Breathless: A Mountaineering Thriller by Amy McCulloch

Breathless, Amy McCulloch’s debut adult thriller, is set on the world’s eighth highest mountain in Nepal. Cecily Wong, is a struggling journalist given the opportunity to interview legendary mountaineer Charles McVeigh but with one catch: she has to summit the mountain as part of his team first.

I had a chance to ask McCulloch, a Chinese-White author, born in the UK, raised in Ottawa, Canada, now based in London, UK. questions about her book including how much she and Cecily are similar. But first a little more about McCulloch, the  youngest Canadian woman to climb Mt Manaslu in Nepal – the world’s eighth highest mountain at 26,781ft, is the co-author of the #1 YA bestselling novel THE MAGPIE SOCIETY: One for Sorrow, and has written seven solo novels for children and young adults. She’s made bestseller lists in several countries around globe and her books have been published in fifteen different languages. 

Now the interview.

JA: Tell us how much the character Cecily is like and unlike you?

AM: While Cecily and I share some similarities (we are both mixed race, Chinese and White, and both writers), I wanted Cecily to be more of a novice to the world of mountaineering than I was when I went to Manaslu, so she could be a window into the high altitude world for readers who might be unfamiliar with the sport. Yet I also drew on many of the challenges I faced to create her character: imposter syndrome – in the mountains and in my career, and a struggle to belong.

You mention being, like Cecily, at a nadir in your career and life when you first embarked first on walking and then on climbing. Can you tell us about that? Has physical exertion always been restorative for you?

Actually, turning to physical exertion as a means of healing was a surprise to me! Before my divorce, I was not a particularly active person, although I always loved travel and adventure. However, when my husband left, for the first time I felt truly lost – like my entire future was crumbling in front of me. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so while I processed these big emotions I decided to do something good for my body. I flew out to the Kerry Way – Ireland’s longest way-marked trail – and walked over 250km. I was amazed by what my body was capable of, so I ventured next to Nepal to trek the Annapurna Circuit. It was there that I fell in love with the big mountains, sparking a curiosity in me to see where my feet could take me.

How did you go about preparing to climb an 8,000 high peak?

When I said “yes” to climbing Manaslu with Nims Dai (as part of his 14 Peaks, Project Possible mission – later a Netflix series), I knew I was about to embark on the most difficult challenge of my life. I already knew I could handle high altitudes and difficult weather conditions, having successfully summited Aconcagua (the highest mountain the Americas) a few months before. But this was next level. I embarked on an intense training regime at home in London, tackling multiple ascents of the only hill in the area (London is a remarkably flat place!) and I headed up to North Wales several times to take 1:1 mountaineering lessons with British mountaineering guide Jon Gupta. It also took a while to get all the necessary gear together. I was particularly surprised how difficult it was to find extreme high altitude mountaineering gear designed for women.

How did you come up with the concept of your book and the characters? You mention that you always intended to write a book about your climb but what inspired you to make it a mystery/thriller? And did that occur when you were actually climbing?

I had been a full time author for a few years before I started on my mountaineering journey, writing science fiction and fantasy for young adults. The mountains are such an inspirational place that I knew that there would be a story in there somewhere, but I had no idea what shape that story would take. At first, I toyed with a scifi idea – maybe the first expedition to Olympus Mons, the highest mountain on Mars. It wasn’t until I was actually living at base camp in Manaslu that I realized the novel should be a thriller. It struck me that the mountain was the perfect setting: the isolation, the lack of authority figures, the risks of the environment like avalanches, crevasses and serac falls, but you’re also living amongst total strangers – people whose backstories and motivations are a mystery, and yet you need to trust them with your life. Fatal accidents are considered part of the accepted risk of climbing in these high places – what better place to get away with murder than somewhere already known as the death zone? I knew then that I could use my own personal experience as research, hoping create a unique, compelling, page-turning and yet authentic thriller in Breathless.

Tell us about Manaslu. I know it is the eighth-highest peak but had never heard of it before. Yet it sounds both beautiful and daunting.

Manaslu was the first eight thousand metre peak I’d ever laid eyes on, long before I ever believed I’d be able to climb it. It stands apart from a lot of the other 8,000m peaks, so it dominates the skyline – with a distinctive fishtail peak. It is stunningly beautiful and it is also considered one of the most ‘achievable’ of the 8000m peaks. Many people use it as a training ground for Everest, so it seemed like the right level of challenge as a next step for me in my mountaineering journey. Although ‘achievable’ is a funny word – it was also known as the ‘killer mountain’ for a long time as it had one of the highest death rates of any mountain in the world. There is no safe place to camp on the mountain – everywhere is prone to avalanche danger. It is definitely not to be underestimated.

Cecily is one of just a few women mountaineers in the book. Was that similar to your real life climb? Do you think that it’s harder for women to be accepted into the climbing world?

When I climbed Manaslu in September 2019, I held the record for the youngest Canadian woman, but even more surprising to me was that I was one of only eight Canadian women to have ever reached the summit in history, according to the Himalayan Database. That really showed me just how few women partake in this sport. For so long, I think there have been a lot of barriers to women being fully accepted into the climbing world – there’s the issue of equipment (as I mentioned above) not being designed with women’s bodies and needs in mind, and also the stigma that women in particular face when they participate in high risk sports while leaving their families at home. I think though the tide is changing – with more women than ever breaking ground in this sport, including my good friend and tentmate Stefi Trouget, who became the youngest woman to climb K2 without O2. I found the camaraderie I felt with other women on the mountain to be truly inspirational, and helped me find confidence on the mountain itself.

I loved your description of the teas and the foods you ate both in the town and in the camps. Do you miss that? Or did you take recipes home with you? To me, it seems like a real immersion into the culture of the people who live on the mountain. I’d never run into that in other books about climbing.

Thank you so much! I miss Nepal (and Nepali food) every day! It was important to me when I chose to climb in Nepal, that I used local operators and guides to support their economy as much as possible. What I didn’t realize is how those guides – Nims Dai, Mingma David and my Sherpa Tensing Kasang – would become more like family to me over the years. I have been invited back to their homes and even had the honour of being blessed by Nims’ mother during their Dashain festival. For me, it’s the people who make these climbing trips so memorable and impactful – and getting to immerse myself and learn more about Nepali culture is always the highlight.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my next adventure thriller, set in Antarctica – a place I was lucky enough to visit back in 2016. I was intrigued to write about the “white night” – because when the sun never sets, there are very few places to hide. My hope is to continue to write books that transport readers to incredible places – with some page-turning thrills along the way.

Is there anything we didn’t cover you’d like readers to know?

I don’t think so!

Follow Amy at:

Twitter: @amymcculloch

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/amymccullochbooks/

Instagram: @amymccullochbooks

Harlan Coben’s “Hold Tight” Now a Netflix Movie

From the Book Jacket

How well do you really know your child?

Tia and Mike Baye never imagined they’d spy on their kids. But their sixteen-year-old son Adam has been unusually distant lately, and after the suicide of his best friend Spencer Hill, they can’t help but worry. Within days of installing a sophisticated spy program on Adam’s computer they are jolted by a cryptic message from an unknown correspondent that shakes them to their core: “Just stay quiet and all safe.”

As if Mike Baye isn’t dealing with enough, he also learns that Lucas Loriman, the sweet kid who grew up next door, is in urgent need of a kidney transplant. As the boy’s doctor, Mike suddenly finds himself in possession of an explosive secret that threatens to rip the Loriman family apart at the seams.

Nearby, while browsing through an online memorial for Spencer, Betsy Hill discovers a surprising detail about the night of her son’s death. Before she can find out more, Adam disappears, taking the truth with him and sending shockwaves through the neighborhood.

As the lives of these families collide in tragic, unexpected, and violent ways, long-hidden connections in their small suburb begin to work their way to the surface. And when an unidentified Jane Doe is beaten to death not far away, those connections threaten to turn this quiet community upside down—and force these desperate parents to decide whether there is any line they won’t cross to protect those they love most in the world.

About Harlan Coben:

With over 75 million books in print worldwide, Harlan Coben is the #1 New York Times author of thirty three novels including WINTHE BOY FROM THE WOODSRUN AWAYFOOL ME ONCETELL NO ONE and the renowned Myron Bolitar series. His books are published in 45 languages around the globe.

Harlan is the creator and executive producer of several Netflix television dramas including STAY CLOSE, THE STRANGER, SAFE, THE FIVE, THE INNOCENT and THE WOODS. Harlan was also showrunner and executive producer for two French TV mini-series, UNE CHANCE DE TROP (NO SECOND CHANCE) and JUST UN REGARD (JUST ONE LOOK). KEINE ZWEIT CHANCE, also based on Harlan’s novel, aired in Germany on Sat1.

The Heights by Louise Candlish

              Ellen Saint knows she isn’t wrong but then how could she be right? After all the man she just spotted, Kieran Watts, can’t possibly be alive. That’s because two years ago she killed him.

              And so begins The Heights, the latest page turner by bestselling author Louise Candlish whose previous book Our House won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards,

              Saint, a grieving mother, blames Watts for the death of her teenage son. The two teens were best friends and Watts, with all of his charm and deviousness, had corrupted her son and then been with him in the car when he perished. Though it’s been several years since Lucas died, Ellen isn’t ready to forgive. Indeed, whatever happened the first time she set out to destroy Kieran, she doesn’t intend to let that happen again.

              The following is a question and answer between Candlish and Northwest Indiana Times correspondent Jane Ammeson.

JA: The Heights is a revenge novel–and ultimately a very fulfilling one. What inspired it?

Louise Candlish: I had wanted to explore revenge for a while and had the idea of constructing that dynamic around a feud. I love feuds! Reaching for a fresh angle, I became intrigued by the dynamic between an overprotective tiger mother and her teenage son’s ‘bad influence’ best friend. It feels quite primal– having your golden boy stolen from you right under your nose.

JA: How do you plot your novels and how do you keep track of all the twists and turns?

LC: I always plot the main thriller story, the mechanics of the crime, before I start, and I loosely think through the structure and the order of the revelations. Because The Heights is a book within a book, I had a natural framework, which helped me keep my thoughts straight.

JA: Ultimately Ellen became a very likeable character and her pain was so palpable–did you base her character on someone you knew?

LC: That is good to hear as I was a little wary of readers reacting negatively to her because she is clearly neurotic and – how can I put it? – an over-reactor. But she is grieving the loss of a child and I think we all understand that could take us to the brink of human endurance. Even so, I’m surprised by how many people have said to me, ‘I’d do exactly the same if that were my child.’ I hope not!  She’s not based on anyone in particular, though some of the details of her overly involved behaviour are taken from my observations of fellow parents. She’s actually kind of how I would be if I allowed every catastrophic thought to grow, if I acted on every kneejerk emotion.

JA: What made you decide to write a book within a book like the way Ellen is telling the story in her writing class?

LC: I love this device, which appears in some of my favorite books, like Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. I think the conditions of the Covid lockdown, during which The Heights was written, had an impact on the structure. By writing a book within a book I was almost doubling my sense of control over the project, imposing order in the only way I could during a chaotic, uncertain time.

For more information, visit LouiseCandlish.com or connect with her on Twitter @Louise_Candlish.

Spooky and Scary: Beneath the Stairs

An abandoned octangular home hidden away from the main road, a mysterious door leading to a dark and haunted basement. What is beneath the stairs?

              A mysterious and abandoned octangular house, hidden in the woods, a mysterious disappearance, and tales of hauntings. A scary and spooky place indeed and one that attracts—no make that lures—Clare and Abby, two young friends, into taking a peek inside.

              Or rewind even further, into the memories of author Jennifer Fawcett, a playwright who worked with a theater company in Canada before moving to upstate New York to teach at Skidmore College. Fawcett, the author of the just released Beneath the Stairs, accepted a dare from a friend to participate in NaNoWriMo about a decade ago. Short for National Novel Writing Month, it’s a way for writers to jumpstart the process by setting a goal of completing a 50,000=page book within a month.

              Make that a decade for Fawcett. That’s how long it took her to complete Beneath the Stairs as there were plays to write, a baby that came along, a move to upstate New York,  and classes to teach. But what emerged was a story based upon her own experience when she was 13 of riding bikes with three friends to explore an old decrepit octangular home.

              “We didn’t stay inside for long,” says Fawcett, who has an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. “I remember it being very cold.”

              Decades later, that short visit and the feelings of cold and creepiness flowed into Fawcett’s story about the aftermath of Clare and Abby’s visits. Long estranged from her childhood friend,  Clare is living in Chicago when she receives a call that Abby is hospitalized after attempting to commit suicide in the basement of the octangular house. Clare, who has had a miscarriage and is seeing her relationship dissolve, reluctantly returns home. There are all sorts of  reasons why she wants to avoid the place where she grew up and one of them is Abby’s older handsome brother.

              Trying to understand what happened to Abby leads Clare back to the octangular house. As she remembers from all those years ago, there is an icy chill to the house and a feeling of unseen beings. Almost irresistibly, she’s drawn to the basement where the distilled evil of the house seems centered. The door to the basement is an animate object, opening on its own, and more frightening, occasionally locking in someone who has walked down the stairs into the basement.

              In the book, Fawcett added a widow’s walk to the top though there wasn’t one when she and her friends visited when they were 13. She recently found out that home originally had one. She also came to discover, after the book was published, that the names she used for characters were the actual names of people associated with the home. It was almost as if the house was channeling its history through Fawcett when she was writing. Spooky stuff indeed.

              Fawcett isn’t necessarily a believer in the supernatural but we both get a slight shiver when I ask her if she would  go into the house, which is located in Canada, now if she had the chance.

              “I can’t,” she says. “It burned down a few years ago. On Halloween.”

This book story previous ran in the Northwest Indiana Times.

This Might Hurt

         

          While her sister Nat is successfully climbing the corporate ladder in Boston, Kit has embraced life on a remote Maine island where she enjoys the structure imposed by the leaders of Wisewood. For most, Wisewood is a temporary respite from the world—a place for self-improvement and a total immersion into life totally off the grid as they work at maximizing themselves. One of the requirements for anyone staying  there is having no contact with friends and family for the length of their stay and not using their computers and cell phones. Not that they easily could. As Nat quickly discovers, cell service on the island is practically non-existent.

           None of this daunts Kit who is fully committed to Wisewood. Still reeling from the death of her mother, she’s excited when she is asked to join the staff even though it means undergoing a ritualistic—and painful—hazing. And she’s less than happy when Nat shows up to check on her.

           For her part, Natalie senses the hostility of the staff from the beginning when she shows up to take the boat to the island. It only gets worse when she arrives. The rooms have no curtains and she constantly feels as though she’s being watched, her cell phone disappears, and she sees her sister seemingly controlled by Wisewood’s leader, a woman known as the Teacher.

          In her first novel, the USA Today bestseller Darling Rose Gold author Stephanie Wrobel explored the relationship between a mother and the daughter that she had systematically made ill for the attention and praise it got her.

          “For this book I wanted to take a deeper look at cults and what makes them so appealing,” says Wrobel about her second novel, the aptly named This Might Hurt. “If you dive deep enough, you find the shades, it’s not all black and white. I think the major commonality when it comes to cults is that people are searching.”

          Told from three different points of view—Kit, Nat, and an unidentified woman who was psychologically and physically abused by a demanding sadistic father—Wrobel, who is from Chicago but is now living in England, shows us how each character developed and what led them to the island. And, what, ultimately happens to all three when the time comes to make choices.

CrimeReads: 10 New Books Coming Out This Week ‹ CrimeReads

CrimeReads: 10 New Books Coming Out This Week ‹ CrimeReads. https://crimereads.com/10-new-books-coming-out-this-week-february-21-2022/

CrimeReads: 10 New Books Coming Out This Week ‹ CrimeReads

CrimeReads: 10 New Books Coming Out This Week ‹ CrimeReads. https://crimereads.com/10-new-books-coming-out-this-week-february-14-2022/

The Other Black Girl

         For the past two years, Nella Rogers, the only child of two college professors, has held a job as an editorial assistant at Wagner’s, a publishing house filled with Ivy League trust funders who work for low wages with the dream of becoming an editor one day. That’s Nella’s dream too, though she knows she has a long way to go. The only Black in the editorial assistant pool since the editor disappeared some 20 years ago muttering loudly and scratching he hear. By the way, this is a major clue in The Other Black Girl (Atria 2021) a book that is way beyond your typical business competition story. The first novel by Zakiya Dalila Harris, it’s a zinger showing not only the tricky waters Blacks must navigate—I mean how many White people, myself included, have had to worry that there were too many Whites in the business?

         The impetus for the book says Harris is something similar. Harris was in the bathroom washing her hands when a Black woman walked out of one of the stalls. Her first thought was who was she?   “I was not used to seeing other Black people on the floor,” he says. “I knew who was in the company and how many Black and Brown people there were on my floor—which was me and a Black editor at Pantheon/Knopf. So, I looked at this woman and hoped we would have a moment, but there was nothing. Which was cool, I get it. But on my way back to my desk it got me thinking, why was I so excited? Why was I so starved? But of course, I was starved.

         Becoming a Wagner editor requires a host of abilities—the ability to work hard, a knack of understanding he Zeitgeist so well that’s it easy to define the winners from the losers when it comes to selecting what novels have that certain something that make them most likely to become best sellers.

         Oh, and keeping your mouth shut and fitting in.

         Nella has got all the above checked except for the last two. Sure, she works hard at developing contacts, and she’s super bright but she blows it big time when she suggests that one of the publisher’s star writers, who is introducing a Black character in his newest book, that the woman is a racist stereotype. Of course she , Shartricia Daniels is the fictional character–a pregnant black opioid addict. But when she tries to point this out, her editor is outraged as is the writer, and unfortunately, The Other Black Girl, Hazel-May McCall, a pretty woman with just the right sense of style, a killer resume, and the sweet guile pretends to agree with Nella. But then later Nella overhears her talking to their shared boss praising the Shartricia character and the book. Or even worse, trying to get her to quit. After all, is there room for two Black Girls at Wagner’s? In any office>

         Someone doesn’t think so as Nella soon finds warning notes, seemingly written to scare her aware from Nelson’s. But there’s something even more sinister going on at Nelson’s and Nella is facing a crisis that is impacting all of the Other Black Girls in offices throughout the city.

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