7 Must Read Books on Bullying

7 Must Read Books on Bullying

Bullying in Fiction. Domestic noir to terrorism thrillers.

7 Must Read Books On Bullying
Ruth Ozeki: A Tale for the Time Being

 Bullying is a theme which crops up often in my writing. For example, The Missing Activist tells the story of a conservative party activist who disappears in London after making a formal bullying complaint against a senior colleague. In The Killing of the Cherrywood MP, local constituents apply group pressure on their MP Huw Thomas. Both are terrorism thrillers, which also explore vengeance, political machinations, and cultural clashes.

Not all bullying leads to crime. And not all crimes involve bullying. But a strong link exists between them. And learning the reason people harass and abuse their peers can help explain why some go on to carry out acts of terror. However, there are degrees of bullying ranging from teasing to physical violence. For that reason, bullying is as complex a subject as it is insidious in daily life.

The killer questions

Is all bullying activity wrong? Or is it a survival or coping technique to protect us against bigger bullies? If we wear a wristband and speak up against it, will it stop? Or are we all then guilty of double standards, since nearly every aspect of competitive living involves some form of intimidation?

Group dynamics are part of daily life. Fitting in, getting along. Knowing our place. Who sets the rules? Whether it be an aggressive tone to a voice or a manipulative character who uses lightly veiled blackmail techniques, we’ve been there ourselves figuring out how to respond. Analysis of other people’s motives are part of normal life. 

But bullying behaviour can be life threatening. In 2000, I set up a children’s anti-bullying charity campaigning against the excesses of bullying behaviour. And, as I found when I wrote a set of monologues from a victim’s view for school use, drama and fiction can help students empathise with someone else’s perspective. So reading and relating serves some purpose.

We see ourselves as victims

In one talk with an adult audience, I enacted a poll. A asked for a show of hands from those who were once victims of bullying. Another for those who’d been a bully. The outcome? Most people cast themselves in the victim role.

In many works of fiction, the antagonist is the fearsome bully and the hero, or protagonist the underdog who comes out best in the end. Or if the principal character turns tormentor and indulges in some physical brutality, then that’s OK. It wasn’t their fault.

Some of the authors below are writing for a YA audience. But the subject matter is for all ages. 



Carrie by Stephen King

The subject of bullying crops up in many of Stephen King’s early books, but his best known is his very first. Carrie is the story of a misunderstood high school girl Carrie White, her extraordinary telekinetic powers, and her violent rampage of revenge at her treatment.

 A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Written by a Japanese American novelist and published in 2013, this is the story of sixteen-year-old Nao who suffered aching loneliness because of her classmates’ bullying. She decides to take her own life, but before she does that, she plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. Described as a beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

 Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Written by the bestselling author of twenty-five internationally novels Nineteen Minutes examines a school shooting in a small town in the States. Lawyer Jordan McAfee finds himself defending a youth who desperately needs someone on his side, while intrepid detective Patrick DuCharme works with a primary witness: the daughter of the superior court judge assigned to the case. Picoult has some questions on her website relating to the bullying in the book. 

 Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside, he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why..

 Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Another book about a school tragedy, aimed at the young adult audience, this book tells the story of the girlfriend of the perpetrator. Valerie Leftman is shot trying to stop her boyfriend Nick killing a classmate. She finds herself implicated in the shootings because of a list she helped create about people and things they hated. Val returns to school to complete her studies and confront her guilt. Written by a former humour columnist, the Kansas author has won a heap of awards for this book.

 Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High. Now Regina’s been frozen out, and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina were guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumours are far from the terrifying truth, and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. Tensions grow and the abuse worsens, as the last days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of Cracked Up To Be(less)

 Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol. Beforehand he must say goodbye to those who matter to him most. Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

 Any missed?  Get in touch.


7 Must-Read Books on Isis Brides

7 Must-Read Books on Isis Brides

Jihadi Fiction. Terrorism Thrillers for our times.

Undercover Jihadi Bride

 What makes books about Jihadi brides so intriguing are the characters and their motivations, their expectations and disappointments. What makes a teenage girl change her way of life so completely? And will the society they rejected ever accept them back? People are unforgiving, as we have seen this week, with Shamima Begum’s case being kicked out of court.

My novel The Missing Activist features a British-born Muslim convert Zinah al-Rashid who recruits brides to send to the Islamic State.

The sequel The Killing of the Cherrywood MP picks up on the collapse of the Caliphate. Girls want to return to their countries of birth, but public opinion is against it. And for those who have either slipped back and have put their past behind them, there are always those who resent them deeply and exact revenge. When a sharia-supporting MP is murdered, it seems as if there is a connection.

The killer questions

What fascinates me is the sharp contrast between the stable, egalitarian, comfortable Western lifestyles and that of the ISIS’ misogynistic society. Why have so many European women left behind the freedom and privilege of a peaceful, wealthy existence to join a brutal regime addicted to fighting? Are they radicalised?  Or seeking adventure?  Has feminism a part to play in driving them away? What meaning to their lives were they craving? And how did they find it? Or do they view their adventure as escapism rather like a macabre reality show?

Who’s writing?

Some authors of the excellent books which feature Jihadi women are writing from personal experience, others as a result of research work into the subject. Many of these narratives explore just those killer questions.

Operation Jihadi Bride by John Carney Clifford Thurlow

 Hearing terrifying stories first-hand from naïve young girls tricked, abused and enslaved by ISIS, an ex-British Army soldier set up a high-risk operation to rescue as many as he could. Soldier Magazine’s book of the month, this true story with AK-47s and 9mm Glocks reads like a military thriller


Bride of ISIS: One Young Woman’s Path into Homegrown Terrorism by Anne Speckhard

Written by a counter-terrorism expert and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Security Studies at Georgetown University, she based this book on the true story of Shannon Conley, an American teen from Denver, Colorado seduced on the net, converted to Islam, took the niqab, and who ultimately ended up in the clutches of ISIS.

 The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State by Nadia Murad and Jenna Krajeski

Written by a human rights activist and recipient of the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize and the Sakharov Prize, this inspiring memoir covers the life of a 23-year-old Yazidi woman from her peaceful childhood in a remote village in Iraq to being captured and enslaved by Isis.

 Undercover Jihadi Bride: Inside Islamic State’s Recruitment Networks by Anna Erelle

Written by an undercover journalist who creates an online identity called Melodie to investigate the recruitment of brides over the internet, this is a harrowing tale. She meets an ISIS brigade leader on Facebook. In 48 hours he has ‘fallen in love’ with her, calls her every hour, urges her to marry him, join him in Syria in a life of paradise and join his jihad.


Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni

The work of a journalist and academic, Azadeh Moaveni book takes us into the school hallways of London, kitchen tables in Germany, the coffee shops in Tunis, the caliphate’s ‘Guest House for Young Widows’ where wives of the fallen waited for remarriage. A nuanced and sometimes compassionate take on the complexity of the subject.

Jihadi Bride by Alastair Luft

A graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada, and a 20-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, Luft’s work is a plot-driven family drama. A father’s carefully controlled world working for an organisation that prevents radicalised individuals from joining extremist groups is upended when his daughter, Arielle, leaves university to join the Islamic Caliphate.

The Good Sister by Morgan Jones

 The story of a 17-year-old Muslim girl from London who goes to Syria to join ISIS, and her Christian father’s dangerous attempt to ‘rescue’ her. Written by a former investigator and writer of spy thrillers, this is a raw insight into the horrors of war in Syria and an examination of the insidious grip of radicalisation.


Any missed?  Get in touch.


Book categories, thriller genres, and the Karen Andersen series

Book categories, thriller genres, and the Karen Andersen series

Why you need book categories

The purpose of identifying a book category for a work of fiction, whether it’s a children’s adventure story or a political thriller like The Missing Activist, is to help book shops know exactly where to place them in their shops or online stores. If someone’s hooked on fast-paced suspense stories with a twist, they don’t want to have to wade through a pile of Enid Blyton books to find them.

The three categories

The book industry classifies novels as either literary fiction (highbrow, character-driven, no rules), genre fiction (easy-read, plot driven, several rules), and mainstream fiction (the blockbuster book from either of the other two that everyone reads).


The main genres are crime, fantasy, romance, science fiction, Western, inspirational, historical fiction, and horror. However, there are  22 add-on genres or sub-genres with new ones added to keep up with contemporary tastes. Examples of recent new classifications include Tartan Noir, allegedly coined by Ian Rankin.

Add to this a myriad of terms like “hard-boiled” as this article from Crime Reads explain, tags such as “spy” and job specs such as private investigator (as opposed to police procedural) and you get a sense of the breadth of the indexing system. Consider also whether the crime is an act of terrorism (which has its own genre) involves a conspiracy, and whether there is a political element to it (potential warfare, government overthrow or corrupt politician).

What are the rules of thriller fiction?

The broad “thriller” category in writing has certain conventions.

Firstly, there needs to be a crime at the centre, at the very least. If not, the threat of a serious crime. Such as in Gone Girl when Nick comes home from the bar to find that his wife, Amy, has gone missing. 

Of course there’s the victim. (either a missing person, a dead body or a hostage) Or several victims. There is usually over one life at stake.

However, in thrillers it’s the villain who features high, sometimes in equal measure with the protagonist or hero. These baddies are clever and powerful. Sometimes ordinary people acting out of revenge or malice (as in domestic thrillers), but other times the evil character is a master criminal or terrorist intent on annihilation of the entire human race. Whoever they are, thriller villains always pose a huge threat. Without the Machiavellian star, the story simply wouldn’t hang together.

Often there is the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. This is the character who says one thing and does the opposite (trying to put the hero off the scent).

Readers enjoy trying to outsmart and top the villain (and so help the hero) by solving the clues and red herrings.  

And then, when everything seems dusted and done, there’s usually one last twist.

Why are thrillers popular?

If you combine the mystery elements of a detective novel (whodunnit) with adventure, conflict, conspiracy, and a fast motorbike, you get drama with a capital D. Everything’s happening at once, and it’s all ahead. Because the hero is the only one to stop the villain before he or she carries out their heinous crime, you’re carried along for the ride.



Hate crimes, hypocrisy and political fiction

Hate crimes, hypocrisy and political fiction

What is Hate Crime?

‘Hate’ is a horrible word. I remember as a child (circa 1960s) my mother’s wise advice. ‘Never use that word, Louise.’

It’s easy to get into unintended provocative speech habits without noticing it, so she had a good point. For example, ‘You don’t hate carrots, you just don’t like them.’

But can you make the emotion of hatred into a violation of the law? If so, is it indeed smart to do so?

Hate Crime has been around in the UK since the Public Order Act of 1986. But the Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006, which seemed a reasonable idea to trial, is when it really took off. But has it worked in getting us to respect one another well enough to consider extending it even further? Some believe it is a step in the right direction. There are others who believe it’s counterproductive.

Critics of Hate Crime argue legislation has done the opposite of what it was designed to do. They claim anti-hate laws have provoked a culture of victimhood, damaged freedom of speech, wasted police time, and created massive confusion. It has done little more than to make us all into a bunch of hypocrites: thinking something, saying another, and led to a more divided society than before.

Extremism as a topic of political fiction

I cover these issues in my novels. In my book The Missing Activist Met Detective ‘Quacker’ Partridge is dead set against extending hate crime to misogyny. The Killing of the Cherrywood MP covers hate crime generated by growing local tensions between two diametrically opposed societies: The Far Right and the Muslim extremists.

As a crime novelist, writing about two-faced smiling assassin characters is part of the stock in trade. Like the owl, Machiavellians probe beneath the surface, manipulating the art of hate. Thoughts, please.


Kurdaitcha, Corona and The Missing Activist

Kurdaitcha, Corona and The Missing Activist

 Pointing the Bone

“The aborigines have a tribal practice called Pointing the Bone. This is a method of execution that leaves no trace and rarely fails to kill its victim.”

“The bone can be from a kangaroo or an emu, and its shape varies from tribe to tribe. It is six to nine inches with one rounded end through which a hole is bored and tapers to a point as sharp as a needle. A piece of hair is threaded through the hole and glued into place with a gummy resin from the spinifex bush.”

“Before it can be used, the bone or Kundela is charged in a secret ritual performed by priests. It is then handed to Kurdaitcha, who are the tribe’s ritual killers. Their task is to hunt down the condemned.”

“The name Kurdaitcha comes from the special slippers the aborigines wear on their quest. Made from cockatoo or emu feathers and human hair, they leave no footprints.”

The Kurdaitcha hunt their victim

“The Kurdaitcha who hunt in twos or threes, wear feathered masks and stick kangaroo hair to their bodies with human blood. They will pursue a quarry for years, never giving up until the curse is delivered.”

“Once found, one priest goes down on to one knee and points the Kundela. The victim is frozen with fear as the Kurdaitcha chant the short piercing mantra then return to their village where the bone is ritually burnt.”

“For most tribal members, having the bone pointed is a sentence of death. Waiting for the inevitable, coupled with shame and isolation, often forces the victim to suicide.”

The above is, in fact, an excerpt from The Missing Activist. The themes of bullying and isolation and rejection by peers runs throughout the thriller.

Snitching during a crisis

 But it usually begins somewhere. And according to sociologist Patrick Bergemann, author of Judge Thy Neighbour snitching surges in times of crisis. Like during the deadly COVID pandemic.

The charge: Deliberately breaking lock-down rules to endanger life. Fair enough. But extensions to this include double jogs. Greedy shopping lists. Standing too close to someone at the shops. Not clapping the NHS on a Thursday,  not clapping loud enough, not clapping long enough.

The names given to community spies are plentiful. Rats, grasses, snitches, informers, dobbers (Australian), chivatos (Spanish) Spitzel (German), mouchards (French), stikker (Danish), Jatten (Dutch)

And often they get it wrong. Deliberately. That’s when it becomes insidious.

Read Five Fast Facts

Five Fast Facts: The Killing of the Cherrywood MP

Five Fast Facts: The Killing of the Cherrywood MP

The Killing of the Cherrywood MP is the second novel in the thriller series featuring London Private Investigator Karen Andersen. It’s 2019 and MI5 is set to release the reformed female Jihadi terrorist Zinah al-Rashid from prison.

The Killing of the Cherrywood MP tackles Far-Right politics which have existed in the UK since the 1930s. From the 1980s, the term has mainly been used to describe groups such as the fictional English Concern Group featured in the book. Their ideology revolves around the wish to preserve what they perceive to be British culture.

The exclusive Ritz Club, London’s most famous gambling casino is at 150 Piccadilly and is open 24 hours a day. It features several times in The Killing of the Cherrywood MP.

UK Jihadi brides returning to the UK following the fall of the Islamic State is one of topics explored in The Killing of the Cherrywood MP. Britain has by far the highest rate of repatriated former ISIS brides in Europe. Hundreds of Britons travelled to Syria and Iraq amid the rise of ISIL. Nearly half have been able to return safely. Only a few have been prosecuted in British courts. The country with the next highest proportion was Germany.

St. Tropez is a fishing port in the South of France. It’s home to ome to some of the most prestigious yachts on the planet. An unexplained death at sea is a subplot of The Killing of the Cherrywood MP.  There are 360,000 deaths by drowning worldwide every year.