#BookReview #Q&A House of Tigers by William Burton McCormick

Today’s guest on What Cathy Read Next is author William Burton McCormick. You can read my review of his latest book, House of Tigers, below. But first let’s see what questions William drew at random when he took part in my “Lucky Dip Q&A” by picking five numbers between 1 and 30.

Q. If you could write a sequel or prequel to any book (excluding your own) what would you choose?
I’d like to write a prequel to Moby Dick and see how Captain Ahab lost that leg to the White Whale.  And how it drove him mad.

Q. How would you summarise your book in the form of a haiku?
A. Dreadful summertime
Siberia, mosquito swarms
Finding the killer

Q. Do you always know how your book will end when you start writing?
I changed the ending of my debut novel, Lenin’s Harem, but in the last three I’ve known from the start.  I try to adhere to the advice R.L. Stine gave at a thriller writers’ conference: “Get a good title and a good ending and fill in from there.”

Q. What is your favourite opening line from one of your books?
I’d say it was from the current book, House of Tigers. “The mosquito swarms, black, undulating, and infinite, stretched horizon to horizon over the Siberian wilderness.”

Q. What is the longest time you’ve spent writing a book – and the shortest?
My debut novel, Lenin’s Harem, took two and a half years from all the research required, plus a good eight months to re-draft before submitting to publishers. The shortest was House of Tigers which took about two months (written during the tail end of the pandemic when there was nowhere to go).

Q. How did you choose your numbers?
They represent digits used in certain passwords.  Hackers, get to work!

I love the answer to that last question and well done, William, for tackling the second one!

House of TigersAbout the Book

Ilya Dudnyk, a corrupt but romantic Russian police inspector, is trapped inside his oligarch employer’s Siberian mansion with an unknown killer, a duplicitous Latvian journalist chained to his arm, and an apocalyptic insect plague raging for hundreds of kilometres beyond the smoke barriers and barricaded windows.

Can Ilya track down the killer before he is the next victim? Or will the endless swarms find a way inside and all are consumed by a hundred trillion ravenous, blood-sucking mosquitoes?

Format: ebook                                  Publisher: Wildside Press
Publication date: 26th August 2022 Genre: Mystery

Find House of Tigers on Goodreads

Purchase link
Amazon UK
Link provided for convenience only, not as part of an affiliate programme

My Review

As I discovered when I read his previous book, A Stranger from the Storm, you can rely on the author to come up with something just a little bit different. I think we can safely say a story involving a group of people confined in a Siberian mansion with a swarm of deadly blood-sucking insects outside satisfies  that description.

The members of the Aristov family are gathered to hear about the will of their father, the wealthy but ailing Konstantin who has made part of his fortune from the animals who give the book its title. Much in the manner of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Konstantin is unwilling to divide his empire and has devised a test of loyalty with the winner taking all. ‘Konstantin, the king, was mad. Narcissistic, monomaniacal, paranoid. But still the king.’ 

What follows is like some macabre game of Cluedo in which the library, billiard room and ballroom of the board game are replaced by monk’s cell, bathhouse and tiger pit. The task of working out what’s going on falls to Ilya Dudnyk, a Russian police inspector who also moonlights as Konstantin’s ‘fixer’.

The shady goings-on are enlivened with moments of humour, such as the teasing banter between Ilya and Latvian journalist, Santa Ezerina (who featured in the author’s story, ‘Demon in the Depths). The latter will go to any lengths to get a story.

House of Tigers is a locked room mystery with nods to everything from Daphne du Maurier’s story The Birds to the film Night of the Living Dead, but still has classic elements such as a denoument which sees all the suspects gathered together in the library for the final reveal. An epilogue provides a ‘what happened next’ with the surviving characters; it’s a mixture of just desserts and lucky breaks.

House of Tigers is a quirky and highly entertaining mystery.

In three words: Intriguing, imaginative, witty

Try something similar: The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe

William Burton McCormickAbout the Author

William Burton McCormick is a Shamus, Thriller, Derringer, and Claymore awards finalist.  His Santa Ezerina novella ‘Demon in the Depths’ was voted second place in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s 2021 Readers Poll. He is the author of the thrillers A Stranger from the Storm and KGB Banker, and the historical novel of the Baltic Republics, Lenin’s Harim. William has lived in seven countries including the Russian Federation, the setting of House of Tigers.

Connect with William
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Q&A with Sandy Day, author of Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand

Fred's FuneralI recently read Sandy Day’s debut novel, Fred’s Funeral (you can read my review here) so I was delighted when Sandy got in touch to let me know she has a new book coming out soon, a coming of age novel called Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand. It’s due to be published on 14th February 2020 but is available for pre-order now. You can find all the details below.

I’m delighted Sandy has joined me today to talk about the inspiration for her new book, the challenges of being a self-published author and her approach to writing in general.

Welcome, Sandy. Your latest novel Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand is published on 14th February 2020. Can you tell us a little about it?

Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand is a book about desperate love. The protagonist, Livvy, is coming of age in the late 1970s. She is all in for feminism but finds herself psychologically enslaved to a man because she is in love with him. Livvy has to find her way through the agony of her desperation for love.

What was the inspiration for the book?

The setting of the book was inspired by a visit I took to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia when I was 17 years old. I loved the countryside and the ocean and it was easy to conjure it as I wrote. My protagonist suffers from love obsession, which fascinates me. Love addiction is a common affliction that is often fatal but no one really talks about it. I think it’s important to dig into so I decided to write this story.

The book’s title is intriguing. How did you come up with it?

chatterbox-pink-coverThe title is from one of my own poems that inspired a passage in the book. It describes a baby-doll you might find washed up on a beach. For me, it paints a picture of my protagonist, her desperation and her dilemma.

You’ve written that you love reading coming of age stories. What is it about them that particularly appeals to you?

Ebook-Cover-Empty-NestComing of age is a short period in our lives and yet it is so profound. No-one gets through their teen years unscathed, and if they say they did they’re probably in denial. I think we spend the rest of our lives getting over our coming of age, or at least coming to terms with it.

I’ve recently discovered there’s another coming of age during middle age, which I wrote about in my book An Empty Nest. So much angst, so much turmoil, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel – what’s not to love?

You’re a self-published author. What challenges does that bring?

By the time I decided to devote my life to writing I was fifty years old. There was no time to worry about finding a publisher. I’ve always been an entrepreneur so self-publishing was not daunting to me.

Most advice I hear on podcasts says that writers of literary fiction should not self-publish. I think that’s because publishers of literary fiction rely heavily on contests and awards for publicity. As an indie-author my books don’t qualify for most awards but I am determined to succeed anyway.

If I can manage to create a following for my books I will be able to earn more money than traditionally published literary authors and as an entrepreneur, that thought is so tantalizing, it motivates me.

What’s your favourite and least favourite part of the writing process?

I love writing in a group. I hold a writing workshop in my home once a month just to write spontaneously and freely with other people. It’s so much fun and I’m always amazed and surprised by what comes out of my pen.

My least favourite part of writing is the first draft of a planned work. It’s like pulling teeth. The story feels confused and lightweight. It seems like I’m repeating myself and being too obvious. The language feels stilted and plain. Ugh, why go on? And yet, days or weeks later, when I reread what I’ve written, I find nuggets of gold and I’m inspired to polish. Revision is my forte – I have to force myself to stop revising and publish the damn thing.

Do you have a special place to write or any writing rituals?

During National Novel Writing Month this year I discovered that I like writing at night in my bed. When I was young, I always wrote this way but more recently I’d been trying to force myself to write in the mornings. I’ve also switched to writing on a laptop instead of longhand. I’m finding both changes rewarding – I managed to write an entire first draft of a novel in the month of November, just by writing an hour a night.

You studied Creative Writing at university. What was the most valuable thing you learned from that experience?

I wish that what I’m discovering now through books and podcasts about craft and storytelling had been available in the 1980s when I was attending university. It was not and basically our workshops were just reading what we wrote and receiving gut reaction feedback from our classmates. Not the most constructive way to learn to write.

I studied many contemporary writers back then and their work inspired me. In particular I’m thinking of Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Adrienne Rich. I think the most valuable thing I learned was to aim for concise, unsparing, but beautiful language.

What books are currently in your To Be Read pile?

I’m reading Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout and I love it. [Sandy, I loved it too.] Next on the list are the Neapolitan Novels [by Elena Ferrante].  I’ve got the whole boxed set. I’m a slow reader these days so that’s as much as I am committing to at this moment.

What are you working on next?

I’m revising the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo this year. It’s a domestic noir and I’m enjoying writing it more than anything I’ve ever written. I think it’s because it’s completely fictitious and it’s so much fun twisting things just to see what happens. I’ve got ideas for other stories and novels itching to make their way onto the page. If all goes well, I think this will be a very productive year for me.

Thanks, Sandy, for your fascinating answers to my questions, good luck with Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand and the next one, your domestic noir.

HOB-ebook-coverAbout the Book

Teetering on the edge of womanhood, clinging to the first love of her life as if her survival depends on it, 17 year-old Livvy is torn between subjugating herself for love or claiming her identity and independence. When Livvy, lovesick and artistic, spends the summer with the aunt she adores, she crosses paths with a cast of memorable characters in the coastal community of Margaree, Cape Breton Island. While Livvy’s cousins torment her, house renovations disturb her, an annoying young islander tries to befriend and teach Livvy to disco dance, Livvy prepares for the much anticipated arrival of her boyfriend, Kane.

With poetic fluidity and breathtaking revelations Sandy Day draws you into Livvy’s obsession. Such a deep dive into the dire and agonizing crannies of a love-obsessed young woman establishes Head on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand as a memorable coming of age story.

For fans of The Girls Guide to Hunting and FishingLives of Girls and Women, and The Bell JarHead on Backwards, Chest Full of Sand promises to immerse you in the world of a troubled but observant young woman coming slowly to terms with love, life, and all its messy relationships.

Pre-order/purchase links*
Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

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Sandy DayAbout the Author

Sandy Day is the author of Poems from the Chatterbox. She graduated from Glendon College, York University, with a degree in English Literature sometime in the last century. Sandy spends her summers in Jackson’s Point, Ontario on the shore of Lake Simcoe. She winters nearby in Sutton by the Black River.

Sandy is a trained facilitator for the Toronto Writers Collective’s creative writing workshops. She is a developmental editor and book coach.

Connect with Sandy
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads