Interview with Alexandra Folgate, protagonist of Isabel Costello’s Paris Mon Amour

I’m very pleased to share another special feature on my blog. Having read and loved Isabel Costello’s debut novel, Paris Mon Amour, I had some questions for the novel’s protagonist. I caught up with her in a café over the weekend.




Isabel Costello’s debut novel Paris Mon Amour is available in digital and audiobook. She also hosts the Literary Sofa blog, where you can find her selection of recommended Summer Reads 2016

Isabel Costello - Literary Sofa


Can you describe your initial reactions to learning your husband was having an affair?

I was devastated and shocked, even though I had suspected it for some time.  Denial makes the truth even harder to face when it finally comes out.  Before we met, Philippe had been through an acrimonious divorce, losing touch with his daughter; my fiancé had left me because I couldn’t have children. Philippe and I used to make each other happy.  It’s amazing what we both did to destroy that.

Do you think a marriage can survive an affair? If so, how?

Every couple is different. In Paris there are probably marriages that survive because both spouses are having affairs. Philippe and I absolutely didn’t have that kind of relationship.  When affairs cause pain (which I think is the more likely outcome, the whole world over), both people have to really want to stay together.  It’s hard to come back from that betrayal of intimacy, that breakdown of trust. I was a typical ‘Anglo-Saxon’ who believed cheating is wrong.  It didn’t stop me doing it and awful as it may sound, I can’t say I entirely regret it. How could I?

We learn early on that your brother, Christopher, died as a child.  Can you tell us how this affected you?  And your life?

Christopher’s death (when he was eight years old and I was 10) changed everything for me and my parents. I was the only witness.  We all lost each other, in every possible sense.  I also lost who I would have become, and in my mind she is everything I am not. For all kinds of reasons I held back from facing my grief for a long time. It put me at arms’ length from all my emotions. It wasn’t until last year that I realised I wasn’t fully alive.

Your feelings towards your mother are complex.  Can you tell us about them, and how they may have evolved during your life?

For thirty years, everything between mom and me was about Christopher.  Her grief was overwhelming; she held me responsible, and of course I blamed myself.  When I look back on the rest of my so-called childhood – mostly at boarding school in England, little contact with either parent – I could weep for that poor girl.  I never used to feel that compassion; it began when I unexpectedly had to deal with Philippe’s 17-year-old daughter, Vanessa, and could see myself in her.  I never thought things would change with my mother.

Do you think you would have had sex with Jean-Luc if you hadn’t learned of Philippe’s affair?

This is something I agonised over, trying to rationalise what I was doing with Jean-Luc, to excuse it on the grounds that Philippe had cheated on me first. I will never know for sure and it makes no difference. The fact is, I was sleeping with the son of my husband’s best friend, not just anyone, so I was jeopardising more than my marriage. And it wasn’t ‘just sex’ – I even broke my own rules.

What was it that drew you to Jean-Luc?

I won’t try to dress this up: I felt this powerful, derailing physical attraction for him.  I was doing my best to suppress these troubling fantasies until we found ourselves alone and I had the thrill of him wanting me.  Sex with Jean-Luc uncovered a disinhibited, sensual side to me I didn’t know was there.  Desire like that takes over your body and floods your brain.  I craved that man and the way he made me feel, enough to risk everything.

As someone who is half-American, half-British, how did you find living in Paris?

I adored Paris from the first moment I went there, on a school trip when I was fifteen years old.  Even before all this, the city always touched something very deep in me.  It’s home to the greatest highs and lows of my life, the place I fell desperately in love.  I miss it so much but it’s hard to imagine ever going back.

Had you, Philippe and Jean-Luc been living in another country and city, do you think events would have taken the same course?

No! That is simply unimaginable.  They were Parisians (even if Philippe is originally from here, in Nice), Paris is where I met them, where it all played out.  There’s something about the place that fuelled the passion and intensity of it all.

When we first see you, you are heading to your psychoanalyst. What was it like having analysis, and did you find it helpful?

I don’t think I would still be here without it. When I was a child in California, the idea of talking about tragic events appalled me, so I never did. As an adult I’ve discovered that difficult and exhausting as it is, analysis is less painful than shouldering everything on my own. My analyst doesn’t know me outside that room; she’s not there to judge me and being completely honest is very liberating.  It’s helped me understand that making terrible mistakes doesn’t make me a terrible person.  None of us can change what happened so finding a way to live with it is our best hope. I’m starting to believe in blue sky again.


Thanks so much, Alexandra.


My review of the novel will follow in a few days.

You can find Isabel’s publisher here. You can find her on Twitter here: @isabelcostello



The Evolution of Fear by Paul E. Hardisty – blog tour review


The Evolution of Fear is a throat-grabbing read which combines genuine pathos and the exploration of serious themes with an international thriller plot. With action aplenty, and high stakes, there is no evidence of second album syndrome here. If anything, The Evolution of Fear is better than The Abrupt Physics of Dying, which was one of my best reads of 2015 (reviewed here). With his űber-authentic and unique brand of EcoNoir, Hardisty brought something new to the thriller market last year, and I wasn’t surprised when the novel was nominated for the CWA John Creasy Debut Dagger.

The Evolution of Fear is the second in the trilogy with protagonist Claymore Straker. It isn’t a spoiler to say Clay survives the first book as it says so in the blurb for this one. The story moves from Yemen, and begins in Cornwall in 1994 where Clay (and his aliases) have been hiding out for several weeks from the Russian mafia. With a price on his head, he’s separated from the woman he loves (Rania). But there wouldn’t be much of a story if he remained safely in his cottage-by-the-sea, would there? You get the feeling that Clay’s simply biding his time until he decides what to do, rather than gone to live in the Costa del Cornwall forever. He knows he’s scared and scarred, and needs to confront those aspects of himself. And on the first page, Hardisty plunges the reader (and Clay) into the jeopardy and conflict of the plot. The Cornish holiday is over because someone knows where Clay is. Within seconds he realises his coastal comfort zone was a mirage, and the armed assassins pose a mortal threat to him – and Rania. But who has betrayed Clay and will he manage to keep himself safe? And is he up to the challenges ahead?

The plot burns through petrol, with multiple twists and turns, some signposted, some completely unexpected. There is a lot of gun-fighting and killing, but both are in keeping with the high stakes, and this isn’t Miss Marple: no-one has stolen the prize winning marrows at the village fête. It’s mafia/CIA/corporation/international terrorism/species extinction scale crime. The price on Clay’s head – dead or alive – has been placed by the leader of the Medved family for the murder of one of their kin, a crime Clay didn’t commit. This takes the story, and Clay, to Cyprus. Rania, who is a journalist, is also sent there by her boss to follow a story about the threat posed to turtles by tourism and development. Having been to Cyprus and seen evidence of the national and religious conflicts, I found this aspect of the book extremely interesting, particularly since it brings in environmental issues and capitalism.

The parts of the plot which involve Rania provide just some of the novel’s pathos. Clay’s love for her is genuine, and this shows us aspects of his character which don’t come across when he’s blasting bullets into people. Even when Rania isn’t present, the way Clay thinks about her gives his character – and hers – depth. We see that Clay has huge integrity, and loyalty is a guiding principle for him. And we also see the demons he struggles with: self-doubt, self-blame and fear. I really liked the scenes which dealt with the turtle colonies and the scientist’s work in Cyprus. These more tender moments provide a balance to the violence, and time to think.

With a book which covers some hard-hitting themes, and which uses a fair bit of technical language about guns, boats and equipment, it takes great skill to keep the plot moving. Hardisty is extremely good at this, and for some reason I’ve not figured out yet the technical details seem important to him. They aren’t boy’s toys. It is almost as though the details are there to show us how essential all the gadgets and technology are in overcoming the enemy but how unimportant and destructive in terms of the bigger picture. Perhaps, then, we are all fighting the wrong enemy and, like Frankenstein’s monster, we’ve created it? The descriptive prose is beautifully written. Hardisty interweaves these sentences with action and dialogue, and anchors them within character goals and obstacles. This creates a feeling of balance, and means the pace doesn’t suffer. In fact, I found the pace of this book a little faster and more consistent than the APoD.

When it comes to plot and character conflict, Hardisty brings in some of his key themes. On his ‘travels’ Clay faces extraordinary battles with the elements, including fire and water. These very much root the novel in nature and science … but also mythology. Fire and water are natural and difficult to control. They have the power to give and take away life. These larger elemental threats mirror many of the inner struggles Clay faces, chiefly, as the title suggests – fear. In addition, Clay is haunted by things he’s witnessed and been involved with in the past, and has to find a way to reconcile himself to them so he can be truly happy. Redemption, then, transcendence, forgiveness and betrayal all feature. As do corruption and consequences. These are some of my favourite themes, all highly psychological. And you can’t get more universal than fear, betrayal and greed. This book is a contemporary thriller. However, it also has a timeless feel to it. This part is depressing: when-oh-when are we going to understand the effects our acquisitive and lazy actions have on flora, fauna and climate?

Fear is such an interesting theme to consider because, along with anger, it is arguably one of the two core emotions in psychology. As such, and as the novel explores, fear has the potential to control our lives and happiness. Don’t industries, via marketing and advertising, exploit and manipulate our fears to make us buy their products? I find it fascinating that industries, corporations, nations, leaders, can all make us feel we have to do certain things or bad things will happen. Clay’s fears are survival-oriented and about whether he can be the man he wants. In psychology, emotions aren’t seen as negative or positive. Fear is seen as a natural response to perceived threat, evolved, originally, to keep us alive: it drives fight, flight and freeze behaviours. In The Evolution of Fear Hardisty uses ideas from natural selection to examine the world, and to show the consequences of trying to speed up nature’s clock. If turtles are chased from their breeding grounds, they will not be able to evolve sufficiently quickly and will become extinct. What about Clay? Have his fears evolved or has he learnt them? And more importantly, will he be able to transcend them in the ways he wants? According to behaviourism, fears are learnt, either by being rewarded (think: Skinner’s pigeons) or by association (think: Pavlov’s dogs). Given, then, phobias are irrational, they cannot also be adaptive. If we are scared of failure, of not being good enough, are these any more rational than being scared of spiders?

Amongst the advice for writers is ‘write what you know’. Then there’s ‘write what you want to read’. The one I like says, write what you feel passionately about, what makes you curious, what keeps you awake at night. I cannot claim to know Hardisty’s motivations for writing but, having listened to him speak at CrimeFest 2015, and read both his novels, it strikes me he writes about things he cares deeply about. The environmental issues which featured in APoD (chiefly oil company pollution causing birth defects and disease) re-appear in the Evolution of Fear in a different form: turtle populations under threat from tourism in Cyprus. It is a masterclass in how to use fiction to explore some of the key threats to our environment and the modern world.

To conclude, I would highly recommend The Evolution of Fear to anyone who enjoys a beautifully written, intelligent, fast-paced thriller.

Right. What happens in book three?


Vicky Newham © May 2016

In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings – blog tour

I was lucky to receive an ARC of In Her Wake from Karen Sullivan. What resonated deeply with me was the psychology in the novel and the nature of the themes which Amanda explores so beautifully.

For the blog tour I caught up with Bella, the protagonist in the novel, slipped on my psychologist’s hat and we had a chat about her life and how she feels about some of the things that have happened.



Interview with Bella Campbell

What was it like growing up with your parents, Elaine and Henry?

It was lovely, really. Our house was beautiful and I had a gorgeous bedroom that overlooked the garden. Elaine was a committed and caring gardener and it was stunning, a real treasure trove of hiding places and sunny spots to read. Elaine had a few issues, of course. She liked me close to her, and felt that the local schools weren’t up to much – at least that’s what she told me and I had no reason back then to question it – so she and Henry home-schooled me. Henry did all the science lessons and maths, and Elaine covered everything else. I particularly enjoyed English literature. She would read passages to me from all sorts of books and we would discuss the characters and the story. I’ve always loved books, you can really escape into them, can’t you? Henry was quiet. You could never describe us as close. But he was a kind man, even if he tended to keep himself to himself a bit.


Sigmund Freud, John Bowlby’s theories on attachment, both still inform much of contemporary thinking on the parent-child relationship and how it influences us throughout our lives. What can you tell us about your mother? What was she like?

She loved me, often a little too much. She was a powerful woman and it was easier to let her make all the decisions. Neither Henry nor I dared to argue with her, really. She could go from calm to furious in the drop of a hat! She went to church regularly and loved to cook meals for me. She enjoyed listening to radio plays while she ironed. She was wonderful when I was ill. She would get Henry to drag a chair into my room and she’d sit with me all night, stroke my head, make me chicken soup, and read to me, of course. She hated leaving the house though. It used to make her twitchy. Henry once told me she suffered from a form of agoraphobia. She definitely had a fear of crowds. Is there a name for that? She hated other people and always told me you could never trust anybody.


Elaine and Henry clearly had a particular dynamic to their marriage. When we meet your father, he is suffering. It made me wonder whether their marriage evolved to be like this, or whether it was always so. Can you tell us about their relationship?

I don’t really know what it was like before, but certainly there were moments when I’d catch a closeness between them. There were some albums which had a couple of pictures of them together, early on in their marriage, and they seemed totally different – especially Henry! He was smiling and toned and Elaine looked smitten with him. They were very reliant on each other. They had no other friends and no family, just the two of them. And me, of course.


The death of a loved one is never easy. Death of a spouse, sibling or child can take years to recover from. Psychology sometimes links grief and mourning to attachment and loss. How does Elaine’s death affect Henry?

I was shocked when I first saw him. He was even frailer than he was before. He seemed to have aged about ten years in ten days. She was just such a big part of our lives, such a presence, and she had real control over us. Henry was a bit like a ship without a rudder. He looked confused and, well, it turned out he was more lost than I thought.


I’m fascinated by what people know at a pre-cognitive or unconscious level. Sometimes when something major comes to light, people report afterwards that they had a ‘feeling’ about x, y or z. When you read Henry’s letter, did you have any prior inkling about your up-bringing and parents or was it all a complete surprise?

Things began to slot into place, began to make sense. Of course, I wanted it to be lies. I was cross with him too. I didn’t understand why he had told me. But I couldn’t shut up the voice in my head. All the signs were there. It was a shock, without doubt – I felt as if my world had ended, to be honest – but, if I’m totally honest, it wasn’t a surprise. That letter turned my life upside down. For a long time I wished I could unread it! But you can’t do that can you? You can’t go back in time and change things. You just have to forge onwards.


Freud had plenty to say about our choice of partner, some of which is still supported empirically. Bowlby’s ideas on childhood attachment have been extended to apply to our choice of romantic partner. The idea is that partner choice, and perception of relationships and love, are linked to and determined by the sort of attachment we’ve had with our parents. What do you think about this, and what made you choose your husband, David?

 I don’t think I chose him, really. I think he chose me. He was charming and handsome, or at least he had this aura about him that made him handsome to me. He just looked like someone who knew what he was doing. University was very different to home. I hadn’t even been to school and hardly ever out of the house. I’d never mixed with people my own age, so the whole thing was terribly daunting. I missed Elaine and felt lost at sea without her. David made me feel secure from the start, like I didn’t have to worry about anything. Sometimes I used to wish I had a younger boyfriend. I used to look at all my peers laughing and planning parties and things like that and feel jealous, but I knew I’d never have the courage to join them. And David really loved me. He told me all the time that he loved me and would always look after me. And that’s good, isn’t it? To have someone who loves you so much that they want to look after you.


Insight, compensatory experiences, and differences in personality and temperament can all affect how we respond to being a parent. If you have children, how will your experiences inform the sort of mother you would like to be?

I know what it’s like not to be able to make your own decisions and so I will encourage my children to be free and to have fun! I can’t help feeling like I won’t let them out of my sight, but that’s understandable, I think. I will tell them I love them and always put their needs first. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have something happen to one of your children. I try not to think too hard about it as it opens up all sorts of feelings I am still trying to process.


When people hurt or disappoint us it can be confusing. I’m fascinated by whether motivations make a difference to whatever has been said/done. Buddhism believes that motivation makes all the difference whereas the behaviourism of Skinner, Watson, of Pavlov maintain it’s simply the outcome which matters. When you learned the truth about your parents’ actions, were you able to understand what motivated them? Has this helped you in any way?

 It took a long time. I understand they weren’t well and that they weren’t acting in the right frame of mind. But while I might have a bit of understanding I don’t think I will ever really forgive them. They destroyed so many lives.


The theme of betrayal intrigues me. There is something about it which cuts to the core. Do you think that people can fully recover from betrayal? Are all betrayals equal, do you think? Are they forgivable?

 Betrayal is a breaking of trust and trust forms the building blocks of successful human interaction. Without trust it’s hard to have strong, functioning relationships. Betrayal takes so many forms, from things that appear minor, to things that shatter lives and mean there can be no turning back. I think trust can be rebuilt, but it takes patience. Sometimes you have to look at why the other person betrayed you. They will often have their own reasons and that might lay some of the blame at your own feet. It’s important to look at these things objectively if you want to repair the damage done by a betrayal. Sometimes, though, it’s better to walk away.


In our lives we each perpetrate, collude with and suffer from so many betrayals. What do you think motivates betrayal?

Lots of things come into play, I think. But selfishness fuels betrayal. Selfishness and lack of empathy. If you aren’t able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and grasp what damage your actions might cause, or worse still, don’t care, then you are more likely to betray someone you love.


Studies in psychology show that numerous factors influence the way people respond to life events. Faced with what might seem like the same situation, some people feel crushed and give up while others are able to overcome it. When you read Henry’s letter, what do you think gave you the strength and determination to find out what happened and to re-construct your life?

I just wanted to find out what might have been. And I needed answers. I battled with my decision to search out the truth for a long time, but in the end it just wasn’t an option not to. I couldn’t carry on not knowing my whole story.


When things go wrong, some people are more hopeful and optimistic than others. Where or who do you get your hope from?

Ha! Well, that’s a great question. Hope in the early days came from the Mermaid in Zennor. I just loved her story. It showed me that even when things look bleak, happiness is just around the corner, that you just have to chase it. You can’t wait for happiness to happen to you, you have to face adversity head on and claim happiness for yourself. Now things are more settled, I get hope from those around me, from the small things, from the idea that situations can only ever improve. I found myself in some dark places, but I made it through. Hope helped. Without hope I would have given up, I think.


Thank you so much, Bella, for sharing your thoughts with us.

My review of In Her Wake is here. It’s one of my favourite books of 2016.