Honourable Mention in the Chapter One Prize by GutsyGreatNovelist
It’s been another little while since my last post, the editing and re-writing of my second novel being the major reason why. Looking back through my posts to check when my latest update was, I realised I’d never mentioned that amidst the blog tours for Embers, I finished my teaching job in Scotland, moved back to Sweden, and started applying for PhD positions in literature here. All the while working on book two. Simply put – a lot!
The hard work has started to pay off though as I this week received an honourable mention in the chapter one prize, organised by best-selling novelist Joan Dempsey, finding of the writing platform GutsyGreatNovelist. Joan selected 17 finalists out of 801 international entries. Of these, 9 were notable mentions, 5 honourable mentions, and three winners. As a judge, she was looking for a clear point of view, a tone and style appropriate to the genre, an introduction to the protagonist, a sense of what the story would be about, a gripping opening scene, a vivid setting, and a chapter ending that urged readers to move on the to the second.
These are milestones I daresay all writers strive towards in their work, as they are building blocks for story telling, and novel writing in particular. Getting external validation from another author that you’ve ticked all these boxes is still extremely satisfying and a sense of release – you know you’re on the right track with this story. No number of previous publications takes that feeling away or dampens it in any way.
In that way, this nomination is a well-needed motivation for me to keep pushing with this novel. Last year while teaching, I experienced a lot of anxiety and stress over my job, living through a second lockdown abroad without my family, and also about the publication of Embers. My writing suffered as a consequence. The Chapter One Prize shows clearer than anything else that I was right not to give up on the novel but keep pushing forward while having patience and compassion with myself. I’m looking forward to the next opportunities this story can bring.
Link to the list of winner’s on the Chapter One prize website, with a link to the opening chapter of Wolf Hour, is here.
This week I logged onto my twitter for the first time in a long while and found out that Embers has been included in a list of 10 debut novels to discover in 2022. This was a very welcome surprise, and a nice return to the Embers world as I’ve been head deep in book 2 edits for the past 6 months. The list features other Unbounders including Andy Charman’s Crow Court, Jason Cobley’s A Thousand Years to Arras and Samuel Dodson’s and Rosy Benson’s Philospher’s Dogs.
Below is the description for Embers
Embers is a first novel by Josephine Greenland. A beautifully told mystery that takes place amidst conflict between contemporary Swedes, and Sami reindeer herders who want to preserve their traditional way of life. Against this backdrop, Embers explores themes of hate crime, prejudice, family relationships and animal cruelty. Reading this book, one cannot help but be drawn into the dark mysteries at its heart, which are mirrored by the dark forests of northern Sweden and the mysticism of Sami folklore.
You can read the full post and features of the other novels here
Book Review by Olivia Templetoe of the Blind Scribe, as part of the Random Things Tour hosted by Anne Cater.
Happy Friday bookish people! Today is my stop on the book tour for Embers by Josephine Greenland. Thank you to Anne Cater and Random Tours for sending me a copy of this book to read and review.
In this book review I will give star ratings to four categories and I will write a little about each one. I will try to keep it as spoiler free as possible. I hope you enjoy my book review!
Embers Plot: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This book immersed me in the history and culture of the Sami people which prior to this book I had never heard about before. I found the plot intriguing and I really liked how the tension increased as each incident seemed to get more dangerous. This book focuses on the relationship between two siblings and although it is slightly unrealistic – my parents would never have let my sister and I go on holiday on our own to a place we had never been before. Mainly because we would have caused all sorts of trouble. I enjoyed how this mystery played out, the investigation was developed well and kept me curious about what happened.
Embers Characters: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I enjoyed that this book had two young siblings as the main characters because that is something I personally don’t usually read, so this book was out of my comfort zone. I also liked that this book contained disability representation because one of the main characters, the brother, has Asperger’s in this book. I’m not sure how correctly portrayed it is because I’m not as knowledgeable as I’d like to be on the subject.
Embers Writing and Dialogue: ⭐⭐⭐
There’s not much for me to say here. The writing style flowed very well and helped to keep me involved in the story. For me I felt that I needed something a little more from the writing although I couldn’t tell you what that would be, it was just a feeling that something was missing. Of course this is only my personal opinion.
Embers Overall: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I gave this book four stars overall because it was an enjoyable and well thought out mystery novel that had me learning about new places and cultures and helped to push me a bit out of my comfort zone.
Embers book review by Lucy Rambles @Lucyrambles (Twitter). Part of the Random Things Blog Tour hosted by Anne Cater
Embers is a dark and twisted tale that follows a brother and sister team that is desperate to find the answers to a horrific crime.
Firstly, I really appreciated the bond between brother and sister being shown in this book. When they’re sent to Svartjokk, Ellen has no option but to look after Simon. Due to his Asperger’s, it’s suggested that he lacks an emotional response to things that are happening around him. When they begin questioning people, he is brash and to the point and has no fear of being direct to get the answers he wants. Ellen tries other methods to get the truth out of the townspeople that reflect more of her emotional response to the situation they’re thrust into. I thought the siblings had a beautiful bond and would always stick together through everything. Ellen was the only one who could ever understand and get through to Simon when he had meltdowns. I felt they were both fiery and determined once the mystery of what happened to the Reindeer began to unravel. I’d pin some of their needs to investigate down to typical teen spirit and rebelliousness. When the police told them to stop, they kept looking for the answers they felt the Sami people deserved.
I found it a little difficult to believe that two teenagers could find out all this information independently. It never felt as if they were in any real danger, which for a thriller was strange. I felt this element needed more development and they needed to be in more danger at some point for it to be believable. But it was only ever eluded to that they were putting themselves in harm’s way rather than it happening.
I was pleased when answers to pressing questions were finally revealed because it felt as if they were starting to go around in circles with the same information for a while. Unfortunately, the family was so used to lying to one another that it took a big life-altering event – for the teens at least – for the truth to finally be told.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would rate it 4/5 stars. There were moments it felt a little lackluster but I didn’t lose interest in reading it at any point.
Two reviews from the second day of the Embers Blog Tour hosted by Random Things Tours.
Review by Cheryl of @mm_cheryl
Ellen is reluctant to take a holiday and even more reluctant to take her brother Simon with her. The trip becomes a journey into the past and a forest of lies. It also becomes a journey to solve a grotesque crime, a crime which is connected to their own heritage – they just don’t know it yet. The attempts to cover up a crime and pervert the course of justice are a something Simon can’t and won’t accept.
I find it interesting how both the existence and treatment of the Sámi people remain something akin to a dirty secret. The Scandinavian societies are generally perceived as forward thinking and modern in certain areas, and also often held up as examples for the rest of Europe.
The truth is that they have their fair share of problems that are kept nice and quiet, including the history of the mistreatment of their indigenous people. Unfortunately the systemic racism, irrational hatred and attempt to ignore their historical importance is still prevalent. Instead of gaining insight into the past, heritage and the mystical link they have with their surroundings – Scandinavians (not all) choose to treat the Sámi people with contempt.
I truly hope Greenland revisits this riveting sleuthing duo and writes another book featuring the siblings. The combination of the reluctant older sister, the younger brother with a lack of impulse control and their crime solving seen through the lens of a someone with Asperger’s, really makes for a great read.
Okay first of all can we just appreciate how beautiful the cover of this book is please?!
Two siblings go on holiday and find themselves investigating and horrific crime which leads them to find secrets about their own family and past.
I really enjoyed reading this book, the way it’s written is beautiful and a real page-turner. I loved following Simon and Ellen on their adventure, especially with access to the thoughts going through Simon’s head. This was a unique murder mystery, the characters were well developed, I could picture the scenes in my head with ease and I can’t wait to read more by this author.
If you enjoyed the curious incident of the dog in the night time, this book is definitely for you.
Day 1 of the Embers Blog Tour with Random Things Tours organised by Anne Cater. First up is a review by Pages of Eden @HaslamEden on Twitter
I will admit that I don’t know if authors commonly share reviews of their books that aren’t 4 or 5 stars on their blogs or social media links, but personally I believe these reviews have important take homes for us, pointing out our strengths and areas of improvement. Embers is my first book and only the very beginning of my writing career, and seeing how it is received is showing me what steps to take make my second book even better.
Reating: 3.5 / 5
Review: My favourite thing about this book was Ellen and Simon’s relationship. It could have easily become gimmicky or stereotypical, especially with the representation of neurodiversity, but instead their sibling relationship was strong and caring. It was nice to see how they balanced each other out – Ellen helping Simon navigate social situations and Simon pushing Ellen out of her comfort zone with his insistence on solving the crime. Also, it was good to see teenage characters being more than simply moody and dramatic.
However, because of Ellen and Simon’s ages, some parts of the story felt unrealistic, such as them being sent on holiday on their own, which takes you out of the atmosphere.
The sense of place is so important to this story and the description of the location and culture was very well done. I could really imagine the places Ellen and Simon were and loved learned about Sami culture through their eyes. Addressing a mystery alongside discussions of aboriginal cultures and heritage added another layer to the story which made it interesting to read.
Personally, I found the ending a little convoluted and the motive felt weak. There were so many different components that it is hard to pinpoint exactly why the character did the things they did, even though an explanation is attempted. That said however, the mystery surrounding the reindeers and its relation to Sami culture and the townspeople’s history was really interesting. Some of the descriptions were a little graphic, so this may not be the one to read if you hate reading about animal violence, but the link between past and present is well explored.
Recommend: Mixing mystery with culture and heritage makes for an interesting read, though not if you don’t like animal violence. Especially worth reading if you enjoy teenagers taking on the role of detectives, especially since this book offers more than a typical YA story.
I’m delighted to say that the audiobook version of Embers is now available on all major platforms, distributed by audio content company Findaway. This is a fantastic way of getting the book out to an even wider audience, accessible not only to avid readers, but also avid listeners. Below are the links to the main audio retailers. Hope you enjoy! 🙂
Embers will also be available to purchase on our OrangeSky Audio store starting next Tuesday 1st June! Findaway manages this direct-to-consumer platform without any third party so royalty returns for authors for sales made there are up to 50% higher than other retailers.
Stop 9 in the Embers Blog Tour is hosted by The Book Bandit’s Library – featuring a novel excerpt depicting the calf marking scene; the first time Ellen and Simon get up close with the reindeer.
‘Do you hear that, Ellen?’ Simon said, excitement in his eyes. ‘There must be at least a hundred reindeer here!’
Ellen had been aware of the noise as soon they stepped out of the car. Now, she paid proper attention to it.
Beyond the bygdegård came a chorus of bleating. Loud, high-pitched, similar to that of sheep or goat. Chiming above the bleats, hollow and metallic, was the sound of bells.
The siblings moved towards the sound.
A large pen lay on the other side of the hall. It was partly amongst the trees, partly out in sunlight. A sea of brown moved inside it.
Reindeer. So many reindeer they were impossible to count. They trotted in circles around the pen, clockwise, forming a massive whirlpool with their bodies. As the siblings watched, one of the animals in the middle made a turn and the whole herd turned with it, causing a ripple effect through the bodies. Dust rose from the ground churned by hooves, bleats and bell chimes clashed against each other in broken rhythms. People stood lined up against the fence of the pen. They were perfectly still, and it was impossible to hear any talk through the bleating. As Ellen watched, one person stepped through the fence into the pen. Judging by the blonde plaits hanging down over the herder’s shoulders from under the cap, Ellen assumed it was a woman. She waded through the animals, arms raised, holding a coiled rope in her right hand. The animals didn’t seem to notice her until she made a lunge to the right. Then, the sea of reindeer parted itself. One group swerved to the left, the other to the right, regrouping at the far side of the pen.
The woman approached the left group. Slower this time, drifting rather than walking. Ellen made out smaller animals. Calves, hiding behind their mothers. They tapped their hooves against the ground.
Just as the herd were about to scatter again, the woman sidestepped. She came up close to a calf at the back, held out her arms so he couldn’t rejoin the group, sidestepping until he had no more room to move. Then she threw the rope over the head of the animal and pulled tight.
The calf gave a loud bleat. It struggled against the rope, tried to walk away. The woman stumbled along with it at first, vanished from sight as the herd regrouped around her. Then she slipped through a funnel at the side, which led to a smaller pen further down, dragging the calf behind her. In the smaller pen, it tried to get away again, but the woman planted her feet squarely on the ground and leaned back, as if reclining in an invisible armchair.
The calf sank to its knees.
The woman straddled it and took out a knife. She bent down by its head, as if whispering to it, stroking its neck. Then with one swift movement, she made a cut in the animal’s ear.
The calf let out a high-pitched, drawn-out bleat.
Ellen drew her breath in. ‘That’s got to hurt! Is it bleeding?’
The woman made a second cut on the animal’s earlobe. Then she patted its neck and stepped off. The calf shook its head, then slowly stood up and returned to the other calves in the pen. Ellen assumed they’d already been marked.
The reindeer herder wiped dust off her face and turned to the people by the fence.
She wasn’t quite a woman. A girl, maybe two or three years older than Ellen. A grin crept onto her face. She said something, but her voice was drowned out by the thundering hooves from the big pen.
Another herder stepped through the fence. A boy, Ellen saw, as he turned to the crowd. The girl joined him, and together they moved towards the reindeer.
It became clear that the girl was more experienced. The boy’s movements weren’t as swift and subtle, he made big efforts to get hold of the reindeer rather than drifting towards them, and he did not have as much control with the rope. He needed several more tries before he finally got a calf. Once he had it on the ground, though, he was as gentle and efficient as the girl. In no time the calf was back on its feet, shaking its head slightly, but otherwise all right.
Seventeen-year-old Ellen Blind travels to Svartjokk, a small town in northern Sweden, with her brother Simon, a 14-year-old with Aspergers and obsession with detective stories. They’re on a holiday arranged by their parents, who claim that the siblings should bond, visit the birthplace of their late grandfather, Lars-Erik, and discover their Sami roots. Ellen, though, knows that her parents also want them out of the way so they can sort out their marital problems.
The holiday turns upside down when the siblings discover reindeer heads in the forest. Simon’s findings at the scene suggest the reindeer have been poisoned. Frustrated with the police’s lack of interest, Simon is determined to find the perpetrator. Ellen reluctantly helps him. investigation takes them to the local Sami village and the owner of the dead reindeer, Per-Anders Thomasson. It turns out that Per-Anders knows far more about the Lars-Erik’s past than the siblings did, and the more they learn, the more Ellen suspects that the reindeer killing is somehow connected to their grandfather. Embers of the past rarely burn out. (Synopsis)
Embers is a book of many threads. Through the core story of a mysterious ritualistic slaughter of a reindeer herd, other themes emerge and bend around this main narrative. Ellen and Simon are the youngsters at the centre of the story, motivated in part by Simon’s love of detective mysteries but also by a sense of injustice as the local police fail to take their discovery seriously.
Before long, the siblings are facing serious opposition from all sides in a town that is isolated enough that pretending something never happened is a survival mechanism. For the story to fully unpeel, everyone will need to face the truth sooner or later.
The characters feel like they belong to the pines, lakes, and small towns of Sweden’s North. The scenery is vividly real, and each location is brought to life with strong descriptive writing. There are insights into the many cultures that collide and the characters are suitably complex and not overplayed. In particular, Per-Anders is a well sculpted person who anchors the story firmly in place as the events unfold with his stoic ‘it’s how it is’ statements and his cautious consideration of responses to Simon and Ellen’s questions.
This story is detective fiction, but also a dramatic family story, and a commentary on ecological and social issues. Despite packing so much into one debut novel, it’s a hugely successful piece of writing that keeps things interesting from start to finish.
Steve Fenton was the Editor in Chief of The Mag and also wrote for DV8 Magazine and Spill Magazine. He was often found in venues across the country alongside ace-photographer,Mark Holloway.
Stop 6 of the blog tour – Novel excerpt shared by Jess, from chapter 2, which uncovers why Ellen and Simon travel north to the fictional town of Svartjokk
‘He’s overwrought. He needs a holiday,’ Mum announced the next evening. She and Ellen were standing on the veranda in the back garden, laying the table. Dad was in the kitchen, chopping onions for the bolognese. ‘He could go with you, Ellen.’
‘Mm-hmm.’ Mum brushed a stray lock of hair from her face. ‘You could both do with a week off. You’ve never had a holiday alone together. Dad and I can’t always trail behind you like guards. Simon is fourteen and a half, he needs a chance to stand on his own two feet.’
‘But where would we go?’
‘Svartjokk?’ Ellen froze in her movements, a plate in her hand. She put it down slowly. ‘Why?’
‘You know why, we’ve talked about going north for ages.’
‘As a family, yes. Not as… not as a way to punish Simon.’
Her mother gave her a wide-eyed stare. ‘It’s not a punishment, Ellen! You agreed, before, it would be good to go. And you did that school project on the Sami this year. You said yourself you’d like to see where your granddad grew up, and the Sami…’
Ellen bit her lip. It was true. She was curious about her granddad’s people. The Sami, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, were originally nomads who made their livelihood from reindeer herding. The Swedish settlers who’d arrived in the 1700s claimed the land, pushing the Sami away from the ancient grazing areas. Later, a rigorous assimilation had taken place in an attempt to integrate the Sami with the Swedes. Families had been separated, communities pulled apart, the reindeer herding business decimated. Only a minority of the Sami people kept the tradition going now. Ellen had done her school history project on the assimilation, and the horrid race biology studies that took place in the 1900s, where university professors had measured the skulls of living people to determine whether ethnic groups such as the Sami were biologically different from the Swedes. It was part of a unit her class had done on ethnic minorities. She’d spent hours and hours poring over the Sami collection at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm.
‘It would be interesting,’ she admitted. ‘But why now? Why not next summer?’
‘Well, it won’t be right now, Ellen. By the time we get tickets and accommodation sorted out it will be mid-July.’ Her mother straightened and tucked a lock behind her daughter’s ear. ‘You know how things have been, Ellen, between your father and me… This incident didn’t make it any easier.’
‘It will be good for you. And you’re good with Simon – you’ll manage.’
‘Yes, yes, of course…’ Ellen had done excursions with her brother before. The beach, the park, museums, canoeing. At Svartjokk they’d be doing pretty much the same, just further away from home. All you needed with Simon, really, was patience and an open mind. But that would be more easily said than done when they’d be so far from home, and Ellen would have to be responsible for making sure her brother didn’t get himself in trouble. ‘I have a summer job,’ she said. ‘They might not give me time off at such short notice.’
For a moment, Camilla seemed about to apologise for something. Her lips fixed into a forced smile. Then her face smoothened, back to business. ‘We’ll figure that out somehow.’ She put her hands on the chair and leaned forward to her daughter. ‘Tickets up north sell out fast this time of year, Ellen. If I don’t book tonight, they will be gone. You need to decide now.’
Ellen opened her mouth, closed it again. An image of Svartjokk grew in her mind. Open-air mines, deep forests, the lonely mountain Dundret looking down on the tiny buildings and streets below… Reindeer, scampering through the forests and along the moors. Never more than pictures in her imagination. Here was a chance to make those a reality. She felt a tugging sensation in her gut. A curious sense of longing.
‘What does Dad think?’
Camilla averted her gaze. ‘He agrees.’
‘Really?’ Camilla usually came up with the ideas, while Niklas went along with them, after a good deal of nagging.
‘We think it would be a chance for you to explore your roots. And it would make up for the fact you couldn’t go with him to your great-grandmother’s funeral.’
Ellen gripped the back of the chair. ‘It’s quite a lot to take in.’
Camilla leaned over the table and put her hand on Ellen’s. ‘It’s going to be all right, sweetheart.’
Ellen moved her hand away and looked over her mother’s shoulder, through the window. She saw her own reflection in the glass: the apple-cheeked face, the line of freckles under her corn-blue eyes and her yellow-white, slightly wavy hair reaching down to her shoulders. Her short, soft frame. Often, she was taken for fifteen rather than seventeen, and Simon… With his skinny arms and legs and knobbly knees, his voice which still hadn’t broken, people often thought he was twelve. Ellen tried to imagine the two of them on a train with their rucksacks, on their way to a part of Sweden that was as distant and unknown as another continent.
She shook the thought away, looked beyond her reflection to her father’s tall, hunched-over figure, and went into the kitchen. ‘Dad?’
Her father turned to her with red-rimmed eyes. ‘Just the onion,’ he said. Before his face could betray him, he turned back to his work. The knife cleft an onion in two. Chop, chop-chop.
So he’d heard everything they’d said, Ellen thought.
‘Please, Ellen, speak to Simon,’ Mum called from outside. ‘He doesn’t want to talk to me right now.’
Ellen was quite certain it was the other way around.