Monthly Archives: September 2011

Bones & Maggots – A presentation by the Natural History Museum to The Crime Writers Association.

Once again I find myself grateful to the power of twitter for spotting the mention of this interesting event held by The CWA at The George pub on Strand last night.

CWA Director Claire McGowan, whose own debut crime novel The Fall is due from Headline early 2012, announced that for this event the invitation was open wider than usual.  This was to encourage a few bloggers and reviewers along, and those who could qualify to join the CWA but had yet to sign up.  That, and the opportunity to sit in on a very interesting presentation about Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Entomology made the trip into town very worthwhile indeed.

Due to the nature of some of the material shown on slides and the fact that much of the work formed pat of one of the presenter’s current PHD work meant that, once the talk was underway, photography was banned and it’s best I don’t provide too much specific detail here.  There were some areas and images which I really would have struggled to have found the words to describe anyhow, and it was quote interesting to see which writers in the room squirmed the most when presented with death and decay at such close quarters, despite it being on a screen.

Both speakers were from the Natural History Museum and it became apparent very early on just how often their skills are called into play by the Police when cases require their expertise on determining time of death.  The ‘Grissom’ effect (so named because of the CSI character) is something they are in constant battle with, when the Police at crime scenes expect immediate answers and timelines to death, without giving them the time required to fully analyse the body, body part , bone or the parasites that have done their work on the corpse.

Heather Bonney – Forensic Anthropologist at NHM manages the human remains collection there – her workplace lined with boxes and boxes of skeletal remains and their stories.  Whilst her stories were gruesome at times (it will be sometime before I can forget an image of a child carrying Somerfield carrier bags of bones he had dug up and taken home to identify in a book before taking them to the crime scene and giving them to the investigators) it was the second speaker’s work that was, well, fresher and more disturbing.

Amoret Whitaker is a Forensic Entomologist at NHM, she’s the maggots and bugs lady if you will.  Her work on decomposition and specifically the work she is involved in at the Body Farm in Tennessee provided some horrific images but all in the name of science.

The skills employed by both disciplines are clearly painstaking in their detail, the slightest slip up in the identification of an insect or in the temperature in which a body has been kept was clearly illustrated to potentially give the Police the wrong information in terms of time of death.  It was well illustrated that these sciences cannot be rushed, but likewise that there have been huge advances in the kit at their disposal to do their work.  And, as Amoret admitted, thanks to shows like CSI, she no longer has to explain what her job title means when she meets people at parties.

A very interesting and thought provoking evening, with several pens zipping across notebooks in the room – it will be interesting to see which of the cases mentioned will pop up in some shape or form in future crime fiction from some of the names in the room.

My thanks to Claire and all at the CWA for allowing me to come along to experience the event and I’m looking forward to hearing more about future events and the proposal mentioned that plans are afoot to further involve bloggers, reviewers and readers in the CWA in the future.


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The most ‘striking’ book jackets in modern Crime Fiction – Designer James Edgar drops in for a chat.

A little while back at the wonderful Goldsboro Books  for the launch of the great first adult crime novel by Eoin Colfer, PLUGGED, Headline’s Sam Eades kindly introduced me to James Edgar, the man behind the great iconic cover (see left).

Now, I’m very pleased to be able to be able to offer something a bit different in that this is not a book review, or an author interview, but a great chat with someone who is behind one of the most important parts of book-buying – the jacket.  Something that in the e-edition age is probably more important than ever to pursuade  wavering purchasers that a great hardcover would look very cool on their bookshelf rather than just hitting a download button on their pc or ereader.

So, here we go for a chat with James Edgar….

Keith B Walters:  I love the book jacket for PLUGGED and those you’ve created for the Bateman books – all are very striking and iconic, was the design a conscious shift from the brooding dark highways and images we see on so many crime books?
James Edgar: Definitely! As a designer it is my duty to push the Client/Editor/Author into creating something that is progressive and yet still answers the brief. Generally speaking it is very difficult to convince a Publisher to break the mould and style of a certain genre, especially crime fiction. The “brooding dark highways” you talk of and the classic silhouetted man is the crime genre’s style and some briefs actually specify that it needs to look like that, so there is not much room for creativity.
I am really pleased with how Plugged turned out. Germany have just decided to use my artwork for all their editions. It’s a great feeling to feel that your work is  appreciated, especially internationally!
KBW: How much of a brief are you given by the publishing teams?
JE: Briefs have been getting better and better over recent years. The more detail in the brief, the more chance the designer has of creating a cover that fits the content and something that people want to buy. A vague brief can lead to hours of design time and money being wasted. A good brief does the opposite and includes everything from a detailed synopsis, story specifics and more to comparable covers and competitors.
KBW: Do you always get to read the whole book first?  Or are you working from a basic outline story or pitch they give you?
JE: No not always. In the case Plugged, yes. I was fortunate to have been given the brief and manuscript together and actually read it on my iPhone. Sometimes the author hasn’t written the book, so a detailed synopsis and maybe the first few chapters are available. In these cases a good briefing by the Editor is essential.
KBW: In the case of Bateman, is there any truth you’re aware of that it was to boost sales by people squinting and thinking they were BATMAN books (as Colin joked at Harrogate last year) ?

JE: Not that I know of. I think that has been a joke of Colin’s since the publisher decided to lose his forename.  Personally, I have nothing against the name Colin but visually ‘Bateman’ looks good so I didn’t argue against losing it.
KBW: Do you have any/much contact with the authors prior to working on their jackets or during the process?
JE: It is very rare. In Publishing, the designer tends to have less interaction with the author than in other design roles where the designer works closely with the client. But in Publishing, there are other areas like Publicity, Sales and the Editor who all work very closely with the author so the designer solely concentrates on the cover.
I was fortunate to meet both Colin Bateman and Eoin Colfer after their books were printed and both were very complimentary. I think it is nice for the Author to meet the person who designed their cover.

However, you are more likely to work with the author during the design process if you design the insides of a book. I recently spent two days in a room with Peter Kay working on the insides of his new book, The Book that’s more than just a Book-Book. Now that was a surreal few days.
KBW: With PLUGGED, did you submit many versions, or were the publishers sold on the great design we have now straight away?
JE: It is quite rare that your first visual goes through, but for Plugged the general feel was not that far from what went to print. I was actually up against two other designers and my route was chosen to develop.
KBW: Is the figure on PLUGGED actually Eoin Colfer?  Or you ?
JE: It is neither of us. The figure represents the main character Daniel McEvoy. I’m sure Eoin won’t mind me saying this, but neither he, nor I resemble the character on the front.
KBW: Are you a big crime fiction reader yourself?  If so, any favourite authors?
JE: I do enjoy Crime Fiction and Bateman’s books are right up my street but I wouldn’t say I am a ‘big’ crime fiction reader. I like Stephen King, Christopher Brookmyer among others but I read all sorts of books. I read a lot of Biographies and Sport books. I’m reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell at the moment which is fascinating.
KBW: I know that you also design alternative football shirts – have there been any discussions to produce t-shirts from your book jacket designs?  I see no reason why, with sports fans and music fans wearing their favs, that us bookish types shouldn’t be given the same treatment.
JE: I don’t see why not. At the idea is so big we have decided to concentrated on a certain niche first and grow from there.

KBW:Can you reveal anything crime fans can look forward to seeing from you?
JE: I have been working on various crime books of late and for one particular Publisher I recently designed a new look for a very well known Crime Author. I was really pleased with the designs and thought they were very strong, but this time the Publisher wanted to stick to a safer route by another designer. One that was more like a step forward more than a leap. It’s disappointing but this is all part of the job. Follow me on Twitter @edgar_uk  and I will post up any new work.
KBW: Is there a favourite book that you’d love to do a jacket re-design for?
JE: As I mentioned, I also design the insides of books. So to design a large colour book and its cover or maybe a series style would be great. A series style for an author like Martin Amis or a cook book for a top restaurant like El Bulli would be something special.

Many thanks to James for his time and, if you’d like to contact him regarding his work then please email him at
James is also Director of design agency:
and clothing label:



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Chris Carter knows serial killers and he drops by to have a chat…..

Following on from The Crucifix Killer and The Executioner, Chris Carter scared the hell out of me once again with the fiendish kills in The Night Stalker.

He kindly dropped by to answer a few questions about his books and made this interviewee feel very ashamed that I hadn’t researched enough to know where he lived…..just hope that no one he knows knows where I live (gulp!)

KBW: Where did the idea behind the devices and the built up tables come from?  That is truly the stuff of nightmares.

CC: The truth is, the idea behind the killing devices in The Night Stalker didn’t come from anywhere in particular, but my head (I know, scary, isn’t it?).  I knew I wanted the killer to use a different device for each victim, so I kept throwing ideas around in my head until I had a small selection.  I picked the ones I thought were more effective.  I also needed a way to self activate the devices, but in the context of the book, a timer wouldn’t work.  Again, I just kept throwing ideas around until I came up with something I thought was good enough.

I got to meet you at Harrogate last year when you did a panel there at the time of The Executioner launch and was quite impressed to find a ‘Crucifix Killer’ temporary tattoo in the festival goodie bag – do you know if anyone has had a permanent Chris Carter book-jacket inspired tattoo, or have you gained any odd ‘special’ fans in an Annie Wilkes/Misery style?

Yes – me.  Seriously, I have the double crucifix from the book’s jacket tattooed on my right arm.  Funny that after being in rock bands for so many years, that is actually my first ever tattoo.

And yes, I have received (and still do) a few emails, together with pictures, from some more enthusiastic fans.  Some emails are very flattering, but a little odd, and maybe even scary.  But they love the books, and that’s always good.

Was there a Robert Hunter or someone with similar characteristics that you came across in your time as a criminal psychologist?

I never met a detective who had a criminal psychology degree.  A lot of homicide teams work together with a criminal psychologist to try and get a better idea of the type of person they might be looking for, but the two of them as one isn’t very common.  I’m sure that the FBI has a few agents with a psychology background.  I never met them, though.

With your background, are you able to read much crime fiction or do you find your experience leads you to pick holes in the facts of other peoples fiction in terms of the behaviour of their murderers or serial killers?

I try to read as much as I can, I love reading, and I love crime fiction.  I’d say that as authors, we all have holes in our stories.  I know I have several in all of mine, but there’s a good reason for it.  If we try to recreate a real life investigation step by step, it would be the most boring book on earth.  Things happen a lot slower in real life than what we portray in crime fiction books.  The first few weeks of an investigation move at a snail’s pace, with loads of paperwork.  There are usually several separate teams working a single case, and everyone is waiting on someone else.  The police need results from forensics and the coroner, which in turn might have to wait for the lab.  Those results might take weeks, not the few hours or a day or two like in most books and films.  No one in forensics or CSI will ever solve a crime, nor will a coroner, a medical examiner, or a profiler.  It isn’t what they do.  But I believe crime fiction is about entertainment.  And that is what we as authors are trying to do, entertain, not give people a class in profiling, police or forensics procedures.  I admit, if there’s something completely out-of-this-world ridiculous that will make the story sound too unbelievable, than it is off-putting, but other than that, I love my crime fiction.

Were you ever under any pressure to change your name (bearing in mind the X-Files/Millennium creator) and has having the same name caused any issues (good or bad)?  As a big fan of Millennium I did find it interesting that both the Chris Carter’s write such great serial killer tales 🙂

No, I was never under any pressure to change my name.  I discussed it with my agent, Darley Anderson, and he wasn’t worried at all.

I have had a few emails from people asking me if I was the same Chris Carter who had written X-Files, but that was all.  So far, no real issues about sharing the name.

PS: Thank you so much for the compliment.

Is there a serial killer book or movie that you think got the whole thing just about right? Or one that’s out there that you wished you had written?

Through my experience and some of the things I’ve seen, I’d say all serial killer books have got it right in some sort of way.  There is no rule, or pattern, and there certainly seems to be no limit to the savagery a broken (and sometimes not so broken) human mind can produce.  I’ve interviewed people who have committed grotesque murders for the most mundane of reasons. People who have lost their temper and gone on a killing rampage because of something most of us wouldn’t bat an eyelid.  No matter how crazy you make the killer in your novel seem, there will probably be someone in real life who is crazier.  Believe me when I say that when it comes to violence, real life can defy human belief a lot more than any fictional book you could read.

As for ‘are there any books out there I wish I could’ve written?’  No.  There are too many great books out there, but they are great because that was that author’s vision and words, and nobody else’s.  If I (or anyone else for that matter) had written them, the vision would’ve been different, the words would’ve been different, and the story wouldn’t have been delivered the same way.  It wouldn’t have been the same book.

I assume the guitar’s not hung up for good?  Do you still play with a band regularly?

I still play, but at home, not in a band anymore.  Being a full time author is a lot harder than most would think (at least for me).  I would struggle to find time for rehearsals and gigs and all.  Not fair on the other band members.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Easy – don’t give up.

And the worst?

To be very truthful, I didn’t tell many people when I decided to write my first novel.  The few I did, never gave me any advise because they didn’t know anything about writing.  So I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a bad piece of advice.  But there’s still time, I’m still new to this.

What scares you?  And is there anything you couldn’t bring yourself to write?

Big insects and spiders freak the hell out of me.

Because of what I have seen in real life, it would be very hard and emotionally draining for me to write a story in which its main plot was based on certain types of crimes.  Mainly crimes against young children, and excessively violent rape against anyone.

Any plans for any UK visits in the near future? (this is my ‘D’oh!’ question…)

Well, I live in London, so I’d have to say – yes. 🙂

And, finally, what can we look forward to next from A) Chris Carter and B) Robert Hunter?

I love what I do.  I love every aspect of being a writer, and I am extremely fortunate that my novels and Robert Hunter have been so well accepted in the UK and internationally.  As long as readers are still enjoying my novels and Robert Hunter’s adventures, then I guess I will keep writing them.  Nothing would give me more pleasure.

A huge thanks to Chris for stopping by, and you can seek out his first three Robert Hunter novels now – all published by Simon and Schuster.



Filed under Interviews

Shelter by Harlan Coben

Published by Indigo / Orion

To use a basketball expression, which seems kind of apt in the circumstances, the short version of this review of Harlan Coben’s latest would be;

 ‘He shoots. He scores!’

Creating a new character and series but being able to tap into the world of his existing series by having the central character of Shelter be, Mickey, the nephew of his much loved sports agent character, Myron Bolitar, is a stroke of genius and is sure to double his readership.

This first in the new series is also one of the main launch titles of Orion Books’ new YA imprint, Indigo, and one I’m sure will place them firmly on the map as a publisher of some of the best YA books around.  So, new and younger readers will get to snap up the Indigo edition, whilst regular adult Coben readers can get the same great story under the usual Orion brand – and rest assured, it bridges the gap very well indeed, suiting anyone from around 13 years and up.

The story, and I can’t delve too deep for risk of spoilers, concerns 15 year old Mickey and his search for his girlfriend, Ashley, who one day just disappears from school without leaving a trace.  He enlists the help of some new found friends, the crazy but loyal and priceless Spoon and the larger than life Goth, Ema, creating an unlikely detective team as they begin to question those in the school and their town about Ashley.

Mickey is living in the same house as his ‘goofy’ Uncle Myron who seems to hinder his progress with his investigation and the chances of any kind of love life at every turn and, although Myron has fairly little screen time here, the book dovetails very nicely into events within Coben’s most recent title ‘Live Wire’.

There is also a mysterious man in a suit who watches and waits in a long black car, and an odd character, the ‘Bat Lady’, who appears to live alone, just her and a tombstone in her garden – so, plenty to keep the reader guessing right through to the end of the book.

It’s a cracking read – I’m a bit of a sucker for noir set in the high school environment and this reminded me at times of the similarly excellent movie, Brick, which also merged the two conventions so successfully.

A great place for younger readers to discover the wonderful suburban crime dramas of Mr Coben and, for those who know what to expect, another great read to add to their growing collection.

Can’t wait for the next one in the Mickey Bolitar series.

High scoring stuff indeed.



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Specsavers ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Update:



Once again the voting has opened for fans to vote for their favourite Crime Thriller authors in the ITV3 People’s Bestseller Dagger.

You can cast your votes at and can vote up to 5 times!

The awards, called daggers, are for the best actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, best TV, best international TV and best film alongside the CWA book awards, The Gold Dagger, Steel Dagger and New Blood Dagger.

The event, now into its fourth year, will be hosted by Marcus Brigstocke and broadcast on ITV3 on Tuesday 11th October.

 To help you decide, watch the The A-Z of Crime Writing – part of the Specsavers Crime Thriller Season – from the 1st of September 2011 on ITV3, featuring each of the nominees.

TOMORROW –  THURSDAY 15th September features Peter James, the author of the hugely successful Brighton-based detective series starring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is still going strong solving crimes in Brighton’s seedy underworld.

The only case he can’t seem to crack is that of the mysterious disappearance of his beloved wife. Will James’ latest work Dead Man’s Grip hold any clues?

Twitter: @peterjamesuk   Facebook: / peterjames.roygrace


NEXT THURSDAY 22nd  September features  American author David Baldacci, who burst on to the literary scene in 1996 with his first novel Absolute Power, it debuted as a New York Times Bestseller and was subsequently turned into a film starring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman.

He has since written a further 21 novels and been published in 80 countries. His latest offering One Summer hits UK bookshelves on the 5th August.

Twitter: @davidbaldacci Facebook: /writer.david.baldacci


More news… it arrives…..happy voting, happy watching, happy reading….



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The Night Stalker by Chris Carter

Published by Simon & Schuster

Last year I was intrigued to see the name Chris Carter in the panel listings for the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival – was the guy that created The X-Files and Millennium really going to be at the event? 

Then, when I stumbled across his first novel in the shops, ‘The Crucifix Killer’, and bought it, I realised my mistake but realised that here was another creative force who just happened to share a name with the other Mr Carter and, what’s more, this guy does serial killers superbly well.

It’s a genre that in most hands has become tired and somewhat hackneyed over the years, with countless Hannibal the Cannibal bargain basement versions filling the bookstores, and leaving just the Val McDermid’s of this world to show the others how it can still be done well. 

I’d now add Chris Carter to that small list of ‘those who know’.  And, in fact, he does know, for, as the back of his latest bookjacket shouts ‘Chris Carter knows Serial Killers.  Robert Hunter catches them’ – no mere publishers blurb as, before becoming a novelist and sending his main character to hunt killers down, Carter worked for several years as a criminal psychologist working serial killer and murder cases – so this really is a case of getting demons out onto the page.

I really enjoy the central character of Robert Hunter – he’s a troubled soul and Carter puts him through the mill at pretty much every opportunity, but he’s often saved by his own skills developed in his own dark past such as the skill of lip-reading, which comes in very handy in The Night Stalker. 

The devices (literally) that Carter employs in the clever kills within this latest novel (the third in the series after ‘The Crucifix Killer’ and ‘The Executioner’ are absolutely terrifying and the opening scene in a coroner’s room is one that will stay with me for a long time to come – once you’ve read chapter one I defy you to put this one down.

Carter has a fantastic use of short snappy chapters many of which make great use of something unseen or unheard by the reader at the very end, forcing you into the next chapter to gain the, often horrific, reveal.

The Night Stalker also gives Hunter a bit of a nemesis to play against in a real love/hate battle in the form of investigator Whitney Myers who is working a missing person’s case that collides with his investigations into the growing pattern of serial murders.

This is a great thrill ride, think the better elements of SAW meeting Se7en head –on, mixed with some great characters and you’d be about there. 

As serial killer novels go, I’m chalking this one up on my cell-wall as one of my guilty pleasures.

Put it down at your peril – you really won’t want this in your head at night half finished….



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HIT GIRLS and Dreda Say Mitchell drops in for a chat.

Published by Hodder.

I feel like I have just made a discovery when reading my first Dreda Say Mitchell novel, but the great news is that I am late to the party and now need to get back to reading her four novel backlist.

Hit Girls is a fast paced East End gangster tale packed full of great characters, each of whom has clear motive for their actions,good or bad, leaving the reader reeling page after page.

The opening, where ten year old twin sisters are killed by a 4×4 vehicle outside their school and a young boy is left fighting for his life is real heart-in-mouth stuff, particlularly resonant on this, the first week of my own experiences of the morning and afternoon school runs.

The possibility that it is not an accident but something far more sinister leads the mother of the two girls and the mother of the injured boy on a search for the truth and to discover who the killer is.

With a labyrinthyne plot and cast set inside and outside of the prison system, it’s a real skill being displayed here in keeping all of the plot plates spinning and the character links revealed as the story charges towards its conclusion.

If you only read crime books by white males featuring middle aged white male alcoholic detectives, or your female writer choices only include the Gerritsen’s, Slaughter’s or Cornwell’s of this world, then here’s a chance to check out a gritty (I knew I couldn’t get through this without that word) East End female character led refreshing change.

Action, high drama, emotion, thrills, sex and some dark and deadly plotting – Dreda Say Mitchell’s book literally has ‘HIT’ written all over it.

Highly recommended.

And, I’m very pleased to have Dreda drop by to Books and Writers for a bit of a discussion about her books, her writing and her excellent job as Chair of this year’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival:

KBW: Loved the book, as is hopefully made clear above – when did you first start to write or realise that’s the career you wanted?

DSM: I’d always loved reading.  My parents would make sure that me, my sister and brothers would go to the Whitechapel library because we didn’t have any books in the house apart from my mum’s hymn book and Bible.   Also my dad was such a gifted oral story teller – telling stories is big in the Caribbean community – and my family just loved to talk.  I did an evening creative writing course at Goldsmith’s University way back in the early 90s and then got caught up in my career as a teacher and it wasn’t until 2001 that I decided to try writing again.  I was very lucky to get a place on the Complete Creative Writing Course at the Groucho Club.  There I met Maggie Hamand, the course director who a few years later decided, with Jane Havell to set up their own small independent publisher, MAIA Press and Maggie asked me to contribute the opening chapter of my novel, which I was now calling Running Hot, to an anthology.  I still can’t believe it sometimes but two weeks later they came back and asked if they could publish the whole book.  Wow! It’s interesting but writing isn’t the only career that I wanted I still see myself as an educator so still work in this area.  I think that’s what I’ve learned about life, explore the type of person you want to be which can mean that you don’t just have one career. Although I have to confess this is my first of your books and works great as a standalone, there are some reoccurring characters from previous books – do you have a main series story arc plotted out for those characters or did they just suit being in another story?  Funny thing is one of the reasons I wanted to write was I was obsessed with putting on paper the life of a fictional character I had created called Schoolboy, who then became the protagonist for Running Hot. He was the embodiment of me trying to write about some of the experiences I witnessed growing on a housing estate in East London. I had no idea that Running Hot was going to be the springboard for a series of books.  After I wrote Running Hot readers started asking me if I was going to write about some of the other characters, so I decided to take the plunge and do it.  I soon realised that the characters I was most interested in were Jackie Jarvis and Schoolboy and the bond between them. Also a big thing for me was having the opportunity to write about London so the city became a character as well. Hit Girls is the final book in this series so I’ve just started writing about a new character – nothing to do with gangsterland this time – and I’m hoping this will be the start of a new series.  I’m much more organized this time round about plotting what that series might look like.

Can you tell us a little about your writing process. The depth of characters linking with each other led me to think there’s a hell of a big whiteboard or wall of post-it notes at your home to keep track? Do you use any particular writing software? Have any special routines or methods that you use?

Character, story and plot, these are the ingredients of what you need to make a crime novel. I’m an obsessive plotter so do heaps of work on the plot before I actually start writing, although recognizing once the writing process starts I will get to know my characters better and so the plot will occasionally change. I’m very lucky that my partner Tony also helps with the plotting process and believe me two heads are much better, and quicker, than one. Before we start plotting we ask ourselves what’s the story about and should be able to sum this up in a single sentence – ‘This is a story about…’ So in Hit Girls case, ‘This is a story about a mother trying to find out why her child was critically injured outside his school.’ So this sets up the great dilemma, conflict, problem facing the main character. The plot is the sequence of events that will answer this question and basically the plot is a ying yang process of the character getting closer to answering this question and having setbacks. It’s the plot/main character’s journey that allows me to explore themes, like family loyalty, betrayal, love, revenge, etc. At the start of each chapter/scene I ask myself is the character getting closer to solving their problem or will they have a setback? I do character work but this usually amounts to half a side of A4 of writing about them, so no software I’m afraid. I like to know what my characters look like, what drives them and any vulnerabilities they may have.

How did the spark for Hit Girls come about? Was it based on any real-life events in any way?

The biggest motivator was putting Jackie and Schoolboy in a very stressful situation and seeing how they would react. We first met both characters in Running Hot and its clear they have feelings for each other but don’t do anything about it and by book five, Hit Girls, they’re married and have three children and are living a very successful life, still in East London. But what would happen if something happened to one of their children? Would they go through official channels or would they resort to the ducking and diving we saw them display in Running Hot, Geezer Girls and Gangster Girl? I’m also very interested in how public institutions that are there to help people might adversely affect the very lives they are designed to support, for example the care system in Geezer Girls, the role that education plays in Schoolboy’s life in Running Hot. And Hit Girls…well I can’t say anymore about that or I’ll give the plot away.

I loved the idea of the character of Pinkie, reading with a black pen to scrub out the offensive words in novels. Being a crime novel, obviously there will be language and violence, but is there anything that you would self-censor on in particular or a subject you wouldn’t touch in your work?

As I’ve said the starting point for any story is, ‘This is a story about….’ so it’s this context that drives what you write about. I think if I started off by saying I’m not going to write about two children being killed outside their school I wouldn’t be doing the book any justice. I suppose that the question is do I need to show them being killed and the answer is yes because I want the reader to feel the same emotions that their mum feels as she watches this happen. I don’t think there’s anything I wouldn’t write about. Strangely when Running Hot came out some of my family, who are very religious, were very offended by the violence and language and one of them told me she was going to burn Running Hot on bonfire night…you can’t please everyone.

You clearly put the character of Jackie through the ringer in this novel – the poor poor woman. Is there an actress that you think could possibly handle/cope with that role on the small or big screen?

Um…a very interesting question. I don’t think I’ve given this any thought, I’d just be grateful for an excellent actress to do a fabulous job of bringing her to the screen.

Has there been any TV interest?

We’ve had some discussions with some companies, but nothing has come of this yet. My big mantra in life is everything happens at the right time so if it happens it will be the right time for it.

You’ll already be aware, from my barrage of reports, that I thought this year’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival was the best to date – so, thank you for doing such a fantastic job of chairing this year and for introducing the real crime elements to the event, which I think, worked very well. Do you have any particular highlights or favourite moments?

I loved every minute of it and am eternally grateful to the festival committee for giving me the opportunity to do this. It’s hard to pick out any events from such a fabulous programme. One highlight was having the opportunity to interview the Queen of Crime herself, Martina Cole. What a lady – insightful, knowledgeable, generous and just a plain great laugh. Getting the true crime into the programme was a real passion of mine, so massive thanks to the superb Duncan Campbell for getting the former prisoner panel organized; so many people came up to me after to say what a true insight that panel was. Lee Child’s Room 101 with the fab Christina Patterson was such a treat and big thanks to Lee for being so game. 61 Hours was so deserving of being awarded this year’s novel of the year and hearing the festival’s lifetime achievement award recipient, P.D.James talk about her work with such vigor and passion was truly inspiring. And Dennis Lehane, I have been a fan of his work forever so hearing him as the final event, with the great Mark Billingham, was a magnificent way to end the festival.

The festival provides an opportunity to introduce readers to new writers or those they may not have discovered as yet. Although we gained a few more black writers this year on panels, are there any that you think we should really be on the lookout for in terms of crime fiction?

Yes, there were some new Black writers but also other new faces, such as Mandasue Heller, Tana French, Christa Faust, Anne Zouroudi and Leigh Russell. The festival is just great at showcasing new crime authors. As I’ve been writing and have a rule not to read while I’m doing this I have to admit I haven’t been reading much crime fiction lately, but I would recommend The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris, a page-turning piece of urban noir. Oliver’s one to look out for. Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez is beautifully written and chilling at the same time. This is Stav’s third novel – I know he’s not new boy on the crime writing block – but this book is a terrific read.

A big thanks to Dreda for a fantastic read and for taking the time to stop by, and you can find out more about Dreda and her great books at



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Trust No One by Alex Walters

Published by Avon (Harper Collins)

A great debut novel from Alex Walters, who (as far as I am aware) is no relation to either myself or to Minette, Trust No One introduces an interesting character in covert undercover copper Marie Donovan of Greater Manchester Police.

As someone who loved the television Murphy’s Law and watching the deep twists and turns in which James Nesbitt in that series got so deep into his character he simply did not know who he could trust, I felt this was a great female mirror image of that.

The deep undercover cop is an area which I think deserves more attention in crime fiction, the layers of deceit and general arse-covering whilst running a double-life provide some great set pieces. In this instance, Marie is running a print company, dealing with all the demands of that role including recruitment and slack personnel – all demanding in its own right.

Add to that the fact that her partner, Liam, is suffering from multiple sclerosis, oh and the small matter that she is having an affair with Jake Morton, an informer due to give evidence against a crime lord Jeff Kerridge and you can see just how complicated Marie’s working undercover juggling all her roles has become.

Then, Jake is murdered, Marie’s on the list of possible suspects and it’s a very short list. She takes off and soon realises that she may be being set up as a scapegoat for the whole case, her undercover status is about to be blown – Trust No One could not be a more apt title.

I thoroughly enjoyed this debut. The pacing’s good and the plotting, most of which is against the central character of Marie, is relentless. The only time I had some issue was keeping a check on the timeline when, in one instance in particular, a fall that Liam suffers then leads to quite a lengthy flashback sequence, leaving me wondering when Liam’s situation would be mentioned again – but it may have just been me.

A nice addition to the book, and something I love finding, was a short interview with the author in the back pages. This includes comment on his writing regime and background and also the sad revelation that the author lost his wife at a young age to MS. The book is dedicated to her and it’s sad that she never got to read the novel.

Alex Walters is a great new voice in crime fiction and a promising start to what I can only assume will be a long running series.



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An Interview with CJ Box – at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.

With thanks to FMcM Associates and Corvus, I was able to spend an enjoyable breakfast with multi-award winning author C.J.Box during his stay at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.

Due to the full-on experience I was having there this year (attending pretty much every event every day) the only time slot I had available was between 8am and 9am on the Saturday. Fortunately, Chuck (as he likes to be called) was staying in the Holiday Inn for his first night’s stop and was very accommodating in joining me at the early hour, considering he was zipping around all over the place on his tour to promote the new standalone, BACK OF BEYOND.

I arrived in plenty of time and texted his publishers to advise where I was sitting and that I was wearing a black t-shirt with a big fingerprint logo. Identifying Chuck was no problem at all – everyone in the room turned when the man with the big black cowboy hat walked in for breakfast!

We started by discussing Harrogate and the festival.

Chuck: This is just a beautiful area. I flew in from Dublin and I couldn’t believe the landscape – I had no idea.

Keith: So, presumably you visited No Alibis bookshop whilst in Ireland?

C: In Belfast. Yes, I did that two nights ago and then drove to Dublin and then yesterday was some stock-signing of books, but mainly interviews – haven’t had a break – they’ve kept me running.

K: So, have you been across to the venue hotel as yet?

C: We went across last night for a drink, but I’ve yet to register over there – I haven’t even seen a programme yet.

K: Well, it’s certainly the biggest Harrogate Crime Writing Festival I’ve been to so far – I think they’ve sold in excess of 9,000 tickets so far.

C: Good Lord !

K: It’s grown and grown – I came for the first year just for a day trip, and have tried to do more and more each year.

C: That’s impressive. Maybe you can help me out, from what I was told earlier it’s a great festival to be invited to but it’s primarily a trade event – or maybe it was in the past?

K: Not so much, I wouldn’t say. I just think at Harrogate the mix is perfectly right. I was talking to someone last night who arrived and went straight into their first event which was the CWA Daggers Awards/Alibi Awards. He said he could not believe the atmosphere. He’d just been to the Hay Festival which would be considered more of a literary festival and he said that the authors are pretty much kept separate from the readers until they are wheeled out onto stage and then they disappear again. Whereas here last night, he was standing next to Lee Child within moments of arriving. The thing about Harrogate is you often do not know if it’s an author, publisher, agent, reader or member of the press you might be turning to talk to – which all adds to its friendly atmosphere.

C: I was noticing last night in the bar, and have noticed on tours, that there are kind of cultural differences. As Americans we are told to wear our name tags at all times which we do – but last night no one had a name tag.

K: This is something that has come up a lot since the start this week with people on twitter trying to identify people from their sometimes obscure avatars!

C: Yes, maybe everyone should have nametags with a colour code as to where they fit – author/reader etc maybe.

K: That could be good as next week I’m sure there will be exchanges on twitter from people saying ‘sorry I missed you’ or ‘didn’t know that was you’. But, regardless, it’s still the best festival the UK has and next year’s programme is already shaping up nicely and includes Harlan Coben and Charlaine Harris which will be an interesting addition.

C: Oh really? She’s a hoot! And Harlan – he can be a lot of fun.

K: You did an event at Corvus’ office this week for reviewers I understand? One of them said I need to ask about your new hat?

C: Yes I did and it was very well attended. They presented me with a ‘cap’ and they did their spying homework to find out through my agent or through my wife what size hat I wore and then figure out how that translated over here. Yeah – it’s a great hat –‘cap’ I should say ‘cap’. I was wearing it last night. The ‘cowboy hat’ thing is a big pain in the butt!

K: Really?

C: Yes – especially when flying on airplanes. You have to put it in the overhead lockers and then someone wants to put their bag on it. About five years ago, before the books were out over here, and my visit was tourism related, I went to Dublin. It was in November and I came out of the Hotel and I was going to meet my publishers in London. I was getting ready to go and got my hat out and a gust of wind came and takes my hat off and zooms it off and into the road and wedges it underneath the differential of a taxi that’s going by –this is like some Monty Python thing! So, it got stuck right underneath and it kept going, so I’m chasing it and about a block later I can see the driver look up in his mirror and see me running after him and then he takes off again because he has no idea why I’m chasing him. Finally, like three blocks later, I get this stupid hat back that’s all covered with mud and spent the next day fixing it. K: Corvus have certainly done you a great service over here with the launching of the Joe Pickett books –banging them out one per month is unheard of. C: I think it was brilliant and the thing that scared me to death when they announced how they were going to do this to me and then that I would be coming over to Harrogate – I was scared to death that it was going to be a disaster and that it would be like being at a week-long wake. But, apparently it’s really exceeded their expectations – and they have done their work – they are everywhere.

K: Linwood Barclay said at his talk last night that he likes to get the books written quickly, somewhat hoping that publication will be quicker – I think as a reader, the fact that we can buy a book of yours and not have to wait a year until there’s another one to get is great.

C: Yes – and that’s what I heard in Ireland from the booksellers. People come in and get their first one and then a week later they can come in and buy all the rest – wow!

K: And how do you feel about the kindle? Are all your books now also in that format?

C: They are now. It didn’t really matter if I was an advocate or not, they are going to do it. But I am perfectly fine with it – in fact I am starting to realise the benefits overall because when I talked to my US publisher, Andrew Martin of Minotaur, he said that anticipated that this new book when it comes out is going to be 50% electronic sales. The biggest number I’ve ever heard from any publisher was something like 15-20% by the end of the year in the US. But 50% this fast – it just stuns me! But the other thing is that there’s a phenomenon of people buying books twice – I do it – whenever I’m going to go on a trip…. I’m just reading this Andrew Roberts gigantic one volume history of World War Two. It’s the size of a door stop and I thought I don’t want to take that with me, but I’ll download it, so I bought it twice. I’ve bought a bunch of books twice, so that’s all good.

K: Yes – and I did the same with one of yours just last week. I downloaded 3 Weeks to Say Goodbye for the kindle and then, for the journey here, downloaded the audiobook. It came up in discussion yesterday with Allan Guthrie talking about ‘bundle’ selling being a way forward where the hardback and the ebook are purchased at one time.

C: Yes, I was talking to my publishers at Corvus and they were saying exactly that – for example, would you pay £1 more for a code that would enable you to download the ebook when you buy the hardback – I know that I would.

K: Well, we were saying yesterday, the book market has, in a way, followed the music market, but if you look at DVDs now, they are packaged with the DVD/Blu-Ray and Digital download all in one pack.

C: I bet that if we were talking one year from now, someone will have figured out how to do all of this. I do think that too many authors are just dumping stuff onto kindle and sometimes that kind of shows what they think of their readers. The other thing it does is it offers up a market for short stories – I’ve got a bunch of them – I’ve got enough for an anthology and I’ll get one published, but no magazines take short stories anymore.

K: So, the anthology will include some Joe Pickett I assume?

C: There are a few Joe Pickett ones and it’s probably two years away – but what we are doing in the US is releasing some of the stories from the anthology every few months for something like $2.99 download.

K: On your website you mention Blue Heaven’ and ‘Nowhere to Run’ as optioned for film – is there any further news on either or will we get to see Joe Pickett on television perhaps?

C: It’s been pitched, not by me, but it has been pitched a couple of times, but no interest as yet. ‘Blue Heaven’ supposedly –and all I can say is what they tell me – is supposed to start filming either this Fall or next Spring and that’s been optioned now for about three years and they’ve got Joe Pesci apparently to star and direct, and Jack Nicholson is going to be the rancher and Josh Brolin is attached to it, and they have money and they have a script. So, it looks promising. But, I’ll believe it when it happens.

K: With regards to Joe – do you have an actor in mind?

C: Not really. I never picture anybody when I’m writing him. The only actor that my wife and I saw on television and both looked at each other and thought yes that could be him is a guy called Kyle Chandler – in the US he was in a show called Friday Night Lights and was just in the Spielberg movie Super 8. We both liked him and I think he’s be perfect.

K: I heard Harlan Coben talk about movies once and said he thinks the best view is to drive up to a fence and throw your book over in exchange for a bag of money being thrown the other way and then both parties drive off again. The book is one thing, the movie is another.

C: That’s a perfect analogy. And I think readers are much more sophisticated than they are given credit for – they know that the television series or the movie is not as good as the book – so even if there’s a couple of lines or something that sparks their interest they’ll watch it, even if the thing sucks – at least it will generate some more interest and some more sales of the books.

K: And that whole increasing sales thing, just going back to the kindle – there’s always the possibility for you to include links to places I guess – so that someone who wants to know more about Montana can click and read up about the place more, or see a map maybe?

C: I thought about that, I wish I had more maps in my books – readers love maps but publishers don’t because they have to buy the rights to them. So, they always resist a map, unless they say… well, do you have one? To which I say…yeah right here in my pocket! Give me a moment and I’ll draw one up for you.

K: So, are all of your locations set in reality?

C: No, there are a few where I’ve mixed fictional locations with real ones. For example Saddle String, Wyoming where Joe Pickett lives is a fictional recreation of a place, but when he goes to another place like Yellowstone I try to make it as authentic as possible. I don’t stretch any of that, but if he’s going to a fictional town then I make it all up.

K: Do you get people write to you about those fictional towns and say ‘that’s where I live’?

C: Yes. And there’s a couple of towns in Wyoming where they are convinced that everybody there has been a character in the books.

K: Is there any relevance to the name, Joe Pickett? I think in 3 Weeks to Say Goodbye you make reference to someone being an ‘regular Joe’.

C: Yes, he’s a regular guy. Recently I was going through some old stuff and I found this box where I had this little notebook going way back, twenty years ago where I was coming up with the name for him. And I’d been scratching through first names and last names and then finally chose Joe for that reason, and all of the last names were names of famous rodeo cowboys – the first cowboy to ever win all the competitions at the turn of the century was a black cowboy named Bill Pickett. So I was scratching out names left and right until I saw the two ‘Joe’ ‘Pickett’ and I thought that’s it!

K: (at this point in the interview Chuck got identified and nabbed by a couple on the next table praising him for Back of Beyond for a few moments, describing the book as ‘Beyond Brilliant!’ and he told them he hoped it was their gateway drug to all of his other books now). We then chatted for a while about Denise Mina’s work, which he loves and I recommended that he seek out the BBC Scotland adaptation of The Field of Blood.

C: In ‘Back of Beyond’ I have a female character called Mina, and those who are aware of her work will suspect this character long before anyone else will.

K: You need to read some Ray Banks – he manages to ‘tribute’ other writers – specifically Allan Guthrie in a very different light.

K: So, if you hadn’t been born, raised and lived where you do, and we could take CJ Box back to before he started writing and drop him into New York City or Philadelphia – a big built up city instead of the area you are in, do you think you’d still have written the types of books you write now, and would you have still written?

C: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if I would because for me the motivation originally to write fiction was more about exploring the place as opposed to writing a story. I didn’t even think I was writing a mystery, until it was published and that’s where it was categorized. I thought I was writing a contemporary western novel which dealt with some environmental issues – that, to me, was what it was so I doubt…I wouldn’t write the same kind of thing and I don’t know if I would choose crime fiction. To me, it’s more about the area.

K: It comes up time and time again on panels that being a crime writer gives such scope, allows you to write a ‘message’ book.

C: Yes – it’s the vehicle as opposed to the driver. It’s not about a whodunnit it’s about how you get there.

K: It is a very broad church and that’s very much in evidence here this weekend, with people writing everything from very dark horror crime crossovers right through to cozies.

C: And quilting mysteries and cat mysteries!

K: Okay, well we’ll move on from that swiftly – Is your new book ‘Force of Nature’ finished yet?

C: Wow! You’re up on things. I’m not done yet. That one’s probably about 100 pages from being finished.

K: And what’s coming up after that one? What are the plans ahead?

C: Another standalone – It’s kind of 2 to 1, series to standalones for the way I’m writing right now. I started a new standalone, then put it aside to do the new Joe Pickett book, then I’ll go back to that. I really admire Michael Connelly and his career – he’s got this continuous great series but also has done great standalones and mini-series – I just like his approach.

K: Have you always written under the name CJ Box? Or are there books out there under any other names?

C: Yes – it’s always been CJ Box for the books. When I first got out of college I was working for a little newspaper in this little ranching community in Wyoming, and I was writing under the name ‘Chuck Box’. Then I went to this barn dance thing with all these cowboys standing around and they were saying ‘we love your name’ because a Chuck Box is the name of the box on the back of a wagon – so they thought it was like my clever little western nickname. At that point, at 24, I was very offended by that and so the next day it became CJ Box.

K: Do you have any involvement in the covers/ jacket design? Which I think are fantastic by the way.

C: Not really. Because of the way the twelve were being launched over a year, they sent me all of them in one go. There was only one, the very last one, for I think it was Nowhere to Run or Cold Wind where we made a bit of change because I don’t think at that point they’d even had the manuscript in, but I think the covers are perfect and much better than the ones we have in the US. And the strange thing is that whoever’s done them, the art director, has found the actual photographs of the places where in my mind the books actually take place – so it was really kind of eerie to see them all for the first time.

K: And you are fortunate to be in the situation that, for readers, we can have a complete block of your books all on the shelves at home with the same jacketing which always looks great.

C: I recall reading just that in I think the Bookseller. They (Corvus) have done a great job – I have really landed well here.

K: We’ve touched on messages you get across in your books, but is there any subject matter you wouldn’t tackle?

C: Well, I’ve certainly written more than my fair share of children in danger scenarios but I would never go further than that. In ‘3 Weeks to Say Goodbye’ there was some darkness but that’s about as far as I’d want to go. I don’t ever want to go beyond that. When I finished that book I felt like taking a 3 month shower. And with the political stuff, I always try to present a balanced viewpoint and let the reader come down on the side they choose. I hope I never write an agenda book because I’m turned off by them. And I can think of a couple of authors who I really like who have gotten so politically pedantic – I know where they are coming from – but hey!

K: How do you feel about books where the author has clearly tried to shoehorn all their research onto the page?

C: That’s the old Elmore Leonard thing ‘Leave out the parts that the reader will skip’.

K: Is he a favourite of yours? And who else do you read and admire?

C: Oh yeah, I’m a big fan of Elmore Leonard. Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly and a lot of writers who are not crime fiction writers actually. I’m also a fan of John Sandford – I don’t think he gets enough credit. He does pacing better than anyone I know, so I really admire that. And Denise Mina of course.

K: And is there a crime book that you’d love to have written? Or do you watch crime movies?

C: I do, but not any more than any other kind of movie. I kind of go blank when asked to think of a favourite crime book.

K: Ok. So, do you write whilst you are on tours?

C: On this one I haven’t – I cannot believe how busy they have kept me, but often I do – more editing rather than writing when I’m on the move. I have a home office where I live in Cheyenne and we have a cabin on a river, only two and a half hours away, so I’m writing there more and more.

K: When did you start?

C: It was twenty years before a book came out – so I was writing in secret. I think there were three manuscripts that no one ever saw because they were so horrible – but I’ve now since mined all the good parts out of! Okay, just thought back and one of the books I wished I’d written was Presumed Innocent – that’s such a great structure, such a great surprise – but realistic at the same time – loved that.

K: It came up on a panel yesterday about writing something and finding something very close comes up on the news.

C: Constantly – and then you find you’d need to tone it down as no one would believe it.

K: Have you ever written anything that’s been almost mirrored in the news?

C: Yes. In ‘Blue Heaven’ the fact that these children are in danger – as I was writing it, set in Idaho, there was this horrible incident where this guy kidnapped two children and killed the parents, and he had the children with him for months and it was awful. The beginnings and the locations were so similar that it kind of creeped me out. That’s happened several times actually.

K: So, how many exploding cows have you seen then? Is that based on anything you are aware has happened?

C: No – it was just an image and I had that opening line for probably ten years before I knew what the book was going to be about, and I still like it. Every now and then when I’m writing I think, this thing’s starting to slow down a bit, I need an exploding cow!

K: Well, it makes a change from having someone come into the room with a gun!

K: So, where does Joe finish and Chuck begin? Are you alike? Would you get on with him over a beer in the bar?

C: That’s a good way to put it. I would get on with him but he’s not me. I’ve done ride-alongs with game wardens and he’s closer to them. I’m really happy that I got the character right, as the very few game wardens that are out there are very much like that. I like the guy, it’s always fun to go back.

My thanks to Chuck for a great chat over an early breakfast, and to FMcM and Corvus for making it possible.


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Dennis Lehane interviewed by Mark Billingham – Harrogate Crime Writing Festival – The final event.

Okay – here we are at the last event of this year’s amazing Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and (with the exception of my interview with CJ Box – which will follow soon) my last report to post.

Crime supremo Dennis Lehane took to the stage with Mark Billingham to discuss his work and the huge success he has enjoyed with the cinema adaptations of his novels.

He kicked off by saying how much stories had a been a part of his young life when his father would take him to the farmers’ market for a rush round to do the shopping so that he could then take him to a pub to drink ginger ale and listen in on the stories that his father and his friends would share over beers. Their home was not a readers’ home – the only books they had were a set of encyclopaedias that his mother bought from a door to door salesman in a moment of weakness. He was taken to a library when he was 7 or 8 years old, and that visit changed his life. He went on to say that he will now do anything to support libraries – a rare thing as he admitted that, if he doesn’t want to do events then he is harder to find than Jimmy Hoffa.

He said that others say he must be heavily influenced by Chandler and Hammett, but he is also very much influenced by Wilbur Smith and Alistair MacLean – two authors which were introduced to him by an English aunt. Since that trip to the library, he has written stories – so he’s been a writer since around 8 years old.

He wrote his first novel when he was 15 and a friend of his has the copy for possible blackmail in the future. When he was 16 he wrote a short story and his teacher told him he might want to seriously think about writing more. He wrote a failed novel whilst in college and then, after college, he wrote ‘A Drink before the War’ and then spent a year doing rewrites – an agent took it on after seven months – he feels ridiculously blessed with his route to publication as, in his words, he gets ‘paid to sit in a room and think shit up! – You never hear me bitch. My father ‘worked’ for a living – I know the difference’.

By the time of publication he knew that the characters had the potential for a series. Patrick and Angie are the two sides of his own character. He likes the dilemma of endings – where the result might be the right or wrong, good or bad, thing.

He cited Elmore Leonard as his greatest style influence but also his favourite books as Robert Crais’ ‘The Monkey’s Raincoat’ and Robert Parker’s ‘Looking for Rachel Wallace’.

When he wrote ‘Prayers for Rain’ the emotions of it feeling weary, tired and exhausted kept coming up – he showed it to George Pelecanos who said it felt like the end – and he agreed.

He wrote ‘Mystic River’ when he moved to Charlestown (The Town) in 1993 and he wanted to write about the changes there. He knew it was the best title from the start. Bad things do happen to children, but he feels he won the parental lottery. Some people he described as having the ‘curse of fury’ and they keep coming at you until you kill them. But his own home was filled with love and safety. His friend once asked him ‘How come we made it?’ because they managed to break out of the neighbourhood they were living in.

Harlan Coben’s ‘Tell No One’ came out at the same time as ‘Mystic River’ and helped standalones become more successful. Although, after ‘Mystic River’ he did admit to feeling hemmed in by the weight of expectation he felt others had for his next book.

When he wrote ‘Shutter Island’ he felt that everyone would hate it but the French! It was the fastest book he’s ever written – knocking it out in four and a half months with sixteen hour non-stop writing days. Overnight he wrote 26 points – he knew the whole book there and then. He wanted to give the character of Teddy a hug all the way through the book, knowing that ‘this isn’t going to end well’.

Discussion then turned to the fantastic luck he has had with the Directors who have chosen to adapt his books, with Clint Eastwood choosing ‘Mystic River’ and Martin Scorcese with ‘Shutter Island’.

Of Eastwood, he described with great humour the fact that whenever a problem occurred or there was a disagreement, such as a dispute involving Brian Helgeland and Sean Penn with Warner Bros. He said that Eastwood would simply call those involved and be very persuasive by saying ‘I know there’s a problem, I understand – but… if you did…’ and then would leave the phrase hanging there. There then followed news that Clint Eastwood is a huge smoothies fan and seemed obsessed with them on set, so whilst many thought he was thinking through the mechanics of filming and what was going on on set, it was more likely he was considering what flavour smoothie he’d have next break.

Of ‘Shutter Island’ he said, there’s nothing you can do, you can’t interfere with someone else’s creativity, you can’t say to Scorcese ‘I don’t know, Marty. I think the camera should go over there!’ To ensure that no one could look up the book and blow the ending during the making of the movie, ‘Shutter Island’ was given the working title ‘Ashcliff’. He also mentioned the man he thinks must, worryingly, be his number one fan when he told the tale of a man who, annoyed at someone talking through a screening, left the movie theatre, bought a potato peeler, came back in and stabbed the guy – apparently the episode ended with the victim and the assailant both fleeing the cinema.

Then there is his third great movie adaptation, ‘Gone Baby Gone’ directed by Ben Affleck. Due for release in the UK at the time of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance and pulled from release here by the Director as many had commented that the young actress in the movie looked a lot like the missing toddler and it looked like it may have caused a problem over here. (I count myself as extremely lucky to have attended a London press screening of the movie as it looked amazing on the big screen). The movie gained a lot of acclaim once it hit DVD and word of mouth spread. In Lehane’s words ‘Thirty Days of Night’ crushed it in box office that opening weekend – but compare the reputations of both movies now!’ ‘It’s the most’Boston’ of my films – and made by a Bostonian – In many ways it’s my favourite.’

When fatherhood hit (with the arrival of Lehane’s daughter) he felt he needed to be a good father/hunter-gatherer and ensure he wrote something that would provide security, so he started thinking of writing a big crap book with 75 chapters and 9 serial killers to pay for her college fees! Fortunately, at around the same time, Patrick came back to him, and ‘Moonlight Mile’ was the result.

Just as well, as the other thing that Lehane said he really wanted to get a comment in was on Coldplay’s Chris Martin’s hairline – ‘I’ve said it now, in London!’ – well, it was Harrogate, but I’m sure we all forgave his geography on that one.

For research, he spent some time with transit cops, to see a scene of a ‘jumper’ – ‘They always lose a shoe’ was the anecdote he said he’ll always remember and that it’s often the little comments from research that make it into the books rather than lots of factual information. They also showed him the Acela high speed train book that they keep – saying ‘Look at this one – You can’t even see where the nose is’ – just trying to make him throw up.

When asked if he might return to Patrick and Angie again he only said ‘Never say never’.

His next book is set to be about the Prohibition and features a character from ‘The Given Day’, his only rule being that he won’t write anything set in an era with clothing he wouldn’t wear.

The conversation then went to questions from the audience, the first of which was to ask that, if he loved Boston, then why did he choose to write for The Wire? ‘I love Boston, but I love cities. The issues in The Wire were the same as in novels. It was the same for George Pelecanos and for Richard Price.’

He mentioned that in ‘Shutter Island’ he did have to speak out to say ‘You are being too faithful to me’ – some novel lines needed changing to movie lines.

He’s now looking forward to a new film by David Cronenberg of his short story ‘Animal Rescue’ – he then added that he’s fortunate to be collecting top directors for his work and if he gets Michael Mann then he’s pretty much got a full set.

Conversation turned to the actual act of writing. His first point was that, to write, you HAVE to read. He also said that you have to be clear on your motive – why are you writing? The only reason for writing is that you can’t NOT write. Write it, don’t show it and try to avoid characters just sitting and thinking. He doesn’t like knowing everything from the start as he did with ‘Shutter Island’. With ‘Gone Baby Gone’ he knew some of the details – enough to write it, leaving scope and spaces for keeping his interest going, and it was similar for Mystic River.

He was to appear in The Wire with the memorable line ‘Straighten up and die right, you c***s’ and then had to throw up on the street between McNulty and Bunk, but sadly he had to miss out due to other commitments – but he did get to appear later as a character in another episode. He went on to say that there were a lot of egos all working together in the writers’ room on The Wire – which pretty much led to a sign on the door ‘Check your ego at the door – or we’ll take it!’

A great interview by Mark Billingham and it was fantastic to finally get to hear Dennis Lehane and to meet him afterwards for the last signing session of the festival.

And that was it, the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival was over for another year – but, wow, what a year, what a festival – and at this point I’d raise yet another large glass of the black stuff to Dreda Say Mitchell and everyone else who worked so hard to make this the biggest and the best to date.

Just before the audience cleared from the room, Dreda took to the stage and invited Erica Morris to join her to thank her in front of all of us for her huge undertaking this year to make the festival such a great success.

A very moving speech in which Dreda revealed that she sadly had a family loss earlier in the year and that Erica and the team had worked harder than ever to support her. She then went on to thank all of the team at the festival, the front of house team and Riot Communications , the publishers, the authors, sponsors and the readers who had come along to make it such a success this year.

She closed by saying ‘If I had a moment, I’d give everyone a very big hug – That’s the teacher in me!’

And, for me to close, I’d just like to say the following: Dreda – Thank you – it was (as you said at the launch it would be) ‘The Bomb! – Not a bad bomb, but a good bomb.’

And to those who have read any one of (or all of) my posts – get yourself along to the website and get ordering your tickets for next year – Mark Billingham’s back as Chair, John Connolly and Charlaine Harris are already in the line-up and, it’ll be the tenth anniversary of the greatest UK Crime Writing Festival.

See you there…


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