Thank you, Tom, for your blog post about my new thriller, The Stranger in My Bed. I appreciate you taking the time to do this. As you mentioned, I normally write romance novels, where love wins in the end and everything goes right. Whereas The Stranger in My Bed, is a portrayal of a marriage gone badly wrong.
You commented in your blog that ‘Like many men, I had my suspicions that coercive control was mainly an invention of militant feminism and that, if it happened at all, it happened to weak women who were, to a degree, complicit in their abuse. Since then two separate friends of mine, both strong, confident women, have fallen victim to this sort of relationship.’ A lot of people think this, unless they are involved, or know someone involved, in this kind of destructive relationship and this is one of the reasons I wrote this story, to raise awareness of the issue.
Both women and men – although it’s mainly women – are affected by domestic abuse – over 2.4 million according to the 2019 Crime Survey for England and Wales, it’s a big problem that is often misunderstood and pushed under the carpet. Someone who has never been in an abusive relationship, or never known anyone in one, can find it difficult to understand why the abused person doesn’t run for the door when the first incident occurs and say things such as ‘why didn’t she get out sooner?’ or ‘why does he put up with it?’ These comments suggest that the victims of domestic abuse are partly to blame for it, that it’s their fault for ‘allowing’ it to happen. I wrote The Stranger in My Bed to try and dispel the myth that abused partners are weak doormats and to try and show how insidious the emotional impact of domestic abuse is, how the abuser gaslights their partner into believing that they are imaging the abuse, or that it is their own fault, they cause it to happen. Also, these kinds of abusers aren’t abusive all the time, they are sometimes kind, loving, the life and soul of the party. This can be confusing for their partner who hangs on in there waiting for the abuser to return to the person they know they can be, the one they fell in love with and who loves them.
In The Stranger in My Bed, both Freya and Phil have their faults – as all people do. Freya is no doormat. She is outgoing, strong, a career woman who fights her corner determined not to put up with the things her mother put up with from her father, who was a serial adulterer. Phil is intelligent, loving, kind, charming if a little overbearing, they seem the perfect couple. One night Phil storms out and Freya packs her bag ready to leave him when he is involved in a serious car accident. When he comes out of his coma he can’t remember the past two years – all their married life – his last memory is of them returning from their happy honeymoon. Freya is faced with the dilemma of whether to still leave him or give their marriage another chance. It’s evident that some kind of abuse has gone on in the marriage, but the story changes POV so that the reader isn’t sure which one of the characters is the abuser and which one the abused.
It’s a story that, I hope, will make people think. That nice couple next door could be going through this, your sister, brother or friend. Did they really get that bruise on their arm by walking into the door frame? Do they always wear long sleeves for a reason? Would they tell you if something was wrong or cover it up? And when they finally do confess to you what’s going on will you believe them or say ‘but he/she seems so nice?’ As you say in your blog, Tom, ‘it can be difficult to believe that there can be a real threat lurking in an apparently normal home’.
No one knows what goes on behind closed doors. Even the victims of domestic abuse often don’t realise what’s happening to them and question whether they are really the ones at fault, if they are causing the abuse. If my book helps just one of them to open their eyes and reach out for help then I’ll feel that I’ve achieved something.
The Stranger in My Bed
‘We have a patient who has been involved in a serious accident. We believe he’s your husband.’
When Freya first met Phil, she thought he was the man of her dreams. He bought her roses every week, booked surprise trips to sun-soaked destinations, and showed her affection like she’d never experienced before. But over time the dream had become a violent nightmare. And now Freya is packing her bags, knowing it’s time she escaped their increasingly broken marriage.
But then Freya gets a visit from the police. Phil’s been in a horrific car crash and – as he comes around – it becomes clear that he remembers nothing since their blissful honeymoon two years before, back when their relationship was perfect. All he wants is to be happily married again.
Freya knows giving him another chance could be dangerous. But now he’s the one who needs her, it’s a chance to turn the tables, and to change the outcome of their relationship once and for all. After all, he will only know what she chooses to tell him…
But what really happened during those two years of marriage? And as they start over again, who is safe? And whose life is in danger?
Fans of The Girl on the Train, Behind Closed Doors and Date Night who are looking for a dark, gripping psychological thriller, with a final twist that will leave their jaw on the floor, will love The Stranger in My Bed.
Karen King was born in Birmingham and has always enjoyed reading and writing. She’s been published for over thirty years, in a variety of genres for both children and adults. She loves writing about the complexities of relationships. She is published by Bookouture and Headline. Her first three books for Bookouture were romances where relationships came right, she has turned to the darker side of relationships for her next two books, writing two psychological thrillers about relationships that go badly wrong. Karen now lives in Spain where she loves to spend her non-writing time exploring the quaint local towns with her husband, Dave, when she isn’t sunbathing or swimming in the pool, that is.
As I promised last month, I’m cutting back on the effort that I’m putting into blogging, which has meant book reviews on Fridays instead of separate review blogs on Tuesdays. That, combined with technical problems while I migrated my blog to a new host (some photos are still missing – let me know if there’s any that you want me to replace) has meant a drop-off in the number of visitors. I think people are missing some of the more heavyweight historical blogs, but they do take quite a lot of writing and, frankly, after years of producing them I feel I’m running out of exciting things to say. This week, then, I’m going to return to an old blog post from several years ago which discusses the history of gendered colour choices in clothing. Although I’ve heard some people making a political issue out of this recently, it’s still an interesting subject and an example of the problems that come up in writing historical fiction.
InBurke in the Land of Silver, I wrote that Burke, on arriving in Buenos Aires, was struck by the fact that the buildings are mostly in shades of red, so that the predominant colour of the city was pink. He turned to his travelling companion, O’Gorman, and said, ‘I see your painters have a feminine touch.’
I put the line in as a mildly amusing introduction to O’Gorman’s explanation that the houses are that colour because the plaster is mixed using blood from the cattle slaughtered in the city, giving some indication of the scale of the cattle industry there.
When my publisher read it, I got a polite note asking me to check if pink was a feminine colour in 1807. It’s another example of the joys and frustration of writing historical novels. Colours seem a particular problem for me – see my post on the colour of Nelson’s flag at the Nile.
It seemed unlikely that Google was going to help, so I went instead to a couple of online groups of historical authors. Within hours, I knew more about gender and colour than I could ever have imagined.
It turns out that the idea of pink for a girl and blue for a boy is a comparatively recent one. In 1918, the advice given to American parents was:
“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
My wonderful historical writers chipped in with personal recollections of the same period:
I inherited a box of baby clothes that belonged to my dad and my uncle when my uncle went into a nursing home. They were identical –my uncle and my dad were only 11 months apart–but one set was pink and the other blue-green. They were pretty girly–especially a couple of baby bonnets with satin rosettes and a couple of Spanky MacFarland tams, complete with pompons in blue green and rose pink. I thought they were my aunts but my aunt was eight years younger and her baby clothes were in another box–more Shirley Temple. I was flabbergasted when dad told me the pink clothes were his. He laughed and showed me baby pictures of him and Uncle George. The pictures were black and white but I recognized the clothes. I had always assumed that the babies in the picture were girls but no.
Part of the thinking that pink was a suitable colour for a boy seems to go back to the time when soldiers wore red coats. Boys would wear pink coats as a (literally) pale imitation of Redcoat uniforms. Back in the late 18th century, pink could be a dashing colour for a man – there’s a nice example HERE. Back then, though, girls often wore pink as well.
They would even use cosmetics to heighten the pinkness of their skin, as detailed in an 1807 advertisement courtesy of the Two Nerdy History Girls blog:
A. PEARS, Perfumer, No.55, Wells-street, Oxford-street, having, after a variety of experiments, brought to perfection his beautiful ALMONA BLOOM or LIQUID VEGETABLE ROUGE, respectfully presents it to universal attention, as an indispensible Companion to the Toilet, and for the introduction of which he has been so happy to meet with the concurrence of every Admirer of the Female Complection. This Composition is infinitely superior to all other preparations for admitting a free perspiration, by softening the Skin, preventing Eruptions, and firmly adheres without the least tint being removed so as stain a cambric handkerchief. It is of the consistency of Cream and of a most beautiful light red hue ; but to expaciate on the whole of its excellencies in this contracted space is impossible.
So was pink a feminine colour or not? The answer, it seems, is that at the beginning of the 19th century the question would have appeared quite ridiculous. The idea of associating particular colours with gender is, as far as I can see, a distinctly 20th century preoccupation.
So after a few hours, Burke’s remark changed to ‘I see your painters favour a roseate hue.’
Many thanks to Cat Camacho, my eagle-eyed editor and to all those who piled in with links and comments when I asked for help.
A Word from our Sponsor
As I’ve mentioned, after several years of weekly blogging, I feel that writing blogs has rather taken over from writing books. At one time I thought that people who read the blogs might go on to read the books. Some of you have and I really appreciate your support. The statistics on blog readership compared to sales suggest, though, that blogging is really an activity in its own right rather than a way to promote books.
As with so many things in life, I feel that it’s a good idea to change things around from time to time, so I’m really going to try to make more of an effort with my newsletter which currently has a subscriber list measured in only double figures. The newsletter can be chattier and doesn’t have to be produced every week and will, hopefully, be more of a two-way communication. I find that, even with such a small number of readers, the newsletter seems to generate more responses than the blog does. Can I please suggest that you sign up for it? You can do that from the bottom of every page on this website or go to https://tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk/newsletter. I know that sometimes there can be technical problems with signup forms. I only know about these people tell me – do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have problems signing up.
And, of course, it would be great if you bought the books as well. Christmas is on its way and the paperbacks (all my books are available in paperback) make excellent gifts.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know how much I enjoy. Jennifer Macaire’s writing. So I’m delighted to have her here talking about her next book.
A Remedy in Time
Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog! I’m here to talk about my newest time travel book, ‘A Remedy in Time’, and what inspired me to write it.
I’ve had a passion for time travel ever since I found out about dinosaurs. I admit I’ve watched the Jurassic Park series about a hundred times. The dinosaurs never get boring for me. When I was in kindergarten, I stood at the blackboard and drew huge dinos. A t-rex chased a triceratops, a stegosaurus lumbered across a swamp, while a huge brontosaurus (now known as apatosaurus, which is a pity, given that brontosaurus meant “thunder lizard”) grazed on high tree tops. One of my teachers discovered my obsession, and she would take me from class to class so I could draw and give a talk about dinosaurs.
Then one day I happened on a Reader’s Digest that featured sabretooth tigers. In the illustration, the tigers are attacking a mammoth that has somehow gotten entrapped in a tar-pit. I stared at that illustration for hours, trying to imagine how the sabretooth tigers could hunt and eat their prey with such massive canines.
That was that for the dinosaurs. Suddenly I was fascinated by a time when woolly mammoths, huge cave bears, and even sloths the size of small houses, roamed the frigid plains of the ice-age tundra. The sabretooth tiger, with its out-sized canines became my spirit animal – I read everything I could about them, and spent my time drawing pictures of extinct mammals. Needless to say, the sabretooth tiger was the beast that really caught my interest.
Years and years later, I stumbled on a blogsite that featured fossils, and it amused me to try and guess the mystery photos the author posted. And then one day, lo and behold, there was a sabretooth tiger! I recognized it right away. In the blog post, the author admitted that scientists still argued about how the animal hunted its prey. I started imagining a trip to the past to film a documentary about sabretooth tigers.
Of course, the trip would start at Tempus U, where my time travel books all start from. And the heroine this time would be a single-minded young woman who not only specialized in paleolithic animals but infectious diseases as well, because when I started writing the book, there had been a breakout of an especially virulent form of typhus in California. And so I wove a story about corporate greed, vaccines, man-made diseases, and a trip to the far, far past. A Remedy in Time is available for preorder, and will be published January 7th, 2021!
And here is the fabulous cover my publisher, Headline Accent, made for it!
To save the future, she must turn to the past . . .
San Francisco, Year 3377. A deadly virus has taken the world by storm. Scientists are desperately working to develop a vaccine. And Robin Johnson – genius, high-functioning, and perhaps a little bit single-minded – is delighted. Because, to cure the disease, she’s given the chance to travel back in time.
But when Robin arrives at the last Ice Age hoping to stop the virus at its source, she finds more there than she bargained for. And just as her own chilly exterior is beginning to thaw, she realises it’s not only sabre-toothed tigers that are in danger of extinction . . .
Jennifer is an American living in Paris. She likes to read, eat chocolate, and plays a mean game of golf. She grew up in upstate New York, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. She graduated from St Peter and Paul High School in St Thomas and moved to NYC where she modelled for five years for Elite. She went to France and met her husband at the polo club. All that is true. But she mostly likes to make up stories.
I lay with my face in the grass. I hadn’t vomited, but that’s only because I couldn’t take a full breath. I knew that as soon as my diaphram started working again I’d spill my guts. It didn’t take long. “Why, oh why, did I agree to this,” I said, between bouts of retching and paralyzing pain. Finally, I managed to get to my knees. “What if a sabre tooth tiger had been here? We’d already be eaten, or worse.”
He shook his head. “See how the air around us is faintly blue? We’re protected by the tractor beam for a good hour. Nothing can get in.”
I reached out my hand and touched the blue-tinged air. It was a little like being surrounded by a very faint fog. I poked. My finger tingled and stung. “Wo cao!” I said. As I watched, the blue shivered and began to fade. “It’s almost gone. Let’s go. We should send some vidcams out and see if there are any spots that look like a good campsite.”
Donnell looked at his comlink.
“What time is it?” I asked. “Is time here different, I wonder? It was nearly noon when we left the, um, future.” I glanced at my own comlink. “It’s one minute to one. Amazing. We go back ten thousand years in little more than an hour. A-fucking-mazing. Look at this place!” Mouth open in amazement, I gazed around. We were on the side of a grassy hill, and we had a good view of the surrounding area. I forgot about my pain, I was in the past! I was here! I staggered to my feet and looked around. “Wa cao! We’re really here! There is a ta me da giant armadillo down there. Putain, a glyptodon! This is amazing. Look at that! It looks like a walking igloo except it’s brown, not white. Donnell, look!”
Donnell didn’t look at the scenery. He looked at me, and said, “Robin, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I’m really very sorry. I didn’t have a choice in the matter.” He looked truly upset.
I hastened to reassure him. “No need to apologise. Look, I know you didn’t want to have me as a partner. I overheard you talking to the dean. It doesn’t matter. Let’s just make this trip a success. We have many lives depending on us.”
He made a strange noise. Then his face turned ashen, and he gagged like he was about to be sick. I thought he was still feeling the effects of the trip. I bent to help him to his feet, but he gagged again, then screamed.
“What is it? Donnell? What is happening?” I didn’t understand what I was seeing. His leg, hislegwas shrinking. He shrieked, grabbed his leg, and his hands sank into his, well, where his thigh should have been, and then he sort of slid and slumped to the ground, convulsing, his body moving as if waves were tossing it, as if he were made of liquid, and his clothes became wet, and the strongest, strangest smell assaulted my nose.
I think I started to scream then too. Then my breath ran out and all I could do was squeak, squeak, squeak, as I tried to drag air into my lungs.
He must have been in dreadful pain. He screamed until the end. Until all that was left was his chest and his head, then those too sank into themselves and all that was left were clothes and boots, and a pink, foamy gel.
I spun around and flailed at the air, at the faint wisp of blue that still lingered. I found my voice. “Help!” I screamed, “Help, help, help!”
No one came. Below me, in the valley, the glyptodon lifted its head and seemed to look in my direction.
I couldn’t stop shaking, and I couldn’t seem to be able to breathe. Black spots danced in front of my vision and I knelt down, bent over, and hit my head on the ground. “No. No. No! That didn’t just happen. It’s a hallucination. You’re still unconscious. You’ll wake up in a minute. Wake up, Robin. Wake the feck up.” I dug my fingers into the dirt and screamed again.
‘Coercive control’ is a form of domestic abuse that has started to be taken much more seriously over the past few years, especially since the Serious Crime Act in 2015. It’s not a new thing and there have been many stories and films featuring it over the years. In fact, ‘gaslighting’, when the perpetrator convinces the victim that the abuse is all in their head, takes its name from the 1940 film ‘Gaslight’.
Like many men, I had my suspicions that coercive control was mainly an invention of militant feminism and that, if it happened at all, it happened to weak women who were, to a degree, complicit in their abuse. Since then two separate friends of mine, both strong, confident women, have fallen victim to this sort of relationship. It’s a terrifying problem and people (mainly, but not exclusively, women) need to be aware of the behaviour and its dangers.
This makes Karen King’s latest, The Stranger in my Bed, a timely novel.
Phil and Freya have married after a whirlwind romance. Two years later, the marriage is in trouble with rows that often turn violent. Mind games are being played. But who is the abuser and who is the victim? At this point, though, Phil is involved in a car crash when his brakes are tampered with. He wakes in hospital with no memory of the abuse. All he recalls is the courtship and marriage.
King’s book, then, sets out to tackle several different issues.
It’s a straightforward whodunit. Who tampered with the brakes (and continues a campaign to harass Phil, breaking into his house and leaving threatening notes in his home office)?
It’s (as it says on the cover) a psychological thriller. Is Freya really in danger from Phil or is it all in her mind? Or is Freya the abuser?
It’s a sort of romance. Given the chance to start again, can Phil and Freya rekindle the love that characterised the courtship and honeymoon that Phil remembers or are they doomed to remain in the cycle of abuse?
The story is told in the third person but with chapters from the point of view of different characters. Mainly it’s straightforwardly from Freya’s viewpoint but some chapters are from Phil’s point of view. Phil sees himself as a loving husband. OK, he can lose his temper from time to time, but then his wife, as he puts it “always presses his buttons”. Some of her behaviour (I can’t give examples because of spoilers) goes way beyond what I would consider acceptable in a marriage and I found my sympathies moving to Phil. Karen King’s willingness to forgive the kind of behaviour that would suggest a marriage has already broken down makes me uncomfortable and blurs some of the lines in the book. It certainly doesn’t fit well with the “can they get their marriage back on course” subplot. Surely the marriage is doomed? But, given the structure of many romantic novels, maybe there will be a happy ending after all.
Karen King has a lifetime of writing romance behind her and her writing flows well. All the bits that could be in a romance novel read just as they should. Nice, normal Freya, her handsome sexy husband, their comfortable home, her interesting job. But the ‘psychological thriller’ elements are less comfortable. I felt that there wasn’t quite enough menace for it to work as a thriller. Perhaps that’s what makes coercive control so insidious. It’s very difficult to believe that there can be a real threat lurking in such an apparently ‘normal’ home. Some authors of psychological thrillers introduce a pet animal at this stage – as with the rabbit whose fate gave rise to the expression ‘bunny boiler’ in ‘Fatal Attraction’. Dogs, too, have met grisly ends in plenty of films and books. I have a twisted mind: I miss that sort of peril in a thriller.
In summary, this is a romance author who is tackling an important, and very unromantic, subject. It has meant breaking away from her usual style to explore a new genre and, inevitably, there is some grinding of gears as the drive engages with a whole new terrain. But it’s an important subject and one that her audience probably isn’t that familiar with. It’s well written and carries the reader along and anything that makes people more aware of the issues is to be applauded.
We’re just a week off Halloween now and normally I’d be worrying about my costume for the street-skaters’ Halloween skate.
The Halloween skate is probably the social highlight of the skate year and the after-party has been listed in London’s Evening Standard newspaper as one of the best Halloween parties in the capital. The costumes are amazing.
This year there will be no Halloween skate. Although it is outdoors it does mean hundreds of people skating quite close together. So, alas, no scenes like these:
I’ll miss it.
If you are missing Halloween events too, can I recommend that you curl up with my novella, Dark Magic? I wrote it exactly a year ago for Halloween 2019.
Like all the best Halloween tales, it combines a scary story with dark humour that (according to its reviews) really makes people laugh. And it’s only £1.99 on Kindle. Or, if you want a low-calorie alternative to high-sugar Halloween treats, why not buy it in paperback for just £4.99?