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)

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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.

 

Recent Reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quentin

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!

Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes #review

First off, although this is Elizabeth Haynes’ third published novel, it’s the is the first of her books that I have read (despite having all three in my teetering to-be-read pile…) Something about the title and the premise sold it to me… I’ve often ‘joked’ that one of my neighbours could be dead because I don’t see them for weeks, even months on end; and despite that fact that we don’t really get on, I wouldn’t particularly like to be faced with her putrefying corpse. Her noisy husband though, well, that’s another story… Anyway – here’s the blurb:

How well do you know your neighbours? Would you notice if they lived or died?

Police analyst Annabel wouldn’t describe herself as lonely. Her work keeps her busy and the needs of her ageing mother and her cat are more than enough to fill her time when she’s on her own. But Annabel is shocked when she discovers her neighbour’s decomposing body in the house next door, and appalled to think that no one, including herself, noticed her absence.

Back at work she sets out to investigate, despite her police officer colleagues lack of interest, and finds data showing that such cases are frighteningly common in her own home town.

A chilling thriller and a hymn to all the lonely people, whose individual voices haunt the pages, Elizabeth Haynes new novel is a deeply disturbing and powerful thriller that preys on our darkest fears, showing how vulnerable we are when we live alone, and how easily ordinary lives can fall apart when no one is watching.

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What did I think of it? Three words… terrifying, intriguing, realistic.

The story is told through the eyes of Annabel, a police analyst who feels shunned by her colleagues and with no one but a demanding elderly mother to look out for her. The thing about Annabel is that a lot of what she experiences is really down to herself, and it becomes clearer later on that she is an attractive, engaging person who others want to interact with – but by not believing in herself, she’s fulfilled that horrible cliche of ‘if you don’t love yourself, then you can’t expect anyone to love you’. One thing she is confident about though, is her job – and the realism of her investigative skills without turning her into a Jessica Fletcher parody is what really impressed me about this character.

The story is also told through the eyes of an altogether unsavoury chap called Colin… who can’t be called anything other than a complete wanker (sorry, you’ll need to read the book to get the full enormity of this reference). I was fascinated by Colin. His motivations, his emotional stuntedness, and more than anything his ‘technique’. It’s certainly made me far more interested than I was in Neuro-Linguistic Programming!

There are other characters’ POVs too, but I don’t want to say any more as I think it will spoil it. All I’ll say is this: if you look up ‘Psychological Thriller Author’ in the dictionary, you’ll find a photo of Elizabeth Haynes right at the top.

Brilliant.