I usually keep track of the books I finish* by pinning them on Pinterest, but this year my reading was so haphazard that I didn’t do it until I scrolled through my kindle today! There were huge swathes of time this year when I didn’t read a word – unusual, for someone who has always been a massive reader – the kind of kid who had to get special permission to take out double the number of allowed books from the library because I flew through them so quickly! Anyway, despite the upset to my reading habits caused by day job, writing, general life and pandemic-madness, I got through more than I realised… I’d actually forgotten about a few of them, which is further evidence of this year’s state-of-mind. What will 2021 bring? Who knows. I’m hibernating until spring.
*sometimes I go back to books later, if they aren’t grabbing me at the time – usually more about me than the book. I suspect a lot of the unfinished will appear in next year’s post.
So, let’s analyse… I see:
22 books by women / 17 by men (and 1 mix of both as it’s an anthology)
22 books set in the UK / 10 books set in the USA / 7 books set elsewhere/mixed locations
19 books where this was the first time I’d read that author / 20 repeat offenders
3 books by the same author (a Peter Swanson binge)
2 books that I’d say were ‘nice’ rather than dark / 37 books I’d describe as crime/psychological/horror
3 books that have either hints or actual supernatural things in them
4 books that were really dark and disturbing in a real-life kind of horror way
4 books that made me laugh-out-loud (2 of these were very dark!)
8 books that are not out until next year
And which ones were my favourites? Well, I think the five below stood out for me this year:
Dead Head by CJ Skuze
Third instalment of the hilariously dark serial killer series. The main character, Rhiannon, is an absolutely genius creation and I’m so excited for the TV series.
Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Malloy
One of those books that you can’t say much about without spoilers, but it’s a psych thriller with heavy nods to Stephen King’s ‘Misery’, and I loved it.
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
Another one that I can’t say much about other than it is like nothing I have read before. Dark, unusual and ultimately heartbreaking. I think this one is going to be huge next year.
The Apparition Phase by Will Maclean
A very cleverly executed ghost story, this genuinely scared the pants off me.
Call Me Mummy by Tina Baker
Another in the very dark but very funny camp, this is all about the characters. I think Tonya might be my favourite character of the year.
There are lots of books on my kindle that I didn’t get around to reading this year. Just a few on my to-be-read list are:
Recursion by Blake Crouch
The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward
The Push by Claire McGowan
Daughters of The Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson
Fragile by Sarah Hillary
Queen Bee by Jane Fallon
…and now all that’s left for me to say is thank you to all the authors, audiobook narrators, readers, bloggers, reviewers, agents, editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, booksellers, events coordinators, marketers, publicists, sales teams, librarians and anyone else who loves books and promotes reading.
Books will save us… Read a book!
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and here’s to 2021 being memorable in better ways than 2020!
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You can find my books here: UK / USA – and you can sign-up to grab a free short story collection HERE.
My brand-new horror novella, Mr Sandman, is available as a limited edition hardback HERE.
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)
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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!)
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.
[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.
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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.
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.
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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 🙂
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 😉
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!)
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**
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…)
Whether it’s a whodunnit or a whydunnit or a ‘WTF is going on?’ scenario, the thing that all crime fiction has in common is some type of mysterious element. Take this box of Lego, for example. What’s that about? Hmm? We’ll come back to that in a minute…
What have I been up to? Well apart from getting on with writing book 3 (while also being stupidly busy at work), I’ve been starting to prep things for the release of Willow Walk (launch details to follow soon!), I’ve been to my first crime festival of the year – Deal Noir (it was brilliant – some pics HERE if you’re interested), I’ve been to the first occurrence of First Monday Crime – London’s brand new monthly crime gathering, AND, I’ve been reading… ok, I actually read all of these a while ago, but I haven’t had time to write these miniscule reviews…
You know that I only tell you about books that I’ve really enjoyed and want you to read… so here is the latest batch:
A hidden side of London, and the ghosts that walk among us. This is a terrific novel formed from elegant writing and filled with humour and many dark things. An exploration of grief turned into an intriguing story full of crime and the supernatural, with some genuinely terrifying images. And mudlarking… Who knew? I can’t stop thinking about this book. Read it.
A missing son, a mother with recurrent blackouts and some people acting very suspiciously… C.L. Taylor’s latest psychological thriller delves into the world of online chatrooms and explores the devastation of a family who all seem to be hiding something. Dark and twisty. Loved it.
Office Noir. Is that a thing? If you’ve ever worked somewhere where a new boss turns your previously idyllic working life into a daily living hell, this one’s for you. There is a very cleverly woven sub-plot about a heartbreaking case of abuse and neglect that will make you want to cry – but add the two together, and you’ve got an absolutely cracking read. Taut. Tense. Fantastic.
Not technically a new book, but as the paperback has just launched and being that it is one of the best things I’ve read in years, I am recommending this again. Female naval officer boards the all-male environment of a submarine to investigate a suspicious death. No one wants her there, but she’s not giving up. This is completely unique and totally absorbing. The prologue alone is enough to give you a heart-attack. Claustrophobic and brilliantly written. In a word: Ace.
Eddie Flynn is back! I must confess that I’m am not a huge fan of legal thrillers, but I really think that Cavanagh is doing something different with his series of novels about an ex-hustler turned lawyer. Set in New York and using the set-up of a classic locked-room mystery, this is the story of a high-profile man accused of murdering his girlfriend, merged with the very real threat that something bad is going to happen to Flynn’s estranged wife. Excellent characterisation, and enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes throughout. This is exactly what a thriller should be.
Anyway… back to the Lego. Well guess what – I’m not going to tell you what it’s about. But if you pre-order Willow Walk, you’ll find out soon.
Don’t forget – if you fancy a preview – you can sign-up here and it will be delivered to your inbox, along with a subscriber-exclusive Davie Gray short story.
One of the most exciting things about being an author is getting that email from the publisher with the subject line ‘COVER!’
Luckily, my publisher allows me some input into how I imagine it might look. Then the design team works with sales and marketing to come up with something that fits the theme, as well as being aligned with designs that are currently popular in the market. The other consideration, of course, was to make sure it complemented Black Wood.
I always imagined a fairground scene on the cover, as this is one of the key settings in the book – but other than that, I was happy to wait and see what appeared – and I wasn’t disappointed! When I got the email back in early December last year (which seems like forever ago!) I had no real idea what to expect – and when I opened the file, it was the font colour that was the biggest shock of all – in a GOOD way!
In fact, I’m already thinking about how to coordinate my outfit for the launch nights…
I love it and can’t wait to see it on the shelves – what do you think?
Willow Walk will be out in May (eBook) / June (paperback) – pre-order information will be available soon – in the meantime, you can have a peek at what some of the early readers have said about it HERE
If you can’t wait that long, there will be a free Davie Gray short story only for subscribers delivered to your inbox on 18th March which will include an exclusive preview of Willow Walk… so if you haven’t signed up already, you can do it HERE – what are you waiting for? 🙂