, it becomes clear that Jaenelle is powerful and intelligent enough to deal with anything that is thrown at her. Although she and her allies suffer, it only makes her stronger and more aware of what she is capable of. The sense of threat against a young woman has been replaced by the knowledge that Jaenelle has reached a stage where she is much more of a threat to her enemies than they are to her. The book ends with a rise to power that sets the stage for book three.

‘Heir to the Shadows’ is a comforting, traditional fantasy read, and I enjoyed it a lot. It would have been nice to see a few character flaws in Jaenelle, and to see her solve more of her problems by her own intelligence and guts, rather than by the application of brute force magic, but overall I’m hooked, and looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.

Originally published in the US at the end of the last century, ‘Heir to the Shadows’ is the second book in the Black Jewels trilogy. It is available now as ebook and paperback from Jo Fletcher Books.

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What’s Your Story, Chorley?

On Saturday 26th April, I will be reading a short extract from one of my short stories as part of Chorley & District Writers’ Circle contribution to the ‘What’s Your Story, Chorley?’ event. I’ll be reading in the Chorley Library Circle at 2 pm.

I’ll also be at the stand from 1 pm to 4 pm to promote the group.,-Chorley.aspx


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‘A Song for Issy Bradley’ by Carys Bray. A review by Jeanette Greaves

IssyBradleyLet me make it clear, I like genre books – horror, sf, fantasy. If it doesn’t have a spaceship or a paranormal creature I am unlikely to read it. And yet a couple of years ago, Carys Bray drew me into her slightly askew world with her short story ‘Sweet Home’, a very English take on the story of Hansel and Gretel. A further unforgettable encounter with her prose, in ‘The Baby Aisle’, prompted me to buy her short story collection ‘Sweet Home’, and then I was hooked. This woman’s work gets under my skin. She writes about families, the kind of family we all know, or are part of, and she writes with absolute, unmerciful, unswerving truth. But this isn’t misery lit, it’s a view of real life from the point of view of someone who knows how to love and what it means to grieve.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that her first novel, ‘A Song For Issy Bradley’ had been the prize in a bidding war last year, and it’s been on my ‘must read’ list ever since. The book expands on one of the ‘Sweet Home’ short stories (Scaling Never), and because of this, I don’t feel that I’m letting loose a spoiler when I tell you that it’s the story of a family falling apart after the death of one of their children.

I was expecting this foreknowledge to spoil the first few chapters, but Bray’s use of multiple viewpoints puts the focus on the protagonists’ lives so deftly that I wanted to know how they would react to the forthcoming death of little Issy, and how they would cope. I was impressed, and considered myself to have been taught a lesson on how a good writer deals with an unavoidable spoiler in a novel.

This book is not about a death. It may make you cry, but it is just as likely to make you laugh in recognition or in sheer delight. This book is about a family, and how they relate to each other and the wider community. It’s a family that has taken for granted its unshakeable unity, and its place in the heart of a small religious community in the North West of England. Issy’s death strikes a deep blow to the centre of the family, fissuring the cement that holds the Bradleys together, and as the story unfolds, we follow the increasingly separate journeys of mum Claire, dad Ian, teenage oldest sister Zippy, middle child Al, and young Jacob, who is a true delight, if a bit of a puzzle, to everyone who meets him.

The use of multiple viewpoints leads to amusing differences in how the five family members see the other characters in the novel. We get several different takes on other members of the church, absent relatives, and also the Church of Latter Day Saints itself, which is so integral to the story it’s almost another character.

Each family member reacts in a different way both to Issy’s death, and to the wave of grief following such a massive loss. Jacob, the nearest in age to Issy, is particularly beautifully drawn. Jacob lives in a world of stories, a mixture of fairy tales, Bible stories and stories from the Book of Mormon. The church he has grown up in is keen on the concept of miracles, and it’s not surprising that he decides that what the Bradleys need is a miracle. In his own pragmatic fashion, he sets about creating one.

As each of the Bradleys copes with Issy’s death in their own way, they drift further apart, some struggling to make things right, others wondering how things can ever be right again. As their individual lives each reach a crisis or an enlightenment, they are drawn back together for what could be the miracle they all need.

‘A Song For Issy Bradley’ is out in June, published by Hutchinson.

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