It’s a snowy Saturday morning at the end of January 2021.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, with the Government’s apocryphal “light at the end of the tunnel” dim and far-off, I’m celebrating today. Firstly because I have a new follower on this blog (welcome Chris of Chris Green Reads! ); secondly because I have an appointment for my first COVID jab next week (not queue-jumping, just immunosuppressed); and thirdly because I have a new book review to share with you. And most of all because it’s snowing outside, and it feels cosy in my kitchen with my darling husband playing guitar and topping up my coffee.

Let’s begin with the book review, and then I’ll give a brief update where I am with getting my Roman historical mystery novel The Governor’s Man published.

Dear Lina, by Jess Glaisher, published as audiobook by Audible December 2020

[Warning: as of today I’ve not been able to find a print version of this book. It seems so far to be audiobook only. I’ll update if/when I know more for readers who prefer the written version.]

Lina is a talented young woman living alone in a near-future London after her mother disappears. Mother, Eve, has left a carefully prepared leather-bound book of advice and musings on the world she knows Lina will have to deal with. A world in which the UK has burst apart, in which the English government, a totalitarian one intolerant of immigrants, individual rights, diversity of any kind, and entitlement to any individual freedoms, controls movements, careers and attitudes. Think 1984 meets The Wall, with a dash of The Chrysalids thrown in for good measure.

The story alternates between describing Lina’s stifling impoverished life as an artist at the ministry of propaganda, and chapters from Eve’s book. It becomes slowly apparent that not only was Eve an immigrant, whose human rights became more and more eroded until her very existence was threatened, but that now Lina too is in danger from an administration becoming more Fascist by the day.

Eventually Lina realises she too must disappear, and she sets off to follow her mother to free Scotland. It’s a brutal and dangerous journey, but like Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress or David and Rosalind in The Chrysalids Lina discovers help when least expected, and comradeship in unlikely places.

This is the debut novel by the exceptionally talented Jess Glaisher, and I hope to read more of her work. Jess describes herself as a “queer disabled activist and feminist”. Her own experience as a “hidden immigrant” i.e. having white Irish heritage, allows her to explore issues around discrimination and immigration in an original and arresting way, which I loved. Other themes drawn from contemporary Britain loom large in Dear Lina: global warming, diversity and equal rights, protection of personal data, and the fragility of democratic and individual protections in our troubled times. Jess has particular personal perspectives on all these issues which clearly matter to her, and for the most part do not overwhelm the story. The themes are handled with enough wisdom to engender the reader’s empathy and concern. Towards the end, as a cisgender woman myself, I would have welcomed a wider range of characters representative of all society.

4.5 out of 5 stars for me, and I watch for Jess’s next book with anticipation.

GM#1 Update

Since December I’ve been working on incorporating the corrections and suggestions of my independent editor Gemma Taylor. At times this feels painful, a bit like selectively cutting off digits with a rusty pair of secateurs. Fortunately this is second novel around for me working with Gemma, so I now know that the next time I read over the amended text I will be delighted with the improvement. It’s just a question of gritting teeth and killing darlings.

I had an IT capacity glitch which slowed down resumption of work after Christmas, but by yesterday I was up to chapter 18 of 30. And– joy of joys! — there’s a perceptible drop-off in the slash of Gemma’s metaphorical red pen. In the meantime, a literary agency has expressed a cautious interest after seeing the first 10,000 words. They will remain nameless unless and until they actually like the full script, and take me on. Wish me luck!

And more news: while waiting for Gemma’s input, I began researching and outlining the second book of the Governor’s Man series. GM#2 will occupy me through into autumn 2021, when I hope to get the first draft out to beta readers.

Here’s a tiny flavour of GM#2: Quintus discovers things he never knew about his dead father; Tiro is amazed that Rome is bigger and better than Londinium; and Julia has a difficult journey with a dangerous ending.

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