Every so often, I write an email, social media post, or blog urging my wonderful readers to please, please, please, take a minute to leave a review of my novels (or short stories) if they enjoy them.
Why do I ask this? Online reviews are absolutely essential to writers, especially little-known authors like yours truly who either self-publish, or more recently publish through a small indie publisher. We don’t crave reviews because we are insecure and require constant affirmation; we crave them because the more there are, the more algorithms show our work to more people. Reviews are an author’s lifeblood, and in many cases help us (indirectly) put food on the table.
Reviews don’t need to be long or eloquent. “I enjoyed it” is absolutely fine. If you can add that on Amazon and/or Goodreads, you will have been an immense help. Thank you very much to everyone who has left reviews. It is hugely appreciated.
With that rather begging (but continually necessary) appeal out of the way, here are my top five most reviewed novels (current combined totals taken from both Amazon and Goodreads). Most of these are four or five star reviews; which is nice, obviously.
5. Phantom Audition (20 reviews) – My personal favourite of the novels on this list. A gripping and sinister psychological gothic mystery, it concerns a bereaved actress, who lived in the shadow of her much more famous actor husband, prior to his death. A series of unsettling discoveries lead her to believe her husband may have rather buried himself in his final role. Did it have a bearing on his apparent suicide? Was it murder? Could he even have been influenced by vengeful supernatural forces? Phantom Audition is a page-turner that messes with the mind of the reader as much as it’s imperilled heroine.
4. Spectre of Springwell Forest (21 reviews) – A full-blooded gothic ghost story, guaranteed to send shivers down the spine. Easily the scariest novel on this list, Spectre of Springwell Forest concerns a young woman called Lily who moves to a sleepy village near Dartmoor, with her husband and young daughter. Lily discovers a sinister painting in her attic that shows the mouth of a mysterious abandoned railway tunnel in a forest. She is unsettled to discover other villagers have paintings (by a local artist) of the same image in their homes, though they remain tight-lipped as to why. Later, after discovering the real abandoned railway tunnel in a local forest, a mysterious spectral figure appears in the paintings that only Lily can see. The figure gradually becomes visible at the mouth of the tunnel, then slowly emerges, getting closer and closer as time passes. At the same time, Lily’s daughter begins to exhibit strange and disturbing behaviour. Intrigued? Read it if you dare…
3. The Birds Began to Sing (27 reviews) – Another gothic thriller, this one features a huge twist ending. The story largely takes place in a sinister country mansion that once belonged to the late, great author Sasha Hawkins. Several wannabe authors arrive at the mansion to take part in a mysterious writing competition, to pen the finale to an unpublished Hawkins manuscript. Among these is Alice Darnell, who is hoping this will finally lead to her big break. However, peculiar competition rules, enigmatic dreams, and ghostly apparitions lead her to question her sanity, as she is drawn into a tangled web of deceit, revenge, and murder.
2. Uncle Flynn (75 reviews) – The first novel I published is an old-fashioned treasure hunt story aimed at the young and young at heart. It concerns an anxious boy called Max who is plagued by fears and panic attacks. He is visited by his archaeologist uncle, and together they set about uncovering the truth behind local legends of buried treasure on Dartmoor, with roots going back to the time of Henry VIII’s sacking of Catholic monasteries. With rival villainous treasure hunters on their tail, can they get to the treasure first? More unsettlingly, why are the police also after Max’s uncle? Dedicated to my eldest son, this novel is first and foremost intended as a gripping and mysterious adventure, but it also features themes of overcoming fear and the dangers of mollycoddling – especially in the twist ending (yes, I do enjoy writing a good twist ending).
1. Children of the Folded Valley (259 reviews) – Still my most popular novel by a huge margin, this tale of a man looking back on his life growing up amid a mysterious cult clearly struck a chord among readers. It’s a mysterious and melancholy dystopian tale, with themes of religious oppression, loss of innocence, disillusionment, coming of age, rebellion, uprising, and the haunting power of traumatic memory.
Very loosely informed by some of my own childhood experiences, perhaps it is my most “personal” novel to date. Having said that, all writing is personal to some degree, so regardless of how many raw nerves I decided to jab with this book, I can’t attribute its (relative) popularity to that alone. I also like to think my writing has improved a lot since I penned Children of the Folded Valley as there are one or two sections I’d definitely approach differently if I wrote it today.
I completed the first draft in 2011; a fact I constantly point to, in order to dismiss those who view the novel as a cathartic response to the sudden death of my father in 2012. In fact, my father helped shape the final version. I spoke over the phone with him after he read the initial draft, and he made one particular suggestion that he felt would tip the story from “good” to “great”. Hugely excited at his idea, I thanked him profusely, and told him I would definitely adopt it. He seemed very pleased.
That was the last time I ever spoke to him.
Children of the Folded Valley is dedicated to both my parents.