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Blog Tour Review - The Only Way Out is Death by Varun Gwalani

 Blog Tour Review - The Only Way Out is Death by Varun Gwalani Twelve powerful people are kidnapped and imprisoned in an empty hotel. Each one of them has three choices: Live out the rest of their days peacefully in the hotel, Die by suicide so the rest of their companions can go free, Or murder one of their companions so they alone can go free. The Only Way Out is Death follows the story of these twelve people from the perspective of a young lawyer, Kiriaki, told as the events unfold. She has to forge messy alliances, navigate complex relationships and feuds, and, above all, try to stay alive. Meanwhile, the mastermind of this death game is lurking just out of view, watching them closely, making sure they are primed for murder. Will Kiriaki find the mastermind before it's too late for her? Will she outmanoeuvre the cutthroats before they cut her throat? There are twelve selfish lives in the hotel. Will it end in twelve selfish deaths? The Only Way Out is Death is a fascinating nov

Blog Tour - Q and A with Sinéad O'Hart

 Blog Tour - Q and A with Sinéad O'Hart

I've got something special today, a little birthday treat to myself you might say. The blog tour for The Time Tider is off and running and today is my stop. I've got a questions and answers post with one of my favourite authors, Sinéad O'Hart!

The Time Tider is your first contemporary novel. How did you find that, in comparison to your historical-set novels?

I’m extremely nervous whenever a book comes out, and sometimes it can be hard to explain why. It can be a mixture of worries, including that readers won’t like the book, or that it won’t sell (despite this largely being out of my control anyway) or that it won’t express exactly what I intended it to, or any amount and combination of stressors. (Nobody ever tells you this, by the way, before you’re published!) With The Time Tider, my usual worries are doubled, because as you say this is my first novel with a contemporary setting. It felt strange, having to think about things like technology and mobile phones (which still seem like magic to me – the world pre- mobile phone is one I remember very well!) and while being able to use things like buses and vans and phones was liberating in some ways, from a storytelling point of view, it also brought problems – how to get the characters from a to b without relying on Mara’s driving skills, or how to progress the plot without simply looking things up on the internet, or something similar. But it was a great stretch, for me, in terms of my storytelling ability, and I welcomed it. There was still a lot of research involved, as when you’re writing in a largely invented sort-of historical setting, you can use very general facts as building blocks for your world and make up the rest, but when your setting is contemporary and familiar to your readers, it has to feel authentic.

I said in my review that this felt like a book where you were challenging yourself as a writer. What were the biggest challenges of writing The Time Tider? How did you overcome them?

I definitely did challenge myself as a writer with this book, and thanks for picking up on that. The Time Tider is a book that has been in my head for a very long time, and I’ve tried to write it over and over again without success. Now, I wonder if it was simply that the story was waiting for me to be a good enough writer before it allowed itself to come out of my imagination! The challenges posed by the writing process included, of course, the contemporary setting, but also the planning that had to go into the way the book deals with Time. Sometimes, I get very stressed when trying to work out the nitty-gritty of my plots, and this one was a major brain-basher. I knew what I wanted the book to achieve, but sometimes getting the plot to stay where I wanted it was challenging. There was also the fear of getting too technical or complicated (and, in other words, boring) for the target audience. So, the book wears whatever time-travel lore it has very lightly, and I hope that I’ve retained the mystery and wonder of the idea of being able to dart through Time to gather up lost moments, while not turning the story into a physics textbook (which I would be extremely ill- equipped to write in the first place!) I think I managed to overcome the challenges by simply remembering what was important: Mara, and her journey, and the courage it takes for her to do what she does.

Messing about with the flow of time has long been a genre staple. Are there any specific books/films/series you used for research or as reference points that you'd like to tell us about?

Indeed it has, and while I love books and movies that feature time as a theme, I didn’t use any particular sources to inform my thinking when it came to writing The Time Tider. I’ve just been generally inspired, I think, by a lifetime of loving SF-type stories and the sort of fantasy tales that deal in time-travel. The idea for The Time Tider came to me as I read a book about medieval history and concepts of time and how to measure time, and how those concepts changed during the Middle Ages, and then it sat in my head for over twenty years, gently marinating, so I’m sure it picked up a lot of flavour from books and stories I love. One of the books I love most is Madeleine l’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, which made my imagination explode when I read it as a child, and it still does when I read it now! But more recently there have been a spate of great children’s books which do fun and interesting things with time, including Patience Agbabi’s The Leap Cycle trilogy (The Infinite, The Time Thief, and The Circle Breakers), which feature children born on Leap Day who also have the power to leap through time. I also really enjoy Jennifer Bell’s Wonderscape and Legendarium, which I think do very cool things with the idea of going to a different place in time – in this case, the far future.

If you could take any one day from your life so far and experience it again, what would it be and why?

I’d love to say something like the day I became a parent (but, besides the fact that I got to meet the best kiddo in the world for the first time, which was epic, there was a lot of not-so nice stuff that day too) or the day I was married (which, despite also being epic, involved a lot of uncomfortable clothes, and shoes, and a whole ton of being sociable and smiling, which I’m not very good at) so I’m going to say I’d love to relive a day that happened in the late 1980s. It was a day when my parents put my brother and me into the car and told us we were going on a mystery tour! We ended up at a quayside, where we boarded a big (to me, at the time) boat with a lot of other people, and together we sailed to the Saltee Islands, off the coast of my home county of Wexford. It was a beautiful sunny day, we took a picnic, we saw puffins, we sat on the throne of Michael the First, the self-proclaimed Prince of the Saltee Islands, and we had so much fun. It remains, possibly, my favourite day of all, and it would be wonderful to live it again.

I adore Mara and the way she's come through such a hard life. What inspired her character?

Thank you – I love her, too. Mara is a tough cookie, and through all the iterations of her story, she has had that inner core of steel. She’s had a couple of different first names (she was originally ‘Maraika’, as the word ‘aika’ is a word for time in Finnish), and she’s had a lot of different backgrounds, but she herself has largely remained the same, and I guess I was inspired to create a character who knows what’s right, and who chooses to do what’s right despite what it might cost her. In all the versions of Mara that have existed in my head – whether she’s been a child who was aware of what her father’s power as the Time Tider entailed, or not – she has always been someone who wanted to put things right, make them fair, and ensure that nobody is being exploited in her family’s name. Some earlier versions of the story (that didn’t get past a partial draft) have Mara’s family as rich, successful, living in a large home or, in one version, a castle; one version, which I was hoping would work, had her family running a shop which sold Time, allowing people to relive days from their own past or to experience the past as lived through by other people, but lots of things didn’t work well enough for me to finish it. Mostly, it was the machinations of the time-travel theme, but I think there was also the sense that Mara didn’t belong in a family like that, a family surrounded by wealth. She didn’t seem ‘right’ in that setting.

But Mara as she is now, forged by marginalisation and feeling like her life is one long unanswered question, is the Mara who can live up to the principles that have always driven her character.

Finally, is there anything you'd like to ask me in return?

What would be the plot of your dream novel? Whether it’s one you’d like to write yourself, or one from the imagination of another person, I’d love to know what you’d really enjoy reading about, and/or what story idea has always niggled at you.

It's not actually a novel I dream about. It's an anthology of short stories. I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan, (I was lucky enough to meet him twice and he was as lovely as he was clever and compassionate.) My dream project would be an anthology of Discworld-set stories by different contemporary writers, each around a different genre or theme. I'd have crime writers writing short City Watch stories, horror writers writing something set in Uberwald maybe. A historical romance in Sto Lat or Sto Helit. 

I also still really want an anthology of stories about the Order of the White Rose from The Eye of the North! I haven't forgotten.

Well, I hope you'll agree with me that that was a fantastic interview! You can find my review of The Time Tider, Sinéad's wonderful new novel, here. Don't forget to check out the rest of the blog tour and if you want to hear more about Sinéad's thoughts on books you should definitely have a listen to the fantastic podcast she creates with Susan Cahill, Storyshaped Podcast. It can be found wherever you get your podcasts from.

The Time Tider by Sinéad O'Hart is out now, published by Little Tiger.


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