Go on a Crime Spree and get short stories for free!

Taking a break before you dive in to your next book? Not sure what to read next? Maybe you haven’t read any (or many) short stories before, or maybe you think you don’t like them (?!) This is your cue to give them another chance, and perhaps to try out some authors you might not have read before . . . for free!

For a limited time only, you can download FREE short stories from 12 top UK crime & thriller writers, including: Mark Edwards, Harry Bingham, Katerina Diamond, C.L. Taylor, J.F. Penn, Angela Clarke, Lucy Dawson, Rebecca Bradley, Simon Toyne, Cal Moriarty, Marnie Riches (and ME!)

So why don’t you put the kettle on, make yourself comfortable, and get reading 🙂

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GET YOUR FREE eBOOKS HERE

Please note: If you’ve already signed up to my mailing list, you can get my short story collection featuring ‘As Black as Snow’, ‘The Outhouse’ and ‘Pretty Woman’ by clicking on the book cover below (otherwise you might be signed up twice . . .)

 

Book News!

Image: Unrealitymag (from ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)’)

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!

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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.

For more information, please go to www.mulhollandbooks.co.uk or find us on Facebook and Twitter @MulhollandUK

For additional information, contact Rosie Stephen, rosie.stephen@hodder.co.uk

Girls On Top: Sex in Crime (Part 2)

‘Don’t you think there should be more people handcuffed to beds in thrillers?’

…says Mark Edwards (The Devil’s Work) over at CrimeThrillerGirl (aka Steph Broadribb)’s blog, where we are talking about SEX in crime fiction (you should read PART 1 first!) Part 2 continues below…

[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 SherrattWatching 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.

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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.

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This article was first Published on Barry Forshaw’s blog: CRIMETIME

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You can buy my books here: SJI Holliday’s Amazon Page (and in all good book shops)

Join my mailing list HERE to be entered into competitions and receive my occasional newsletter.

Meet Sergeant Gray – my sexy small town Scottish cop

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 😉

You can read the full journal here: Mystery Readers: Small Town Cops II

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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.

Fingers crossed.

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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 🙂

If you live in or near Glasgow, I will be appearing at Aye Write on Saturday night with my fellow Slice GirlSteph Broadribb, Angela Lansbury fan, Russel McLean and Gordon Brown (the crime writer, not the other one!) – it’s going to be a fun night! A few tickets are still available here: Aye Write Tickets for 3 Slices of Crime

Purchase Here!!

 

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.

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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…)