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.  

www.thecwa.co.uk

Keith

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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 http://wearwereyou.com/ 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.edgar@me.com.
James is also Director of design agency:
http://www.post98design.co.uk/
and clothing label:
http://wearwereyou.com/

Keith

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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.

Keith

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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.

Keith

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Specsavers ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Update:

ITV3’s CRIME THRILLER AWARDS 2011

 

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 http://itv.co/oywfAC 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…..as it arrives…..happy voting, happy watching, happy reading….

 

Keith

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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….

Keith

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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 www.dredasaymitchell.com

 

Keith

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