Fancy a creepy read for Halloween? Look no further…
A quirky young woman is determined to prove the existence of ghosts in the ex-asylum turned spiritual commune where she lives, but when a secretive new couple arrive sparking a terrifying chain of events, she must convince the other residents that they are in danger, before someone or something halts her investigations forever.
If you like the sound of a dark, modern and unique psychological mystery thriller inspired by The Woman in Black and The Lovely Bones, then you can grab an ebook copy of The Lingering right now*
LOOK AT THE SUPER-SPOOKY COVER!!!
This idea has been bubbling away for years and I’m really excited that its finally out there for you all to read! People who have read it so far have said things like:
A brilliant combination of psychological thriller and ghostly mystery’ (Off-the-Shelf Books)
‘A perfect winter read’ (Lisa Gray)
‘Dark as the darkest night and wonderfully disturbing’ (Grab this Book)
‘Like Stephen King meets Thomas Harris’ (Derek Farrell)
‘Fascinating fusion of murder mystery and ghost story’ (Paul Finch)
* * *
My audio publishers have done a cool little interview, which you can read below, and of course, if you read it and you like it, I would love if you could leave a review…
If you want to come and see me talk about the book, click on my EVENTS page to find out where I will be 🙂
*(if you like audio, you need to wait until Monday 1st October… and paperback, 15th November – and if you’re in the US, you should be able to get the ebook now but the paperback won’t be in shops there until May 2019 – BUT – you can pre-order via this link with free shipping worldwide and get it much sooner… and I don’t know about the US audio yet so please bear with me on that!)
As you might have seen on social media,The Deaths of December is OUT NOW! I celebrated with a launch at Blackwells in Holborn on Tuesday night. It was great to catch up with lots of friends, family (and fans?!) and as usual, the book cover chocolates went down a treat!
The blog tour runs until the end of November, so if you want to read reviews and several Christmassy guest posts by me, keep an eye on the blogs below:
I will be celebrating again on Tuesday, with a launch in Waterstones in Edinburgh (6.30pm, ground floor) – if you’re in the area, come along for a drink and a chat (and get yourself a signed copy!)
It’s been exciting to spot the book out in the wild – the first time I’ve had a book in a supermarket – thanks, Tesco (Osterley, Lisburn & Musselburgh)!
If you’d like to come and see me chatting to fellow authors, I will be appearing at a few events in the run up to Christmas:
29th November – Bibliomaniac presents… Christmas Books at Bennett’s Club, Harpenden with Chloe Mayer, Sue Moorcroft and Jules Wake
4th December – First Monday Crime at City University, London with Chris Whitaker, Louise Jensen and MJ McGrath (moderated by Claire McGowan) – tickets are FREE and include wine (sponsored by No Exit Press) plus special Christmas events: Secret Santa and Pitch The Audience (featuring Clap-o-meter)
7th December – Murder in The Library at Osterley Library with Mark Hill and Tammy Cohen
If you fancy joining in with an online book club, with a chat running until the end of the month, pop over to Clare Mackintosh’s Facebook Event HERE
If you want to see what some of my fellow authors are saying about the book, you can go HERE and if you want to check out a brilliant video review by the amazing Angela Clarke, go HERE.
If you fancy winning a copy (and a load of other excellent goodies, as pictured below) – you can enter HERE (Closes 30th November) – Good luck!
If you have already read and reviewed the book – THANK YOU!!!!!
Pretty much the first thing I did when I got my first book deal was to send off a copy of my contract to The CWA, along with my application to join. In 2014, I was shortlisted for the very first Margery Allingham short story competition (and that story has since gone on to be published in esteemed US journal Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine). So you can imagine how delighted I was to find out I’d be having a short story included in the latest CWA anthology! It’s called Mystery Tour, and it features stories that are linked in some way by travel. It includes stories by an incredible selection of crime, thriller and mystery writers . . . and me!
My story is called A Slight Change of Plan. It’s about two old friends who meet up to go hiking, and of course, it doesn’t end well. I wrote the first version of this story a few years ago, when my husband had gone away for the weekend to go hiking with his friend. I started thinking about all the things that could happen, and a dastardly plot started to unfurl in my mind. The two characters popped into my head straight away – a bolshy, vain pain in the arse, and his long-suffering slightly geeky old friend (not based on anyone I know!) But things are never what they seem, are they? When I saw the brief for this year’s anthology, I knew this was the right story. I rejigged it a bit until I was happy with it, and then sent it off. When I heard back from the editor Martin Edwards and the publisher Karen Sullivan (Orenda Books) that it had made the cut, I was so excited! The books look absolutely gorgeous (paperback and limited edition hardback – plus ebook, of course) and all of the stories in there are top notch. Perfect for a Christmas gift for yourself, maybe – there might be some authors in there you haven’t read before . . .
. . . and in case you were wondering – my husband and his friend did make it back safely from that hike 🙂
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Almost three months, to be exact. But that’s going to change now (I hope!) with lots of new content coming soon…
To kick things off in style, I’ve got a little interview with one of my good writer friends, Lynne Milford, who has just published her first crime novel, A DEADLY REJECTION – whoohoo – nice one, Lynne. I’ve known Lynne for several years and I know how hard she’s worked on this book, so I am really delighted to be hosting here on my blog as a published author – if you’re looking for some ‘how to’ info on the writing process, you should check out Lynne’s blog, where she has shared lots of tips and tricks that she’s learnt along the way. Her hard work has finally paid off (and she makes me feel guilty, knowing how much she does on her commute while I slob around in my pyjamas…)
So, without further ado… Congratulations on your new release, Lynne. How does it feel to have your book baby out there in the wild?
Thank you. It’s been a long time coming. I keep using the phrase excited and terrified in equal measures and I think that just about sums it up. I’ve been working towards this point for so many years – I first started writing the book about 10 years ago – that it’s hard to believe that it’s finally out there. The cover has been really well received and hopefully the same thing will happen with the book itself. That’s the scary bit! Although I’m reliably informed by other writers that this is completely normal.
Totally normal, in fact, the scary bit never really goes away 😉 Can you tell us what it’s about?
It follows the story of local news reporter Dan Sullivan. He’s bored of his job and desperate for the Big Story that will make his career. He thinks he’s finally got onto something but then his source dies in mysterious circumstances and Dan is implicated. He has to clear his name while trying to track down the story. I think the tag line ‘How far would you go to get what you want?’ probably says it all.
Intriguing! What was the best and worst thing about writing it?
I loved writing the book. I joyfully pantsed through it and I can’t describe the feeling when I wrapped it up and typed ‘The End’. It was the first full-length novel I’d written. It had taken a long time because I was writing around a full-time job as a local news reporter (writing what I knew!) and because I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was doing or what was going on with the planning committee. But editing was a complete nightmare, almost having to go back to the drawing board and re-plot the book so that it makes sense. The editing process took about the same amount of time as it took to write and I’m sure in future I can speed that up! One of the biggest difficulties is having to write in short bursts, in time grabbed here and there. It makes it very difficult to keep track of what you’re doing and when you’re pantsing, keeping track is even harder.
You made a decision to self-publish. How has that process been?
It’s been a very steep learning curve. Even though I’ve read a lot of books and blogs posts and suchlike about it, when you’re immersed in the process it’s quite challenging. It’s fortunate that I’ve done project management in my day job because it helped me to set a timeline and more or less stick to it, but it’s been tough. I’ve learned a lot about it, though, and second time round there’s a few things that I’ll do very differently. I think the worst bit was trying to format the paperback version. I decided, in my great wisdom, to do it myself and ended up having to clear a Sunday and work on it for most of the day to get it done. But I managed to sort it out and I celebrated by playing the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves theme music at top volume. It definitely fitted my mood of feeling epic!
I like your celebration style! Have you got another book planned for the near future?
I’m possibly quite unusual in the sense that the second book is already written. Well, I should say a first draft is written. When I realised I was getting nowhere with the first one, I started writing the second book. That was in about 2010, I think, but full-time job and a long period of illness meant that, again, it took two years to write. And it was pantsed. I’m busy editing it at the moment – I’ve been working on that for about six months I think – and it’s coming together. I’ve developed a few tricks, like plotting cards all over the living room floor, which have been invaluable and I’m already using them to plan my third book. I don’t have a timescale for the second book yet, I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself at the moment! I also have a novella that tells the back story of one of the characters in the first and second books so I’ll be editing and producing that soon too. I wrote that a few years ago now, so I’ll be coming to it really cold, which will make it easier to be objective.
I love that feeling, when you have left something for so long that you barely remember writing it! So what are you working on now?
Editing the second book is the priority now that A Deadly Rejection is out, although alongside that I’ll be doing various marketing activities. I don’t have a fixed plan on those yet but once I’ve recovered from publishing the book I’ll get back on it. The blog comes in handy but there’s work to do to build the audience further on that as well as keeping pace with Twitter. It’s difficult to fit everything in around my day job, but I’m sure I’ll find a way.
You’re fitting in writing around your day job, and you still manage to write excellent blog posts. How do you remain so disciplined?
I think my background as a journalist certainly helps here, but I’ll admit to being more flexible than I was back then. Once I know what I’m writing about, my rule is to try and think of three points I want to make and then write around those. I love this type of writing, because it’s much easier, and I love sharing what I’ve learned. It’s the kind of writing that I find it easy to share because it’s like being back in the news days. I’ll admit to having a spreadsheet where I plan out all my ideas for a few weeks ahead. If I was really disciplined I’d write them well ahead of time but they tend to be written on a Saturday morning for the Monday. Once I get back into editing properly I’ll have to find a system where I write the post in the week – probably while I’m commuting – then I can use my Saturday time for editing. I have said in the past that I’m a writer who blogs and not a blogger who writes and when I’m short on time or taking a break, it’s the blog that gets side-lined. But it’s an important resource for me so I’ll always come back to it and try to be as regular as possible.
Which is exactly what I’m trying to do myself right now… Now that you’re published, is there anything you could go back and tell yourself to do (or not to do) that might have made it all easier?
Plotting will be the first stage of every book I write going forwards. Pantsing has left both my books in such a mess that it’s taken so much time to unknot them. The new process I’ve put together should make things much better. Now I understand the publishing process I’ll change my timeline style. Usually I start with an end date and work backwards but in future I’ll set the editing, proofreading and cover design pieces in place and have the completed book ready before I set a publication date. I think I’ll try and give myself an easier time as well. I’m very driven and when I have an end goal I tend to go at it like a bull in a china shop, as my dad would say. So instead of berating myself for not having things ready in time, I’ll cut myself a bit of slack. Working two jobs at once is exhausting and I need to look after myself as well as doing the writing work.
Yes, it’s something I have really noticed – how important it is to look after yourself when you are juggling many things (and sitting down at a keyboard most hours of the day). Finally, who (or what) inspires you?
My immediate inspirations for becoming a writer were Enid Blyton and JB Fletcher (from Murder, She Wrote). I knew I wanted to tell stories and to have some adventures along the way. I never got the adventures, but I’ve got the story-telling bit so one out of two isn’t bad! The inspiration to kick-start the self-publishing process was actually my dad. Back in April, we’d gone out for lunch (my mam and boyfriend were there as well) and after we’d eaten my dad leaned back in his chair and said ‘So when’s this book being published then?’. My response of ‘Oh, I don’t know’ sounded really lame and I decided that, as being published was what I really wanted to do, I’d better crack on. Six months on, I’ve done it and he has to take some of the credit for that! My Twitter crew (including your good self) are also an inspiration. Everyone works so hard and produces great work, but they always have time for a laugh and encouragement. I wouldn’t have got to where I am now without my Twitter crew.
Thanks, Lynne – all the best with the book – I hope it sells trillions 🙂
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: By day, I work in PR and communications; by night (and at weekends) I write crime fiction (as well as baking pies and chocolate brownies). In a previous life worked as a local newspaper reporter. This gave me the inspiration for the story that has become my first novel, A Deadly Rejection. I live in Kent and spend far too much time on trains commuting into London for work, which does however give me time to work on plotting and writing my books. You can keep tabs on what I’m up to by following me on Twitter @lmmilford or by checking out my blog www.lmmilford.wordpress.com I write about what I’m working on, advice on what I’ve learned through my work and how to move forward with writing.
Yesterday afternoon, I returned from my annual trip to Harrogate for the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival, the event where 100s of crime writers, bloggers, authors, industry professionals and many, many readers converge at The Old Swan hotel (of Agatha Christie disappearance fame…) for a weekend of talks, parties, drinks, books, scandals and hangovers. As usual, the festival was excellent fun – and even the rain didn’t stop play 🙂
The Pimms-in-A-Tin tent… genius
Promoting my new book The Deaths of December at the Hodder drinks party, which included pulling crackers and saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to a lot of bemused faces (and keeping my reindeer antlers on all night afterwards)
Reading my short story ‘The Chair’ while my fellow Slice Girls A.K. Benedict and Steph Broadribb duct taped author Neil White to a chair at The Blues Bar (thanks to Zoe Sharp for the torch!)
The Slice Girls performance afterwards (as part of fringe event Noir At The Bar)
The Dark Side panel on Friday, featuring Clare Donoghue, Elly Griffiths (this year’s fab festival chair), Simon Toyne, Lesley Thomson & James Oswald – chatting about supernatural elements in crime and why we should all read it
Chocolate cake and Prosecco at the Bonnier drinks party
Hanging out with lots of really cool people and laughing very much at lots of unrepeatable and ridiculous thing (…laughing at Katerina Diamond telling me to stop laughingso much)
Danny not being dead
Not getting a burger because it started to piss down with rain and they had to close it down before everything blew away
Not spending enough time with some people (and not seeing others at all…)
My agent not being there
Forgetting to buy Farrah’s fudge
Thinking about the beautiful Helen Cadbury, who had planned to be there and will always be missed 💔
Some pics below, mostly stolen from others. Thanks to the organisers for a fantastic event, my publishers for spoiling me with a lovely meal and showering me with praise, the cleaner at The Cairn for giving me extra biscuits, and all the lovely people who kept me entertained. Roll on 2018!!
SO… I decided to start writing some flash fiction again, and as Miranda is already running #MidWeekFlash with photo prompts, this seemed like a good place to start. Right. It’s been a while. Deep breath. Here goes…
George took a bite of his burger and felt the grease oozing down his chin. OH GOD IT TASTES SO GOOD. George had been a vegetarian for 27 years. Ever since that school fete where his (ex) best friend, Harry Baudsley had eaten a burger from the van and puked chunky yellow vomit all over George’s brand new trainers. Two cycles through the washing machine and they were clean, but the logo had faded and it was obvious that they were nothing but cheap fakes.
It’s not what he’d planned for himself in life. When the teacher had asked him, aged 10, what he wanted to be, he’d said A LAWYER, LIKE MY DAD (because back then, it seemed like his dad could do no wrong, and it was like that right up until the day when he got arrested for some dull and boring tax evasion and his mum had told him to ROT IN HELL.) So George had taken another route, and anyway, being a con man was a hell of a lot more fun than being a lawyer, right?
He’d done well on this latest venture: THE HOLIDAY SCAM. It’s amazing how gullible people can be when they let their greed cloud their pea-size brains. He used one of those buy and sell websites, always a different name, different email, but the same old story – I can’t make this amazing 5-star luxury holiday due to illness but I forgot to take out insurance, I can transfer it to you, and I don’t mind losing out… if you want to take my place, CALL ME. He took more calls than his cheap phone could handle. He fleeced more fools than a box full of foolish.
Then he got greedy… too greedy… as greedy as the greediest of the greedy fools.
He tried a new scam. It involved his own magical mystery tour. He set up a fake outdoor adventure company. Got people to turn up to a secret location, where he’d trick them and rob them and leave them to find their own way home – miles away, with nothing but the clothes on their backs – no money, no phones… and when they made it home, they’d look for his number and it’d be gone. His website would be gone, always rerouted some way that no one could ever find it.
Every time he made bundle of cash, he’d stroll down to the park, and he’d sit by the burger van, under the canopy of dark, spindly trees… and let the smell of frying onions tempt him in… but he never touched one. He still couldn’t get the image of Harry Baudsley and the yellow vomit on his brand new trainers out of his head.
‘Hey…’ the man from the van called to him. ‘I see you here all the time. How come you never eat one of my delicious burgers? I’m offended!’
‘Nah, nah,’ George said. ‘I don’t eat meat. I’m a vegetarian.’
‘SURE you are,’ the man from the van said. ‘Until you try one of these…’
George stared at the man. There was something weird about his eyes. Something shiny and twirling and bewitching. He stared, and found he couldn’t look away. Eventually, he said, ‘Sure… OK. Maybe just a bite.’
So he took that bite, and let the grease run down his chin, and he flashed back to the image of Harry and the trainers and he blinked and blinked, let the smell of the frying onions lift him away… and he felt great. FOR A MOMENT. Then he started to feel swirly and dreamy. The burger dropped from his hand, although he didn’t feel himself letting go of it. The man from the van came out around the other side and he spoke, but his voice seemed to come from far, far away… and he said:
‘You don’t remember me, do you?’
And as George fell to the floor, he remembered… he remembered the first man that he conned for £5000 for the holiday to the Maldives that never existed… the man who said he was taking his wife, and his sick child, because it might be their last ever holiday together, the man who said he would GET HIM for this, ONE DAY…
The last thing George saw was the shapes of the trees, their swirling twirling branches as they spun round and round, their vine-like tips caressing and strangling and choking. Until the last few breaths fizzed and popped from him as his cheap fake life slithered into the damp grass, leaving nothing but a greasy stain.
I’m delighted to (finally) share some VERY exciting news about my next book, which will be out in November… in time for a (scary) Christmas 🙂 This is the press release (an abbreviated version was published in The Bookseller) – I’m still pinching myself that I will be sharing a UK publisher with Stephen King!
* * *
Mulholland Books is delighted to announce the acquisition of a chilling Christmas-themed murder mystery by acclaimed author Susi Holliday.
THE DEATHS OF DECEMBER opens with an advent calendar being delivered to a police station – where it is roundly ignored until a curious young DC uncovers a crime scene behind almost every door. Is it a cruel prank? Or has a serial killer previously under the radar resurfaced to kill again?
S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday grew up in East Lothian. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham prize. She has written three crime novels, a mix of police procedural and psychological thriller, set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun, which have received high praise from fellow authors and the press and gained her a loyal following.
Ruth Tross, Publisher of Crime & Thriller at Hodder, bought world rights from Phil Patterson at Marjacq. Tross said, ‘I am one of those people who enjoys Christmas most of all as a chance to read more; and I’m thrilled to be publishing Susi’s new mystery, the perfect mix of mistletoe and murder.’
Patterson said, ‘I am thrilled that Ruth will be publishing Susi. I am a big admirer of Ruth and all at Mulholland, and know that this will be a great place for Susi’s talent to shine.’
Mulholland will publish in print and digital in November 2017.
MULHOLLAND BOOKS: You never know what’s coming around the curve.
[STEPH] Many of the female crime thriller writers we spoke to agreed with Mark and enjoy putting sex into their books. Angela Clarke has a sex scene in a disabled toilet in her thriller Follow Me, and Elizabeth Haynes has her detective almost die in a queening box in Under a Silent Moon.
Alexandra Sokoloff said, ‘Most of my books have the common theme of an equal male and female protagonist (or in my Huntress series, an equal and combative male protagonist and female villain) joining forces to solve some horrific crime. And erotic tension is just part of the mix, and when those two people finally come together (yes, I meant that) it has to be explosive and character revealing.’
Marnie Riches writes a lot of sex scenes in her ‘The Girl Who…’ series, she said of women writing sex scenes, ‘Maybe we have the vocabulary for desire more naturally and are less embarrassed.’
[SUSI] I think Marnie makes a good point here. I don’t think there are many female writers out there who didn’t read some of their mum’s books with the naughty bits in, as teens – you know, stuff like Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins – girls, I think, are more inclined to explore these images of desire, and thus as adults are possibly more inclined to write about them? Mark Edwards aside (who makes a good job of it, so to speak), I think females might have the upper-hand when it comes to making sex scenes sexy and not cringey! My biggest problem with sex scenes is when people use what I consider to be THE WRONG WORDS, especially too many of the wrong words… Doing research for this article I searched several novels for certain words and found that ‘penis’ came out as a very over-used word (especially by male authors) – please… come on. It’s cock, surely?
[STEPH] I totally get that, there’s nothing more likely to put you off your stroke than a badly used sex word. ‘Her sex’ is particularly cringe-worthy to me, as are ‘lady-parts’; she’s a woman, therefore all of her is a lady part – be specific! My only exception to this is that I think it’s important the choice of word fits the character – so if the character is very repressed maybe they would call it ‘her sex’ (shudders) but if they’re a tough talking, kick-ass woman that’d be the totally wrong fit.
While we were writing this the only area of disagreement Susi and me had was over ‘panties’. I have the word panties in DEEP DOWN DEAD at least once – during flashback to when my lead character was working as a stripper. It works for the scene and it works in the American voice, but I know the panties set Susi’s teeth on edge!
Even if you decide you’re going to include it, writing good sex is a tricky business. Too little information and its just confusing, too much and it reads like a sex manual – neither are much fun, and neither are sexy – so how to get the perfect balance? If the nominees in the annual Bad Sex Award are anything to go by, the more metaphors and similes used when describing sex increase your risk tenfold. Critically acclaimed writers can fall foul of this too. And, if you’ve not already had the chance, I recommend listening to the hilarious Bad Sex Award special podcast by the brilliant Two Crime Writers and a Microphone. Listening to Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste reading out each nominated scene makes the pitfalls of writing a sex scene abundantly clear!
[SUSI] Exactly. Just as in the art of seduction itself, writing a good sex scene involves giving it just the right amount, and no more. The words used are important, and you need to make sure it’s just the right length (ahem!) – any more and you’re venturing into erotica territory, and that’s not what we’re talking about here (btw, for brilliantly written erotica/crime – try something by Ava Marsh… for grubby but nonetheless entertaining erotica/crime… try L.S Hilton‘s Maestra) As author Mel Sherratt – Watching over You – says, go for the ‘hot and horny, but quick scenes.’ This is spot on. Don’t get too graphic, but don’t be too scared to give us a decent flavour. My top tip for writing a sex scene – if it turns you on when you are writing it and reading it back, it will most likely have the same effect on the reader.
[STEPH] That’s a great tip! Another thing I’d say is that although books (and films) like Bond have always included a lot of sex scenes, and they’re always told from the male point of view. Personally I always give a little cheer when I’m reading a book and the female character takes the POV for a sex scene. Maybe that’s one of the subconscious reasons I wanted to write a sex scene from Lori Anderson’s point of view. Maybe I just like to see girls on top!
[SUSI] I agree. I definitely think women writing it from the female POV works best. You know, all the way through this, all I’ve been able to think about is the reverse cowgirl squat, which would be quite apt for Lori, don’t you think?
[STEPH] Oh hell yeah!!
So, we’ve had our say, what do you think – do you like a sprinkling of sex with your crime? And, if you do, what’s the most memorable sex scene in a crime thriller for you? Tweet us at @crimethrillgirl and @sjiholliday using #GirlsOnTop to let us know.
* * *
Steph Broadribb is an alumni of the MA Creative Writing at City University London and trained as a bounty hunter in California. Her debut novel DEEP DOWN DEAD is out now – here’s the blurb: Lori Anderson is as tough as they come keeping her career as a Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But when the hospital bills rack up, she has no choice but to take a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things go wrong. The fugitive she’s chasing is JT, Lori former mentor – the man who taught her all she knows … the man who also knows the secrets of her murky past. Find out more at www.crimethrillergirl.com.
This a little introduction to my main character, Davie Gray, that I wrote for Mystery Readers International. For anyone who wants to know more about where he came from, read on! People often ask me who I’d like to see play Davie on a TV adaptation… well I decided that Dougray Scott fits the bill nicely. If you’re reading, Mr Scott, please get in touch 😉
When I started writing my first novel, Black Wood, I intended it to be a straight psychological thriller – a first person account with an unreliable narrator – a woman confronted with a face from her past, leading to events that sending her into a downward spiral with deadly consequences. But then I realised it was too intense – or the main character was, at least.
I absolutely didn’t want to have any police in the book – main reason being that I didn’t want to go into a lot of procedural detail – that would involve too much research, and for me, research leads to much procrastination… So of course it was a bit of a surprise when my cop walked onto the page. Sergeant Davie Gray (who is NOT a detective) first appears in a scene in the local police station, in my fictitious Scottish small town called Banktoun. This town is very closely based on the town I grew up in, about seventeen miles from Edinburgh, but I changed it a bit to suit my own nefarious purposes (plus, hardly anything happens there – let alone the series of grisly murders I was about to unleash.) The first scene in Banktoun station sees Davie playing wastepaper basketball with his colleague, the two of them spinning about on wheely office chairs. Clearly, they’re bored. Then a call comes in from their Inspector – who is busy on the golf course – telling them to go and investigate a disturbing event up at the old railway track.
This sets the ball rolling for what is to become a full on investigation into teenage girls being threatened by a creepy masked man, and Davie’s role as guardian to my main character, Jo, being pushed to the limits.
How did I go about researching, then – considering I didn’t want to do any police procedural research? Fact is, I didn’t – not really. I found that Davie was an easy character to write, his style of investigation was straightforward, yet thorough. He turned out to be a natural detective after all. He’s reluctant to involve CID, because he’s excited to finally have something to investigate, and he’s convinced that being local and knowing the parties involved, that he is the only man required for the job. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t the clichéd copper with a drink problem, so instead, I gave him a scooter and a Mod hair cut, put him in charge of a karate club and turned him into a bit of a heart-throb. I based his mannerisms on an amalgamation of all the local police I knew, growing up in that town – I’d been questioned by police myself, after a robbery at my dad’s shop where I worked as a teenager – and I got to know others, as I got older, while working as a barmaid in my dad’s pub. Having family businesses in a small town makes you a centre point in the community – especially the type where everyone knows everyone. As for the hair and the karate and the heart-throb parts – they came entirely from my inside my head… although I did do karate myself, so that part didn’t require any research at all. In some ways, it’s his martial arts training that makes Davie good at his job – he is able to calmly assess a situation and work out what he needs to do, rather than jumping in feet first.
So Davie Gray was ‘born’ – and that was that, I thought. He’s not the main character, it’s not his story – he’s just someone who lives there, who happens to be a policeman. Then people read the book – and they enjoyed it – they loved Davie and they wanted to know when he was coming back… Aargh! This wasn’t in the plan!
It was a natural progression after that – the three books that I had planned turned into a trilogy, linked by location and by Davie. In Willow Walk, I give him a girlfriend – he wasn’t particularly lucky in love in the first book, and the readers wanted to see him fixed up. I made his girlfriend the main character, and just as things are starting to hot up between them, I throw in a curveball – give her a dark, dark secret that threatens to ruin her life. Davie is in turmoil, and as well as that, he’s kind of become seconded to CID – he’s turning into a detective! So then I find that I have to do some research, after all. So I start with Google – which leads me to all the local police force websites, then I end up talking to ex-police officers (it’s handy that so many of them are writing crime fiction now, and that I have several of them as friends), and then I talk to a sergeant working at the Scottish Police College in Stirlingshire – and I get lots of great insights there.
So it’s only fair that I let Davie do his detective exams, so that in book three – The Damselfly (out now), he is Detective Sergeant Gray – and he’s dealing with the murder of a teenage girl… and there’s another love interest. This one looks like she’s here to stay.
* * *
All three books in the Banktoun trilogy are available to purchase now – click on the book covers below, or ask your favourite book shop to order one in for you (also available in libraries!). If you’ve already read them, I would love it if you could write me a little review! You can contact me via my Facebook Page and on Twitter too 🙂
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-crimeyfriends 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?
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!
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.
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 🙂
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 😉