October Update: Bouchercon and Book News

Me with Jennifer Hillier

Me with Jennifer Hillier

Earlier this month, I travelled to Raleigh, North Carolina for my second US based crime festival of the year – Bouchercon. This was a whirlwind of panels, parties and mingling in the bar (of course) and it was great to meet up with lots of readers and fellow authors, spending time with old friends and new.

This is the biggest crime festival I’ve been to so far in terms of reader attendance – I have never seen so many crime fiction fans in one place… and books – the books!!! I was very pleased to sell out of my stock of Black Wood at McIntyre’s Books (I just wish I’d had time to go and visit their gorgeous book store).

I was part of the ‘Stiff Upper Lip – British Investigations are Murder’ panel on Thursday afternoon, along with Aly Monroe, Deborah Griffiths, Anne Cleeland and Elly Griffiths.What am I saying?

We were in a large room and there was a huge (and very responsive) audience, so although daunting, it was great fun.

Stiff Upper Lip - British Investigations are Murder (Aly Monroe, Deborah Crombie, Anne Cleeland, Elly Griffiths and me)

Aly Monroe, Deborah Crombie, Anne Cleeland, Elly Griffiths and me

My second event was a very early start on Saturday morning – the 7am Debut Authors’ Breakfast (sponsored by Crooked Lane Books).

This is where approximately 60 debut authors (except for the ones who slept in…) were invited to give a one minute pitch to try and tempt a room full of avid book-reading breakfasters to buy their book. I kept mine short and sweet, and the main comments I received afterwards in the lobby were “We’re going to buy your book because we just LOVE your accent!” 🙂

After the festival was over, my mum and I took off on a road trip to celebrate our joint 100th birthdays… we drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway, taking in the gorgeous fall scenery, and the towns of Blowing Rock and Asheville. You can see lots of photos here:

AND, as if that wasn’t enough for one month, one my return (while battling a horrible cold), the news of my second and third books was released via The Bookseller. You can see the announcement here… and you can look at my pinterest board to get a flavour of Willow Walk here – more info to follow in due course (I am currently working on the edits) 🙂

What else? Well I’ve read a few brilliant books recently – Mark Edwards and Louise Voss’s ‘The Blissfully Dead’, Steve Mosby’s ‘I Know Who Did It’, Jennifer Hillier’s ‘Wonderland’ and Alex Marwood’s ‘The Darkest Secret’… and one that you should be reading right now: Chris Ewan’s ‘Dark Tides’… here’s the creepy poem that children sing for Hop-tu-Naa (Manx Halloween):

Hop-tu-Naa,
My mother’s gone away,
And she wont be back until the morning.
Jinnie the Witch flew over the house,
To fetch the stick to lather the mouse.
Hop-tu-Naa
My mother’s gone away
And she wont be back until the morning
Hop-tu-Naa, Traa-la-laa.

…and now I’m off out to buy a pumpkin to carve to get prepped for this weekend.

Happy Halloween!

A Hallowe’en Tale

She knew she looked good. Her long dark hair was straightened as smooth as silk, her deep violet eyes ringed with black kohl. She wore a perfect little-black-dress – the type that hugs in all the right places, showing just enough of her milky cleavage to tantalise without looking provocative. A dark cape with deep pockets. Black tights, black lace-up boots… and at black velvet hat – not a witches hat, as such – but some might say that’s what it looked like.

It was Hallowe’en, after all.

She left home at seven, the night already dark but for the amber glow of the streetlights and the headlamps of the passing traffic. Almost every pub she passed by was advertising their spooky parties. Ghoulish decoration in the windows, face cobwebs and green fabric tossed over lamps. Nights of scary fun and drinks mixed to look like blood and ooze.

But she wasn’t going to the pub. She wasn’t even going to a party.

What she loved about Hallowe’en night was the anticipation – the costumes – the crowds of children with their long-suffering parents, carrying pumpkin shaped buckets to collect their trick or treat wares. The teenagers preparing to scare people in alleyways… and the older ones – the pub goers – all set for a night of drinking and dancing and apple bobbing. Witches snogging skeletons in doorways. Zombies smoking fags in beer gardens.

She reached the park, where it became darker, less lit. She hesitated, only briefly. Who might be lurking in the shadows? Not those out for Hallowe’en cheer… there were sinister people who hung around at all times of day any night, waiting to see what the darkness might bring them.

The first one was pretty tame. ‘Hey sexy, where’s your broom?’

She fought the urge to turn and look. Picked up the pace, just a bit.

‘Hello gorgeous, fancy a drink?’

‘Baby… where you going all dressed up?’

‘Nice hat, sugar…’

‘Nice tits, baby…’

She crossed her arms over her chest, irritated now. Felt the heat in her cheeks. She looked down at the path, kept walking, faster now, faster. Until…

Thump.

She felt like she’d walked into a wall. Stumbled back, dazed. Felt arms grabbing at her.

‘Hey darlin’, you wanna watch where you’re going…’ she looked up into yellowing eyes, took a step back. ‘Fancy a coffee, sexy? You can come back to my place if you like?’

Low whispers. Sniggers from behind the trees. She felt a change in the air.

It was time.

‘You know what? That’s exactly what I’d like to do. Where’s your place?’

Yellow-eyes took a step back. She saw confusion flit across his face, before he smiled at her, revealing a row of rotten teeth.

She felt her heart thumping in her chest. She swallowed.

This is it.

She had to fight hard to control herself, the feeling was so strong. She slid a hand into her pocket. Took a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves. She’d been looking forward to this night for weeks… months even. Since the last time she’d walked around the park. Since the last time she’d had to listen to them calling her, beckoning her… luring her.

Yellow-eyes placed a hand on her shoulder, guiding her towards the other side of the park.

‘This way, gorgeous,’ he said.

She said nothing. Let herself be led. She took his hand, gripped it tight.

In her other hand, deep in her pocket, she gripped the carving knife.

‘This is going to be so much fun,’ she said, grinning.

Yellow-eyes grinned back, oblivious.

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Published in Deadlier: 100 of the Best Crime Stories Written by Women (ed Sophie Hannah)

HORROR FACTORY: The Outhouse

Whoohoo – It’s Halloween and HORROR FACTORY is here!

The excellent cover was designed by Nathanael Scott and the collection is edited by Liam José at The Crime Factory.

I’m so excited that my story was accepted for this special 🙂

You can read a a bit about it below, and you can download/buy a paper copy at The Crime Factory website. I can’t wait to read the other stories, I think this is gonna be a good one!

Oh, and make sure you read my bio in there too, it’s horror themed…

The Outhouse: Blurb

Shelley Kane bypassed the usual trappings of a woman in her 40s: husband, job, kids. Instead she’s a full-time carer to her divorced and embittered mother, Betty – who told her long ago that she was no use to anyone except her… and the years of verbal and physical abuse have left Shelley believing just that. Until one day, when preparing one of Betty’s regular mid-afternoon G&Ts, Shelley snaps…

But Betty is not a woman to be silenced – living or dead.

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You can read THE OUTHOUSE in Crime Factory’s ‘Horror Factory’ Special, released on 31st October 2012, here:

Three things to read at Halloween #review

To celebrate Halloween, I thought I’d share my views on the latest creepy things I’ve read…

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SHORT STORY: ‘The Companion’ by Ramsey Campbell

When something is described by Stephen King as ‘maybe the best horror tale to be written in English the last thirty years’  how could I not read it? In fact, how could I not have read it already?!  To my shame, I have only recently discovered the works of British horror writer Ramsey Campbell… better late than never!

Stone goes to visit an old fairground but soon discovers it’s not the original one he visited as a boy. He is directed to the ‘real’ old fairground, which is deserted and scary and still houses an old ghost train, and Stone (who clearly hadn’t read the rules of horror movies) decides to climb into one of the cars, which promptly sets off on its tracks…

The writing is beautifully atmospheric and my heart was pounding with anticipation throughout. The incredible last sentence really did send shivers down my spine.

This story is included in the collection ‘Dark Feasts‘ (which you might have to buy second hand as I’m not sure it’s in print.)

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POETRY: ‘Interment’ by RJ Barker (illustrated by Mikko Sovijarvi)

This is a beautifully illustrated horror poem with a strong repetitive style and a definite hint of Poe. Told from a child’s point of view, the story is creepy and disturbing; and coupled with the black and white images and unusual fonts the whole thing really comes to life  – although the indication of never-ending suffering does make it feel very sad. It’s only a few pages long but I found myself reading it over and over again.

Also, from the same author and illustrator: The Social Diary of a Ghoul – a twisted food diary, with some fabulously descriptive language: Monday is soup day and fiendish nails clikker clack…

I don’t read a lot of poetry but I really enjoyed reading both of these.

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NOVEL(LA): ‘The Small Hand’ by Susan Hill

When you’ve written something as bone-chillingly terrifying as The Woman in Black, coming up with another scary ghost story is a tall order. This is only the second of the Hill’s books that I’ve read but the style and tone of this book felt similar in some ways, making me wonder initially if it was set in the same era, but it is actually just an upper class and slightly ‘stuffy’ modern day.

The author is a great scene setter, I love the sparseness of the prose and the initial premise of the ghostly hand gripping the hand of antiquarian bookseller, Adam, is brilliantly creepy. However, what follows doesn’t quite push up the tension as much as I’d hoped and I did guess the ending. This is a quick read and the book is beautifully laid out but I feel there is something missing from it that I can’t quite put my finger on. I’d be interested in hearing others’ thoughts on this one as the Amazon reviews are very mixed but there is an excellent review at the Guardian here.