The Damselfly Launch Day: Ask Me Anything

To celebrate the launch of my third novel, THE DAMSELFLY – which is released into the wild (and all good bookshops) TODAY – I thought it might be fun to ask my non-crimey friends and my family to ask me a question. Most of them knew me long before I started writing novels. Turns out, there was a lot they wanted to know… and some people really don’t get the concept of ONE question 😉 In fact, I think some of these questions say more about them than they do about me! Thanks to everyone who took the time to think something up. Hope you like the answers!

Jamie Holliday: What did you think of Trainspotting 2? Well there’s one line from the film that sums it up perfectly – Sickboy tells Renton, ‘You’re a tourist in your own youth.’ I think we’re all guilty of a bit of nostalgia, and wanting to relive our younger years. Watching this film was all about that. I definitely felt emotional, especially with all the Edinburgh scenes and references to twenty years ago (especially when my dad just reminded me that it is almost 18 years since we left The Plough, the place that shaped my teen/young adult years) The updated ‘Choose Life’ was brilliant, and there were some classic funny moments too. I loved Spud. I just wanted to hug him. I thought it was brilliantly done and I loved it 🙂

Paula DeVaux: Are any of your characters based on people you know? Not any one individual, but many amalgamations of people I have encountered in some way over the years. I’m always people watching and things definitely stick in my head. Mannerisms, that sort of thing. If you had to be trapped in a book, which book would you choose? I’d quite like to be trapped inside The Wind in The Willows. I loved that book as a child. I suppose I’d have to be an animal if I lived there though? I think I’d be a hare. A mad one.

Micheal Forrestal: How much inspiration do you take from real life people that you know and turn them into characters in your books? Not so much people that I know, but I do like to eavesdrop on the conversations of strangers and make up characters based on that. When will you write a story with a male investment banking hero? I wrote this one. How much older and wiser are the characters in Banktoun. How have they changed their outlook over the series? They aren’t much older, and I am not sure they are wiser. All three books take place over a six month period in time. They may be a bit confused about why so many people have been murdered in a town of 4,000 in such a short space of time, though. Why are you so mean to me? Because I love you?

You dirty bird! How could you?

You dirty bird! How could you?

Ashlie Inglis: Which book did you most enjoy writing, and why? The second one, Willow Walk. Once I’d worked out the twisted backstory of Marie, it all flowed very easily. I enjoyed writing the fairground scenes, especially. Who’s your number one fan? MICHEAL. If I find out what a ducha escocesa is, will you incorporate it into your next book? Absolutely. I hope it’s something to do with your face being wiped with a slavery hanky. I realise that no-one from outside Scotland, or possibly our own family, will understand that last sentence.

Abby Fleetham: Have you read your own books after they are published? Not in full, no. Sometimes I have flicked through them when I am trying to remember something that happened, or if someone asks me about something that happened. Usually I have to search for things like a character’s hair colour to make it consistent in the next book, but then I realise I never actually stated what it was in the first place. Even reading little bits, it’s hard to comprehend that I actually wrote any of these books!

Dad: If you could go on holiday anywhere in the world, where would you choose? Well, as you know I’ve been to quite a few places already. I love travelling and there are still places I’ve never been to and would love to visit, like Hawaii. Are you offering to pay? 😉

Nicki Ridge: Are there more Banktoun stories you want to write or do you have a brand new idea you’re working on? I definitely want to write more Banktoun, but I am wary of turning it into Midsomer. I think a spin-off is a possibility, featuring some of the characters… but I am currently working on something else, as I need a little break from Banktoun for a while!

Russell Holliday: What’s your favourite condiment? I’m not a massive condiment fan, but I think I’d have to go with mayonnaise. Maybe mixed with a squirt of ketchup. Or garlic. Not together though.

Catherine Edser: If you could be someone else for a day who would it be? Victoria Beckham. So I could experience how it feels to be recognised by everyone… and so I could sleep with David, obviously. What’s the scariest situation you’ve ever found yourself in? I can still remember how scared I was when two boys followed me and my friend into the woods when we were children, and one of them told us he had a knife. If that sounds an awful lot like the premise for Black Wood, that’s because it is!

Me, in the film of me.

Me, in the film of me.

Mum: What’s your favourite word or saying, and why? I say FFS quite a lot, and not in the abbreviated form. Was that what you had in mind? 😉 I really like the word discombobulated. It applies most days, especially if I happen to watch the news. If there was a film about your life, who would you want to play you? Ruth Wilson. I’d like to be depicted with those lips. What inscription would you put on your own headstone? “She tried her best, FFS.”

Brian Hennessy: When did you first start thinking disturbed thoughts?  When I found that box of 70s/80s horror novels my mum kept hidden in a cupboard. Like this beauty by John Halkin… Thanks mum!!!

Rebecca Edwards: How do you go about choosing the names for the characters in your books? I am really glad you asked this. Clearly you haven’t read my book yet, or you would have spotted yourself in there… and your other half! When writing Black Wood, I spent far too long faffing about, trying to choose names – searching online using baby names, or automatic name generators. But then I decided to try and use some surnames of people from the town that Banktoun is based on. In Willow Walk, I ran competitions for people to have their names in the book (I killed all those people), and I started to use names of people I know, mixing up their first and surnames. In The Damselfly, almost every character has a name made up from combinations of my friends’ names. I also use their names for places, e.g. Forrestal’s Funfair and Fleetham’s Newsagents. I love it when people spot their own names or those of people they know 🙂 Eventually, everyone I have ever met will be featured in a book somewhere.

David McCarthy: Have you ever found your competing worlds of statistics and crime writing to collide? With deadlines, yes. It seems to be all or nothing – busy projects always seem to clash with book deadlines but I do seem to work better when I’m busy.

Vari Innes: Which book do you wish you could read for the first time again and why? American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, because it’s one of the most shocking but brilliant portrayals of a psychopath that I have ever read. The film is excellent too.

Lecter or Bateman?

Lecter or Bateman?

Emma Zuccaro: Out of the many horrors you have read who has been your favourite psychopath and if the book has been brought to the big screen has the actor/actress played that character as well as described in the book? Very difficult to choose between the two chaps on the right… From book to book did you create your characters’ progression or was that a completed concept right from the off? I have very little idea about my characters until I get about a third of the way into writing the book. I don’t tell them what to do, it just sort of happens. If the trilogy was to be made in to a television mini series which actor would you envision to play Davie? See below 🙂

Jennings and Gray?

Matt Glasby: Who would play Davie in the film adaptation? This finally came to me the other day. Not just Davie, but DC Louise Jennings too. I’d like Dougray Scott and Dawn Steele. They’d be perfect (although Dawn might need to dye her hair). I hope they’re reading this…

Hannah Evans: Have you read a book so scary you had to put it in the freezer? If only I’d seen that episode of Friends before I read the scary books… What was the first truly frightening book you can recall reading? I can’t remember the really scary ones that I read when I was too young to be reading them, but I do remember being very freaked out by Salem’s Lot and being petrified that someone might be hovering outside my bedroom window. Have you ever read a Mills & Boon? More than one. I used to quite like the ones with the cowboys, in my teens. We had a whole case of them in my dad’s shop and they got changed over ever few weeks. I reckon I read hundreds of them! How has your career in statistics aided in your second career as author? Hmm. Spreadsheets? Deadlines, planning? Pressure? Character names? Is there a sex scene in the next book? Two. A brief one, and an aborted one. When writing sex scene in second book, were you concerned that you’d win the “bad sex” fiction award? No, because I write great sex! Who do you picture you are writing for? You, so you can ask me ridiculous questions about it. Fancy a trip into writing YA fiction? Yes, and books for younger children too. Who is your favourite sister? They’re twins so I can say both 🙂 Based on hours accumulated writing and revenue received, how much per hour do you earn and does this mean you can afford to take me on tour? You can’t quantify creativity. And, no. How would you commit the perfect crime? Stab them with an icicle while wearing a balaclava? Favourite British landmark? Edinburgh Castle. Is Sergeant Davie (is that his name, I can’t remember for sure) based in anyway on a family member, or husband? No. Do you feel like a proper “grown up?” In every way? Absolutely not. Does anyone?

Bryan Bayfield: Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find? Not secrets, as such, but I use people’s names and sometimes anecdotes that the people who know will know when they see it, and the people who don’t will be none the wiser.

Gillian Barr: Now that you’ve written three books in three quite different styles of writing, is there any one way that you feel will become your approach to writing a book and also is there any technique that you would avoid in the future? I wanted to test myself and teach myself by writing each book in a different style, and each one had its own pros and cons. I don’t think I consciously chose any of these, and I don’t think I could choose one for the next book – it’s down to the story, in many ways. Sometimes it takes a while to work out the right way to tell it.

Laura James: What 3 things can you not live without and why? Pick things from the following list – A food, a book, a piece of tech, a drink, a location to visit. Cheddar cheese, because what would be the point of life without it? My phone, because I can keep in touch with everyone and also write chapters of books into it and email them to myself. The town where I grew up, because it holds so many memories (many of which are now immortalised in Banktoun.) What book was your favourite as a child but when you’ve re read (if you have) did it still live up to your memories? I haven’t re-read any of my favourite childhood books. I am scared that they won’t be as good as I remember. I loved Roald Dahl though and would love to re-read all of those one day.

Fiona Forrestal: If you didn’t write contemporary crime what era would you write in? I would love to write something set fully in the 80s because I loved growing up then and I think it’s a cool era pre-technology. It’s historical now, apparently, which makes me feel ancient! Have you ever lied to someone about them being in your writing? Not yet… Do you have a good memory for music and style when writing in the past (your lifetime) or do you need to research it? I like to write it as I remember it, but sometimes I have to check specific years for certain music etc (or ask Mr H, who has an incredible memory for dates from the 80s and 90s!)

Jon Smith: Am I in your new book or at least my name (in part with Lynne or Karen!) If not, why not – you promised 😘 Yes, you are (with Lynne!) Jon Poole is the headmaster of Banktoun Primary. But if so, is the character (or any others) based on any characteristics of the stats dudes? Marie Bloomfield in your last book did not appear so… You’re right, I take the names only. No characteristics. Well, except for your sexy ‘Amazonian’ secretary, Catherine Leeming…

Catherine Leeming-Price: When you start thinking of a plot, how do you know how far to take it (i.e. so the audience get it, they stay gripped, aren’t horrified/disgusted in the wrong way e.g. to the point of slamming the book down never to pick it up again)? Believe it or not, I don’t really set out to write anything horrific. I have covered some controversial topics, but I try to be as sensitive about them as I can. A little of burst of horror to reel you in, but not too much that it would put you off.

Marie Watissee: How did you come up with the character of Sergeant Davie Gray? Was he based on anyone you know? I don’t actually know. I needed a policeman, and he appeared. I think he is kind of based on a mixture of all the policemen I met when I was young. How do you come up with the ideas for your books? Ideas come to me all the time. Things just pop into my head. I can take any innocent situation and turn it on its head into something dark and disastrous.

Ralph Bloomfield: I assume you are an avid reader but are there any types or styles that you just can’t stand or do feel you should read anything in case it gives you an idea for a plot or character? The latter. Although I do struggle with straightforward romance/chick-lit type stuff as I am usually wondering when someone is going to be murdered. I pretty much do read anything though. I often get great ideas from the tiny news snippets that are used as fillers in the sidebars of tabloid newspapers.

Andrew Whittaker: Desert island discs. Top three. Pearl Jam, TEN. Nirvana, NEVERMIND. The Killers, HOT FUSS. That was actually quite easy 🙂

Miranda Kate: Do you have any tricks or tips for juggling job and writing? Not really! It is very hard to switch from one to the other. I find that being busy is good for productivity, though. If I don’t have deadlines, I become complacent. Do you follow any particular time management things? No. But I am trying to get better by using a day planner. The whole planner or pantsers thing – have you started planning more under the pressure to produce 3 books to contract? I seem to have done exactly the same each time – written lots of notes, turned them into a rough synopsis, written 20k words, stopped, outlined the rest chapter by chapter, and blasted it out before going back to edit the whole thing. Having a line for each chapter telling me roughly what it is meant to be means it is easier for me to dive in and write quickly, knowing what I am going to be writing about, even though it does change and evolve as the whole story grows. What have you found the most challenging about the entire ‘getting your book published’ process? Having very little control over how well the book sells. There is publicity and marketing, and then there’s a lot of luck. You do feel a bit helpless, but all you can hope for is that people start to spread the word, because it is very hard to get noticed when there are so many brilliant books released every single week. And what is your favourite bit? Getting messages from readers who enjoyed my book is the best feeling ever.

Thanks, all – I love you and I love your questions! If anyone else would like to ask me something (the more random, the better) – please comment below. I will answer anything. Maybe 😉

The Damselfly is out now

Chatting to Diane Jeffrey

Today, I’m very excited to be sharing an interview with the lovely Diane Jeffrey, whose debut psychological thriller THOSE WHO LIE is out now! I met Diane online via one of my oldest friends, and I’m thrilled to see her published. Diane lives in Lyon, France and her book is set in Oxfordshire and Devon – and let me just say, it will keep you on your toes! Before you rush off to download it, read on for a bit more info about the book and the author.

Hi Diane! Firstly, congratulations on the release of your debut novel. How does it feel to be a published author?

It feels really good. Also a bit scary. There are little bits of my soul between those electronic pages! It took me so long to get the book into a presentable state (two years) and after that it all happened so quickly (just under five months) that I don’t think it has completely sunk in yet.

Enjoy the moment! It’s the most exciting time 🙂 Can you tell me what it’s about in a couple of sentences – an elevator pitch…

Emily only realises she is responsible for her husband’s death on the day of his funeral. But then she starts to receive disturbing messages from him on Facebook, messages that will force her to question her reality and face up to her past…

A very creepy premise! What made you want to write a psychological thriller?

I wrote a novel years ago when my son was a baby. It was RomCom / ChickLit and it didn’t get published, which I now find completely understandable! I have quite wide tastes in books, but my favourite genre is crime and mystery, so I tried my hand at that.

And who are your influences, favourite authors, books…

I think Elizabeth Haynes’s Into the Darkest Corner was the book that got me hooked on psychological thrillers.

In the genre of crime and thrillers, Dennis Lehane is hard to beat, IMHO.

My favourite book ever is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, but more recently I have been blown away by The Hundred Year Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Cloud Atlas, The Rosie Project, The Help and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

Into The Darkest Corner is a masterclass in psychological terror. I would love to see it as a film. You set your book in Oxfordshire and the setting is very authentic – did you spend time there doing research?

Ah, now you’re making me spill my secrets! I spent a lot of time virtually exploring Oxford with Google Earth. Emily’s home is based on a description of a real house that I found on an online Oxford estate agency. When I started writing the novel, I hadn’t actually visited Oxford at all (shhhush), but I went there with my pupils on a school trip and recognised Emily’s road as we drove along it in the bus! That was a big moment for me! It had to be Oxford because of the influence of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on my main character.

The past scenes are set in Devon, where I grew up, so that setting was easier!

Ha. It’s not that unusual though – Stef Penney wrote The Tenderness of Wolves without ever visiting Canada 🙂 Those past scenes are quite dark, covering elements of abuse and addiction – did you find these difficult to write?

No. Tbh, I find it harder to write romantic or raunchy sex scenes!!!

In the main abuse scene, which takes place near the beginning of the book, Emily concentrates on her favourite childhood memory, and she takes us there with her so the reader is spared the more disturbing details of the rape and I was spared from writing them! In fact, it is probably more shocking to have an ellipsis than the graphic description in that episode.

There was a scene in the middle of the book that I found difficult to write, simply because elements of it were close to my own experience, but it had nothing to do with abuse or addiction.

I know what you mean – if you can distance yourself from these things, then they can be easier to write. It’s funny how most crime writers are able to write darkness more easily than a bit of sex! Another thing that I’m intrigued about, as a fellow writer, is how you choose your character names – I always spend far too long faffing around on those. How do you pick yours?

My main character is called Emily Klein. She had to be either an ‘Emily’ or an ‘Emma’ because of the ambiguity of the diminutive ‘Em’ in the book, which spells ‘me’ backwards.

The novel was entitled Out Of The Blue to begin with, and Emily, who is an artist, is named after Yves Klein’s shade of blue. Emily is associated strongly with that colour as she struggles not to succumb to a bout of depression, and tries to come out of a dark blue time into something lighter and more hopeful.

For all the other first names, I’m letting you in on more secrets here!

I looked up popular baby names for the year of birth of that character on the Internet and tried to choose one beginning with a letter somewhere near the middle of the alphabet. At one point, I had a whole load of characters whose names began with the letter “J” until a friend of mine pointed out that it was confusing and I had to rechristen some of them! And my copy editor picked up that both Greg’s and Will’s sons were named “Luke”. That was a Star Wars thing and a huge mistake, obvs!!! One of them was renamed “Oliver” at the very last minute!!!

So, I don’t think my method is to be recommended really!

I’ve started using the names of people that I know, mixing up first names and surnames. I often name characters after people who are annoying me and then change them later. Haha! So, do you have a set writing routine, words per day etc or do you write in chunks?

I wrote Those Who Lie on a sabbatical. It took me the whole year. Then it took me another year to rewrite. There were days when I worked non-stop on it for 8-10 hours, and then weeks when I didn’t touch it, but scribbled down thoughts and ideas, usually in the middle of the night!

Well I know how hard you worked on it and it certainly paid off! There is a tendency, these days, for people to rush things, and I think that especially in the beginning, you really need to spend time honing your craft, getting feedback, and rewriting again and again! It’s hard, and I’m going to let you into a secret now – it doesn’t actually get any easier! Can you tell me what, for you, are the best and worst parts of the writing process?

The worst part is the self-doubt and feeling guilty because I always seemed to be inspired when my family needed me! The best bit, by far, was getting The Call after all the rejection emails. On the phone, my editor said so many lovely things about my novel that I was a blubbering mess.

Oh that is so lovely! Everyone remembers The Call. It’s exciting and it’s a relief that you’ve got there and it’s surreal, because then it hits you – you’re about to become a published author! So, did you have the story all planned out before you started writing, or did you wing it and fix it later?

I am a planner! I changed the plans frequently as I went along, but it was mapped out fairly thoroughly before I started typing. I even had a timeline on Excel! All very OCD!

I should probably try winging it more – when I teach and haven’t prepared my lessons, they often turn out better than the ones I have meticulously organised before going into the classroom!

I think there is a balance to be struck between the two – some people always plan, others always wing it (or plotting and ‘pantsing’ as it’s often referred to) – I tend to do a bit of both. Having a timeline mapped out is a great habit to get in to from the start – makes things a lot easier later on! Can you tell me what you’re working on now? Have you started the next one?

I have. I started it about three months ago, but then came Round One of edits for Those Who Lie, followed by Round Two, then Author Amends, then Christmas… I have written the prologue and about a third of Chapter One. BUT I have planned it in some detail…

Excellent! I look forward to hearing more about it 🙂 Assuming you find time to read, these days – what have you read recently that you would recommend to others?

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue and Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent. Definitely 5 stars for both books!

Both currently on my teetering TBR pile! And finally, tells us something about you that will make people go ‘Ooooh!’

Mmmm. Most people are impressed by the fact that I have a bronze medal from the Surf Life Saving World Championships from 1989. I was 16. I’m not sure why that surprises people! Perhaps because I’ve kept the medal all this time or maybe because they work out that I’m not quite as old as I look!!!

I love that! My swimming claim-to-fame is that I have a photo of me with Olympic swimmer David Wilkie, from around 1986. I read recently that he’d been told off at his local health club for swimming too fast… 

Thanks Diane! Good luck with THOSE WHO LIE!

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Diane Jeffrey grew up in Devon. She lives in Lyon, France with her husband and their three children, mischievous Labrador and crazy kitten. THOSE WHO LIE is her debut psychological thriller. Diane is an English teacher. She hates marking and Mondays. When she’s not working or writing, she likes swimming, running and reading. She loves chocolate, beer and holidays.Above all, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends. You can find Diane on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Q&A with Horror Writer Nic Parker

Nic Parker

Nic Parker (she looks so sweet…)

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (How long are we supposed to keep saying that for?!) Anyway, today I’m pleased to welcome a good friend of mine, Nic Parker, to tell you about her love of horror and her excellent new book, Descent to Hell. I asked Nic a few questions, and she gave me some excellent answers – btw, in case you don’t know Nic already – she’s very funny and she swears. A lot 🙂

So I know you’re a big fan of horror. What is it about it that really attracts you? Monsters? Gore? Psychological chills? Ghosts? Or none of those – you just have an unquenchable bloodlust?

Probably the latter 😉 As long as I can think I was fascinated by all things dark and obscure. While others in my class were taking dance lessons I could only think about how to find an uncut watchable video copy of Evil Dead. Horror is the genre with the widest range – for example, Alien is sci-fi but also horror – and I adore all facets of the genre. I’ve been fed up a bit with vampires and zombies lately and I’d say I wouldn’t want to see the 645th torture porn bullshit with a story as thin as a wafer but other than that horror is the genre that just keeps on giving.

What’s your favourite horror movie? 

If I have to break it down to just one it is definitely John Carpenter’s The Thing. I was lucky enough to see the movie on the big screen for the first time ever this year and I was almost moved to tears. Thirty years after its making it remains pristine with awesome actors, perfectly applied tension and handmade effects that get every horror geek drooling.

What’s your favourite horror novel?

I’d have picked a classic like Stephen King’s It or Clive Barker’s Coldheart Canyon and I said I am fed up with zombies but I read M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts this year and the characters and story just blew me away. Carey managed to inject completely original ideas into the genre and a zombie novel that is so poetic without being pathetic and that makes you cry at the perfect ending is worth putting at number one.

Do you think horror works better in books or on screen, or does it depend on the story?

I think horror works on many levels, the obvious, the subliminal and the subconscious. There are monsters that scare you shitless when you see them on screen but two hours after seeing the movie they are cool but not scary anymore. Then there are characters that cling on to you and that keep haunting you for months or years. No matter if it’s written or on the screen, if it’s well done it will scratch at your soul.

What do you really hate about the horror genre?

As I mentioned above, serving the same shit for the umpteenth time, like endless rape and revenge shit. I love gore and violence in movies but not just for the purpose of serving base motives. I am not bothered about sequels as long as they continue the story or tell another story. My absolute pet hate is the goddamned bloody remakes that the coke snorting Hollywood producers come up with.

Who is your favourite horror character? 

My big role model: Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Awesome characterisation of a villain everyone would love as a friend.

He’s my favourite too. With Patrick Bateman coming a close second 🙂 Your debut novel, Descent to Hell, focuses on an important quest – the search for a missing child. What made you want to write about this, in particular?

Well, the main character of the story is Charlie Ward, who will stop at nothing to help his niece because she is more like a daughter to him. My central idea was that he descends to Hell to help a loved one who is trapped down there. I wanted Charlie to be completely unprepared on how to try and find his niece because, honestly, how would you prepare for a trip to Hell? Sunblock 50 and holy water?

So, what did you enjoy most when writing the book?

Conjuring up places in Hell that nobody has read about before, making Hell my own place. Also, being lazy as fuck and doing zero research as you can bend the rules to your own will when you are writing about Hell and demons.

Are you working on something else at the moment?

I’ve got few projects in the pipeline, one is another supernatural story, the other a psychological thriller and I am one third into the sequel to Descent to Hell.

What advice would you give to anyone who’s trying to write a horror novel?

The first advice I’d give to everyone thinking about writing a novel would be: Fucking write it because no one else will do it for you.

Horror is so great because you have so much to choose from, ghosts or ghouls, vampires or monsters, serial killers or aliens – just make them your own creatures and don’t be afraid to add your own ideas – the more fucked up and extraordinary the better!

Writing about fictional characters and the supernatural is a great way to let your mind completely run havoc – anything is possible and the sky – or Hell – is the limit.

And finally… What did you think of Stranger Things? 🙂

There isn’t a love button big enough to express what Stranger Things means to me. I was quite late watching it and this television series captured the essence of the 80s immaculately. Apart from Winona Ryder’s terrible overacting this TV series was an event not to be missed and I wish I had written the story. Watching it meant feeling like being 14 again. The set design, the actors, the awesome soundtrack – a nostalgic blast and beyond brilliant!!

I loved it too! Thanks Nic!

Nic Parker was born in 1971. Her love for the horror genre flourished in early childhood. She enjoyed the opulence of genre productions in the eighties, chasing after forbidden video nasties with friends, and reading mainly Clive Barker and Stephen King. Since her twenties she’s had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing many household names from the horror genre in her role as a journalist for Moviestar magazine. She is an avid book collector, passionate about art and likes to try out new recipes from her many cookbooks. She lives in rural Germany with her husband and six cats. Descent to Hell is the first part in the Hell trilogy with main character Charlie Ward. You can find Nic at her blog and on twitter.

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In case you’re wondering what I’m up to… my latest novel THE DAMSELFLY is out on 2nd Feb (you can pre-order HERE) – and if you sign-up to my website, HERE (or click on the prize image), by the end of January, you can win this very cool bunch of goodies.

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AND for another chance to win a copy of the signed paperback (and a mystery gift) – check out the goodreads giveaway HERE.

THE DAMSELFLY will be launched at branches of Waterstones in Edinburgh and London in February – full details HERE.

Recent Reads: One Word Reviews

Here are the last twelve books I read. In short, they were all excellent and I highly recommend them all (I don’t blog about books I didn’t like – life is too short!) They’re a mix of police procedural, domestic noir, psychological thriller, sci-fi/horror thriller,  dystopian thriller, thriller-thriller, crime-with-a-bit-of-romance and just a hint of the paranormal… take your pick from below 🙂

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Capricious Kitty (or “when characters come to life”)

Today I’m delighted to welcome Ava Marsh to the blog to tell us a bit about the heroine of her fantastic second novel EXPOSURE. Ava’s debut UNTOUCHABLE was one of my favourite reads of last year, and her second is every bit as good. if you fancy something a bit different (brilliantly written, engaging, twisty and twisted, dark and sexy!) give them a whirl… plus, there’s a fun competition at the end of the post to win a copy of the book, where you can find out exactly what Kitty Sweet has been up to 🙂

Over to you, Ava.

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I never believed all that guff you often hear authors say about their characters taking over the story. Thought it was just a fanciful way of making the endless slog of writing a novel sound more glamorous and mysterious than it really is. More magical, as if words and ideas sprang from some ineffable external source. Characters, I firmly believed, did exactly what you told them to do because, quite simply, you made them up. You, the author, were the one in control of this whole shebang – though of course, all readers bring their own stuff into the mix, and read between the lines things you never consciously intended to be there.

My author-as-god pragmatic approach remained intact until I met Kitty, the capricious ‘heroine’ of my latest novel, Exposure. I set about getting to know her the way I did most of my characters – deciding on her background, family situation, needs, likes, whatever. I carried out the exact same exercises I always use – a few character prompts, some brainstorming, a lot of thinking and scribbling ideas down on bits of paper. Armed with a rough idea of what I wanted to say via her character, and how the plot would unfold, I set forth into my first draft.

I quickly came unstuck. Kitty, apparently, had other ideas that didn’t seem to have anything to do with my original intentions for the story. It was all very frustrating. Whereas Grace from Untouchable was someone I got to know fairly quickly, someone I innately understood pretty much from the get-go, Kitty point-blank refused to cooperate. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get a sense of what made her tick.

This, needless to say, was all very disconcerting – I blamed myself, my methods, my inability to fully realise her character in my mind. Whatever I did, she remained slightly unknowable, as if I was peering at her obliquely through a pane of glass smeared with dust and dirt – I could delineate certain aspects of her personality, but couldn’t make out the whole. I began to feel genuinely sorry for her prison therapist, Yvonne, who seemed to be having the same trouble getting to the bottom of what was really going on inside Kitty’s pretty little head.

Looking back, I was being impossibly dense, but thankfully Kitty waited for me to catch up. Eventually, after drafting out most of the book, I finally got what she was trying to tell me – that nothing about her was quite what it seemed. As soon as I grasped this, everything fell into place. I had my character, and I had a much stronger grasp of the sort of book she wanted me to write. And Kitty, finally, sprang into life, in all her capricious, enigmatic, inscrutable glory.

The whole experience taught me a lot. Never imagine you’re in complete control of your characters or your world. Never assume that writing one book will be the same as writing the next. And never give up when your story stalls – the solution may be just around the corner.

* * *

I’m a massive fan of both of Ava’s books, and I can tell you that Exposure is currently only £1.99 on Amazon – a bargain! But if you’d prefer a paper copy, I have one signed copy to give to one lucky reader… all you have to do is share this blog post on social media, and answer the question below (in the comments, please) – Ava will choose a winner on 31st October. (UK only, sorry!)

Good luck!

QUESTION: If you could choose a secret identity that meant you could do anything you wanted and no one would ever know it was you, who or what would you choose to be?

**COMPETITION NOW CLOSED: WINNER IS ALISON BARLOW**

Why #TheDamselfly was a difficult book to write…

Hello!

Ok, I realise I haven’t written anything on here for quite a long time. July, actually… and a lot has happened since July! There’s been three major crime writing festivals – Theakstons Crime in Harrogate, Bloody Scotland in Stirling and Bouchercon in New Orleans, plus I taught a creative writing workshop in a prison, and I took some time off from the day job to finish writing the third book in my Banktoun trilogy – The Damselfly.

I’m sure I might’ve blogged last year about ‘difficult book 2’ – in hindsight, Willow Walk wasn’t tricky at all. Deciding which idea to run with was the hard part, but once that was nailed down, I was able to outline and throw down the words pretty fast before a neat edit to add lots more creepiness 🙂

So book 3 should’ve been easy, right? Well, no. It wasn’t… and it’s not for the reasons I originally thought.

I’ve managed quite well in the past, juggling day job and writing, but with this book, there was a horrendous crash of timings that meant I had to stop writing for a few months to deal with day job stuff and then when I was ready to get back to the writing, I had the release of book 2 and all the promo that entailed. This was the reason that I found writing book 3 so hard, I thought. That, and the fact that it was much more of a traditional murder mystery whodunnit, with lots of red herrings and more police procedure than I was used to writing. It wasn’t until I’d finished it (after many angsty calls to my agent and some brilliantly supportive writing friends) that I realised the REAL reason why it was so damn hard to write.

Here’s the thing: I knew I was going to write The Damselfly before I wrote anything else. You probably know that my first book, Black Wood, was sparked by a true story – a thing that almost happened to me when I was young – a thing I used as a starting point to come up with a dark tale of buried secrets. Well, The Damselfly is also based on something real – something awful and tragic that happened in my town, many years ago – something that rocked the community and destroyed lives.

It’s all very well to read about fictional crimes in fictional towns, but as always, the reality is always darker – fascinating, but when it’s real, it’s not always so easy to talk about it, or to read about it. Not when real people are involved.

I always knew I wanted to write my own version of this story, and I always knew I would use the real story as a starting point only – just like in Black Wood. But when I was writing it – when I got to the end of my version of the story – when I realised ‘whodunnit’ – I cried.

The Damselfly is not a true story, but there is an element in there – a horrible tragedy, a huge sadness – that reminds me of the real case that inspired it, and that – I think – is the reason that I found it so difficult to write. I hope I’ve handled the topic sensitively, and I hope you’ll be as drawn into the community as I was while I was writing it. Before you ask, I’m not going to share the real story. I don’t want to exploit it, as there are people in the town who will remember it; who were directly affected by it (however, if you really want to find it, it won’t be too hard.)

I might need to write something lighter next, as a palate cleanser… although whenever I try to do that, it inevitably takes a darker turn! The Damselfly is out on 2nd February 2017, available in all the usual places…

…and I absolutely LOVE the cover 🙂

If you haven’t read the others, why not?!

Only joking 😉 Each story stands on it’s own, but if you want to read them in order, you can get them here (or at all the usual places, e.g. Kobo, Waterstones, iBooks, WH Smith…)

Recent Reads

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 15.00.29Exposure – Ava Marsh

If you ever wondered what leads seemingly ‘normal’ people into the sex trade, this is the perfect book for you. A sharp, dark and edgy thriller with a cracker of a heroine and a neatly woven storyline. Ava Marsh is a talented writer with the wonderful knack of pulling the reader right in to the story, dragging them kicking and screaming right through to the explosive and completely unexpected ending. Highly recommended.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.58.36The Stepmother – Claire Seeber 

A psychological thriller in the style of a fairytale, this is something daring, different and impossible to put down. I loved and hated the expertly drawn characters in equal measure. I had butterflies throughout, awaiting the next twist, never quite knowing who was doing the dastardly deeds. This was an extremely clever read, and a refreshing change from the usual toxic marriage situation that is currently the fashion in crime thrillers. A quirkily written mystery from an excellent author. Read it now!

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.57.00Never Alone – Elizabeth Haynes

I’m a big fan of Haynes’ standalones thrillers, mainly because she writes creepy villains so, so well. This is a neatly woven story of a lonely woman, an isolated farmhouse cut off by inclement weather, and an old friend who may not be quite what he seems. Throw in some complicated family dynamics and a good dose of sex, and you’ve got a suspenseful, emotionally charged tale that will get right under your skin.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.55.25The Devil’s Work – Mark Edwards 

The office environment is a great setting for a creepy tale (nicely done earlier this year, too, by Tammy Cohen in ‘When She Was Bad’) and Edwards uses this dynamic to his advantage in his latest page-turning thriller. What’s the story with publisher Franklin Bird, who seems to know things about his employees that he shouldn’t really know? And what secrets from university are taunting Sophie Greenwood, as she returns to work and tries to take charge of a challenging project and an over-keen assistant who is seemingly doing all she can to bring her down? With his last book, ‘Follow You Home’ and now this latest offering, Edwards is tapping into his influences of King and Levin, to bring a good dose of horror into his everyday situations. Twisted and chilling, I dare you to try and put this one down.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.53.23I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid

This is a short, intense read (which I read late at night and early into the morning), a book that as soon as you finish, you really want to read again. Expertly written, stylish, oozing with suspense and in the end, very, VERY clever. If you want something a little different, that will stay with you and haunt you for a long time afterwards, read this.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.50.11Vanishing Point – Daniel Pembrey

An excellent short story by a writer who is fast becoming one of my favourites. This is about a rather dodgy sounding yoga retreat, and one man’s search for answers surrounding the death of his wife. Told with Pembrey’s characteristic wit and dark humour, not to mention his wonderful use of language, this is yet another tale that oozes so much authenticity that you just KNOW the author has spent time in a place like this. Brilliant.

* * *

My latest novel WILLOW WALK has been getting rave reviews. You can buy it in all good bookshops, and the ebook is currently on offer on Amazon and Kobo. If you liked it, please leave a review 🙂

quentin

Willow Walk News and Events

Willow Walk is out in paperback a week today, so to mark the occasion there are a few things happening, online and off… Firstly, the blog tour will run for two weeks, starting on Monday 6th June. Expect reviews, guest posts and Q&As 🙂

As well as that, I will be curating BritCrime for a week from Sunday 5th, where I will be sharing crime fiction news from lots of authors & playing a hashtag game on twitter which will involve prizes! Then in the real world, I will be at Paddington Library with Simon Toyne, Claire Seeber and Graeme Cameron on Wednesday 8th, then Victoria Library on Monday 13th with William Shaw and Rebecca Whitney. On Tuesday 14th I will be launching Willow Walk with David Mark at Waterstones Piccadilly, then on Thursday 16th I’ll be at Rochester Library with William Shaw and Rebecca Whitney (again!) The following week, I will be in Scotland – signing in Toppings and Waterstones in St Andrews, doing an event with Neil Broadfoot at Waterstones Kirkcaldy, launching the book at Waterstones West End (Edinburgh) with Doug Johnstone, and finally, on 25th, I will be in my hometown – the real Banktoun – with a coffee morning signing at 10:30am… then I might need a rest 🙂

Oh, and this month, I have an article (and a fab review) in Crime Scene Magazine.

Thanks to all who have bought the ebook so far and left fabulous reviews. If you want to read a bit more than the usual sample before you decide to buy, there is a FREE extended sampler available here.

What happens at Crimefest . . .

People often ask me what happens at these things – these things where 100s of crime fans (readers, bloggers, authors, editors, publicists, agents and anyone else who finds their way there) gather in a hotel for the weekend… and I always say a few words about how you can go and watch loads of talks by lots of very interesting people, talking about interesting things… many of them are funny, and it’s a very entertaining experience. but I must confess – I rarely make it to many of these interesting and entertaining talks because I am usually elsewhere.

The bar.

Because this is where the real action happens. This is where the real stories are told. From the minute I arrived in Bristol on Friday, I was bombarded with excited, happy faces of the many, many authors who generally spend their days locked in their garrets penning beautiful tomes (or perhaps in Costa, mainlining espresso, or at home on the couch, trying to get their families to shut the hell up so they can actually write something). On the train there, I found out I had been reviewed in The Sun. As this was my first ever national newspaper review, I was ridiculously excited, bought two copies at Bristol Temple Meads, and proceeded to tell everyone “I’m in THE SUN, I’m in THE SUN”. I then moved onto the terrace of the Marriott Bar, where somehow, and I don’t know how, I started talking about that controversial book Maestra. This became the day’s theme (along with the word ‘glistening’), and it is extremely interesting what interesting people will tell you when you ask them probing and interesting questions.

I’m not going to list all the people I talked to, as that would be ridiculous (mainly because I need to protect the innocent, but also because there are some I will surely forget… and there are some I may choose to forget, but that’s another story) – I talked (and laughed) for 16 hours straight. Yes. 16 hours. I got there at 2pm. You work it out. I talked about lots of authory things, like the world of publishing, and how hard it is to write things and the excitement of new book ideas, and marketing plans, and books I’d read. I talked about homemade cornish pasties, chess sets, and the new (nude?) version of Top Gun that I have cast (with a very low budget, but including travelcard for zones 1-6) using several crime authors as the leads. I talked about… things. Things that were in Maestra, mainly. I drank pink cocktails (paint stripper, raspberry & Jif), I made faces at the camera (I draw the line at sharing that photo publicly. I have a reputation to uphold, you know). I hugged (and stroked the hair of) so many people that I have sore arms. I was given a life-saving chocolate Mini Roll from the ancestor of all chocolate. I saw the actual Dr Who. I stole someone’s gin. I broke a new record in late-night revelry, along with a fellow Scot who is always there for me when it starts to get light outside and people think we’re actually up for breakfast.

Then I got up on Saturday* and had a day of quiet reflection**… and I had lunch ***, then did a panel about ‘dark pasts and complex characters’ with James Carol, Julia Crouch, Matthew Frank and Hilary Bonner, where I got a murmur of interested woos from the audience when I said my thing with secondary characters was to give them a couple of lines in one book, then give them a starring role in the next (I know, I’m a genius). I went out for dinner in a Cuban restaurant with a zillion of my best friends, where dancing girls and the world’s worst piano player threatened to ruin my zen. I spent lots of time with my favourite bloggers, one, in particular, who likes to stay up as late as I do and never shies from a probing question. I talked about childrens’ books and cashew nuts and there was horrible, horrible wine. I was trained in high-and-low-fiving (I was not a good student), I sniffed a shoe. And I got my hair plaited at 3am by one of the loveliest and prettiest (porniest?) people in the world.

On Sunday, despite very little sleep (again) I had breakfast with lovely friends, already starting to feel the comedown that was threatening to make an appearance. I had tea in the lounge, trying to squeeze out the final minutes of my time there, chatting about how I started writing ten years ago (on a train from Beijing to Moscow) and about ears and prostitutes and potato waffles. I chatted more, I said goodbyes… and then I got the train home with a beautiful blue-haired lady.

Amazingly, I still have a voice. Some lost theirs.

Then I came home, back to reality… back to work, but bursting with excitement about my writing plans for the rest of the year, and the rest of my life… and thinking it’s not long until Harrogate, where we can do it all again.

And that, my friends, is what really happens at Crimefest.

*******

Footnotes

  1. *It already was Saturday, by several hours
  2. **hangover from hell
  3. ***drank loads of Coke
  4. Photographer credits: Jo Penn, Steve Dunne, Liz Barnsley, Sophie Goodfellow, Fergus McNeill (I think…)
  5. THANK YOU to everyone who made this such a memorable weekend – old friends and new – the most supportive, friendly and funny people I have ever met
  6. THANK YOU to the fantastic organisers of Crimefest, who work ridiculously hard to make us all so happy 🙂
  7. If you want to know more about the panel events, try these:
    1. Vicky Newham – Crimefest 2016 Observations and Highlights
    2. Rebecca Bradley – Doctor Who Meets #Crimefest16
    3. Alis Hawkins – Crimefest 2016
    4. Matt Johnson – My First Ever Crimefest
    5. The twitter hashtag – #Crimefest16

This is my fab review in The Sun! As well as the full eBook still being 98p, Willow Walk is now available as a FREE extended e-sampler – click on the image to go straight there… Also – both Black Wood and Willow Walk are now available as eBooks in all worldwide English territories (US/Canada/Australia/NZ/India) – you’ll find it on your local Amazon/Kobo/etc.

Willow Walk is here . . .

It’s a cheers from Leo, and a cheers from me!

Happy eBook release day to me! Willow Walk is out NOW (this is both very exciting and very terrifying!) To celebrate release day, I am doing a Q&A on twitter with another four BritCrime authors who have books out today: Mark Billingham, Cal Moriarty, Steven Dunne and Chris Ewan. You can tweet us your Qs using the hashtag #CrimeFive and we will answer them from 5pm. You can also find me over at Jane Isaac’s blog today, Rebecca Bradley’s tomorrow and Anne Cater’s on Saturday.

One of the biggest things I learned from the release of Black Wood is just how important reviews are. Reviews help get a book noticed, and I read somewhere recently that 50 reviews on Amazon really helps get the book into their algorithms, so it is shared more. Obviously I want everyone to find my book – so if you read it, please review on Amazon, Goodreads and any other places that do reviews – they really help! One of my fab blogger friends, Vicki, has been campaigning on twitter recently, encouraging people to write reviews and to cherish books – both sentiments I agree with entirety – you can read about it HERE

Anyway, enough about the book – it’s out there now… and I am dying to know what you all think of it! FYI – Black Wood reached #14 in the overall kindle chart, and #1 in psychological, Scottish and several other categories. I wonder how Willow Walk will do?!

P.S. I had a fantastic time at Newcastle Noir last weekend – there are a few photos HERE

If you want to get in touch – you can comment below, or find me on TWITTER or FACEBOOK

Next stop: Crimefest (Bristol)