Books I’ve Enjoyed in 2013

There are a lot of ‘best books of 2013’ posts circulating at the moment, so I thought I’d share with you the books I have enjoyed this year, not those necessarily published this year… although I am not selecting those that come out early next year (even though I have read them…) Confused? Ok, in no particular order – I really liked these:

Merry Christmas!

Confessions of a Freelancer

This week’s guest is Claire McGowan, who’s second novel THE LOST is out this week If you don’t know Claire already, make sure you start following her on twitter – she’s very funny… not to mention talented, as Peter James has said ‘Claire McGowan will undoubtedly become a major name in crime fiction‘. Can’t argue with that! Today Claire tells us about the guilt she feels as a freelancer… spending all day in pyjamas. Just so you know, I prepared this post at 3pm on a Friday, from the comfort of my couch, in my pyjamas… 😉

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Today I opened the door to the postman, still in my dressing gown. It’s by no means an unusual occurrence, but I felt ashamed. It was 10.45 and I hadn’t got dressed yet. I’d been awake, thinking, writing in bed, mulling things over, but I hadn’t gotten up or had a shower or been a useful member of society, and so I experienced it: freelancer’s guilt.

I get freelancer’s guilt a lot. When you ring for a plumber or boiler repairman and they say ‘Sure, I’ll come at 8 tomorrow.’ I never say what I’m really thinking – ‘8 a.m.! Are you mad! I’ll be asleep for at least an hour after that.’ Cravenly, I always say 8 is fine, and then I don’t sleep because I’m awake thinking of plot ideas, and so I’m grumpy and I don’t make them a cup of tea as they fix my boiler, and no one is happy.

A few weeks ago I had some men in doing things with the gas supply in the house. I’m not sure what or why it was necessary, but I was trying to finish off a book and they had the front door open all day (in the snow), spent hours drilling and /or welding in the room I write in, and worst of all, they moved all my writing notes without asking and put them out of order (is this a crime? It should be). The noise was unbelievable – constant drilling all day long. I sulked a bit, but eventually I just had to ask when they’d stop, because I had work to do. ‘Oh, are you working?’ they said in surprise. Maybe imagining it can’t be work if you do it your kitchen, in a tracksuit, with a dog on your lap. Being a coward, I just slunk around muttering to myself and got nothing done for most of that week.

But you know what I should have said to them? Writing is WORK. It is HARD. It’s my job and how I pay the bills. And when you write for a living, it’s not 9 to 5. Our brains don’t switch on and off like those massive calculators with the built-in printers you keep on your desk in your actual office, where you’re required to be between certain hours and then you can go home. I’m thinking about my work all the time, even if it appears that I’m sitting in a café having a cake. I sleep badly, especially during periods of high creativity, and this often keeps me awake most of the night. So if I can, I will lie in bed to 10. Why shouldn’t I? I have nowhere to go and no dependent children or elderly relatives waiting on me for tea and scones. I have no one checking up on me and my deadlines are long, stretching across a year like fishing skeins, and only I decide when I do the work to meet them.

Even as I’m saying this, though, I feel defensive and judged. By people who phone before 10 and find you’re not at your desk (sometimes I’m cleaning, or putting on laundry, or, is it actually any of your business?) By funny looks from people who ring the bell before 11 and find me in PJs. By tradespeople telling me ‘I’ll come round at 8, OK?’ and throwing me into a panic.

I say let’s fight back against the tyranny of nine to five. The way people work is changing. In a world of energy and space shortages, it makes little sense to have your own house which is empty all day, while you travel two hours to sit in a different space which is empty at night. And our digital lives increasingly mean people don’t want to wait to office hours to get things done. We’ll all be working differently in future, I think. We freelancers are noble pioneers, hacking a new way of work out of the bush. It may look like we’re still in bed tweeting at 10.30, but trust me, we’re working VERY HARD INDEED. So no more freelancer’s guilt. In future I’m going to embrace my inner diva and make my own workspace in the house, and insist that no one talks to me while I’m working or comes into my workroom (aka the kitchen) and starts welding pipes. Either that or my next book is going to contain a particularly brutal drill-related death scene.

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About Claire

Claire McGowan was born in Northern Ireland and now lives in Kent. Her first novel The Fall was published in 2012 and The Lost in 2013, the start of a new crime series. She also teaches on the new Crime Writing MA at City University London. You can find out more at Claire’s website Pains, Trains and Inkstains and on Twitter @inkstainsclaire.

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THE LOST #minireview

This is Claire’s second book and immediately it has quite a different feel from her first. Set primarily in Ireland, in a fictionalised version of her own home town, it tells the story of forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, who is sent from London on secondment to look into the disappearance of two teenage girls. It soon becomes clear that the case may be linked so some missing girls from years gone by, and it’s apparent that Paula has also ‘lost’ someone of her own.

This is more than a crime novel. It’s a story about Ireland, both politically and socially, over the last 40 years. It’s clear that this is something that the author really wanted to write, to not just tell a story about missing girls, but to paint a picture of life on an island steeped in history, full of quirky characters and very real troubles. The humour and the dialogue are particularly strong in this novel, and the main character Paula, is definitely someone I’d like to get to know better. The ending sets up the next book in the series just perfectly – plenty of threads left loose, just the right amount of ends tied up.

Recommended… and definitely not just for crime fans!

Review: The Fall – Claire McGowan

One of the best things that has happened to me since I joined twitter is that I’ve uncovered a whole lot of new crime authors with books on the brink of release – the perfect time to sneak in there and be a part of the journey from the beginning. Not only that, by chatting to these authors on twitter, I’ve realised what a lovely bunch they are too, and despite my annoyance at how brilliant their new books are, it has has encouraged me to carry on writing my own 🙂

The first of these emerging talents for 2012 is Claire McGowan whose debut novel The Fall has just been released on Amazon and is launched in ‘real’ shops later this week.

The book is written from three different viewpoints – Charlotte, the soon-to-be-married posh PR girl who’s life changes dramatically after one seemingly random night out, Keisha – the mixed-up mixed-race girl with her own set of problems, and DC Hegarty – the detective hoping for his first big break and a promotion.  The author’s strength lies in the way she brings each of the main characters to life yet still leaves room for a very convincing set of extras – I particularly liked the descriptions of Charlotte’s mother and stepfather whose unintentionally hilarious actions reminded me a lot of my grandparents 🙂

As far as plot goes – the story is fast-paced, intriguing and highly convincing; it feels so real you can imagine yourself in the thick of it. I could easily have read this in one sitting if I’d had the time, as it was, it kept me turning the pages well into the night. The style of writing is no-nonsense, observational and witty and I can honestly say I haven’t enjoyed a book as much in ages. I can’t wait for her next one.

I absolutely 100% recommend this book – so if you don’t like it, I’d be really interested to know why!