Monthly Archives: August 2011

No Place Like Home – Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

The later start on the Sunday morning is always a welcome change, but in most cases the extra hour is spent clearing the hotel room, loading the car ready for the drive home and checking out of the hotel, with just two events left until hometime.

There is a strange tipping point at the festival.  On the Saturday morning events, with plenty of good stuff still lined up, it feels like the festival will have days to run.   Get just past lunchtime on the Saturday and all of a sudden it hits that the following morning it will be packing time.  And so, whilst the panels always seem surprised and impressed at how many turn out for the first event on the Sunday morning (especially after such a long night in the bar for many), it’s a genuine passion for the events and the authors that gets people shrugging off their duvets , keen to enjoy every last moment.

After packing, loading the car, having breakfast and checking out of the Holiday Inn, I made my way over to the Old Swan Hotel for the last time, still with enough time to grab a coffee and a chat with last year’s ‘alibi –search for a New Crime Writer’ winner, Patrick Egan in the reception there.  Turned out that this was a great place to have chosen to hover as the third gentleman to enter the room in search of coffee was Dennis Lehane.  Very fortuitous, as I had a cardboard tube tucked under my arm with a very nice ‘Shutter Island’ movie poster within, which he graciously signed for me there and then.

What a great start to the morning!

10.30am and it was time to take our seats for the penultimate event of the festival: No Place Like Home, chaired by Laura Wilson with a panel, to discuss location in their books, made up of Anne Zouroudi (Greece), CJ Box (Wyoming), Urban Waite (Seattle) and Elly Griffiths (Norfolk).  The discussion kicked off with the suggestion that crime writing seems to have become somehow spliced with travel writing.

CJ Box uses crime and locations to show how people think and react to that crime at that place.  Elly Griffiths actually lives in Brighton, but added that she’s not allowed to write about there as Peter James has that sewn up, besides which she has always thought Norfolk a little strange and spooky.  If she wrote about Brighton it would be all ‘kiss me quick’ hats.  Anne Zouroudi said that she visited Greece as a stranger and had a love affair with what she thought was a beautiful setting, without knowing anything about a dark underbelly that she might not be seeing.  She wanted to write to explain about why her love affair had gone a bit sour – but she’s since comeback to love it again.

How much is made up?

CJ Box invented a fictional town for Joe Pickett to live in as it gives him as the writer a ‘God-like power’ to place things where suits him best. When he writes about actual places he ensures authenticity so that he can face no criticisms.

Elly has to check her details on rock formations etc as she’d leave herself wide open for criticism if she go any detail wrong. Her character works in the same location as Jim Kelly sets his character in his novels, so she’s often wondered what would happen if her character walked into his police station.

Urban Waite has had criticism in the past for how much distance was covered between two locations in a certain timescale in his book – this despite the fact that both locations were fictional !

Anne includes maps in her books and finds that readers like that – she now sketches out the maps herself first as a guide to her writing. The panel seemed to warm towards the idea of more illustrations in novels – why should they just be for kids?!? She went on talk about discovering about the ‘night of exhumation’ in which bodies are dug up after 4 years and the bones cleaned up and placed in an ossuary. It gave her the idea for a book, ‘The Whispers of Nemesis’ – it was a story that could only be set there and within that culture.

Both CJ and Urban have an advantage in that in their locations they have mountains and valleys to provide mobile phone signal problems. As CJ put it, it can provide an ‘urban closed-room mystery’ when you get somewhere where there is no mobile or internet access.

This then led on to discussion of westerns and the fact that Urban’s love of western movies meant he loved the fact that in his novel ‘The Terror of Living’ he got to include a lot of horses.  It was at this point that Laura Wilson became quite flustered and had to fan herself back down when she started to talk about strong silent, well-hung types, and the discussion took a pause whilst she composed herself.

CJ said that, in his books, he likes to mix up the old and the new, so he has a ranger with an ipod and a playlist entitled ‘Ranch Music’.

Elly said that her character probably just hears the sound of banjos about places like Norfolk – ‘it’s unique to places that you don’t pass through – they don’t lead to anywhere else.’

The discussion touched upon the things that the location and environment control and over which their characters can have little control themselves. A grizzly bear will eat a dead body, the sea will steal, erode and reveal.

Anne spoke about the fact that the Greeks built their churches on sites of their old temples – they are very much aware of their own mythology. We lack this in the UK, we don’t teach our children enough of our own history. In Greece they still use God’s names. She said that when in Greece with her sister a while back someone asked if Adonis had been in – she responded by saying she was sure she would have noticed if he had! ‘If my books tempt readers to go and visit, it feels like a kind of payback for all that Greece has given me.’

Laura asked Urban how much he’d loved writing such a great dark character – the man with the black hat – she then promptly apologised to CJ Box, who was of course sporting his.

Urban agreed that it was great to write about the guy who knows where to get the best knives, where the best dumpsters are to dump bodies.


They then spoke for a while on their favourite books and authors.

Elly said she loved Wilkie Collins – The Shifting Sands – the best writer of place.

Anne cited Sherlock Holmes’ London and, for a non-crime location book, Memoirs of a Geisha.

CJ mentioned that travellers may well get more value sometimes from reading a fiction writer who really knows the location than from a travel book. He went on to praise Denise Mina as a favourite of his.

Where else could they go and write?

Anne would love to consider China, but doubts that she could write about the place.

Urban Waite is currently working on disturbing but enjoyable research on cartels in Mexico.

Elly, having heard Anne speak so lovingly about Greece, said she felt that her character, Ruth, might deserve a holiday there – and maybe she could meet Adonis!

CJ said he was unlikely to leave his area – it still has a deep mine for him to still cover.


Taking care not to overdo the research.

CJ said he made early mistakes with research but recommends bearing in mind what Elmore Leonard says – ‘Leave out the parts that readers skip’. He also added that you need to ensure you include enough background for your character for possible future books, rather than try to force things later in a series.

Urban said that ‘it doesn’t always rain in Seattle – we just tell people that to keep them away!’

CJ said it never rains, he knows people who have never owned an umbrella – never needed one and wouldn’t know what to do in a flashflood.


Perfect locations. Yellowstone Park, empty hotels (ala The Shining), empty underground stations, closed offices in old mines.



Anne said that dynamite fishing is very effective in Greece but that the Greeks are constantly shooting themselves in the foot.

Urban – has a very small carbon footprint that he’s proud of. He rarely prints things off and rides his bike a lot.

CJ – the climate changes every year.

Laura Wilson closed off by adding that both CJ and Urban have a lot more scope than others as they have all the space to do what they want – ‘you have road movies!’

And the discussion came to a close with a quick run down of what’s next from the panel:

Anne – Book 6 in her series – provisionally titled ‘The Bull of Mythros’.

Urban – New book set in the 1990’s based on cartels on the Mexican border.

Elly – A Room Full of Bones – Due Jan 2012 and featuring aboriginal bones in a Norfolk Museum.

CJ – The next Joe Pickett book: Force of Nature.

And that leaves just one final event – coming up soon – Dennis Lehane.



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The Hunting Ground by Cliff McNish

Published by Orion Childrens Books.Normally this book may well have been passed over to my daughter to review for booksandwritersJNR, but the cover, the premise and the fact that I was really keen to read it myself, meant that on this occasion I held on to it.

And I’m very glad that I did, firstly as I think it’s probably just a bit too disturbing for my 11 year old to read just yet and secondly, because I thoroughly enjoyed it and some of the images are likely to cause me a few sleepless nights ahead.

The Hunting Ground is set in a huge old crumbling building, Glebe House, and the story centres around a father and his two young sons, Elliott and Ben, who have moved there.

So far, so DIY SOS, right?

Wrong – very wrong.

Pages from a diary written by a young man called Theo start to be uncovered, a ghost story seems to be being told to them through the pages they receive, ghosts linked to an evil hunter called Cullayn.

There are portraits of the man throughout the house, paintings of him celebrating kills of fish, of wildlife and then, within the mysterious East Wing, more paintings are found, images showing the man in pursuit of his prey, tracking people and children within his own hunting ground.

It is a classic ghost tale with all the perfect ingredients – who isn’t petrified at the image of a ghostly young girl?  And if that’s not enough, then what about if she walks the halls of your home, dragging what you hope is a doll, its head thumping on the ground, leaving hair caught in the floorboards.

It’s also a tale of an evil man and of what needs to be overcome to free and finally release the ghosts of the children who have become his victims so that they can move on. But, not before they have been able to help with the secrets of Glebe House, and not before they can be given the chance to help the living to help the dead.

If Stephen King was asked to turn his horror down just a notch to be able to introduce him to a slightly younger audience, I think Cliff McNish has set the bar just about right here.

A cautious recommendation (but check you have spare batteries for your torch before you start reading).



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Saturday evening/night – Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

Special Guests in conversation: David Baldacci & Joseph Finder.

A great double-header event and one that showed clearly that no moderators are required when you get a couple of great crime writers together for what was essentially a good old chin-wag. Within a few moments, this was as though we as the audience were just listening in on a private chat between two writing buddies discussing their work and little anecdotes of their careers.

David Baldacci told a great story where he was mistaken by a fan for being John Grisham in a diner. They spoke about their research and that the best way to treat it is like an iceberg – only ever using the 10% or less you would see above the surface.

Joe Finder did actually ask to be placed in a coffin for his research for ‘Buried Secrets’ – he described the coffin as being very comfortable, something that probably goes unappreciated by most. He also expressed concern that they seem to be pretty much soundproofed – either that or the guy that screwed the lid down was playing a trick on him. Both said that the details of modern technology in fiction need to be ‘juiced up’ when describing the super-zooming in on images, whereas in the real life the investigating team might be standing and cursing over a broken fax machine! With regards to detail, they both receive more criticism over firearms than any other subject/area of their work. And with regards to reviews and any criticisms of the types of book they write, both seemed in agreement that we all want different types of reads at different times – as Stephen King said, sometimes we want a Big Mac & fries.

I had to make a swift exit from this entertaining talk before it got to the Q&A section, but I’m sure that was just as much fun. Despite this being my fourth visit to Harrogate, I had never been to Betty’s Tea Rooms and a lovely invitation from Transworld to meet their authors at a reception there was all the excuse I needed. Some may get a little more than used to meeting the great authors who they read, but I really doubt I’ll ever become that used to it, I am still very often both star-struck and tongue-tied when meeting the names who adorn the covers of the books on my shelves, or tucked under my arm at events.

Such was the case at the Transworld reception which gave the opportunity to meet with their top authors in a very relaxed and informal gathering. And a great line-up they had in place there too, SJ Watson, Tess Gerritsen, Simon Kernick, SJ Bolton, James Henry, Belinda Bauer and (just prior to his own headlining event) Theakstons’ Crime Novel of the Year winner Lee Child. It was great to be able to congratulate Lee on his win in person and, of course, to get a copy signed whilst there, and to catch up with and meet the other authors. The biggest thrill for me was to get to chat to the lovely Tess Gerritsen over Betty’s scones (which she loved), get copies of her latest books signed and dedicated for my wife’s 40th birthday and to thank her for a very special gift she’d brought in her suitcase for me.

A few weeks prior to Harrogate, my wife had spotted on Tess’s website that there were promotional t-shirts for the Rizzoli & Isles tv series being given as prizes to US competition winners. Knowing that she’d love one for her birthday, I dropped Tess an email via her website to ask if I could purchase one to be sent to the UK – a ‘Team Maura’ one which features a scalpel if at all possible. I received an email straight back saying she’d be happy to bring one to Harrogate in her suitcase for me as a gift for my wife! Earlier in the day (whilst I was in The Outer Limits panel) I received a voicemail message from the lovely Liz Hyder (Riot Communications) to say that she had the lovely Tess Gerritsen in reception with a present for me. Unfortunately, by the time I got out of the panel, Tess had gone, but the gift had been intercepted by the true gent Ben Willis of Transworld and stored safely for me (despite the fact he threatened to go for a morning run in it the following morning). I’d always maintained that the UK crime writing community is an incredibly friendly and generous place to hang out – clearly that generosity and friendliness stretches across the pond. Needless to say, my good lady wife was very pleased and surprised with her gift – after I’d first played her the voicemail message!

During the time spent with the Transworld team and their authors, back at the hotel the Criminal Consequences Dinner was taking place, with top authors hosting tables whilst Martyn Waites played gamesmaster. This year the meal also served as a birthday celebration to MC Beaton, author of the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth novels, for her 75th Birthday. By all accounts, this was another great evening’s event.

By 8.30pm it was time for Lee Child to take the stage with Independent Columnist Christina Patterson for his very own Room 101. (As an aside, there were apparently a number of hilarious scenes in the hotel reception when staff were asked by ticket holders where Room 101 was, and in at least one case were sent upstairs to the first floor – despite it not even having a Room with that number!) Lee Child just exuded ‘cool’ and gave as good as he got, despite the fact that he did say the bartering with Christina as to what could and couldn’t be subjected to Room 101 felt a bit like marriage. All of the subjects/objects up for possible inclusion were crime fiction linked and included the phrase ‘There’s been a murder’, characters looking at themselves in the mirror and describing themselves for the benefit of the reader and, complete with man in Robin (as in Batman) suit standing beside him on the stage, sidekicks in crime fiction. This was a thoroughly well presented and great fun event and the perfect lead up, after a few beers, to the Late Night Quiz.

Hosted by Quiz Night regulars Val McDermid and Mark Billingham, and with the seating swiftly rearranged for a cabaret style night, this was full of all of the usual festival fun. Picture rounds, music rounds (even if that did include Hugh Grant’s singing at one point! – thanks to Mr B) and some really twisted and taxing criminally challenging questions, this had everything – even teams cheating with excessive numbers of people (I will not name names!). Needless to say, the team I was on was not triumphant, but we didn’t come in last – so I took that to be quite an achievement.

Sunday morning’s last two events weren’t due to start until 10am – which meant everyone could relax a little and have an even longer night in the bar or outside in the hotel garden. Fortunately it was a pretty warm night and the weather stayed fine. Knowing that some would be leaving first thing in the morning and that others would be departing straight after the last events of Sunday to head home, it was time for beers and good conversation. I recall arranging to walk back to the Holiday Inn with a few friends, but then, when the time came, I told them I’d stick around to chat to a few others, two hours later and I have no idea how my internal radar got me back to my hotel, but it was a nice night/morning for a stroll nevertheless…..


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VICE SOCIETY – Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

Chaired by author and journalist SJ Parrish, this panel was set to discuss the depiction of sex and violence in crime fiction and whether it is an exploitation of those who have already been exploited.

The panel was made up of authors James McCreet, Val McDermid, Adam Creed and former senior police officer and the inspiration for Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennyson, Jackie Malton.

Jackie kicked off by saying that part of a detective’s strategy is to feed the media, the Jill Dando case being a good example – but it can lead to multiple inputs and things to follow up on. Personally her crime fiction preferences are for more psychological thrillers with her favourite being Val McDermid’s ‘The Mermaids Singing’.

Adam Creed said that in his own books he tends to use a reoccurring theme; people taking the law into their own hands.

Val MCDermid then asked if, as a group, they should be known as ‘Depravity R Us?’ and commented that they all deal with two very powerful forces in their books, lust and love.

James McCreet spoke of vice in Victorian times and that society as a whole was worried that prostitution would affect, contaminate and eventually destroy society. When asked if he though that the historical setting of his books enabled him to distance himself he agreed that it did but added that crime fiction does provide all writers with the vicarious distance needed.

Jackie Malton spoke candidly about her own drink addiction – she now works as a therapist and addiction counsellor in prison and it was quite a strange experience to hear the woman who inspired the hard drinking copper Jane Tennyson on tv talking of her own battles. The fact that she was former ‘flying squad’ does gain her a lot of respect with inmates though.

An interesting point raised by Val McDermid was whether as a society we have in fact created crimes, such as the desire to have items of personal property has led to the desire in others to want to steal it. Certainly in the case of items such as mobile phones this could be strongly argued. She went on to express anger at the growth of Eastern Europeans as the villains and the prostitutes in so many recent novels – a very current racism that seems to have sprung up. Val said that she often wishes that the world of crime fiction was much further removed from the real world violence that we now see so much of (she cited the news that very week of the nurse killing patients through saline drips).

The conversation then turned to gender and violence against women in crime novels with Val saying that women grow up with the worry and fear of being victims because they have grown up in a world that constantly warns them.

James McCreet said that crime fiction is, in a way, like a sexual tension, with red herrings along the way until finally you reach the ‘big pay off’ at the end.

And the session closed with Val commenting on the times when the writing and real life just get a little too close for comfort. She once had a stalker write to her to say he was ‘crap at it, but just read a Kate Brannigan, and when I get out I’m gonna get it right!’


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LEGAL EAGLES – Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

Unfortunately I had to miss the next event on the schedule (the Readers’ Book Group with Martyn Waites discussing novels by Cathi Unsworth and Christa Faust) – a real shame as it was Christa’s only event other than the dinner event that I knew I was also having to miss (more of that later).

So, after a much needed break and another great lunch, it was back to the main hall for ‘Legal Eagles’.

Chaired by the hilarious Peter McCormick (Senior Partner of McCormick’s Solicitor, who sponsored the panel) this was an insightful discussion between MR Hall, Frances Fyfield, Martin Edwards and Helen Black concerning how much of their professional legal careers they now bring to bear on the pages of their novels.

Peter’s opening was first class and a pleasant surprise from a speaker who would not have been known to pretty much anybody in the room.  He managed to get his office’s telephone number into the opening presentation several times over, introduced MR Hall as ‘Mr Hall’ – as that was how his secretary had typed his notes.  He also had a few pops at Martin Edwards just to get the ball rolling, saying he’s best described as a man locked in the music of the 60’s – often taking his titles from album or song titles. 

Starting with MR (or Matthew) Hall.  His next book ‘The Flight’ is due out early 2012.  He works a lot with juvenile prisoners – often with very tragic backgrounds – which often move him.  He once wrote a thriller about a youngster dying in the cells as a television drama – he was never made, but he re-used the idea to a certain extent in his novel ‘The Coroner’.

Francis Fyfield was a prosecutor and strongly believes there is no black and white, just various shades of grey.  Her work enabled her to look at people’s lives, to pity their lives.  It entered her bloodstream.  She said she’d love to write a romance with jokes, a book with angels and fairies and true love – but, as a lawyer, she feels conditioned to only put forward the truth.

Martin Edwards always wanted to be a crime writer but continues to write legal books and articles too.  As his legal expertise grows, so does the list of disclaimers in the back of his novels !

Helen Black has photos from when she was younger, outside 10 Downing Street and the National Theatre, so must have originally wanted to be Prime Minister or a famous actor.  She never imagined she’d become a writer, but she never imagined she’d become a solicitor either, so maybe she’d still in with a chance of becoming Prime Minister after all.  She only gives her character one case to work on  – so that’s not too close to the truth!

Martin chipped in with the fact that everyone has bad days at the office but, as crime novelists, they get to go home and kill someone.

They all then spoke about their series characters and the routes/developments of the stories over those series.

Martin spoke of the art of the modern crime writer having to be able to write for continuing readers and new readers – just how much backstory is enough/too much?

And, what’s coming up next from the four authors?

MR Hall – ‘The Flight’ – a tale of the Airbus (piloted by computer) – set to fly London to New York, but it never arrives!

Francis Fyfield – Currently working on Radio Four music programmes – and easy distraction from her writing.  She’s also just finished a standalone novel ‘Gold Digger’ about a collector of paintings.

Martin Edwards – ‘The Hanging Wood’ – just published – another in his Lake District series.  He describes it as a book where ‘something terrible and dark happens’ at the beginning and at the end.

Helen Black – working on a standalone book called ‘2012’ – featuring a politician in an ‘all singing all dancing thriller – bombs going off (during the Olympics) and people saving the world.’

Francis Fyfield asked if perhaps they are all living vicariously through their books, giving their characters attributes and possessions that they’d want to have themselves?

Martin Edwards said ‘It’s all about making stuff up!’

And Francis dispelled myths about plotting by saying she simply writes scenes she wants to write.  Hers are ‘True novels of suspense, as even the author doesn’t know how they are going to end.’   🙂


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NEW BLOOD – Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

Bounding onto stage sporting a headset mic set and doing the first line of ‘Like a Virgin’ before admitting that Martina Cole beat her to it with her ‘Britney’ the day before, festival favourite Val McDermid took to the stage to introduce the ‘New Blood’ event.

This has been a very popular panel since first being put on at Harrogate as it gives readers a chance to hear debut crime novelists describe their route to publication and provides a chance to get started reading new crime authors from their very first book and see how they then develop over, hopefully, years to come.

But it also serves to give those established authors a reason to keep upping their own game, seeing these bright young things rising up as potential threats on the bestseller charts. McDermid announced that she was dealing with this by ‘ritually murdering the panel afterwards’, but she has also got her first children’s book ‘My Granny is a Pirate’ coming out – just in case she needs to change tack.

She introduced the panel, starting with Gordon Ferris, who has had great ebook sales and now in print with 1946 set West of Scotland books including ‘Truth Dare Kill’ – McDermid advising the audience ‘Don’t start any of these (books) if you have to be somewhere in half an hour.’

Julia Crouch, who has written the fantastic psychological thriller ‘Cuckoo’ described how she’s a big Nick Cave fan and loves to run in her home town of Brighton, so often runs along listening to Cave’s ‘The Boatman’s Call’ hoping she may bump into him.

Next up was Melanie (MJ) McGrath, whose ‘White Heat’ has been one of my favourite reads this year. Her book was inspired by a trip to the North Pole which was the followed up by witnessing an attempted murder when she got back home. Much has been made of the food detailed within her book, but she laughed it off by saying that after a few weeks in the region where the book is set ‘the body takes over and you wake up and say “Yay! Whale blubber!”’

Gordon said that he has to set his books in the past as he doesn’t like all the csi and police procedurals. Val McDermid said she did think that ‘CSI Kilmarnock somehow doesn’t have the same ring to it.’

When talking about their style of book or the terms used to describe them, Julia Crouch said she thought her book was a ‘crime of passion’ novel – which essentially meant she could then join the Crime Writers Association and the Romantic Novelist Societies.

The fourth member of the panel was SJ Watson, who has had amazing success with his great debut ‘Before I Go to Sleep’, who simply stated that ‘at the age of 40, I have discovered what I should be doing.’

Gordon Ferris said that what authors do is ‘a craft – not a God-given right.’

Melanie McGrath added that she is often ‘surprised by how profoundly you need to know your characters.’ ‘Only by really knowing them allows them to tell you what they are going to do next.’

Julia Crouch, who wrote the first draft of what was to become ‘Cuckoo’ as a NaNoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month) project said that she ‘Hadn’t realised how many times you can re-write a novel. She continued to speak of her publishing experience and clearly had a lot of respect for readers and for library events.

Before going to the Q&A section of the discussion, there was time for each of the authors to mention what was next for them:

SJ Watson – A novel currently titled ‘Nine Lives’ (although subject to change). He is fascinated by identity and its fluidity – the masks we wear at different times – and there’ll be more sex in this one.

Melanie McGrath – Book 2 is about a month away from being finished – will feature more sex (and possibly more whale blubber) with sexual and political skulduggery in the same region as ‘White Heat’.

Gordon Ferris – ‘Bitter Water’ – a sequel to ‘The Hanging Shed’, in the first person again and set 2-3 months on from the previous book in high summer. He promised an outbreak of violence, a pattern being formed and metered out to the bad guys – rapists/thieves – in the form of vigilantism. Mean streets, Mean city, Mean people.

Julia Crouch – ‘Every Vow you Break’ – Set in upstate New York (she knows the area and the them very well as her husband works there a lot as an actor). The story centres around a family who go there, where the husband is an actor. There’s a stalker in it, and it doesn’t end very well…..

And then it was time for the Q&A section, kicking off by asking about each author’s oute to publication and whether their published book was their first novel.

SJ Watson – Not a typical route to publication at all. It wasn’t his first novel, but it was the first one he’d managed to finish.

Melanie McGrath – ‘White Heat’ was her first fiction book, but she had several non-fiction books already published. It took her a couple of years to find a suitable route into fiction publication.

Gordon Ferris – Has a large back catalogue. He shot to fame overnight, after 12 years. His kindle published download had an ‘invisible’ rise on amazon to the top of the charts with 120,000 ebooks sold. Now his work is available in paperback, he feels he’ll be able to better judge if writing is his career.

Julia Crouch – Described her route as fairly ‘cushy’ – after redrafting her NaNoWriMo entry until ready, she submitted a synopsis and 5000 words and was sold within 3 weeks to Headline.

Were there any changes in the books?

Julia Crouch – Yes, in the first NaNo draft they all died – just to get the thing finished!

SJ Watson – Couldn’t recall any changes.

Gordon Ferris – No major changes to the plot. ‘Kenny’ became ‘Douglas’ but that was the only change he could recall. Comments on their writing processes: SJ Watson – has early starts and writes whilst half asleep.

Melanie McGrath – Likes to be writing fairly early, starting with getting up at 7.30am

Gordon Ferris – Starts at 8.30am and rewrites until he throws it away!

Julia Crouch – Using the NaNoWriMo concept for first draft meant it was done very quickly. She uses post-it notes and colour coding – don’t all authors love their stationary!

And all agreed that they use [ ] brackets for all the unknown parts of their novels as they go along.

[Insert BIG bit of plot here ! ]


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Flipbackbooks – The new additions.





Regular readers might have already seen my comment on the lovely little flipbackbook edition of Stephen King’s MISERY that formed part of the original launch titles range of this exciting and collectable new format.



Now, there are six more bright young things to look forward to and to add to your miniature pocket-sized small but perfectly formed collection of flipbackbooks.

All are published at £9.99 each on 15th September.

This crime fan’s particularly pleased that within the six are a Sophie Hannah, a John Connolly and my favourite of all of Jeffrey Deaver’s novels – with the Bone Collector introducing the world to Lincoln Rhyme.

Go get ‘em, and don’t forget to get a half size bookmark and build yourself another teeny-tiny shelf to house them on at home.


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The Burning Soul by John Connolly plus a chance to win a copy of BAD MEN in a flipbackbook!

Published 1st September by Hodder & Stoughton

Last week I was very kindly invited by Hodder & Stoughton to dine in the wonderful Marx Room at the Quo Vadis restaurant in Dean Street for a dinner to celebrate the September 1st publication of the latest great novel by John Connolly.

I’ve been a fan of John’s books for a long time and have been to so many of his bookstore readings that I now find it impossible to read without hearing the words in my head in his voice – this is not a bad thing as the man reads his work in the same way that he writes it – with total passion.

Although the meal was to celebrate the 10th novel in the Charlie Parker series, The Burning Soul, for me it turned out to be a celebration of much more than that. 

In itself, The Burning Soul is a major cause for celebration, as with each proceeding volume.  But I also learnt that the long awaited Region 2 DVD release of The New Daughter, based on one of John’s short stories in the Nocturnes collection and starring Kevin Costner and Ivana Baquero  (from Pan’s Labyrinth) is finally due to reach the UK in October, having been on US release for some time now – cannot wait to see it.  The other great news for readers and for John was that his excellent standalone novel BAD MEN from a few years back has been selected to be one of the six new Flipbackbooks to be published on September 15th – a great format to now be able to have this classic novel in your jacket pocket.

And so to The Burning Soul.

Although not one of the major story arc books in the series –  a fact borne out by the fact that I know that others had no real issues reading this 10th book as their first Charlie Parker tale – it does, as every book in the series, add more to Charlie Parker, whilst also taking more away from him once again – every case leaving him just that little more damaged.

He’s brought in to investigate the suspected blackmail of a former child killer, who now works with a new identity as an accountant in the town of Pastor’s Bay.  The man, now known as Randall Haight, is receiving photographs and messages through the post in which somebody seems to be trying to link his crime from years before with the disappearance of another girl who has just recently been lost in the same area.

With Parker the victim left behind when his own wife and daughter were murdered before the start of the series of books, there’s a resonance with the case and it’s one that he needs to deal with on a knife edge as to clear Haight’s name, he has to delve into the man’s own crime – one that was committed when he was only a boy himself.

With a local mob leader related to the missing child, vengeance is closing in from all angles and, in true Parker spirit, when required he enlists series favourites Angel and Louis to make an appearance.

John Connolly books, particularly the Parker series, offer up much more than a crime novel.  There is often the hint or occurrence of the supernatural and, if he doesn’t gift a soundtrack CD with the latest book, there are always some great musical nudges within the text to suggest what would be a great listen alongside the book.  But above and beyond all of that, he simply writes human emotions better than many other writers and I know of no one who can capture the emotions of loss and longing better in a novel.

It was an honour and a real pleasure to join the party to celebrate John Connolly and Charlie Parker – both an author and a character who in their own ways give so much to the reader.

Highly recommended to fans old and new.      

And, thanks to Hodder, I have a copy of the excellent, small and perfectly formed flipbackbook edition of BAD MEN to give away to one lucky person – just leave a comment here and I’ll pick a name out of the hat in about a week.



Filed under Book Review

We talk CARVER with Tom Cain

Out now from Bantam Press, CARVER is the latest high-octane thriller from Tom Cain, an explosive episode in the great series featuring Samuel Carver, who this time round is faced with the battle against the threat of financial terrorism.

Malachi Zorn is playing the markets, checking which will offer the biggest payouts in the event of a disaster.

Was the Lehman Brothers collapse more than met the eye? And, if it was, then London looks set to be a huge new target.

A fast paced, adrenaline ride of a book, but one that also has an intelligent plot behind the great action sequences.

I was very pleased that author, Tom Cain, was able to change down a gear to spare some time to chat about the book, before he raced off to work on the next one.

As you can see to the left, he’s also dropping by at some other great blogs for the next few days – so do check those out too.






Firstly, I’d just like to say how much I enjoyed CARVER – a great action thriller and a fantastic book jacket too – I’m thinking this will be your biggest hit to date and, with that cover, is certain to bring you some Jack Reacher and Spooks fans to discover Samuel Carver.

Thanks! That’s kind of you to say and great for me to hear.

With many crime authors, the hero seems to be a taller, braver, more handsome version of themselves – how much of Tom Cain is Carver and, if you met him in a bar, would you get on with him?

Well, I suppose there is a degree to which Carver is a massively improved, idealized, fantasy version of Cain – he’d be a pretty rubbish hero if it were the other way around! Appearance-wise, for example, he has my hair (only more of it) and build (only less of that). We also have in common that Carver is a freelance. In the first book, The Accident Man he takes a fateful job that he doesn’t fancy because he doesn’t want some other bastard getting it. That’s a feeling I know VERY well! I also gave him my bizarre first day at boarding school, aged eight, which is the start of his slippery slope towards a career as a professional assassin. And with that came some of my neuroses: Carver’s combination of absolute confidence in his ability to do a job with massive uncertainty about actual human emotions is all me. On the other hand, I freely admit to knowing nothing whatever about guns, fighting, explosives or any other crunchy macho details of Carver’s working life: that’s all pure research on my part.

Congratulations on one of the nastiest scenes I’ve read so far this year with the flaming bottle of scent!

Glad you liked it! I thought quite hard about how far to go in that scene, and how much the wielder of that flaming scent should feel troubled by their actions. Which leads us neatly to …

To what extent, if any, do you censor your own work? And are there areas/subjects you would not want Carver to tackle in a book for reasons of taste, religion, politics or purely self-censorship?

Very interesting question … There has only been one time in the five Carver books so far when I’ve written a scene so insanely violent that my editor said, ‘We really can’t have that.’ And what made it even sicker was that I was laughing out loud as I wrote it. Yes, I know … worrying! In general, I take the view that if a scene makes sense; its actions are justified by the circumstances; and the characters behave consistently with their personalities, then I’ll do it. So the scene I just mentioned, which was written for the first Carver book The Accident Man, got scrapped because it was tonally jarring with the rest of the book: it came from a different, more horrific kind of genre. Contrariwise, that ‘flaming perfume’ you mentioned seemed justified by the circumstances of the plot, and was consistent with the two people involved: so it stayed. I certainly would not censor a subject-area on the grounds of it being politically incorrect or liable to offend. In fact, that would probably make me more likely to go there! I mean, Carver actually uses Holy Communion wafers as a means of assassination in the fourth book, Dictator, whose villain is a grossly disfigured African (disfigured, as it happened, by Carver himself). So I’m really not very inhibited …

Obviously your journalism background feeds your fiction with much of it taking a leap from events in the news.


Has there ever been a storyline you’ve been forced to change due to changes in the real-time news events, or any story you’ve had to abandon because the real news overshadowed the fiction?

No … though there were both publishers and movie studios who shied away from The Accident Man since it’s very clearly inspired by the death of Princess Diana – despite her name never being mentioned in the book. The tough thing for any author, is the relatively slow speed of book production. I keep my deadlines as tight as possible, but even then there are months between my finishing a book and it appearing, and then another year between hardback and paperback editions. So, for example, I thought of the idea for Assassin, which features a death-plot against a black US president, when Barack Obama was still a rank outsider for the Democratic nomination. By the time it came out he was in the White House. Then again, you can have moments of good luck. I mean, Carver is about a financier trying to create a new global crash by fixing the financial markets and its cover is an image of London in flames. Turns out, that was pretty topical!

I was particularly drawn to the sequences at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (as I worked there on signage for ten years) – so was a very surreal moment when you described door signs for ‘Ball Boys and Girls’ and ‘Pilates’ as I remember installing those personally – so that may be the closest I get to being in one of your books (although please bear me in mind for a minor character in the future 🙂

What an amazing coincidence! It’s funny – as I wrote that detail I thought people might think it was unrealistic. But as you and I both know, those signs really are exactly where I say they are …

You describe the grounds in great detail and it seemed to me to be more than a mere visitor’s knowledge of the grounds and layout – do you have a history with the club? Or do you play?

Let’s just say that I had a little help with those scenes, though I cannot reveal my sources. And yes, I do play tennis – very occasionally and very badly.

With locations such as the Tennis Club, do you have to have those sections of the book ‘vetted’ in any way to ensure that no security secrets are being given away?

I’ve never been vetted, as such. But I do take care not to make things too accurate. For example, anyone who used the bomb-making scenes in Carver as an instruction manual for building real bombs would discover that what I describe is very nearly spot-on … but not quite. That said, what I find interesting is not that anyone ever tries to prevent me putting stuff out there, but that so many people who have a professional interest in thwarting terrorists, sabotage, catastrophic accidents and so on give me such great advice on how to create the exact mayhem they’re trying to avoid.

All of your books have fantastic action set pieces – any interest in films of the Carver books? And I’m sure you get asked this a lot…..who would you like to see portray Carver on the screen?

The Carver books have been round the block in Hollywood. Two major studios have optioned them at one time or another. One very, very major director whom I cannot name wanted to make Accident Man, but the studio with which he has an exclusive deal became nervous about the Diana thing. Right now, I’m looking into a possible TV series, hopefully on a US cable network. As to actors … I originally conceived of Carver as a Daniel Craig lookalike, only for Craig to get the Bond gig, which is why poor Sam ended up looking a bit like me! Then I thought of Christian Bale, only for him to become Batman. So … if I were looking for a British actor, Dominic West would one possibility, or Spooks’ Richard Armitage. But the fact is, given the time it takes to get one of these new thriller franchises off the ground, whoever ends up playing Carver is probably still at school. And given the control, or lack of it, that authors tend to have in casting decisions, he (or even she) won’t be anyone I’ve even heard of, let alone considered for the part.

At what point did the Lehman Brothers collapse present itself to you as a possible story start point? Do you pick up on those events as they happen and file them away for future use, or was it something that took a while to come to you as something you could now refer back to as some time had passed?

Weirdly, I had the germ of the idea for Carver – ie. a financial trader tries to engineer a collapse in world markets so as to profit from massive short-selling bets – before the collapse of Lehmans. It was actually one of the possible ideas for the sequel to The Accident Man, which ended up being The Survivor. But I couldn’t work out how to get Carver, who’s an action hero, involved in something which was fundamentally about numbers and computers. Ad I didn’t think most people would understand, still less care about that kind of banking shenanigan. But then came Lehmans and the crash of 2008 … and suddenly everything changed!

What can we expect next from Tom Cain / Samuel Carver ?

A shock … I mean, a really seismic shock for anyone who has been following the series. I know precisely what it is. I’m just working on the details of how to make it happen … And that’s all I’m saying!

Thanks for stopping by, Tom, and wishing you a huge success with this explosive addition to the series.

And….If you want a chance to win a copy of CARVER, I have one to give away thanks to Bantam Press/Transworld – just leave a comment below and I’ll pick a name out of the hat in about a week’s time.



Filed under Book Review, Interviews

Harrogate 2011: Out of this World.


Thanks to @UnBoundBlog: Un:Bound: Events, My latest latest entry covering the Out of this World event at  Theakstons Crime Harrogate can be found over there on their excellent site at this link:

More to follow back here soon.


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Filed under Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Harrogate 2011